A Half-Million Mile Buggy Ride

Written and submitted for publication at usual rate by Dorothy Clapp Robinson

Route 4 Boise, Idaho

Around the world twenty-five times in a "white top" has all the earmarks of a record even in this day of marathons. A gentle-eyed, mild mannered old man named Cyrus Tolman holds that record. He lives in Chesterfield, Idaho. He did not, however, cover that distance for the sake of publicity as most holders of endurance-tests do; but it was all in his day's work. In the 35 years he and his team have been jogging along they have twisted and turned and back tracked over Squaw Flat and the valley of the Upper Portneuf. Doesn't that tell what his work is? He is the mailman--that medium through which isolated ranchers touch the outside world. He drives the Star Route out from Bancroft, touching all the villages in the valley and the ranches between them. Since taking that contract he has traveled over six-hundred thousand miles.

In those years, nearly thirty-five, Mr. Tolman has never failed to bring the mail through. That is a record, far greater than the miles he has traveled; but it doesn't mean so much until you know what the valley of the Upper Portneuf is like. This high dry valley has an altitude nearing six thousand feet and a variety of climates, the most persistent one, as the saying goes, being nine months winter and three months late fall.

This intrepid mailman has mastered all climates. He has hurried over his route when the very air was crackling with frost with the thermometer at 46 below. He has delivered his mail when he had to fight an insane blizzard every inch of the way. He has plowed through the treacherous gluey mud of spring and braved the blinding heat of summer. Then as a reward for all that he has jogged over the same route through the misty languorous days of an Idaho Indian Summer.

As a road opener Mr. Tolman has been infallible. What earthly excuse was there for a county to stand the expense of running a snow plow when the mailman opened roads as part of his day's work? When God created Idaho he gave her just a few disadvantages. Wind is the name for most of them. What it, given a little snow, can do to a barren fiat or a mountain curve no one knows better than Mr. Tolman. It is the regular thing in this valley for snow to lay three, four or more feet on the level for several months of the year. As for drifts--but Mr. Tolman has conquered them. If the horses couldn't plunge through them he would get out and, wallowing badly at first, would tramp back and forth, back and forth until there was firm footing through the drift for both horses. If the drifts were too deep for that he took his ever-present shovel and worked. Last winter he was over three hours going less than a mile and had help with his shoveling, too.

Once during a March storm he was from nine A.M. until four P.M. going eighteen miles and the last four miles he made on "shank's ponies" with the first class mail on his back. There had come a thaw that melted the top of the snow; then came twenty below that froze it into glass; with that footing they faced a raging blizzard that left eighteen inches more snow.

In the spring driving along the road has all the thrill of driving over a narrow dugway. One step off the beaten road and down will go the outfit into the soft clinging snow. Whether or not the sleigh gets back on the road depends on the strength of the horses and the driver's patience. No well trained horse ever leaves the road if he can help it except at hard packed "switches".

In the days before fences when he could cut across, Mr. Tolman had to be very careful of sage brush. The snow over the brush would melt more easily and the crust was always thin and if a horse went through it onto a sage it was just too bad. After the season's first heavy snow he would stop at Twenty Four Mile Creek and cut bundles of long slender willows. Then as he journeyed along he would stick one of these willows upright in the snow about every twenty-five yards. During a blizzard they kept him from getting lost or going around in circles.

One would think that in such times he would be half-frozen before he reached home. On the contrary in all the years of exposure he has never had a finger or toe frozen or even badly frost bitten, though he has carried plenty frost and icicles in his eyebrows and moustache. He says he was born to buck snow. Even at his present age, sixty-eight, he can stand the cold better than his occasional passengers. He dresses casually too, for such work--a sheepskin coat with felt boots.

"Cy", as his friends call him, leaves home at five-thirty A.M. and if all goes well returns about seven-thirty P.M. There was one stretch of two or three months when he didn't see his home in daylight. He had to be at the Post Office in Chesterfield at six A.M. He took that mail and what he picked up en route into Bancroft in time to meet a forenoon train. From there he circled through Lund, Turner, Central and other communities back to Bancroft to meet a late afternoon train; then north through Hatch, Toponce and back home to Chesterfield. Being away all those years and still having his large family exceptionally well-raised tells what kind of a wife he has. No small amount of the credit for his perseverance belongs to her.

