"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." -- Inscription on the James Farley Post Office in New York City
Though headlamps are most associated with the mining profession, long hours of work and short hours of winter daylight sometimes combine to make them just as necessary for postal carriers to navigate the dark of suburban subdivisions after sunset.
Carriers are instructed to aim for 5 p.m. to complete their routes, but various factors -- from colleagues' sick days to challenging weather -- can cause that goal to be missed.
Mount Prospect postal carrier Jacob Tagge said the only thing that will definitely rule out the headlamps -- at least until next winter -- is the arrival of longer days and daylight-saving time, which is a week away.
U.S. Postal Service spokesman Sean Hargadon said many measures are used to try to keep after-dark deliveries to a minimum. But when they're necessary, the carriers' safety is stressed above all else.
Carriers are instructed to call their supervisors by midafternoon if they think their deliveries will extend past 5 p.m. When possible, backup carriers are then sent out to help lighten the remaining workload of those already on the street, Hargadon said.
The post office also strongly encourages residents to keep their sidewalks and steps clear of snow and ice for the safety of the carriers.
Though the image of a postal carrier making his or her way through the dark by the light of a headlamp may look cool to the bystander, Tagge emphasizes that it's far from the most enjoyable part of his day.
"You have to look at the address (on the letter) and walk in the dark. It's not the most fun thing to do," Tagge said. "It does help knowing the route. You know where the potholes are."
Though Tagge is often called upon to change routes and fill in for others, all of his deliveries are in the village in which he grew up and that he knows so well.
In fact, his father, who died last year, was a mail carrier for more than 50 years.
Nevertheless, Tagge said after-dark deliveries are probably something more common today than during his father's time. This winter, he's making after-dark deliveries three or four days per week, he said.
Carriers report in at 8 a.m. and expect to have the machine-processed mail arrive for them shortly afterward. There's sometimes a delay, however, as well as a need to do further sorting manually.
Tagge said he can usually tell within 15 minutes of his arrival what kind of a day it's going to be and whether a late end to his eight hours of delivery is in store. While he most often gets out on the street at about 9:30 a.m., it's sometimes as late as 10:30 a.m. And that hour's difference can be significant at the end of a winter's day.
Nevertheless, Tagge said he loves his carrier job, which he started only a year and a half ago after his previous position working the sorting machines at night was eliminated. Even if he had the chance, Tagge said, he'd never choose to go back to that old job, despite the late winter afternoons delivering in the dark.
"I really don't mind," he said. "It just takes a little longer. I love this job."