It has been a good career.
That's one reason Laurin Hinkle probably won't retire on June 1.
Hinkle, one of three rural mail carriers working from the Peach Bottom Post Office, said he chose that date because it is his birthday.
"I'm 66 and I have a horse farm to take care of, but it will be some time after June 1 before I retire," he said last week.
He started working as substitute rural carrier in Quarryville in 1988 and took a permanent position two years later.
Promotion from substitute is the only way to become a regular rural carrier and it's a career path fewer are choosing.
Finding people who want to be substitute carriers has become challenging, said Kirkwood Postmaster Patricia Sauer.
"It's become a real issue," she said of the number of substitute carrier vacancies. Kirkwood is authorized two substitute carriers and has not had any since last October.
The shortage is area-wide, said Patricia Wright, Quarryville's outgoing postmaster.
"We have nine routes and each is supposed to have it's own substitute. Right now, I have three substitutes and permission to hire six more," Wright said.
There are several reasons people don't become substitute carriers, she said.
"The biggest issue is that they have to provide their own vehicles," Wright said. Those vehicles do not have to be right hand drive, but they do have to pass postal inspection.
Another issue is Sunday delivery. The postal service provides Sunday delivery for Amazon packages and substitute carriers handle that work. Quarryville substitutes work from that office; substitutes from Kirkwood and Peach Bottom have to go to Lancaster.
That requirement has caused problems in the Southern End.
"We have a lot of deeply religious people here and they don't want to work on Sundays," one postmaster said.
There are substitute carrier openings in three Southern End post offices.
Quarryville has openings for six substitutes, Kirkwood has three openings, and Peach Bottom has, for now, one opening. That opening has existed for more than two years, Postmaster Robin Steele said.
That will change when Hinkle retires later this year.
He chose the postal service after attending Elizabethtown College and going into the service for a couple of years.
The Long Island native came back to Lancaster County and began working as a substitute rural carrier in Quarryville. After becoming a regular carrier, he transferred to Peach Bottom in 1995.
While working in Quarryville, he met his future wife Pat Astheimer. The couple now owns a farm for rescue horses.
"Working for the post office allowed us to buy the farm," he said.
Once he retires, Hinkle plans to work on some of the farm's outbuildings. He will also continue to read novels, police procedurals, and non-fiction as well as play the drums. "I will miss the social connection [of being a rural carrier]," he said last week. "The work has given me a purpose and it's always enjoyable to help people."
The only way to become a regular rural mail carrier is to be promoted from substitute carrier. When a vacancy for regular carrier occurs, the position opens to substitute carriers in that office. The substitute carriers are then offered the position based on seniority.
Substitute carriers earn $17.78 an hour to start and receive a vehicle allowance.
To recruit more substitute carriers, the postal service will hold a job fair will be held at the Quarryville Post Office, 220 W. State St., from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, April 1.
Candidates must have two years of driving experience, a high school diploma or GED, and pass a drug test and background check.
"People who are hired usually find it leads to a longtime career," Wright said.