Mail by pail is name of game for Detroit’s floating ZIP code

FILE- This April 20, 2017, file photo shows the J.W. Westcott II at it's mooring on the Detroit River. A family-run Detroit company that operates the nation’s only floating ZIP code is halfway through its 144th season of making deliveries to passing Great Lakes freighters. The J.W. Westcott II cruises the Detroit River from April to December, distributing mail and other items to larger vessels. (Max Ortiz/The Detroit News via AP, File)

By MIKE HOUSEHOLDER

Associated Press

ABOARD THE J.W. WESTCOTT II — The U.S. has tens of thousands of ZIP codes. Only one of them floats.

The J.W. Westcott II — ZIP code 48222 — delivers mail to passing freighters, serving as a link with land for the sailors who work the region’s trade routes.

“We are the marine delivery here on the Great Lakes,” said owner Jim Hogan, whose great-grandfather, John Ward Westcott, paddled out into the Detroit River in a rowboat to make his first delivery nine years after the Civil War concluded.

Nowadays, the J.W. Westcott Co.’s 45-foot boat delivers not only mail, but also soda, paper towels and other necessities. It does so by cruising out toward its intended target and hoisting the delivery items via rope and bucket — a method affectionately known as “mail by the pail.”

“We laugh and kid ourselves about being in this Star Trek era and still doing it the Flintstone way,” Hogan said.

While he runs the company, Hogan relies on a group of trusted employees to do the sailing.

His right-hand man is 50-year-old Sam Buchanan, who serves as chief captain of the Westcott II and the company’s general manager.

Buchanan, who grew up around the corner from the Westcott Co.’s offices at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge, takes his duties seriously.

“We’re entrusted with the U.S. mail, and 140 years later, here we are,” said the man known to many as simply “Captain Sam.”

The company’s current season — its 144th — kicked off in April. It’ll remain available to Great Lakes travelers on a 24-hour basis through Dec. 20.