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By Donald C. Wilkey From the "Wilkey Cook Book"

My Father, James Clyde Wilkey, began his career with the Post Office Department about 1930 and carried Rural Route One, Dawson Springs, Kentucky over a span of 25 years. During those years rural Kentucky was beginning to develop. Old dirt roads were slowly being improved. Telephones and electricity were slowly creeping into the more remote areas. Private handwritten letters far exceeded advertising mail.

Clyde would leave the Post Office, then on Railroad Ave., in a Ford Model A Coupe loaded with mail inside and sacks of mail tied to the front fenders. The rumble seat would be open and filled with more mail.

 In place of a trunk the Model A Coupe had a lid which opened from the top and became the back of a seat inside which could hold two people. The seat, or compartment, was called the "rumble seat" and sometimes fondly called the "mother-in-law seat" as anyone riding in this seat could not converse with anyone inside the car.

 Clyde would travel Kentucky 109 to Charleston, Kentucky where he had an exchange of mail with a coal mine company store. From there he would he would continue to "The Clark Place," a farm owed by his father Jimmy Wilkey. Here Clyde changed to a horse and buggy. The buggy was like a buckboard wagon with a very large box built on the frame and had a very large window in front and doors on the side. It is often pictured today depicting a rural carrier.

The route would pass through Beulah, Kentucky and to Dalton, Kentucky, where there was an exchange of mail with the Dalton Post Office. A little past Dalton Clyde would exchange horses at Clyde Eddie Franklin's farm and from there to the Olney, Kentucky Post Office. Then Clyde would continue on the route to back to the Clark Place where he would change back to the Model A and return to the Dawson Springs Post Office.

 Today it is hard to visualize a world without electricity, telephones, and your only means of transportation is by horse back or wagon. Trips to town were made once a week, usually Saturday, for supplies, to sell or trade produce from the farm. Such was the way of life for many rural Kentuckians even until the late 1940's.

Many of these people could not read nor write and to them the rural carrier wore many hats. He was their link to the world and depended upon for news, advice, and help with government forms including income tax. To them he was the United States Government being the only representative of the Federal Government they would ever meet in their lifetime.

During World War II many anxious mothers would meet the carrier daily waiting for letters from their sons in service. If a letter came, she would open the letter and hand it back to Clyde so he might read it to her. In her apron pocket she would have an envelope and paper so Clyde could answer the letter for her. 

If the War Department could not reach these people by wire, they would mail the notification of the death of their son. There were not many of these but Clyde had a hard time reading the notice and comforting the mother, perhaps leading her back to the house.

To show their appreciation many farmers would share an abundant crop with Clyde. One farmer had Sugar Maple trees and would render the sap into sugar maple cakes and syrup. I have had my tongue made raw often as the result of licking a sugar maple cake a little too long.

  

There was no such thing as rural box numbers in those days and many families shared the same last name. A carrier's nightmare. Clyde was so familiar with his route he could tell by the handwriting where the letter went.

 Most of the rural roads were dirt or very thinly spread rock. During the winter months and rainy seasons these roads would turn into a very hazardous quagmire of mud. The wheels of wagons or other vehicles would churn the mud into watery ruts so deep a car or horse drawn wagons would bog down. Farmers living near such areas would often wait for the carrier with a tractor or horses to pull the carrier on through.

 Once frozen the muddy road became a nightmare of hard frozen ruts which could break a car spring if the carrier was to slide into one of them. This usually resulted in the car resting on top of frozen mud unable to move. An expert can get out of these ruts but it is a dangerous job and not one for a novice. Replacing a car spring is all but unheard of today but it was very common back then. I have seen Clyde work late into a winter's night replacing a spring so he could go the next day.

 I must have been about seven years old when Clyde took me around his mail route. Many years later after I made Postmaster I would take much pleasure in letting everyone at the Management Sectional Center know that I had actually been around a rural route in a horse and buggy.

 A substitute for a rural carrier was almost impossible to find because, unless the carrier became sick, he would only work 20 days during the year. When I became 16 and passed the drivers test Clyde, in his desperation for a sub., turned to me. Neither Clyde nor I knew that my 35 year postal career had just been launched. I would, sooner or later, be assigned to every job a 2nd Class Post Office had to offer and would retire as Postmaster.

 While teaching me the route Clyde would often talk of his horse and buggy days and a little light would appear in his eyes, but this referral to the horse and buggy days was often made to teach me a lesson. Once I had put mail in a box and the lid did not close. I reached back to close the lid while Clyde started. He quickly stopped and I can still hear him saying, "If this were a horse and buggy you would only do that once."

Once a horse becomes use to the route he will pull up to a box and stop so the box lines up with the carrier. Once the horse hears the lid close, he is on his way. There is a drawback. Should the carrier be daydreaming he may find himself stopped before a box for which there is no mail. Just close the lid and the horse will start on his own.

 While exchanging mail at the Dalton Post Office, which was also a grocery and drug store, Clyde would get us a couple of cokes and peppermint sticks. We would later take a break under a large tree which overshadowed the road. The old tree is still there, the road is now paved, but I have never got the coke and peppermint stick to taste as good as they did then.

 Only a few years later Morton Hibbs awoke me one morning by pounding on the door. Clyde had suffered a heart attack and died in his car before getting out. I was his sub and had to carry the mail.

 As I drove around the mail route people would be standing in their doorways watching Clyde's car go by. One lady was wringing her hands and upon seeing me covered her eyes and ran back inside her home.

 In Charleston I had a flat tire and pulled in Felker's Store lot to change the tire. Three big fellows in overalls came running out and one pointed his finger at me and said, "Stay where you are."

 They opened the trunk, removed the spare tire and jack. After the tire had been changed, one fellow said, "Go on."

 I carried the day of Clyde's funeral. The Postmaster told me to deliver the newspapers and checks and not to worry about anything else. While en route to the route, I noticed a city carrier running from door to door to finish his route in time for Clyde's funeral.

 The changes within the Postal Service now prohibit some of the services Clyde rendered, but at that time they were a much needed service.

 

Donald Clyde Wilkey