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Join Date: Dec 2009
Johnson carried mail around Bloomfield for 33 years
Monday, October 15, 2007
By Anna Rochelle, Staff Writer
By Anna Rochelle 500,000 MILES: By the time Johnny Johnson retired after carrying the mail for 33 years through the hills around Bloomfield, he had put over 500,000 miles on his red and white 1973 Dodge truck.
A few days after his retirement from the U.S. Postal Service, Johnny Johnson was sitting on his front porch in the hills north of Bloomfield with a big grin and a big cigar while listening to the wind rustling through the leaves.
Through rain, through sleet and snow, Johnson carried the mail for 33 years, in an old Dodge truck that he admits might be the ugliest truck in Greene County, but he says it's gone over 500,000 miles.
"Will yours go that far?" Johnson, 75, says chuckling.
By Anna Rochelle Johnny Johnson poses next to his 1973 Dodge truck that has logged more than 500,000 miles.
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A sign on the back of his truck asks the same question of travelers who are behind him.
After starting as a substitute carrier on Route 1, Johnson first became a full-time carrier on Route 3 in 1974, driving a 1964 FordFairlane. After a permanent switch to Route 4, he bought a used 1973 Dodge truck in 1982 and drove it almost every day since. Occasionally when the weather was bad, he was forced to switch to a four-wheel drive.
The red and white Dodge was a familiar site around Bloomfield, uniquely customized for the mail route.
By Anna Rochelle CUSTOMIZED TRUCK: Johnny Johnson (in photo at right) sits one last time in the truck he customized to drive on his Route 4 Bloomfield mail route. First he cut the bed and frame down to make the truck 30" shorter so it would make turns easier. Then he installed dual controls on the passenger side including accelerator and brake pedals and a steering wheel with a belt stretched between the two wheels.
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"I cut the bed and frame down to shorten them by about 30" so it would be easier to turn," said Johnson.
He also rigged up a dual set of controls on the passenger side including brake, accelerator and steering wheel with a long belt stretched between the two wheels.
Johnson's mechanical skills are well-known in Bloomfield. He was a charter member of the Jaycees, has served as its president and helped get the Apple Festival off the ground. In the early years of the festival, there were lots of breakdowns and fellow Jaycee member Doug Frye said the Jaycees looked to Johnson to fix things.
"We used to joke that Johnny could fix anything with some baling wire and muffler clamps," laughed Frye. "He always had a great mind for mechanics."
Johnson loves tinkering with vehicles, a skill he's honed over the years since he started racing sprint cars in 1952.
Shortly after he started hanging out at the track, he met his wife-to-be, Wanda New. She was from the Newark area and her uncle also raced cars. They were married the next year on Christmas Day and set up housekeeping in Furnace.
In 1954 he went to work at a gas station in Bloomfield. Two years later, he owned it. He operated the Johnson Standard Station on the southwest corner of the courthouse square until 1971 and the old '53 Chevy wrecker he ran is still sitting in the woods near his house.
In 1955, Johnson became a volunteer firefighter when he joined the Bloomfield Fire Department and has continued to serve his community in this way for over 50 years now.
In 1959, the couple moved to a quiet place in the country north of Bloomfield with lots of room for Johnson's vehicles.
When the Richland-Taylor Volunteer Fire Department was organized in 1977, Johnson became its first fire chief, a position he held for 17 years.
Although Johnson has retired from driving on a mail route, he has no intention of retiring from driving race cars. He's been racing on the Paragon track ever since it opened over 50 years ago.
Once a year he travels to Tampa, Fla., for a week of racing at East Bay Raceway followed by another week somewhere else -- a trip he's been making for over 30 years.
The trailer the Johnsons take to the track each weekend during the season is as tricked out as the mail truck. Johnson has built a folding food preparation table for Wanda and installed a generator to run a microwave and power her crock pot. Johnson is proud of his wife's down-home cooking which has attracted a following on the circuit.
"When she starts cooking, the track owner comes to eat and the drivers all start over," said Johnson. "Everyone likes her cooking."
Some of the Johnsons six children have also caught the racing bug. Randy Johnson lives in Pittsburgh, Pa., but drives back to the Paragon track every couple of weeks during racing season. Dick Johnson lives in Indianapolis, Bob Johnson, Janet Hargrave, June Cahill and Jonas Johnson all live in Bloomfield.
They also have 18 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
Johnson said he's thinks he'll enjoy being retired.
"I just thought it was time to slow down a little," said Johnson, "except on race day!"
By Anna Rochelle STILL RACING: Although he's retired from the post office, Johnny Johnson has no intention of retiring from racing sprint cars in Paragon and Florida, a hobby he started in 1952. Johnson is pictured with his car sponsored by C&C Welding, Bill's Auto Repair and Carmichael Welding, all in Bloomfield.
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