By Ziad Jaber and Samira Puskar, NBC News
MANGUM, Okla. -- Before golden rays paint over the dry and dusty plains in rural Oklahoma, one man is already hard at work. Jim Ed Bull -- known to the locals as Jim Ed -- rolls out of bed, powers through 50 sit-ups, and kisses his wife Susan before hopping into his trusty Ford Ranger.
Bull has racked up a lot of miles on his little red truck, more than 295,000 of them. As the postman for America’s longest mail route, he delivers mail to the tiny towns of Duke and El Dorado, as well as the homes and farms along winding country roads in between. The 72-year-old travels 187 miles a day, making 198 stops, and serving 247 families.
For nine hours each day he sits in the middle seat, steering with his left arm and slamming mailboxes shut with his right. He's one box closer to home with each off-load of bills, birthday cards, and magazines.
“Mailboxes won’t talk back or anything,” he laughed.
The terrain in this part of the country is not nearly as welcoming as Bull: there's sharp gravel, scorched earth, and rattlesnakes. He gets a flat tire two or three times a month, which “is not a whole lotta fun when it’s 110 degrees outside.” He joked that he also uses his truck as a weapon, running over diamondbacks that get too close.
Although he first retired in the 1990s after more than 30 years as a high school principal and baseball coach, Bull went back to work at USPS 13 years ago for some extra income. He is no stranger to hard work.
“I was raised on a farm, I guess that’s why I like to work,” he said, zooming down the road. “I worked from the time I was three years old to 18, when I lost my dad,” he said.
Like many folks from small towns where everybody knows everyone, Bull is no exception.
“They all know me, everybody that I have on the route,” he said. “They know, they see that little red truck comin’ … [and] who’s in it.” He goes to church with many of his customers from Duke. “I know everybody in Duke, just about …They don’t all go to church, but I know all of ‘em!”
With so much time to himself on these lonely roads, Bull says he thinks about his wife and kids, as well as some of the other families he’s met along the way. “I got some that, you know, you really feel sorry for,” he said. “They just don’t have money, you know…I try to help out when I can, my wife and I.”
He knows his cargo is more than just packages and envelopes, even in the Internet age.
“Take the time to really show someone you care ‘bout ‘em, you know, write ‘em a letter,” he said, as his speeding Ranger rumbled on down the road.