'They call me Mr. Zip Code'

At age 14, Len Bruch was doing dishes in the family kitchen and listening to the radio. The station ID floated through the room: “This is KSL Salt Lake City.” Bruch wondered how far a radio signal could travel. Buch becoming a student of a man named Knute, call sign W6FFN. That was the beginning of a lifelong interest in amateur radio. He has carefully preserved the hundreds of cards he exchanged with fellow hams from across the world. 

MORONGO BASIN — Len Bruch still has his old Post Office Department uniform, carefully pressed as if ready to slip back onto his lanky frame for another day of delivering mail. The left sleeve bears the patch of the former Cabinet department, a horse and rider facing right — an important distinction, since the image was flipped in 1965. Such details are important to Bruch; after all, carrying letters was his career for 41½ years.

“I loved my job. I always tried to deliver more mail,” Bruch said in an interview this week. “If I didn’t just get old and whatnot, I’d still be doing it.”

Born on the north side of Chicago, Bruch spent his childhood in Grand Rapids, Michigan, until his family moved to California in 1948.

The Bruchs settled in Arcadia and Bruch went to high school at Holy Angels, just down Huntington Drive from the Santa Anita racetrack. On a hot day, the sisters opened the classroom windows in the afternoon and he could hear the race announcer. By the time he was 13, he was going over to the racetrack.

“I grew up with Longden and Shoemaker, all that bunch,” he said. “They’re gone now. They’re just memories.”

In 1959, he was working at the Barker Bros. furniture store, an 11-story red brick building on Seventh and Flower streets. He’d been accepted to Loyola Marymount University, but he wasn’t sure college was for him. Then some chance remarks by co-workers set him on his path.

“The maintenance mechanics used to come by and say, ‘Leonard, you’re wasting your time here.’” Their advice was to go down to the local post office and apply there.

Bruch and a friend took the qualifying test. Bruch scored a 90 and was hired, starting May 16, 1959.

He remembers that date, as he remembers seemingly all dates and most other numbers.

His pay for his first job, cleaning smudge pots at an orange grove: 50 cents an hour.

The number of baths he had to take every day after getting home from the groves: three.

The day he took the test to join the U.S. Post Office Department: April 8, 1959.

The day he bought his Nash Metropolitan: Sept. 30, 1958. “I never thought I’d have it all this time, but here it is,” he said.

The length of his first mail route: 12 miles, which he covered by foot.

His paycheck when he started carrying mail in Covina: $119 for two weeks.

At 24 years old, Buch moved to a home on Sunfair Road on Joshua Tree, seeking clean air. “I couldn’t stand the smog. I couldn’t breathe in the summer.”

He was banking on a job in the Twentynine Palms post office, but that didn’t come through. Instead, he found a place in Palm Springs, where he delivered mail for 12 years.

This was the Palm Springs of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, and Bruch delivered to many of them.

“I knew all the movie stars,” he said.

He never met Elvis, he blames himself — he never asked. It was Presley’s famous manager, Colonel Parker, who picked up the mail.

“I’ll tell ya, Colonel Parker was always going to get my wife an autograph,” he said.

“Colonel Parker kinda let me down. He never got me that picture for my wife. She’s passed away two years now.”

He has happier memories of other stars:

“Kirk Douglas, I used to get him up every day practically with a special delivery.”

“William Holden always opened the door.”

“Bob Hope, his maid told me to go around to the side door. He had dogs, I guess.”

He also met Gail, the daughter of a fellow postal employee, in those years. They were married in 1964.

The Bruchs family moved to Yucca Valley and Bruchs eventually transferred to the local post office, where he worked the remainder of his career.

Nov. 3, 2000, was his last day, though it wasn’t planned. It was Election Day and Bruchs ended up working until 7:30 p.m. without help. The next day, he woke up and realized he couldn’t do it any more.

“I went as far as I could and bang, that was it.”

His legacy lives on in the U.S. Postal Service: Stephen, his son, has been with the post office nearly 20 years. He started in Coachella and is now in Yucca Valley.

Bruch still looks back on his decades of delivering mail with satisfaction. It was a good job for a man with an independent spirit and a memory for numbers.

“You’re out, you’re kind of your own boss. You do your thing and nobody bothers you as long as you’re doing a good job,” he said.

(2) comments

scottypsp

What a beautiful story to read the legacy of a USPS legend.

yvhs1972

We were neighbors with the Len and Gail in Sunfair back in the 60's and early 70's. He played a mean Bocce ball, and I remember him allowing me and a buddy to swim in his pool one summer. So sorry to hear of Gail's passing. She would stop by and talk with my mom on occasion. Nice story on a nice fellow. He ended up with two Nashs- one for driving and one for parts!

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