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Full text of "Mail by rail : the story of the Postal Transportation Service"

LI B RARY 

OF THL 

UNIVLRSITY 

Of ILLINOIS 



383 

L85m 
cop . 3 



111. Hist. 3ur 



Mail by Rail 



The Story of the Postal Transportation Service 



BRYANT ALDEN LONG 

Associate Editor Transit Postmark 

with 

WILLIAM JEFFERSON DENNIS 

Author of The Traveling Post Office 



SIMMONS-BOARDMAN PUBLISHING CORPORATION 

New York 



First Printing 
Copyright 1951, by Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation 



Design and Typography by Elaine C. Farrar 
Manufactured in the United States of America 



^ 



To my dear wife 



:i 



CONTENTS 

FOREWORD viii 

1. STEEL CARS AND IRON MEN 1 

2. A RUN FOR THEIR MONEY 14 

3. "TRAINED LETTERS" FROM COAST TO COAST 50 

4. FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO VETERAN 47 

5. VIVID INCIDENTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL ... 81 

6. TRANSIT MAIL: FROM STAGE TO TRAIN 95 

7. AMERICA'S FIRST RAILWAY POST OFFICE 103 

8. THE RAILWAY MAIL COMES OF AGE 118 

9. PERILOUS DAYS: THE ASSOCIATION AND 

THE BROTHERHOOD 137 

10. AMAZING FACTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 169 

11. THE CHALLENGE OF THE UNUSUAL 205 

12. R.P.O.S ON THE TROLLEY TRAIL 231 

13. CANCELS AND CAR PHOTOS: THE R.P.O. HOBBY 254 

14. ON FAR HORIZONS: 

I-THE BRITISH T.P.O.S 268 

15. ON FAR HORIZONS: 

II-FROM CANADA TO THE ORIENT 297 

16. TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 324 

THE MAIL CLERK'S WIFE (A TRIBUTE) 568 

TECHNICAL NOTES 570 

APPENDIX: 
I. CURRENT R.P.O.S OF THE U. S., CANADA, 

AND BRITAIN 386 

II. BIBLIOGRAPHY 406 

INDEX 409 

vi 



ILLUSTRATIONS 



Making the catch at Shohola, Pennsylvania 

How men sort mail at a mile a minute 

Cross-section of an R.P.O. interior 

Unloading the Albuquerque S: Los Angeles Railway Post Office 

A catch out west, on the Santa Fe's Chief 

A tiny former two-foot gauge railway post office car 

A typical local short-line railway post office 

A Postal Transportation Service "terminal" 

Owney, famed traveling dog of the mail cars 

New York World's Fair Railway Post Office 

Replica of the original Hannibal-St. Joe mail car 

The long and short of it 

Former interurban trolley railway post office 

An electric-car railway post office 

Old-time city street railway post office 

A British railway post office 

Clerks at work on a British Travelling Post Office 

A Canadian railway post office train 

Railway post office car in Germany 

The flying post office 

Modern highway post office 

A famed postal streamliner 

The ultimate in modern postal cars 

The late Smith W. Purdum: beloved ex-head of the Service 

A typical steam railway post office train 



vn 



FOREWORD 



The purpose of this book is to tell the story of the Postal 
Transportation (Railway Mail) Service, past and present. 
In particular, it is the story of the unsung and highly trained 
men who expertly sort your mail and mine on speeding 
trains, day and night. The author and his collaborator, both 
of whom have worked in this Service, are eager to portray 
it so that it will interest everyone who mails a letter— as well 
as the railfan, the R.P.O.-HP.O. enthusiast or philatelic 
collector, and the postal transportation clerk himself. Above 
all, we hope thereby to improve working conditions within 
the Service and contribute to its personnel's welfare, as well 
as to more efficient postal services in the public interest. 

As the first general descriptive book on our railway postal 
services to appear in over thirty-four years, this work is based 
partly on its small predecessor of 1916, Professor Dennis's 
The Travelling Post Office; but it has become a completely 
new and vastly expanded volume, covering everything from 
the mighty streamlined Fast Mail trains and Highway Post 
Offices of today to the ghostly white street-car R.P.O.s of 
yesteryear, even though maps had to be omitted. 

Young men interested in entering the P.T.S., new substi- 
tutes, and railway mail researchers should review carefully 
the Technical Notes and Appendices at the back. The great- 
est care has been taken to insure the book's accuracy; but 
despite intense research in the field, libraries, and by corre- 
spondence and re-checking of data, minor factual errors and 
inadvertent omissions of certain facts or proper credits are 
all too likely to creep in. The author makes no pretense of 
infallibility and will appreciate all such points being called 
to his attention for rectification in future editions and, if 
warranted, by notice in appropriate journals. 

A major share of recognition for outstanding contributions 
in the preparation of this book is due to the following mail 
clerks and officials of the United States and of the British 
Commonwealth: Mr. Clinton C. Aydelott, Rock Island & St. 
Louis Railway Post Office; Mr. John Brooks Batten, South 

viii 



West Travelling Post Office; Mr. C. E. Burdick, New York 
& Salamanca Railway Post Office; Mr. LeRoy Clark, Office of 
General Superintendent P.T.S., Omaha 1, Nebr.; Mr. Owen 
D. Clark, New York & Washington Railway Post Office; 
Mr. John J. Bowling, St. Louis & Omaha Railway Post Office; 
Mr. Frank Goldman, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Terminal, 
P.T.S.; Mr. Charles Hatch, St. Louis, Eldon & Kansas City 
Railway Post Office; Mr. G. Herring, Director of Communi- 
cations, R.M.S., Post Office Dept., Ottawa, Ont.; Mr. Dan 
Moschenross, Toledo & St. Louis Railway Post Office; Mr. 
James Murdock, North Bay & Toronto Railway Post Office; 
Mr. Nilkanth D. Purandare, Inspector R.M.S., Retired, 
Poona City, India; Mr. Hershel E. Rankin, Editor Transit 
Postmark, Memphis 'k New Orleans R.P.O.; Mr. L. Beau- 
mont Reed, New York & Pittsburgh R.P.O., Retired; Mr. 
J. L. Reilly, Editor Postal Transport Journal, ex-New York 
& Chicago R.P.O.; Mr. Ronald Smith, Editor The Traveller, 
Down/Up Special Travelling Post Office; Mr. Donald M. 
Steffee, New York &: Chicago Railway Post Office; and Mr. 
William D. Taylor, North West Travelling Post Office. 

Equally outstanding credit is due to the following, not 
connected with the Service: Mr. LeRoy P. Ackerman, Presi- 
dent, AMERPO, East Orange, N. J.; Mr. W. Lee Fergus, 
Glen Ellyn Philatelic Club, Glen Ellyn. 111.; Mr. Robert S. 
Gordon, Northfield, Vt.; Mr. Norman Hill, President, 
T.P.O. & Seapost Society, Rotherham, England; Mrs. 
Dorothy Jane Long, Verona, N. J.; Mr. Earl D. Moore, 
President, Streetcar Cancel Society, Chicago, 111.; and Mr. 
Stephen G. Rich, Publisher, Verona, N. J. 

Additional credit is due to such institutions and publica- 
tions as the Bureau of Transportation, Post Office Depart- 
ment, Washington, and its officials; the National Postal 
Transport Association, the Postal Transport Journal, the 
Panama Canal office, the Department of the Army and its 
officers, the Post Office Department's Post Haste, its former 
office of Air Postal Transport, and numerous embassies and 
legations, particularly the Mexican, Polish, and Spanish, all 
at Washington, D. C; Railroad Magazine, This Week, New 
York Central System, and the Collectors' Club, all at New 
York, N. Y.; the Go-Back Pouch, Oakland 2, Calif., for many 
excerpts; The Traveller, London; T.P.O. , Rotherham, York- 
shire; Postal Markings, Verona, N. J.; Linn's Weekly, Sidney, 
Ohio; Transit Postmark, Raleigh, Tenn.; the Philatelic. 

ix 



Literature Review, Canajoharie, N. Y.; and to Clarence 
Votaw's book Jasper Hunnicut. Special help was gratefully 
received from Assistant Executive Director George E. Miller 
of the first-named Bureau above, from his predecessor Mr. 
John D. Hardy, and from publisher A. C. Kalmbach and 
Trains. We thank espescially the many present and former 
railway mail clerks and officials of this country and the British 
Commonwealth who contributed, including: 

F. E. C. Allen, L. M. Allen, G. E. Anderson. S. C. Arnold, E. 
Avery, D. W. Baker, Harry Barnes, J. F. Barron, A. A. Bell- 
mar, J. F. Bennett, C. G. Berry, A. N. Bice, F. J. Billingham, 

C. S. Blakeley, San Bias, Supt. B. B. Bordelon, W. H. Bower, 
Chas. Brassell, G. E. Brown, T. F. Brown, H. C. Browning, 

D. D. Bonewitz, Amos Brubaker, G. W. Bruere, C. P. Buckley, 

E. C. Bull, D. O. Brewster, S. J. Buckman, J. L. Buckmaster, 
L. W. Buckmaster, Leon Burchardt, B. B. Callicott, Wm. 
Carmody. B. F. Carle and M. B. A., W. V. Carter, C. W. 
Caswell, Arthur Carucci, T. L. Chittick, Harry Christensen, 
Ex-Gen. Supt. S. A. Cisler, C. G. Cissna, H. A. Clarke and 

D. R. M. C. Fed., Wm. Cole, R. T. Confer, J. P. Connolly, 
H. W. Cook, J. F. Cooper, Sam Cope, W. E. Cocanower, 
L. C. Cox, H. C. Craig, W. C. Crater, S. J. Curasi, Geo. Cutler, 
Leon Cushman, J. C. Davis, L. E. Davis, Wilson Davenport, 
J. F. Daeger, O. T. Dean and Ry. Mail Clerk, Mike Del- 
gado, W. M. De Soucy, Supt. R. W. Dobbins, A. B. Dodge, 

E. F. Dodson, N. E. Donath, J. F. Donnelly, G. E. Doran, 
Barney Duckman, W. Dunn, E. Ellsworth, Ruben Ericson, 
Ray Exler, H. A. Farley, P. V. Farnsworth, Supt. F. G. Fielder, 
T.J. Flannagan, W. H. Flowers, C. W. Gage, F. C. Gardiner, 
R. E. Garner, Supt. L. J. Garvin, Roger Gaver, A. R. Geving, 
Sid Goodman, Jack Gordan, G. H. Gorham, F. R. Gossman, 
G. K. Greer, C. R. Groff, Isidore Gross, J. H. Grubbs, J. R. 
Goodrich, Hugh Gordon, F. W. Gruhn, L. S. Hahn, B. F. 
Harkins, R. A. Harter, H. Hammerman, C. M. Harvey, G. E. 
Herron, C. C. Hennessy. S. H. Hill, J. A. Hoctor, John Hoff- 
man, Earle Hoyer, J. H. Huber, F. A. Huether, Wilburn 
Humphries, Al Humpleby, P. T. Jacoby, B. V. James, H. L. 
Jeffers, R. G. Johnson, Supt. F. J. Jones, R. E. Jones, Harry 
Kapigian, Jack Kelleher, Supt. E. J. Kelly, L. C W. Kettring, 
W. F. Kilman, C. M. Kite. Supt. V. A. Klein, J. D. Knight. 
Keith Koons, C. E. Kramer, Wm. Kuhnle, John Landis, 
Supt. A. D. Lawrence, T. R. Lehman, C. A. Leuschner, 
Supt. J. C. Livingston, Geo. Lonquist, E. R. Love, Supt. E. L. 



Loving, D. J. Lucas, F. Luchesi, J. J. J. Lundcen, H. J. IMc- 
Carty, Jerauld McDerniott, W. R. McDonald, J. G. Mc- 
Elhinny, O. R. McGahey, W. R. McDonald, D. C. Mcintosh, 
R. V. McPherson, Supt. R. H. McNabb, L. C. Maconiber, 
Jas. Maher, R. A. March, Supt. Roy Martin, E. M. Martin- 
dale, E. A. Maska, G. S. Mereweather, Earl Miller, J. L. 
Miller, W. R. Miller, W. A. Mills, VV. H. Morgan, Russell 
Moore, J. H. Morton, Claude Moyer, J. VV. Mullen, J. F. 
Mullins, C. E. Natter, E. L. Newton, A. T. Nichols, R. A. 
Norris, O. H. Ohlinger, O. A. Olson, F. E. Page, J. A. Parsons, 
M. H. Peckham, F. E. Perry, E. Pierce, Arthur Piper, VV. S. 
Pinkney, J. F. Plummer, J. C. Presgraves, VVni. Poole, H. F. 
Potter, M. A. Priestley, E. W. Purcell, A. R. Querhammer, 
F. L. Ray, Paul Redpath, C. E. Rench, VV. R. S. Reynolds, 
R. H. Rex, R. A. Rice, H. B. Richardson, J. F. Roberson, 
Melvin Robertson, VV. L. Robinson, Supt. VV. G. Ross, H. 
Rothe, J. F. Rowland, E. C. Rumpf, Silas Rutherford, F. J. 
Schneider, B. F. Schreffler, Dr. E. A. Shaffer, S. O. Shapiro, 
Louis Shimek, Harry Shulder, H. VV. Shuster, f. L. Simpson, 
R. L. Simpson, E. H. Slayton, D. O. VV. Smith, H. G. Springer, 
Alex Steinbach, Ben Steigler, E. E. Stuart, C. F. Swerman, L. 
H. Thompson, A. C. Threadgill, Chas. Tobolsky, G. E. Tyler, 
E. F. Upham, L. N. Vandivier, Wm. Van Vliet, X. C. Vickrey, 
P. C. Vincent, Anton Vlcek, VVm. I. Votaw, L. Wagner, Frank 
Waldhelm, J. A. Washington, H. E. Waterbury, C. J. 
Waterston, F. M. Weigand, C. J. Wentz, H. C. Welsh, VV. H. 
Werntz, G. L. Wester, Willis Wildrick, B. O. VVilks, L. A. 
VVilsey, Supt. R. C. Young, L. R. Zarr, and L. E. Zimmerman. 

The following persons, not connected with the P.T.S., are 
due equal credit: 

John D. Alden, Lieut. L. W. Amy, Vernon L. Ardiff, VV. 
H. Auden and G.P.O. at London, Donald Ashton and Bur- 
linton Lines, Chas. L Ball, Paul D. Barrett, Postmaster Bauer 
(Munich, Germany) , Gordon Berry, Phil Bolger, VVm. G. 
Bolt and Miami P.O., Carl D. Bibo, C. D. Brenner, L. R. 
Brown, John H. Brinckmann, A. M. Bruner, Richard O. 
Bush, Secretary, Amerpo, Mrs. VV. H. Buxton, Dep. Asst. 
P.M.G. Tom C. Cargill, Dr. Carroll Chase, Chief de Centre 
de Tri (Mulhouse, France), Geo. Kenneth Clough, Richard 
S. Clover, Sylvester Colby, C. A. Colvin, Eric G. Colwell, H. 
T. Crittenden, Mrs. John R. Cummings, Edward [. Curtis, 
Stephen P. Davidson, Louis Edward Dequine, L. W. Dewitt, 
Heliger De Winde, Frank P. Donovan, Jr., Eugene Dubois 

xi 



and Pennsylvania Railroad, Carl Dudley, Henry Doherty, 
Chas. A. Elston, Mrs. M. Engdahl, John F. Field, Bruce M. 
Fowler, Edward A. Fuller, Joseph Galloway, Robert Gear, 
G. L. Geilfuss, D. S. Gates and the I.C.S., Margaret Ankers 
Gilkey, Philippine R.M.S. Supt. Vincente Gonzales, Ex-P.M. 
Ernest Green, Arthur G. Hall, R. L. Hardy, Althea Harvey, 
A. C. Hahn, Richard A. Hazen, E. W. Heckenbach, Glenn 
Heuberger, R. F. Higgins, Elliott B. Holton, Stephen G. 
Hulse, Sistem M. Ida, Lieut. Wm. C. Jannsen, Alan A. 
Jackson, Michael Jarosak, Albert L. V. Jenkins, Mrs. Irl M. 
Johnson, Eileen Keelln, Harry M. Konwiser, Fred Langford, 
Merwin A. Leet, Sven E. Lindberg (railway mail clerk, 
Sweden), Geo. W. Linn, Carleton M. Long, Dorothy M. Long, 
L. L McDougale, Kyle McGrady, C. M. Mark, Lieut. Marquez 
(Spanish Embassy), Dr. W. L Mitchell, Howard T. Moulton, 
Barney Neuberger, Allan Nicholson, Scott Nixon, H. R. 
Odell, Harry Oswald, L. B. Parker, Dave H. Parsons, G. E. 
Payne, Postmasters at Bills Place (Pa.) Frankfurt-am Main 
(Germany) and Skaneateles (N.Y.), W. C. Peterman, W. J. 
Pfeiffer, Alden L. Randall, E. H. Redstone and Boston Public 
Library, Bob Richardson, R. W. Richardson, Mike Runey, 
Rev. D. B. Russell, Gideon G. Ryder, Arlene R. Sayre, Edwin 
Schell, Don E. Shaw, T. J. Sinclair and Association of Ameri- 
can Railroads, James C. Smith, Jessica Smith, John Gibb 
Smith, W. R. Smith and Fairchild Aircraft, Clarence E. Snell, 
Gunter Stetza, Mrs. H. W. Strickland, Walter L. Thayer, J. 
G. Thomas, Gerald F. Todd, Robert A. Truax, Jas. H. 
Tierney, H. T. Vaughn, C. W. Ward, W. S. Wells, Robert 
West, Mrs. John S. Wegener, and Wilkins, photographer 
(Brooklyn). 

B. A, L. 
January 1, 1951. 



Xll 



MAIL BY RAIL 



Chapter 1 



STEEL CARS AND IRON MEN 



The Railway Maill Ah, how my mind goes ranging o'er 

the years 
When, in old Number 31, the mail piled to my ears, 
I showed the world, along with all the others in the crew. 
Just what a bunch of mail clerks in their fighting clothes 

could do . . . 

— Earl L. Newton 




— Courtesy Postal Markings 



Framed tensely in a door- 
way on a speeding train, roar- 
ing through the night past a 
tiny village on a curve, he 
stands alert— a postal transpor- 
tation clerk. His eyes are fixed 
upon a tiny light on a track- 
side crane; his hands grip a 
strange, huge hook on a cross- 
bar; his faded denims flutter in the wind, held to his waist 
by a big belt carrying a grim six-shooter and a long key chain. 
He has just stepped away from a "blind" mail case into 
which he had been flipping letters for several thousand post 
offices to the exact proper routes— without even a mark on any 
of his 150 pigeonholes to guide him! 

As average Americans, we know about as little concerning 
this grizzled mail-key railroader and his amazing, vitally im- 
portant job as anyone could deem possible. These expert 
superpostmen of the rails, who sort America's mails in transit 
at mile-a-minute speeds to save precious hours and days in 

1 



2 MAIL BY RAIL 

delivery, are seldom heard of or even noticed. Except, per- 
haps, by their co-workers of the railroad and post offices; by 
occasional bystanders at stations 'who suddenly notice their 
car marked "United States Mail— Railway Post Office" and 
peer through the barred windows, fascinated, to watch them at 
work; or by the small-town resident to whom the flying tackle 
by which our veteran clerk soon hooks a pouch from that 
trackside crane is an old story, and to whom he's known as 
a "railway mail clerk. "^ 

Weird are the misconceptions as to who this man might 
be! For example: 

"You just take on and unload the mail, don't you?" 
"What railroad company do you work for?" 
"How long have you been with the Railway Express?" 
Such are the never-ending questions that in time may irk 
even the best-natured clerk. Many persons still believe the 
mail clerk starts out with a pouch ready-locked for each sta- 
tion. Others remark, enviously, "Those chaps only work 
every other week; the rest of the time they loaf. And they 
ride all over the country free, seeing the sights. I know— I 
read the Civil Service school ads." 

Far from that, America's thirty thousand postal transpor- 
tation clerks are trained experts employed solely by the 
United States Government. Their richly earned time off is 
spent largely in required studies, label preparations, and 
scheme correcting. With their officials, they constitute our 
nation-wide Postal Transportation Service— known as the 
Railway Mail Service until late in 1949— and handle 93 per 
cent of all non-local mail matter. It is small wonder that the 
Postal Transportation Service is famed as "the backbone of 
the postal establishment" or "the Arteries of the Postal 
Service." 

