DELIVERY ON THE RURAL SIDE OF LIFE
Whether living in Cove or commuting to Cove from La Grande, Randy Simmons is a central person in the life of hundreds of Cove residents.
For 28 years, Simmons has been a Cove rural mail carrier. He's barely avoided rattlesnakes, regretted not having a camera to photograph the snow rollers when it blows like waves on the ocean had as many as three flat tires in one day, watched a black bear and her cub share Haefer Lane with him, and can't even begin to calculate the tonnage of bulk mail he's carried.
And he never imagined, back in 1977, that he would stick with the job he started as a substitute.
Sorting mail last week, Simmons reflected on the job he'll retire from at the end of the day, Aug. 31.
He'll miss the people he has been delivering mail to for years.
And he'll especially miss a special group of friends.
"I will miss some of the dogs," Simmons says, smiling and looking sideways to see if he's surprised his interviewer. "Some of them are my friends, as contrary as that may be to say as a mail carrier."
The dogs on his route and delivering mail to up to 400 homes each day, there have been a lot have never had him at a stand-off for long.
"Oh, a few little dogs have nipped at my heels," he admits.
But only a pair of visiting Rottweilers has ever delayed him on his route. Turned out, that pair just came running up for some petting and scratching.
Simmons, a dog lover presently raising a litter of basset hounds pups, admits that on that day with the Rottweilers lumbering toward him, "I thought I was finished."
Simmons is ending his career under Cove Postmaster Ab Orton, after working with two previous postmasters. The two joke, as Simmons continues sorting the route mail, that Orton is the first postmaster not to be chased out by Simmons.
After 17 years of working together, Simmons is ready to give Orton some praise.
"He's been really good to work with," Simmons says. Orton just gives a little grin from another mail sorting table.
Simmons grew up in Elgin and graduated from Elgin High School. He was drafted into the military and was sent to Vietnam.
When his tour was over, "I came back and started work at the Boise particle board plant, got married, went to EOU (Eastern Oregon University) and got a degree in history and a minor in English."
And then couldn't find a job in this area.
A substitute mail-carrier job opened in Cove, and after talking to the regular carrier, Simmons decided to take the postal test.
"I got hired," he says, and worked part-time for about 10 months.
He started as a full-time rural carrier in October 1977, shortly after becoming fully vested in Boise's pension plan.
That history means that Simmons has if not the longest, then one of the longest rural carrier careers in Eastern Oregon.
When he started, he delivered mail to 285 boxes. Population growth in rural Cove pushed his route to more than 400 before the route was eventually broken into two.
"I was pulling in 10- to 12-hour days, just to get through the route," he says.
Even now, his route takes him to within half a mile of Imbler.
After splitting the route into a main route and an auxiliary route, Simmons now has between 335 and 340 boxes he delivers to, while the auxiliary route has 163.
Most memorable happenings along the route over the years?
"The worst winter of all winters, in terms of length, was 1988-89. It snowed in November and it had snow until about March."
But then there were the weeks after Christmas 2003. "It was a total white-out for a couple days, there. I think I was stuck more often then at any other time."
Winter, though, is just a job reality for a rural carrier in Northeast Oregon. Simmons has often dug himself out of snow, pulled people along his route out of snow, and been pulled out by other drivers more often than he can remember.
He's delivered plenty of "little odd things," including live chicks and newly hatched quail, but nothing that really sticks out in his memory.
He does remember meeting and talking to Bishop Desmond Tutu at the Cove Post Office when the world leader visited Cove during the 1980s. Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his work resolving the problems of South African apartheid.
As Simmons nears his last day of delivering mail, he's recalling his first days and has a bit of advice for those on his route:
"At first, when I started, some people were really upset because I did things differently. When I'm gone, I have to say to people to give the new carrier a chance, because they'll do things differently, too."
On Simmons' agenda for the future?
Enjoy more time with his wife, Shelley, and get those basset puppies raised.