So how did you go from being a “parcel man” to carrying a rural route?
I followed Mr. Lynn Ratliff’s advice. He told me when he hired me to be the sub for the two new city routes and the parcel deliveries, “Lanier, I’m going to hire you because I know you can pass the civil service test, but i want you to prove me right and take the test the first time it’s offered again.” I took his advice and passed with a 96 of 100 possible points on the test. That changed my status, or rank, in the Postal Service from that of Temporary Sub to that of a Career Employee. The reason Mr. Ratliff wanted me with that rank was he knew I had a family to raise and he knew I needed more hours than just the 2 hours per day that the temps were guaranteed. And sure enough, he was right!
I began work in September of 1967 as a temp sub in the Madisonville Post Office. In around June of 1968, Mr. FM Cleveland, the.carrier for Rural Route 1 in Midway, retired creating a vacant route. The rules for filling those routes were like this–anytime a route vacancy occurred in a post office, it was always offered to any other carrier in THAT office who was a career employee (unions had put these rules into place). There were only 2 rural carriers in Midway, thus Billy Dickey changed from Rt 2 to Rt 1 because it was the longer route and it paid more. So, now Rt. 2 was vacant.
The way that Postmaster and Rural Route vacancies were filled up until 1968 was that those 2 positions were ‘political plums’ that allowed the senators from the party in power to appoint men (yes, men) to those positions. The system was called the patronage system. The men appointed were generally patrons of the party in power. The President in 1968 was Richard Nixon (who was a Republican), and the man appointed rural carrier in Midway needed to be a voter (patron) in good standing with Senator John Tower, who would make the appointment.
The two people who wanted the job real bad were: Pat Wakefield and Dorothy Wilson, but there was a major problem….both were die-hard Democrats! I found out there was a Doctor Wilkerson down in Conroe who was the Republican committeeman for our district who would be ‘the man’ to recommend someone in good standing with the Party. When I called him, he told me, “Look, we don’t get much money from your county.” (yes, that’s what he said) And when I told him I didn’t have any money, he said, “Well, do you know anyone who knows that you’re a Republican?” I told him that I had worked to elect John Tower when we lived in Quitman from ’62-66, and that the county chairman (Kyle Milner’s dad) was my friend and Jim Paul, a dear friend of mine from Sulphur Springs, was John Tower’s campaign chairman in Hopkins County. I gave him both their phone numbers, and he called me back in about 30 minutes with this statement, “Man, you must be really in tight with those guys, Mr Stevens. There’ll be a letter on John Tower’s desk in the morning recommending you for that appointment.” I thanked him so much and, when I hung up the phone, my conscience began to bother me so much that I couldn’t sleep that night at all. I lay there thinking how cheesy that whole system was.
Every Sunday I had to preach to Pat Wakefield “do unto others”…and I had just ‘done it unto him’! Same thing with Dorothy Wilson, I’d ‘done it unto her’ as well. That morning before I went to work in Madisonville, I called John Tower’s office and left a message that I was mailing them a letter requesting that the senator disregard the letter from the doctor in Conroe, and that I’d rather the vacancy be filled through a competitive exam and let the best man win.
When I got to work in town that morning, someone asked, “Lanier, have you seen the headlines this morning?” I told them I hadn’t, and one of them handed me a Houston Chronicle newspaper. It read something like this: PRESIDENT NIXON REMOVES THE POST OFFICE FROM THE PATRONAGE SYSTEM…No longer will postmaster and rural mail route positions be political appointments, but will be filled from within the postal system itself.” All I could say all day long was, ‘Thank you, Jesus’, even though no one knew what procedures were going to be used ‘within the system’.
Here’s where you can see God’s hand in it all. After a few weeks, there was a postal bulletin published which said, “all such vacancies shall be filled through a procedure which shall be called ‘extending ares of consideration'”. For instance, if a rural route becomes vacant, the first area of consideration would be any other rural carrier in that office…the second area of consideration would be any rural carrier in that county… The third area of consideration would be any career employee in that office who might want the job….the fourth area of consideration would be any career employee in that county who wanted the job. The postal unions had pled for such a system to help the morale of employees often overlooked because of politics.
#1. The only carrier in Midway had already taken the better route.
#2. The other rural carriers in the county, Roscoe Mills & Bruce Woods (Madisonville), Matt Stewart (North Zulch) didn’t want it
#3. The only other career employee in the Midway post office was Ms Elma Wakefield, the postmaster and she didn’t want it.
#4. Any career employee in the county. Just two other post offices in the county….North Zulch had 2 career Positions …..Matt & the postmaster and neither of them wanted it …… Madisonville had 2 city carriers and 2 clerks, and they were all content and didn’t want to apply for the vacant route in Midway……soooo, guess what? Who was the ONLY career employee in the county eligible and wanted the Midway position? His name was Lanier Stevens. Because of my Lord Jesus Christ and Mr Lynn Ratliff, who had insisted that I become a career employee, I was in the right place at the right time!