The Last Windrow: He delivered more than just the mail to our rural farm
Pine River columnist John Wetrosky reflects on Rural Free Delivery
He didn't have a degree in geography. He didn't have a degree in social science. There was no degree of higher learning in the area of mechanical ability.
He didn't need one.
He was Frank Begman, our RFD mail carrier on our 1950s farm. We relied on him.
Rural Free Delivery came about as a legal entity in 1896. Up until that year, residents living in the rural parts of the country had to travel to their nearest post office to pick up their mail.
At certain times in the year that exercise could be difficult. There were muddy and rutted roads. Travel by either horse and buggy or early cars could be hazardous and the time involved in traveling to the nearest post office box sometimes was not available.
In other words, getting your mail was an exercise not always looked forward to.
Up until the establishment of Rural Free Delivery, residents of the United States followed the European model where a person only had the choice of traveling to an urban post office to mail or pick up a letter. The wide open spaces of the United States didn't lend well to that kind of mail delivery.
A congressman by the name of Thomas Watson pushed through the bill that created the free (subsidized) mailing service. Like every bill ever passed, his bill received criticism from a number of fellow legislators.
One guy warned that creating such a service that would bring mail to a rural mailbox would be a detriment to the physical condition of rural folks. In other words, by not having to travel a distance to pick up their mail, farmers and ranchers would become soft.
That never happened on our farm.
So, getting back to our RFD mail carrier, Frank Begman, he provided more service than just shoving our mail into the box at the end of the driveway. Because he traversed a wide area of countryside, he was kind of a traveling newsman.
Frank knew who was planting corn early, who was shipping hogs to market, what the road conditions were like in the hills, what the price of gas was at the different stations and what part of his territory held the largest population of ring-necked pheasants.
I found that last item to be extremely interesting.
I don't remember a day when our mail went missing. I'm sure Frank had troubles along the way, but he never mentioned them. His car looked like a mudball during the spring and it would be covered with snow and ice during the winter.
You could set your watch by the arrival of his vehicle.
Rural Free Delivery was broadly supported by just about all farm organizations as it is today. Even with the wireless mail many of us now use , the mailboxes throughout farm country are still seen as a value. Even that one politician who thought RFD would make farmers and ranchers soft might reconsider.
I thought of Frank Begman the other day when I picked up my mail from the box at the end of our snow-filled lane. Frank delivered more than just the mail.
Heck, now he even has a satellite TV channel named after his RFD service. I'd bet he'd never have thought of that as we pulled his car out of the mud one long ago April morning.
See you next time. Okay?