Jim Sorber: Rain Or Shine, He Delivers The Mail

By Phil Scott

This Oregonian carries on a long tradition of rural mailboat delivery.

Around the time of the Civil War, farmers began settling the Rogue River Valley in southwestern Oregon, enough that the U.S. Postal Service began mailboat service in 1895.

Today the Rogue River route is one of only a handful of rural mailboat routes left in the country. Like his father before him, Jim Sorber delivers the mail six days a week up the lower Rogue. "I love the river as much as anything," Sorber says. "I grew up on it. My dad spent his life on the river, and I followed his footsteps."

Jim's dad was DeForest Sorber, nicknamed "Fat" from childhood. "He never was exceptional heavy," says Jim, "and never did say how he got the nickname." When DeForest was a young man back in the 1930s, he started driving mail from Gold Beach along the coast to Agness. Sometimes Jim accompanied him on deliveries.

DeForest drove it until he retired, and Jim took over the route in 1984. This year he turned 71. "I see bear, cougars, all kind of animals like cats, bobcats, otter," he says. "Watching an otter in river, well, that's always fun."

Sorber picks up the bulk mail at the Gold Beach Post Office at 8:30 a.m., then heads upriver 18 miles to Agness, where its sorted and delivered around the countryside. After loading the boat with outgoing mail, he leaves Agness and returns to Gold Beach by 2 p.m. During the time in Agness, the mailboat's passengers eat lunch. Yes, lunch, operated by Mail Boat Hydro-Jet Trips in nearby Wedderburn, because the mailboat makes ends meet by taking passengers out sightseeing, too. In this internet age the volume of mail is shrinking. But Sorber thinks his Rogue River route remains safe. "We work for the Postal Service as a contract carrier," he says, "and you have to be resourceful." 

— Published: October/November 2018

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