Layers of clothing, can-do attitudes keep them going
PRINCETON — “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” states the unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service.
And neither does subzero cold.
Princeton letter carriers have braved this winter’s frigid temperatures — it was 10 degrees below zero Thursday morning, for example — with determination, various methods for keeping warm, and surprisingly good cheer.
As he sorted mail before heading out on his 11 1/4-mile walking route Thursday morning, 30-year veteran Scott Maschek explained his strategy to ward off the cold.
“You just wear layers, lots of layers,” Maschek said. “I’m four layers deep today, plus I’ll have the coat.”
A fleece neck guard and a thin insulated hood are other vital accessories.
“If your throat and neck are warm, and your chest is warm, the rest of you is warm,” he said.
Gloves are important, too. Maschek said he buys the best he can find, then cuts off three fingers – thumb, index and middle – of each glove, “because you can’t hold on to the mail unless the fingers are out.”
Letter carrier Ann Manahan said layers, snow pants, and Under Armour gear help keep her warm.
“And I bring a thermos of hot tea or hot cocoa or something to drink between swings to help. That’s about all you can do — keep moving,” she said.
How long is her route on foot?
“A pedometer one day said I did 15-point-something miles walking. I don’t even want to know. I just keep going,” Manahan said.
Layers of warm clothing also help Debbie Van Cleve on her walking route.
“I don’t really use anything fancy. I have some hand warmers,” she said.
Van Cleve, a 27-year veteran who walks as much as 16 miles if there is a full-coverage mailing that day, said the subzero cold makes it hard on her postal delivery van, known as an LLV (long life vehicle).
“In the afternoon, I’ve been noticing that my locks start freezing up,” she said.
One simple strategy she employs is to try to park in the sunlight as she goes through the day.
“When the sun’s out, it helps a lot. That really helps a lot,” she said.
Also helpful is when postal customers clear away the snow.
“I have a lot of great people on my route. A lot of them shovel through the yard for me, and I appreciate that,”
Van Cleve said.
Letter carrier Tim Manahan has a unique article of clothing to keep the cold at bay.
“The long johns I have are from Afghanistan,” Manahan said. He bought them from a military veteran who had served there.
“These are the warmest things you’ll ever have.”
Hand warmers also help during his route, which takes eight hours in normal conditions but more time in the snow and cold.
“I usually don’t use them, but we have to use them now. You just can’t handle it without any help,” he said.
Lucas DeGroot, who has been delivering mail for only two months, said he tries to find a balance in layering clothing so he doesn’t get too warm while working outside in the cold.
“I’m kind of new on the job, and I’ve learned that sweating can be, ironically, just as big of a problem on a cold day as keeping warm,” DeGroot said.
“You want to try to find and keep a balance of staying warm but not too warm.
“Fingers, feet and neck seems to be the trick for me. So if I can keep those three things warm, I can stay moving and keep the mentality and don’t let it drag you down,” he said.
Other city carriers are Grant Blakey, a full-time employee, and Hunter Rodda, a substitute.
Postmaster Shannon Mattingly praised the letter carriers, all of whom have 600 to 850 deliveries a day, for their dedication, especially during the extreme cold.
“I have a really good team. They’re all very conscientious, and they try really hard to do the best job they can,” Mattingly said.
“During weather like this, we encourage them to take a break, take a few minutes and get warmed up if you have to. We just don’t want anybody getting frostbite or being injured out there when it’s preventable,” she said.
Mattingly said she also is grateful that customers along the walking routes are concerned for the carriers’ well-being.
“I am just really appreciative of all the customers that look out for the carriers and are giving them hot chocolate and just taking the time to thank them. We’ve had people calling, thanking the carriers for what they do,” she said.
“It’s not an easy job in good weather, but when you add the other factors into it, it is very demanding,” Mattingly said.