If you drive the city streets, highways and back roads of Clatsop County, you will assuredly see a FedEx, UPS or a U.S. Postal Service delivery van, or two. We are a mirror of America, in which these three services compete for supremacy. In this two-part series, we examine the delivery volume of these transportation giants and it depicts the people and the machines that make it all work.

Part 1 of 2

Paula Varney, a UPS driver for the last nine years, is quick on her feet. The former high school and college basketball player deftly picks the right packages out of her truck and loads them up in the crook of her arm or on a hand truck. She weaves her way in and out of office buildings and delivers her way through parts of Astoria and east to Brownsmead.

Drivers like her, the loaders and unloaders at the Astoria Regional Airport hub in Warrenton - and even the carriers at the local U.S. Post Office - represent the end of the hub-and-spoke system of UPS, which starts in Chicago and ends in many places around the country, including Astoria.

"Normally, we run 2,000 to 2,500 (packages) a day out of our center," said Varney, who heard about a seasonal job at UPS from a friend, a temporary gig that's turned into a high-demand, yet rewarding, career.

Airport hub

"We're at the tail end of where packages go," said Emily Delay, a planning and dispatch supervisor at the Warrenton hub.

The hub at the Astoria Regional Airport is really just two double-wide trailers arranged to form the letter T. The front trailer provides an office and receiving area, while about 12 bays line the back trailer.

"We cover to just about the fish hatchery on Highway 30, is about how far east we go. Then we cover the whole peninsula up in Washington, Ocean Park, Naselle, those are our areas. And as far south as we go is Arch Cape ... and then (U.S. Highway) 26, the junction, we do (Oregon Highway) 202. So it's kind of a big circle."

Trucks come in each morning carrying packages from Portland. A contracted Cessna flies into the airport each morning to drop off and pick up overnight air packages.

Varney and from nine to 16 other drivers, who bid on routes based on seniority, leave the UPS hub at the Astoria Regional Airport almost every day. They can often cover more than 1,000 miles.

"I'm the third-highest mileage driver at our hub," said Varney, who commonly covers out to Brownsmead. "My route, I would say, (is) probably 80 percent deliveries."

The Warrenton hub falls under the blanket of Vancouver, Wash., one step below the Northwest District based in Seattle, both of them below the Chicago Area Consolidation Hub. The entire district averages nearly nine times as many deliveries than pickups, a trend even more prominent in Astoria.

"You can see the difference - a lot more going out than coming in," said Kurt Allison, a regional manager with UPS.

Niche shippers

Clatsop County is a land of small businesses, few of them needing to regularly ship packages across the country and around the world. But small manufactures and seafood processors still make use of the service.

"We sell big grinders and pumping units, and those are too big to go UPS," said Anita Nichols, a co-owner in Knappa's Autio Company, which manufactures meat processing equipment. "The main day-to-day is replacement parts."

Seafood processors like Steve Fick of Fishhawk Fisheries often send out canned and smoked products, transporting most of their fresh seafood via refrigerated trucks.

"We get a lot of people who buy a whole case of tuna," said Fick, who estimates anywhere between 50 to 100 cases a month heading out of his business on parcel trucks. "Most of our fresh products are going to wholesalers."

SurePost

Postmaster Jerry Croak said the Astoria Post Office handles about 3,000 parcels a week. They come from FedEx, UPS - and a small amount from the U.S. Postal Service itself.

"That's part of our growing market, is the small business pickups," said Croak, adding that the USPS averages eight to 10 pickups in the Astoria area per week.

Trucks from the USPS and various parcel companies pull up to the back of the post office, unloading their packages on pallets and in plastic bags of boxes. The Postal Service's own carriers provide the final connection to the customer.

This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.

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