And these "arteries" are indeed manned by red-blooded, 
keen-minded men of good physique and uncanny intellect. 
Aged eighteen to seventy, they work night and day in con- 



^The railroads still officially designate P.T.C.'s as "railway mail clerks," and 
this popular terra will be frequently used here, 



STEEL CARS AND IRON MEN S 

necting mail trains, called Raihvay Post Offices (R.P.O.s), 
from Halifax to Los Angeles. Still other railway mail clerks— 
to give them their popular title— work in terminals, highway 
post offices, boat "R.P.O.s," airfields, transfer and field offices, 
and even (experimentally) in airplanes. 

With the gruff self-deprecation so characteristic of these 
clerks, we can well imasjine some veteran of the rails at this 
point as he snorts and emits the classic remark: 

"There luere days when we used to have wooden cars and 
iron men. Now we have steel cars and ..." And his voice 
trails off into mumble of good-natured exasperation. 

But we who have really come to know these men, as they 
are today, hold to the conviction that we must say "steel cars 
and iron men"— for it is still true, as Postmaster General 
Jones said in 1888: 

"There is no position more exacting . . . He must not only 
be sound in mind and limb, but possessed of above-ordinary 
intelligence and a retentive memory . . . He must know no 
night or day. He must be impervious to heat or cold. Rush- 
ing along at the rate of [now, 60 to 90] miles per hour, in 
charge of that ^vhich is sacred— the correspondence of the 
people— catching his meals as he may; at home only semi- 
occasional ly, the wonder is that men competent [for] so high 
a calling can be found." 

The whole purpose of the P.T.S. is to speed our mails by 
sorting them iji transit instead of while lying in a post office. 
In the 1850's a typical letter mailed to Florida from a town in 
Maine would require one to two weeks for delivery, because 
it had to wait its turn for sorting and resorting at Boston, 
New York, Washington, and so on. 

Today five speedy R.P.O. lines carry the letter continuous- 
ly southward, while all necessary sorting is done en route. A 
clerk on the Bangor k Boston R. P. O. (MeC-BRrM)-, running 
through our Maine town, receives the letter and probably 
puts it in a "South States" letter package in his case. Tied 
with string, the package is addressed by means of a slip to 



•Maine Central and Boston & Maine R.R.'s. Similar standard or easily-recog- 
pized railroad abbreviations will be used following all R.P.O. titles as needed, 



4 MAIL BY RAIL 

the next R.P.O. connection, the Boston &: N.Y. (NYNHScH). 
That line will probably make up a "Florida State" package, 
and the next clerk, on the N. Y. R: Washington (PRR), will 
probably put it in a pouch of Florida "working" packages 
made up for the Wash, k Florence R.P.O. rRFR:P-ACU. 
A clerk on that line will make up a "Flor. R: Jacksonville— 
Fla." package, containing our letter, for this next line. If the 
Florida village is directly on the Flor. R: Jack. (ACL) , the 
clerk on that line makes a direct package for the to^vn and 
puts it off there in a pouch; if destined for a connecting line, 
the letter will go into a package pouched to that route in- 
stead. Within two days after mailing, it can be delivered. 

This ingenious work is done in over three thousand 
R.P.O. cars (on passenger trains) and highway post offices, 
operated on over eight hundred separate routes covering 
over 205,000,000 miles annually. Routes are usually named 
from their terminals— such as the "N.Y. R: Chicago R.P.O.," 
famed as the New York Central's "Fast Mail" route. Postal cars 
are usually sixty to seventy feet long; but in all cars, except 
the "full R.P.O.s" used on the trunk lines, clerks and mails 
are restricted to a fifteen- or thirty-foot "apartment." ^Tain- 
line R.P.O. trains containing two or three sixty-foot cars with 
twelve or fifteen clerks in each are a sharp contrast to the 
tiny one-man branch-line and suburban facilities. 

In addition to the lettering mentioned, most R.P.O. cars 
may be recognized by their low, continuous windows contain- 
ing prison-like vertical or horizontal wooden rods, and by a 
catcher hook or a safety bar in each sliding door. Inside, the 
busy clerks work in strictly utilitarian surroundings, usually 
finished in drab brown paint and plain varnish, except for 
the newest cars, which feature green-enameled cases and 
walls; ceilings are white. If a typical car is entered through 
its "end door" from the car ahead, we find first of all a small 
closet into which the clothes and wraps of a full crew can 
barely be jammed. Doors, usually nine to 18 inches wide, as 
well as closets, are wnder in newer cars. Front hooks, soon 
completely covered for easy pocket access, are a particular 
bane to those due to arrive later. 



STEEL CARS AND IRON MEN i 

There follow in quick, succession a tiny lavatory opposite, 
steel-pole stalls or bins ("stanchions" out West) for stacking 
bag mails, sliding doors, a water cooler, pigeonhole cases for 
sorting letters, tray tables and steel racks in which pouches 
(for letters) and sacks (for newspapers) are hung, and then 
more sliding doors and storage bins. Letter cases, which in 
some cars are at the center instead, are built fiat asrainst the 
walls, with a ledge and drawers underneath. Each "letter 
man" handles a case section eleven or twelve holes his:h and 
four to sixteen columns wide; case holes are just four and 
one-half or four and one-quarter inches wide. The canvas, 
leather-strapped pouches are hung squarely open in their col- 
lapsible steel-pipe rack; pouch clerks are busily flinging letter 
packages and first-class packets {slugs) in front, behind them, 
and above into auxiliary overhead boxes with sliding gates. 
The "paper man" does exactly the same thing with his news- 
papers and occasional parcels; his sacks, loosely hung with 
dangling cord fasteners, are usually at the rear of the big 
sixty-five ton car. Each car costs the railroad up to $85,000— 
and Uncle Sam up to fifty-four cents per mile for its use. 

Working at a mad pace in his speeding, swaying train for 
nightly nine- to sixteen-hour stretches, the railway mail clerk 
is a fascinating study in human psychology. His steadfast 
attention to duty, superior intellect and memory, stamina, 
and sterling honesty are all proverbial. Less known is his 
typical, good-natured deprecation of himself and his job; he's 
loath to admit that he does have a quiet, hidden determina- 
tion to speed the mails home— to never "go stuck" (leave 
mails incompletely sorted). He usually detests that hackneyed 
saying "The mails must go through," and few clerks will 
admit, as M. E. Peebles did recently in The Postal Transport 
Journal,'' that "1 personally believe we have one of the finest 
jobs in the country." And yet, should their expert teamwork 
cease for only twenty-four hours, national chaos would result 
and business and commerce grind practically to a standstill. 

But in their personal ideals and special interests mail-car 



*Then the Railway Post Office. 



6 MAIL BY RAIL 

men are as startlingly different as they are otherwise alike. 
They run the whole gamut from stag-party-and-hot-swing 
devotees to poetic symphony lovers, from avid horse-race fans 
to musicians or creative artists, and from fervent Gospel- 
declarers to revelers in wine, women, and song! Nearly all 
clerks, however, like hunting and card games. 

A surprising number of college men enter the Service, 
including scores of former underpaid male teachers. Seventy 
out of 150 typical new substitutes were found to be college 
graduates, and many are likely to rise to the top— as did one 
clerk, a Princeton man named John D. Hardy, who became 
the highest official of the service. 

Occasionally, however, a somewhat unlettered youth who 
nevertheless makes excellent examination grades is appoint- 
ed. Clark Carr tells how enraged one Civil Service commis- 
sioner was when former General Superintendent Bangs of 
the old "R.M.S." showed him an atrociously ungrammatical 
and misspelled letter received from such a clerk— until Bangs 
revealed that that clerk was the best in the United States at 
that time, making faster time, fewer errors, and better test 
grades than any other employee! 

To let off steam amid their trying working conditions, most 
clerks indulge in a good bit of healthy "griping" against "the 
office" and against their own fraternal union, the National 
Postal Transport Association (RMA); actually, their loyalty 
to both ranks close to perfect. A second "escape" is provided 
by their universal sense of humor. 

The typical clerk is a clean-cut, healthy chap with few dis- 
tinguishing features when in street clothes, unless he is going 
to or from his train, carrying his "little grip" and heavy key 
chain. But in his head he has retained the exact names and 
routes of from three thousand to ten thousand different post 
offices, and, often, the exact train connections for most of 
them. Some P.T.S. men have a keen natural interest in the 
geographical routing of addresses and rather enjoy their stud- 
ies and duties, and some have yielded to a seldom-admitted 
lure for serving on speeding trains. But our typical railway 
mail clerk just regards it all as part of a grind— a job he carries 



STEEL CARS AND IRON MEN 7 

on faithfully, unknown and unsung. What matters it that in 
his most important periodic "exams," passing is 97 per cent, 
and in all others, 85 per cent— far higher than the best uni- 
versity requirements! 

Postal transportation clerks and their predecessors (route 
agents) have been publicly cited for their honesty and loyalty 
for over one hundred years. With no officials to observe them 
at work, clerks handle billions of dollars on their honor- 
ranging from an occasional unwrapped silver coin or bank 
note labeled to destination with stamp affixed (or even a letter 
with a nickel sewed on for postage) to whole cases and bags of 
currency, bonds, or coin which they must keep protected at 
gun point. All are promptly delivered in safety, while the 
smallest loose coin or the largest bill is scrupulously turned 
in. Statistically, the P.T.S. is 99.87 per cent honest! 

Many a loyal clerk thinks nothing of paying out of his 
pocket for costly geographical lists, keved city-distribution 
case labels, special stationery, knives and thumbstalls, and 
other supplies, none of which is required equipment for 
doing his job according to minimum standards. He purchases 
them voluntarily— solely in order to sort mail more quickly 
and accurately. Even when ill he sometimes makes his run, 
if no substitutes are available, rather than default the job. 
But there are more dramatic examples of loyalty too. . . . 

Before Beardstown, Illinois, built its sea wall, the Illinois 
River often flooded the entire vicinity of the Burlington sta- 
tion. One night as Rock Island k St. Louis (CBR:Q) R.P.O. 
Train 51 was ready to leave over the flooded track, a man in 
hip boots came rushing up to the door with a revolver and a 
bag of mail. It seems that a long stretch of track over which 
a connecting train was due to come in had completely washed 
out, and this man— Clerk R. E. Glenn, off duty— had hired a 
rowboat and brought the mail over miles of rough Avater in 
the dark to make a last-minute connection, preventing the 
delay of thousands of letters. Oddlv enough, the risky deed 
was not officially approved at the time. 

Similar floods often maroon R.P.O. trains in isolated places 
or force them to detour many miles, thus requiring clerks to 



8 MAIL BY RAIL 

work sometimes twenty or thirty hours without a break. In 
some cases the mail is soon worked up and the weary men 
can doze or rest during tlie extra time; but, like as not, de- 
layed or unexpected extra mail connections will be received 
in the train from all directions. Schedules and routings for 
best dispatch change sharply with the unexpected lapse of 
time, adding to the complication and often requiring rework- 
ing of mail. Lunches are fast exhausted, and any bits of eat- 
ables cherished by the crew members begin skyrocketing in 
value— at least so the stories have it— as the hungry men bar- 
gain for them. (Actually, clerks are usually generous sharers; 
a new "sub" without lunch is often quickly provided for.) 

Such major emergencies as train robberies and serious 
wrecks are pretty rare in these days of safety devices, eagle- 
eyed inspectors, and armed clerks. Rut when they do occur, 
today's "mail-key railroaders" still live up to their proverbial 
devotion, alertness, and courage. They yet have a share in all 
the tasks and traditions, the risks and romance, that float 
upon the smoky breath of the "high iron." (See Chap. 11.) 

There ^vere, for example. Clerks Karl Boothman and Guy 
O'Hearn, who beat off desperate bandits (in open gunplay) 
who had attacked Chic. R: Carbondale (IC) Train .81 at 
Onarga, Illinois, in 1939; badly wounded, they saved a 556,000 
pavroll, shot a bandit to enable his capture, later received 
official commendations and $1,000 each from the insurance 
company. Years before. Clerk Alvin S. Page planned a suc- 
cessful trap for the desperadoes of "Indian Charlie," whom 
he'd heard were to hold up his Texas R.P.O. train and seize 
$300,000; Page risked his life defending the mails as G-men 
closed in, and later refused any of a $5,000 reward offered 
him by Postmaster General Hayes. 

Fate struck twice in quite a different way, recently, to call 
forth two magnificent examples of quick thinking courage 
on the one-man "Harry R: Frank" R.P.O. — a P.R.R. run 
from Harrington, Delaware, to Franklin City, Virginia, 
just discontinued. Clerk C. E. Adkins, incapacitated bv a 
sudden stroke when on duty southboimd. refused medical 
aid until the conductor could secure a replacement for him, 



STEEL CARS AND IRON MEN 9 

meanwhile trying to work his mail left-handed on his hands 
and knees clear to Franklin City and back to Snow Hill, 
Maryland. There he was relieved by an off-duty clerk, called 
through the quick co-operation of Mrs. Adkins. Shortly after- 
wards (March 1946) Clerk C. R. Thorsten saved the lives of 
seven passengers on the same train at the same spot (Snow 
Hill) when a gasoline truck hit the mail train— creating a 
blazing inferno from which he barely escaped alive! 

As recently as March 20, 1950, a clerk paid the supreme 
sacrifice through a train accident— Ira J. Donald of Terre 
Haute, Indiana, fatally injured making a dangerous "catch" 
February 1 at Caledonia, Ohio, on the Cleveland &: St. Louis 
(Big Four); and three years before, six clerks were killed in 
a terrible Pennsy tragedy. But such mass fatalities are now 
extremely rare; it had been thirty-seven years since a worse 
tragedy had occurred— the snow avalanche which crashed into 
Spokane 8; Seat., now Williston & Seattle (ON) Trains 27 
and 25, February 22, 1910, at Wellington, Washington, 
killing 101 riders and 8 clerks (including Clerk-in-Charge 
J. D. Fox), when the snowbound trains plunged three hundred 
feet into a canyon. (Just three years before, a train of the 
same R.P.O. had been marooned very close by in a snowshed 
for ten days, with no harm done.*) In most recent years only 
one or two clerks have been killed. 

What is a wreck usually like? Ask retired clerk Theodore 
Wheelock, whose mail car on the Tucumcari Sc El Paso 
(SP's Golden State Limited) plowed into the far bank of 
Brazorita Canyon in New Mexico as the rest of the train 
plunged through a trestle. The only head-end survivor, he 
dug out and waded through water up to his chin, with a 
broken shoulder, until he secured help for the trapped pas- 
sengers from a ranch house, and protection for his mails. Or 
ask Dan Moschenross of the Toledo & St. Louis (Wabash), 
who recalls ^^•ith grim humor: 

" A wreck is usually caused by one train trying to meet or 



^Railroad Magazine, March 1940— "10 Days in a Snowshed," by Clerk Fred 
Wightman. 



10 MAIL BY RAIL 

pass another on the same track. It has never been done suc- 
cessfully . . . but the railroads keep right on trying. Some- 
times a train will get ofT the track and run along on the 
ground. 1 hat has never worked very well either . . . 

"Only two people ever get to a wreck ahead of the mail 
clerks: . . . the engineer and fireman. Next comes the bag- 
gageman, then the passengers— and then the ambulance 
drivers. 

"When you are in a mail car and suddenly see all the 
letters flying around like pigeons, and there are ties and 
broken rails going past the windows, you can be sure there's 
going to be a wreck on your line. And, that you will be in it." 

In one such wreck, nine pouches of loose letters Avere gath- 
ered up from the resulting jumble of mail, equipment, and 
broken fixtures. And while the engineer and fireman do 
"get to a wreck" first, they can often see danger in time to 
jump; but the clerks have no way of knowing what lies ahead. 

There are other evidences of the typical clerk's innate 
loyalty, less spectacular, but just as remarkable. On a simple 
letter case for a distant state where he is required only to pick 
out letters for the largest towns, he often voluntarily learns 
the proper R.P.O. routing tor its many offices and rearranges 
his case accordingly. Transferred to a new, unfamiliar assign- 
ment, he pitches in, with the aid of a standpoint list perhaps, 
to "work" the new State with amazing accuracy until he 
qualifies on its examination; many a clerk has become expert 
on an assignment by "picking it up" without ever taking a 
test on it. A good clerk watches those about him, and hastens 
to render assistance where needed without being told. And 
instead of hoping for the train to speed up, so he can get off 
duty early, he usually breathes a petition for a few slow-downs 
so he can complete distribution in A-1 style. 

What character sketches could be drawn of many a loyal, 
respected veteran of the mail car! Who could ever forget 
popular "Cappie," for example— a pleasant, tall, curly-headed 
clerk on an Eastern line— who for years wore t^vo guns on 
duty (P.T.S. revoher and a big "horse pistol") and always a 
brace of pencils as wide as his broad smile, and who eats huge 



STEEL CARS AND IRON MEN 11 

DagAvood sandwiches? Or a certain efficient clerk-in-chargc 
who demands that all "toe the mark" in no faint tones, but 
who goes hunting and treats his crew— down to the newest 
sub— to roast venison? More power to them. 

And speaking of sandwiches and game, our mail-train men 
are champion eaters indeed. Many take three or four big 
sandwiches or a whole pie for lunch, while others, who eat 
lightly on duty, may be true trenchermen at other times, espe- 
cially at the popular banquets and celebrations staged bv the 
N.P.T.A. With pheasant and deer hunting rated as the clerks' 
top field sports, at least one branch holds an annual pheasant 
feed famed for its food consumption; perhaps it was here that 
a clerk named "Paradise" was reported in the old R.P.O. to 
have eaten seven helpings of barbecue and seven ears of corn I 
Despite claims of one official to the contrary, there are 
quite a few fat fellows in the Service, as one would expect 
after hearing of such astoimding gustatory records. We read 
of colossal "eating contests," a clerk Avhose byword was "Don't 
throw anything out!" and embarassing incidents of clerks 
missing their trains by lingering too long at a way station 
beanery (one of them had to catch it at the next station, 
hiring a taxi!). 

Few champions have arisen to give railway mail clerks a 
bit of deserved recognition, as did one New England congress- 
man who was invited to watch a tvpical clerk at work. He ex- 
claimed, "You fellows earn your salary by your physical labor 
alone!" then, on learning of the stringent study requirements, 
"You earn your pay through your mental work alone!" More- 
over, big mail-order firms and magazines like Time and Life 
buy full-page advertising space in the Postal Transport 
Joiirnal to express gratitude for the excellent service rendered 
by postal transportation clerks. "We express our appreciation 
of the splendid co-operation which makes this service possi- 
ble," advertised the Reader's Digest one Christmas. 

In Union, South Carolina, a businessman does his part in 
remedying this lack of recognition— taken for granted by the 
average clerk— by sending a Christmas message to all clerks 
through the medium of those running through his town on 



12 MAIL BY RAIL 

the Aslie. 8: Columbia (Sou). Published afterwards in the 
clerks' Journal, a typical recent message of Mr. Nicholson's, 
sent despite illness, read thus: 

Happy Christmas greetings to you, my friends of the 
Railway Mail Service: To your steadfast devotion to 
duty, regardless of physical feelings and exhaustion; to 
your quickness of thought and hand . . . which brings 
pleasure . . . help . . . and hope with the Christmas greet- 
ings and packages, I pay highest tribute. Without your 
untiring efforts . . . the world, in a sense, would stand still. 

Thank you . . . for what you have done for me the 
past twelve months, and many years; . . . and I add a 
most fervent God bless you, this . . . season, and every day. 

Your friend, 
Allan Nicholson 

Similarly, clerks on San Fran. Sc Barstow (Santa Fe) Train 
23 were pleased to receive the following card one day in 
April 1947: 

... I want to pat you guys on the back. That niece of 
ours, Dolores, received letter April 3, mailed April 2 . . . 
addressed "Hinkl, Calif." You fellows are artists. I've 
read some bad ones, being a telegrapher, but this one got 

L. B. Parker, Hinkley, California 

And Uncle Sam's engravers once paid tribute to the R.P.O. 
clerk by picturing a train and mail crane on the old five-cent 
red parcel-post stamp, as well as a clerk on duty, shown on 
another stamp of this long-forgotten series. 

