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.

Streets Named After…

On November 9, 2014 · 5 Comments

We’ve all seen lists created from Google’s unusual auto-search recommendations. I noticed a few entertaining results while I was looking for Streets Named After… well, I forget what I was searching for exactly because I was so enthralled by the false positives. Some were mundane. I expected streets named after celebrities, trees, birds, presidents and such, and of course all of those were suggested. Others seemed downright odd. I’m not sure what Google thinks of me due to the wide array of subject matter I pour into its maw as I research articles for Twelve Mile Circle. Maybe my results were atypical although I have no way of knowing that for certain. It might be interesting to run this same experiment again in a different physical location or several months from now and see if anything changed.

Streets Named After Harry Potter



Muggle Lane, Missoula, Montana, USA

I’m guessing lots of people searched for streets named after Harry Potter and that’s why it came up as one of the top suggestions. I can’t recall focusing an inordinate amount of attention on Harry Potter in 12MC so I don’t think my search habits resulted in the hit. It led me to a BuzzFeed article, There’s A City In Montana With A Neighborhood Full Of Harry Potter-Themed Street Names. Sure enough someone could live at the intersection of Muggle Lane and Potter Park Loop in Missoula, Montana if one found that notion appealing.


Streets Named After Obama


Obama and the Pope: a mural in Arusha, Tanzania
Obama and the Pope: a mural in Arusha, Tanzania by Roman Boed, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

It somehow seemed more natural to have streets named after Barack Obama and indeed I found quite a nice list. The most far-flung instance occurred in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. President Obama visited several African nations including Tanzania in July 2013 to meet with business leaders and "demonstrate the U.S. interest in trade and investment." As a result the government of Tanzania renamed one of its primary streets, the road leading to its State House no less, as Barack Obama Drive. Imagine changing Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to Jakaya Kikwete Drive!

The name change was reflected accurately in Google Maps. It was still listed by its previous name, Ocean Road, in OpenStreet Map at the time of publication (November 2014).


Streets Named After Packers


Trip to Green Bay
Trip to Green Bay by Santiago Bilinkis
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

On the other hand, I had no clue why Google thought I’d want to search for streets named after Packers, as in the Green Bay Packers of American Football fame. It did lead to a Wall Street Journal article, "More Legends Than Streets: Green Bay Is Running Out of Roads to Name After Packer Legends." That seemed to be quite a conundrum in a "first world problem" sort of way. Green Bay wasn’t a large place. Barely a hundred thousand people lived there, making it the smallest U.S. city with a National Football League team. There were only a handful of suitably grand streets for residents to name for their gridiron stars.

Green Bay football quarterback legend Brett Favre garnered only a short block. Granted it was practically next door to Lambeau Field and it led directly to the eponymous Brett Favre’s Steakhouse (3.5 stars on Yelp) so that counted for something. The name of the street? Brett Favre Pass. That created a certain poetic sense because Favre currently holds the record for most career passing yards in the National Football League (71,838).


Streets Named After Rizal


Rizal Monument
Rizal Monument by Benson Kua, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Streets named after Rizal was a fascinating suggestion. José Rizal was a 19th Century nationalist and intellectual in the Philippines who sought a peaceful end to Spanish colonial rule. In return, Spain sentenced him to death and executed him by firing squad in 1896. He became a Filipino national hero and he was widely regarded as an early powerful force in the independence movement. His body now rests in the Rizal Monument in Manilla, complete with an honor guard offering symbolic protection around the clock.

I believe this came up because his 150th birthday celebration happened a couple of years ago. One site offered A José Rizal @150 Tribute and included a list places named for him. I expected numerous honors and commemorations in the Philippines. It was a little more unusual to see a park in Seattle, Washington (map). Apparently Seattle had a large, active Filipino community. Also there was a José-Rizal-Straße in Wilhelmsfeld, Germany (map). It turned out Rizal had lived nearby while he attended medical training in Heidelberg.


Streets Named After Lord of the Rings



Laan van Tolkien, Geldrop, The Netherlands

If Harry Potter can have streets, so can Lord of the Rings. A housing development in Geldrop, The Netherlands borrowed that theme. I noticed that many of the streets seemed to have been constructed on Woonerf design principles. I’ve been wanting to use my newfound favorite word Woonerf again in context, and there was my chance.


Streets Named After Countries in Glasgow



India Street, Glasgow, Scotland

Apparently there are fourteen streets named after countries in Glasgow, Scotland. I’m not sure why anyone would want or need to know that, and none of the streets seemed all that remarkable. Nonetheless, it came up on the list and who am I to judge?

