Tammy Schaal retires after 35 years as a rural mail carrier

Photo by Shelley Widhalm
Tammy Schaal of Berthoud sits Aug. 1 inside her mail truck, one of the vehicles she drove during her 35 years at the Berthoud Post Office. She retired July 26.

By Shelley Widhalm

The Surveyor

Talking about her last day as a rural mail carrier was hard for Tammy Schaal.

The Berthoud native had served the Berthoud Post Office for 35 years, retiring on July 26.

“I drove my route, and it seemed a little surreal,” Schaal said about delivering mail that day, getting teary-eyed as she talked. “I realized it was the last time.” Schaal also was busy doing her job, just like usual.

“When you’re in the middle of doing your job you don’t have time to think about it,” Schaal said. “I had been saying goodbye to my route for a couple of weeks, just realizing I wouldn’t be doing it anymore and taking care of my people.”

Schaal became a mail carrier in 1984 when she was looking for a part-time job. It hadn’t been her plan at the time, but she wanted to return to work. She had graduated from Berthoud High School in 1975, tried college for 1 ½ years, studying horticulture, and worked until 1979.

“I could see that the horticulture fad was fading, and I didn’t see much future in it,” Schaal said. “It had been real popular in the early ’70s and people were losing interest in houseplants and things like that.”

Schaal worked for a couple of flower shops, then a machining shop until she decided to stay at home to raise her and her husband Dave’s two children until the youngest was five. She learned about the post office hiring a substitute rural mail carrier while attending a committee meeting with Anna Mary Weber, Berthoud postmaster for the last 45 years. She applied to work Saturdays and fill in for vacations and sick days.

“I’ve never been a real traditional person who wants to be in an office all day. That was appealing to me to be out and on my own for half the day,” Schaal said.

Schaal worked as a substitute rural mail carrier for nine years and as a full-time rural carrier for another 26 years on the same route — today there are 11 carriers and eight substitute carriers. She covered an area that was about 50 miles, delivering mail to 400 to 500 addresses southwest of Berthoud and in smaller nearby towns.

“She’s a Berthoud native. She brought knowledge with her nobody else could because she had the geographic dynamics in her head,” Weber said. “With any organization, it’s unheard of to have someone who is a town native in this day and age to have that longevity in her career. … When she committed to do something, it was done. When she made a promise, it was carried out.”

As a rural carrier Schaal had to supply and maintain her own vehicles, receiving a per diem. She arrived each day at the office to sort the mail and parcels, getting them in route order, and loaded them into her vehicle during the first half, or four hours, of her shift. She then delivered the mail during the second half.

“There’s lots of memory work involved,” Schaal said, adding that when she first started mail came in raw without computerized sorting. “You had to memorize the mail case, so you could build speed as you’re sorting mail.”

Now the mail comes in a computerized route order, requiring less sorting into the mail cases, which have slots for the addresses. Most routes have three cases with one in the middle and two on the side that each hold 400 to 720 addresses, depending on the volume of the route.

“The letters come in order, but the magazines and catalogs don’t. It’s like filling in the squares of a crossword puzzle,” Schaal said. Schaal liked the route she delivered.

“It was in an area I grew up in west of town, so it was very familiar to me,” Schaal said. “I liked taking care of my customers, the people on my route. I liked making sure their mail got to them.”

Schaal also had to make sure she worked quickly and accurately, getting “the right mail to the right box,” she said, adding the post office has time limits for the deliveries.

The work to do is physically challenging, especially with the lifting and shuffling, and at age 62, Schaal is ready to do something else.

“My body was wearing out. My shoulders were wearing out,” Schaal said. “It was just time.”

Schaal will miss many aspects of her job, including her coworkers and customers, but she will not miss driving around in blizzards. “It’s always a little stressful and a little scary,” Schaal said.

Schaal plans to take off the rest of the year and enjoy having the days off before and after the holidays. She likes sewing, quilting, reading and gardening — the last interest is from growing up on a farm and marrying a farmer.

“Working at the post office helped me learn to be more self-reliant and to trust my judgment. It was a good experience,” Schaal said.

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