Going Postal, Part 2

On December 17, 2014 · 0 Comments

As I mentioned in Part 1, the first installment dealt with physical post offices and this one will focus on methods of postal delivery. Both featured examples drawn primarily from the United States Postal Service’s "fun facts" page.

Mule


The Postman
The Postman by Eric Gelinas, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Pack animals would seem to be an antiquated method of mail delivery. Certainly horses, mules or donkeys had their heyday up until about a century ago before being replaced unceremoniously by an upstart horseless carriage. A modern semi-truck might have around 400-450 horsepower. A draft horse would have, um, one. It didn’t take much convincing for the postal authorities to ditch their animals long ago and transport mail by mechanical means. That became a universal standard nationwide except for one incredibly inconvenient location — Arizona’s Grand Canyon, or more specifically the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Supai, Arizona (map) would be an excellent candidate for the most remote settlement in the Lower 48 states. No roads lead there. That would be impossible. Access required a helicopter or a strenuous hike down an 8 mile (13 kilometre) trail. Nonetheless two hundred people lived in Supai, the primary town of the Havasupai Tribe as they have for at least a thousand years. They required postal services just like everyone else. Mule trains continued to be the most cost-effective method. The USPS estimated each mule hauled about 130 pounds (59 kg) of postcards, letters or packages.

This same method was also used to deliver mail to the National Park Service’s Phantom Ranch, elsewhere at the bottom of the canyon.


Boat


JW Westcott II
JW Westcott II by Lauren, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Large freighters traveled regularly throughout the Great Lakes hauling grains, coal, iron ore and other commodities, as I learned from my visit to the Great Lakes Floating Maritime Museum. Mariners spent a lot of time away from home although not too far away from land. The Postal Service devised a way to get mail to these sailors as they passed through a narrow slot near the midpoint (map). The J. W. Westcott Co., established in 1874, won the contract to deliver mail to the freighters using its 45-foot boat.

Along the Detroit River, on any given day, a well-known diesel motorship brushes up against a much larger, passing vessel. A rope and bucket are lowered from the ship to the smaller boat, where messages, mail and other items are placed and raised back up. It’s the tradition called "mail in the pail" …and a legacy known as J.W. Westcott, the most reliable and dependable marine delivery service on the Great Lakes.

The boat even received its own ZIP Code, 48222.


Missile


Growler Submarine and Regulus Missile
Growler Submarine and Regulus Missile by Neil R, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

It was one of those things that sounded good at the time.

On June 8, 1959… the Navy submarine USS Barbero fired a guided missile carrying 3,000 letters towards the naval auxiliary air station in Mayport, Florida. Racing along at about 600 miles per hour, the guided missile traveled the more than 100 miles from the deck of the submarine off the coast of Florida to the air station in about 22 minutes… [Postmaster General] Summerfield was quoted as saying, "mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to England, to India or to Australia by guided missiles." History proved differently.

Mail in this experiment traveled as the payload within a Regulus guided missile, with the letters replacing a nuclear warhead. An example of such an imposing missile can be seen today at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, in New York City as presented above (and map). What could possibly go wrong with a missile-based postal delivery service during the height of the Cold War? The test worked perfectly, other than the possibility of sparking an accidental nuclear Armageddon. It wasn’t particularly cost effective either in an era when jet-powered airmail was already feasible.


Longest Postal Delivery Route


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The longest rural delivery route caught my attention. According to the USPS that honor went to Route 081 based out of Mangum, Oklahoma (map). I had a hard time finding more information about the service because I was an idiot and my brain converted Mangum to Magnum. I’m not sure if I had guns, big bottles of wine or a cheezy television show from the 1980’s starring Tom Selleck on my mind at the time. I had no trouble finishing my research once I put that little issue behind me though: MAN-gum.

Apparently the subject captured popular imagination as well. The story of septuagenarian Jim Ed Bull and his 187.6 mi (302 km) route that served only 240 customers appeared prominently in both Bloomberg and the NBC Nightly News in 2013. There’s no sense in me repeating it though so feel free to watch the video.


Longest Main Street



Island Park, Idaho, USA

This one might have been a little bogus although I enjoyed the story. Main Street was and has been the most common street name in the United States, no argument there. Of all of the Main Streets though, one of them had to be the longest. The USPS noted that it was Main Street in Island Park, Idaho at 33 mi (53 km). However I couldn’t find an actual "Main Street" in Island Park. The entire length seemed to be signed and addressed as US Route 20 (for example). Nonetheless, Island Park claimed it had the longest occurrence (see the banner on the city’s website) and various local business repeated the mantra. It appeared to a marketing gimmick.