Reversible

On November 5, 2014 · 2 Comments

It dawned on me recently, as I drove around the Washington, DC area, that there seemed to be an inordinate number of reversible road lanes that switched directions on regular schedules. The occurrence that got me thinking about this was a one-block section of Washington Boulevard (map) on the western edge of Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood


Reversible Road Lane
Washington Blvd., Arlington, Virginia, USA
via Google Street View, July 2014

I’ve driven through that slot a number of times and I never gave it much of a second thought. It seemed rather self-explanatory. Overhead lights with green arrows and red x’s denoted lanes that could be traversed depending on prevailing morning or evening traffic patterns. It made sense even if it lasted for such a short distance. It was the only three lane segment with four lanes radiating from either end. It saved on construction costs.

The variety of different types of reversible lanes also surprised me as I started ticking-off some nearby examples.


Overhead Lights


Stupid Young Driver on Cell Phone in Closed Lane on Chesapeake Bay Bridge!
Stupid Young Driver on Cell Phone in Closed Lane on Chesapeake Bay Bridge! by William Johns, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge (map) connecting Maryland’s eastern shore to the rest of the state provided yet another example of overhead lights signaling traffic flow. The bridge accommodated prevailing traffic to and from Atlantic Ocean resorts especially during the summertime. More lanes opened towards the beach on Fridays and pointed back towards home on Sundays, almost like the ebb and flow of tides.

Overhead lights exposed an inherit problem: people needed to understand that lanes could reverse and they also needed to know what the symbols meant. "Stupid Young Driver on Cell Phone" had obvious difficulties with one or both of those concepts.


Just a Sign


'Signs' -- Chain Bridge (VA) January 2014
'Signs' — Chain Bridge (VA) January 2014 by Ron Cogswell, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Chain Bridge (map) had three lanes stretching across the Potomac River between Arlington and Washington, with the middle lane reversible. Only a single sign told motorists about the unusual situation (Street View). Presumably daily commuters traveling over the bridge during critical hours would already understand the situation. Woe to the poor visitor who happened to cross the bridge at an inopportune time and not see the sign.


A Machine Does All the Work


Lane Mover
Roosevelt Bridge, Washington, DC, USA
via Google Street View, August 2014

Another Potomac River bridge between Arlington and Washington, the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge (map) offered a better solution. The reversible section had a concrete barrier to keep drivers from making a mistake. An odd little machine moved the barrier twice a day to accommodate commuters. This unusual arrangement was created by Lindsay Transportation Solutions.

The moveable barrier system enables the DOT to quickly reconfigure traffic lanes and directional capacity on the bridge in less than 15 minutes (the bridge is just under one mile in length). The Barrier Transfer Machine (BTM) safely transfers the barrier one or two traffic lanes at speeds from seven to ten miles per hour. A magnetic tape grooved into the pavement guides the BTM and ensures precise placement of the barrier wall.

That seemed a lot safer than signs or overhead lights.


Completely Reversible with a Sign


IMG_4012
IMG_4012 by bankbryan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Some of our local roads were completely reversible. The Rock Creek Parkway (map) — actually called the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway in official terms, which I didn’t know until a few minutes ago — operated with two lanes in both directions most of the time. However in the morning all four lanes headed towards Washington and all four lanes returned traffic to the suburbs in the evening. Monday through Friday. Except Federal holidays. Make an error reading a sign (Street View) and find oneself heading towards the wrong way on a four-lane highway.

I would stay away from here on Columbus Day. Federal government employees are about the only people who get the day off. Imagine everyone else forgetting about that quirk and thinking it was a normal Monday commute. Yikes!


Completely Reversible and Safer


Interstate 395 - Virginia
Interstate 395 – Virginia by Doug Kerr, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A stretch of Interstate 95 and Interstate 395 (map) from Northern Virginia into the District featured two High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes that switched directions for the morning and evening commutes, sandwiched between and completely separate from the regular highway lanes. These are being converted into High Occupancy/Toll (HOT) lanes although the concept will remain largely the same.

These seemed considerably safer. Barrier arms blocked access to ramps that led to these special lanes so that cars traveling in the "wrong" direction couldn’t make a mistake. The arms raised when the lanes reversed and it was safe to travel that direction again.

There were several more reversible lanes in the area that I didn’t have space to mention. Also Wikipedia had an entire article devoted to reversible lanes in other parts of the world so I imagined they were rather prevalent. It was funny how I’ve grown so used to seeing them that I never considered how weird they seemed conceptually.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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