Editor's note: This article is part of a series looking at the day-to-day lives of local people in various professions.
HOUGHTON - Delivering the mail quickly, efficiently and with a smile is all a part of a day's work with the United States Postal Service.
Beginning their day at 8 a.m., letter carriers spend their first five or ten minutes on site checking their vehicles to ensure they start and the lights are all operational for safety.
Daily Mining Gazette/Ashley Curtis
United States Postal Service city letter carrier Christopher Chapman makes a stop at a house on his route Oct. 31.
The carriers then head inside to begin sorting the mail for their specific routes, which are pre-sorted by the clerks and sitting at each carrier's case at the start of each morning.
"We start casing our mail. In other words, putting the mail in sequential order of how the route is delivered," said Eric Mattila, city letter carrier. "Then we load up our vehicles with flat mail in first, letters in next and then we load up parcels and depart for our route."
The sorted mail remains in sequential order once loaded on the vehicle based on the delivery location. During the winter months, Mattila and other carriers also have to carefully clean off their vehicles before heading out on their assigned routes.
A typical route casing takes approximately one and a half or two hours, so most letter carriers are out on delivery by 9:30 or 10 a.m. The full time routes are set up to be about eight hours with assistance available from part-time carriers if necessary.
"Monday tends to be longer because of the higher volume mail. Tuesday is also usually long because of residual mail from the day before," Mattila said.
For full-time routes that may have higher mail volume on a given day, Mattila assists by first completing a shortened part-time route and then steps in to help the full-time carriers finish their routes as close to the eight-hour period as possible.
"The postmaster crunches the numbers so they usually have an idea, in advance based on the numbers, who will need help and who doesn't," he said. "They either leave a section for us to do or we find them and pick it up from them."
Mattila has been in his role as a letter carrier with the USPS for seven-and-a-half years, but spent some of that time in Hancock before all letter carriers were moved to Houghton.
"I deliver in either Houghton or Hancock and can go on any of the designated 10 city routes," Mattila said.
Flexibility is key to his job. Because he works on part-time routes, Mattila can move every day, whether someone calls in sick, has the day off or is on vacation. He can be scheduled six days a week and doesn't typically have a scheduled day off.
With winter quickly approaching, a letter carrier's job becomes more time consuming and more dangerous.
Christopher Chapman, full-time city letter carrier, said that his route, which is typically completed by 3:30 or 3:45 p.m. in the warmer months, takes until about 4:20 or 5 p.m. in the winter with the same mail load because of the snow obstacles.
"It takes a lot longer, of course going slower on the steps and always being very careful," Chapman said. "Last year, I fell on a patch of ice, landed on my elbow and was out for a week."
City and rural residents can help ensure safe and timely delivery of their mail by clearing paths for the carriers.
"If you have steps, try to keep your steps clean. Salt, scrape and sand if possible," Chapman said. "We have boots with metal studs that help a little, but if it's solid ice, they don't work and provide no more traction than a pair of tennis shoes."
Although most carriers have vehicles, they are rarely used on city routes.
"I have a little driving, but my route is mostly door-to-door delivery and I walk it," he said. "It's a very good job and I love interacting with the people on the route."
On his route, Chapman parks and gathers the mail for several blocks, part of which includes Hardee's and Houghton Elementary School. He then walks down a few blocks and back up the block on another street to swing back to his truck for additional mail, but because of snow, this process can be much more time-consuming.
"For walking routes, a path needs to be shoveled. We use the saying 'no trail, no mail,'" Mattila said.
Letter carriers understand that it often snows during the day, so a completely clear path isn't always feasible, but clearing a path each morning is important. And if city or rural residents continue to avoid shoveling and clearing a path to the box, letter carriers with the USPS have the right to hold mail at the Post Office.
"Due to the hazards of having to climb over snow banks, if it's really slippery, icy or an unsafe condition, we have the right to hold their mail until they clear the way," Mattila said.
For rural routes, residents can help ensure mail delivery by having snow cleaned at least 10 feet in front of and past the mailbox, said Mattila.
Whether on full- or part-time routes, the letter carriers of the USPS strive to deliver mail safely and efficiently, while being personable and providing good customer service to all residents -in snow, rain or shine.