By Joe Ruff

Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. -- At the height of the recent mailbox bomb scare, some people in the Midwest installed clear plastic doors on their boxes to allow carriers to peer inside for suspicious objects.

The idea came about as 18 pipe bombs were placed over four days in roadside mailboxes in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado and Texas.

To help carriers and customers inspect mailboxes, the Postal Service required customers across the Midwest for several days to secure their mailbox doors open or remove them. However, that measure left mail exposed to the weather, and possible damage or loss from rain and wind.

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That's where the see-through doors came in.

Since the bomb scare, a laid-off machine tools engineer in Iowa City, Iowa, has been cutting small holes on both ends of roadside mailboxes and installing plexiglass.

Roland Roberts, 48, said he first altered a mailbox for relatives in Dubuque, Iowa, after hearing his nervous niece and nephew argue over who should get the mail Saturday, the day after six people were injured by bombs in the area.

He has sold about 10 of them since, for $18 apiece.

"I'm altering both ends of the mailbox," Roberts said. "If you just alter the door, it is a little dark in there."

Now, a major manufacturer of roadside mailboxes, American Postal Manufacturing of Milwaukee, Wis., is looking at making clear plastic doors.

Tony Kaminsky, who is in charge of American Postal's mailbox division, saw a television report on the pipe bomb scare that featured a person installing a clear plastic piece into a mailbox door.

He liked the idea and the company is checking its feasibility.

The clear doors were hailed as an innovative move by Mike Matuzek, a U.S. Postal Service district manager for customer service in Nebraska, southwest Iowa and parts of Kansas.

A number of people called the Postal Service in Omaha to see if installing clear doors would be OK, and they were told yes, Matuzek said.

"It's a marvelous solution that allows both the customer and postal employee ... to see into the box ... yet it still protects the mail inside," Matuzek said Wednesday, after the pipe bomb scare had ended with the arrest of Luke Helder, 21, of Pine Island, Minn.

Altering a mailbox in that manner is illegal, but it is unlikely that criminal charges would be brought against anyone who put a clear door on a mailbox, said Gerry Kreienkamp, a Postal Service spokesman in Washington, D.C.

Roberts, who has been installing the doors, said Postal Service officials in Iowa told him that altering the mailboxes would not be a problem as long as they were safe for mail carriers.

Mailbox manufacturers, however, must meet standards set by the Postal Service to protect privacy and access to mail. Kreienkamp said one standard is concealing contents from the public.

The Postal Service has not seen a big push this week to allow for clear plastic doors on mailboxes, Kreienkamp said, but it would consider such a move if mailbox manufacturers said their customers wanted them.