BELLE FOURCHE | Before 1863, postage only paid for the delivery of mail from Post Office to Post Office.

That year, an Act of Congress provided that free city delivery could be established at Post Offices where the income from local postage was sufficient to pay all expenses of the service.

Today, city carriers are a postal icon, arriving in their distinctive vehicle, moving briskly through their routes and interacting with their regular customers. Carriers can walk 10 miles or more in the course of their day, sometimes on uneven terrain. Their satchel can weigh more than 30 pounds.

Weather is a constant concern. “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” So reads the insignia on the General Post Office in New York City, and each of these conditions brings its own set of challenges. Sidewalks and steps not cleared of snow and ice can be downright dangerous.

Mailboxes that are not in good repair can be hazardous for the carrier and not provide proper security of the mail for the customer. Customers are advised to remove mail every day, ensure that boxes open and close properly, and that the area around the delivery receptacle is kept overgrowth, uneven ground and other hazards.

Then there is the city carrier’s legendary nemesis, the dog. What seems like harmless barking or an excitable demeanor to the dog owner puts the mail carrier on alert – especially if the animal is not known. All carriers have a can of chemical repellent and receive training in how to use their satchel to stop dog attacks. Still, the problem persists, with more than 5,700 carriers nationwide attacked by dogs last year. This Postal Service will also curtail mail delivery service to residences where an aggressive dog is a persistent issue. With all the physical work, city carriers also deal with wear and tear issues; and potential injuries to the legs, arms and back.

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But all in all, city carriers love their jobs. They enjoy the great outdoors, daily exercise and the joyful interaction with their customers. When on the route, mail carriers are their own boss and appreciate the being solely responsible for answering the needs of their customers. And once in a while there might be a special treat, like a fresh-baked cookie from a grateful customer who “just happened to be baking.”

"It's all in a day's work," said one local city carrier of her job. "The mail must go through."

So when you think about how that mail gets in your box, think about the hours of service that each carrier gives before and after the time when they open your box and drop in the letters. Like anyone else, they’re not perfect. But they do make great effort to ensure that your mail is delivered safely, accurately and on time.

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