A million miles later, postal truck is still rolling

Fred McCormick

February 23 was like so many other Tuesdays for Sonny Slagle’s truck. The early morning trip into Asheville to pick up mail was like any other that the big International had taken over the past two decades.

Steve Harmon, who’s been driving for Slagle for some 30 years, navigated rain-soaked roads on his way to drop off bags and bins of letters, bills and packages to post offices in Swannanoa and Black Mountain.

Harmon’s routine morning was anything but routine for Slagle’s truck, which on that day passed the 1 million-mile mark on its speedometer. Nearly all those miles were on Buncombe County roads.

Slagle, Black Mountain’s police chief for 19 years before retiring in 1994 , began trucking the mail in 1972 when he and his father won the contract by outbidding a New Jersey trucking company by about $600 per year.

“Since that time, if you’ve been around here, my dad, myself or Steve Harmon has hauled your mail,” Slagle said.

Slagle continued to help Harmon haul the bulk mail until a couple of years ago when knee surgery forced him to stop.

“Up until I had my knees operated on, I was driving six mornings a week,” he said. “I was running six mornings, plus all day Saturday.”

Until the late 1990s, the route included deliveries to Nebo, Marion, Old Fort and Glenwood. Slagle continued taking the mail to Old Fort until 1998, when he bought his current truck.

“This truck’s been on a couple of deliveries to Old Fort,” he said. “But 99 percent of the miles have happened right here in Buncombe County.”

Valley Truck Service in Swannanoa has maintained the truck since Slagle purchased it 18 years ago.

“It’s very uncommon for a ‘straight’ (or ‘box’) truck to have that many miles on it,” Keith Harris at Valley Truck Service said. “I’ve seen some that travel over the road, or in moving operations that have close to a million miles. But a local truck — that’s the key — you never see those with a million miles.”

Harris said that most daily delivery trucks tend to get between 300,000-400,000 miles before they are semi-retired to a factory or lumber yard.

“Typically when you see a locally operated straight truck, it won’t make it as far as Sonny’s has before it is traded away or sold off and replaced,” he said.

With the 1 million-mile milestone now in the rear-view mirror, Slagle has put in an offer on a newer truck.

“I told everyone I wanted to put a million miles on this one, and I did,” he said. “It still runs really well, and I trust it to go anywhere a new truck could.”

Harmon, who continues to drive the truck daily, concurs.

“I would pick up and drive this truck to California right now without any worries,” he said. “It still runs really well.”

Cosmetically the truck bears scars from the constant demands of mail delivery through rain, sleet and snow.

“It’s been out in snowstorms,” Slagle said. “I’ve slid into things with it, and Steve’s slid into things with it.”

Slagle remains confident in the truck’s mechanical performance because of the care it’s gotten at Valley Truck Service. The only significant issue he recalls was with the transmission.

“The first transmission in the truck worked great,” he said. “I got around a couple hundred thousand miles out of it. But after that, it seemed like I was putting one in all of the time. The last one has been in there quite a while.”

A fairly recent addition to the truck has been a new odometer, which was added after the solder in the truck’s old dash cluster — with 977,169 miles on it — failed.