Three weeks ago the Courier ran a 1950s photo of Ceres' very small post office staff. Five guys are in the photo, snapped inside of the old post office when it was on Fourth Street. At least one of the men - Myron "Andy" Anderson - was still living in the area so he was on my list for a Neighbors feature.
This interview would take place in Oakdale where Anderson and his wife Margie nestled into a cul-de-sac in 2005.
Andy, now 82, invited me inside, the first thing catching my eye was a table where I had interrupted work on a partially-finished jigsaw puzzle.
Andy quickly informed me that the photo in the Courier resulted in him being "fined" by the Ceres Lions Club, of which he is a member. A number of service clubs good naturedly "fine" members to help raise funds which go back into the community. Three members of the Ceres Lions Club live in Oakdale so the carpool rotates among him, Jeff Maloy and Greg Smith. Staying active in the Ceres club is a way of feeling connected to his roots.
"I was born and raised there."
He looks at the photo. Andy is the young clerk-carrier with carrier Joe Bracco to his right. Ken Gregg, Gus Anderson and John "Jack" Cool are to his left.
Gus, who was known as a harsh and grumpy mail carrier to his patrons, was no relation to him. But Jack Cool was a good friend.
"We got along real well," said Andy. "We invested in a chainsaw between Jack and I because we both had homes with fireplaces. Old man Gondring had a big eucalyptus grove south of town and he said ‘You can come in and cut all the wood you want.' So we'd take our chainsaw and load up our station wagons full of wood and bring it back to town."
Today it's almost a crime to burn wood in a fireplace, given the Valley's poor air quality and environmental regulations. But then again, the 50s were a whole different era - you know, when milk was left on your doorstep and the post office employees never went "postal."
In 1956 sleepy Ceres grew large enough to justify house-to-house mail delivery. Prior to that time, everyone in town had to pick up their mail at the post office except if you were out in the country and served on a rural route.
"There were four of us hired initially. We had our own cars. In fact, we had bicycles with the big baskets on the front, got the little dinky wheel in front, the big basket. They were a bear to ride, especially going out Hackett Road on those old rough streets."
Andy spent most of his time delivering the mail on the so-called stub route north of Whitmore Avenue. He never once got bitten by a dog but dogs seemed to like sinking their teeth in Gus Anderson.
"Dogs just nailed him. He got bit by Coach Davies' dog on north Sixth Street. The next week they readjusted the routes and I went up there and met the dog and made friends with him."
Nothing was especially memorable about his days as a postman. But he remembers getting in one crash while delivering the mail. It was at Whitmore and Rose avenues.
"I just bought this brand-new '57 Chevy station wagon. That was my delivery vehicle. I was going down to drop off the relay (mail) and going along there. Pat Boone was singing ‘Bernadine.' That's still in my brain. This guy was coming down from Barbour's and he didn't look like he was going very fast so I just started turning and he speeded up, I think, and he T-boned me. Since I was making a left turn it was my fault."
Rose Avenue, he recalled was the eastern boundary of Ceres.
"Morrow Village was only built out as far as Rose Avenue and from Tenth Street out to where Barbour's is was a peach orchard."
There was also no bridge to Modesto over the Tuolumne River on Mitchell Road either.
Anderson worked the window part-time, delivered parcel post, would run mail relays and was the substitute mail carrier for when others went on vacation or ill.
What was a mail relay, I asked.
"The carriers would go out and they had these relay boxes. I would take bundles of mail out and put it in the boxes so when they got there they'd pick up another bundle, put it in their bag and go on."
He worked alongside Duryea Warn, who was a window clerk.
Mail was delivered to Ceres by different methods, the most interesting being by moving train. Andy remembers the streamliner would roll down the tracks and someone kicked off bags of parcel. Envelopes could be sent out by placing them in a long canvas bag and stringing it on a bracket on a pole near the tracks. A person on the moving rail car would snag the bag with a metal hook that swiveled out from the railcar and pulled it inside. It wasn't fail-proof. Anderson remembers when the bag failed to come loose from the bracket and the hook tore the bag open.
"It scattered mail all the way to Modesto. The train stopped in Modesto but didn't stop in Ceres."
There were also the highway post offices, or HIPOS. They were large moving buses where clerks would sort mail as they traveled.