Such men are the men— known officially as "railway postal 
clerks" before 1950— who speed your mail and mine home in 
doid)Ie-quick time. Small wonder it is said that "It requires 
as much mental, and more physical, labor to become a first- 
class postal clerk than it does to become proficient in any 
other . . . profession." They almost never know regular day- 
light hours; holidays often mean just another workday; they 
are always subject to emergency call. 

Yet at Chicago, nerve center of our mail-train operations, 
these postal experts connect 95 per cent of all transit mails. 



STEEL CARS AND IRON MEN IS 

from individual letters to whole through storage cars (super- 
vised by P.T.S. transfer clerks), direct to the proper outgoing 
train without involving the post office there. And so speeds 
onward the vital correspondence of a great nation, come dark- 
ness, deluge, or disaster. 



Chafitr 2 



A RUN FOR THEIR MONEY 



That Texas case is all gummed up, and so is the Rackensac; 
The Daily Sun put out a ton ot single wraps, by heck— 
If we can't get through with that "Old Missoo"^ the 
Chief will tramp my neck. . . . 

—Robert L. Simpson 



On the train platform of a great East- 
ern railway terminal a group of neatly 
dressed men are carrying bags and appar- 
ently waiting for a train like any other 
bunch of travelers. But what a rail jour- 
ney these men are destined to make— in 
the R. P. O. car of a great express train, 
manning a strenuous trunk-line mail run 
of hundreds of miles! And they well earn their hardly lucra- 
tive pay— it's really a "run for their money." 

From all directions and distances they have come— some on 
foot, from lodgings hard by the station; some by trolley, bus, 
or auto from city and suburbs; some of them on commuters' 
trains, and particularly on incoming trains of their own line. 
From town or farm residences all along this route clerks can 
deadhead to work free on their travel commissions, some 
from points over one hundred miles away. (These passes are 
restricted to business travel on this one line.) Other clerks 
in the group will hail from the line's other end, or from 
far-distant midway points— the latter circumstances often re- 
stricting home life to layoffs. 




'Missouri letters. 

14 



A RUN FOR THEIR MONEY 15 

Because they must prepare their cars and sort the mails 
already accumulated locally, clerks put in several hours' 
advance work while their car is still in the station. A different 
(but fixed) reporting time is set by the District Superintend- 
ent for each run out of that station; it may be morning, 
evening, or night. If it is a heavy run, there may be two or 
three full R.P.O. cars with a storage car between them and 
usually others attached. (There are only 606 of these full 
R.P.O. cars— but nearly 2,600 cars with R.P.O. apartments.) 

Sooner or later a puffing switch engine backs the R.P.O. 
unit into the particular track where the crew awaits it. If 
it is late, there may be a bull session until it comes, and at no 
loss of pay— but the clerks may have to work twice as hard 
later to catch up. They clamber into the car over the short 
door ladders, and one clerk quickly turns on the lights. In 
some cars he must fish around in a dark fuse box to do it, and 
let's hope he can distinguish between the switch handle and 
the shiny copper bars adjacent! 

At about the same time arrives the grip man, who is not a 
cable-car motorman, but a baggage porter or elevator man 
hired by the clerks to bring down their "big grips" of heavier 
supplies to the train, at five cents per grip each way. It saves 
wearily lugging these via stairs, ramps, or elevators from a 
distant grip room in the station or post office. 

Inside, each man throws both handbag and grip on the 
case ledge and flings them open. Out of the bag comes a 
wicked-looking revolver and holster, a lunch, schemes of dis- 
tribution (showing the mail route for each office in a given 
state), mail train schedules, various personal belongings, 
stamped slips and labels or slides (furnished by the Depart- 
ment, printed for that train) used for identifying packages and 
bags of outgoing mail, and perhaps his clerk's name dater 
with pad and rubber type to fit. pencils, and so forth. Pouch 
and sack labels, cut or torn from ribbons or strips of five labels 
each, look like this: 



16 



MAIL BY RAIL 



(Actual size, on 
buff cardboard "slides") 



ALLENTOWN & PHILA Tr 40 
Pennsylvania Newspapers 
Fr N Y Geneva & Buff Tr 7 



His slips are printed on paper like newsprint, like this 
(dis means "mails distributed from"): 



(Printed) 

Size 3 14" X 4" 

(Rubber-stamped) 



BALTIMORE MD DIS 
Maryland A to D 
Fr Buff & Wash Tr 



BUFF & WASH RPO 

Tr 554 - Jun 30, 1950 

JOHN D. DOE 



The big grip is usually a large, sturdy metal or vulcanized- 
fiber suitcase (leather and its substitutes seldom stand the 
gaff). It contains a weird assortment of extra schemes (book- 
lets about 41/^ X 81/2 inches), labels, blank slips, official forms, 
a "Black Book" of Postal Laws and Regulations, work clothes, 
soap and towels, coffee cup, headers (cardboard letter-case 
labels), knife, registry supplies, and so on. 

Instantly the mail slingers disrobe and don work clothes 
and shoes, guns, badges, and small caps in a quite literal 
"overall transformation"— although many prefer denims or 
aprons to overalls. Some gay whimsies are tossed about as 
multicolored BVD's are momentarily exposed; then guns are 



A RUN FOR THEIR MONEY 17 

loaded and all hands proceed to han^ pouches and sacks in 
the racks after unfolding them from the wall. Space is limited 
in most R.P.O.s; eight to ten pouches may be squeezed into 
each rack row (normally divided for five), although seven arc 
usually hung. Extra pouches or sacks may be hung in aisles 
and under tables until even the thinnest clerk can barely 
crawl "down the alley," and dragging a big sack or shin-peeler 
down the aisle becomes a nightmare of barked ankles and 
frayed nerves. Still more mail bags may be crammed in little 
"pony" racks called crabs or jacks. 

Letter clerks hasten to their cases to insert their headers 
(or face up the proper case label on the revolving stick in 
each hole). Potich clerks place their labels in neat visible 
holders fastened inside each pouch's back edge, while "paper 
men" place most of theirs in special holders on the rack 
frame— unless a "blind-case expert," who places all labels in 
the hidden sack holders instead, is at the rack, to the exaspera- 
tion of any perplexed assistant assigned to help him! 

Pigeonholes, pouches, and sacks are seemingly arranged in 
a confused helter-skelter order, which is almost never alpha- 
betical; but there is method in this madness— the heaviest 
separations are closest at hand (see Technical Note 1). There 
is at least one letter case for each state distributed on the 
train, and headers show much colorful variation— from those 
neatly printed at clerk's expense to hand-lettered Gothic, and 
from penciled scrawls to colored cutout letters and advertise- 
ment headings. Oddly enough, the top pigeonhole in each 
row will not hold a header, and the one below it must do 
double duty, divided into two parts— although most cars have 
many a title scribbled on walls above the top holes by less 
painstaking clerks! All other headers are placed over the 
box designated, as new substitutes have discovered to their 
chagrin after working considerable mail according to the 
headers beloiu— much to the rage of the case's owner. Skip- 
ping each header designating a single post office (called a 
direct), the letter clerk inserts his stamped slips within the 
remaining line and dis boxes {Note 2), and meanwhile the 
rack clerks set up their tray tables between the rack edges and 



18 MAIL BY RAIL 

Stretcher bars (supported by pedestals). The "grip man" will 
poke his head in the door about this time, and the pile of 
nickels near by will be counted. 

"Who's light on the grips?" the clerk-in-charge will bellow. 

One or two absent-minded culprits will hasten up with 
their nickels, and the "poor old grip" man departs. One clerk 
will be sent out as an armed convoy for the first incoming 
load of "mail of value" from the post office and is jokingly 
ordered to bring back "a small load." If he returns, as he 
usually must, with an overflowing truckful, his innocent ears 
will ring to echoes of "Oh! heartless son of a gun!" and "We'll 
never sf nd you again!" Such repartee, not always printable, 
continues all the way "down the road." A little bag of locks 
and twine is opened and the balls of string distributed; it is 
a rather weak, linty jute, but many clerks insist on it, so they 
can snap it with the fingers— despite the irritating fuzz which 
fills the air. Other clerks use a twine knife, worn like a ring, 
to cut the twine after tying knots; it also cuts open working 
packages. Every clerk has a knife of some sort, from ornate 
carved hunting blades on down; many get sharpened to a 
curved remnant. 

A brief bull session may await the first mail, or it may come 
flooding in with the grips. Direct bags for large towns on and 
beyond the line are often loaded in a separate storage car, 
supervised by a certain clerk among other duties; he must 
sometimes load and unload it. And going through a dark, 
bouncing vestibule on a freezing night into a storage car a 
dozen times is no fun, especially since its big sliding doors 
usually stick like sin. 

But there are mountains of mail coming into the R.P.O. 
car, too; and to the cry of "On the belt!" or "Battle stations, 
men!" the clerks line up to pass working pouches to the tables 
in fast bucket-brigade style. Storage mail for smaller stops is 
separated into bins at the ends, while working newspaper 
sacks are piled at the paper table; excess working mails may 
be piled on and under the tables and even in aisles and bins. 

In a colorful ceremony, working pouches are recorded by 
the clerk-in-charge and his "pouch caller," whose opening 



A RUN FOR THEIR MONEY 19 

cry is "On the hanger!" (the official check list often being 
hung up). Incoming pouches are checked on this clip-board 
list or checkboard by means of an amazing gibberish: 

"From the Madhouse with a two— Tom Cat— Rockin' Chair 
Line— Pennsy from the Doghouse— Win an' Bridge with a one 
—West Working Holy Smoke— City of the Dead 3-X— Chat 
438 Directs— Working on it— Forty-six— the other Chat— Em- 
pire State with a six, Gyp— Ohio Working from the Grand— 
the Far Rock"— and other strange nicknames and numbers, 
until the welcome words "Hang it up!" indicate a temporary 
lull. {Note 3.) 

Huge piles of mail are dumped up at both tables, especially 
at the pouch rack, where the key man or dumper is lifting, 
unlocking, emptying, and setting up the mail— a most strenu- 
ous job, usually done by a junior clerk or substitute. The 
large and small letter packages {bales and skins) and slugs or 
fiats must be all set on edge facing the same way, so that 
pouch clerks can instantly fling them to the proper separa- 
tion. Each pouch and sack must be thrown open and exam- 
ined for stray mail after emptying, and then bagged (in the 
same fashion in which the original "empties" were received) 
or piled for hand access; they are used to replace full pouches 
later locked out. Labels are removed and placed in a box. 

"Working packages" of letters for local offices and nearby 
states are thrown directly (or via temporary pouches or boxes) 
to the letter cases for sorting, instead of into the outgoing 
pouches which are labeled to the towns along and beyond 
the line and to connecting R.P.O.s. Similarly, packages tied 
out from the cases are tossed on the pouch table to be thrown 
off like the "made-up" packages. The head pouch clerk must 
have a general knowledge of the routing for ten thousand or 
more post offices in the distribution area and beyond— and 
usually without a single chart or list to guide him! 

Mail is now flying in all directions. Newspapers just pub- 
lished are rushed to the train w'xxh. wrapper paste still wet, 
and they are, of course, speedily handled exactly like the 
pouch-rack mail. Some publishers include a complimentary 
copy addressed to the clerk-in-charge, but there's no time to 



20 MAIL BY RAIL 

glance at it now. There is often so much mail that separate 
paper racks (and, rarely, pouch racks) are maintained for each 
state handled. Meanwhile, incoming and locked-out pouches 
and sacks are constantly being passed along to the tune of 
"Up the alley!" "Down the alley!" or "Alley Oop!" Mail then 
sent the other way is heralded as "Return Movement!" (offi- 
cially, a reverse space shipment). 

When extra or delayed connections not ordinarily due are 
received by our train, the whole car becomes a madhouse on 
wheels as frantic clerks try to get "up" (finish sorting all mail 
at hand). Conversely, it may be that some connections due 
our train are missed due to late running, and the pleasant 
prospect of a light, little-to-do trip looms forth— despite the 
tinge of regret at the resulting delay to the mail. Tense is the 
excitement as leaving time nears, when a connection is often 
made or missed by a split second. 

The pouch-table "key man" and the paper-rack "end man" 
have the most thankless tasks. The pouch dumper must con- 
tend with insecurely tied letter packages which break and 
shower the table and mail with loose letters which he must 
stop and separate, face together, and tie, watched by the 
impatient pouch clerk; and must stop and lock out pouches, 
many ^vedged behind piles of under-table mail, just as an- 
other heavy connection comes pouring in. The end man, 
besides his usual heavy distribution and tie-out, mtist usually 
drag and pile all mail coming down the alley, on the high- 
stacked storage bins; and must unload, load, and often pile 
all mail passing his door at every stop. 

Serenely presiding over the car, the genial clerk-in-charge, 
or chief, usually works a letter case just inside the first door, 
which keeps him busy when not supervising. The other 
"letter men" are busily flipping letters all over the eight or 
ten other cases at high speed. It is no easy job, although they 
are often dubbed cose admirals, especially if any are canvas- 
sliy or afflicted with sackolifis (i.e., averse to locking out 
pouches and sacks). As each pigeonhole fills up it is quickly 
tied out, using a special knot requiring a real knack to tie. 

Throughout the car the weird jargon of the Service re- 



A RUN FOR THEIR MONEY 21 

verberates, and while many terms have been or Avill be ex- 
plained esle^vhere in our story, the follouing are typical 
general or regional slang terms often used in the P.T.S. 

A-C— Actual count of mail worked. 

Angel— Extra, label found in bag of mail (not supposed 

to be taken credit foi). 
Appleknockers, knuckleheads, the boys— Crew going up 

road as we go do^vn. 
Balloon— Huge sack or pouch of mail, expanding vastly 

when dimiped. 
5^r7o— Prohibitory order ("There shall be no"). 
Bladders (German "blatter")— Ne^vspapers. 
Braiyis-Chart or list of mail routes. 
Bridge-rack, crab, jack— A small "pony" rack. 
Butterfly— Wingnut used by railroader to set up pedestals 

in car. 
Buttons—Snap-on mail locks. 
Catch— hocal exchange; the mail caught. 
Civil-service— To thumb through a package of letters, 

seeking errors, et cetera. 
C/7/6— Correspondence file on mishandled mail. 
Cripple or tr;???— Damaged pouch or sack. 
D's, hickies, sinkers, mopics, miniLS points, brownies— 

Demerits. 
Dress a rack— Hang pouches therein. 
English— New England (States). 
Fly-paper, ivind-mail-Air mail. 
Hash or house mrt//— Miscellaneous bag mails. 
Hards— hetters whose route is unknown. 
High-xvheeler, hy po— Highway post ofHce. 
Hitting mail, virgin, one for the knocker— hetter to be 

postmarked. 
Jumbo— To put mail in a jumbo pouch for reworking 

down the road. 
Jack-pot, swamp— A jumbo pouch. 
LA /oc/{— Snap-on lock or "Lock, Andrus" (from name 

of inventor). 
Miid—^la\\ matter. 

Nixie— An unsortable, misaddressed letter. 
Pilot— Mail piler (i.e., "pile-it"). 



22 MAIL BY RAIL 

Prill a rock— To remove and lock all pouches. 
Red (from abbreviation "reg.", or from former red- 
striped pouches)— A registered piece. 
Red man, money ma??— Register clerk. 
Rob a 6ox— Collect from station letter box. 
Sleeper— Vnoliserved letter left in car. 
Stringer— Vouch (sack) hung on rail. 
Sxuindle sheet— Trip report; balance sheet on registers. 
Trunk, Jog— An exceedingly heavy parcel. 
Wnrt—An extra trip. 
Way clerk— 'Loc^A clerk (who makes catches). 

By this time the switch engine shifts our car to the regular 
train consist. There is usually at least one new clerk on 
board, and some wag is sure to holler, as we move, "We're off! 
Missed everything!" (i.e., all connections due). But the 
greenhorn's visions of an easy trip are sharply shattered as 
the car backs in again to receive mountains of connecting 
mail as well as more from the city post office. The engineer 
is jerking the car fearfully, and someone yells "Why doncha 
go back to school and learn how to drive an engine!" 

"Seventy-six in the house!" yells the pouch caller, and the 
chief checks off a score of pouches from Train 76 as they are 
called "—with a one . . . Avith a two ... a three-X" as before 
(serial numbers indicating the first, second, and last of three 
identical pouches). Work continues feverishly; a big road 
engine is now coupled on ("We've got a horse!"), and leaving 
time is almost here. Sometimes the clerks' hours of duty are 
by now nearly half over. The local city dis pouch, containing 
what little mail was missent to our train, is flung out, and an 
air of tense expectancy pervades the whole car. 

"Throw the bums out!" comes the cry, and startled by- 
standers, expecting to see some tramps ejected from the car, 
are unaware that bums are only the sacks of empties often 
thrown off before leaving. Then comes the conductor's wel- 
come cry "O.K. on the mail!" and his two short whistle blasts. 

"We're off!" It's the real thing this time, and we pull out 
and gather speed as the red man on his stool yells for a helper. 
We are fast approaching the first station at which mail is de- 



A RUN FOR THEIR MONEY 23 

livered, and letter, pouch, and paper clerks must have all the 
"No. I mail" (tiiat for first section of the line) worked up by 
then to keep from "carrying by" a letter or a paper. 

At the engineer's signal, the letter man on tlie local state 
case ties out the package for this station from his row of 
"locals" and throws it in the pouch with its other mail; the 
local clerk locks it and rushes to the door. If it is a non-stop 
exchange, he quickly throws the pouch in the designated area 
and catches the incoming pouch off the crane with his hook. 

This pouch must be completely distribiued before reach- 
ing the next station, so that the local letter package and 
pieces from the first office to the second one can be gotten 
into the next pouch (along with the letter man's tie-out) 
before it is locked out. Arms work like pistons, and the job 
is done just in time. This ingenious process is repeated all 
down the road, while mails for far-distant states are simul- 
taneously being sorted out to the finest degree. 

Anything can happen on an R.P.O. run. Lights may fade 
out, necessitating tying out all cases and working the pouch 
mail by the feeble glow of candle lamps. The car's under- 
pinning may go haywire, requiring it to be "shopped" for 
repairs— with every letter package, pouch, and sack to be tied 
out, unloaded, transferred, and installed in a new car amid 
much delay. 

Most prominent stations along the line, as well as leading 
distant points, will be identified by special nicknames. Thus, 
on the N.Y. & Washington R.P.O. (PRR), New Brunswick, 
New Jersey, is "Once-a-week" (from porters' abbreviation 
" 'Runsweek"); North Philadelphia is "Longest Straight 
Street in the World" (Broad Street, crossing the P.R.R.); 
Perryville, Maryland, on the wide Susquehanna is "The 
River"; and Middle River, Maryland, of Martin Bomber 
fame is "The Airplanes." Down South, Savannah, is "Yam- 
a-craw" and Miami, "My-oh-my"; while Boston is sometimes 
"Boss-town" and Chicago "She don'-go." 

Somewhere along here comes the welcome lull of "coffee 
time," the clerks' brief fifteen- or twenty-minute lunch peri- 
od; on long runs, two or more may be allowed. A typical 



24 MAIL BY RAIL 

mail-car "coffee man" (see Chapter 10) provides a fragrant 
brew to accompany the lunches brought in bags, or occasion- 
ally purchased at way-station restaurants (i.e., at a Harvey 
House out West), or bought from the coffee man or some 
other clerk who may operate a "commissary" of sandwich 
ingredients, pie, and sometimes even hot dishes. 

On heavy-mail trips, conscientious clerks olten eat with one 
hand and stick mail with the other, or simply postpone lunch 
until the end of the trip. Lunch time has its pranks, too, 
when jokesters substitute raw eggs for someone's hard-boiled 
ones, or dust crullers with plaster-of-Paris "sugar." But road 
life is usually at its best at lunch time— clerks relax comfort- 
ably on ledges, tables, or mailbags and eat amid a friendly 
chat or while reading a paper or viewing passing scenes on a 
daylight run. Some clerk, celebrating a family addition or 
promotion, may treat all to refreshments or cigars; a real party 
may be thrown. During World War II most R.M.S. coffee and 
commissary men had their R.P.O. units listed as "institutions" 
to secure necessary rations. 

Through tunnels, over great trestles, and aroimd sweeping 
curves the train roars on. As it approaches each junction sta- 
tion where other R.P.O.s intersect, letter men quickly tie out 
all packages due to be dispatched there and toss them in the 
proper pouches, which are locked out and unloaded as soon 
as the train grinds to a stop "in the house," the door clerk 
calling the pouches to the chief in his usual jargon. A few 
mail-car Romeos meanwhile eye the station-platform girls 
through the Avindows with a fond and delighted gaze, whist- 
ling to their companions "Boy! Will you look at that!" But 
mountains of mail are being loaded, and soon the station, 
luscious blondes and all, is speedily left behind. Occasional 
unscheduled operating stops or delays sometimes bring forth 
the accusing remark, "Never stopped here before!" 

