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Striking out vandals

On losing side in game of 'mailbox baseball,' they come up with ways to protect boxes from being smashed by bats. And maybe teach someone a hard lesson.

By Gil Smart 
Section: U.S./WORLD
Page: A-1
Sunday News (Lancaster, PA)

Published: September 14, 2003

 LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - Maybe it was because Thomas Woodland was a Manheim Township commissioner.

Maybe it was because his mailbox was just so ... well ... inviting. Whatever the reason, six times during a three-year period in the late 1990s, Woodland's mailbox along Olde Saybrook Road took it on the chin. Or on the side. Or in the post.

"We had a decorative mailbox," said Woodland. "At first there was a golfer on top, then there were these golf scenes on the sides. I repaired it a few times. But after the sixth time, I learned."

Now the mailbox along the road is unadorned. It hasn't been whacked since.

"What I really wanted to do was (set up) a big sign, 'Hit it!' " joked Woodland.

Some people do invite mailbox baseball players to swing away, at their own risk.

They encase their mailboxes in brick or even concrete. They rig up homemade devices or buy steel mailboxes designed to withstand whacks from a Louisville Slugger, blasts from a shotgun, even small explosions.

Called "mailbox Maginots" in a 2001 Atlantic magazine article, they are fortresses, designed to thwart even the craftiest mailbox vandals.

It doesn't always work.

"One guy took steel posts and cemented them into the (side of the) road," said Sgt. Tom Rudzinski of Manheim Township police. "Rather than hit (the mailbox) with a baseball bat, the vandals just drove over it."

Making sport

Not particularly sporting, perhaps, but then "mailbox baseball" rarely employs umpires.

The practitioners are usually bored kids, said Rudzinski. It's a favorite pastime in suburbs like Manheim Township and in rural areas as well.

In late August, vandals shattered nine mailboxes in the Blos-som Hill area of Manheim Township; 20 mailboxes were smashed in Manheim Township and East Lampeter Township on July 31. Again and again it happens, most often in the summertime, though bashings happen in the winter, too. Special deliveries of firecrackers are most common, unsurprisingly, around the Fourth of July.

It's not just vandals who damage mailboxes. Sometimes careless drivers mow them down; other times snowplows bulldoze more than snow and ice.

Whatever the cause of the damage, more homeowners are installing mailboxes that can take it. There is a burgeoning super-mailbox industry out there, promising products that not only can take the pounding, but just might "change your life."

Tough boxes

That's the claim of the Steel Mailbox Co., which sells a variety of tough boxes on its Internet site (www .steelmailbox.com) and is run by Cincinnati resident Richard Lee, who, coincidentally, has a daughter attending Franklin & Marshall College.

He's also sold mailboxes to a couple of Lancaster County residents and dozens to people in eastern Pennsylvania. Overall, "Sales have doubled every year," said Lee, who sells only on the Internet and has noticed a disturbing trend on his site.

There's a section devoted to "grisly tales of mailbox bashing"; Lee set it up so annoyed homeowners could vent. It has turned into a place where mailbox vandals themselves come to post tales of glory, or something like it.

"Some of them sound kind of sociopathic," Lee said.

Like Lee, Judy Maran sells mailboxes designed to stand up to the sociopaths. She invented the "MaiLocker," a 14-gauge steel box; baseball bat blows "glance right off," according to the product's Web site (http://www.jandmar.com/mailocker/index.htm).

"Our old mailboxes were vandalized, beaten, smashed, crushed, ripped off the post, and our mail was stolen," she says on her site. Sometimes the entire mailbox was stolen; not only was she annoyed at the destruction, it finally dawned on her that she was missing mail. "I had a lady call from about 10 miles away to tell me that my canceled checks were blowing through her yard," said Maran.

Stolen mail and identify theft, she said, are even bigger problems than vandalism.

Small fortresses

But other mailbox fortifications are designed specifically to ward off attackers. Some look as though they could ward off an attack by a tank.

Take Bob Radocy's fortress along Water Valley Road in Lancaster Township. Fed up after vandals whacked his plain old box twice and then ran over it, he bricked it up and reinforced it on the inside, as well.

No one has touched it since, though he admits he'd get an evil little thrill were he to come out one morning and find pieces of a shattered Louisville Slugger. "That," he said, "would be cool."

In the "Tightwad Gazette," the now-defunct financial/lifestyle newsletter, editor Amy Dacyczyn wrote of a man who, fed up with having his mailbox bashed, put a small box inside a larger one, then filled the space between with concrete. He reported seeing baseball bat splinters around the new, improved box.

That's what you might call a special delivery of poetic justice.

Snow jobs

Jack Bleacher, who lives on Baumgardner Road south of Willow Street, had his mailbox slightly damaged by vandals a couple of times, but snowplows were his big problem. A fast-moving plow can throw snow and ice that will pop a mailbox right off its pole, he explained.

Bleacher simply mounted a piece of metal, taken from an old sign, on one side to deflect the snow. On the other side, he placed his reflective house number (an item sold by local fire companies) on a spring so it will give if struck. He has not lost a mailbox to a plow since, and he thinks it has stopped other kinds of assaults.

"It does make it much more of a challenge,'' said Bleacher. Postal officials say that, in general, these contraptions are legal as long as they are safe and convenient for letter carriers. Police, however, say homeowners might not have to go that far. A plain mailbox may be the best defense, as kids seem to aim for elaborate, decorative boxes. But, admits Rudzinski, "Some people just live in more desirable places for mailbox baseball." And in that case, the best thing to do is call the cops the moment you hear a "bang."

Don't wait

"Ninety percent of the time, someone hears something at 3 a.m. and doesn't call us until the next day," he said. By that time, there's little chance of catching the culprits. "We need phone calls when people hear things in the middle of the night."

But Woodland, the former township supervisor, shrugs. "Once in 10 years, the cops catch someone" for bashing mailboxes, he said.

Better to do what you can to get your box off the hit list. "After a while," Woodland said, "replacing a mailbox can get a little pricey.

gsmart@lnpnews.com

© 2004 Lancaster Newspapers
PO Box 1328, Lancaster PA 17608, (717) 291-8811

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