Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Two Special Occasions

(Welcome, BBC listeners / viewers! And Penn Current readers.)

To get a good semblance for what this photo journal is about, I suggest exploring the Favorite Entries at the left side of this page.

I would like to commemorate two special occasions this fine November 30th: First, my father's birthday. My father was the man who inadvertently got me into the hobby of postmark collecting. He's been collecting postmarks and visiting post offices since 1960. I must confess, my first impression of the hobby, as a kid, was one of pain endured while waiting in the car for him to stop in post offices and get cancels during our family vacations. I wanted to start playing Mini-Golf already! He also spurred me on to my first attempt at obtaining a postmark at the age of 15 in Northampton, MA, while I was up in the area attending a summer math program. This was also my first unsuccessful attempt at obtaining a postmark. "We can't do that," the clerk at the counter told me. Lies.

During my post-college, all-American cross-country road trip of 2008 (which my father helped finance), I thought it would great to drop by some post offices near where I had some memorable experiences, thus documenting my trip and getting him some new postmarks. By the end of the trip I was hooked on the hobby, traced a postal path clear across the country, and presented him with a stack of 250 postal cards, each cancelled in a different town. He says it was the best present he ever received. (Even better than that mug I got him for his birthday during my freshman year? Fine.)

Happy birthday, dad!

(And I've got a lot to be thankful for in this regard, don't I? After all, there's the fact that you're here reading this now!)

Second, I would be remiss if I didn't commemorate an important occasion in the life of my stalwart traveling companion: my 1999 Toyota Camry. (Let's put it this way: humans with both the time and postal wherewithal are difficult to come by.)

On November 28, 2011, at 3:02 p.m., my Camry traveled its [her?] 100,000th mile. The setting was the majestic [cough] West Shore Expressway of Staten Island, just south of Victory Boulevard: Exit 7, and approaching the site of the Great Kills garbage dump (now park). There isn't even a post office there! Perhaps 150,000 will be more photogenic. My Camry has helped me explore 42 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces. I fully intend on driving it to Alaska some summer.

Here's the magic moment:

(Yes, I was still watching the road.)

The car has only known life within my family; my mother drove it from 1999 to 2008. Beginning with my cross-country road trip in August 2008, I've put 56,000 miles on the car, and it [she?] is now mine. I maintain my car thoroughly, taking care of it just as well as it takes care of me.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Being Thankful: Rozet, Wyoming

The thought should have occurred to me to write about Rozet earlier. It was one of my first postal experiences while I was exploring the country during the summer of '08, and to this day I would still call it the most meaningful. (Not to mention it's nice having people visit your blog, and several hundred of you have done so by searching "Greenville, PA post office" after my touting of it on NPR. I'm sure several hundred more have also tried with "Rozet, Wyoming post office".)

I have quite a lot to be thankful for this year. Not only the fact that you're all here, actually reading this (thank you to the fantastic writers and editors at The Washington Post, Time, NPR, and Save the Post Office, as well as to several other outlets to be unveiled shortly). Thank you to those who have contributed, through comments or email: photographs, suggestions, and your own meaningful post office stories. Keep 'em coming! This year I've not only started to do interesting graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, but I've been able to make the time to visit more than a thousand post offices -- getting postmarks, taking photographs, meeting some very wonderful people, and learning many unique stories.

I know that millions of you nationwide are thankful for the fact that your community is [still?] served by a U.S. Post Office. Remember, the U.S. Postal Service's core mission, by its birthright, is to serve us; it was founded to bind our country together -- and this means all the communities of our great nation. Its mission is most certainly NOT to be profitable in every small town or non-affluent community: it's the U.S. Postal Service; not the U.S. Postal Business. I ask that you do not take this distinction lightly.

But back to Rozet...

Let's explore this corner of Wyoming. I suppose it's best to do so the way I did it: starting with Devils Tower, our nation's first National Monument. That was one of my intended destinations for my cross-country road trip; it fit in-between the Badlands of South Dakota and the wonder that is Yellowstone.

Here's our geographic fix:

But to fully comprehend the story behind Rozet, Wyoming, you need to understand Devils Tower:

What is now one of the recreational climbing meccas of America has been a sacred location for Native Americans for centuries. Many tribes' legends pertain to bears -- the "Bear's Tipi" is a common reference. Many tribes' legends and rituals are kept private, but you can learn more about Devil's Tower as a sacred site here. The site was formed about 50 millions of years ago -- underground -- as an intrusion of magma that bubbled up, separated the sedimentary rock, and solidified. The hexagonal columns you can still see are a result of the cooling of the molten rock. Scientists believe that the formation was exposed as the covering rock was worn away within the past couple million years. Experienced climbers can register and go up; an experienced guide can lead you up for $250 (at least back in 2008). The National Park Service provides an FAQ about the site. The total height of Devils Tower, from base to top, is 867 feet. Approximately 4,000 visitors climb Devils Tower every year.

