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On The Road Again ... and again and again and again

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The U.S. Postal Service was created almost 232 years ago, in July 1776. Vern Wevley's been kicking up dust on area roads as a rural USPS carrier for almost four decades.

But for some reason, some of his co-workers think it's been longer than that.

"Do you remember Ben Franklin?" asked Pat Schneider as they prepared for their routes.

Wevley shakes his head and grins.

"I get all these things," he said.

But not any longer. The ribbing now will have to come from his wife, daughters and grandchildren.

Wevley has retired after almost 40 years making the rounds throughout the area in winter storms, beautiful spring days and oppressively hot summers.

"One guy I used to work with, Alvin Nelson, used to say, 'I'd like to linger longer, but I can no longer linger,'" Wevley said.

Wevley, 62, graduated from Morris High School in 1964. He served in the military and was stationed in Vietnam for a year, beginning during the Tet offensive in 1968.

He spent another 13 months in Thailand, then returned to attend what is now Alexandria Technical College. Wevley earned a degree in accounting, and that's what led him to the Postal Service.

"I didn't like sitting behind a desk all day, so this works out great," he said. "I sit at a little desk for awhile and then I get to get out and see the country."

Wevley started as a substitute carrier, working construction during the summer and bartending at night. He also remained in the National Guard and the Air Force Reserve for 34 years until retiring.

In April 1974 he carried his first mail, and he became a full-time carrier in August 1977.

His first delivery car was a Dodge Dart, and since then he's driven pickups, station wagons and mid-size cars. Nine in all, by his count. Wevley used to buy them new, but then figured out it was more economical to buy used cars with about 100,000 miles on them and put another 100,000 on them.

His days consisted of 129.5 miles of driving, which seems reasonable until realizing he makes about 300 stops per day.

In 2004, he received a plaque and a pin from the National Safety Council for logging 1 million miles for the Postal Service.

The stories Wevley experienced are no doubt countless.

One day, he approached a box that had its flag up, meaning the owner had mail for him to pick up. Wevley didn't really look in the box; he just reached in to retrieve the mail and he felt something furry. And it was moving.

"(The owner) had his kids put a couple of kittens in the mailbox," Wevley said. "He thought it was funny, and I said, 'Maybe, but I almost had the big one.' "

Wevley was twice pulled over by the State Patrol, once when a trooper demanded to speak to the driver.

"I am the driver," Wevley said.

Once the befuddled trooper figured out why Wevley was in the right-side seat, she let him go and beat a hasty retreat.

On the other occasion, a trooper hit his lights and waved Wevley to the roadside. He went through his mind what he might have done wrong -- maybe a broken tail light or brake light. Nope.

"He pulled two letters out of his pocket," Wevley said, "and he asked, 'Would you mail these for me? It'll save me a trip to the post office.' I said, 'You betcha!' "

And Wevley remembers the funny characters and the good folks who went out of their way to make sure the mail was delivered.

"I've been stuck in the snow and people have pulled me out many different times," he said. "There are a lot of good people in this part of the state who help you out."

Wevley and his wife, Leona, have three daughters -- Julie, Lisa and Mari.

Lisa and Mari live in the Moorhead area, and that's where Vern and Leona will move to be closer to the daughters and three grandchildren. Vern said he expects he'll look for a part-time job, and he'll continue to live by the wishes he routinely extended to others over the years: "May your tires stay round," he said, "and may your engine stay running."