"They would drop off and pick up mail and come through early in the morning."
Southern Pacific would also deliver parcel posts with semi-trucks.
Day in and day out, through sleet and fog and heat of summer, the mail of Ceres moved thanks to Andy and crew. One day their routine was shattered. The entire postal staff was shaken when Assistant Postmaster Ellsworth Bickle dropped dead of a heart attack behind the Fourth Street post office.
"He was loading parcels in his car to deliver to people, which he was not supposed to be doing," said Anderson. "It was kind of sad because he just bought a new house up off Acorn and just got moved in and everything."
Another big event that shook the town was the gasoline tanker truck inferno of October 1958. It occurred when a motorist pulled out in front of a fully-loaded gasoline tanker at Fourth Street and Highway 99. An enormous fireball exploded in the ensuring crash and rupture of the 8,500-gallon tank and the truck driver was burned to death.
"I didn't personally see him but I talked to some people who saw him and they said it was an awful sight to see. He was burnt really badly."
Andy remembers Ceres as being very tightknit and friendly and everyone knew everyone.
"I could put a name on every house in Ceres. I seriously could. You'd give me a number and I'd say that's Cool's. Jack Cool. 2133 N. Seventh Street, that's where the Andersons lived."
He attended the Baptist Church in Ceres and right across the street lived Walter and Geneva White.
Other memories pop into Andy's head as we talk, like Hendy's Drive-In, which was a popular hangout at 99 and Fourth Street. Mr. Henderson served a slushy citrusy drink there called "Off and off."
The first Barbour's, he remembers, was located at Richland at 99. The widening of the freeway meant that the business had to go and it relocated to where Cruisers is now. Most people today can remember Barbour's store and gas station.
He remembers working downtown that fateful day on Nov. 22, 1963 when Kennedy was assassinated.
"I was carrying the stub route. I was walking down the alley behind Bilson's Sport shop and Bill Bilson walked out and said, ‘Somebody just shot the president!"
Everyone in Ceres was stunned. Some remember seeing Kennedy when he stopped at the Modesto train station just three years earlier.
Bilson's was in the block building now housing the Ceres Chamber of Commerce at the southeast corner of Fourth and North streets.
The Anderson family's introduction into Ceres came in 1917 when his grandparents, Nicklars Aldred and Hazel Anderson came up from El Monte to buy a farm on Esmar Road.
"He would get on the train, put his bicycle on there and ride up to Ceres area, get off and ride around the countryside to find a ranch."
On their 20 acres, they grew red malagon table grapes which were shipped to Los Angeles for market. The couple had six kids, one of them being Myron, who fathered Andy. Myron Sr. graduated from Ceres High School in 1929.
"Ceres was very small then and he was a good athlete, a big tall swede, like 6-3 and had basketball, football."
Andy came along in 1935, the second of four Anderson children.
"Dr. (Stuart) Hiatt who delivered me had an office above the Ceres Drug Store. He had an office upstairs at Fourth and Lawrence."
Andy's birth came at St. Mary's Hospital at H and 17th streets in Modesto which later became Modesto City Hospital and is now Central Valley Specialty Hospital.
He attended the old Whitmore School on Lawrence Street. It later became the Ceres Unified School District headquarters burned in the 1991 fire.
"They were just building Walter White when I graduated grammar school. It was an eight-year grammar school back then. We had multiple teachers. We rotated classes. We had Ken Buie, Mae Price and Barnes. Barnes and Buie are distant relations of mine. My grandmother was a Troedson so there's a lot of Troedsons around here."
He recalls that Mae Hensley was once his teacher.
"She was a stern old lady. She was fair but you didn't cross her, the same with Walter White, who was the principal. I never got whacked by him; if I did I would have got whacked at home."
He remembers the Welbourne twins, Bob and Bill were "always fighting" and seeing White getting out his paddle "and had them grab their ankles and lifted them off the floor." Their red-haired mother, he recalled, came down to the school 10 minutes later and "just tore into him."
Andy played high school football under Coach Wayne Harden.
"We were Valley Oak champs in 1949 or 1950."
Dr. Nicholas Koshell was principal.
Andy's grandfather eventually purchased another 16 acres next to the original 20. Because grandfather had trouble paying the taxes on the property he agreed to sell the ranch to Andy's dad and uncle Harold - fresh out of high school - who then took over the ranch.