I write all this so you can appreciate what the Postmaster in Rozet, WY gave to me. But as for Devils Tower, which became our nation's first National Monument on September 24, 1906, a post office was established in 1925:

The post office is currently threatened with closure as part of USPS's "Expanded Access" [Thousands Fewer Post Offices] initiative. Here's a list of all offices in Wyoming threatened as part of that program.

On to Rozet:
Here's a photo from a railroad overpass, showing the town of Rozet, several miles away, in the distance. If you can look closely, you can even see a coal train making its way from one of the coal mines around the large town of Gillette.

Postmaster Bruce Redfield has served Rozet since 1990 as an Officer-in-Charge. He's been Postmaster since February 23, 1991, and as I stated over the air, he was responsible for "servicing" a set of seven commemorative, limited-time, pictorial cancellations honoring Devils Tower. (That is, post offices around the country can commemorate events by using postmarks that aren't just circles, but which feature images -- they're available for a limited time, but you can find out about them through Linn's Stamp News or USPS's Postal Bulletin. You can mail items, bearing proper postage, to be cancelled at that location, which will then be mailed back to you ("servicing"). Generally the time window to obtain such special cancellations is 30 days.)

I've gotten dozens of pictorial cancellations, but this was different: Postmaster Redfield literally climbed the sack of mail with thousands of people's requests for postmarks from all over the world, and applied the postmarks ON TOP of Devils Tower. He had the sack of mail on his back while he climbed that 800-foot, vertical-walled behemoth. That is astounding in and of itself.

Rozet, Wyoming post office:

So when I stopped by Rozet, stated that I drove out from New York and that I wanted his postmark, not only did I get a standard Rozet postmark... he saved a special set of those envelopes ("covers") which he had carried to the top of Devils Tower, each with a different commemorative pictorial postmark on it, and he gave it to me. It was incredibly generous and meaningful, and so I thank you, Postmaster Redfield, today. The envelopes are in a safe place.

This day also included experiences at other offices in northeastern Wyoming, which I detailed in my fourth-ever entry for this blog: As Rural as it Sounds -- Recluse, Wyoming, et al. This was the very day that my appreciation for post offices first took hold, and during which visiting them became an integral part of my overall experiences while exploring America.

Here's a parting scene of some of the residents of Rozet. I'd never seen antelope before!

Followup: 11/28/11 10:47pm
This quote is taken from a comment left below the NPR writeup of the All Things Considered piece. His perspective of the story is fantastic, and I thank him for sharing:

Frank Sanders (Towerguide) wrote:

I am Proud to be the climbing guide that was privaledged to take the Rozet, Wyoming Postmaster Bruce, to the top of Devils Tower, for the Special Hand Cancelation of the envelopes. It was in 2006 and Devils Tower was celebrating its 100th anniversary of being a National Monument. The Special Cancelation was set for July 4th!!! The Post Office collected mail,for anyone who wanted that Special Cancelation. We started our climb to the Tower Top that afternoon, arriving at sun set. Bruce had me haul a large cutting board, along with all the mail, so that he had the Best possible place to work. And work he did; hundreds of envelopes, each carefully stamped and cancelled!!! We were able to enjoy the view, looking DOWN at the local fireworks going off BELOW us!!! AMAZING!!! When the fireworks were over and the cancellations were completed, we rappelled down, with the headlamps on. What a Wonderful Night.

The Real Story is Postmaster Bruce!!! He CHOSE to do the job himself, although he had never climbed before. He trained with me through several weeks, learning to climb! On top that night, his feet barely touched the ground! He radiated American and Postal Pride. It is a Huge Shame that his Post Office is slated for closure...

Friday, November 25, 2011 3:25:00 PM

(Rozet's post office is not presently being studied for closure; but I could see why one might think it was, given the context of the article.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Considering all things...

Welcome, NPR listeners and readers! I hope you enjoy Going Postal, a photo journal of post offices and places across the United States. If you've got any questions or feedback, or would otherwise like to submit your own postal-related story, do contact me at the email address at left. Thanks for tuning in. I was a bit nervous inside the studio, so hopefully I was articulate enough and you thought it was interesting! Anyway!

