By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
It’s the end of an era, there’s no doubt about it.
The squat white Jeeps that have carried Toledo’s mail since the 1960s will soon rest in peace alongside milk trucks, slide rules, and rotary phones – features of everyday life pushed aside by advancing technology.
U.S. Postal Service officials in Detroit will announce this morning that they are phasing out the nationwide fleet of 27,000 Jeeps and replacing them with that bastion of suburbia, the minivan. Nine thousand Ford Windstars and Aerostars will flood the streets of America this summer, with more to come over time.
Northwest Ohio has 70 to 80 of the Jeeps, according to customer services coordinator Ron Metzger. About 25 of those are in Toledo.
Within the next two months, 70 vans will take their place. The first of them have arrived to rave reviews from carriers.
“They’re terrific,” said James Ellis, a special-delivery messenger and driving instructor. “They’re excellent – much more pleasant to drive than those old Jeeps.”
For an American icon, postal Jeeps are in pretty sorry shape. The government stopped buying them in 1983, so the fleet is at least 14 years old.
Carrier Kathy Schultz said most at her station date from 1973, making parts almost impossible to find.
The old Jeeps were hardly models of safety. Top-heavy, they could topple easily at high speed and slide in winter weather. Many had mufflers so loud they could drown out conversation. And they were notoriously rough-riding.
“The vans are so much better than the old Jeeps,” Mr. Ellis said. “My kidneys thank me that I don’t have to drive one of those things.”
The amount of mail the postal service carries has risen steadily in the 1990s. The new vans will have enough room to easily carry the vacuum cleaners, barbells, and stationary bikes that some people send through the mail.
“One guy in Germany sent every thing he owned back home, six or seven boxes at a time,” Ms. Schultz said. “In the Jeeps, we would have had to deliver it all over two or three days, because we couldn’t fit it all in the back. In the van, we can do it in one trip.”
Postal officials said fewer trips could speed up a carrier’s route.
The Jeeps simply weren’t built for speed. “They all had a big sticker on them, ‘advising’ drivers not to go past 50 miles an hour,” Mr. Ellis said. “They scared me.”
“It’s sad to see an era go,” Mr. Metzger said. “That’s what I drove when I was a carrier. … But times have changed.”
For those who have sat behind a Jeep’s wheel for years, switching to a minivan – whose steering wheel is on the left, not the right – takes adjustment. “The first few times I drove it, I went to the wrong door,” Ms. Schultz said.
But for most drivers, the cushioned seats and working shocks make up for a little confusion.