PENDLETON - Bob Chambers has begun the last year of driving his brown truck and delivering packages throughout Milton-Freewater and the surrounding area.

Chambers, 52, the senior United Parcel Service driver in Pendleton, is looking forward to retiring in August.

The package delivery business has changed considerably since Chambers signed on as a part-time driver before Christmas in 1974. He was the company's fifth driver in Pendleton at the time. Today Pendleton has 11 UPS drivers

"Back then, the days were really long and they just hired on a minimum of drivers," he said, noting that 30 years ago, UPS didn't even serve all 50 states.

But, he noted, getting a job then as a part-time UPS package handler or driver usually was the ticket to a full-time job. That's still true today, he added, because UPS offers good part-time jobs to college-age workers, especially during the weeks preceding Christmas.

Chambers said for UPS, the "Christmas peak" occurs the month before Christmas.

"The real crunch is the last two weeks before Christmas, when we go from 81/2 routes to 11 or 12 drivers," he said. "That's where the opportunities come, to work either as on-car helpers or as drivers."

The starting salary for UPS drivers today is $14.25 per hour, according to Mark Nygaard, UPS regional business manager in The Dalles.

Chambers' day begins at 7 a.m., when he opens the UPS center on Westgate and makes sure the delivery trucks are in their proper positions for the day's runs. Drivers arrive shortly afterward and begin loading their trucks, dividing the packages into eight sections for ease of delivery.

Trucks are packed and on the road by 9 a.m., he said. Packages loaded onto the trucks also are entered into a Delivery Information Acquisition Devise or DIAD, a portable computer that includes a bar-code scanner for entering packages and a signature pad for customers to verify delivery. The devise also records truck mileage and employee hours, Chambers said.

The information goes into a New Jersey computer that contains the "largest database in the world," Chambers said.

"They know where you are, based on your last delivery address," he noted. "It's really a very sophisticated system."

UPS's package limits also have increased over the years. Chambers said the maximum used to be 50 pounds, but it has grown to 150 pounds today. Also, the number of packages one shipper can send no longer is limited.

Before Christmas one customer in Milton-Freewater shipped 13,000 pounds of apples in more than 600 boxes, he said, noting that a special truck backed up to the loading dock to send the presents on their way.

UPS drivers are members of the Teamsters Union, Chambers said, but there's no specific quitting time.

"We work until the truck is unloaded," he said. "We work a lot of overtime, but the company tries to keep our hours under 91/2 (per day) most of the year."

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