To get a nice introduction for some of the work presented in the 150 entries of this blog, I suggest exploring some of the Favorite Entries at left. Some common tags are also provided for you should you have a field -- say, "beautiful post offices" -- or geographic area ("Philadelphia") of interest.

An NYU professor has created a brilliant website, called [opens in new window], in which he discusses pertinent issues for both the postal service, as well as for communities whose post office are facing closure, quite thoroughly. He's got fantastic reference pages, from maps of thousands of threatened post offices to how you can file an appeal with the Postal Regulatory Commission if your post office is indeed closed.

The importance of rural post offices to their towns extends far beyond money orders, for the record. I'll post more thoughts on his later. Check back in a couple of days and I should be able to get something up.

Have a look around, and I hope you enjoy! If you're interested in my most recent postings, I just completed a three-part series about small-island offices off the coast of Maine.

Do check out the Post Mark Collectors Club (PMCC), a nonprofit philatelic organization with a museum in Ohio which maintains the world's largest collections of postmarks and post office photographs. That's for whom I volunteer. (Nobody pays me for this, for the record.)

-- Evan Kalish

P.S. Since everyone's clamoring to see Greenville, PA, here's the link to my entry about that beautiful office [opens in new window] -- it's one of the first entries I ever wrote for this blog, and I might revise it with more photographs and details shortly.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Beautiful POs: Islands of Maine, Part III

Hello, again. In case you missed either of the first two entries in this trilogy, about the lovely little offices of Squirrel and MacMahan Islands, please do head on over to Part I or II!

[View of the Bustins Island float, from the boat:]

Let's head on to Bustins Island, ME, the last of my postmarking trio's three Maine island postmark treks. Once again, we were not disappointed. This excursion took us just 15 miles northeast of Maine's largest city Portland, and through Freeport, Maine, which is best known as the home of L.L.Bean. Freeport is from where they do all their shipping. Did you know: L.L.Bean's Freeport operations, in and of themselves, have their own TWO reserved ZIP codes? (They do not have their own postmarks.)

As with Squirrel Island, there is scheduled ferry service between Bustins Island and the home of its 'parent' post office -- in this case South Freeport, Maine. The $10 trip takes about half an hour, with about a 10-minute layover on Bustins Island. The ferry we happened to take was also the mail ferry! We accompanied the official contractor with his daily bin of mail over to the CPO, which was quite photogenic.

Let me also note that Bustins Island is yet another community that takes pride in its post office. Here's a screenshot from the community's homepage; other images include the school and pleasant landscapes.

The building, located a couple of minutes to the east of the pier, is yet another gem of local flavor:
Bustins Island [Community] Post Office (parent office: South Freeport, ME)

You can once again see that this is where the community comes for information. There's building also houses community bulletin boards as well as the town's public library. A woman was reading in there while the postal tourists explored the post office.
I've come across libraries sharing spaces with CPOs [Community Post Offices] before. What I didn't expect to see was a full room full of posters and specimens detailing local flora and fauna:

But let's have a closer look at the office. Here's the window, in the surprisingly muted lighting environment that is just inside the front of the building:
The office supplies several pieces of reference information, such as the ZIP codes for neighboring towns along the shore, as well some adorable postal-related comic strips, and even information for how to contact a Bustins Island resident who was in the hospital. This is an example of how a post office can bind a community together. (And again, since this one is run under contract, they're allowed to be more engaged in the community by publishing notices like this.)

While buildings might subscribe to a numbered address system for the ease of newcomers, all mail delivered to Bustins Island residents is done through General Delivery: As an index card below the window notes, the address for all residents on the island is: [Your name] // General Delivery // Bustins Island, ME 04015-9999.

You have to pick up your mail at the window during business hours (which are presently 9:30 - 12:30 Monday through Saturday).

The island has possessed a post office since 1897, though until 1908 it was known as Seeket. The office was independent [that is, headed by a U.S. Postmaster] until 1967, since which it has been a rural station / CPO under the parent office of South Freeport.

Here's an additional view of the building:

Hope you enjoyed our little journey along the coast of Maine. Until next time, yours in postal appreciation,
-- Evan K.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Beautiful POs: Islands of Maine, Part II

(For those who missed, it, Part I is below on the homepage, or at this link.)

[Waving good-bye from the Squirrel Island pier:]

One of the wonderful things about USPS's pictorial postmark program is that any small community around the country can receive its 15 minutes of fame with publication in USPS's biweekly Postal Bulletin (and Linn's Stamp News).

