Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

NEIGHBORS >> Forty years of service

Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: Postal worker looking forward to a busy retirement

Forty-one years ago, gas was 30 cents a gallon; an average house cost $20,000; stamps were five cents each and a family man who calls Beebe home went to work for the United States Postal Service.

Bill “Bear” Trimble was not quite 21 years old and already married with children when he started sorting mail. The job paid $2.48 an hour, no pittance if you consider that minimum wage was $1.15.

From 1964 through 1969, he sorted mail on trains and trucks. Zip codes existed back then but were rarely used. So mail clerks read the addresses and got letter bags ready to toss out for local post masters to pick up as they passed through the towns along their routes.

As the population grew and automation took the place of manual sorting, he moved to processing centers in Little Rock where his workrooms were stationary, but the equipment eventually moved with dizzying speed. His final stop was the Little Rock Processing and Distribution Center on McCain Boulevard where he dispatches mail trucks – but only for two more weeks.

Trimble, who turned 62 in November, will retire at the end of the month.

“Some people say when they retire that they won’t miss it, but I will,” Trimble said Sunday afternoon. “The post office has been great to me. I grew up there and it helped me raise my kids comfortably. I like the people I work with and I’m going to miss it.”

So why leave now?

Trimble says he’s leaving because he can. One of the attractions of the post office was the benefits, he said. His retirement is 80 percent of his base pay so he can afford to retire now.

And he isn’t concerned that he will be bored in retirement.

His seven children have given him 14 grandchildren and the youngest ones like nothing better than for him to watch them ride their bikes or play on the screened front porch he added onto his home mostly for their benefit.

He is pastor of the Apostolic Bible Church that he and his wife built not far from their home 26 years ago. Add to that the fact that several of his children and his oldest grandson have formed a bluegrass band and will require his presence at some of their performances and you might wonder how he found time to work.

Even though he was on hand to witness it, Trimble says he is still amazed at the technological ad-vances that keep the mail moving.

“When I started in August 1964, the only automation we had was a canceling machine (wavy marks across the stamps) and we had to turn everything by hand to make sure it was going in the right direction,” he said.

Later, clerks memorized zip codes, to make mail sorting faster. Name a town in Arkansas and Trimble can tell you the first three digits in the zip and maybe even all five. But it’s a skill that serves little purpose anymore. Now, computers read the zip codes and sort the letters.

“They go through so fast they look like they’re stacked,” said Billy Trimble, who has worked for the post office for 18 years and, like his father, dispatches mail trucks.

Four other members of the Trimble family either have or still do work for the post office and one more has applied.
So even though Bear Trimble will be gone in two weeks, he is certain to be remembered for a while. He got his nickname after he went to work at the processing center.

It came from the song “Running Bear” by Sonny James who was famous for his country ballads during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Ironically, it was the “running” part of the song title that he was known for.

In his early years sorting mail by hand, speed was everything and even though his job changed, his work ethic didn’t, he said. One day a co-worker called out, “Better get out of the way. Here comes Run-ning Bear. He’ll run over you.”
The full name stuck for a few months, he said.

Then the first part was dropped and he became known simply as Bear even though he never slowed his pace to the lumber bears are known for.

But that could change soon – if he wants it to. The beauty of retirement is the option of choices about how to fill those five days a week that once belonged to someone else.

“Two weeks,” Trimble said as he contemplated his imminent retirement. “Wow.”