The stacks of working pouches surrounding the pouch 
table gradually disappear, and the exhausted key man is likely 
to give a pleasurable sigh as he anticipates a well-earned 
breathing spell. He dumps the last pouch and waits. But 
all too often the head pouch clerk then calls: 



A RUN FOR THEIR MONEY 25 

"Send down that next bin now!" Then the disillusioned 
dumper discovers that stacks of reserve pouches were stored 
in the end of the car for lack of room! Only after countless 
miles of toil will the pouch men finally get "up"; then all 
full pouches must be locked out before a few minutes of 
relaxation can be enjoyed— unless, as often happens, there are 
other assignments then requiring assistance. Clerks who are 
"up" are usually needed to tie out cases or run out directs of 
letters on the pouch table. 

There are more catches "on the fly" which the local clerk 
dare not miss, for any pouch not caught nets him five de- 
merits. Some "hot runs" have less than a minute between 
certain catcher stations, such as between Berwyn and Branch- 
ville, Maryland— two adjacent Washington suburbs on the 
N.Y., Bait. R: W^ash. (BR;0); the cranes are just four blocks 
apart, with long stretches of other suburbs on both sides. A 
pouch clerk must work like lightning to serve two such towns 
in time for them to exchange mails. 

Clerks are given lists of landmarks by which to recognize 
their approach to each mail crane. But at night these arc 
invisible, whistle signals are obscure, and a veteran clerk 
must go by the sound or "feel" of the tracks as he passes over 
switch points, trestles, and other structures. At station after 
station he promptly delivers "mail for the local inhabitants, 
whose day would be ruined if you carried it by . . . going 
through tOAvns when everybody is still in bed, the farmers' 
lights beginning to show up as you get down the road . . . 
moonlight across the fields, and all that sort of thing . . . even 
getting whiffs of what you think is ham and eggs cooking," 
as one clerk writes us. 

Some clerk is sure to liven up the journey by suddenly 
staring out a window and crying, "Oh, see the big wreck!" 
"Wow, cars strewn all over the track!" "Whew, what a fire!" 
or something equally startling. New men present hastily 
crane necks trying to see, only to bob back and forth in con- 
fusion at the howls of "Other side! No, other side!" until 
they catch on to the trick in considerable embarrassment, 
after beholding nothing unusual whatever. 



26 MAIL BY RAIL 

Now we are approaching the end of the trail. "Every turn 
of the wheel, now!" we hear. There is often a shirttail finish, 
trying to get "up" on the heaviest case or rack. Perhaps the 
red man has gotten "up" a bit early and is busy balancing 
his records— his ninety-mile balance sheet, someone will slyly 
call it, with the joking insinuation that he tries to keep occu- 
pied thereon (on his handy little stool), while other clerks 
are locking out racks and hoping for help, during the last 
ninety miles of the trip! But he has a tough, responsible job. 

Tiie "grand tie out" is now under way, and the letter men 
leave only a few main pigeonholes in, for handling mail 
from the last few stations. Identical separations in adjacent 
cases are massed out on each other (combined), and very light 
directs are massed into the proper R.P.O. boxes. (Last- 
minute mails may be sorted flat on a table.) Then the pack- 
ages are handed to helpers to tie; the big tie-out spreads to 
the pouch rack as the letter packages are thrown in, and the 
pouch man cries "Come on, you case lizards!" to letter men 
hesitating to assist. Overhead boxes are emptied into the 
proper type bag, and all pouches closed with the standard 
lock ^vhich snaps shut under simple pressure. Only a few 
pouches for last-minute mails are left in the rack. The end 
man, his papers tied out earlier, drags and piles the pouches 
in the proper bins; tray tables are detached, iron pedestals 
knocked down by stretcher bars, racks are folded back, and 
bag mail piled in their places. 

Now the last station has been served and the last pouch 
locked out and piled by the weary end man, who sinks into 
a stupor on a pile of bag mail. Wastepaper and twine must 
be bagged in a special sack and sent to the terminal office; all 
outgoing pouches are checked. Some clerk, with gay cries of 
"Geronimo!" (battle cry of World War II paratroopers), may 
threaten to "parachute"; i.e., jump off at one of the last few 
stations— especially if near his home— without doing any un- 
loading. But this is forbidden except in special emergencies, 
and persistent "paratroopers" really get into trouble. 

Then comes washing-up time, and the grimy mail slingers 
await their turn by the collapsible, potbellied washbasin 



A RUN FOR THEIR MONEY 27 

{Note 4). Most clerks-in-charge try to allow the last twenty 
or thirty minutes or so of each trip for wash-up and for 
counting slips from mail worked (for the trip report), chang- 
ing clothes, and relaxing a bit. There may even be time for 
a friendly little game, seated in a circle on the handy wooden 
boxes used for receiving case mail from the pouch table. 
Other clerks may read a paper, stamp slips, chat, or even doze 
a bit (mailbags make a dandy couch). Pranksters play their 
usual tricks, like nailing down someone's shoes or filling his 
"little grip" full of locks. 

But if it has been a really hectic trip, with the car choked 
with extra mails, there's no time for such as that! To keep 
from going stuck, many a crew has worked right into its 
terminal and locked out afterward. If it is still impossible 
to get "up" even then, the crew must reluctantly go stuck on 
its heaviest distribution, anyway. Then the unworked (or 
uncooked) mail must be placed in "emergency pouches" and 
sent to the local terminal, P.T.S., for sorting. (If some of 
the unworked mail is in residue packages from which the 
directs only have been picked out, they are marked with 
kisses— X X X— to indicate it.) 

Now our train is in the yards— it pulls up to the platform— 
and watches are compared as we hear the welcome words 
"We're in!" Usually we arrive on the button, but in case of 
late running (sometimes paid for as overtime), a tiny fraction 
of a minute may spell the gain or loss of an extra item of 
travel allowance— an additional $1.50 for each clerk! 

The clerks quickly unload all mail onto the hand trucks 
brought up by the station porters, while the clerk-in-charge 
lingers to the last as he fills out his many reports. Valuable 
mails are convoyed to the post office (or another train) by an 
armed clerk. One clerk is assigned as X-man to examine all 
parts of the car for stray sleepers, and following him, a trans- 
fer clerk double-checks every case and box. Last to be un- 
loaded is the dog load of sacked empties (bums) and coffee 
outfit or pie box. 

it is usually in the gray hours of dawn that the weary 
clerks finally stumble towards the "Railroad Y," dormitory. 



28 MAIL BY RAIL 

or small hotel where they customarily secure their sleep— or 
toward some all-night restaurant, first, for a bite. Some clerks, 
living at this end of the run, will make for home as best they 
can via owl car or auto. Most large cities and important rail- 
road towns have a Railroad Y.M.C.A. operating twenty-four 
hours a day and located upstairs in the principal station; 
dormitories containing several beds each, plus washrooms 
and recreational facilities, are available there for all railroad 
men. In New York, Pittsburgh, Chicagro, Boston, and other 
cities there are special dormitories operated by and for rail- 
way mail clerks only— such as the Railway Mail Club in New 
York's Hotel Statler; and spacious facilities, formerly in the 
Fort Pitt Hotel, in the Smoky City. 

Even if a quick turn-around permits only five or six hours' 
sleep, most clerks still insist on time out for a good meal and 
often for a pool game or other recreation as well. On the 
other hand, a long layover will permit several hours of movie 
going, visiting, or sight-seeing in the terminal city before 
reporting for duty. However, quite a few clerks have run 
into a certain city for decades without ever bothering to look 
it over. One man may visit relatives, another do some shop- 
ping, a third make for a tavern, a fourth ride streetcars or 
what not, until time to go to work. 

Their grips, meanwhile, have been stacked on shelves in 
the station or post-office grip room. Strange things can hap- 
pen in grip rooms; in one case a suitcase of valuables was 
stamped, labeled, and sent as air mail by a postal patron, only 
to lose Its label when in an R.P.O. car, get unloaded along 
with grips and mail at the end of the run, and be deposited 
on the grip-room shelves to gather dust for years (as do many 
old grips, full or empty, left there by retired or deceased 
clerks). It wzs discovered long after the patron had been re- 
imbursed for his loss after a fruitless search! Another clerk, 
whose grip was always being moved to an obscure corner by 
a second clerk (who coveted its proper spot), finally nailed the 
offender's grip securely to the shelf— and eventually took it 
with him and threw it off a bridge when the practice con- 
tinued! A mail thief, prowling in a post-office basement, once 



A RUN FOR THEIR MONEY 29 

Stole a valuable ladies* suitcase en route to Asbury Park, New 
Jersey, carefully removing the tell tale tag bearing stamps and 
address; to avoid detection, he retied the latter to an old piece 
of luggage on a truck near by. It happened to be a truck of 
mail clerks' grips, and the tag ^vas placed on that of Roger 
Gaver of the N.Y. &: Wash. (PRR). This piece of "mail" 
was soon discovered and promptly dispatched to Asbury Park 
—to the mutual ire of the lady addressee and of Gaver, wno 
had no supplies for his runs until he got his grip back six 
months later! 

When several men sleep in one dormitory room there is 
often at least one first-class snorer. In one Railroad "Y" 
several regular patrons who are thus unfortunately afflicted 
voluntarily (and most considerately) segregate themsehes in 
a special "snorer's room" furnished to them. There are many 
snorer stories, but the best probably comes from Washington, 
D. C., where a very loud-snoring clerk always registered for 
a certain dormitory at the "Y" in Union Station. A clerk on 
the opposite crew, who usually used the same room on alter- 
nate nig;hts, was once assigned to run extra on a Christmas 
trip Avith the first man, and crew members warned him of the 
snorer. The extra clerk promptly reserved all four beds 
(they were only twenty-five cents, then) in that room. But 
the snorer was tipped off about this effort to exclude him, 
so he used one of the beds anyhow, slept free, and made the 
rafters grroan with his noise while the harassed extra man 
tried to sleep! Such is life at the outer terminal; then comes 
the busy return trip, with new duties for all. 



Chapter 3 



"TRAINED LETTERS" FROM COAST TO COAST 



While I am taking hours of rest in my big white bed each day, 
My thoughts, they get to wandering, and wander miles away . . . 
To the grand old gang on Tour 1, at the "Cleve Term" R.P.O.; 
At times it seems but yesterday, but 'twas long, long years ago. . . . 

— Guy Streby 




— Courtesy Postal Markings 



Like a gigantic spidenveb 
sprawled across the living map 
of tliese United States, a net- 
work of over seven hundred 
busy Railway Post OfTice lines 
on 165,000 miles of route is 
speeding our mails in all directions twenty-four hours a day. 
For example, there's the famed transcontinental "Fast Mail" 
route which includes the New York Central's great 20fh 
Century Limited (a train of the N.Y. R: Chicago R.P.O.V the 
C&N W's Chic. Sc Omaha, the Union Pacific's Omaha Sc Ogden 
and Ogden R: Los Angeles, and the SP's storied Ogden & San 
Fran, or "Overland" route. 

They are typical of the 7,666 mail trains operated daily 
by our vast railway mail system and involving 600,000 miles 
of daily travel. These railways rush well over forty billion 
pieces of mail each year to our 41,500 post offices and their 
branches— ranging in size, with the same impartial type of 
designation, from New York, New York (population 7,84 L- 
000) to Huntley, Virginia (population 3)! 

Fewer persons are employed in the Postal Transportation 
Service than in the New York City Post Office— yet the P.T.S. 
sorts or transports the vast bulk of all our mail matter with 

30 



"TRAINED LETTERS" FROM COAST TO COAST SI 

amazing efficiency. It is truly the lifeblood of the "world's 
biggest business" (the U.S. P.O. Department; annual turnover, 
$16,000,000,000). Its living flow of transit-sorted mails are 
expertly handled by only 71/9 per cent of our 400,000 postal 
employees; distributing far more mail per man-hour than the 
average post-office clerk, railway mail clerks put in over four 
billion miles of travel annually to sort the staggering total of 
twenty-one billion pieces of mail each year in 2,620 R.P.O. 
trains! {Note ^.) 

R.P.O. trains range from the famed streamliners like the 
Century down to tiny branch-line or suburban locals, mixed 
trains, or "Galloping Goose" diesels— even suburban electric- 
car trains. Some major roads have exclusive all-mail, non- 
passenger trains, such as Boston & New York Train 180 (see 
Chapter 10), N.Y. &: Chicago (NY Cent) Train 14, or Chic. & 
& Omaha (C&NW) Train 5. Most R.P.O. lines are named 
directly from the terminal towns, but there are about one 
hundred of them in which actual R.P.O. trains do not reach 
one or both termini— usually because former R.P.O. service 
has been partially replaced by closed-pouch train or truck ser- 
vice reaching to the former terminus. If two or more R.P.O.s 
terminate at the same cities, the name of an important inter- 
mediate town is inserted; thus, the N.Y., Scranton &: Buff. 
(DL&W) and N.Y., Geneva & Buff. (LV) both connect New 
York and Buffalo. The only lines not named from two or 
more towns are apparently the Boston S: Cape Cod (NYNHScH) 
in Massachusetts and two R.P.O.-equipped New Hampshire 
lake boats. R.P.O.s are normally named from north to south 
and east to west, regardless of the relative importance of the 
termini. Current lines are listed in Appendix I. 

In most large cities the main post office (or an important 
annex) is adjacent to the principal railway station, with con- 
veyor-belt or hand-truck connection direct to the train plat- 
forms. In Los Angeles mail porters unload sacks from stor- 
age cars onto the belts at such a frenzied pace that alternate 
fifteen-minute shifts are required. Special facilities, such as 
rooms for accommodation of clerks and their baggage (grip 
rooms) separating platforms with overhead signs for bulk 



52 MAIL BY RAIL 

mails, and train-mail boxes, are installed at most large sta- 
tions; and the P.T.S. Transfer Office is usually there also. 

Chicago, birthplace of the P.T.S., is the biggest hub of 
R.P.O. operations in America and probably in the world. 
Nearly forty different R.P.O. lines, most of them carrying 
from four to fifteen daily mail-sorting trains, converge there 
from all directions; the huge Chicago Terminal, P.T.S. (con- 
solidating many earlier ones), six transfer offices, an airfield, 
one division and nine district offices, and large railway mail 
dormitories, orsfanizations, and national memorials are all 
centered there. New York, although boasting the largest 
P.T.S. terminals, does not even rank a poor second in the 
number of R.P.O. routes centering there— twenty-three, to 
be exact; Kansas City and St. Louis have as many or more. 
Philadelphia has but fifteen; Washington, sixteen. 

Perhaps the typical "railroad town"— a small city or village 
which is nevertheless an important railroad (and R.P.O.) di- 
vision point or junction— plays an even more vital part in the 
life of the railway mail clerk; its streets, small hotels, and 
"beaneries" are often alive with P.T.C.'s. In Martinsburg, 
West Virginia, on the Wash. Sc Chicago— Wash. &: Grafton 
(BR:0) and Harris. S: Win. H.P.O., clerks' wives often meet the 
train with forgotten work-pants, baked goodies, hot lunches, 
or what not; Crestline, Ohio, with its famous Pennsy shops 
(on Pitts. Sc Chicago R.P.O.), even has its own district office 
and N.P.T.A. branch. 

Miles City, Montana, on the St. Paul & Miles City (NP) 
and other R.P.O.s, is famed for its "Tool House" Restaurant 
run by "an ageless Chinaman named Toy Ling" who has 
been host to the clerks for over thirty-five years. Adrian C. 
Austin relates that nearly seventy clerks from four trunk-line 
R.P.O.s "lay over" there, but no clerks live there. He de- 
scribes a typical Christmas morning at three-thirty, the town 
swarming with doubled-up cre^vs, when fifty clerks were eat- 
mg at one lunchroom "half of them tired but glad the trip was 
over, and the other half grouchy and bleary-eyed at having 
to get up to go to work." Ashfork, Arizona (on the Santa Fe's 
Albuquerque & Los Angeles), writes T. M. Bragg, is merely 



"TRAINED LETTERS" FROM COAST TO COAST 85 

"a small unincorporated village perched atop a malpais rock 
formation, where drinking Avater is brought in in tank cars" 
but with comfortable Harvey House lodgings. 

Most of our great trunk-line R.P.O.s have a fascinating his- 
torical background. The two big routes from New York to 
Boston; the PRR's vitally important electrified N.Y. & ^Vash- 
ington (connecting America's metropolis and capital); the 
great New York & Chicago on the Central; and the Pennsy's 
"Pitts" (N.Y. & Pittsburgh) could all tell stories of great in- 
terest to the researcher or postmark collector. The evolution 
of these lines has been summarized in the Technical Notes 
(Notes 6—8); but Western lines like the Santa Fe's famed 
"Ashfork" (Albuq. & Los Angeles R.P.O.), traversing the vast 
desert country of New Mexico and Arizona as a southern 
trunk route to Los Angeles, are just as worthy of historical 
study. Most such lines carry six to twenty or more daily 
R.P.O. trains! 

There are great chains of R.P.O. trunk lines along the 
Pacific Coast and through the Southern states, too, in addi- 
tion to the transcontinental and Atlantic Coast link-ups 
already described— as this Florida-Washington state itinerary 
reveals: 

THROUGH THE SOUTH 

Atlanta 8c Jacksonville (Sou) in Georgia and Florida. 
Atlanta R: Montgomery (A&WP, Western Ry. of Alabama), 

Georgia-Alabama 
Montgomery k New Orleans (L&N), Alabama to 

Louisiana 
New Orleans 8: Houston, (TexRrNO), Louisiana-Texas 
Houston R: San Antonio (TexR:NO), in Texas 
San Antonio R: El Paso (TexR;NO), also in Texas 
El Paso 8c Los Angeles (SouPac), Texas to California. 

AND UP THE PACIFIC COAST 

Los Angeles k San Diego (Santa Fe), extreme south end 
of route in California 



54 MAIL BY RAIL 

San Francisco Sc Los Angeles (^ valley route), in 

California 
Portland R: San Francisco (SouPac), in Oregon and 

California 
Seattle & Portland (NP), in Washington and Oregon 
Blaine Sc Seattle (ON), in Washington State (through 

trains to Vancouver, B. C.) 

In common speech, clerks usually refer to trunk R.P.O. 
routes by single-syllable abbreviations, such as "The Chic" 
(N.Y. Sc Chicago-NYCent), "The Ham" (Washington R: Ham- 
let, North Carolina, on the Seaboard), "The Pitts" (N.Y. & 
Pittsburgh-Pitts. &: St. L.-Pitts. R: Chi. on the PRR, also BR:0's 
Wash, k Chic), "The Wash" (N.Y. Sc Wash.-PRR), etc. 
The latter R.P.O. is likewise also dubbed "The Wash-Line," 
much to the embarrassment of a staid young substitute who 
once told his girl that he worked thereon, whereupon she de- 
cided he must be employed in a laundry! (Other abbrevia- 
tions and nicknames will be found scattered throughout the 
book, as well as following R.P.O. Titles in our Appendix I; 
while nicknames in particular are dealt with in Chapter 10.) 

Supplementing the R.P.O. trains are many "closed pouch" 
or "C.P." trains on routes not having R.P.O. service; for 
example, there was the picturesque Ridgcway R: Durango C.P. 
(RGSou) on the famed narrow-gauge lines of the Colorado 
Rockies. According to V. A. Klein and Eldon Roark, this 
route used old Packard or Pierce-Arrow autos fitted with 
flange wheels and sawed-off cabs, which sped their way pre- 
cariously across creaky wood trestles spanning gaping can- 
yons; dubbed "The Galloping Goose," each was manned by a 
nonchalant flagman-brakeman-conductor-operator who wired 
the throttle wide open for the whole trip— even if hauling a 
boxcar of mail, freight, and express! Another roughhewn 
Western route is the old Tonopah Sc Mojave CP (SP) and star 
route, called "The Jawbone" and formerly an R.P.O.; it 
begins in the old Tonopah (Nev.) gold fields and winds up 
in a thinly settled part of California, and now uses railroad 
trucks to haul mails via highway instead of over the old rails. 



