Rural Mail Carrier Converts Ford for Winter Roads
Rural mail carriers faced unique challenges during long winters in deep snow on rugged terrain.
Our mountain valley gets at least 3 feet of snow every winter, as this photo of vehicles stored outside shows.
Photo Courtesy Clell Ballard
In 1971, the U.S. Post
Office Department was superseded by the U.S. Postal Service. Since then, the
admonition that “the mail must go through” (earlier the motto of the Pony
Express) has changed. In the old days, the phrase really meant something;
today, delays are expected and tolerated. No matter the difficulty, though,
even rural mail delivery was expected to “go through.” Rural Free Delivery
(RFD) began in 1896 and often herculean efforts were made to get mail to those
living far from the nearest Post Office.
Areas like ours in south
are marked by rugged terrain, long winters with deep snow, and considerable
distance between residences. In early times, in good weather the rural mail
carrier rode a horse or used a horse and buggy. When the snow became too deep
for horses, skis or snowshoes were the only options. Since mail routes in our
area were often 30 miles long, such slow going was impractical.
Bulk mail made it to the
post office in our isolated mountain valley by train. As postmaster, my father,
Claude Ballard, was responsible for getting it distributed to a huge area. From
1900 to 1920, winter mail deliveries were made by dog sled. In all those years,
mail delivery was halted by severe blizzards only a couple of times.
Putting technology to work
In the early 1930s, Charlie
Kramer, a new rural mail carrier in our area, sought a faster means of winter
travel. Back then, the carrier was responsible for delivering the mail and it
was up to him to figure out a way to do so. The Post Office provided no
monetary assistance. At the time, Charlie owned a well-used 1928 Model A Ford
Phaeton. To create a winter-worthy delivery vehicle, he invested in a track
conversion kit produced by the Arps Corp., New Holstein, Wis. The Snow Bird kit
was designed to enhance a vehicle’s ability to travel through snow.
Snow Bird kits added steel
tracks to cars and small trucks of the era. The vehicle’s rear body had to be
modified, and extra axles and wheels were added to support the track. Model T
Fords utilized one more axle; more powerful cars like the Model A used two. A
special cogged tire on the back gripped the track. Charlie could afford only
the basic kit (two extra Model A wheels and tires on each side), and he built
his own wooden front skis. A deluxe kit offered smaller wheels and tires that
fit in front of the drive wheel, and custom-made steel skis. Because travel
over snow took quite a lot of power, both kits included a gear reduction that
fit on the rear axle.
Designed for use on about 6
inches of snow, the Snow Bird was not capable of travel through deep snow. Its
performance was outstanding on snow-packed roads and it could negotiate most
roads that were closed to ordinary traffic because of drifting.
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