For example: When USPS unveiled its popular Pixar-themed stamps this summer, one little island in Maine, as well as several towns across the country -- including the town-of-135-people Woody, CA -- were graced with their own limited-time pictorial postmarks which folks from all over the world mailed out for:

With these special cancellations, USPS was very clever -- commemorating Toy Story in Woody, CA? Right on. What about the Up stamp, featuring a dog? Why in the world would they give it to Squirrel Island, ME? It's actually exceedingly clever, and hopefully this brief YouTube clip [opens in new window] will help shed some light on why. That clip tends to repeat itself a lot in this film.

(Note: The Squirrel Island cancellations were 'serviced' at the Squirrel Island CPO's parent office of Boothbay Harbor, so they didn't actually go to the island itself. What can you do?)

The three postal tourists headed to Squirrel Island the same day we visited MacMahan. We spent a bit of time exploring downtown Boothbay Harbor, and had lunch at a hot dog truck while we waited for the next ferry. Fortunately, in this instance, a ferry does serve the island. It's a few-dollar, half-hour trip from Boothbay Harbor.

The ferry agreed to wait a couple of additional minutes at the island while our trio walked the couple of minutes to the office and snapped our photos. The P.O. itself had already closed for the day [it's open from 10 to noon], which probably worked in our favor since we would have felt like chatting.

That all said, let's have a look!

Squirrel Island [Community] Post Office [parent office: Boothbay Harbor, ME]

Absolutely beautiful. You'll note the wagon out front; since no cars are permitted, Squirrel Island residents use wagons that they'll wheel around with groceries, luggage, and whatnot. (Reminiscent of an earlier experience on Fire Island -- see third photo. [Opens in new window.]) Residents leave their wagons on the pier:

The 'Ora S. Dodge' post office is one part of the de facto community center. Women had gathered inside the other end of the building and were discussing news of the day. The building also features several community bulletin boards, a couple of benches, a fire extinguisher, and an emergency phone as one might see on a college campus!

Here is the front of the post office. I suggest looking closely at the Ora S. Dodge sign and appreciating the adornment. As I've always said, post offices are a mark of community pride.

You can see a couple of the aforementioned items by the beautiful, old-style mail collection box. To this day I've seen fewer than ten of them in my travels.

(Note: You can see more examples of pictorial postmarks, including the above, in this Postal Bulletin. Click down to the Stamps / Philately section. This happens to be a particularly thorough edition.)

You can read more about Squirrel Island here.

The trilogy concludes next time...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Beautiful POs: Islands of Maine, Part I

[The Five Islands dock; view from the boat to Macmahan Island (and its attendant PO):]

When you're invited to partake in a postal tour of islands of Maine, you don't say no. Assuming your job is over for the summer and school doesn't start for another month, anyway. Together, three postal tourists with a combined 38,000 post offices visited set off and discovered some astoundingly quaint offices on some of the small islands off the Maine coast. (Yes, that number is correct. Some folks have been doing this for decades. Here I was the lightweight.)

There are 17 Post Offices or CPOs (discussed later) on islands inaccessible by bridges within the state of Maine. Three will be presented in this trio of entries.

We happened to make the trip that week in July during which USPS announced its closure study for 3,700 post offices as part of its "Expanded Access" (read: Many Fewer Post Offices) initiative, which put 34 Maine post offices in jeopardy. (During my last day in Maine, I visited three of those locations -- one of which is Portland's Station A.)

This is not about any of those offices. While each of the following facilities is in fact much smaller than most of those on that list, these are not run by postal employees -- they are Community Post Offices (CPOs), postal operations run under contract (and a subset of CPUs -- Contract Postal Units). CPOs exist where full-fledged U.S. Post Offices formerly resided, and many have been around for decades. The "new concept" of a Village "Post Office" (VPO) is like a CPO, but VPOs offer no real postal services. Those are designed to be as bare-bones as possible; it's a P.R. ploy. CPOs offer a respectable range of services and serve small, otherwise postal-less towns much better than their newly promoted [cheaper] alternative. (Of course true Post Offices, staffed by USPS Postmasters, are best; only they offer the full breadth of services that the Postal Service provides.)

That said, let's start looking at some nice post offices!

MacMahan Island [Community] Post Office [parent office: Georgetown, ME]

Here, what might be your initial mental vision of Maine -- sleepy harbors, boats and lobstermen -- would be spot-on. Upon arriving at the Five Islands harbor (which, of course, used to have a post office), we quickly realized that there's no easy way to get to MacMahan Island unless you're a local lobsterman or an Olympic swimmer. There are no scheduled ferries. Unfortunately, swimming with philatelic materials tends to result in the erosion of their quality, so we opted to find a boat.

