As Santa readies his reindeer, and U.S. postal carriers take to their feet and trucks, one person delivering the mail this holiday season will be dropping off packages by boat.
Rick Stelzriede, 61, of Tracy is the only postal carrier with a river route in California, according to the U.S. Postal Service. Still, he downplays his unusual role.
"I am the only mailman on the water but I mean, it's no big deal," he said. "I could be a postman in the city and do the same job."
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The job entails hopping into his 21-foot aluminum boat, and slogging through 60 miles of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, six days a week to get mail, bills and Christmas presents on time to his 23 customers. He doesn't stop for wind, rain, hail, sleet or the thick mess of seemingly endless river weeds and kelp.
"Yeah, it's hard to get to, remote and totally, totally off the wall," he said, opening mail boxes set on the docks and waving "hasta manana" to some of folks along his route.
Stelzriede signed on with the U.S. Postal Service as an independent contractor after a he noticed a veteran water courier on the river route. When that carrier retired some years back that's when Stelzriede "got his shot," said the Postal Service's spokesman in Northern California, Augustine Ruiz. Stelzriede also has customers along a more traditional route, Ruiz said, which he delivers to by mail truck or on foot.
Ruiz joked that Stelzriede is probably the only mailman to meet a river otter on his route or have his pony tail chewed on by a sea gull.
Since he took the job, Stelzriede hasn't stopped, boating along a route between San Francisco and the Central Valley that's been around as long as the Gold Rush.
At the end of the day, the pony-tailed mailman - fully aware of his role in history on the Pony Express - feels he's completed a job well done.
"I really feel like I did a service for someone," he said. "I brought them their mail."