This three-wheeled, gas-powered, quarter ton, lightweight mail delivery van is known as a 'mailster'. At least seven different companies produced mailsters for the Post Office Department, including Westcoaster Company, the manufacturer of this vehicle. Letter carriers began using these vehicles in the mid-1950s. Mailsters could hold about five hundred pounds of mail in their compartments.
During the first half of the twentieth century, mail trucks transported both carriers and their mail to the spot at which the carriers began their daily rounds on foot. In order to carry more mail and reach more homes, the Post Office Department began putting letter carriers behind the wheel. By using vehicles to haul all that mail, carriers could complete longer routes in the same amount of time. The Department selected vehicles that were lightweight, maneuverable, and able to withstand the rigorous demands of mail delivery service.
By the early 1960s, one-third of the Post Office Department’s vehicular fleet was comprised of the three-wheeled mailsters. Unfortunately, the mailsters did not work out as well as Department officials had hoped. They had originally been tested in Florida and worked well there. Mailsters were at their best in temperate climates and on even terrain. They sometimes did not work at all in other areas.
Mailsters on snowy routes might be immobilized in as little as three inches of snow, and carriers complained of the vehicle's inability to heat properly. The three-wheel design left mailsters susceptible to tipping if cornering at over twenty-five miles per hour or if caught in a wind gust. One carrier complained that a large dog tipped his mailster. The mailsters’ 7.5 horsepower engine left the vehicles creeping along in city traffic. They were prone to breakdowns with everything from brake and clutch failure to broken front axles and gear shift levers. The mailsters were phased-out and replaced by more reliable vehicles, including jeeps.
Westcoaster Company was originally known as the West Coast Machinery Company. The company manufactured electric and gas-powered vehicles for a variety of off-road uses, including for farms, airports, and golf courses.