By Ruth Cooper-Mosley
Bob “Rip” Hill has never been stayed by rain nor heat nor gloom of night, but he has been steered off course by an irate rooster and snow drifts chest high.
Longtime Blacksburg postman Hill laughed about the day a rooster kept him from delivering mail to one house on a substitute route. He marked the mail “bad rooster” and put it back in his bag for the regular carrier to take care of later.
But “dogs aren’t mean like they used to be,” said Hill. He had several tetanus shots over the years, but only one “bad” bite that left a small scar.
He remembers the snow of March 1960 when Blacksburg mailmen were given a vacation due to unusually high drifts along their routes. This is the only time mail has been stopped by weather in his 28 years with the Blacksburg Post Office, and “People understood,” Hill said.
Aside from the perils of inclement weather and mailman-eating pets, Hill hates junk mail, licks stamps, and forgets to mail things his wife gives him, “just like other husbands,” he said. His likes include fall weather, commemorative stamps, and delivering Social Security and income tax checks and Christmas cards.
Working for the U.S. Post Office has been Hill’s lifelong career. He was one of two walking Blacksburg postmen when he began delivering mail on the north end of town in 1950,
carrying a maximum of 40 pounds on his back.
In 1968, Hill began driving a truck on the campus route, delivering goodies from home to students, books to the library, and masses of soil samples to Virginia Tech Extension.
Last year Hill transferred to what he considers his best and easiest route so far. His first stop in his Jeep is Gilbert Linkous Elementary School. Then it’s on to 80 Terrace View buildings
where he was recently filmed by Virginia Tech cable TV for a postal service special.
Among the array of love letters and bills, Hill has handled packages containing cremated bodies. Some living and breathing mail has also passed through his hands like alligators, salamanders, and lizards. A lizard escaped in the post office one day creating havoc among some of the
Hill loves to don work clothes on his days off and said he has been in uniform most of his life first as a Virginia Tech cadet. He said the army is where he got the nickname, “Rip” because his sleeping habits were likened unto those of Mr. Van Winkle.
To some he’s Mr. Mailman or Mr. Postman. To others, he’s the man who brings the bills. “I’ve had several act like it’s my fault” (that they get bills), Hill said, but they know it’s not my fault.”
One of the major complaints Hill contends with is the “This person hasn’t lived here for years; we don’t want any more of his mail” problem. This mail goes back to the forwarding department where it may end up in “forwarding, expired, unclaimed, or unknown.” Forwarding addresses are kept for one year, Hill said.
His torment comes when he forgets and gives a person some more mail for the same former occupant. This move may prompt another nasty note, he said.
When people ask why stamps have gone up, Hill said his explanation is “Everything else has gone up. It’s just the times.” Hill said his salary does not rise every time stamp prices go up, and in the past, he thought stamps would be higher than they are now.
“One in a million” letters get lost, according to Hill, who could think of only one past-due piece of mail found in the Blacksburg office during his time there. It was an old postcard lodged in an out-of-the-way crevice.
Hill works a five-day-week with rotating days off. He clocks in at the post office at 7:30 a.m. and “works” his share of mail, sorting and loading it in his jeep. He usually leaves the office at 10:30 a.m. and delivers until about 4 p.m. with a half-hour lunch break.
One day last week he had to knock on 84 Terrace View doors with 84 certified letters and ask for signatures, a task that, not surprisingly, lengthened his delivery time. After his deliveries, it’s back to the post office to “work” some more mail. He is required to clock out by 6 p.m.
“It’s all hard work. You have to stay with it all day as fast as you can,” Hill said.
Although he thought his first day in 1950 would be his last, Hill has stuck with it and “caught on right fast,” he said. He enjoys the outdoor exercise and the independence the job offers,
but it’s not easy keeping up with everybody at Terrace View with its student turnover, he said.
His postmaster, Harland Little, who was the town’s first postman in 1949, said Hill’s work has always been “beyond question.” Little commended Hill’s attendance record and said, “He’s here every day and does a terrific job.”
Hill has given longer continuous service to the mail-getters of Blacksburg than any other present post office employees. He says he has made some lifelong friends on his routes. Sometimes he spies people watching for his arrival. Sometimes children want to inspect the inside of his jeep, and sometimes senders write on the brightly colored envelopes, “Hi, postman.”