"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." - Herodotus.

While these words, inscribed on the walls of the General Post Office in New York City, are not an official motto of the U.S. Postal Service, they crystallize what most Americans expect of mail delivery.We want mail delivered quickly and efficiently, without having to give much thought to what the Postal Service has to go through.

And, most of the time, the Postal Service delivers, at least if a recent test by the Deseret News gives an accurate indication.

The Postal Service says it should take two days for a letter to be delivered from Salt Lake City to Provo or Orem and vice versa. According to periodic, random tests by the Postal Service over the past year, letter delivery met this standard 92 percent of the time. Tests are run daily in the Salt Lake City and Ogden areas and about 12 to 15 times a quarter in Provo.

In our test, eight Deseret News staff members in the Provo-Orem area each mailed letters to eight Deseret News staff members in the Salt Lake area, while each of the Salt Lake people mailed letters to the eight workers in the Utah County Bureau.

A total of 128 letters were mailed - 64 from Utah County, 64 from Salt Lake City - on April 13, from a variety of locations: drop boxes, post offices, business offices and homes.

Salt Lake City to Provo-Orem

The good news: All 64 letters mailed from Salt Lake City to Provo or Orem were received within two days - giving the Postal Service an outstanding 100 percent delivery standard.

Even better news: Fifty-six of the 64 letters were delivered within one day.

Provo-Orem to Salt Lake City

Good news: Of the letters mailed from Provo or Orem to Salt Lake City, 59 letters were received within two days - right on the Postal Service delivery standard of 92 percent.

Real good news: Twenty-three of the Utah County-to-Salt Lake letters were received within one day.

The bad news: Three letters took three days to arrive at their Salt Lake destinations.

The really bad news: It took six days for two letters mailed from Utah County to be delivered.

Brian Sperry of the Salt Lake Post Office says those letters probably took so long because of human error. "All it takes is for a letter to be keyed in wrong in the letter sorting machine, sending it to the wrong city," Sperry said. "No one's perfect, but we try."

That appears to be the case with at least one of the letters that took six days to be delivered. It was first postmarked in Provo on April 13 and then was postmarked in Salt Lake City on April 19.

An explanation of mail service may help you understand why the Postal Service is so good most of the time . . . and what can go wrong to make service bad.

One- and two-day service

The Postal Service has established one- and two-day delivery standards in Utah as in most of the rest of the country.

An imaginary line has been drawn east and west across the state, roughly between Provo and Orem. Mail delivered from a city in a section to another city in the same section should be received within one day. Mail delivered from one half of the state to the other should be received within two days.

That means a letter mailed from Tremonton to St. George should take only two days to arrive; it also means that a letter mailed from Provo to Salt Lake City should take two days to arrive.

While most people might consider two-day delivery from Tremonton to St. George outstanding, it is a little harder to understand why it takes a letter two days to get from Provo to Salt Lake City.

Sam Ruden, Salt Lake division director of city operations, said delivery standards were established based on logistics - where deliveries could reasonably be expected to be made within one or two days. In the 1960s when the country was being divided into one- and two-day delivery sections, a line had to be drawn somewhere in Utah; it happened to be drawn between Provo and Orem.

"We try our hardest to do it (within the one- and two-day standards), but sometimes we fail," Ruden said.

Mail in the north half of the state is processed at the Salt Lake mail processing center, while mail in the south half of the state is processed at a center in Provo.

So a letter mailed from Tremonton to Brigham City is taken to Salt Lake City to be processed and then on to Brigham City. Mail being delivered within a section, which has a one-day delivery standard, is given priority and is processed first at each center.

Mail being moved from one section to the other is processed twice: once at each processing center. A letter being sent from Provo to Logan is sorted in Provo, sent by truck to Salt Lake City, where it is sorted again, and then sent by truck to Logan. Timing is crucial for a letter to make the earliest outgoing trucks. Mailing early in the day can help ensure speedy delivery.

The Postal Service has devised exceptions to the two-day standard for mail being sent from Provo or Orem to another Utah County city. Mail sent from Orem to another Utah County city is separated and sent to Provo to be processed; such mail is usually delivered within one day. Mail sent from Provo to Orem, Pleasant Grove, American Fork or Lehi is delivered directly to those cities after being processed at Provo, usually the next day.

"We are service-oriented. That's part of our name - the Postal Service," said Blaine Hess, manager of mail processing at the East Bay Mail Processing Center in Provo. "We are mandated by the public to get the mail to them in a timely manner. People want something they can depend on."

With that in mind, the Postal Service is increasingly becoming mechanized. By 1995, the Postal Service hopes to have won over a majority of the public to the use of ZIP code plus four addressing and bar-coded envelopes, which will allow mail to be processed 40,000 letters an hour without possibility of human error and sorted not only by city, but by carrier route, and sequentially, according to the stops a carrier makes along a route.

In the meantime, the Postal Service is trying hard to meet the public's expectations: Most of the time, it appears, they succeed.