Published On: Thu, Oct 27th, 2011

Long-time Hartington mail carrier retires

HARTINGTON — Keith Bartling has been getting the mail through for over 20 years.
Bartling has spun his pick-up tires in a few spots, drove on ice, sloshed though rain and, as the snow piled up, he many times had to lean far out his pick-up window to reach the rural mail boxes on his route.
Bartling estimates he has driven around 410,000 miles during his postal career.
During those first few years he delivered mail – gas was $1.15 a gal. and postage stamp cost 25 cents.

Bartling is retiring after 22 years with the U.S. Postal Service – 16 of those years he worked full-time.
In 1989, he started as a sub for a rural route driver out of the Randolph Post Office.
He then began subbing on a rural route out of Hartington under Post Master Marvin Griess.
A few years later, Bartling started delivering mail on a full-time basis.
Bartling has been covering an 89-mile route which includes around 260 patrons.
Bartling’s route extended two miles west of Hwy 81; his route reached four miles south and one and one-half miles north of Pleasant Valley and one mile east out past the Cedar County Fairgrounds.
He started his route each morning and ended his route by making deliveries to mail boxes in Hartington.
When Bartling was first becoming familiar with the Hartington route, he was delivering mail to 26 Lammers families. A few times he had letters to deliver that were addressed to Grandpa Lammers.
Recently he attempted to find the correct destination  for a card addressed to Mrs. Burbach along with an old rural route address.
Bartling has enjoyed his work and getting to know the  people on his route.
“It was nice to be out on the road instead of working inside. I enjoyed meeting and talking to people. Some of them I got to know pretty well,” he said. “People would always wave at me like they knew me.”
At Christmas, Bartling would find cookies, candy or a small gift that his patrons would leave in their mail box for him.
At least once a week a lady leaves a bag with a couple of small candy bars and an apple for Bartling.
People would stop Bartling as he was delivering mail to get directions or ask him a question.
“One time a guy stopped me in Hartington to find where he could buy a cigar in town,” Bartling said.
While hauling mail Bartling has changed six flat tires. He has been stung by wasps and dogs would bark and bite at his pickup tires – you could see the teeth marks on his tires.
He ran over a dog only one time on his route.
“The dog always came out of the ditch right before I got to the mailbox. That day there were two dogs that came out of the ditch,” Bartling said. “I left a note in the mailbox so they would know what happened.”
Bartling was nipped on the back of his legs by a dog –  but it was nothing serious.
“The dog was sleeping as I walked to the house. I  think I surprised it. I never did have any problems with the dog before or after that,” he said.
He even had a confrontation with a bird on his route when he pulled up in front of a mailbox.
“I had just opened my window and here come this little Wren out of the box into my car. She was up on my dash and left a few deposits. I had to stop in order to get the Wren out of my pickup,” Bartling said. “The next day I eased up to the mailbox but the Wren wasn’t there. The third day I had forgot about the Wren and here she came right in through my window when I opened it.”
In spite of the severe snow storms that hit the area in the last two years, Bartling only missed delivering mail on a couple of days.
He did stay over night in Hartington a few times due to the snow.
Bartling remembers the day he was plastered with snow from a snow plow.
“It was kind of a warm day – with snow blowing across the road. I looked up the road and didn’t see anyone,” Bartling said. “I had just opened my window and the slush from a State plow hit me.”
Bartling grew up on a farm near Coleridge and graduated from Coleridge High School.
He served four years in the Air Force and was sent to Vietnam twice.
Bartling and his wife, Lynda, have three daughters who are married.
During his retirement, Bartling would like to do some  traveling and maybe head south for a few weeks during the winter.
He does do some gardening. He has enjoyed wood carving for 16  years and is involved with the Coleridge Wood Carvers.
Every year Bartling tries to carve a Christmas ornament for each of his grandchildren.
This year he should have plenty of time to carve all eight of those holiday ornaments.