Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How Many Men Does It Take To Change a Mailbox?

I saw something I'd never seen before last week. But first a little history.

We've spent most of our Winter with our mailbox supported by a 5-gallon bucket filled with sand. I really must put more pictures in these blogs. Anyway, the reason for the bucket and sand was because I came home from work one day to find our mailbox leaning at roughly a 53 degree angle. Needless to say, I was very concerned about its structural integrity. When I walked out to take a look, all I had to do was touch it to make it fall over completely. The 4X4 treated wooden post supporting the mailbox had been broken at ground level. So I was now the proud owner of a 2.5 foot post and mailbox laying in the dirt and another 3.5 feet of post buried solidly in frozen ground. If we didn't want to spend the next few months getting our mail at the Post Office I needed to do something.

So how could this have happened? I mean a 4X4 post isn't something you can break very easily without some serious Martial Arts training or some heavy equipment. I suspect it was bumped by a snow plow. However, there had been no snow on the day the incident occurred. I also know we have, shall we say, a very aggressive mail lady, who has no patience for our mailbox door. Admittedly, it does require a little more effort to open than your garden variety mailboxes. But just a little. Dear readers, we have witnessed the mail person shaking and pulling the door with such a vengeance you would swear she was trying to rip it out of the ground.

So, I'm guessing the snow plow must have started a crack and the forceful handling 6 out of every 7 days was eventually enough to rip the post completely. We had a truly enjoyable couple months with the mailbox in the bucket. It was always exciting coming home because you never knew what kind of angle you'd find the box leaning at after withstanding yet another day's delivery. On windy days, of course, the whole thing would blow over and usually roll down our steep ditch so every so often I had the pleasure of hauling a 5-gallon bucket of sand out of the ditch. Good memories. Thankfully, we did get a considerable amount of snow afterwards, so I did have a modest bank built up all around the thing. For those of you who remember the movie E.T. our mailbox looked like the little alien with its head poking up out of a thick white robe.

Alas, all good things must end. With the lack of snow and thawing of the ground, I had begun to get troubled over how I would go about replacing the mailbox post. I voiced these concerns to my father-in-law, Jim, one afternoon. The job didn't seem to trouble him at all. He said all you need is a chain, a pick-up, and a spare tire.

"Really?" I asked, somewhat skeptically.

"Sure," says he, "we always pull posts that way."

Interesting, I thought, this I must see. He told me to let him know when I got the new post and he would come over and show me how it's done.

So, last week I happened to be in the Lowe's vicinity and remembered I needed another 4X4 6 foot piece of treated lumber. I was pretty excited about seeing this remarkable engineering feat in action.

Later that evening, the excitement had waned. I confess I was just a little angry. Part of the preparations involved my digging around the existing post so that we would have room to wrap the chain around it. I've always had a difficult time asking and accepting help from others. It's one of my shortcomings that I'm working on. I wanted to get the post out myself. I was digging furiously with a spade around the post trying to get deep enough so I could get it out. I had gotten a foot or so deep and was seriously frustrated. You can only dig so deep where it just becomes awkward. You don't have enough room to get your feet in to press down the shovel and the ground was too hard to dig much at a time. Before long I was scraping dirt out by the teaspoonful and the post still refused to budge.

I finally ended up asking Jim, when he had some time, to come over with his contraption and pull the post. He showed up the next night.

This was really something to see. He took the chain and wrapped it snugly around the post where I had cleared the dirt away. We put the spare tire up against the hole and draped the chain up and over the top of the tire. Then the chain was attached to Jim's pick-up. I held it in place while he got in and drove ahead to take the slack out of the chain. He said it was very important the chain and tire were very straight and centered. We made some adjustments and were ready.

Jim got back in the truck and I backed off. Something about this whole setup just seemed unsafe to me. I didn't know if the tire or post would just go flying off in some direction. So I walked a good distance away.

The pick-up started forward, the wheels were spinning. That post was in there solid. The chain eventually slipped off and the tire fell over. The post stayed put. It was kind of anti-climatic, there was no noise or flying objects. But that initial pull must have worked something loose because the next time we set it up, the post slid out like a knife going through butter. The chain rotated the tire and the post came right out of the ground. Nice and neat, slick as you please. I just stood there with my geeky, gawking grin, looking at the post recently unearthed and lying on the ground. When I found my voice, I thanked Jim profusely and said I had never seen that before. He just said, "Heart River School No. 6." This is his trademark expression for whenever he's developed an interesting way to solve a problem. He claims to have gotten his brains from the rural school where he grew up. Wherever they came from, it worked. And it was amazing to see.

We still had the task of digging the rest of the dirt away and placing the new post and sliding the mailbox over the top. Some things just work better and easier with 2 people. The task was fairly simple, but it was nice to have someone hold and level the mailbox and another person shoveling and tamping dirt. Before long, my mailbox was resting securely on it's new post and standing straight and tall like a faithful soldier.

So the answer to the question, "How many men does it take to change a mailbox?" Is 2, with a little help from a tire, chain, and 4-wheel drive pick-up.

Thanks Jim!