Thursday, January 20, 2011

We've Got Mail!

I think one of best things about living in Arizona is the freedom that seems endemic here. The "Old West - Anything Goes" mentality is strong in the desert.

Now I'm not just talking about being able to make off-road vehicles street-legal or being able to pay your state taxes directly by check to your local elementary school if you feel like it (although those are very cool things in my book). I'm talking about freedom of artistic expression.

Case-in-point: this weekend we ventured with friends to the tiny town of Chloride (pop.215) where tucked back in the hills lies 40 foot murals painted on the rocks.

Roy Purcell is the artist.

He painted these back in the 1960's and then repainted them 3 years ago.

Back in San Diego we lived in a subdivision that was closely regulated by a vigorous (some may say "overly vigorous") homeowner's association that routinely (as in twice a day) walked by all 148 homes looking for infractions.

The color you painted your garage could only be selected from a palate of 10; trees in the front yard were mandatory and had to be a certain size; and heaven help you if you wanted to build a shed in your back yard that no one could even see above the fence - that took weeks of paperwork and an act of Congress!

In fact, when I went to install a new mailbox back there, I had to submit a written request 30 days ahead of time and wait anxiously for approval from the HOA board.

Fast forward to our Arizona home and it's a completely different story!

Havasu is known (or should be known) for its unique mailboxes. Oh sure, each one fits within USPS regulations and yet they express the individual homeowner's personality. Let me take you on a quick tour of our neighborhood by way of illustration...

Saguaro cacti are a popular theme.

There's actually a lighthouse society here in town that maintains scale replicas of famous lighthouses around the lake.

The scorpion is very clever and the next door neighbor has a large mouth bass mailbox.

Seriously...ANYTHING goes here!

So you can see that I would not be content with just any old mailbox.  I had the old ugly, clunky mailbox from the last house (part of our staging for sale was installing a fresh new mailbox) so I thought a stucco deal would be nice.

Stucco mailboxes come in many shapes and sizes.

You can match your house if you want - right down to the roofing tile.
 That is until I really started researching stucco boxes. Purchasing one starts at $300. Building my own would involve pouring a small slab, installing post anchors ($10-15 each), wood, lath, was adding up fast so I ditched that idea.

Since we love the Old West and I hadn't seen any covered wagon mailboxes (although cacti and cowboys feature heavily around town) I decided I would try to make one around our old mailbox.

In keeping with my lack of budget for this project, the next door neighbor cheerfully donated scrap wood from old pallets he'd chopped up to burn and a tarp that was threadbare in spots.

I have promised to help reupholster his outdoor seat cushions in return.

I spent time cutting wooden wheels from the scraps on the scroll saw and I only broke one blade during the process.
I started by drilling holes and then inserted the scrollsaw blade...32 times...ugh!
Dave's job was to make the mailbox solid on its post (it had wobbled embarassingly at the other house - part of the reason we had to move). He bolted and screwed and bolted some more until the thing was solid as a rock...or maybe pebbles.
That's Dave's expression when he hears there's a chocolate treat reward for his efforts.

Then the search was on for metal coat hangers - since Dave retired, there's no more dry-cleaning so our supply was low. He was able to scrape up 5 old ones and so I set to bending them into shape.
Couldn't find matching coat hangers but who will notice?

Then I chopped up the good bits of the old tarp and sewed them into the wagon top.
I painted the old broom-handle top to look like a barrel...if you use your imagination and squint.

The next step in construction of the wagon was the lettering. USPS requires that addresses be at least 1 inch tall but I didn't want to ruin the effect of the old weathered wood with stick-on numbers so I searched online for a good Old West font and hand-painted the sides.
I had to include the pointing finger that is on every old playbill from the Old West.
Then came the cussing...I mean digging.

Apparently, Arizona is 2 inches of topsoil on top of 7 feet of concrete - who knew? So I began the night before diligently soaking the spot the post would go - right behind the old mailbox post.  Then I started digging...and hit the concrete (they call it caliche - which is Mojave for "concrete" no doubt).

So I stopped digging and moved the hole over 18 inches.

The rule in Arizona (according to the natives) is, "If you dig and hit a rock, don't try to dig it out - move your hole."

You can see my first hole and then the second...

I think this might be why everyone here is so flexible and laid back.

So I dug...and watered...and cussed...and dug...

It's only 18 inches deep but feels like 4 feet!

Then I hit "THE ROCK".

SIDE NOTE: When I called AZ Blue Stake to have the utilties marked so we didn't accidentally dig through a power line and take out the whole neighborhood, the kindly lady on the other end of the line asked me if I would be using explosives. I had laughed and assured her we were simply installing a new mailbox.

I wish I'd said yes.  I could have used some explosives. It took me more than an hour to scrape away enough dirt and gravel to get THE ROCK loose (it also took the use of the neighbor's pry-bar).

It might not look like much here but I swear it's like an iceberg - this thing would NOT budge!

Finally I loosened the surrounding soil and the hole was deep enough! Luckily, Dave had stopped by a friend's house on his way back from the dermatologist (his lame excuse for not helping me dig) and brought Eddie home to help pour the concrete (so I forgave him).
The men made quick work of the mailbox assembly and concrete pour.

I LOVE my new mailbox!

Even the postman (who is actually a woman) thought the new mailbox was charming.


  1. Love the mailbox Mum!! Your blogs are so interesting, I love it. And may I say you look particularly cute next to the covered wagon. :)

  2. I love it. So creative. My mail box which is by my front door is so boring. Those are some pretty crazy mail boxes around your place. Nice and fun.

  3. Thanks - I should have worn a bonnet of something more "old west" for the pic.