Curbside Classic: 1982 Jeep DJ-5 Dispatcher–Still Delivering The Mail After 30 Years

(first posted 12/20/2012)    During a tour of the Civil War National Military Park at Chickamauga and its many monuments and relics, just outside the south exit of the park a relic of another sort appeared unexpectedly.

It was a Jeep DJ-5 Dispatcher mail Jeep, once a workhorse of the U.S. Postal Service, and all long since retired, I assumed.  I was wrong.

This DJ-5 is one of a very small number still in daily use delivering the mail, now as privately owned vehicles of U.S. Postal Service employees, as the owner/driver explained to me.  The owner/driver is a very pleasant woman who happily gave me permission to take photos of the Dispatcher, although she declined to be photographed with the vehicle.

The Dispatcher displays the signs of 30 years of service stopped for neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail, with worn and faded paint and some surface rust.  Nevertheless, no doubt helped by snow and sleet being rare in the South, it clearly remains a solid and serviceable vehicle, with a few non-original touches applied over the years.

The hood ornament is the most obvious non-original external detail.  Topping the five-slot grill that was unique to Dispatchers, it appears to be a Mercedes-Benz hood ornament from a distance – which perhaps would be ironically appropriate, given Daimler/Chrysler’s ownership of the Jeep brand during the 1990s and 2000s – but is actually a peace symbol.  The owner said that the hood ornament attracts its share of questions from people mistaking it for the three-pointed star.

This view of the cargo area shows why the much larger Grumman mail trucks have replaced the once-common Dispatchers: there is very little cargo space in a Dispatcher.  In the current era of e-commerce, with packages from Amazon, eBay and many others flooding the mail system, the Dispatcher would be overwhelmed by the bulk of packages in a typical suburban or urban mail route.  In a relatively small town, though, it still can do the job.

The letter carrier’s office is all business, with a bare metal dash and a few simple gauges.

Fortunately, the solo seat that the letter carrier must occupy for many hours each day has been replaced by a later, more comfortable bucket taken from another car or truck.  The ammo box wedged under it provides a useful storage bin.

Letter carriers must wear comfortable, sensible shoes while doing their rounds, and this Dispatcher does so as well.  No need for knobby off-road tires on a vehicle that does its work on roads.

This Dispatcher’s appearance was made even more remarkable by occurring at a military Jeep parts dealer and restoration shop.  I happened to stumble across the place after accidentally leaving the National Military Park and driving for about half a mile before turning around, which I could have done at any time earlier.  The business has a large number of World War II and postwar military Jeep hulks waiting to be stripped for parts or restored.  The Dispatcher just happened to come along as I finished taking photos of the shop and its yard.  It was a brief, unexpected moment of vintage Jeep overload.

This DJ-5 Dispatcher was a refreshing sight, a simple workhorse still doing its official job after 30 years, much like an old unrestored pickup truck still hard at work, but far rarer.  I briefly had the thought of making its owner an offer, but it would have been an offense against nature to take the Dispatcher away from its intended use after this many years.  I hope that it stays in service delivering the mail in northern Georgia for many years to come.