Jeff Jardine

Knights Ferry residents make noise, get their post office back

There is a lesson here: Make your voices heard, your feelings known, and you might just get what you want and need.

The morning after the U.S. Postal Service without warning closed the post office in tiny Knights Ferry, lifelong resident Carol Davis drove to Salida to plead with aides of Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, to intervene and pressure the Postal Service to reopen it as quickly as possible. Sherron McCarthy, the town’s longtime contract postmaster, had died suddenly, and the Postal Service decided it was time to update the operational agreement with Knights Ferry History and Museum Associates, which houses the post office in 160-year-old Miller’s Hall.

The contract was outdated, Knights Ferry resident Dolly Haskell said.

“They probably should have looked at it five years ago, but they let it go until Sherron passed,” she said.

Regardless, getting a new contract and restoring their postal service couldn’t happen quickly enough for the 100 or so residents of the Gold Rush-era town along the Stanislaus River. As Haskell pointed out in my April 30 column and its accompanying video, they were forced to drive to the next-nearest post office, about 15 miles away on the west side of Oakdale. Those who normally went into Oakdale or Modesto weekly now made the drive three or four times, doubling or tripling what they spent on gas. Many are retirees on fixed incomes, and felt the impact of added expenses.

To get their mail, they had to show a photo ID to someone in Oakdale they didn’t know and who didn’t know them. Without it, no mail. Nor could they pick up their neighbors’ mail and save them a trip into Oakdale without a copy of the neighbors’ photo ID and a permission slip. Every time, no exceptions.

Frustrated by the typically slow bureaucratic response, they asked for and – with the help of Bob Rucker from Denham’s office – finally arranged a meeting with a Postal Service representative from Sacramento.

“If (staff) hadn’t made that phone call, whose knows how long this would have gone on?” said Carol Davis, a lifelong Knights Ferry resident and secretary of the History and Museum Associates.

The rep arrived expecting to meet with a handful of folks from the historical society. How many of the town’s residents attended the gathering?

“All of them,” said Haskell, who is poised to replace McCarthy officially on May 23. Older folks, younger folks and their families all came. They explained their plight to the rep, who had been in job training, gotten married and honeymooned while all of this was going on, Haskell said.

“She was overwhelmed by the turnout,” Haskell said.

By the time the meeting ended, Knights Ferry had its post office back in operation. The Oakdale-based carriers who normally deliver in the rural areas around town began the very next day – Friday the 13th – dropping off bins of mail, just like old times.

Through this week, Haskell is sorting the mail and putting it into the boxes, but not yet handling monetary transactions. She arrived Monday morning to find several “Welcome back!” notes from Knight Ferry Elementary School students posted on the boxes outside and others on the door.

Next Monday, she will begin training to become the postmaster, able to sell stamps, money orders, ship packages and do everything else they do at a regular post office. In fact, it will be even better than before because Knights Ferry Post Office’s new version 2.0 will be able to offer two services its 136-year-old predecessor could not: It will handle bulk mail and accept credit cards.

“It was always just cash or check before,” Haskell said.

A new machine will enable a rafting company to send out 5,000 promotional fliers twice a year from Knights Ferry and allow Knights Ferry School to do its mass mailing from just down the hill. Before, both of those entities and other businesses had to go to Oakdale to do bulk mailings, in essence sending potential postal revenue down the river in every respect.

Another big reason the Postal Service restored service: Some of the local business owners promised to use the post office for shipping their products and for general mail services. Among them, Andrew Basmajian and his wife, Bethany, recently leased the Knights Ferry general store and its bar and grill, which had been closed for more than a year. They plan to reopen on Memorial Day.

“The previous owner lived in town and utilized a general mailbox,” Basmajian said. “I want to do the same.”

All great and good, but none of it would have happened if the locals hadn’t screamed loudly, with an assist from Denham’s staff, who ramped up the pressure on the Postal Service.

Making their feelings known and their voices heard brought the mail back to town.

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