A captain's phone number was posted at the side of a shack on the main pier. A phone call foreshadowed his arrival 15 minutes later. He took a rowboat out, started up his vessel of pride, and for $45 [which eventually became $60 -- returning to the boat I realized that I'd left my camera at the post office and had to run back for it, so the waiting time kicked the price up a tad...] the three of us were able to take the mile-and-a-quarter trip to visit the island and the MacMahan post office.

Here's a view of the harbor from the back of the boat:

Of course, there are no roads here -- just unmarked trails through the woods. And our captain didn't know where the PO would be. Fortunately, someone was at the shack that is the Yacht Club, by the pier; he told us that the PO was the top of the hill, past a few houses, about five minutes away. Here's what we found:

This building is the MacMahan lodge and post office:

Here's the entrance. Make sure you see the sign above the door:

Inside were some of those nice old PO boxes that one would have seen back in the 1930s. There window was wooden and was shut for the day... Since the post office wasn't open at the time, we all took our photos, slipped in our postmark requests with philatelic materials, explored the lodge a bit, and scurried back down to the main dock.

Here's a snapshot of [part of] a map of the island, posted within the lodge. Isn't it fantastic? This is something you definitely don't see every day... Note the lodge and P.O.:

(If you really wanted to track our progress through the woods, we had docked at the West Float and made our way up the hill to the lodge/PO -- and back, of course.)

MacMahan used to have its own independent Post Office. For a while it was a Rural Station [former designation for a CPO] of the large town of Bath, about 14 miles away. It subsequently became a CPO of Five Islands -- when it still had a post office, and is now a CPO of Georgetown.

Now, let's head on over to Squirrel Island!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's About TIME... Magazine

Hello, new visitors, especially those who are here because they saw the article about the Postal Service on this morning. I hope you enjoy this photo journal, in which I seek to present some of the more unique aspects of, and stories behind, a critical -- yet increasingly under-respected -- American institution and facet of our country's social fabric.

Read some of the "favorites entries", at left, for some unique places and stories.

I do this all for fun. [Unfortunately] no one pays me for it. (Anyone know how one might get a grant for this?) I just enjoy seeing the country, learning about the history of various communities, and taking photographs in unique places. Waymarking, as it were, by visiting post offices and obtaining postmarks to document one's travels is an effective way of making sure that you don't miss any communities -- for the time being, anyway...

I recognize that this hobby is incredibly uncommon, but it's most certainly worthwhile. And I don't believe that those who want to save post offices are on the losing side of history just yet.

P.S. That Malone, WA sign was acquired on behalf of the nonprofit philatelic PMCC Museum in Ohio, its new home. (It's not my own personal trophy.) Site-specific signage can be donated to non-profit organizations for preservation purposes.
P.P.S. To be sure, in the article I don't mean to claim that EVERY post office is in jeopardy. But various bureaucratic threats, such as "lease disputes," in addition to USPS's "hit lists", mean that you can never be fully sure how long a given facility will be around -- at least in its present form.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Beautiful [D]PO: Saint James, MD

What to do... It's late afternoon in rural north central Maryland and one is expected to be at one's friend's place in Pittsburgh at 7 p.m., yet you're tipped off that a post office has recently closed in a small town a few miles south of I-70, and the beautiful postal fa├žade still stands in the general store. I'm guessing the obvious thing to do is to put off meeting your friend and have dinner on the road, because I definitely had to see the post office that was literally imported from Pennsylvania. (From where? I don't know. If my research turns any further details about this story, I'll keep you 'posted'.)

First, let's get a geographic fix on Saint James, MD (courtesy Wikipedia):

Originally established as the Lydia post office on July 15, 1889 with first Postmaster John F. Rowland (and renamed Saint James on Aug. 1, 1946), the post office served the community until it was discontinued earlier this year, April 30, 2011. The last acting Postmaster was Carolyn 'Cookie' Kline, presently at the Keymar, MD post office. She served from 2002 to 2007. The office was subsequently headed by two O.I.C.s (Officers-in-Charge), the last of whom is now a clerk at the Cascade, MD post office.

The U.S. Census Designated Place of Saint James covers six square miles and houses more than 1,600 residents. The nearest post office is Fairplay, MD, a 2.4-mile drive away. (Saint James residents must now also use the Fairplay ZIP code.) Packages must be taken to Fairplay, though residents can pick up their mail at a cluster box in front of the store. (In the photo below, the boxes are obscured by the gray Hyundai.)

