He started work at the Post Office when the going wage was 65 cents an hour. That was in 1927 when Ford motor cars went for as little as $400 and the fancy models cost $600.
Donald J. Flaherty has had nearly every delivery route in the city since then. He'll lug his last bag of mail along the preferential North Street route Wednesday, rounding out 45 years and three months of service with the local Post Office.
"He's high class," says Postmaster James B. Hamilton of the city's senior letter carrier. "We'll miss him."
Flaherty turned 70 on Feb. 1, the mandatory retirement age. He's covered the east side of North Street for four years, and thus is a familiar figure on the sidewalk between First Agricultural National Bank and the First National Store.
"The walking on that route is nothing compared to the bulk of mail," says Flaherty, whose years of braving the elements and toting mailbags allow him to belie his 70 years. He admits he doesn't do much else for exercise — "the job gives me plenty." And he doesn't smoke.
The postman estimates that he hiked 10,000 miles during his first 40 years delivering. Now he walks a mere two miles a day, from Fenn Street to Maplewood Avenue along North Street, then down Maplewood to Hamlin and North Pearl streets. This doesn't count the early-morning walk to work from Elberon Avenue.
Although compact, Flaherty's route comprises 288 businesses and 134 residences. That's a lot of mail when you consider the many-storied North Street buildings; it's a lot of letters even when not coping with holiday cards or personal greetings from the Internal Revenue Service.
Flaherty started as a substitute carrier under Postmaster James H. Butler, great-grandfather of Mayor Donald Butler. That was when the Post Office was in the present City Hall and the mails were moved chiefly by rail.
"My first job," he recalled, "was to go get a horse. They helped move the mails too."
Manpower was essential as well, and Flaherty mentioned with a sigh that in his early years, he sometimes worked 15 and 16 hours a day. "And without overtime," he added.
During his 45 years of tenure, Flaherty has seen postal machinery replace many mail workers; he has worked under six postmasters, and he has learned a lot about nearly everything.
"They say you don't know anything until you've been in the Army. But you know almost everything after you've been a postman," says the soft-spoken letter carrier.
Some of the highlights of his working years had to do, as might be expected, with people and dogs. Flaherty says he most prizes his relationships with the former and will be glad to finesse the sometimes hairy encounters with city canines.