Post Office

 George Harless

Julie Parnell interviewed George Harless on February 19, 1997

A job opened up at the Rocky Gap Post Office. Pete Sands was carrying the mail at that time. He had carried the mail temporary, right after the war. I had to take a civil service exam in Bluefield, Virginia. It was just bunch of questions. I can't remember the questions, seems they were just commonsense questions best I remember. That's been forty some years ago. So when I took the test, I didn't make the highest grade. Pete Sands made the highest grade. He was already carrying the mail, and he made the highest grade. But I was in the top three of the highest grades, so they gave me the job because I was a veteran. Pete didn't go to war. Other than that I wouldn't of gotten it. Veterans got five extra points for going to war. Yet it was given to me because of veterans preference. So,I began working with the Post Office in January of 1951.

The Post Office building was heated with an old coal stove. It was just a little old place beside of Howard's, just a little room with a coal stove. At first, Bastian people hung around the post office a lot. Everybody would meet in the morning until the mail was put up and distributed. All community affairs was aired in the post office at Bastian, but not at Rocky Gap. When I first started at Rocky Gap, it wasn't big enough for many people, they'd be one or two that would come there, but not much.

The Route

My first route at Rocky Gap was Laurel and Dry Fork. I was on a tri weekly route, that meant that I would carry a day and be off a day. I carried mail on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at Rocky Gap. My first stop would have been up Laurel. I can't remember who actually the first stop was. The last would have been the head of Dry Fork. I'd go up Laurel, and then I'd go up to a head of it, and then turn around, and go up to the head of Dry Fork. My last stop would have been Lacy Wagner on Dry Fork. I can't remember who my first stop was but, I remember the last one, Lacy Wagner. The delivery truck would bring the mail in the morning. Then, I would go to the post office, and as the post master sorted out the mail. He would hand me my part and I put it up in separations and strap it out, and bundled up, and get arranged in the way the route runs. We delivered to some businesses too. There wasn't many businesses. There was a Kidd's Service station over on a Clearfork and Cecil Colley had a box. I guess that's about all the business on the route. Any other business generally went to the post office and get their mail.

The first vehicle I used to deliver the mail was a 46 model pick-up truck. Primarily, I would use Plymouth Cars. I liked Chrsylar products better, but I have used a Nash Ambassador or Rambler American, and mostly was Plymouth automobiles, I've had several of them. That Rambler was the worst one. He gave me more trouble. The Plymouth maybe a Plymouth 45 or 66 Plymouth I believe was about the best car I used. A fella did hit me one time on a slick road up on Dry Fork. Andrew Ferguson ran in to me one time, he was coming out of Dry Fork and I was at a box. Johnny Thomason hit me with a Volkswagen up here at Bastian one time, I stopped to the mail in the box, and he was coming down behind me. Now that was a 70 model Plymouth I was in that time and I just had taken my arm out of the box and he hit me with a Volkswagen. He was a gawkin' at somebody on a porch, and he wasn't paying no attention, and he hit and totaled my car, that little Volkswagen totaled my car.

One time I remember getting around in a snow drift. I almost got back to the post office at Hunting Camp up towards Suiter. I was coming down that old road, I had three boxes left and the snow just kept getting deeper and deeper. Finally, the car wouldn't go no further and I just took my mail out and starting walking home. I left the car there for the weekend and went back on Sunday and got it. Crossing that mountain was the hardest part of the route. I guess up to Suiter up toward Hunting Camp was probably the worst, up in that area.

Interesting Folks

I had to deal with drunks. I used to have an old drunk who used to want to go over the mountain with me. There was an old boy up on Wolfe Creek and he's dead now, but I've seen him laying on the road drunk in a ditch. He would say "I'm going to Tazewell won't you let me ride." I put him in the backseat and take him across there, you wouldn't dare do that now. One time, I dealt with a lady up on Grapefield. There was an old lady that came out to me one morning, and she couldn't get her fire built and she was blue, her mouth was blue. She was cold, this old lady was about eighty years old at that time, and of course she wasn't thinking. She couldn't think too extra good to get her fire built and it was cold out that morning. She was widow woman, I took her in the car and warmed her up and I brought her back down. I turned the car around and came back to Lee Roy Beckner's, that little store up there, the store is still up there and I stopped and told Flora Lee that Ms. Eddie was sick. She took her in the house and got her boy to take her up there to build a fire.The woman could have died, she could have froze to death.