Most recently, the post office was housed in the Saint James general store, which also houses a gas station, hardware store, and a gun shop. There is also a "collectors" store next door. Given this, it's not as though residents would otherwise have to, and it's doubtful that they would prefer, to leave town to conduct their business, so the discontinuance of postal operations is disappointing. Here is the store:

Here is the fantastic "imported" post office from Pennsylvania. Admire the craftsmanship and the woodwork, the old boxes, and the marble Money Order window. THAT's a post office.

Here are closeups of some of the details:

The most interesting detail was that the package / retail window (which measures approximately a foot square) was small enough such that packages larger than, say, a Large Flat-Rate Box had to be brought around by the customer outside and through the back door of the building. Similarly, large packages had to be given to the customer through the back door. How unbelievably quaint is that? (It's less of a security risk than you might think; the door has a peephole, and small-town Postmasters have this habit of knowing every local resident in any case.)

Furthermore, those P.O. Boxes aren't P.O. Boxes in the normal sense. They were actually General Delivery customer boxes (22 of which were in service before closure); General Delivery box owners, who had to live within a quarter-mile radius, had to come in during business hours and their mail would be handed to them only then.

The store is adjacent to a freight rail line. The post office itself was about 30 feet from the right-of-way. When trains rumbled by, this often caused the whole store to shake! I'd hate to be filling out my change-of-address form when this happened.

Saint James was not the only post office to serve this community. The Saint James School, a boarding school that's a 1.2-mile drive from "downtown" Saint James, had a post office of its own. That P.O. was known as College of Saint James from December 8, 1847 until its renaming to Saint James School: July 6, 1901. The post office office was discontinued November 15, 1943.

So you can get an even better sense of scale for the place, that package window, and the location in which it resides, here's a photo of yours truly:

I was told that the general store, Shawley's, was hoping to apply for a Village Post Office to continue to serve its customers in any way that it can. They were in discussions with postal officials, but no official plans are in place at this time.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

End of the Line: Frederick, MD P&DF

In 1995, Maryland's second-largest incorporated city heralded the advent of a new sectional mail processing facility. Smaller than a full-blown Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC), this P&D Facility (P&DF) housed 180 postal employees who were involved with the processing and cancellation of mail entering the mailstream from, as well as the distribution of mail getting delivered to, at least 60 217XX, 215XX, and some 267XX-ZIP-coded offices. The plant has been subject to a protracted two-year closure procedure which has gradually stripped away all of its responsibilities, and which will result in its final day of [diminished] operation this Friday, November 18.

I recently visited the facility while touring threatened post offices of northern Maryland.

The facility is located in Frederick's Industrial Center East southeast of town, south of I-70. Its address is 1550 Tilco Drive, an industrial loop which features a number of auto shops and equipment companies. Near to the P&DF is a colorful attempt at an industrial strip mall which is largely vacant. The processing site, too, will be added to the real estate market.

The building itself is par for the course as far as the architecture of small USPS processing facilities: a squat, flat building approximately 300 feet square, for an estimated 90,000 square feet of overall floor space.

USPS shifted mail processing and cancellation operations to the Suburban Maryland processing plant by July 1, 2010, although consolidation with the Baltimore processing plant is the end result of the operations transfer, which was approved this August 3. In Frederick their machinery is gone, and distribution to local offices has been phased out since Columbus Day. When I recently arrived at the facility, there were a handful of cars in the lot. Again, the plant closes for all time this Friday, November 18.

Mail that would otherwise be processed in Frederick and stay within Washington County, MD still arrives overnight according to USPS's Postal Price Calculator, though I question whether service to portions of Pennsylvania suffered; a letter being sent from Frederick, MD to Altoona, PA, 130 miles away, or to Harrisburg, PA, 70 miles away, arrives in two days. I do not know what the service standard was before the shift to Baltimore, but mail originating in Baltimore receives the same treatment.

Of those 180 workers at the Frederick plant, nearby Hagerstown's newspaper the Herald-Mail states that workers will most likely be shifted to Baltimore's larger processing facility, which is 50 miles away. Of course, they aren't the easiest 50 miles for mail trucks when Baltimore traffic and Maryland hills are involved; but I digress. Some workers could be transferred to closer-by post offices.

Here is the main entrance (or at least, that for visitors) of the building:

Philatelically speaking, since the P&DF no longer processes mail, it has no cancelling devices, although it still possesses one black-inked round dater which is unique to its 21704 ZIP code; it says "Frederick MD 21704"; there is no indication of "P&DF" or the like.

USPS closed, -- rather, consolidated -- the plant due to what it claimed were $4.2 million in annual savings. Of course that number is not without dispute, but I don't know the details. Some against the change: "There are numerous reports across the country about the botched attempts of consolidations at other facilities," the workers wrote, citing audits by the U.S. Office of the Inspector General. Part of the justification for the Frederick closure involved workload declines; regardless, at the end the plant still processed nearly one million pieces of mail a day. (These figures, once again, are from the Herald-Mail article.)

