Amissville column for Aug. 9

Driving hard to deliver the mail

William Payne
William Payne Cathie Shiff | Rappahannock News

William Payne, 83, has been retired from the U.S. Postal Service for a quarter century now but he easily remembers the 85-mile Amissville mail delivery route he drove six days a week in a succession of overworked vehicles that he had to replace every two years, tops.

Before we all received house numbers a few years back, everyone in Amissville had a box number and lived along Route 1. No, not that Route 1. This was a rural mail delivery route, and Payne was the last carrier to manage it alone. When he retired at the end of 1988, he was replaced by two carriers.

Now, Amissville Post Office has three daily delivery routes averaging 50 miles each, plus an auxiliary daily route of about 20 miles.

“Yep, when I started there was only one carrier, and I had to hit 450 to 500 mailboxes each day,” chuckled “Red,” as Payne has been known since childhood, when his now-bald head sported a thick crop of auburn hair.

The numbers are daunting. He drove more than 500 miles per week and more than 2,000 miles per month, for a total of almost 25,000 miles per year. The 500 daily mailboxes added up to 144,000 each year. Stop. Open and close. Flag up and flag down. Floor it. Good thing he had worked as a mechanic as a young man; an old Datsun that he ran to death needed new brakes every month.

Payne fell into the job in the mid-1960s. One day he was making hay on his farm off the Richmond Road when the current mail carrier, Charlie Compton, stopped and asked him if he wanted to work as a substitute. Charlie told him that he had not been off for a “good while.” So, Payne applied and got the job. When Charlie took the day off, he would call Payne at 5 a.m. and tell him to go into work. In 1968, Payne became the permanent carrier.

The days began early with a 6:30 a.m. reporting time at the Amissville Post Office. The postmaster separated the day’s mail into the items going into post office boxes and items that Payne would deliver. When that process was complete, Payne used sorting boxes to organize his stacks to coincide with the delivery route.

“I was usually ready to hit the road by 10 a.m.,” Payne said.

Thus he began a seven-hour “tour de Amissville” that began by turning west on U.S. 211 and delivering to all of the side roads until he reached Ben Venue. Then he took Route 729 to Viewtown. Payne recalls his frustration when he had to wait sometimes to rendevous with a guy in a truck who brought the Viewtown mail. After that, he delivered down Doc’s Road, Waterford Road, Route 229 and Routes 611, 613 and 647. Lunch was a quick sandwich.

Heavy rains sometimes flooded the bridges over Route 647, forcing him to take alternate routes to make deliveries on the far side. The worst spots for snow were Route 647 near Poes Road and the intersection of North Poes and Jericho roads. It was parts of three counties, and as the population grew so did the number of mailboxes and volume of mail.

“What really increased in volume was the number of packages,” Payne said. “Some days, I had 25 to deliver. If they did not fit in the box, you had to knock on the door. That took a lot of time.”

After 20 years, Red Payne was worn out, just like his old Datsun. He still lives in the house built by his wife Mary’s grandfather and still makes hay from the lush grass that grows on rolling hills to the west as far as the eye can see.

“Yes, when I retired that’s when they split the route. I was the last one who had to do it alone,” Payne said.