"TRAINED LETTERS" FROM COAST TO COAST 35 

A typical longer route is the current Buffalo Sc Cleveland 
C.P., 184 miles (Nickel Plate). 

At the other extreme are many small C.P.s on busy subur- 
ban railways too short for R.P.O. service, in our big metro- 
politan areas, with as many as fifty mail-carrying trips daily 
—often using electrified service, like the Jamaica R: Brooklyn 
C.P. (LIRR) in New York City; but no C.P. lines carry 
clerks. Many C.P.s are trolley lines. New metal storage con- 
tainers (with special cars to accommodate them) are now being 
introduced to handle bulk mails in C.P. service. Thousands of 
"star routes" or mail-truck lines connect outlying post offices 
with offices or junctions on the R.P.O.s, and the latter often 
"pouch on" each office on the route. (See Chapter Ifi for 
H.P.O. and air lines.) Most R.P.O.s have C.P. trains also. 

Second only in importance to our R.P.O. net^vork are the 
sixty-odd terminals, P.T.S. (formerly terminal R.P.O.s), 
usually located in important large post-office buildings or 
railway stations; but local postmasters have no jurisdiction 
over them. Terminals, P.T.S., have two important func- 
tions: to sort the vast majority of all not-so-urgent bulk mails 
(magazines, parcel post, circulars) which would otherwise 
congest the R.P.O. lines intolerably; and secondly, in many 
cases, to "advance" letters and newspapers for heavv suburban 
R.P.O.s or other R.P.O.s converging at points of congested 
mail traffic like Harrisburg or Atlanta, sorting out letters 
between trains into direct separations for all sizable post 
offices on these lines. Only when an outgoing R.P.O. train 
is directly connected are incoming mails for such lines sent 
to the train instead of to the terminal first— which may also 
handle all mails for some areas without R.P.O. service. 

Terminal clerks work an eight-hour day, five days a week, 
and are often dubbed "termites" in fun. In each terminal 
there are cases for circulars (and letters, if worked), parcel 
racks, and paper racks (handling magazines), for all states 
assigned to be distributed. The unit for each state is divided 
into a primary (city and large town), secondary (small town), 
and residue (R.P.O. line and dis) case, with individual boxes 
or sacks for every town of any size. By first "straining" their 



S6 MAIL BY RAIL 

mail through the primary and secondary separations in order, 
then sorting mails for the tiny hamlets into packages or sacks 
for R.P.O. lines (or distributing offices) at the residue case, 
the terminals accomplish an amazing amount of distribution 
in a very short time. A terminal railway mail clerk sorts up 
to ten thousand circulars, or other mail in proportion, daily. 
If a terminal advances letters for particular R.P.O. routes, 
there is often a case for each line in addition to general 
primary cases; then packages addressed to some particular 
suburban R.P.O. are at once diverted to the proper terminal 
case whenever there is sufficient time between trains. Such 
terminals usually pouch on most towns involved via all 
available C.P. trains and star routes as well. 

In nearly all terminals clerks work in three shifts: Totir 
1 (late night or "graveyard" shift), Tour 2 (daytime), and 
Tour 3 (evening), with night work paying 10 per cent extra. 
There is usually a raised and railed (or enclosed) platform 
for the clerk-in-charge's desk, dubbed the bidl peyi; a time 
clock for recording arrival and departure of the clerks; a 
desk with a well-filled "order book," and a clerks' mail case 
to accommodate time slips and official mail, all located to- 
gether. Out on the floor are wheeled canvas baskets, officially 
listed as gurneys but always called "tubs," for conveying 
mails from primary to secondary, residue, or other racks; 
small hand trucks (or nulling trucks, derived from a manu- 
facturer's name) for conveying bag mails; and large four- 
wheelers with wagon tongues, in terminals without belts, 
which require them to receive and dispatch bag mails to 
and from the trains. Overhead there may be inconspicuous- 
slits at the tops of certain walls, tiny "peepholes," looking 
out from secret passageways used by postal inspectors to 
detect the very rare postal clerk who is tempted to lift some- 
thing; from the mail; but there is seldom need to use them. 
Outside of the terminal workroom are locker, "swing" 
(lunch), and wash rooms. 

The largest railway mail distributing unit in the country 
happens to be one of these terminals— the huge Penn Ter- 
minal in the G.P.O. Building, New York, with over eleven 



"TRAINED LETTERS" FROM COAST TO COAST 87 

hundred clerks. It not only "advances" Florida and Texas 
letter mails but also works ordinary bulk mails for most 
New England states, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and 
for other states— but noL for New York State (except Long 
Island). Similarly, the Washington, D. C, Terminal works 
bulk mails for Pennsylvania and nearly all Southern states 
from Virginia on down, but not for the adjacent state of 
Maryland; each terminal is arbitrarily assigned certain states 
only. Important Eastern terminals advancing letters for 
suburban R.P.O.s include those at Camden, Hoboken, and 
\Veehawken, New Jersey; the Central and Erie terminals at 
Jersey City, New Jersey; and the Reading Terminal in Phila- 
delphia. Westward, the Chicago and Los Angeles terminals 
and others do likewise. 

The Philadelphia Terminal or "Dog-House," in the 
G.P.O. Building opposite Thirtieth Street Station there, is 
one of the most modern in the country, with its conveyor 
belts and floor-level trap doors for dispatches direct to trauis; 
no piling or trucking of mail by clerks and porters is neces- 
sary. The great Chicago and Cleveland terminals are both 
in the Main Post Office buildings; the Pittsburgh, I-os An- 
geles, Atlanta, Boston, Portland (Maine), Detroit, and Omaha 
terminals are other large ones. Metropolitan New York alone 
has seven. 

The first "Terminal R.P.O." was the old Jersey City (New 
Jersey) Register Terminal, established in 1903 by Super- 
intendent V. J. Bradley. A clerk from Courtland, Illinois, 
named W. H. Riddell, was appointed a chief clerk about 
1907, with the duty of organizing the Union and other rail- 
way station terminals at Chicago, and a Union Terminal 
R.P.O. later appeared at Omaha. However, regular termi- 
nals first appeared throughout the country in 1913-14, as 
explained later, and by late 1914 nearly one hundred ter- 
minals had been hurriedly set up wherever there seemed to 
be the slightest justification. 

Since then there has been a steady reduction of over 30 
per cent in the number of terminals, with much of the mail 
assigned thereto being restored to the R.P.O. lines, until the 



38 MAIL BY RAIL 

last few years. The number was down to eighty-eight by 1915, 
and to seventy-one by 1942— and of these, nearly twenty were 
(and are) small part-time units in transfer oflTices, without any 
employees and seldom a postmark of their own. Historic term- 
inals which have folded up in the meantime include the old 
Grand Central Terminal R.P.O., New York; the Broad Street 
and Sears Terminals, Philadelphia; the Columbus (Ohio) 
Register Terminal; the La Salle and other railway-station 
terminals at Chicago; and those at Long Island City, Toledo, 
San Francisco, and Sacramento. Our newest terminals are 
those at Jamaica, N. Y.; Indianapolis; Toledo (just re-estab- 
lished); Greensboro, North Carolina (previously existing, 
however, as a part-time T.C. -manned unit as in the Indian- 
apolis case); and Los Angeles (Sears Terminal, 1949)— both 
the latter necessitated by mail-order expansions. There were 
about fifty of these full-sized units when they became 
terminals, P.T.S., on November 1, 1949. Two new terminals 
are planned (at New Haven and at a northern New Jersey 
location). 

Most substitutes begin their careers in the terminals, 
and some decide to stay. Mimeographed "bid sheets," listing 
assignments, and periodic "reorganizations," as on the lines, 
offer all a choice of jobs according to seniority. Men who 
tire of "the road," with its strenuous and irregular away-from- 
home duties, often transfer to a lower-paid terminal job, 
especially if nearing retirement. Occasionally a clerk, unable 
to perform exacting road duties, is thus transferred arbi- 
trarily. But more often a terminal clerk literally lives for the 
day when his seniority will permit him to succumb to the 
lure of the trains and transfer to them. 

Colorful and humorous sidelights of terminal life are hard 
to dig out. But from the Los Angeles Terminal— whose out- 
side U.P. parcel-separating table is called the "pneumonia- 
platform"— clear to the Washington, D. C, Terminal, where 
the boys voted to present roller skates to the clerk-in-charge, 
"with which to cover the terminal in a hurry" (after a nice 
speech he gave them to his son!), one can unearth a few tales 
and tidbits. At Penn Terminal, New York, Arthur Carucci 



•'TRAINED LETTERS" FROM COAST TO COAST 89 

tells how a young lieutenant tumbled into the terminal 
on an incoming belt, mixed with pouches from the LIRR 
trains; he couldn't find the train-platform exit, chose 
the belt as a last resort! At the same terminal one super- 
visor would ask each new clerk his educational qualifications; 
then bellow, "Well, you lawyers, dump the parcel sacks; the 
college grads push the tubs around; you teachers lock out the 
full sacks . . ." and on on. 

At another Eastern terminal, old "Tony" was the butt 
of all jokes. One day a few fun-loving co-workers, who were 
(unkno^vn to Tony) in league Avith his principal tormentors, 
offered to help Tony to get even with the latter. 

"At lunch hour, get inside this big No. 1 sack and let us 
lock it up," they proposed, "and we'll label it and put it on 
those guys' parcel table with their other working mail. Then 
when they come back to work and unlock the sack, you jump 
oiu and scare them!" 

The naive old chap agreed, and sure enough was locked 
in the sack and placed on the right ^vorktable. But when 
his tormentors returned and one started to unlock the sack, 
the other cried out: 

"Hey!— watch that label— it's a direct sack for ChicaG:o. 
And we've only got ten minutes to make Train 43 with it!" 
And poor old Tony was quickly trucked to the elevator and 
down to the train platform, despite his ragings, before they 
let him out. 

W^ishington Terminal is famed for its daily "Florida War 
Cry" on some occasions, announcing completion of distri- 
bution on the Florida letter case, its only regular first-class 
mail assignment. Long led by veteran ex-navy clerk Frank 
Fccles, it was designed to call a mail handler to truck away 
the locked-out pouches, but sounds more like a combined 
fire siren and Hopi battle veil ! 

The historic old San Francisco Terminal could perhaps 
tell the grandest stories of all, prior to its discontinuance, as 
noted above. The Go-Back Pouch tells how it was one of the 
very first terminals, located directly over the water of the 
bay between the ferry slips. Wide cracks and holes in the floor 



40 MAIL BY RAIL 

inevitably invited the installation of fishing lines while clerks 
were at work at the letter cases directly overhead. Sometimes, 
dining a feverish tie-out to make connections, a clerk would 
vainly eye his line jerking with a couple of fish on its hooks 
and nearly getting loose! Crab nets were also hung on the end 
of the ferry slip and brought in many rich hauls— except when 
the ferry captain discovered them first with his searchlight. 
Another poor old clerk in this terminal would plod on board 
the ferry to go home, not knowing that pranksters had tied 
the end of a ball of twine to his coattail— to watch it unwind 
and trail liim clear over the pier and halfway across San 
Francisco Bay! The faithful old distributor never objected; 
devoted to his work to the very last, his heart gave out one 
day as he leaned against his case, his last package of letters 
in his hand. 

There are lesser incidents galore: The district superin- 
tendent at one ne-^v terminal who tried out its spiral chute in 
small-boy fashion; the wags ^vho string "circ" cases witii twine 
running behind the mail in each vertical row in such a way 
that a sly tug from behind sends two hours' work flying into 
the aisle; the unorthodox and inconvenient places in which 
mail locks can be attached, in letter cases or on paper sacks, 
to the great annoyance of anyone trying to sort mail or to tie 
out sacks. (Locks are always plentiful; they are used in such 
huge quantities in some terminals that they are literally 
sho\eled out of tubs like coal.) 

Terminal men are definitely "railway mail clerks" and are 
usually proud of it. Steeped in the traditions of the iron 
road, they refer to the daily time record (showing amoimt 
of mail worked) as the "trip report"; each day's work is a 
"run," which is "exchanged" (using road-service forms) or 
"defaulted" just as on the trains, and there is often a race 
agninst time to dispatch to some outgoing R.P.O. Highly 
train-conscious, they must separate direct sacks and sort 
residue mails out to definite R.P.O. trains; and they must 
take examinations from the same schemes as road clerks do. 

Some very strict sets of Terminals Rules and Regulations 
have been issued in past years; some have included rules 



"TRAINED LETTERS" FROM COAST TO COAST 41 

forbidding clerks to wash up, change clothes, or even 
approach the time clock before closing signal, or to so much 
as step inside the terminal to speak to a clerk wh( n off duty. 
Hon'ever, the more humane terminal heads have endeavored 
to have such rules relaxed as much as possible in recent years; 
until the privilege was unfortunately withdrawn, officials 
even allowed clothes changing and eating lunch on duty for 
a considerable recent period, permitting a true eight-hour day. 

Terminal cases and racks are permanently labeled with 
printed headers according to official diagrams, mostly al- 
phabetically. (Header holders provide storage space for extra 
strip labels. Although the practice is frowned upon, most 
headers become helpfully annotated with the names of small 
dis offices which are included in certain separations, for dis- 
patch from a larger post office). Low tables or moving belts 
with high rims are used for dumping up the parcels and papers 
to be sorted or "thro^vn off," and small bags of locks are 
hung at one end (or on the rack) (Note 9). Clerks must turn 
in a "count" of mails worked (represented by the slips and 
labels ttirned in) ^vhich is at least up to the daily average 
requirements of the terminal— and they are supposed to 
dutifully discard any angels or spurious extra labels found 
enclosed inside the sacks by sympathetic clerks at the point 
of origin. Since a "skin" sack containing only a couple of maga- 
zines counts just as much as a huge "balloon" sack crammed 
with tiny hard-to-'work papers {squealers) or samples, some 
laughable scrambles for the more desirable sacks often occur. 
Some "balloon" sacks, strangely enough, seem to remain 
around for the next tour! 

And we must not forget the transfer clerks— postal trans- 
portation clerks assigned to the important duty of supervis- 
ing connecting mails between trains, among many other re- 
sponsibilities. They are stationed at about two hundred 
transfer offices at important railway stations or junction 
points all over the country; and large cities may have several. 
The office is usually in some nondescript, smoke-begrimed 
alcove of the depot, containing a desk for the clerk-in-charge, 
tables, files, and usually order books and an official-mail case 



42 MAIL BY RAIL 

for road clerks. In one corner is a box of the long strip- 
metal "seals" used to close storage car doors. Transfer clerks 
must meet all incoming trains and see off all outgoing ones, 
in all kinds of weather, often scrambling across a dozen tracks 
from train to train at considerable risk; and must keep a 
detailed statistical record of the mails carried and other facts 
regarding each. They must keep informed as to mail dis- 
patciies and authorizations on all outbound trains, be famil- 
iar with all hours of arrival and departure, issue complex 
requests for additional space, notify the office of schedule 
changes, furnish substitutes for emergency runs, take sup- 
plies out to R.P.O. trains, and must often distribute connec- 
tion mails between trains or for offices on C.P. or star routes 
by means of a small case and rack. They are required to col- 
lect mail from station mailboxes before departure of train 
and sort it— at some stations it's done in a little case inside 
the mailbox door. Letters are usually taken direct to the 
proper train, but sometimes to the transfer office, for cancella- 
tion. Transfer clerks must take special case examinations 
from standpoint schemes; and while on duty, must carry a 
notebook and pencil at all times to record statistical data for 
transfer to their report sheets. The Register Transfer Office, 
Kansas City, Missouri (for registers) is the only one of its kind. 

Transfer clerks are much maligned because of their sup- 
posed "soft snap" of a job. "My father doesn't have to work; 
he's a transfer clerk at Union Station!" They are pictured as 
sitting around with nothing to do except meet occasional 
trains: but we have already shown the unjustness of any such 
concept of their duties. Transfer clerks must busily dash 
across tracks to record data of four or five trains all arriving 
at once; messy "bad-order" parcels must be written up in 
trij)Hcate on complex forms, through storage cars carefully 
locked or sealed, car-floor diagrams drawn up and supervised, 
sorting done in the small part-time terminals often housed in 
the transfer office, and what not. 

In one case transfer clerks were instrumental in appre- 
hending a mail thief stealing from numerous pouches, 
resulting in great benefit to the reputation and financial 



"TRAINED LETTERS" FROM COAST TO COAST 4S 

Standing of the Postal Service. In another, a new one-man 
transfer office was established at the suggestion of clerks them- 
selves, resulting in savings equivalent to three transfer clerks' 
salaries in view of the "padded" railroaders' mail-count re- 
ports thus unmasked. William Koelln, one of our leading 
P.T.S. historians and authorities, was a transfer clerk at 
Penn Station T.O., New York; so was the late Lillian V. 
Woods, the only female transfer clerk in the Service, capable 
and efficient. Yes, transfer clerks earn their salt! 

Supervising the whole P.T.S. setup is the Assistant Execu- 
tive Director, Bureau of Transportation at Washington- 
better known by his long-time popular title (until 1946) 
of "General Superintendent, R.M.S." He, and sometimes the 
Assistant P.M.G. (Transportation) himself, is nearly always 
a former P.T.C. who has worked his -way up through the 
ranks. At this writing, capable and respected ex-clerk George 
Miller holds the office, which places him in charge of most 
mail transportation and all distribution of transit mails (ex- 
cept international mail transportation). In a handsome office 
at the new Post Office Department Building in Washington, 
he holds forth at a big flat-topped desk, surrounded by green- 
upholstered chairs and by famous paintings or photos of great 
mail trains and planes. Interested visitors— or clerks— are 
warmly Avelcomed to the offices. Fifteen big loose-leaf books, 
giving details of current operations in each division, lie on 
a table in one room for instant reference; while a long row 
of file cabinets contains an individual folder for each R.P.O. 
or H.P.O. line. A library of schemes of all forty-eight states, 
books on the Service (such few as there are), and much related 
material is on hand. Just down the hall is the office of 
"Charley" Dietz, sympathetic head personnel man. whose 
glad-hand of help to any clerk with a real grievance is pro- 
verbial everywhere. The offices are designated as the Bureau 
of Transportation. 

Outside, the south side of the building contains a circular 
sculptured frieze featuring notable dates in our postal his- 
tory, including "RAILWAY MAIL SERVICE, 1862." It 
overlooks the great Mall which is only two blocks north of 



44 MAIL BY RAIL 

the PRR-RFRrP tracks carrying five great trunk-line R.P.O.s 
to the Souih; and trolleys which later carry P.T.S. "C.P." 
service pass the front entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue.^ 

The country is apportioned among fifteen divisions, each 
with its own general superintendent. ^ Assistant general super- 
intendents and a faithful staff of office-assigned railway mail 
clerks are assigned to the various "sections" at each head- 
quarters. Each division is composed of several districts, with 
headquarters at key cities, which directly supervise from one 
to a dozen R.P.O. lines and terminals each. A district super- 
intendent ("chief clerk" until 1946) heads each district, with 
a few office clerks and others to help him (including an assist- 
ant district superintendent). P.T.S. offices are located in large 
post-office buildings but are, of course, independent. 

The division general superintendents have great authori- 
ty; they not only supervise the operation of the P.T.S. and 
clerks assigned to their divisions, but also prepare the general 
schemes and instructions which all first- and second-class post 
offices are required to follow in sorting their own mails. The 
district superintendent must carry out all the multitudinous 
duties of direct supervision of each of his lines and the clerks 
thereon, including the reporting of all observed cases of 
"insubordination, inefficiency, and lax morality" among 
clerks. Division and district superintendents are promoted 
exclusively from the ranks, although clerks allege that some 



>The Wash. X: Suburban CP. (CTCo) to Cabin John. Md. 

