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Old Ulster: Post float

By Paul Carson

For years, electrically-powered milk floats were a common sight throughout Northern Ireland.

One of the reasons that the local dairies adopted the vehicles for making doorstep deliveries was that their quiet engines would be unobtrusive in the early morning.

They seemed to be the vehicles of the future, and in the final few months of the 1950s, the Royal Mail had the bright idea of adopting a similar system to deliver its parcels.

There was a marked difference between the milk floats and the mail floats. The milkmen's vehicles had a cab for the driver and were as large as any other vehicle on the road, while the postman had to walk in front of his truck, which was really more like a trailer, and guide it through the use of a single tiller handle.

The very first electrical mail float was introduced at Larne head post office on October 20, 1959. Described as a `pedestrian control electric truck', it was used to deliver parcels to local shops, and the first delivery run was carried out by Larne postman, Lyce Armour. After it had done its job each day, the mail float was hooked up to an electrical charging system, so that it could be powered up during the night for use again on the following day.

But for some reason the electric mail float failed to catch on, and there was only one other of its type ever introduced in Northern Ireland. What happened to the other float is unknown, but the Larne one continued to deliver parcels for at least another 15 years.

In 1974, the float had clocked up an estimated 15,000 miles on its delivery route around the streets of the Co Antrim town. It was perhaps a little battered-looking as postman Gerry McToal wheeled it back to the office after its daily run, but it was still faithfully fulfilling the purpose for which it was intended.

As the Telegraph noted at the time: "After our picture was taken Gerry guided it back into the post office yard to get it recharged - possibly for another 15 years!"

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