In the beginning his route was only a 36 mile circuit but as settlers crowded in the line of mail boxes was extended. In some cases he was instrumental in bringing delivery to isolated groups and that without having his pay increased. Now he travels over 90 miles with an average of one hundred stops. Of course, there are many more mail boxes than that, there are as many as six on a wheel; but he knows he will stop at least one hundred times a day.

In the beginning, too, there was no parcel post. Only mail order houses and the mailman knew what that did to deliveries. But the extra work it brought to the mailman was more than compensated for by the joy it brought to the ranchers. Catalogue shopping has a thrill all its own. Mr. Tolman has carried as high as eighteen pouches of third and fourth class mail on a single trip. His largest single delivery was twenty bushels of peaches, sent from Brigham City, Utah, to some canning minded housewife.

Being a Star Route man he has the privilege of hauling freight. For his "neighbors" as he calls them all, he has been a definite and infallible source of supply. He has bought everything "from a needle to a threshing machine." He has matched a spool of thread and bought a five hundred pound barrel of vinegar. Incidentally, he had the calf of his left leg torn away delivering the vinegar. Sometimes he has taken a dozen eggs or a pound of butter to pay for what he was asked to get.

No story of Cyrus Tolman would be complete without mentioning his horses. Only the last six or seven summers has he had a car to drive--and that means summers. One year he drove a sleigh five months and eight days. After the snow he has to battle mud. During the worst of the weather it takes twelve horses to make the trip. He drives them in relays. Of the countless horses used during these many years Lark was the best beloved. He seemed utterly tireless; and had a fast swinging trot that no horse ever put in harness with him could equal. He worked the mail route for sixteen years and died in the harness trying to pull the outfit from a mud hole. Acquaintances say "Cy" has always been kind to his horses, never overworking or abusing them in any way.

Mr. Tolman's outstanding characteristic has been dependability. Never when he has given his word has he failed to make good. That has fostered an unusually strong sense of devotion to duty. He says he was trained to it in his youth and has never departed therefrom. In fact, it was that quality that secured part of his present route for him in the beginning. In those days the distances were great and the people few, and contracts for delivering mail to great stretches of territory were let to stage companies or freighters. They in turn hired men to cover different portions of their deliveries. Mr. Tolman was a hired driver when the contractor under whom he was working took French leave of the country. Left with the work but no pay Cyrus faced a problem. Well meaning friends advised him to stop delivering the mail thereby expediting the clearing up of the affair. But above his anxiety about his pay, and he needed it badly, was his sense of responsibility. He delivered the mail without a break and some months later was given the contract without bidding.

This dependability is matched by his courage. Nothing else could ever have carried him over those countless miles under all manner of conditions. Once when seventeen miles on his way his horses started to run away. In stopping them he had several ribs broken and was smashed and bruised generally; but finished his trip alone and on time. Another time the end of his whip, loaded with hardened mud broke off and flying back hit him in the eye. He gradually lost the sight of it. Though hurt many times he has almost never been ill.

After the coming of the telephone into the valley men would call others and say; "Stop Cy. There's a terrible storm raging over here. He'll never make it", but "Cy" never turned back.

When asked if his work doesn't become irksome Mr. Tolman was emphatic in his denial. It is his job, his chance to serve his fellow men. That he has served them faithfully and well is attested by the love they have for him. Many times when the going was hard, men other than the ones hired to do it, have had their teams harnessed ready to replace his tired ones. Many times when the wind whistling over the fiat was unusually piercing women have met him at their mail boxes with a bowl of soup or a plate of hot cakes fixed so he could eat them as he drove. The first car he owned was a Model-T Ford given him by the people he served.

This veteran mail carrier is still full of vitality and will power. He grows a little sad when he thinks that in two more years he will have to re-bid on his contract. Due to his age he worries a little as to the outcome. But if it isn't given to him again he will rest happy in the knowledge that through a lifetime of service he has given the world the best there was in him and the best has come back added upon a thousand fold.


Sedgwick Research's Thomas Tolman Family History Site

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