Technically, I am not an employee of FedEx. I work for a local subcontractor that operates in several smaller towns around Austin and San Antonio. Contractors purchase routes from the global FedEx corporation much like subcontractors build parts of a house or franchisees purchase rights to run a restaurant chain. I usually run route 504 in rural Fredericksburg, TX – famous as the hometown of WWII Admiral Chester Nimitz and some excellent smelling German bakeries.
Loading in the Morning
As you can imagine, it is quite a logistics-fest at the station each morning. There are 34 loading bays for semi-trailers on one side of the building, 5 primary loading belts for delivery trucks and vans on the other, and a mess of conveyors in between. Status screens scattered throughout the building so the direction each belt is travelling. Green lines are belts in motion, white are stationary, and red indicates a problem, error, or stoppage.
This photo was taken at the end of the day, so little was happening. Belt VL-1 on the left is where evening pickups are loaded as we return from our routes. Package handlers scan each incoming box and, in this case, many trucks returned at the same time and the belt was full. One of the handlers pulled the stop cord, much like on a city bus, to get the belt to stop for a moment. My subcontractor works off belt VL-5 on the right. There are handlers sprinkled throughout the belt system moving packages from one chute/direction to another.
There are more trucks/vans than there are spaces at the belts. Some of us, including me, get their packages loaded onto rolling carts.
We take the carts to our vehicles parked outside and load up there. This is great when the weather is breezy and sunny like below, not so great when it’s hot and humid.
Getting Around the Route
Each package has a sticker that identifies what’s called a sequence number. A computer system tries to order the packages in a logical routing. In a perfect world you could just run the packages in order of the sequence number – and in densely packed neighborhoods that generally works. Not on mine, though. My route is rural enough that there aren’t neighborhoods to speak of, so I have to organize my packages based on the major highways the stops are near.
Here’s every address I’ve been to since I started on my own.
Here are the major roads/highways.
And the “zones”.
I end up with four sections in the van devoted to these four zones: US-290, US-87, Ranch Road 963, and Doss, TX. As I load each box into one of the zones in the van, I plot the address as a starred point in Google Maps. This ensures I’ve touched every single package going into my van and I don’t miss something while loading. As I deliver to the address, I’ll un-star the spot on the map.
Some days one zone is heavier than others and I might run it first for the feeling of getting stuff done quickly. Other times it is so spread out that there is no best “first” way to take. In close to 30 days I don’t think I’ve gone the exact same way through the stops. Southernmost to northernmost is 21 miles. East to west is 26 for a total route area of 546 square miles (more than I estimated in the previous post!).
Most stops are your everyday residence or business just off the road. I grab the package, put it on the front porch and move on to the next. Other stops have long driveways that twist and turn eventually revealing the residence deep in the Texas landscape.
I always enjoy this stop because the cows and longhorns are often by the front gate. This is a family-owned family-friendly ranch with a fun, decorative entrance gate. One of the steers when I took this picture, though, was starting to get antsy and was pawing the ground. I left promptly.
There’s a house with its own landing strip! The owner flies a vintage Cessna Birddog taildragger in and out of the 1,500 ft paved strip. You drive onto the runway to and from the residence.
Awesome. I also deliver to an aircraft engine repair shop. Their packages are always full of heavy parts.
If the route is particularly heavy, I’ll be out later, but it means the beginnings of beautiful sunsets.
Being rural, most driveways are gravel or barely cut-in grass paths. I can’t go down this road until at least 2 days after rain. Those puddles are several inches deep and hide sticky mud through which my van won’t navigate. I’ve gotten stuck on a different road only once but was able to rock and reverse out of it. It would have been several hours before someone could have rescued me.
Obviously if the weather is bad it will slow everything down. Thankfully Texas weather is only severe for a short time. This was the only instance of low visibility I’ve experienced so far.
End of the Day
Sometimes we come back with packages still in the van. There are many reasons, but most often include: a signature is needed and no one was home, the address was incorrect, or the address couldn’t be found (happens more on rural routes when streets are colloquially named but not officially on the map). We head back to the station and park our vehicles wherever there’s a spot, ready for the next day.
Sometimes we encounter colleagues who finished their route around the same time and caravan back to the station…
…which is quiet upon our return, ready for the next early morning package sorting shift.
Finally, not a complaint but a request. I love shopping online and get almost all my computer and gadget purchases delivered. We order kid’s clothes and other non-essential supplies online often. But all delivery services across the sectors are, understandably, very busy right now. This past Thursday I was called in on my day off because it was known that we’d hit a non-peak package record that almost rivals normal peak Christmas volume. Please only order what you need, and, when things eventually go back to normal, load up the family or make a solo trip and support your local brick and mortar stores.
And don’t forget to continue financially supporting your charities/nonprofits/faith communities of choice. Their recovery will be much slower than that of consumer goods retailers.
The Packages – You can bet that Walmart boxes will fall apart if you merely breathe on them, Sam’s Club boxes are marginally better, Omaha Steaks do a great job shrink-wrapping their insulated coolers, and Chewy (online pet food/supplies) boxes are just awful.