Over the years, mail has been delivered using a number of different vehicles. I’m sure the first popular motorized vehicle was the Ford Model T, and everyone knows the different versions of the Jeep that have traveled the city streets across America. But rural mail delivery is a little different. You know the saying, “Neither Rain or Snow…..”? Well, rural delivery can also include mud, high water, steep hills, ruts and so on. Mail gets delivered to the country folks the same as in the city. Every day, no matter what the condition. After making this statement, I do remember a winter in the late seventies when we were snowed in at our farm for about a week at a time, and the only thing that opened up the road was a large snow blower mounted on an even larger John Deer tractor. But that’s another story, and lets just assume that rural mail gets delivered every day, no matter what the conditions, even where we are in North Dakota.
As you also probably know, the first rural roads that cars had to navigate were not really meant for high speed travel. Cars needed to be light and agile, with high clearance for the ruts that developed. In the winter, there were no snow plows clearing the way, and no weather alerts for cold fronts sweeping down from the Arctic.
People came up with ingenious ways of solving everyday challenges, and delivering mail to the country presented many challenges. The Model T was a very versatile little car that was light and nimble. It had a fairly high clearance, and its’ tall skinny tires were not much different than wagon wheels, and made their way through deep mud and ruts much like the wagons had before them. Ford, and probably many aftermarket companies designed tracks, skis, and all kinds of other modifications to help them get through mud and snow. Compared to the next generations of cars that came after them, these cars must have seemed primitive. But they got the job done.
The Model A was big step up from the T. It was larger, more dependable, and had a few more creature comforts. The Model A had heat, if you want to call it that. There was an optional exhaust manifold with cast fins on top. There was a cover over it, and as you drove, the air would be drawn through the cover, over the warm fins, and into the car. This can barely be called heat, and you had to be moving to get the air, but it was fantastic for someone in North Dakota.
As the years passed, cars became bigger, faster, and heavier. The roads were improved, but there was no such thing as mass snow removal in the country. It was every man for himself, and the mail carrier was no exception. These guys still needed a light, agile delivery vehicle that had high clearance, but the new vehicles were getting heavier, and lower every year. As time went along, the Model A’s were still being used, and someone started modifying them very specifically for travel in snow or mud on the rural routes of the northern America. The biggest modification involved putting larger wheels and tires on the cars, and fabricating fenders to match. Each one is a little different, depending on the materials available, and the different challenges that had to be overcome. Often, the larger wheels were just welded to the outside of the original Model A wheel. This new stance gave them a distinctive look, and the ability to climb up and over snow drifts, ruts, and through ditches.
This 1931 Model A was used up into the forties, and maybe longer. It’s a great example of using the materials at hand to overcome challenges and get the job done. You can see the larger front wheels are welded around the smaller original rims. The rear end is from a truck, and the large fenders were added. I’d love to know where this car has traveled, and the sights its’ seen. Every vehicle has a story, and how fitting that this old girl is once again sitting in the snow. Someone is going to fix her up and love her like the original owner did many years ago.