The author's back-of-the-envelope calculation (est. 160 workers transferred * est. 350 work days a year * extra 100-mile commute / average 22 mpg * est. $3.50 per gallon of gasoline) suggests that savings realized by the postal service result in the transferal of nearly $900,000 in direct out-of-pocket expenses for affected postal workers in fuel costs alone. (Not to mention the wear and depreciation incurred by putting one's car through an extra 30,000 miles of driving per year.) Of course, there are additional transit costs incurred by USPS's fleet to bring all the mail down to Baltimore and back. I also suspect it will inhibit other mail processing, such as bulk mail. (Which to some might not come across as the biggest sin.) I don't know enough about parcel processing.

Further details of the Area Mail Processing study about Frederick can be found here -- note that there are two listings for Frederick, one for originating, and one for destinating mail, along with those from processing plant studies across the country.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

11/11/11 Postmarks

For the philatelist in you, you might think it fun to obtain a cancel commemorating this once-a-century mathematical treat. Unfortunately, as Veterans Day is a federal holiday, very few post offices are actually open and thus few Nov. 11, 2011 hand-cancels are actually available.

Here are some ways to get 11/11/11 cancels. The first four methods are date-specific -- that is, they can only be done on 11/11/11 itself. The last way could be accomplished after the fact.
1. Find a post office that's actually open. I'm thinking the Main Post Offices of New York and Chicago as well as a few scattered Air Mail Centers. Even offices open seven days a week in rather large cities, such as in Philadelphia, are closed on Veterans Day. Some post offices in malls are required by lease to be operational during all mall hours, seven days a week; but Veterans Day generally trumps even that.

2. Accept a potentially horrible spray-on cancel from the local processing facility of your choice. That is, just put a letter in a mailbox today. Mail it to yourself. Admire the wonder that is overnight delivery, especially because some postal executives would rather not have it around for too much longer.

3. Go to a Contract Postal Unit (CPU). If you're anywhere near a city in Ohio, Michigan, or Iowa, you're especially in luck because Meijer stores and some Iowa regional super-supermarket chains have CPUs at each of their locations. You can use the USPS Locator to see if there are any contract facilities near you. Most sizable towns/cities have at least one, and since they're not staffed by USPS workers they should be open today. Note: This is always an iffy proposition, because the workers / manager there might have no idea what you're talking about, and/or they might have been instructed not to cancel anything with their dating devices. It's not their fault.

4. Pop in at the nearest USPS processing center Bulk Mail Entry Unit -- assuming there's a visitor or bulk mailer entrance so you wouldn't get arrested for trespassing. I believe these are open on federal holidays. See if you can plead with them to get an 11/11/11 cancel. There might be a non-bulk mail-specific dater lying around that could be used for this.

5. The most recent Postal Bulletin details several 11/11/11 pictorial cancellations, which one can request through the mail for 30 days. Some are Veterans Day-specific, others are coincidental. But for pure numerals, they can't be beat. Instructions are shown in the (rather large) graphic.

Groton, CT is a philatelic stalwart. Combine a local Naval Sub Base and an active local philatelic society to obtain frequent pictorial cancellations. The 30th anniversary of the U.S.S. Ohio is also being commemorated on a pictorial on our other coast in Keyport, WA! Collect them both!

The Ocala, FL pictorial is the only one that overtly commemorates Veterans Day, though Abbot, ME's Monument Square Station cancel could be seen as related to the date, given its Honor Roll Dedication. Normal, IL's post office sesquicentennial postmark and Tucson, AZ's centennial Steam Train Station postmark are coincidental to the date, but I'll still mail for them anyway!

Yours in collecting,
-- Evan K.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

For the Record: What's a Carrier Annex?

(Folks can get full information about Carrier Annexes, at least if they know where one is, or if one's mail is delivered from one, by using 1-800-ASK-USPS, selecting option 5 from the main menu, stating "delivery offices", and entering the ZIP code in question. These locations' addresses are also noted on USPS's published Leased / Owned Facilities Report. So what I'm posting here, while not commonly known, is not really sensitive information. The photos I provide here are solely of the buildings' fronts and taken from public roads. For the record, the fantastic resource that is the Post Mark Collectors Club (PMCC)'s impeccable Post Office Directory notes the existence of annexes.)