•Numbered and located as follows: 1— P.O. Bldg., Boston 9 (N. Ens^l. States); 
2-G.P.O. Bldg., New York 1 (N. Y., north N. J.); 3-City P.O. Bg., Washington 
25 (Md-DC-Va-NC-WVa); 4-Fed. Annex, Atlanta 4 (Ala-Fla-Ga-SC-Tenn- 
PR); 5-P.O. Annex, Cincinnati 35 (Ohio-Ind-Ky); 6-Main P.O. Bg., Chicago 
7 (Ill-la); 7-P.O. Eg., St. Louis 3 (Mo-Kans); 8-P.O. Bg., San Francisco 1 
(Calif-Ariz-Nev-Utah); 9-P.O. Bldg., Cleveland 1 f^firh.; Cleveland. Ohio; 
N. Y. Cent, main line area); 10-P.O. Bg., St. Paul 1 (Minn-ND-SD Wise.. 
N.P. of Mich.); II-P.O. Eg., Fort Worth 1 (Tex-Okla-NMex); 12-Fed. Ofc. Eg., 
New Orleans 6 (La-Ark-Miss and Memphis, Tenn); 13— P.O. Eg., Seattle 11 
(Wash-Ore-Ida-Ala.ska); 14-P.O. Eg., Omaha 1 (Neb-Colo-^Vyo); 15-Fed. 
B?., Pittslnirgh 19 (Pa-Del, .south NJ, E. Shore Md-Va, PRR main line area). 
Address ''Div. Genl. Supt... P.T.S." 

Important District offices are located at Philadelphia 4, Pa. (309a G.P.O. 
Bg.); Detroit 33, Mich. (329 Roosev. Park Annex); Los Angeles 52, Calif. (226 
Term. P.O. Annex); Denver 1, Colo. (410 P.O. Bldg.) and at many other points. 



"TRAINED LETTERS" FROM COAST TO COAST 45 

"pull" is usually needed. Clarence E. Votaw describes in 
humorous fashion a typical day of a district superintendent 
in his book: "Seventy letters to answer . . . Transfer clerk 
wants man to fill run in fifteen minutes . . . Four clerks want 
their study scope revised . . . Extra clerks wanted to work 
ninety-five sacks of "stuck" train mail, at once . . . Clerk-in- 
charge running too late to return on his proper train; what 
to do?" and so on. Daily visitors include: "An old patron 
of a tiny post office insisting on two daily deliveries from the 
R.P.O.; a superintendent of mails on a big newspaper, with 
new problems; a 'distinguished visitor' who turns out to be 
a magazine salesman; a railway superintendent desiring a 
conference on mail handling; a patron whose mail arrived 
late, to bau'l him out; a messenger from the general super- 
intendent, who wants a list of all stations on all lines . . ." 
and so on. His is no bed of roses! 

In normal times mails are distributed in transit not only 
on land but on the high seas as well— by the Seapost service, 
in United States and foreign vessels. This colorful service is 
closely linked with the P.T.S., which has itself operated or 
reorganized the Seapost on three different occasions and 
which supplies most of its personnel. But, alas, space require- 
ments forbid discussion (Note 10). 

And our general survey of America's vast railway mail net- 
work remains incomplete without mention of the unusual 
private "R.R.M.," or "railroad mail," system, by which rail- 
roads carry their own company mails over their own connect- 
ing lines— completely apart from the United States mails and 
the R.P.O. facilities. It is our only sizable arrangement for 
handling of mails outside of the government's monopoly on 
letter carrying provided by the strict Private Express Statutes. 

Only a few other exceptions (other transport-company 
mails, special-messenger facilities, employee distribution of 
bills, and so on) are thereby permitted to the Post Office De- 
partment's exclusive right to transport "letters for others by 
regular trips at stated intervals over all post routes." The 
statutes do permit the carrying of "railway letters" for the 
public by conductors (if regulation postage is affixed), just as 



46 MAIL BY RAIL 

is done on a large scale in England and elsewhere; but the 
practice has never become popular here, probably because of 
the excellent R.P.O. facilities. 

The companies* own "railroad mail" is usually handled in 
large-sized brown envelopes franked with the letters "R.R.S." 
or "R.R.B." (railroad service; business) in the corner; it is 
sorted in private station mail rooms and in small cases (with 
large boxes) in baggage cars. In small quantities, it is usually 
carried by the conductor. But for the general public our vast 
R.P.O. system— which in areas like the Chicago and Duluth 
regions and North Dakota includes a network of main and 
branch lines unequalled anywhere— provides the finest and 
most extensive facilities in the world for speedy transit-sorting 
and delivery of our ordinary mails. 



Chapter 4 



FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO VETERAN 



It's "Hang up those pouches" or "Pull down that rack," 

It's "Tie out these boxes" or "Hand me a sack." 

It's "Sandy, get busy, don't go to sleep yet, 

Here, sack up these empties before you forget." 

It's "Hustle up, Sandy, what makes you so slow?" . . . 

The shacki takes the blame, on a full R.P.O. 

— Earl L. Newton 




In many varied ways, young "hopefuls" 
over the country first hear of the P.T.S. 
and dream of being a clerk on the trains. 
Perhaps they've watched one at work on 
the local at the depot, seen the flying ex- 
press make its "catch," read about the 
Service or heard of it from employed 
friends or kin or from Civil Service 
announcements. Many, however, are first attracted by the 
lurid "Travel Free for Uncle Sam" ads of the private 
civil service schools (non-go\ernment connected); and there 
are quite a few "Franklin grads" and "I.C.S. men" in the 
P.T.S. , though definitely a minority. Advertisements no 
longer show a clerk in natty uniform leisurely leaning out 
the car door to greet his girl; but they do emphasize the 
travel, layoff, and salary (not the lack of sight-seeing opportu- 
nities and the arduous dtities, conditions, and home recpiire- 
ments!). One is reminded of the uninformed friend in 
Votaw's Jasper Hunnicutt who told an applicant, "The R.M.S. 
would suit you. It is such nice clean Avork (!), sorting letters 
as you fly along and tossing out bags as you go. There is really 
no labor about it!" 



*All-around "sub." 



47 



48 MAIL BY RAIL 

The young examinee must make a sworn application on 
a long form secured from the nearest office of the Civil Service 
Commission, which recruits nearly all government employees 
through non-political competitive examinations. He does 
not need to take a civil-service course, though some are help- 
ful; he can practice up on the sample questions in the exam 
announcement. But he must meet stringent physical require- 
ments: a minimum height and weight, freedom from all dis- 
abling disease or defects, and an aptitude for "arduous 
exertion," all confirmed by two medical examinations. Final- 
ly he receives his official-looking "IMPORTANT ADMIS- 
SION CARD," announcing the exact time and place of the 
next exam for Substitute Postal Transportation Clerk; he 
must paste an identification photo thereon. At the examina- 
tion, which is held at intervals of several years at about six 
hundred cities, the applicant sees the examiner solemnly open 
and distribute the sealed examination papers, which include 
a General Test (on mental alertness, geography, arithmetic, 
and so on) in multiple-choice form, and three Mail Tests on 
following instructions, sorting, and routing. The latter is 
done by studying sets of imaginary post-oflice names, route 
symbols, train numbers, and related data, and by checking off 
the routes on a long list. 

Few applicants are able to "finish everything" in any part 
of the stringent four-hour test (not realizing that this is sel- 
dom expected). Passing is 70 per cent, but our examinee is 
in a fortunate minority if his grade is high enough to insure 
appointment— usually about 90 per cent. In this case he is 
finally notified of his grade on a form outlining the strenuous 
duties of the position and the system of "registers" of eligibles 
by state of residence. Occasionally a few clerks are accepted 
by transfer from other government units under very exacting 
requirements, the P.T.S. enjoying so high a reputation that 
senior clerks with ideal hours in a post office Avill sacrifice 
their pay and comforts for a chance to become a lowly railway 
mail "sub" under the most trying conditions. 

After a wait of months or years, possibly broken by a little 
temporary government employment, a P.T.S. vacancy may 



FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO VETERAN 49 

occur. The Commission reports the three highest names on 
the appropriate state register to the proper division officials, 
who will select one or more names as needed and mail out 
inquiries to "advise if you will accept" a vacancy— with the 
cautious notation: "This is not an ofier of appointment." But, 
barring irregularities, our ne-^v man is eventually given his 
final physical, his oath of office. Black Book (Book of Instruc- 
tions condensed from Postal Laws & Regulations, hence, The 
PL&R) a scheme of his first study-assigned state (with map), 
and a Schedule of Mail Routes (timetables of all R.P.O. 
trains and- other routes in the division). He may also receive 
a mail key and revolver. The new substitute's starting salary 
is now $1.41 i/C per hour. 

Most substitutes are first assigned regularly to some termi- 
nal, P.T.S., on a straight five-day week when mails are normal 
(classed either as "acting additional" or "vice"— in place of— 
clerks on leave). In some cases a self-confident new "clerk" 
has entered a terminal the first day, asking: 

"And ^vhere is my desk, sir?" 

"Right here," the clerk-in-charge wall usually reply, escort- 
ing him to some big parcel-dumping platform where per- 
spiring men are violently shaking mail out of huge sacks! 
The disillusioned neophyte then has to "dump up" parcels 
the rest of the day for the convenience of the others. 

"A doQfSfone baboon could do this work!" has been the 
sentiments of more than one sub after weeks of such back- 
breaking labor requiring almost no thinking. Most terminal 
clerks are helpful and sympathetic; but there have been ex- 
ceptions, as witness the plaint of one newcomer: 

. . . They guided me through a maze of racks, trucks, 
mail sacks, and chutes ... It was a strange and alien 
world ... no friends about and few smiles ... A job: 
"Here's something you can do. Anybody, even a grade- 
school boy can do it." It was working circulars in a 
secondary case . . . But what a welcome! They looked me 
over like I was some strange species of animal ... By my 
side was a young sub who was as quiet as I. We discovered 
one another . . . We "picked to pieces" the Mail Service 



50 



MAIL BY RAIL 



in our room after a hard clay's work . . . There was no 
explanation as to why a certain job is performed . . . 
Kindlier relations ... a pat on the shoulder, and a friend- 
ly smile would be life-savers to a new sub . . . 

From 1946 to 1950 a new official, the counselor-instructor, 
was assigned to each division to see that new subs got a friend- 
lier sort of welcome as well as organized instruction in job 
fundamentals, often including classroom talks, demonstra- 
tions, and instruction trips; this program is now operated by 
other officials. The new man must secure a rubber stamp 
showing his name, date, line or terminal, and train or tour 
number (with necessary type and inkpad). Plain straight-line 
stamps are furnished free on request after considerable delay, 
but most clerks prefer to buy theirs from postal or rubber- 
stamp supply houses, who design them to order in myriad 
styles. Clerks have used them since well before 1890 for 
stamping slips and labels (in lieu of postmarking) and occa- 
sional records or pieces of mail (that foimd without contents 
or consisting of fluff —soh, easily damaged packets). Some 
early and current styles are shown herewith (operating lines 
are listed in Appendix I: 





Balto & Cln. R P 

Tr. 43"~ Kay 30 Sth 

1890 

Prederlclc B. Hoffinan 




Soon the sub is acclimated and wearing his long key chain 
like a veteran, fearful only that it might be mistaken for a 
zoot-suiter's watch chain. He learns to "tie out" packages of 



FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO VETERAN 51 

letters or circulars with the quick, special, hard knot— on 
back of the bundle, to leave addresses unobstructed, and with 
short letters tied both ways and long ones sticking out below, 
tied singly. He gradually catches an unspoken spirit of quiet 
determination. 

His strenuous work may include, if there is a shortage of 
mail handlers, heaving whole piles of sack mail up onto 
outgoing trucks or separating incoming sack mail, and at 
heavy-mail periods twelve- to eighteen-hours stints and 
more are common. Al Humpleby, now of the N.Y. &: Wash. 
(PRR), reports having had thirty-six hours* continuous 
duty in two North Jersey terminals years ago, except for inter- 
terminal commuting; then the "sub shortage" that caused this 
changed to a surplus, and he received only one day's work for 
a month. Assigned that day to the Wilkes-Barre (Pennsyl- 
vania) T.O., where no mail was distributed, he received a 
check for nine dollars for the month (including allowances 
and held-back pay)— plus ten demerits, levied despite protests, 
for not checking any mail-distribution errors that month! 

Other new subs are assigned direct to the trains, filling in 
for various trips irregularly; and the "first trip" is usually a 
nightmare (see next chapter). A bewildered new man is often 
assigned to stack incoming bag mail in the bins, much per- 
plexed by the absence of any signs or other indications of 
which is which— a sympathetic paper smoke (newspaper clerk) 
may enlighten him. After dumping up the paper man's mail 
and helping at the pouch table the whole trip, he's very sure 
he has handled every one of the 1,600,000 pouches and 
14,000,000 sacks in the Postal Service. 

Stories about new subs' inexperience make laughable 
reading. There are many versions of the tale in which the 
newcomer is told to stack numerous important bags of mail 
in a storage car or bin "with the labels out" (for quick perusal 
from the aisle); the sub reports to his chief with a whole 
pocketful of labels, necessitating opening and examining 
every pouch. Another classic: A sub is given a row of labels 
in proper order and asked to "put them in" a row of pouches 
to be locked out; not knowing about label holders, the young 



52 MAIL BY RAIL 

innocent drops them inside each pouch, locks the unlabeled 
pouches, and usually has them all in a heap just as the first 
throw-off point is reached! Then there was the sub instructed 
to "take down" a row of overhead boxes of mail, being given 
an empty pouch for the first box's contents as an example. 
Of course he puts the mails from every box into the one pouch, 
necessitating a frenzied reworking of the contents: Subs have 
sometimes made up a "junction box" for letters for all points 
which are R.P.O. junctions, just as they are required to do 
with junction cards on their examination practice case. 

Harassed substitutes are sent from one clerk to another, in 
search of a sack stretcher, case scraper, or similar weird arti- 
cle, or are put to work counting locks when they've nothing 
else to do. But such jokes can backfire. When Boundary Line 
& Glenwood (MStP&SSteM) clerks used to run through to 
St. Paul, Minn., on Train 110, the second clerk would set a 
green sub to sandpapering the rust off locks as they ran into 
Minneapolis and St. Paul, giving the observant transfer clerks 
at both places a good laugh. But one day the district super- 
intendent greeted the train on arrival and asked the sub what 
he was doing. Answered, he remarked, "Do a good job of it," 
and walked in for a quiet word with the clerk-in-charge. There 
were precious few locks sandpapered on that line after that. 

One gag was to require a new sub to get off the train at 
each stop to announce its arrival in loud tones. W. F. Kilman 
tells how, on a MoPac train stopping at Poplar Bluff, 
Arkansas, he dutifully leaped to the crowded platform to cry 
out, "OH YES, OH YES, ST. LOUIS & LITTLE ROCK 
TRAIN 7 HAS NOW ARRIVED." On the same trip he 
learned that all sacks were to be "thoroughly washed and 
sacked twenty to the bundle with each layer sprinkled with 
talcum" before arrival at Little Rock. Fortunately for him, 
the basin and talcum could not be located. 

Hazing new clerks has declined considerably following 
such tricks as that once played on the Rock Island Sc Kansas 
City (Rock Island) years ago, when a sub, awed at the huge 
piles of working mail, asked what would happen if it was not 
sorted in time. An old clerk cracked, "Oh, if we have a few 



FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO VETERAN 55 

left at the Mississippi, we just heave 'em overboard"— and a 
few mornings later, when the sub went stuck on an "East 
States" sack, he did just that! It was rescued by a fisherman, 
and the old clerk guarded his joking after that. (When the 
writer- asked the same question as a sub, the old "head clerk" 
just straightened up and announced with set jaw, "Young 
inan, this crew never goes stuck!") 

On the old Davenport & Kansas City (CM&StP), in the days 
of "sack time" when clerks could sleep on duty, a clerk-in- 
charge asked a sub to awaken him at Dawn (a small Missouri 
town) to finish his reports— and, of course, was not awakened 
until daylight, at the very end of the run. Jokes about subs 
and others distributing mail "nice and evenly" among all 
sacks in a rack, withcfut regard to destination, date back to 
the pre— R.M.S. "route agent" days; in the 1850s, W. H. 
"Hoss" Eddy (CB&Q agent, Chicago-Burlington) boasted of 
"the fairest distribution of mail ever made. As it came into 
the car I piled it all on a big table; when the engine whistled 
for a station, I looked ... to see how big the town was, and 
poked into a mailbag what I thought was the town's share 
and put it off." 

F. C. Gardiner tells of a soft-spoken Dixie sub trying to 
snitch a ride to New York on his commission, accompanying 
some Northern clerks on official travel to Jersey City, who 
was abruptly rejected by the conductor when he couldn't 
growl "Jarsey!" on displaying his pass, as they did. And 
Thomas Chittick tells of a sub on the run just mentioned in 
our sandpapering incident, who was assigned as a mail weigh- 
er there back in 1904 and not required to assist with distri- 
bution, although he did. When they reached the Boundary 
Line one trip badly "stuck" the Canadian clerks who took 
over at that point to run on to Winnipeg were greeted by 
the crow of a rooster in the baggage car and the sub's joking 
remark, "There he goes again— I couldn't sleep all night on 
account of him." The Canucks, feeling much imposed upon, 
reported the incident; and the regular clerk had a lot of 



•Professor Dennis, here. 



W MAIL BY RAIL 

explaining to do. Also there are other tales of a sub out- 
smarting a regular/ 

In his first few months of service the sub must correct his 
schedules, scheme, and Black Book to date; study them at 
length; and take one examination each on the last two. The 
scheme or case exam consists of memorizing all post offices, 
and their routes, in a given state or section thereof by means 
of miniature practice cards representing letters (there are also 
"city" exams— see Chapter 10). Unless he is a rare genius at 
memorizing, the sub must buy (or write) a set of from three 
hundred to eleven hundred separate cards for the state in 
question; they are the size of business cards. Practically all 
printed P.T.S. cards, and many cases and supplies, are fur- 
nished by a widely known specialized printing house in Am- 
sterdam, New York, established by former railway mail clerks. 
(Another ex-clerk established a large postal-supply house in 
Chicago, now a flourishing business.) 

His scheme contains all the state's post offices, arranged by 
counties, with the R.P.O. or other mail routes serving each; 
and after intensive home practice the new clerk is ready to 
pitch or throiu his exam (Note 11). The examiner furnishes 
him cards for the test— minus the routes on the back by 
which he checks himself at home— and a practice case (the 
sweat box) which, like his own, looks like an egg crate set on 
edge with its tiny pigeonholes. Many P.T.C.'s dread exams 



•One of the best, "Lunching on the Santa Fe," is told by Professor Dennis 
on page 110 of The Travelling Post Office. (Still in print; see Bibl.) 



SPECIMEN PAGE OF A STATE SCHEME ^->- 

Indicating routes for Yonkers, New Rochelle, et cetera, in New York's 
famous Westchester County. Post offices are listed in the first column, and 
R.P.O.s or other mail supplies in the second. Reference letters after individual 
offices refer to train numbers or other information in the second column; 
many offices (like Purchase and Fort Slocum) are not on the railroad, so mail 
is put off at station indicated for the inland town. If no letter follows an 
office name, then all trains dispatch mail there. The asterisk (*) means an 
R.P.O. junction or its dis (see Chapter 2, also Notes 1, 2); the triangle, or 
delta (^) indicates a recently discontinued post office. "Stamford to N.Y.", 
et cetera, indicates division of RJ*.0. line. 



FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO VETERAN 



55 



Fig. 1 



193 



WESTCHESTER 



WESTCHESTER COUNTY (A) 



Castle » 

(Sta. New Ro- 
chelle). 
Fort Slocum & . 
(Ind. Br. New 
Rochelle). 
Harrison b 



Bos. Spgf. & N. Y. 

Stamford, Conn, to New York, 
a New Rochelle. 

b Trs. 263, 266, 283, 292, 296, 362, 379. 
c Trs. 263, 266, 283;, 292, 362. 

- --- 292, 296, 362, 379/. 



Tarr-V,mf.r,tc i d Trs. 263, 266, 283, 292, 296, 362, 379; 

Larctimontc ^ rj,^^ 55 7j gg^ 263, 266, 283, 292. 296 

Mamaroneck d 362, 374, 379. 

New Rochelle « ' ^ Tr^^^_263. 266, 283, 292, 296, 362. 379. 

Port Chester f \ 

Purchase e 

Rye b 



Amawalk 

Ardsley 

Chauncey » 

■^Croton Lakeb . . . . 

Eastview 

Granite Springs . 

Kitchawan 

Millwood 

Yorkto^vn Heights 

Pelham 

(Br. New York) 



Brewster & N. Y. 

a Tr. 101. 

b Yorktown Heights. 



•New York (New York Co.). 
Brewster & N. Y. 



Elmsford I N. Y. & Chi. 



Nepera Park » 
Yonkers 



via M. M. from Tarrytown R. R. Sta. 
Trs. 14;', 32r, 39t. 

