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NORTH COUNTRY AT WORK: A day in the life of mail carrier Michael Welch
January 5, 2018

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POTSDAM - Michael Welch has been carrying mail in Potsdam since 1989, when he got a job as a "city" delivery carrier with the United States Postal Service. He'd been working as a window clerk just outside New York City for a couple years, but when he go the chance to come home (Welch grew up in St. Lawrence County) and get out onto the road, he jumped at the opportunity.

Welch is what's called a "park and loop" mailman - his route is made up of fourteen residential park and loop points. At each point he parks at a point, grabs one of his many bundles of mail, and walks the loop, delivering letters and packages as he goes.

He walks from roughly 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every single day.

"It takes a lot of physical stamina," he said. "A lot of people have no idea that I walk between 12 and 13 miles a day."

Welch says he occasionally envies city mailmen that deliver to big post box units, where they can stand still and deliver hundreds of letters at a time. Residential mail carrying has a lot more wear and tear involved. But he's pretty content with his role; he says the time spent outside is the most valuable to him.

"Being out on the street is a lot of freedom," he said. "Being stuck in an office eight hours a day, 9 to 5, you deal with a lot of personalities, you start to feel stuck. When I got out into the street at 9 in the morning, I'm free! I get to walk around in the fresh air. ... I couldn't be luckier."

Welch sorts mail and prepares his bundles first thing in the morning, for about an hour and a half. He says that automation and improved technology have been a real boon to his timeline. Before automated letter sorting, he spent a lot longer in the office each morning.

Most of the year Welch can count on working from 7:30 a.m. to about 4 p.m. each day - that is, until the Christmas rush, when he says all hell breaks loose and package deliveries skyrocket.

"We start getting more packages, so some of the days can be a lot longer," he said. "There have been months of December when I've been out until 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening. I'll be out there with one of the miner's headlights on my head just so I can see where I'm walking."

North Country winters are hard for just about anyone, but they're especially brutal for mailmen, according to Welch.

"I've been through some terrible, brutal winters," he said. "There have been nights out when its 30 below. I do mind the bitter cold and I mind the ice. I've slipped and I've tripped and I've banged my head. I've had some falls out there. So at the age of 58 it was time for me to say, I'll do one more Christmas, and then that's it."

Welch made the decision to retire earlier this year. December of 2017 was his last month; he is now officially retired. He's excited about more time to pursue his true passion, which is music.

He is a singer, guitarist, and the musical director for the Edwards Knox Opera House. He's also looking forward to staying in on nasty winter days.

But Welch says there are definitely things he'll miss. First off, he says he'll need to find an exercise replacement for the 13 miles of walking built into his former job. And he's made a lot of friends carrying mail, both human and canine.

"I've developed a real good relationship with a lot of my customers," he said. "A lot of them say that they're really going to miss me being their mailman. That kind of comment means a lot to me."

Welch feels especially close to elderly people in one of the apartment complexes he deliveries to each day. He says he's on a first name basis with many of them and will miss them sorely.

"I've got some dogs on my route that when they see me come, they just love to see me come," he said.

In some of the more secluded residential areas, dogs will come running up to meet Welch. He's only been chased by a dog once; to escape he ended up running up onto the hood of a Volkswagen.

Michael laughed as he told the story; he says he's a dog person and most dogs can sense that sort of thing.

Welch's last day of work was Dec. 28.

(This story comes to you from North Country Public Radio's North Country at Work project, which explores the working lives and history of our region. To see all the stories, check out www.ncpr.org/work.)

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