Oak Creek mail carrier to retire after 33 years of whiteouts, frigid temperatures and mailbox-burying snow
OAK CREEK — In 33 1/2 years, there was just one day when weather was bad enough for Bill Babcock not to deliver mail to residents on the rural roads around Oak Creek.
Through whiteouts, frigid temperatures and mailbox-burying snow, Babcock drove to the houses around Trout Creek, Twentymile and Stagecoach six days a week.
“Some days I didn’t want to go out,” he said.
But he always did — except for that one single day when Nancy Peckham, his postmaster for 30 years, told him he couldn’t deliver.
Babcock puts this winter in the top five worst in terms of challenging road and delivery conditions. But in all those years, he’s never had an accident. He’s never hit a deer or an elk, though he has been stuck in the ditch a few times.
“The thing about out here,” Babcock said, as he drove along a wintery Routt County Road 29, “the county does an amazing job plowing.”
Peckham said she’d worry about him on the really bad days when he would insist on going out.
“He’s very dedicated,” she said. “I don’t know they are going to find that in the next guy.”
Babcock, 66, will be retiring at the end of March. He was born on a ranch up Trout Creek, and today, lives in his grandmother’s house in Oak Creek, which been in his family since 1932.
“I love being out here in the country,” he said, cruising along a section of Routt County Road 179. “I see baby calves being born — and lambs. I see hay being put up and herds of elk migrating. I see bald and gold eagles, lynxes, bears, bobcats and mountain lions.”
During his tenure, Babcock went from delivering mail to 62 customers to delivering to 650 customers. He now averages about 80 miles a day (and listens to a lot of AM talk radio).
Babcock is a contractor for the U.S. Postal Service. He won the bid for multiple Oak Creek “Highway Contract Routes” in 1985 and has held those contracts ever since.
When he began the Stagecoach route, there wasn’t a reservoir and only about 20 customers. Today, there are around 500.
That route ends at a cluster of mailboxes at the top of “Coal Hill” on Routt County Road 16 — his least favorite road with its blind corners, persistent washboards and where “everyone drives so fast.” The dirt roads also wear out the tires and front end of his cars more quickly, he said.
He uses his own vehicle, and today, drives an all-wheel drive Nissan Rouge of which he is particularly fond. He’s put 227,000 miles on it since he bought it brand new in 2010 and likes that it sits higher up than his previous Subarus.
In those early years, Babcock delivered mail for about two and a half hours in the morning. A single dad raising four kids, his youngest rode along every day until she went to kindergarten.
Helped by an occasional fill-in driver, he never missed a school event.
There was no internet when Babcock started. Long-distance calling was much more expensive. People eagerly anticipated letters from loved ones for news.
There was no automated bill pay. And there was no Amazon.
Today, he isn’t so much in the mail delivery business as the package delivery business.
He saw the introduction of the package scanner and the GPS technology that monitors the location of his boxes — and him — every mile of the journey.
Everything changed when the Postal Service took on Amazon, he said. Because of all the boxes, Babcock often has to make two deliveries a day, and most days became at least 10-hour days.
“I come in at 7 a.m., and many days don’t get off until 7 p.m.,” he said.
He and his wife haven’t had a vacation for three years.
Peckham, who retired in 2014, spent three decades with Babcock. Their playful bickering was so authentic most of the customers assumed they were married.
Working with the close-knit team at the Oak Creek Post Office has been Babcock’s favorite part of the job.
“It was always a really small crew,” Peckham said. “You almost have to like the people on it.”
“We get along great,” Babcock said. “I look forward to coming to work every day. We joke, we laugh, we kid each other.”
And there’s always a battle for who can pull the best prank.
One of Babcock’s favorites involved a rattlesnake. He sees a lot of them in the summer on C.R. 29, he said. On this particular day he decided to kill one laying in the middle of the road, chop off the head and throw the body into a mail bin in the back seat.
Once back at the post office, Peckham offered to help him unpack the car. He directed her to the mail bin.
“She jumped straight into the air,” he laughed. “I was called everything you could imagine.”
Babcock met his current wife on the other side of the counter at the post office. They were introduced by Peckham and have been married for eight years.
At this time, Postmaster Doug Sprowls isn’t sure who will fill Babcock’s route. A company from Missouri bought the contracts and are advertising for drivers.
Babcock’s retirement is looking to be a busy one, as he also has a home-based sales business and a metal roofing company, as well as some rental properties he and his wife manage.
“I have my hands full,” he said.
But most of all, retirement will buy him freedom from the strict and uncompromising schedule of the daily mail.
“It made me a good living for many years,” he said. “And kept a roof over my head and fed my kids.”
Now he will be able to go visit his seven grandkids, who are scattered around the country.
But Babcock’s shoes won’t be easy ones to fill.
“He takes responsibility,” Sprowls said.
“He’s very dedicated to his customers,” added Peckham. “He would always go out of his way — bringing mail to the house for older customers and things like that — he was always really kind in that way.”
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