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.

India Loves 12MC

On November 23, 2014 · 1 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle noticed increasing visitor traffic from India over the last couple of years and particularly within last several months. Maybe that’s a recognition of growing Internet access within the subcontinent and perhaps a general improvement in its technological infrastructure. I’d prefer to think of it in simpler terms. India loves 12MC. This wasn’t the first time I’ve focused on people who love 12MC. I’m always on the lookout for new constituencies who appreciate this humble little geo-oddity site. There aren’t many of us. We need to stick together.


India Loves 12MC
Twelve Mile Circle Readership from India in 2014

On the other hand, India is a nation of more than 1.2 billion people, and 12MC can only attract a few hundred visitors in an entire year? Does that sound like love? Well, everything is relative of course, and the readership has much improved within that geographic area. That’s a fact. Also traffic wasn’t coming from a single person returning to the site day-after-day. Hits were coming from all over. The larger blobs on the map represented numerous readers from metropolitan areas such as Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata.


Kolkata
Kolkata by Flip Nomad, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I’m not sure my culturally insensitive mind will ever get used to the name Kolkata. My brain reflexively seemed to drive towards the westernized colonial imperialist version, Calcutta, instead. Kolkata sounded too much like Cold Cuts. It would compare favorably with other foodie-sounding places such as Turkey and Chile (and why not Hamburg and Frankfurt while I’m at it). I’ve really got on a tangent this morning. I’ll see if I can pull it back together.

Then I noticed that Kolkata fell within the West Bengal State, an area of peculiar geographic shape.


WestBengalDistricts numbered
West Bengal Districts via Wikimedia Commons,
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic

West Bengal included two narrow necks of less than 20 kilometres across as it ambled north from the Bay of Bengal, past Kolkata, and onward towards India’s borders with Nepal and Bhutan. Bangladesh pinched West Bengal from the east and other Indian states pushed from the west. I took a closer look at the lower neck, a place anchored by Farakka on the Ganges River. One corner was called Farakka Barrage Township (map), which I considered an unusual name that might benefit from further investigation.



A barrage in a military context would turn into an unpleasant experience rather quickly. It would likely include heavy artillery bombardment. Fortunately that wasn’t the case in Farakka. It didn’t reference a barrage from an historical context based on warfare.

Barrage derived from a French word meaning "barrier." Militarily, artillery could be used either as an offensive or defensive barrier. In a peaceful situation as in Farakka, a barrier could be used against natural forces such as water. A barrage was a very specific type of dam used to control the flow of water instead of creating a reservoir. At Farakka, "The purpose of the barrage is to divert 1,100 cubic metres per second (40,000 cu ft/s) of water from the Ganges to the Hooghly River for flushing out the sediment deposition from the Kolkata harbour without the need of regular mechanical dredging."



Enclaves and Exclaves of the India / Bangladesh Border

West Bengal also included the famed Cooch Behar district, a distinct section of border between India and Bangladesh noteworthy for its particularly complicated intertwining of the nations. As I noted in that previous article, "Within this odd borderland are 106 exclaves of India within Bangladesh and 92 exclaves of Bangladesh within India, including numerous exclaves within the exclaves." It also included a number of quadripoints and boundary crosses.

Anyway, Twelve Mile Circle extends a hearty welcome today to readers who hail from India (and everyone else of course).

Republic of Indian Stream

On November 19, 2014 · 3 Comments

The short-lived Republic of Indian Stream owed its existence to frustrations rooted in divergent interpretations of the Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolutionary War between the United States and Great Britain. The treaty included a number of provisions including those designed to establish firm boundaries between Canada and the United States. Ironically, a document intended to create a bright demarcation actually created additional confusion.

The treaty devoted an entire section, Article 2, to preventing "all disputes which might arise in future" along the border. That purpose seemed both noble and fair. The problem centered on its reliance on geographic landmarks to create a line, specifically its use of watersheds. The confusing portion of the clause read:

…that angle which is formed by a line drawn due north from the source of St. Croix River to the highlands; along the said highlands which divide those rivers that empty themselves into the river St. Lawrence, from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean, to the northwesternmost head of Connecticut River; thence down along the middle of that river to the forty-fifth degree of north latitude…

It sounded fine in theory. However the United States and the Great Britain couldn’t agree on the placement of the "northwesternmost head of Connecticut River."



Was the northwesternmost head at Halls Stream, Indian Stream, Perry Stream or the Connecticut River itself? The United States favored Halls Stream while Great Britain favored the Connecticut River. One would have thought those little details might have been discussed and resolved before ink dried on paper. They were not. Negotiators failed to clarify their intent and created a small disputed area between Halls Stream on the west and the Connecticut River on the east.

The former belligerents negotiated the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and the United States ratified it the following year. Yet dueling interpretation remained fully intact for nearly a half-century afterwards. Finally local residents reached their breaking point. They tired of double taxation, military recruitment and rule of law. People in this disputed territory declared themselves to live in an independent state, the Republic of Indian Stream, in 1832. The couple of hundred residents formed their own legislature, minted their own coinage, established their own law enforcement, and set about creating the infrastructure of a tiny nation. The United States and Great Britain were not impressed. They continued to squabble and bicker while ignoring the notion of a sovereign Indian Stream.


Pittsburg, NH
Pittsburg, NH by Axel Drainville, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Republic, if it truly ever existed, ended in 1836. A force from Indian Stream "invaded" Canada to free one of its local citizens who had been arrested for an outstanding debt and imprisoned there. This created an international incident. The Republic quickly authorize its annexation to the United States and the New Hampshire Militia occupied the territory to protect it. Great Britain decided the dispute wasn’t worth the trouble and acquiesced to an American interpretation using Halls Stream as the border.


River Road Covered Bridge
River Road Covered Bridge by James Walsh, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

After finally resolving the boundary dispute, the former Republic of Indian Stream became New Hampshire’s Town of Pittsburg. It’s attractions included the beautiful Connecticut Lakes, a string of lakes along the Connecticut River named without regard to imagination, First Connecticut Lake, Second Connecticut Lake, Third Connecticut Lake and Fourth Connecticut Lake. It also included the Happy Corner Covered Bridge over Perry Stream. Other than an historical marker, there isn’t much evidence of the old Republic any longer.

Events in northern New Hampshire have been considerably more sedate ever since.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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