The postal facilities with which most of the American populace is familiar are USPS retail facilities -- Post Offices, classified branches and stations. Of course, USPS involves the delivery of mail as well as its intake. Excluding the world of CPUs, P&DC/Fs, Vehicle Maintenance Facilities, and other various postal knickknacks, of interest in this entry is the delivery operation, which is often conducted at a postal Carrier Annex. Many post offices will have both retail and carriers in the same facility, but sometimes these operations are separated. Retail-only urban locations are often called Finance Stations, and carrier-only bases are called Carrier Annexes (or, at times, Detached Carrier Units).

Since not many people get to see them, I thought it would be fun to show a couple and explain how they can come to be.

Standalone Carrier Annexes
A good example of a standalone carrier annex is Connecticut's Guilford/Madison Carrier Annex, which lies between the two pleasant towns on the state's coast (south of I-95). Constructed in 2000, it is overseen by the Guilford Postmaster and is responsible for the delivery of mail to two towns.

Guilford, CT: Guilford/Madison Carrier Annex
60 Shoreline Dr., Guilford, CT

I don't believe there's customer package pickup at this location.

Saco, ME: Biddeford/Saco Carrier Annex
81 Industrial Park Road, Saco, ME

Similar to the Guilford/Madison Annex, this serves multiple towns, and it reports to the Saco post office. Based on what I saw there is no passenger pickup at this location.

In most cases, standalone Carrier Annexes are constructed because a community has grown and a post office's operations have outgrown its present space. This was the case in Springfield, New Jersey (below). The Carrier Annex was originally the Main Post Office, but the retail and delivery operations have since split. In the case of Springfield, NJ, the retail operations moved just across the street.

Former Springfield, NJ post office and current Springfield, NJ Carrier Annex:

There is customer package pickup available at this location.

Present Springfield, NJ [retail] post office:

In large cities it is often the case that a classified station, which used to maintain both retail and carriers, has split into two operations. One great example is my favorite carrier facility, the Ryder Carrier Annex in Brooklyn, NY. I wrote all about that in this GP entry. (If you haven't seen that entry before, check it out -- I promise it's worth it.)

Several such splits have occurred in the Philadelphia area, wherein the retail operations of at least three post office stations bubbled off and left their carrier operations behind. One is the Fairmount Station / Carrier Annex, both shown in this post. Another is the Roxborough Carrier Annex, which, as seen from the signage, used to be a full Station:

The retail operations moved a couple of blocks away, into a former movie theater.
Philadelphia, PA: Roxborough Station post office

(Bonus: The former former Roxborough Station, now a beer distributor!)

Similarly, Philadelphia's Point Breeze Carrier Annex was a full-fledged station and also has customer package pickup:

The Point Breeze Station post office now lies in a strip mall:

I've witnessed a couple of instances in which one town's carrier annex is attached to another town's Main Post Office. One such example is the Scarsdale, NY Carrier Annex, attached to the Hartsdale, NY post office. They occupy the same building, but the Scarsdale Postmaster runs the Annex while the Hartsdale Postmaster manages his operations separately.

Here's a view of that building, focusing on the Scarsdale Annex side:

The Bear, DE post office houses the carriers for Newark ["Nu-WARK"], DE; so in the front is the Bear Post Office, and in the back is the Newark Carrier Annex. Here is the building:

Some annexes can be rather large, like the Trenton, NJ Carrier Annex, which is located in Yardville and is located near the Main Office on Rt. 130.

In Camden, NJ, the carriers for many ZIP codes are all located in one facility known as the Camden Delivery Distribution Center:

This is among those annexes that are off-limits to the general public. Only postal employees are allowed to enter. You wouldn't believe how many No Trespassing signs they have put up there.

Sometimes you get facilities which used to handle primarily packages: Parcel Post Annexes, which these days I'm rather certain are just carrier annexes. One example is Rutherford, NJ's East Rutherford Parcel Post Annex. Another is the New Hyde Park, NY Parcel Post Annex, located two short blocks from its principal office:

The only standalone annex in Salem, OR is known as the Hollywood DCU [Detached Carrier Unit]:

(Yep, that was off postal property; just a telephoto.) There are plenty of DCUs in the Portland, OR area as well.

In many cases, carrier annexes, which might have been founded ten years ago, are being reconnected with their long-lost retail counterparts due to the consolidation of carrier routes (or, as USPS would say, 'diminishing mail volume'). This often results in a game of what I like to call "Musical Carriers", in which (for one example I know), carriers are being moved from a Main Post Office that is being sold into two outlying carrier facilities; a few months later one of those buildings is expected to close and the carriers once again move into another or two carrier-only facilities. It's not easy being a carrier these days.

Hope you enjoyed this hodgepodge of an entry!