Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
WASHINGTON — After 38-and-a-half years at the Washington Post Office, this week was the last on the job for city carrier Dan Schulte, who retires after Friday.
Schulte has delivered mail to the same route since 1989, and he’s driven the same mail truck since 1988, which — as an aside — does not have air conditioning.
While Schulte has changed little in that time, the world around him has evolved fast. Automation has reduced the workforce size and therefor lengthened delivery routes. Letters and cards are less common delivery items, while packages are far more routine. By Schulte’s estimation, only about 10 of the residents on his route remain from his first day.
“A lot of those people that were younger then, they were in their house nearly 35 years, and then they’ve moved on,” he said. “It’s a slow transition … a lot of them pass away over the years and stuff, and I won’t say that’s tough like a family member, but it’s sad. You see a different angle of it.”
The way he engages with people has changed as well. Compared to his first shift, more members of the average household have a job, fewer kids play outside and fewer interactions with the mail carrier are routine.
“I run into people, don’t get me wrong, but not like it used to be,” he said. “We still knock on doors, we still have stuff, but there’s just less interaction … and I guess I just like people. It goes back to striking up friendships over the years.”
Still, Schulte continues to interact with the people on his route every day, interactions he said he’d miss. Despite the brevity of every exchange, he said he’d developed a rapport with his customers.
“Just like any friendship, every time you see someone … you meet them, you kind of like each other, and then all of a sudden your ‘hellos’ are ‘glad to see you,’” he said. “I grew up in Keota and I still live there, I don’t live here, but I have struck up a lot of friendships just over the years. Hundreds of them, at all different levels.”
Schulte made the decision to sign on as a mail carrier before graduating high school, following the result of his civil service test. The move worked out well: he was making more income and had more generous benefits than most of his peers coming out of school.
After that, the reasons to remain at the post office were simple.
“I stayed where I was because I like the people and I like the route,” he said. “And I don’t have to cross the highway like the guys on the east or west end of town.”
It was (and is) hard work, though. Schulte said mail delivery wasn’t as easy as he made it look. The most effective carriers have to know their routes inside out and backward.
“There’s a lot to keep straight, to do it really well takes lots,” he said. “It’s like how there’s always people at the (store) who know where everything is, they’ll take you right to it. That’s kind of how we are, at a different level. We don’t really just match addresses, we match people … we all strive to be the person that knows it. Our ultimate goal is to get every piece of mail to the right place.”
Schulte no longer needs to look at house numbers on his route, he just knows them, along with the names of any mail recipients inside.
“I knew where you lived as soon as you sent me your name,” he said, before correctly rattling off this reporter’s address down to the apartment number.
Alas, with all three of his daughters set to finish their education by spring, Schulte said he was ready for retirement. He plans to spend the extra time with his family and on his 100-acre farm, which he has run alongside his mail job through the years.
“I’ve got a lot of stuff going on,” he said. “Everything I do, I’m going to keep doing … I’m probably going to, after the first year, have a part-time job and just spend more time with my kids.”