As the story went,

The city of Island Park, for all other descriptive words, is "unique" in its entirety. It was incorporated in May 1947 to meet a state law requiring businesses that serve or sell alcoholic beverages to be within incorporated towns. The city’s government at the time drew up the city’s boundaries to include all the businesses from the Last Chance area north to the Montana border that desired licenses to serve and sell alcoholic beverages. All other areas of what is now known as the Island Park Recreational area remained in Fremont County.

It was about booze. Local lodge owners cobbled together a town 33 miles long and only 500 feet (150 m) wide astride US Route 20 so their patrons could drink. For that, they deserved to remain on the superlatives list forevermore.

Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah

On December 10, 2014 · 0 Comments

I pondered Zip Lines recently. Actually I’d been researching postal ZIP Codes and wondering how I’d missed the 50th Birthday of the system in 2013. Then I noticed an auto-suggestion for Zip Lines and it zipped me straight down a protracted tangent metaphorically speaking. I decided to find the longest Zip Line in the world, a feat more difficult than I anticipated. I turned to several sources including Zip Line Rider.

That’s when I learned a dark secret. Companies that provided these services were marketeers as much as entertainers. They wanted to find creative ways to attract riders to their often remote, sometimes nearly inaccessible locations. There were plenty of financial incentives to exaggerate their achievements. Who was going to be able to pull out a tape measure and test their claims? These competitors also seemed to be locked in a protracted arms race to construct the longest ride. One company would grab the title only to have another eclipse its achievement a few months later, except the original group that previously held the crown would continue to claim it anyway. I did uncover what I believed were some of the longer Zip Lines on the planet bearing in mind the caveat of inflated superlatives. Actual results, and of course future results, will vary.


ZipRider®, Parque De Aventura, Copper Canyon, México



The longest Zip Line uncovered during my investigation pointed towards Parque De Aventura within Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon) in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. It was operated by ZipRider®, a company with locations in several parts of the world. The total length claimed at Copper Canyon extended to 2,515 metres (8,350 feet). Most people arrive at Parque De Aventura by train using the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico, better known as the Chepe for its abbreviation CHP. The "El Divisadero" station (map) unloaded passengers directly on the canyon rim at Parque De Aventura.

Copper Canyon would be an amazing place to visit even on its own and it did attract a lot of tourists who were not there for Zip Lining. The canyon was larger than Arizona’s Grand Canyon, and even deeper in places.


Flying in the Sky; Rocca Massima, Italy



Originally I though Italy’s Flying in the Sky facility might have been the longest Zip Line available until I came across Copper Canyon, so let’s call it the longest in Europe instead (at least for today). It was nearly as long at an impressive 2,213 m (7,260 ft). However it was considerably faster with a top speed of 140 kph (87 mph) vs. 105 kph (65 mph). This was probably because Flying in the Sky harnessed people vertically rather than in a sitting position. Riders screamed down the slope of Monte S. Angelo near the community of Rocca Massima (map), southeast of Rome.

The Italian websites didn’t translate well. From what I could gather, several local citizens and entrepreneurs banded together to find a way to attract visitors, especially younger ones, to come to their rural enclave. A Zip Line seemed to be a natural fit.


The Eye of the Jaguar; Urubamba Valley, Perú



Easy come, easy go. The Eye of the Jaguar in Perú was once the consensus longest Zip Line (map). However while impressive at 2,130 m (6,990 ft), it continued to tumble down the list as new facilities opened in other parts of the world. Maybe it’s safe to call it the longest Zip Line in South America. It flies across the Urubamba Valley (Sacred Valley). There would be many reasons to visit the area in addition to simply seeking thrills. This was where the ancient Inca Empire held its firmest control. Their capital city Cusco was located nearby as was the renowned Machu Picchu.


ZipRider®, Icy Strait Point, Alaska, USA



The longest ride I found in the United States was another facility operated by ZipRider®. This one was located at Icy Strait Point, Alaska, just outside of Hoonah. It was an obscure spot on Chichagof Island about fifty miles from Juneau (map). That would seem to be an odd choice for a playground until one considered its placement along the Inside Passage, a popular route for summertime cruise ships. That was their prime audience, too. Their website noted that the facility opened only on days when ships landed at Hoonah. Those not booking admission through a cruise line would be accommodated only on a space-available basis, at the back of the line behind all of the cruise ship passengers.

