“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers …”

In 1987, Sally Smith heard about a part-time job carrying mail out of Elkland, a small village in southern Dallas County, Missouri, near the farm where she lived with her husband Sam. Besides helping Sam raise stock cattle, Sally kept house and took care of their children. Even though Sam also worked for the State Highway Department, she figured a little extra money would come in handy. “After waiting six months for a phone call, I began to think I wasn’t going to be a mail carrier,” Sally says. But she got the job and has been carrying mail ever since. Rural Free Delivery began in 1902.

When did you start working full-time?
I carried mail out of Elkland for a few months before being transferred to Fair Grove as Joyce Barnhart’s sub. Bill Harwood was postmaster then. Carriers had to drive their own vehicles. [Some rural mail carriers still provide their own vehicles.]

How many cars have you had over the past thirty-three years?
I’ve gone through seven. The best one was an International Scout. Every time we’d buy a car, I’d sit in the middle of the front seat to see if my left foot could reach the pedals. For three years, I’ve been driving an LLV, long life vehicle, on the route. It has everything on the right-hand side.

Have you had any accidents on the job?
No, not one. There were plenty of close calls though. Some people don’t know what double yellow lines in the middle of the road are for. There were unusual things though, like the time part of my car’s axle and rear wheel passed me. Once I spun my steering wheel and nothing happened … it just kept spinning.

How long is your route?
Eighty-one miles in four counties, Greene, Polk, Dallas, and Webster.

What are unique items you have delivered?
Most of it has been letters. When I started, stamps were seventeen cents. I have carried baby chicks, honeybees, fish. One of the other carriers took flesh-eating beetles to a taxidermist. There are fewer magazines now. Since everyone is stuck home because of the virus lately, they’ve been ordering online. I have to allow for bigger packages. I’ve carried mattresses, charcoal cookers, and table saws. I watch out for things coming from other countries and use lots of hand-sanitizer.

What obstacles have you encountered?
Wasps and poison ivy are problems in the summer, and there’s ice on the boxes in the winter. Carriers have to go to the door to get signatures for registered mail, so if dogs aren’t disciplined, they sometimes bite. Once I opened a box, and there was a dead possum grinning at me. I guess someone was playing a joke or something. I just pushed it over, put in the mail, and took off toward the next box.

What is your job’s biggest advantage?
Being outside. I’m on my own. The most important thing is getting the mail where it’s supposed to go.

Do you think about retiring?
I think about it all the time. I still feel healthy. I’ll keep carrying the mail for a while longer.

Photo // Ron McGinnis