Kenneth Leslie Robertson, a retired U.S. Postal Service employee who was the last living person who delivered mail by horse and buggy in Carroll County, died Tuesday of cancer at Carroll County General Hospital. The lifelong Westminster resident was 89.
Mr. Robertson, the son of a postal worker, was born and reared on the family's Poole Road farm, a mile or so from Westminster.
His father, Leslie Robertson, began working in the Westminster Post Office in 1896, and was one of the first to drive the horse-drawn wagons of the Rural Free Delivery Service or RFD, as it later became known.
The concept of delivering mail to rural locations was the brainchild of Edwin Wirt Shriver, a Westminster postal clerk, who convinced postal officials of the value of the full-service post offices on wheels. So successful was the RFD, that by 1904 there were 15,000 rural delivery routes nationwide.
Beginning in 1899, drivers set out daily on 30- to 40-mile "A,B,C or D" routes that spread out from Westminster in every direction like spokes on a wheel, in wagons pulled by two horses.
"His father was the first one appointed to the service, and Kenneth used to substitute for his father on the route," said his wife of 57 years, the former Mavis Virginia Glass.
Mr. Robertson's days as a rural carrier included the rhythmic clump of horse hoofs on Carroll County dirt roads and struggling through howling blizzards when the mail went by sleigh and traversing rutted roads made impassable by spring thaws.
"He said it was so cold that he used to carry hot bricks to keep warm," said Mrs. Robertson, laughing.
In addition to the mail, rural carriers also delivered spools of thread, medicine and other household necessities to rural farm families who were too busy or far from Westminster to make these routine purchases.
"In spite of the conditions, he loved his work and never complained," said Mrs. Robertson.
"The end for the horse-drawn delivery came with the arrival of the Model-A Ford in the 1920s," said John Long of Westminster, who spent 32 years delivering mail from the Westminster Post Office before retiring in 1980.
Mr. Robertson began his postal career in 1928 a year after graduating from Westminster High School, and was promoted later to superintendent.
"As superintendent of mails, he was in charge of all the carriers and the everyday working of the post office," said Mr. Long.
A well-dressed man in conservative business suits and rimless gold glasses, he was described by Mr. Long as a "nice fellow who was stern but very, very fair.
"If things didn't go right or if a carrier didn't do his job, then he would speak to you. He never got loud or angry and always talked with you before he disciplined you," he said.
He retired from the post office in 1965 and then worked in the insurance office of Carroll County General Hospital, until retiring a second time in 1980.
During World War II, Mr. Robertson served in the Army, supervising an Army Post Office in the European Theater of operations.
He was a member of the American Legion, Carroll Post No. 31, in Westminster, the Westminster Lions Club and Westminster United Methodist Church, where he had ushered and served on many committees.
As befitting his life's work, he was an avid stamp collector.
Services were held yesterday.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a brother, G. Edwin Robertson of Hanover, Pa.