Bos., Spgf. & N. Y. 

Mount Vernon via M. V. S. 
Lv. 12 noon (;') ; arr. 45 min. 

Chat. Sc N. Y. 

Via M. V. S. from Mt. Vernon R.R. Sta. 
Tr. 438;". 

N. Y. & Chi. 

New York to Peekskill. 
Trs. 14, 26fc, 32, 38, SO/, S6, 103, 112. 
154, 156, 161, 199, 207, 216, 235, 237. 
238. 
a Yonkers (only supply). 



Abbreviations: 

Br.— Branch P.O. 
Ind. — Independent. 

j,r,t, et cetera, after train numbers — 
Letters indicating frequency of service. 
M.M. — Via mail messenger. 



M.V.S. — Via motor-vehicle service. 

Sta. — Postal station. 

Tr.. Trs. — Train or Trains (Train Num- 
bers). 

(R.P.O. line abbreviations — See General 
Index). 



66 MAIL BY RAIL 

Fig. 2 (a) 



Larchmont 



New York 



(b) 



Westchester County 

Bos, Spgf & N Y 



(c) 




ELMSFORD 




New 


York 



FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO VETERAN 

(d) 



57 



Westchester County 



Brewster & N Y |X 
N Y & Chic 



TYPICAL PRACTICE CARDS 

(Based on Scheme illustration in Fig. 1, showing two of the same post offices 
and corresponding routes.) Fronts of cards are lettered a and c, and backs of 
the same cards are lettered b and d respectively (printed or homemade). Routes 
on cards are printed exactly like routes shown in large type in scheme, with all 
detailed data omitted. The clerk must throw Larchmont, by memory, in his 
"Bos. Spgf. & N.Y." pigeonhole only; he can throw the Elmsford card in either 
the "Brewster & N.Y." or the "N.Y. &: Chic." box without being marked wrong 
by the examiner, but he is advised to indicate the preferred route from his 
standpoint by a check mark as shown, and hence should throw it to that box 
only. Any post office at which two or more R.P.O. lines* connect mails is called 
a junction and is marked (•) in the scheme and on back of card; and in gen- 
eral, the cards for each post office must be correctly thrown to either a certain 
R.P.O. line or to one of these junctions or dis (distributing) offices. Schedules, 
crammed with complex symbols and data, must be used to determine preferred 
route. 



'Important offices reached by only one R.P.O. but served by other leading air- 
mail or closed-pouch routes may sometimes be arbitrarily schemed as junctions, 
and thus designated. 



as much as the poor clerk (in Carl Lucas's verses in the Go- 
Back Pouch) whom Satan turns a-^vay, saying: 

. . . "You go to the gates with gold agleam 
And learn new things from Heaven's scheme." 
The poor gink turned a ghastly shade. 
And reeling, this reply he made: 
"If another scheme I've got to learn 
I'd rather stay right here and burn!" 



68 MAIL BY RAIL 

Grades are determined from secret symbols on the exami- 
ner's card backs, and passing is 97 per cent; higher grades 
bring the clerk up to fifty merits on his record. Clerks must 
average sixteen cards per minute, and most of them are two 
or three times that fast and make at least 99 per cent; because 
of "case errors," 100-percenters or pats are not too common. 
All R.P.O.s supplying each junction office must also be 
named from memory at this time. (See Chapter 10 for infor- 
mation on outstanding examination records and on memor- 
izing systems.) 

After two beginners' tests of comparatively few simple 
questions on the Black Book, clerks must take annual exams 
involving knowledge of exactly 284 complex questions and 
answers from the same volume; some single answers have 
twelve to fifteen parts! A few sample questions and answers 
will be most revealing: 

Q. What are the conditions governing the acceptance of 
special-permit matter without stamps affixed? 

A. A small number of pieces of metered first-class matter 
may be accepted by postal-transportation clerks or transfer 
clerks direct from a permit holder, who has been authorized 
to mail such matter in R.P.O. trains, but only upon the pre- 
sentation by the permit holder of a statement on a form pre- 
pared by him showing his name, his meter permit number, 
that the pieces offered at the train conform to the conditions 
governing the acceptance of metered mail, and that the num- 
ber of pieces, or value of the impressions thereon, will be 
endorsed on the regular statement of mails, Form 3602-A, 
furnished the postmaster in accordance with regulations. 

(Some are much longer. But just listen to this one:) 

Q. What insects, fowl, and live animals may be accepted 
for mailing? 

A. Honeybees, day-old ducks, day-old geese, day-old guinea 
fowl, day-old turkeys, day-old chicks, and harmless live animals 
having no offensive odor and not likely to become offensive 
in transit, which do not require food or water in transit. All 



FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO VETERAN 59 

must be properly crated; the day-old fowl can be sent only 
to points to which they may be delivered within seventy-two 
hours from time of hatching, and animals only within a 
reasonable distance. 

Another annual exam is that on space regulations (under 
which the railroads are paid for carrying mail)— also a com- 
plex set of queries, but totaling only forty-five. Passing is 85 
per cent in both examinations, but merits are awarded only 
for one hundred per cent grades. 

After one year a substitute's probation is up. His clerk-in- 
charge will grade him, subject to checking by officials, on 
some twenty-three points of ability and behavior dealing with 
his eyesight, memory, speed, industry, neatness, carefulness, 
obedience, personal habits, sole attention to the Service, and 
so on. If all is well, his appointment now becomes perma- 
nent. Although quite proficient by now, recognition of his 
ability is sometimes begrudged by old-timers, as in the case of 
one sub who wrote that after finishing his own work he 
"tied out the C.-in-C.'s letter case and helped the second man 
rack out his papers— yet the C.-in-C. reported we went stuck 
due to 'inexperienced substitute'!" 

Gradually our new man nears the head of his state substi- 
tute seniority list and, if in a terminal, begins to get a pre- 
ferred tour and a Saturday-Sunday layoff. The top man is 
called the king sub. As vacancies occur, senior subs are gradu- 
ally appointed "regular" to lines of their choice at from 
$2,870 to $3,870 a year, depending on their length-of-service 
grade; but in a terminal the highest automatic salary is 
$3,670 (Note 12). 

The newly appointed "regular" may be assigned to any 
imaginable type of R.P.O. It might be a local mixed train 
in the mountains of Washington State, like the Oroville & 
Wenatchee (GN), crawling up to the border of British Colum- 
bia ... or a pair of all-night trunk-line trains, like N.Y. & Sala- 
manca (Erie) Trains 5 & 10," where they kid him about being 
on "the Woolworth train" ... or temporarily, a busy inter- 



^Service just now on Trains 5 and 8. 



60 MAIL BY RAIL 

State local, like the "Ma & Pa"— the York & Baltimore (Md& 
PaRR), a scenic rural run, usually reserved for senior clerks. 
Usually the new "regular" must return to undesirable hours. 

He knows, at least, that he'll not get one of the few remain- 
ing small, rural branch-line runs with ideal hours and not 
much to do. They are fast disappearing into oblivion, as has 
(for example), the sleepy little abandoned Tuckerton & Phila. 
(TucktnRR-PRR) in New Jersey. Its lone train stopped at 
each crossroad to flag the autos, and if the clerk missed a 
catch, it would back up for him I On the old Bowie & Popes 
Creek (PRR) in southern Maryland, whose daily mixed trains 
became so slow that all mail service was pulled off, one 
clerk was due to get on daily at Bel Alton— but often didn't. 
The other clerk would shut the door on him, knowing he 
could easily run ahead and catch the train at the next station 
(the irritated short-stop clerk eventually refused to do it, and 
this train had to back up too!). But some branch lines are 
still found in most states— in New York, for example, the 
NYC-West Shore's 104-mile Kingston & Oneonta or "K.&O." 
Some, like the Franklin & Cornelia (TalFlsRR,N.C.-Ga.), 
are now freight lines only— the R.P.O. is sandwiched between 
express and box cars. In sharp contrast are many feverishly 
busy suburban runs (see Chapter 12). 

Assignment to one of the heavier one-man runs is an inter- 
esting possibility for a new regular clerk, but it is an unusu- 
ally responsible job and sometimes a tough one. The lone 
worker is clerk-in-charge, red man, letter clerk, paper man, 
and pouch clerk, all rolled into one. Perhaps the all-time 
record for holding down such a run goes to Roy "Kit" 
Carson, an authority on Arizona lore, who went on the Santa 
Fe's Ashfork & Phoenix there in 1912 and just retired from it 
—a relative of his famous namesake of 1863, he personally 
coaxed the government into creating the Carson National 
Monument. E. M. Martindale (later an examiner at Des 
Moines, and now, at eighty-one, in retirement there) tells of 
his old one-man run, the Newton k Rockwell City (NewtSc 
NW), in Iowa, which lasted just about four years (1905—09); 
long abandoned, large trees now grow in the right of way. 



FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO VETERAN 61 

The best one-man runs are those within one state (usually 
requiring exams on no other state) and with good hours and 
layoff. The hours often permit a clerk to be home each night 
—a privilege impossible on the long lines— even though layoffs 
may be confined to only every fourth or sixth week. On a 
typical run the clerk first calls for his registered mail; then 
he consults the "order book" of latest district regulations, and 
reports to the car with his usual work clothes and supplies. 
Changing clothes, he records the reds in his manifold-bill 
book, checks his arriving pouches, and hangs his small pouch- 
and-paper rack. 

If his mail has been well made up, and most mail is, the 
clerk should have a good trip. Mail for the first town or two 
is, or should have been, made up direct as "holdouts" (as is 
the mail for any large towns); and the remaining working 
mail is largely in line-division packages marked No. 1, No. 2, 
and so on. (One village postmaster labeled his No. 1-2-3 sepa- 
rations for an eastbound R.P.O. as "East," "Further East," 

and "Way the h on East!") Only the No. 1 and unmarked 

packages require immediate attention, and by the first throw- 
off whistle that town's mail will be ready for dispatch and, 
normally, all the No. 1 mail worked up. Soon all the original 
mail is distributed, and only the light incoming local mail 
needs attention thenceforth. The clerk then has things fairly 
easy— especially, of course, on the lightest branch lines, which 
are held down by older clerks rich in seniority. But there will 
be some days when local newspaper printings or week-end ac- 
cumulations mean really heavy trips, and very fast work may 
be required if the next-to-last stop is a heavy office, since all 
mail must be worked and locked out at the terminus. Before 
leaving, the clerk rehangs his rack and "labels up" for the re- 
turn trip, also making out his trip report (giving data such as 
statistics of mails worked); then he takes his reds to the post 
office. 

A clerk on one such side line used to fill out his trip report 
before beginning work (since the mail was always about the 
same), and mail it in afterwards. One day he forgot, and 
mailed it before beginning the run. Alarmed, he then real- 



62 MAIL BY RAIL 

ized it would reach the office before his run was over. The 
alert clerk quickly wired for annual leave for the following 
trip, adding, "And please return sample trip report I pre- 
pared for sub who is to run for me." It worked! Years ago 
\V. F. Kilman was due for a one-man run in Bald Knob & 
Memphis (MoPac) Train 204, in Arkansas, after very little 
sleep. Oversleeping, he was roused by phone and reached the 
station just before his train pulled out, still but half awake- 
then he discovered, horrified, that he had made his mad dash 
through the streets of Bald Knob minus both his pants and 
attached key! Now the first stop was rapidly approaching, 
and he could not even unlock his pouches of mail; he frantic- 
ally wired postmasters along the line (at his expense) to lend 
him a key, but to no avail. Helpless, he could only take in 
more mail at each stop and work none of it; and, finishing at 
Memphis, he had to skip his meals and work his mail up in 
Memphis post office until 2 A.M. next morning. His wife 
had rushed him the key by then— but he was docked a day's 
pay anyhow! 

On another occasion the same clerk was accosted at a way 
station by a patched-up hillbilly who had just heard that men 
were needed in the postal service— and would Kilman put 
him to work? Kilman, badly "stuck," would have welcomed 
even such help as that, but of course could not accept the 
offer. But, wanting a little fun, he quizzed the applicant on 
his church affiliations, temperate habits, and so on, and re- 
ceived most reassuring answers. "Then come to the station 
at this exact time tomorrow, and I'll hire you," finished 
Kilman. Since the run was long enough to require two-day 
trips, of couse it was the blissfully innocent clerk running 
opposite Kilman who was insistently waylaid! 

The exasperating annoyances and difficulties confronting 
the new clerk would soon make him resign were it not for 
the compensations. After working all night on a quick turn 
around run, he may get only four or five hours' sleep before 
he has to report for the return trip— perhaps involving hours 
of strenuous advance work on a heavy paper rack, in a torrid 
non-air-conditioned car with unopenable windows. Twine 



FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO VETERAN 68 

lint and sack dust fill the air, blackening skin and clothing 
and torturing those with colds or sinus troubles. Starting a 
week of duty, he usually has to work all night after being up 
all day, then try to sleep in daylight amid myriad noises. 
Hands get red and raw from tying, locking out, and piling 
mail for hours— especially if there's a rackful of nice brand 
new pouches with their stiff, unlockable straps. He learns 
his mail one way by scheme, only to find it routed differently 
in practice at times; must accept all mail brought to the doors 
after leaving time, if train has not left; and must strugrale 
with oversize greeting cards that won't fit his case, and with 
insufficient heat or light when utilities go haywire. 

Clerks are granted only fifteen days' annual and ten days' 
sick leave at the best, and road clerks get even less (about ten 
and seven respectively) in actual days, due to layoff credits. 
Clerks must sort papers and circs which publishers seem to 
deligrht in having; bulk-mailed with alternate addresses turned 
backward or upside down, or with excess paste sticking them 
all together. Dispatch deadlines must be met just when ex- 
cess mails come flooding in; delays and diversions require 
complex rerouting of mail. They must contend with contra- 
dictions in schemes— half of Maryland is schemed differently 
(in minor details) in 3rd and 15th Division schemes. Late 
running may require even a turn-around to "work back" with 
no sleep at all. Looking forward to a layoff, a clerk often finds 
himself too exhausted to do more than sit around for two or 
three days; then he may have to make new case headers or 
draw up a whole list of labels to order, study an exam or 
answer P.T.S. mail, or get called by the sub-chaser (officer 
detailing substitutes and extra men) for an extra trip— all in 
addition to his usual home requirements! 

"It's enough to make a preacher cuss," the average clerk 
exclaims; and truly, the general run of language in an R.P.O. 
car is not exactly mild, although there are a few clerks who 
never use profanity. It is a wonder, indeed, that the average 
clerk retains his proverbial courtesy to the public and his 
usual gentlemanly consideration for other clerks, especially 
newer ones. By kindly acts and hearty good humor many a 



64 MAIL BY RAIL 

clerk wins the esteem of all his fellows— oft expressed, to be 
sure, in the form of the good-natured insults so typical of 
R.P.O. repartee. But when a tired clerk in a lurching, torrid 
car is set to sticking hundreds of long letters in a short-holed 
case (covering all his headers), and is then brusquely trans- 
ferred to an overflo\ving paper rack to dump up and throw 
off huge sacks of tiny country papers or squealers (one called 
Comjort was formerly abhorred) mixed like jackstraws, then 
tie out the balky full sacks (often wedged in the back row 
behind the other sacks), bruising his knuckles and maybe find- 
ing his sack has no tie string— better hold your ears! 

Fearsome is the scene when bad weather has "grounded" 
the planes at one or more of the area's airports and huge 
stacks of air mail are turned over to the faithful old R.P.O.s 
which run in the fiercest weather. Most of the flood of 
pouches are addressed to distant airfields, but that makes no 
difference; all must be opened and distributed at once and 
all other sorting suspended. Mail is stacked in every spot, 
clear to the roof, perhaps; and someone cries in mock 
delight, "Oh, look at the pretty colors!" as the bales of red- 
white-and-blue letters are dumped up. The wind-mail must 
be worked to air outlets as well as by scheme. Pests who 
formerly riled clerks but are gTadually disappearing include 
the rhymester who addresses mail in verse and the "wise- 
cracking" addresser who makes Wyandotte, Michigan, read 

"Y & •," or Lineville into " ville," or who addresses 

letters to celebrities with "clever" symbols and drawings 
(and minus words). Distribution is badly slowed by such 
cranks, and the fact that such mail is usually delivered is a 
tribute to P.T.S. ingenuity but no excuse for the mailer. (A 
letter with nothing but "O.O." on it was promptly delivered 
to O. O. Mclntyre, New York.) 

The clerk must know that the foreigner using native spell- 
ing who addresses a letter to Zizazo or Jajago, or to "Oukcet, 
Noumchire," intends it to go to Chicago or to Hooksett, 
New Hampshire, respectively— and that the cultured Boston- 
ian who sends mail back home to "J. P." or "NUF," Massa- 
chusetts, means Jamaica Plains or Newton Upper Falls. Mis- 



FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO VETERAN 65 

takenly thinking they are helping the postal clerks, many 
firms as well as other mailers often reverse the address on 
their mail to show the city and state in top line (perhaps in 
large letters), to the confusion of the clerk, who is trained 
to scan only the last lines, constantly. All states seem to have 
at least one pair of identically named communities, al- 
though under postal regulations only one can be an inde- 
pendent post office. Ardmore, Brookline, Oakmont, and 
Overbrook, Pennsylvania, are suburbs of both Philadelphia 
and Pittsburgh! Clerks must contend with much mail im- 
properly addressed to such points, as well as mail for towns 
where the post office and railroad station have different names 
(sometimes it's unavoidable— the railroad has named its sta- 
tion for an off-line post office; then the station gets a post 
office later!). And clerks must know, for example, that mail 
for South Norfolk, Virginia, can be included with Norfolk, 
but that South Boston, Virginia, is hundreds of miles away 
from Boston, Virginia. Illegible scrawls are a headache too, 
not to mention letters for no-post-office points. 

Clerks are frequently called to sort letters under an un- 
familiar set of headers (perhaps largely obsolete) which they 
cannot or dare not rearrange, or may be required to work 
them on a table with no headers at all. Train sickness and 
foot weariness beset the new clerk; as a shack, he is sent 
"jackassing" from one job to another, with no time to finish 
any one of them. Porters pour incoming mail in two or three 
doors at once, twice as fast as clerks can pile it. Tough- 
rimmed hardhead (repaired) pouches, hung and unhung with 
greatest difficulty, hound clerks on lines out of Washington 
especially. When setting up pouch tables, their underslung 
hooks are a nuisance (a hooked one flies off as soon as the 
second one is hooked on), while if overslung hooks are substi- 
tuted, it is almost impossible to detach them, as they fly back 
into place similarly. And when a tied parcel is pushed down 
into a sack, its strings catch annoyingly on the rack-hooks. 

Letter-packages, even though addressed plainly to a con- 
necting R.P.O., often cannot be dispatched in the pouch for 
that line at all; the particular train may not serve the local 



66 MAIL BY RAIL 

offices contained, or it may not be the proper section of the 
line, or the package may consist of mixed mail turned over by 
an incoming train of that line to ours without re-labeling, 
or of mail due to be advanced by special dispatches! Special- 
delivery parcels come pouring into the car, especially around 
holidays, and half of them are too big to be squeezed 
into the closely jammed sacks, the way they are hung. Big 
blocks or large bundles of newspapers cause the same trouble; 
the rack must be half taken apart to get the packages in, 
unless the harassed clerk gives up and sorts his parcels and 
blocks in piles on the floor ! Especially in terminals, sacks of 
parcels "fill up all wrong," and big ones won't fit in unless 
the whole contents is rearranged; the clerk dares not do too 
much of this, either, or he'll be accused of wasting time 
bricklaying. Connections vary, even between days of the week. 

Rain, cinders, or snow may come beating in the car venti- 
lators persistently, until a sack is rigged up beneath them as 
a canopy. Doors on old cars are sometimes the obsolete type 
with ordinary handles, and, as the clerk who piles mail there- 
in discovers to his great annoyance, they always open inward. 
Even with standard sliding doors, mail must often be moved 
and replied when trains come into a station on the "wrong 
side." Perishable meats and cheeses in parcels will decay, giv- 
ing off a frightful aroma— as will deceased baby chicks. 

