A Commitment to Deliver

March 1, 2010 | By More

Hartman, Ark., seems like a typical small town in the River Valley. With less than 600 residents, it has a non-existent business district, a few churches, a city building, and no consumer services except a small post office located in an old bank. But, this post office is different than any other in Arkansas and possibly the entire US, thanks to Postmaster, Merlin “Bucky” Walters.

Still active* at 89, Walters has worked full time at the Hartman post office for an astounding 54 years. While working 50-plus years at one job is highly commendable, working 54 years for the US Postal Service (USPS), known for its highly publicized employee morale problems in the 1990’s, is a real measure of Walter’s dedication and service to the public.

Walters’ achievements so impressed US Representative, John Boozeman, he publicly congratulated Walters during a July, 2009 House of Representatives session, earning Walters a permanent place in the Federal Congressional record. “He (Walters) has been a familiar face at the Hartman’s Post Office for 53 (now 54) years and at 89 years of age you can still find him there every day hard at work,” said Boozeman.

At the State level, Walters has also been recognized for his accomplishments. In September, 2009, State Representative George Overbey Jr. passed a motion to award a Citation to Walters for his “wealth of wisdom that serves to guide and influence our state on the road to continual progress.”

Prior to his postal job, Walters served in the military during WW 2, and in 1946 moved with his bride of four years, Maureen Thompson, to Hartman, where Maureen’s family owned the Hartman Bank building (now the post office) and a cotton gin, which processed cotton grown in the Hartman bottoms. “You could say I was a ginner,” said Walters.

When the cotton gin closed, Walters took a job in 1956 with the postal service, accepting an appointment by President Eisenhower as a full-time carrier for the Hartman post office. He kept that position for 11 years until 1967 when President Johnson appointed Walters to the office of Postmaster of Hartman and he’s been hard at work ever since.

With Walter’s long service record, he has seen a lot of changes in the postal service.

“I remember when postage stamps used to sell for 3 cents, but then bread also used to cost 9 cents,” said Walters, known locally as “Bucky,” a nickname he picked up as a boy.

“Before rural postal routes, people had to come to town to get their mail. Our post office was a gathering place and folks used to sit on the window sills and talk about the latest news or gossip. People don’t do that so much anymore,” said Walters.

Delivery of mail to the post office has also changed dramatically. A train used to come by here every day and pick up the day’s mail, said Walters. The mail would be put in a big canvas bag with a strap and taken out to a platform at the rail’s edge. As the moving train came by, postal employees inside the mail car would operate a long rod with a hook at the end that would swing out and snag the bag and bring it back inside the car, often while the train was moving.

The day’s incoming mail would be delivered the same way, he added. The postmen who worked the train were so good at catching the mail on the fly, some people went to the station just to watch them work, he added.

Delivery services like Federal Express and United Parcel Service (UPS) have also changed mail delivery.

“When UPS started to advertise for business, they would never think of delivering packages to post office boxes or asking the post office for delivery information because we didn’t have any addresses other than general delivery, post office box numbers or Route 1, box whatever,” said Walters. “Now UPS delivers some packages to the post office, then we delivery the package to the customers.”

n fact, Hartman addresses have changed several times over the past seven years. Now all addresses are set by a 911 Coordinator who assigns a street number and house number, so emergency personnel can more easily find an address, said Walters.

Zip codes were another big change. “A lot of people didn’t want to add zip codes to their address at first, and some still don’t, but they don’t realize that mail is sorted electronically,” said Walters. First, a machine reads the address and puts a bar code on the envelope. This bar code is how mail is sorted now, he added.

Another change Walters has noticed is the way he is addressed, particularly by younger kids who come in to pick up or deliver mail. “Children always used to address me as Mr. Walters. Now, everybody just calls me Bucky.”

Stamp collecting, or philately, is also declining. Stamps are getting too expensive, so people don’t do that much anymore, said Walters, who still remembers the most popular stamps, like the Charlie McCarthy stamp. Charlie McCarthy was a Ventriloquist’s dummy.

Also popular was the “Legends of Hollywood” series, which included the Ronald Regan stamp. “I think you pretty much have to be dead to have your picture on a stamp,” he said.

Walters said he enjoyed his days as a rural carrier, although a lot has changed since then. There was only one rural route at Hartman when he was a carrier and now there are two.

However, a few things in postal service never change like unpredictable weather and dog problems.

“Sometimes we have to make big detours because of the weather, but we find a way. There have been only 4 days when we couldn’t deliver the mail,” Walters said proudly.

Dogs are also an occasional problem. Walters related a story about his Route 1 Mail Carrier, Ira Taylor, who had to stop honking his horn to signal the customer to come out so he could deliver a package.

“There was a big dog outside who attacked Taylor’s truck and was ripping off the sidewalls of his tires when Taylor stopped honking and took the package to the door. The dog was mad at the horn, but never bothered him, I guess,” said Walters.

Hartman route 2 Mail Carrier, Becky Pearrow, said she was once attacked by a large Doberman Pincher type dog after she had delivered a package. “The dog grabbed onto my arm and wouldn’t let go. The owner said the dog was just playing, but the bite marks in my arm said otherwise,” she said.

Despite the obstacles, both Walters and Pearrow agreed that the people make their jobs very rewarding.

“There is a great satisfaction in knowing that we play a small part in so many people’s lives, being able to deliver mail they look forward to receiving every day,” said Pearrow.

Fortunately, Walters spends all his time inside the post office these days, so he doesn’t have to worry about bad weather or unfriendly dogs and he still stresses the importance of good customer service. “Service is all we have to offer!”

And, he still loves his job. When asked about his future plans, the 89 year old replied with a jolly winkle in his eye, “I’m still too young to retire!”

 

 

 

 

 

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