Leavitt shuts off the alarm clock

by marlys good

After years of “early to bed, early to rise,” six mornings a week, Lee Leavitt can finally shut off the alarm. The long-time Shell Route mail carrier will retire Tuesday, March 31, with lots of fond memories but no regrets of her 27 years carrying the mail from Greybull to Shell and beyond.

She started out as a substitute carrier for the late Andy Spinder in 1988, but took over the route on his death in 1990.

Lee said when Spinder called her to ask if she would be his substitute, “We were living at the Shell Creek campgrounds, I thought I’d be okay with that,” so she said yes.

She laughed, “I thought I’d just come into Greybull, they would hand me the (packets) of mail and say, ‘There you go.’ It didn’t work out that way; it was more complicated than I thought.” The sorting, stuffing and rolling were up to her.

“There was just one truck coming in then. I left Shell about 5:30, my route started right out of Greybull, and included the ‘old’ part of Greybull Heights, went on the old Greybull Heights road, down around the gravel road where Jerry Stockwell lives, and ended up back on the highway where I headed east to Shell. The route took me from Shell on up to Wagon Wheel. I was usually done about 10 or 10:30 a.m., if things went well. Then at 4 p.m. I had to take the mail from the Shell Post Office into Greybull.” The route serviced 107 homes and was about 65 miles, start to finish. “When I started out I was driving my little old Subaru. I think gas was maybe $1.25 per gallon then; the cost has fluctuated. I’ve paid as high as $3.68 a gallon, but it’s down now.”

In the 27 years the route has taken its toll on five cars, each car a little bigger than the previous one. “It takes a bigger car now. A lot of people have moved in; my route now includes Bear and Beaver Creek, so we’re hauling a lot more mail.” Make that a LOT more mail; the route is now approximately 80 miles round trip and there are 267 mailboxes. “Now I usually don’t get home until noon,” Lee explained, “and then I go back to Greybull with the mail from Shell at 2:30 p.m.”

Art Ernst was the Greybull postmaster and Linda Scharen was postmistress at Shell when she started.

“The first winter it was below zero (try -40) for about a week. We were living at the campground and I put my car in the garage where Ruth Leavitt was living, built a fire in the wood stove, then put the car in. Of course I had to walk down there about five in the morning and bring it back to the campground to warm it up. I remember getting in one morning and the seat didn’t even give it was so cold. It felt like I was sitting on a board.”

Then there was the other extreme, when the temps reached 97 degrees above and she had a flat tire on Bear Creek.

“I almost changed it,” she laughed. “I got all but one lug nut off, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get that one loose.” So she took off walking for what she thought was “about two miles. I didn’t have my drink with me; I finally came across a stock tank and splashed water all over my face. I finally got to a house where Steve Helburn had just moved in.”

Helburn took her back to the car, changed the tire, and got her on her way again. “Steve told me, ‘You would never have gotten this tire off.’”

While Lee was carrying the mail, her husband “was gone over the road trucking, but he called in all the time, and I would tell him, ‘The car is making this kind of noise, or this or that is wrong; what do you think it is?’ He could usually diagnose the problem.”

When he got in from a road trip, “He was my main maintenance man, fixing, tire changing, oil changes, whatever I needed. That really, really helped out.”

Her first year on the route she did it all alone; no substitute; six days a week. It was too much of a grind. So she has had several substitutes, with Loren and Marjorie Good serving the longest. It has given her brief reprieves and kept her going.

“Every time the contract came due, I’d think I would quit, then I’d think, no I can do one more, then one more,” and the “one more” turned into 27 years.

Her longevity in part is due to the help husband Glen has been since he gave up trucking. After farming for Werbelows at Emblem for a while, “Lately he has gone with me. That has really helped. I have never gotten one of those vehicles with the steering wheel on the right side, so putting mail in 250-plus boxes has taken its toll” on her arm, shoulders and back. “Glen has helped me immensely.”

Lee said she has been blessed with great customers who have had few complaints. “I try to please all the customers,” she said. “One day there was a note in a mailbox asking me to close the mail box tighter; just down the road, another one asked me not to close it too tight,” she laughed. “But most of them have been very patient and very good.”

Lee is looking forward to shutting her alarm off and “sleeping in,” but admits she might have to “reset my body clock. I plan to catch up on my sleep, do a little more visiting with family. I have eight great-grandchildren scattered all over, we have a cabin and we’ll be spending more time up there.” Plus, she adds, “There are some major things around the place I’ve let go for years. I’ll miss some of the things (about the mail route), “but I’m ready to have some time on my own.”

Lee will be honored at an open house in the fellowship room at the Shell Community Church Sunday, March 29, from 2-4 p.m.

Stop in and wish her well as she “drives off into the sunset.”