From the Pony Express Post Office To The U. S. Postal Service of the 21st Century Part One

31 Jan

17 Pony Express Logo#3376


From the Pony Express Post Office To The U. S. Postal Service of the 21st Century Part One

By: Bob Gersztyn

Back in November 1969, only 3 months after Woodstock, I took the civil service exam that President Garfield established back in 1883 before he was assassinated, to do away with awarding postal positions based on what party won the election. Instead it was based on either merit or the test score that you received after taking the postal exam. Veterans got five extra points, and in Detroit where I took the exam all you needed was a passing score to get hired. I wanted to work in one of the suburbs and one of the richest was Birmingham, which was my first choice, with Warren my home town being the second.

9th FA Missile Group

My first exposure to postal work came when I was in the army at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. I became the mail clerk for 9th FA Msl. Gp., along with being the unit’s armorer and carpenter. I had to get a top secret clearance, since I would be receiving and delivering sensitive documents as part of my job. I enjoyed sorting and delivering the mail and getting to read everyone’s magazines, but I didn’t consider working for the post office until September 1969, when I decided to drop out of school and get a good paying job.

By the beginning of March 1970 I was called for an interview at the Birmingham post office and was hired as a mail carrier starting the following Monday. The week after I started the Birmingham Letter Carriers union (NALC) joined the Wildcat strike that began in New York and I walked out with them. Detroit was a union town, and my dad had been on strike from the auto plant many times during my childhood, so I was naively putting my new job in jeopardy thinking that I was doing the right thing, Fortunately, after President Nixon sent in the national guard and they realized that they couldn’t make heads or tails of what to do or do it fast enough, he gave in and all strikers received amnesty.

I started at station II, in Birmingham, which was comprised of all the city routes. The station manager was Don James and I began as a PTF, which is a part time flexible, that was not guaranteed more than 2 hours a day, if they were actually brought in. However, all PTF’s worked 50 to 60 plus hours a week, with overtime. After two months I was transferred to station I, which had all the rural routes and covered the city of Bloomfield Hills and included the Franklin station. Station I was more undisciplined than Station II, with an alcoholic manager in charge.

The carrier’s ran Station I, and when the manager would come out of his office to try and tell the carriers what to do, one of the guys would tell him to go back to his office before they beat the shit out of him. The union steward and many of the other carriers liked to smoke pot during their lunch break, but one day he took some LSD that he got from one of the other carriers that was a part time drug dealer. He sat in his vehicle hallucinating until he didn’t show up for lunch and his best friend came looking for him. Half a dozen carriers broke up his route and delivered it on overtime, to keep him from getting in trouble.

When I made regular, I bid on an auxiliary route at Station II and had 5 different routes that I serviced on the rotating days that the carriers were off. It was a pleasure to deliver mail in Birmingham because it was such an upscale community where everything was clean and well kept. After I started working at the post office I found out that I could transfer anywhere in the country if there was an opening, after I was employed for a year. I wanted to move out to the West Coast to either San Francisco or Los Angeles, so I started to enquire how to do it, from the NALC union president, Pete Pistole. He told me that he was from Georgia and transferred to Los Angeles and then Michigan.

I ended up trading with a carrier from Los Angeles, so my girlfriend, Kathy, who also dreamed of moving to the West Coast, and I left Michigan in June 1971. Pete Pistole told me to forget everything that I learned in Birmingham, because, he said, there is no other office that is as corrupt and out of control as Birmingham. He told me that in Los Angeles they run things by the book and there was no overtime. When I arrived in L. A., I ended up getting assigned in North East L.A. at the Eagle Rock station, in the 90041 zip code. They ran a tight ship and after being used to flat as a pancake Michigan, the hills of L. A. presented a challenge at first since most of the routes were park and loop foot delivery. However, I soon got used to it, but then I discovered the smog, which left my lungs feeling like I smoked 3 packs of cigarettes, and I quit smoking in 1969.

At the same time Congress had passed the bill creating the U. S. Postal Service and that was being implemented. They were going to begin to use computer technology to help sort the mail using sorting machines that Pitney Bowes, Borroughs Corp and IBM built. This would eliminate all the memorization that took 3 months of training to accomplish and also make replacing workers relatively easy, thus eliminating threat of a strike. The first of these machines was the LSM (Letter Sorting Machine) produced by Borroughs corporation. The earliest appearance of this technology was in the 1950’s and early 1960’s although the ideas were formulated in the 1920’s.

17 Pony Express Logo#3376


By 1974 I was taking photography classes at Pasadena City college and I knew that I had to use my G.I. Bill by 1978 or lose it. So I became a part time regular mail handler at Worldway Postal Center on the corner of Sepulveda and Century Blvd, by the airport, while I attended school full time at L.I.F.E. Bible college and I resigned from the post office in 1976, but shortly after our first move to Oregon, I was reinstated as a mail carrier in Newport, but decided to resign again after only 2 months. Then in November 1984 I was reinstated as a mail handler at the Royal Oak SCF 480 mail processing plant in Troy, Michigan.


To Be Continued

If you want to see some of the thousands of photographs that I took at the Salem post office during my 18 years there, go to Facebook and click on the open facebook page the “973-postal gang”


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