Millions of miles later, "Bud" retires from mail delivery route
By Julia Green
When Highway Contract Mail Carrier Bud Searles arrived at the Arkville Post Office Tuesday morning, postmaster Brenda Finch-Hasay was waiting to bid him farewell.
When he arrived at the Margaretville Post Office, a group of five postal employees was waiting with a card and offers of freshly-brewed coffee. In Halcottsville, postmaster Lori Camillone leaned over the railing to give him a hug and a parting gift. In Roxbury, a local resident stopped by the post office to wish him luck, and the owner of Fane’s Family Deli gives him a cup of coffee on the house.
Tuesday marked Searles’ last day as a mail carrier after driving the Kingston to Roxbury mail route for 46 years – and the responses from the postal employees in Arkville, Margaretville, Halcottsville and Roxbury left no doubt that he’s leaving behind some pretty big shoes to fill.
“Here, this is for you – to thank you for all your hard work.”
“We’re going to miss you.”
“He’s always got that smile on his face.”
Searles, a native of Stamford who makes his home in Lake Katrine, graduated from Charlotte Valley Central School in 1962 and began working shortly thereafter, having learned the business from his father, Leo.
“When I was a kid, I used to help him unload mail off the train,” Searles says. “He started the route in 1955, so it’s been in the family for 54 years.”
In 1963, Searles’ first year on the job, he drove a tractor-trailer from Kingston to Stamford; three years later, the route changed to a Kingston-Roxbury run in a smaller truck.
In the mid-1970s, Searles temporarily changed routes, driving from Kingston to the Grand Central Post Office in New York City. In 1976, he remembers taking one of his daughters with him one night.
“It was 1976, the bicentennial,” he says. “We had a one-hour layover between midnight and 1 a.m., and we walked around looking at the ships.”
Shortly thereafter, he returned to driving in the Catskills.
“Less hubbub, less traffic,” he says of the local route. “And nicer people. There are nice people there, too, but it’s just such a rat race down there.”
On average, Searles has driven 100,000 miles a year; in 46 years, he estimates that he’s driven anywhere from three to four million miles during his time on the route. In his current truck, which he bought new in 2001, the odometer now reads 530,000 miles.
His day begins when he wakes up, usually around 4:30 a.m. He starts loading the truck at 5:45 a.m. and begins his route, returning to Kingston at around 10:30 a.m. He leaves Kingston again at 1:30 p.m. to heads back toward Roxbury, where he waits until 5 p.m. to pick up the mail. His day ends back at the Kingston Post Office at 7 p.m., and he’s usually home by 7:30.
“It’s steady work,” he says. “Like milking cows, morning and night. You never have to worry about work. Sometimes it’s too steady, though. The post office doesn’t want to hear that you’re sick or your truck broke down.”
In the late 1990s, Searles began using a second driver to cover the route from West Hurley to Roxbury, which runs through Boiceville, around the back of the Ashokan Reservoir, and through Phoenicia. He now has two trucks that run daily and a third, which he keeps as a spare.
“You can’t go rent one at 5 a.m.,” he says.
Searles sold all three trucks to Glenn Travert, who will be taking over his route and who has driven a few other mail runs.
“He pretty much knows the work,” Searles says when asked if he has any advice about driving the route. “Just watch out for crazy drivers.”
Looking forward, Searles has big plans for his retirement, though not necessarily ones that could be considered a change of pace – perhaps just a change of scenery. He and his wife, Lynne, a school bus driver in Kingston, are making plans to drive across the country in their fifth-wheel camper. Among the places they’d like to visit are the Midwest national parks, Alaska and Hawaii.
“I can’t drive there, though,” he says laughing. “Trailer wouldn’t float too well.”
Ultimately, though, Searles says he’d like to go everywhere. “I’ve been a lot of places, true, but I’d like to go a lot of places, too.”
He adds that his wife has plans for his retirement as well. “She’s got a honey-do list about six miles long,” he says. “And I might fill in on this route once in awhile. I’ve got to do something. I can’t just sit around.”
When he’s not traveling, Searles says he’s also looking forward to working on his antique cars, including a 1930 Chevy that his father restored, and a 1973 Triumph Spitfire, which he hopes to have ready for the road this summer. And he’d like to add to his collection in the future.
“I’d like to get a muscle car someday,” he says. “An Olds or a Chevelle – a 1969 SS 396.”
“Now that I’m retired, I’m still going to drive,” he adds. “I like to be behind the wheel. I’ve been driving all my life.”
“I won’t miss the work,” Searles says on the way to the Roxbury Post Office, his last stop of the morning before heading back to Kingston. “I’ll miss the people, mostly. The people I work with are all good people.”
As he finishes unloading at the Roxbury Post Office and says goodbye to the post office staff, Roxbury resident Gloria Steward appears to say goodbye and wish Searles good luck.
“What are you going to do now?” she asks him after a hug.
“Drive around the country,” he says, smiling.