This was another sit-down line. Perhaps that was why Icy Strait, while an imposing 1,675 m (5,495 ft) in length had a top speed of "only" 105 kph (65 mph). On the other hand, it featured six side-by-side lines so an entire family of cruisers could experience the thrills all at the same time.


Flying Fox; Taihape, New Zealand



I gave an honorable mention to Flying Fox Zipline at Mokai Gravity Canyon (map), in New Zealand. It wasn’t the longest by any stretch, reaching only 1,200 m (3,939 ft). However it was the fastest example that I found. It hit top speeds reputed to be around 160 kph (100 mph)! When one considers that terminal velocity for a human — the top speed of a person in a free fall — was something like 200 kmh (120 mph), the speed of Flying Fox seemed astounding. I can’t imagine Zip Lines getting much faster although I’m willing to bet someone will try.

States Based on Closest State Capital

On November 2, 2014 · 8 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle receives a fair amount of reader mail and suggestions. Usually it leads to pleasant surprises and sometimes even an article. That was the case recently with a map generated by Steve Spivey who graciously granted permission for me to share it with the 12MC audience.

Steve had been combing through the very earliest days of the site and came across Remote Southwestern Virginia, an article first published in November 2007. It demonstrated that Lee County in Virginia, the southwesternmost corner of the state, was closer to eight state capital cities (and possibly nine depending on measurement) than it was to its own state capital of Richmond. This also fascinated me at the time and spawned the Worst State Capital Location along with various other capital-related articles.

However Steve took a completely different angle by creating a Voronoi diagram(¹) with each state capitol building serving as a generating point. What if states were reshuffled based upon the closest existing state capital? Forget about geographical barriers, history, culture, politics and maybe hundreds of other practical considerations by reducing the problem to a purely mathematical process. As an example, the 12MC headquarters is based in Arlington, Virginia. It’s 106 miles (170 km) from Richmond and only 39 miles (63 km) from Maryland’s capital in Annapolis. Mathematically a reconstituted Maryland might be a better state for me if distance was the only consideration and nothing else mattered.

Let’s take a look at the resulting Voronoi diagram, and of course feel free to open the image in another tab to experience the effect in full-sized glory.


States Based on Closest State Capital

Some states would become winners, other losers and some like Maine and Washington would remain largely unchanged. Alaska and Hawaii would be unaffected because of their remoteness so they were excluded. Chicago would become part of Wisconsin, New York City would be absorbed into New Jersey, and the Los Angeles metropolitan area would split between California and Arizona. Parts of Texas would be cleaved into four neighboring states.

The smallest states, Rhode Island and Delaware, would become major beneficiaries. They would retain their existing geographic integrity while picking-up surrounding territory. Rhode Island and Connecticut would encroach on Massachusetts to such an extreme that Massachusetts would transform into the new Rhode Island (i.e., the new smallest state). Virginia would get squeezed considerably although why would I care? I’d live in Maryland. Meanwhile, neighboring West Virginia would grow to become the unquestionable king of Appalachia.

Many of the states farther west would continue as territorial behemoths although their familiar shapes might soften or erode entirely. North Dakota would maintain it familiar rectangle although larger. Idaho, on the other hand, would transform into an unrecognizable diamond.

Anyway it was a fun diversion although otherwise kind-of meaningless. That made it a perfect balance of intellectual silliness that sent me along a mental tangent for awhile. I loved examining the map, each time finding something different as I imagined the new world order.


States Based on Closest State Capital with DC

Steve took the game one step farther. What if we considered the District of Columbia as a state-equivalent and included it within the calculation? That of course would require us to set aside even more practical considerations including an obvious Constitutional question(²) although none of those mattered for this exercise. It would impact only the Mid-Atlantic region as pictured above. My residence would become part of the new, larger Washington, DC, while Maryland would reduce to a narrow strip hugging the rim of the northern Chesapeake Bay anchored by Baltimore.

Steve was thinking about producing similar maps for Canadian provinces as well as a worldwide version. We should encourage him in those pursuits. Thanks Steve!

(¹) A Voronoi Diagram is "The partitioning of a plane with n points into convex polygons such that each polygon contains exactly one generating point and every point in a given polygon is closer to its generating point than to any other. A Voronoi diagram is sometimes also known as a Dirichlet tessellation. The cells are called Dirichlet regions, Thiessen polytopes, or Voronoi polygons."
(²) Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the District shall "not exceed ten Miles square. So we’d need to amend the Constitution. No problem.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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