Chatfield mail carrier logged in more than a million miles before retirement

Keith Brogan has retired from delivering mail for the Chatfield Post Office after 38 years. He traveled his 120-mile route for the last time on April 27. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
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Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
Chatfield News

Keith Brogan got a million from middle.

“In a normal year, I put on 55,000 miles, and roughly 37,000 of that was sitting in the middle,” recounted retiring Chatfield rural mail carrier Brogan. He parked his pickup at the post office for the final time on April 27 after traveling at least 120 miles per day, six days a week, for the past 38 years.

The tall mail troubadour no longer has to sit in the middle seat of his vehicles, reaching the pedals with his left foot, steering with his left hand and extending his right arm out the window to put mail into the 362 boxes along his backroads mail route. And he can now count on not having to go car shopping for a little longer.

“I used to trade about every two years, when they got about 100,000 miles on them. I had a Chevy Nova, I think I went through two Fords, one Festiva, then I went to driving pickups because of the roads and packages,” Brogan recalled. “I had two Chevy S-10s, but Ford Rangers have been by far the best vehicles. I got 310,000 miles on one, and the other, 290,000 miles. I’m well over 1 million miles.”

His postal career began with an appraisal by Chatfield’s then-postmaster, Paul Decker, who suggested Brogan might be well-suited to delivering mail to customers who live on some of the most remote roads.

“I had to start as a sub…I started in Minnesota City, and I was still working selling feed for Moorman’s Feed and milking cows,” he said. “I was hired as a full-time carrier in 1983, and I was glad to have the job.”

For the first years, Brogan’s route was split between Chatfield and Eyota. He had about 362 mailboxes, and for quite a few years, commuted from Lanesboro.

“I’ve worked for postmasters in both offices – Barb Barrett in Eyota, Paul Decker here in Chatfield, Randy Kahl, Terry Nueneman and now Jeff Bernard,” Brogan said. “Back then, the route was 90-some miles and about 600 boxes, and at the end, it was 120 miles and about 360 boxes. The families, overall, generally have stayed. They do move more frequently than they did, but I do have some that I’ve had on the route the whole 38 years.”

Brogan related that he enjoyed taking the roads less traveled because it afforded him the chance to meet people, to serve them and gain their trust as he provided the best service a rural carrier could.

“Mail is delivered in the country to places that FedEx and UPS won’t go. And people…it’s the trust. I liked to do a good job, and people trusted me to put packages in their garages or come up to their porches to drop them off,” he said. “I feel like I really knew people just by the mail they’d get.”

He explained that some mail patrons would get the same boxes every few weeks, and others would order baby chicks, bees, ducklings and geese.

“Then there were the hardship deliveries…I would get to a lady’s house to deliver her mail, I came in, and she asked me, ‘Can you change a lightbulb for me?’ So I did,” Brogan said. “I loved making sure that I did a good job for people, and they showed that they liked what I did for them…sometimes, in the summer, they’d leave cans of pop wrapped in tinfoil in their mailboxes for me so I could have some on my route. At Christmas, they’d give me cookies, too.”

Children have been markers of time and entertainment along his route, as he’s witnessed generations growing up. “It’s funny to watch the kids grow up. You don’t see them for 20 years, and then they come back and look at you funny, and they ask, ‘Were you my mailman?’”

Little kids would put dandelions and bluebells and pictures they’d drawn of their pets in the mailbox for Brogan. “They had the flag up, but that would be the only thing in it,” he said. “In Eyota, when I delivered in town, whether the lemonade was 25 cents or 50 cents, I’d always give them a dollar. Some was good, some was not so good. You could always tell who made their own.”

Brogan also witnessed changes in the price of postage – from 20 cents for a first-class stamp when he first put letters in boxes to 50 cents per stamp today. He accompanied the United States Postal Service’s Chatfield post office relocation from across from Root River State Bank in downtown Chatfield to the new office north of Sunshine Foods. Plus, he lugged more boxes into the countryside as the shift from shopping in stores to shopping online took place.

“I used to deliver mail in that little red Ford Festiva, and when I started out, I probably had about 15 packages, but nowadays, I probably deliver anywhere from 80 to 100,” he said. “And technology just changed how we handled mail. We had scanners for the packages and boxes for a while, but now we have GPS…that’s been part of the job for the last five years or so, and it’s nice because if someone is missing their package, we can look it up and tell them when we delivered it and where.”

The weather has given him a run for his money once or twice, as have a few dogs that weren’t necessarily ready to share their territory, but ultimately, he’s managed to make his entire route, with the exception of two or three times over the past four decades.

“In 1983, when I was first full-time, the weather was so bad the day before Christmas that I didn’t even go out. That whole week before Christmas, it snowed,” Brogan recalled. “And, in 1996, there was an ice storm on New Year’s. I was on a hill next to a mailbox, and I started to slide. Pretty soon, the mailbox was coming into my car through my window, and I had to get out and find the guy who lived there to ask if he had to take the mailbox off, because it was inside my vehicle. He pushed my car, and thankfully, he didn’t have to take the mailbox off the post. Only once over all those years did the postmaster tell me to come in. Jeff called me and told me to come in because it was getting bad out.”

He had planned to remain on his route for the next two years, but he chose to retire now because of changes to the requirements of the job, time limits, traveling rural roads in the rain, sleet, snow and dark of night and the number of packages he was hauling and heaving out of his truck. There was more wear on his body and his vehicle, so he decided to pull over and give more days to spending time with his grandchildren.

“I’ve got four grandchildren – two little girls who live right here in Chatfield – and we’re going to have a fifth this summer. I’d hoped to make 40 years, but I’m still in good enough health to spend time with them. And on the day that I retired, April 27, we got tickets to go to Washington, D.C., and the kids had a surprise party for me,” Brogan said. “I figure it will take about two to three weeks for it to finally set in that I’m retired, but right now, it’s just like I’m on an extended vacation.”

Brogan gives a lot of credit to his wife, Carol, for putting up with him and the job, working Saturdays and weekends, her going to weddings without him.

“Somebody had to deliver the mail,” he added. “Now, I can make up for all the Christmases, I can make supper and have it ready for her when she comes home from work at Hiawatha Homes where she’s a social worker, and I can spend more time with the grandkids, more time with my grandson…taking him fishing.”

Brogan concluded that he might have to move over once he gets back in the car to go somewhere after retirement, and finally start driving from the driver’s seat.

“My goal was a million miles, and I put a lot of those miles on in very adverse conditions. And overall, the customers treated me extremely well,” he said.