Reckling: Save the Woody Creek post office
As the pistons slow and the powerful “chuff-chuff” of the steam engine eases, the conductor walks through the passenger car and yells, “Catherine!” When the train comes to a full stop, some passengers get off as others climb aboard.
The engine hisses as it builds up more steam and the engineer sounds the whistle long and hard to signal his departure. Onward the train travels for several miles until its next stop. The conductor reappears in the passenger car and shouts, “Emma!” At this stop another group disembarks before the train chugs out of the Emma depot. As the train continues on, the conductor visits the passenger car a third time to shout, “Woody!” just before its next stop.
This was the call of the conductor in the 1890s as the train pulled into present-day Woody Creek.
This Aspen-bound train belonged to the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Co. as it delivered its passengers from other towns, or the big city of Denver, into the Roaring Fork Valley. Some rail travelers enjoyed day trips up and down the Roaring Fork Valley to visit family or to take a therapeutic soak in the mineral-rich Glenwood Springs. The Aspen branch line originated in Glenwood Springs, and Woody Creek was the last stop before Aspen.
Not only did the arrival of these steam-engine railroads put an end to the isolation of mountain hamlets and the arduous journeys of stagecoaches and wagon trains; they determined where towns and cities would become permanent places on the map. It was a consequential evolution that where the train stopped, prosperity grew.
In the case of Woody Creek, a store was opened and a post office was established in 1920. The first postmaster in Woody Creek was a man by the name of Frank O. Stevens, and in 1922 Ben M. Strawbridge took over the position. Later years brought other postmasters, with Jesse Bouge and Lee Jones being a couple of the names on record.
Fast-forward to today, and you can see that the community activity of Woody Creek revolves around its post office. In rural communities like Woody Creek, the post office remains a vital social artery. Yes, it’s where residents go to pick up their mail, but it’s also where people come together to discuss community issues and have a visit with their neighbors.
Last fall, I wrote a column that alerted readers about the pending doom of Woody Creek’s post office. David Rupert, a Colorado postal spokesperson (my dad used to say that the word spokesperson was just a polite way of saying bullshit artist) berated me in his letter to the editor for having “fanned quite a bit of fear in the community” by writing about the U.S. Postal Service technique of phasing out post offices. He brushed over the issue by stating the Postal Service was merely “adjusting the hours” at the Woody Creek post office because it doesn’t produce enough revenue.
Rupert, and all Postal Service officials, must realize that when you reduce hours of operation, you reduce the income of the postmistress. When the postmistress’ income is decreased to where she can’t sustain a living, she is forced to seek employment elsewhere. A post office without a postmistress (or postmaster) can then be closed with no recourse from its customers.
Besides that, there is a congressional directive of the “public service obligation” required of the Postal Service found in the Postal Reorganization Act that reads, “The Postal Service shall provide a maximum degree of effective and regular postal services to rural areas … where post offices are not self-sustaining. No small post office shall be closed solely for operating at a deficit, it being the specific intent of the Congress that effective postal services be insured to residents of both urban and rural communities.”
Sherry Mahoney has served as Woody Creek’s postmistress for almost six years now and is not only a devoted postal employee but an invaluable member of the community and a true public servant. As her hours are gradually reduced, she is being starved out of her job.
Woody Creek has many residents who do not own automobiles. Though tough as nails, the lives of the elderly are greatly affected by shortened hours and would be devastated if the post office was eventually closed.
In the words of Jennings Randolph, former U.S. senator from West Virginia, “When the post office is closed, the flag comes down. When the human side of government closes its doors, we’re all in trouble.”
Please join the residents of Woody Creek at the Woody Creek Community Center (next to the Woody Creek Tavern) at a meeting at 6:30 p.m. on July 31 as we discuss the future of our post office with Postal Service representatives.
For all those who attend, enjoy a free beer at the Tavern after the meeting.
Margaret Wilson Reckling would like to thank Len Shoemaker for his historical insight on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Co. Railroad and post offices of the Roaring Fork Valley. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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