National Geographic : 1954 Jul
129 National Geographic Photographer J. Baylor Roberts - +A Postal Employee's Device Speeds the Task of Separating Letters by Addresses Clerks normally separate letters by stuffing them into pigeonholes in big wooden cases (page 141). When holes are filled, workers must stop and empty them. John Sestak's machine eliminates this delay (page 126). Above: Washington, D. C., clerks toss mail into slots labeled with States and regions. Opposite page: Envelopes, dropping to another level, flow on conveyor belts through narrow channels to separation bins. A few! There were an incredible number. They arrived by twin conveyors in a tawny flood high above the floor. At intervals elec trically powered board sweeps, shaped like snowplows, pushed gently through the flood. Nudged from the belts, packages slithered down into big storage bins. Mr. Schwarz pointed to men on a catwalk above our heads. "They operate the boards, also these bins, or reservoirs. If we're flooded with packages, we hold them here until employees catch up on the volume. Operators can release pack ages any time they get the word." Apparently word came, for the doors of several bins swung open like floodgates of a dam. Out streamed parcels to floor-level con veyors. In the next room 148 clerks made a primary separation of the packages by tossing them into canvas tubs-the parcel post equivalent of letter casing. Boxes flew through the air like confetti in a breeze, but the clerks' aim seemed unerring. Packages stamped "Fragile" get special han dling, as well as the myriad live creatures per mitted by regulations: day-old fowl, baby alligators and turtles, honeybees, earthworms, frogs, goldfish, lizards. All post offices have favorite stories about mishaps to these creatures. In New York clerks recall the time a beehive split open on an unloading platform. Enraged insects dive bombed everyone in sight until Humane So ciety exterminators quelled the uprising. In Chicago a foreman showed me this terse, tongue-in-cheek official damage report: "We received a parcel, mailed from Cali fornia to Massachusetts, which contained 30, 000 ladybugs. United Air Lines employee states 20,000 were loose in the airplane, but it appears that the parcel had 29,000 left therein when dispatched. Parcel sealed, marked 'Arrived in damaged condition,' and forwarded to destination." Clerks Have Their Own Language We were threading our way across the out going-mail floor when a big clerk leveled a finger in our direction and boomed: "Send those bums over here!" "Seems as if he knows us," I ventured. "Nope, he wants these," Mr. Schwarz grinned, pointing to a pile of empty mail sacks. "We call them 'bums.' " Clerks coin many such words and phrases. The "butcher book" is a record of registered letters found in the ordinary mail. When a work area is clear, "the floor's a ballroom." Stamps that fall from envelopes are "sheds."