Long-time Sturgeon Bay rural mail carrier Bill 'Arbie' Arbter retired from the postal route after more than 30 years. / Tina M. Gohr/Door County Advocate
The life of a rural postal carrier can be quite the adventure — especially with 36½ years of experience. Bill “Arbie” Arbter hung up his keys as a rural postal carrier with the Sturgeon Bay Post Office on Jan. 31.
His familiar face will be missed by many in the Jacksonport area, as he spent most of his years on the same stretch of road known as Route 2.
“It was fun getting know people, and you feel you are part of the family when you deliver to some of them for so long. It was an interesting job and I really enjoyed it,” Arbter said. “I am related to a lot of the people on Route 2, and I’ve delivered to three, four and five generations of some families.”
Route 2 has seen some changes over the years — starting around the Chal-A Motel outside of Sturgeon Bay and making its way up between the two highways in the Jacksonport area. In the last several years, Lakeshore Road on Clark Lake was added to the route. In all, Arbter would travel 85 miles a day delivering mail and packages to 430 mailboxes in winter and about 465 mailboxes in summer.
“I figured it out, and I went through 12 vehicles over the years,” said Arbter. He started off with a 1978 Ford Granada, then drove a Plymouth Reliant station wagon, and the rest have all been Chrysler minivans. “I have driven on the wrong side of the car the same distance as three trips to the moon. I was more used to driving on the wrong side of the car rather than the right.”
Arbter graduated from Sturgeon Bay High School in 1974 and went off to college with the plan of becoming a doctor, but chemistry did not suit him. When he was home, his dad pointed out the opportunity to substitute on a mail route and earn some extra money for college. He enjoyed the work and decided to take the civil service exam, and the rest is history.
Arbter and his wife, Jody, a speech and language teacher at Sevastopol School, have three adult children: Dori, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, James who is in the U.S. Army, and Alex, a student at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.
Every day brings a new adventure to a rural mail carrier, and Arbter has delivered his fair share of unusual packages — beehives and queen bees, baby chicks and every kind of bird you can imagine, bouquets of flowers from Hawaii, and even coconuts with just some stamps slapped on them. He also figures that he delivered well over 900,000 Door County Advocates during his years of service and about 750,000 Door Reminders.
Over the years, Arbter has seen plenty of changes in how mail is delivered. “Most letter mail now comes computer-sorted. We used to have to sort the mail in the morning. In the ancient days, all we did in the morning was first-class letters, parcels, and daily papers. In the afternoon, we would sort the bulk mail and magazines. With letters being computer sorted, you take everything out in the morning,” Arbter said.
Another change for carriers was how mail was addressed. Now fire numbers and road names are used instead of a route number and name. The accessibility of cellphones is also a help on a route when there is a problem, rather than having to guess which way to walk to find someone home who can help.
“The people on my route were really great on their end,” Arbter said. He would often open a mailbox to find a note to come in for a cup of coffee, or when he had to bring a package to the door, he would often be rewarded with a generous treat of freshly baked cookies.
Another fond memory of his route was getting to know dog caricature artist Mike McCartney better. He picked up McCartney’s outgoing parcels bound for places all around the world.
Enjoying the first week of his retirement, Arbter speculated on how he would spend his time. In addition to a long “honey-do” list to work on, Arbter looks forward to updating his stamp collection, spending some time in the garden, and kicking back in his Green Bay Packers-themed fan-cave/man cave. He has also been an avid coin collector and loves to read. He plans to volunteer, and a friend has offered to take him fishing and hunting.
After his nearly four decades on the roads, Arbter had a couple lessons to share from his firsthand experience.
“One thing I learned over the years is to watch out when you are driving. You can’t trust anyone and have to drive defensively — even with a strobe atop your vehicle,” Arbter said.
The second lesson: When delivering a beehive, put it in the very back of the van.