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Packaging relationships: UPS driver Frank Slag drops off last packages after 35 years on road

Press Photo by Bryan Horwath Retired United Parcel Service delivery driver Frank Slag of Dickinson stands next to a UPS truck on Saturday, several hours before his retirement party. Slag drove truck in western North Dakota for 35 years.

A few years ago, retiring United Parcel Service driver Frank Slag said he would see nine or 10 vehicles along Highway 22 from Killdeer to his home in Dickinson in the evening after his shift.

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Today, Slag said it is routine now to pass “hundreds and hundreds” of vehicles.

“Sometimes, on my way home at night, I would count cars,” Slag said. “In the olden days, not even that many years ago, I would maybe see a semi. Maybe.”

Slag, a Hebron native and graduate of Dickinson State College, went to work for UPS after college and drove truck for the delivery service company for the next 35-plus years.

Friday was the 62-year-old’s last day on the job, though he said he may look for a part-time retirement gig eventually.

“UPS started in 1971 here,” Slag said. “I went to Dickinson State and graduated with a degree in business. After that, I was sending resumes out and I applied for a driver’s job. Back then, it was a job that everybody wanted. I think they interviewed about 50 people for that one job. I was just going to be working for the summer until something came through.”

Slag figured he would only be with UPS for a short time, but got more accustomed to his route and his customers — mainly north of Dickinson around Killdeer, Manning, Dunn Center, Halliday, Dodge, Golden Valley and Grassy Butte — and became settled in the Queen City with his wife, Cindy, and their two children.

“Right now I kind of have an empty feeling,” Slag said. “When you deliver to people for so long, you get to know them and they kind of become like family. I had really great people on my route and I’m going to miss them. There were many times when I was stuck or needed help and people helped me out.”

During one delivery, Slag said, his vehicle became stuck along a road during a blizzard. Though UPS drivers are instructed not to get out of their vehicles if stranded, Slag figured he might be doomed if he stayed put this particular time.

Walking through knee-high snow for close to a mile, he said, Slag made it to a home he delivered to routinely, though he found that nobody was home. In a pickle, Slag decided to let himself in so he could use the homeowners’ phone.

Just as he suspected, they didn’t mind at all.

“It was the last stop of the day and I thought I was pretty close to this farm, so I decided to take a chance and see if I could find it,” Slag said. “I didn’t have a cellphone back then and it was a big, big snowstorm. I tried everything, but there was no way I was going to get out. I ended up calling a neighbor who came out to help me with his tractor. That one was something — that was probably the worst time I had getting stuck.”

Over the course of three-plus decades, Twin Buttes resident Paul Fredericks and his family also helped Slag a couple times when his truck got stuck.

“Our entire family loved Frank,” Fredericks said. “We live in a pretty remote area. Frank is an excellent driver — we only had to help him out a couple of times. Living out here, we really relied on Frank’s service and he was always on time, almost always at the same time every day.”

To most delivery drivers, the dog is often the gatekeeper of a person’s home — especially in rural areas. Fredericks’ three dogs, like his family, also got to know Slag.

“I have two German Shepherds and a lab and Frank established a relationship with them,” Fredericks said. “I’d have a box of bones out in the garage and, of course, Frank asked if he could give my dogs a bone when he came, so they really loved him for that. They’ll probably miss him just as much as the people here. Frank is a really good guy.”

Wayne Adsero of Dickinson, Frank’s mechanic at UPS for most of the time he was there, said his friend and co-worker was one of the company’s best drivers.

Frank said he’s proud of what he described as 35 years of “safe driving” on western North Dakota’s roads.

“As far as Frank was concerned, he never wrecked his truck,” said Adsero, who retired from UPS in late 2013 after 30 years on the job. “He took very good care of his equipment. If he ever had a problem, he’d call me and we would usually get it worked out.”

Sometimes, Slag said, it wouldn’t be the weather or traffic that would cause the challenge to delivering a package. Early in his driving career, Frank said his father, Hebron postmaster John Slag, wasn’t convinced delivering for UPS was the right job for his son.

“When I first started, he felt a little brokenhearted because I was taking a job with a competitor,” Frank said. “When UPS was in its early years, he would refuse UPS packages if they came to him and tell them to deliver it by parcel post. It got to a point where my mother wasn’t too happy with that because she wasn’t getting her stuff.

“So she talked to the driver and the driver would sneak the package to my mother without my dad knowing. Eventually, my dad accepted what I did because he knew I had to make a living, too, and he and the UPS driver became friends and would have coffee together.”

With plenty of life left to live, Frank said he will spend more time with his two grandchildren, who live in Bismarck.

“I’m sure other people have this feeling, too, but it feels strange to retire,” Frank said. “When you’re young, you can’t wait to retire but the years just whiz bye. But it got to the point where traffic was so intense — you just had to be so focused on surviving the day. I will say this. I just really appreciate all the customers I delivered to and I have no regrets.”

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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