Note: The National Post in Canada is similar to "USA Today" in the United States.
Pam Lynch boasts what few drivers can: "I have the perfect rural Mail Lady's tan."
OK, so even the weakest link could deduce this refers to that bronzed arm one inevitably gets when reaching out the window and stuffing boxes with stamped stuff along a country road on a sunny day.
So, that would be the left arm, since that is the one closest to the driver's side window. Right?
In Ms. Lynch's case, however, one must take into account hers is a unique Jeep Cherokee, and Godsend to those who deliver Canada Post's mail in the country.
A four-foot belt extends from a pulley on the real steering column -- on the usual left side -- to another pulley on a second steering column on what should be the passenger side. Below, levers connected to the real pedals extend across the floor to another set of pedals on the right side.
Voila! Right-hand steering.
This is a must to Ms. Lynch who, like all motorists, is prohibited -- by law -- from driving against traffic, which would allow her easy access to roadside mailboxes. She is also prohibited -- by Canada Post -- from reaching far across a passenger seat to gain access to a mailbox. One solution would have been to hire a passenger/mailbox stuffer. Ms. Lynch opted for a different solution, one that puts her in the driver's seat and passenger's seat.
Says Ms. Lynch, "I've caused one accident because one driver was gawking [at the vehicle] and ran into the car in front of him. It was just a nudge, but I'm sure he felt a little stupid."
She adds, "It seems that men, especially, want to examine it to see how this thing is put together."
The "thing" is a steering transfer kit that Ms. Lynch's husband, Pat, found on the Internet after "numerous phone calls over the years with no luck at all."
Postalthings.com says it created its product for "right-hand drive conversions for the Jeep Cherokee for use by postal rural route letter carriers."
The company has sold approximately 250 kits since it hit the market in the United States about three years ago. Ms. lynch is the first -- and, for now, the only -- Canadian customer. That inauguration cost her about $750 plus border and courier fees, and an additional $250 to have a local garage install the kit. Oh, and there was also the price of a used Jeep Cherokee, since the kit only works on that vehicle.
The investment may seem a bit lofty for a delivery contract that lasts only five years -- her is up in July, 2002 -- and, by Ms. Lynch's own admission, is hardly lucrative.
"We just had an $800 brake job," she points out. "And that pretty much eats up our profit for a month or two."
She watches gas prices as closely as she monitors weather reports. Though Canada Post did recently offer its contractors a slight raise to reflect rising fuel prices, that is the extent of a benefits package. "We don't get sick days," says Ms. Lynch. "If you're ill, you either have someone you've trained replace you, or you go in. And yeah, I've gone in very ill."
Essentially, this is a small business. Explains Ms. Lynch, who has been delivering for almost nine years around Lindsay, Ontario, "We'll definitely have to win another contract or our investment won't pay for itself."
If she doesn't, at least the conversion kit can be removed, thus returning the vehicle to its original state.
She hopes it does not come to that. The former staff supervisor who spent 14 years at the Bank of Commerce is clearly in her element here, in a constant stop-and-go motion, crawling from farm to farm, pausing to chat to the umpteen neighbours who are part of her routs. Jokingly, she says half that route is her extended family. "I was at an advantage when I started because I already knew 50% of my customers."
There is also some flexibility in the hours. Ms. Lynch's entire workday, which includes sorting the mail at a Canada Post outlet, then delivering it, lasts about four to five hours. The only requirement is that the mail be delivered by 5 p.m.
Indeed, on a clear summer day, with green, rolling hills and sheep and cattle in the rear-view mirror, this could be Anne Shirley's dream job. But even Green Gables gets snow-covered, eventually. Neither are the road's shoulders -- Ms. Lynch's primary driving surface -- sanded and salted with the care and regularity of main roadways.
"I'm a little nervous about winter driving," she admits. "And it can be very nasty here. If you've got freezing rain, the mailboxes get frozen shut. We've been known to bring a hammer or you get a very sore hand beating the ice off."
This is not her only vehicle, of course. Ms. Lynch, a mother of four, also drives a minivan with regular steering. And that, at least, allows this "Mail Lady" the ability to tan her other arm.
Copyright © 2001 National Post Online
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