Andy was raised on that Faith Home Road property and his siblings helped out.
"We had an old grade B dairy. We milked cows. Across the road was Jack Sperry's big grape vineyard. We knew all the Services and Hidahls and Forneys and Caulkins and Melugins."
The Andersons also sold grapes to the Ceres Dehydrator which once sat where the AM/PM and Sutter Gould medical offices are located on Whitmore Avenue at Ninth Street.
He graduated Ceres High in 1953 with some his classmates including Kenny Leuenhagen, Bob Earl, Sid Long, Carlos Machado, Don Davis and Paul Lytle.
"A lot of my classmates are gone. There's probably 40 left, somewhere in there. We're having our 64th reunion the 22nd at the (Oakdale) golf course."
He immediately went to work with his first job working for Berry Feed & Seed, once located on Esmar Road at the highway. Andy delivered sack feed to dairies and chicken ranches.
"When they widened that to a four-lane highway, they took Berry Feed & Seed out. They bought the property in Keyes where A.L. Gilbert is now. While they were developing that plant they sent us over here to A.L. Gilbert (in Oakdale). We had to commute over here (Oakdale) for almost a year while they were building our new plant down there in Keyes."
After a couple of years Anderson went to work for J.S. West Ice Service in Modesto.
"Years ago, where MJC is now, where Tully Road comes out on Ninth Street, that whole unit there was Fresno Consumers ice warehouse and they used to ice rail cars with fresh produce there because the railroad went right through there."
Because he grew tired of working nights, Andy was called to drive truck for J.S. West Feed. In time, Ceres Postmaster John M. Gondring approached Andy because he knew his dad.
"He said, ‘We're going to go house-to-house delivery pretty soon. Why don't you go in and take the test?' So I went in and took the test."
His 13-year postal service career came to end in the summer of 1968 for better money.
"I quit because of money. This was back before all the raises. I had four kids and I was making minimum wage and very little benefits so I ran a Pepsi route. I made more that summer than I made the year before at the post office. They paid us commission. We got 16 cents a case for every case of 16-ounces we sent off and a nickel for every case of empty bottles we brought back. And they gave us a weekly draw. Every quarter they would settle up."
The Pepsi gig was short-lived, killed off by the cyclamate controversy of 1969.
"We had to dump 35,000 cases of Diet Pepsi down the sewer because it had cyclamates in it. They said, ‘We can't keep you this winter because we had to eat these 35,000 cases.'"
So he went to Valley Industrial Laundry out of Merced delivering rugs, mops, towels and uniforms on commission. He got burned out driving 700 to 800 miles a week."
That's when his eye caught an ad for selling light bulbs. So he became a salesman for Duro-Test Corporation, which invented full spectrum Vita-Lite bulb that gave 93 percent true color. After seeing his trainer write several orders that netted him thousands, Andy went for it. Selling bulbs to industrial and commercial users carried him 30 plus years. Although retired now, Andy still writes orders to earn commission and supplement his income.
His grandfather died in 1960 and is buried at Turlock Memorial Park.
When his father died in 1988, Andy took over the ranch. He had it laser-leveled to plant almonds and sold it to Stan Goblirsch to move to Oakdale.
"I got spooked out there because they're talking about running Faith Home Road, making it a six-lane expressway clear down to Keyes Road. It would have been six foot into my barn out there, up on the front step of my house."
Anderson remains active, saying he didn't want to "retire." As a Lion, Anderson keeps busy with barbecues and other events and spends 10 days at the Stanislaus County Fair parking cars to raise money.
Besides the Ceres Lions Club, he serves on the board of directors of the Old Fisherman's Club. He has hunted but is pretty much a fisherman now.
"This is my 17th year of retirement."
The post office building that knew Anderson decades ago was replaced by the one on Mag¬nolia Street which is now the Ceres Library. It then moved to Mitchell Road.
If you're curious, after reading about Andy, Jack, Gus, and Ellsworth, about where they gathered and sorted and shipped Ceres mail 12 hours a day, the next time you're in downtown, look up at the buildings on the east side of Fourth Street and see if you can spot the eagle motif.
Ceres just might seem a little smaller when you spot it.