Some people were just mean. I've had people to get right nasty if I misplaced a letter or something. There were one or two of them that would like to go to the post office and report me. They would make it look like I was doing a bad job or something. I remember, now this wasn't being mean, but there was an interesting little thing that happened one time. You now how you hear the jokes about how it takes so long to get the mail delivered, and how bad the post office is doing and all that, and how they build up the UPS and so forth. So one day, there was a lady who came to me and crawled my frame about putting a package on somebody's porch. She said "You put a package on Bill William's porch." Bill lived off of the road several feet, and knew it wasn't me, because I didn't put packages on porches unless it would be snowing or raining. I asked her if she still had the wrapper to that package, and she said yes. Then I said, "Can I see it?" She took me in the house and she showed it to me and it was UPS. I got the credit for that and of course she apologized. She wasn't mean. She was upset because the UPS had placed her package two miles back up the road. But the post office gets the credit for some of that. I always thought that the post office, when you think about how large the post office is, I always thought they did a pretty good job.

There was a lot of people that was real nice to me. I remember one family on the cold days they'd leave me a hot ham biscuit in the box for me. I thought they were pretty nice other times they would leave one with honey on it. Then people were always giving me something. I have had people to give me little things at Christmas time, maybe a carton of Coca Cola or something. I'll tell you a little something that is even going on right now. There's a lady right now that was on my mail route, that sends me sour dough bread once in while. It's the best bread you'll ever eat. She still sends me that bread today. In fact she sent some bread and some chocolates just before Christmas.

Interesting Situations

When I was on Dry Fork, this was something I wasn't supposed to do. But on Dry Fork those colored folks up there, they'd put in a little lard bucket with sour dough in it and I'd take it down to the hollar to somebody else. See Lester would fire you now for doing that, but I've done that stuff. I've taken stuff for people. I've hauled the bread dough and little things like that. Anything I could put in the car, or deliver a note, delivering a message or something like that. This lady was living in a chicken house, she had a little boy, her husband had left her. After the mail was over I used to take my car and give her furniture that people had given her. I used to take notes from her to her daddy, she wanted her daddy to come and pick her up because she was starving. What I'm telling you, actually that was a violation of the law. Me hauling, putting anybody in the car with me. If they would have wanted they could have caused me a lot of trouble, but they wouldn't do it, like I said they were neighborly. The post master knew it, he would just turn his head, he wouldn't pay no attention to that, helping people. In those days the postal service was neighborly, but not now.

I tell you what I have done though, up on Grapefield, across this mountain, over on Rich Mountain, before that road was hardtopped over there it was a pretty narrow road. When they'd put out fish in the spring there was such a group of people following the fish truck. They'd park right up there right in the middle of the road, and block the road to go fishing. I had to drive all the way round 35 miles to deliver the mail because I couldn't get across the mountain, because the fisherman were blocking the road. Bruce Shufflebarger was the post master then, he was a fisherman that morning, I couldn't get through, boy I was mad. I came back to the post office and I told Bruce to call the state police so I could get across the mountain. He said well, I think the day fishing season opens ought to be a national holiday. He wouldn't call and I had to drive 35 miles. I had to drive right up to Shawvers Mills to get the mail delivered.

The Changing Postal Service

It's stricter and more of it I guess. I only had something like a 200 hundred boxes maybe to deliver. See my son, Ronnie has my job and he delivers something like 500 on the same route. It had grown that much and of course lots of things have changed, the things that I don't even know about, for instance I retired under civil service, he's not even under civil service right now he's under they FERS or something like that. It's different, when he retires it will be entirely different thing.

I said the postal department is made of a lot of jokes. How slow they are and they can't get the mail and all that stuff, but as I said when you view the scoop of it and the size of it and what they do I think they do a pretty good job. When you figure all the trash that's delivered my goodness at the trash, there is an old saying, "In hard times, in normal times you must advertise, and in hard economic times you must advertise." There's all kinds of junk mail. I carried 4 or 5 bundles, Ronnie has the whole back of his car full now. I tell you speaking of the change there used to be a lot of packages. There's been times my car wouldn't hold the packages that I had. Now the UPS had taken a lot of that and you don't have near the mail we used to have in packages.

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