About a dozen years ago, when his kindergarten teacher asked the perennial question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” five-year-old Angus Montgomery had a ready answer: “A postman!”
Angus has held to his vision, although his passion wavered a time or two since he began his job at the Montpelier Post Office in the fall. As the fourth generation of the amiable Montgomery family to take on a career with the United States Postal Service, Angus started the job in the midst of a pandemic, with the post office short-staffed, and with an unprece-dented volume of mail — and packages — through the holiday season. “It was a lot more complicated than I expected,” he said while walking his route during a recent snowstorm.
His father Craig, himself a 29-year veteran of the postal service, explained: “Angus started just at the beginning of the biggest mail volume I’ve ever seen during the holidays. Because we were so short-staffed, Angus wound up working 10 to 12 hours a day and seven days a week for 25 days straight in December.”
But Angus has persevered — with some timely moral support from his father and his grandfather Dave Montgomery, who retired from the post office in 2007 after 41 years of delivering mail. Dave’s route for most of his career was “City-5,” which covers the Meadow neighborhood and the residences and businesses north on Elm Street. That route was previously served by Harold Montgomery, Angus’s great grandfather, who worked at the post office from 1955 to 1986. Craig, who began his career as a postal worker in 1992 and now covers City-5, says he walks about 10 miles a day on the job and expects to retire while serving this route, as did his father and grandfather.
All the walking is a big part of why the job appeals to Angus. “I love being outdoors — and meeting the customers,” Angus said. One of his favorite delivery stops is the Gary Home where the arrival of the mail often highlights the day for residents. “The idea of working inside as a clerk did not appeal to me at all,” he said.
An Unusual Opportunity
Getting Angus started at the post office proved more complicated than any of the Montgomerys anticipated. While hiring requirements indicate that new employees with a high school diploma can start at age 16, being a mail carrier requires having had a driver’s license in good standing for a full two years before starting work. “I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense,” Craig noted. Angus graduated from Montpelier High School in 2021 and turned 18 in May.
Both Craig and grandfather Dave worked at the post office for nearly a decade before they had the seniority for a permanent route of their own. Before they acquire a regular route, newer employees bounce around, filling in on various city routes as needed. But because of the short-staff situation and an unexpected retirement, Angus has been assigned City-2, a route that ranges from the Vermont College of Fine Arts area through downtown and includes the Loomis and Liberty streets neighborhood.
The reason behind the driver experience requirement is that the storage boxes along a carrier’s route have been removed and replaced with vans driven to strategic points along the route so the carrier can refill his satchel along the way. Dave notes that before the deployment of the vans he walked to his route from the post office. And walked back to the post office when his deliveries were finished. “The day’s walk was a lot more than ten miles,” he noted.
“I’m so proud he made it through,” Craig said of his son’s emergence from the first, challenging months.
The Part That’s Complicated
A postal carrier’s morning begins with sorting mail. Craig explained that while there are mail sorting machines, a lot must be organized by hand before starting delivery. The repetition becomes a mental challenge. “Sometimes it seems like it never ends. More big piles. It’s like shoveling sand into the ocean,” he reflected.
The on-going circumstance of being short-staffed is wearing on postal workers, Craig said. As one of the senior members of the staff he has frequently been in the role of trainer. “We are and have been so short staffed, we work six days a week for months on end. With no end in sight right now. It’s a grind. Ten miles a day, every kind of weather. You’re tired and sore. Then you get up and do it again. It’s not an easy job. . . Nobody seems to want to do this.”
Noting that the hiring process is slow from “hiring” to actually working, Craig hopes it can be streamlined. “What the public doesn’t see is honestly how much their carrier cares about giving them good service. We feel a responsibility to our customers,” he said.
Like his son, Craig finds it’s the personal encounters that are rewarding. “This is the part of the job we love. We become a little part of our route. Know people, kids, dogs. I used to do a different route every day when I first started. I honestly know every inch of this town. I still remember addresses and names of places I haven’t been in over 20 years. It helps at Christmas when we get cards for people that moved decades ago but we know where they are now,” he said.
“This is also the first year that the kids I saw born are headed off to college! It’s fun to see them grow up,” Craig noted about his long tenure on City-5. He was reminded of another significant occasion on the route. “I did once find a little girl crying on a porch. I asked what was wrong and she said, ‘I wasn’t supposed to get off the bus today. No one is home.’ I knew where her family member worked. I called her and she said she’d be right home. I sat with the little girl with the glass door between us (she said I was a stranger but was OK with me outside) until her family member got there.”
Making Friends with Dogs
The three generations of the Montgomery family share an affection for dogs. “Considering the number of Milk Bones I carried in my pockets, I should have bought stock in the company,” Dave said. “Dogs are the best,” Craig added. “All of us love dogs.” He also carries treats on his route and recalls the recent loss of a canine friend. “I have customers that adopted this dog years ago. I’d see him every day, say ‘Hi’ and give him a scratch. This fall I knew he was ailing. His owner said he didn’t have much time left. I put down my bag, sat beside him on the grass and cried my eyes out while giving him my last cookie and a pat.”
“I was only bit by a dog once,” Dave recalled. It was a dog visiting the neighborhood, not one of the regulars. He’s certain Angus will carry on the tradition of friendly canine relations.
How the Montgomery’s Legacy Developed
Harry Montgomery had been working at the post office for less than a decade when Dave graduated from high school in 1962. “I had gone to work at State Equipment right out of school,” Dave said. After about four years on that job, he faced the disruption of a workers’ strike. He put in an application at the post office. “When I got the call that my application was accepted, they asked when I would be available to start. I said, ‘How about this afternoon?’ Two dollars an hour was a good paycheck back then.”
In contrast, as a young man, Craig had aspired to be a motorcycle mechanic and had gone to Florida for training. When he returned to Vermont in the early 1990s he was unable to find an opening at any of the local shops. In the interim, Dave suggested taking a temporary job at the post office. When a job offer at a garage did come along Craig realized it was neither as well-paying nor as secure as his future would be with USPS. “My dad tricked me,” he said with a wink.
Craig did not entirely give up his love of motorcycling and has ridden much of the east coast and Canada’s famed Cape Breton Island, touring with friends over the years. He also has used his mechanical skills on side projects — most recently restoring a Mini Cooper.