Antiquated equipment can work havoc; in a recent holiday 
season, clerks on one North Dakota run worked in cars with- 
our water, heat, or lights. One car had an old Baker heater 
which was finally lit, but it succeeded in "making smoked 
hams" of the crew while they all worked by candlelight. 
Wash water can drain out, necessitating washing with ice 
water in midwinter. Overhead boxes with their sharp under- 
slung hooks will not only give a nasty dig in the head to any 
clerk unbending so as to contact them; they have sliding gates, 
too, which will descend to crack one's knuckles violently 
when being emptied. Stall poles, supposedly removable with a 
twist of the wrist, often stick like the mischief; mails are 
passed through the alley both ways at once, or a "bottleneck" 
results from some other cause; and trying to figure out 



FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO \^TERAN 67 

"space" requirements under the complex regulations in- 
volved drives clerks to despair. As Dan Moschenross puts it: 

"During the Middle Ages, the Flagellants considered self- 
torture as the only means of attaining Divine favor . . . they 
beat one another . . . with whips and scourges. 

"Today their modern successors bury one another under 
great piles of heavy sacks and call it Space System." 

Although much is being done to remedy such conditions, 
C. D. Sherwin writes that a postal transportation clerk must 
often work "on a shaking platform, under lights [fifty-watt] 
that do not meet I.E.S. standards, eat ... in the same room 
with exposed toilets, and handle dirty sacks used all over the 
world twenty years without cleaning." In an antique, non- 
ventilatable car he "is expected to . . . correctly case some 
t^venty-five letters per minute. Try balancing yourself on the 
rear bumper of a moving auto some dark night and read your 
mail by the taillight. It'll give you an idea . . ." Small fifty- 
foot 1901 wooden mail cars are still run in some seventy-mile- 
per-hour trains, some clerks claim. 

Unless assigned alone, the new man must learn to be a 
cono^enial asset to his R.P.O. crew. Thrown into constant 
contact with the same men for years or decades, he usually 
develops a friendly tolerance for the peculiarities and failings 
of others, faults that we all have. Only occasionally do we 
find the clerk who is morose or mean towards those whose 
personality he does not find congenial. Time passes rapidly 
amid the tempo of a heavy run, and soon a clerk finds him- 
self living from layoff to layoff until months and years have 
slipped away as if by magic. Before he realizes it a clerk may 
have spent his entire Service life in one locality (or even on 
one line). Others, with wanderlust, transfer all over the 
United States. 

There is a sense of rhythm felt throughout the crew. 
There is the synchronized, clocklike motion of a multiple 
human machine at work. There is the steady, even click of 
the -wheels. There are the pulsating notes of barbershop 
harmony indulged in for many a mile, ranging from the 
classics to jive, from grand old hymns to ribald ballads, de- 



68 MAIL BY RAIL 

pending on the men and the mood. And each letter clerk has 
his own varying, personal mail-flipping rhythm; some prance 
or sway in time with their sticking, while others tap letters 
regluarly against bundles or fingers. 

The recording and receipting for valuable mails enclosed 
in "rotary-locked" pouches give an interesting insight into 
some clerks' different characteristics. To save a record in 
handling, small pouches for our line or for local points are 
often enclosed in one large pouch; and when a red man opens 
one and discovers all the little ones, he may growl expressively 
that the "pouch has pups"— only to find, perhaps, that some 
of the smaller bags have "pups" in turn. He calls off the lock 
numbers from each opener or liner (working pouch), such 
as L-I2345 or B-6789, followed by the numbers of the articles, 
and a helper checks all this on the bill enclosed. To avoid 
confusion, words are called to replace the lock letters— thus, 
Lucy 12345 and Baby 6789— and one can pretty well "size up" 
some clerks by noticing what words they choose. For example, 
"L" is commonly heard expressed as Lucky, Lucy, Lady, 
Lousy, Louis, and Liquor! (Note 14-) 

One colorful personality, an old-timer once of the Toledo 
& St. Louis (a Wabash route, famed in the song "Wabash 
Cannonball"), evidently used worse words than the above for 
"L" and the rest of the alphabet too. Although he claimed 
he was once an evangelist or preacher of sorts, he was notori- 
ous for his vitriolic language. He became famous throughout 
the area, especially after some extra trips were clamped on to 
his assignment; he referred to them disgustedly as warts, and 
this term has meant extra trips in the Midwest ever since. 

There will often be a left-handed chap in the crew who 
works his mail "backward," and since the larger letters slant 
the wrong way, no one else can work his case. Another may 
be a "string saver," tying up all discarded twine for re-use, or 
a tier of fancy knots (the work of some clerks can be recognized 
thus). Some clerks use privately-printed, name-on facing slips 
rather than the free government ones; others hang extra sacks 
galore on all the aisle hooks or gills on both sides, until no 
one can squeeze past. Others, perpetual kidders, threaten to 



FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO VETERAN 69 

push senior men (with a desirable assignment) out the door 
when crossing bridges; cry, "What's the number of that job?" 
when a clerk is "up" and taking it easy; or annoy mail mes- 
sengers by calling mail for the local stop as "Dogtown" or 
"Bird Center." One such clerk, called by phone for unwanted 
extra trips, always sneezed violently while listening, then 
repeated, "What did you say?" until the "office" gave upl 

There is a more grim form of humor too— the grins and 
facetious wisecracks indulged in when men grab the long 
safety rods overhead in case of any sudden application of 
brakes. They know chances of wreck are almost nil, but they 
are prepared for anything, as tight hand holds reveal. 

Our new crew member often discovers odd practices 
peculiar to that area. On Atlantic coastal lines, for example, 
mails for Pensacola, Florida, are always included with those 
for Georgia State— because Pensacola is the only locality not 
routed to the regular Florida connection, the Florence &: 
Jack. R.P.O. (ACL). At certain stops on a line an outgoing 
mail separation may be called as hot stuff (a close connection), 
snake mail (for West Virginia), or good and bad (as for Cle 
Elum, Wash., and dis). 

A good crew member soon learns what not to do. He tries 
not to drop twine under his neighbor's feet, haul large objects 
through a crowded aisle (they are best carried high, to the 
cry of "Low ceiling!"), or "have a chair" (frequent the district 
superintendent's office) every time he feels mistreated. He 
doesn't pile mail in bins in a slovenly, falling-down, old- 
wheat-shock stack, or come to work with out-of-date or un- 
prepared slips, or keep his things, and change clothes, in the 
aisle. He admits responsibility when wrong, helps at doors 
or busy cases without being asked, and keeps discarded mis- 
cellany off the floor and the case ledges. He avoids imitating 
the occasional chap who shows contempt for his clerk-in- 
charge, who partakes of hidden stimulants, or who stops nec- 
essary sorting to pour out windy chatter or soiled barroom 
tales which distract and perhaps annoy his co-workers. He 
knows that only a pest "keeps his cup under the water spigot, 
buys stamps from his clerk-in-charge, whistles the same tune 



70 MAIL BY RAIL 

all day long, and yells 'Shut up!' at baby chicks." (Most of 
these traits were listed by D. D. Bonewits in the Railway 
Post Office.) 

Our new clerk will develop varied interests. Besides 
hunting and card playing, as noted, most clerks like fishing, 
ball games, and horse races. Terminal clerks are often adept 
at chess. Some are religious workers or even ministers, like 
Reverend Lawrence L. Fuqua of Cleveland (Ohio) Terminal. 
Some clerks even do farming in their free time; others are 
enthusiastic musicians, stamp fiends, or railroad "fans," and a 
few are dreamy Shakespearean scholars, writers, trolley fans, 
or even R.P.O. enthusiasts (to their co-workers' utter amaze- 
ment—See Chapter 13). Possibly the strangest hobby is that 
of George E. Travis and his wife, who built a much-public- 
ized "Shaker House" in Fort Worth, Texas, containing the 
largest saltcellar collection known. 

Since 1921 clerks have had to carry revolvers, usually a Colt 
.38, with belt and bullets; it must be kept cleaned and pol- 
ished, and unloaded when not on duty. Such a requirement 
is most essential, as Clerk J. B. Williams of Washington, D.C., 
discovered to his sorrow when his ten-year-old son was seri- 
ously injured while playing with his pistol. Official target 
instruction is not given, but many clerks can "pull a mean 
trigger" and keep up practice in voluntary groups such as the 
2nd Division P.T.S. Pistol Club. A congressional investiga- 
tion, deploring the lack of firearms training and the extra 
responsibility forced upon clerks, has urged that armed 
guards be substituted. 

Federal law requires recognition of postal gun permits in 
all places, but some localities have refused to honor them. 
In North Carolina one clerk was fined sixty-five dollars for 
carrying his gun on duty, deprived of his twenty-five dollar 
weapon, and warned that other armed clerks would be 
arrested on sight— because he had no local permit! Don 
Steffee, the railway author (see Chapter 16), tells of laying 
over for three hours in Saratoga Springs, New York, when 
subbing on the Rouses Point & Albany (D&H), and of spend- 
ing his time exploring the town or resting in the park— his 



FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO VETERAN 71 

gun in a back pocket. One day he was gruffly accosted by a 
cop, disarmed, loaded into a patrol car while onlookers 
gawked, whisked to the station house, and released only after 
examination of his papers. He carried no guns in Saratoga 
after that! And even with guns put away, clerks who go and 
come in the witching hours before dawn often run afoul of 
the law anyhow. A judge in New York City, not knowing of 
the P.T.S., has even ruled that "the only people one can 
expect to meet at 3 A.M. are those who might be lawless." 
Picked up as "suspicious characters" for such reasons as grow- 
ing a luxurious beard, attending a criminal trial, or dashing 
up the street, recently, were Bob Lareau of the Kan. City & 
Albuquerque (Santa Fe); a Bos. & Newport (NYNH&H) 
clerk, in Rhode Island; and Ben Spurgeon and Fred McCand- 
lish of the Toledo k Charleston (NYCent,Ohio— W.Va.), re- 
spectively. This writer has himself been stopped and grilled 
at about 2:30 A.M. by the alert constabulary of two different 
New Jersey towns near his home! 

From time to time, speaking of guns, P.T.S. officials or 
inspectors ride the R.P.C). lines or inspect other functions of 
the Service, and one superintendent discovered a fault in 
Clerk Al Gunn's trip report on the Portland & San Francisco 
(SouPac), proposing to give him five demerits for it; and 
when the clerk replied (on the form) "Shoot.— A. Gunn," he 
was "shot" twenty-five more sinkers for disrespect in official 
correspondence. Retired District Superintendent J. P. Fitz- 
patrick, inspecting the same line, used to help sort the letters, 
and one day found a private note in a package of letters re- 
ceived via "go-back pouch" from the opposite train, reading, 
"I carried Dixon by. No report." The official added a letter, 
making it read, "Now report," and returned it to the clerk 
who wrote it and who had missed the exchange at Dixon, 
California! On an Eastern line one official tried to catch red- 
handed a clerk suspected of imbibing on duty, contrary to 
regulations. He watched the suspect throw newspapers for 
the whole two hundred-odd miles, was amazed to see the clerk 
become steadily woozier until he was completely "out" at the 
end of the trip, and gave up the quest in despair. Only after- 



72 MAIL BY RAIL 

ward did the clerk admit to his fellows that his flask was 
hung inside a paper sack in his rack, from which he took a 
swig every time he leaned over to rearrange or push down the 
mail therein 1 

Another superintendent, inspecting a terminal, proposed 
a charge of five demerits to a clerk merrily whistling, contrary 
to his regulations, but canceled them when he received the 
reply ". . . Sorry; little did I dream I was disturbing those fine 
men with whom I worked ... I was merely trying to knock 
off the rough edges of fatigue." Sometimes, however, a P.T.S. 
official himself is inspected. A postal inspector interviewed a 
former chief clerk, whose office included the Great Northern's 
Fast Mail (St. Paul & Williston), to demand why a large 
second-class office on its route was not supplied by that train 
when it was the only one which could afford a morning 
delivery. Told that they couldn't fool around with a little 
local stop like that when mailbags thrown in at Minneapolis 
were still in the way and being stacked, the inspector replied, 
"All right— we will report to the Department that the car 
doors are blocked for fifty miles after leaving. In case of 
wreck the clerks could not get out. The Chief Clerk knows 
this, and has taken no steps to correct it." The local office 
supply was established. 

Meanwhile our typical clerk has been gradually climbing 
up the various salary grades and later longevity levels, each of 
which brings a one hundred dollar increase. Usually he has 
his eye on some "dream job" on his own or another line, 
which he takes when seniority permits. He may be nearing 
middle age by then; and, having reached his goal, he will stay 
there unless he aspires to be a clerk-in-charge or an official. 
Promotions to such positions, at a very substantial salary 
increase, are made to qualified clerks who are willing to 
accept and who are in the highest automatic grade and with 
top seniority, a clerk-in-chargeship, of course, usually preced- 
ing any higher promotion. Many clerks do become C.-in-C.s, 
especially on the short one-man lines where every clerk is one; 
few aspire to higher offices, because of the influence allegedly 
needed. 



FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO VETERAN 78 

As the busy chief of a trunk-line crew, a clerk-in-charge 
well earns his Grade 16 or 17 pay and wears the saber, as they 
say (or the burlap tights), with distinction. Typing check 
sheets and handling correspondence consumes much of his 
layoff, and on the job he usually must work letters as well as 
supervise, check pouches, write trip reports and records, 
handle train space, and what not. He is accountable for all 
property in the car, must see that clerks obey orders and work 
properly all mail received, if possible, and that mails are 
properly dispatched. He must collect the "count" of each 
clerk (amount of mail worked) in a pigeonhole labeled 
"OFFICE" before he can make out his trip report. 

A wise and friendly clerk-in-charge conducts himself like 
any other clerk; he is equally considerate and respectful, wears 
the same work clothes, works just as hard, and gives "orders," 
if necessary, in the form of pleasant suggestions. (It seldom is 
necessary in the ideal crew, where each man knows his duties 
in detail.) On his responsible job, as one writer says, he must 
have the "patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon, sometimes 
as hard-boiled as a top sergeant, but as diplomatic as Franco 
would like to be; wide-awake and alert, yet at times blind 
and dumb— meek as a lamb . . . He is custodian of what other 
clerks are not to be bothered with: Special orders, post- 
marker, 'Missent' and other stamps, canceling pad and ink, 
postage stamps, trip-report book, postal guide, extra registry 
supplies, clip boards, wire clips, rubber bands, flashlights, 
batteries, car keys, space books, special-delivery and check 
sheets, and a thousand and one blank forms . . ." 

Two-grip man he is rightly called, for he seldom gets all 
this material into one case. His extra grip or box, as well as 
his regular one, must be bought and handled at his own 
expense even though used for government property only. 
A C.-in-C. who tried using a mail sack for this purpose was 
severely reprimanded. 

Scattered among the P.T.S.'s legion of kindly and capable 
clerks-in-charsre there are, of course, a few of the Simon 
Legree type too. One clerk said in the Railway Post Office: 
"They cannot give an order in a respectful manner, and oft- 



74 MAIL BY RAIL 

times use profane language in emphasizing same ... a direct 
violation of P.L.RrR." In the same magazine (now Postal 
Transport Journal) D. D. Bonewits lists a few other com- 
plaints toward such, including, "He uses all the drawers and 
boxes for his shoes, hat, parcels, and personal collection . . . 
Waits until the engineer whistles, then hurriedly ties out his 
local package and charges you with a pouch-exchange failure 
when you can't get to the door in time . . . Asserts his author- 
ity—officious and arrogant in giving orders . . . Lets some 
favorite mollycoddle assign the distribution for the crew . . . 
Is a superman on supervision, pygmy on effort . . . Never has 
time to listen to suggestions . . . Arranges for valet service— 
someone to wait on him, no matter how busy . . . Fallaciously 
thinks the hard way is the best way to get the most out of 
his crew . . . Never gives partner a lift when a ten-minute 
breather would have saved carrying mail by . . . Careless 
about orders from his superiors— thinks they are meant for 
. . . the crew," and so on. 

It must again be emphasized that such clerks-in-charge are 
much in the minority, and that the chief himself has to con- 
tend with the annoying crew-member habits quoted from 
Mr. Bonewits earlier, not to mention many others. And 
of course there are anecdotes galore about clerks-in-charge. 
A C.-in-C. on the old Chicago & Hannibal (IC-Wabash), says 
F. C. Gardiner, discovered a sleeper in his Decatur box just 
after all mail was unloaded at Decatur. The conscientious 
chief took the letter in his teeth, jumped off, snatched a pouch 
off the truck, unlocked it, threw the lock in the pouch, and 
closed it up, yelling, "Gimme a lock! Gimme a lock!" until 
the second clerk tossed him one just as the train started up. 
When he jumped back inside, his teeth still held the letter 
tightly clenched! 

Old "Rocky," in charge on a Western run, would fuss at 
his men whenever he got caught up on his work; so to occupy 
him they would slip a penny under his letters— keeping him 
busy for half on hour digging into his grips, sprawled amid 
patent medicines and junk, hunting for a "matter-found- 
loose-in-the-mails" form and writing it up. Years ago, Owen 



FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO VETERAN 76 

D. Clark gasped when, while he was throwing mail as a sub 
on a branch line in the East, a sudden shot rang out in the 
car. His clerk-in-charge was standing there with a smoking 
.45 in his hand. But he hadn't gone berserk; his old-style 
gun had a secret shell compartment, which he had forgotten 
about when he dumped the bullets out before hammering a 
loose nail with the butt. Before putting them back, he had 
decided to give the trigger a couple of test clicks! 

On the Atchison & Downs (MoPac) in Kansas an elderly 
bachelor clerk-in-charge had a crush on a little postmistress 
out on the line. The romance progressed nicely during the 
train's two-minute stops there as the little lady met the train, 
until the old chap stayed home sick one day and a sub (who 
resembled him enough to pass for a son) was sent oiu amply 
coached by the crew. He answered the postmistress's inquiry: 

"Yeah, Pop's rheumatism has got him again." Then, notic- 
ing a pendant she wore, "Say! Where d'ye get Ma's locket- 
did Pop give it to you?" 

The old gent could never understand why she stopped 
meetinsr the train. 

Clerks-in-charge have run up enviable records in super- 
vising the same crew for many decades. Before 1900, it was 
reported, J. C. Beck of the N. Y. & Chic. (NYCent) had held 
such a record for nearly thirty-five years. Palmer C. Vincent 
of the Chatham & N. Y. (NYCent), supervised one crew from 
1906 to 1943. 

Then there was J. F. "Cat" Caterlin of the K.C. & Denison 
(M-K-T), who perhaps typifies the ideal clerk-in-charge, with 
forty years' total service on the line. One could not find, says 

E. E. Stuart, a more beloved or capable chief; he was a charter 
member of the R.M.A. and a division secretary, and a regular 
"steam engine" on his Texas letters in the mail car. He 
"would slash a double row five feet long, jab his right arm 
like a piston, and never slacken until the last letter was in 
. . . 'Old Cat can sure hide it,' they said. It was his best, his 
whole best, nothing but the best . . . Competent in action, 
superlative in judgment." He was sometimes brusque, but 
never showed a temper; kindly to his men, with a sound 



76 MAIL BY RAIL 

philosophy and keen sense of humor. 

Other clerks, too, have run up some amazing service 
records. The longest and most distinguished of all is said to 
be that of Christopher A. McCabe, of the St. Paul & Willis- 
ton (GN), who became district superintendent at St. Paul, 
Minnesota, to round out fifty-seven years of continuous ser- 
vice since his appointment in 1889 at $800 a year. A dele- 
gate to R.M.A. conventions as far apart as 1892 and 1949, 
he retired in 1946 as "the best-loved and admired man in the 
10th Division." He was "fired" twice during the hectic early 
days, felt a gun in his ribs during a train robbery in 1894, 
and is still rallying against any curtailment in the P.T.S. 

Longest career on one line was probably that of William 
H. Meyers, of the S.P.'s former Placerville &: Sacramento 
(California), or of Fred Sheldon of the N. Y. & Chic. (NYCent), 
just retired— both fifty years. Other high P.T.S. service records 
were those of "Dean" John H. Pitney, Boston & Alb. (B&rA), 
over fifty-five years (see Chapter 16); 12th Division Super- 
intendent John Morris, Memphis Gren. & New Orleans 
(IC), fifty-five years; 7th Division Superintendent Joseph A. 
Muldoon, St. Louis & Monett (StL-SF), fifty-four years; and 
so on down. 

A clerk can retire optionally at fifty-five or over, but in 
any case not later than seventy. Formerly, railway mail clerks 
were arbitrarily retired at sixty-two— much to the displeasure 
of clerks still strong and capable at that age who had children 
to put through college or homes to pay for. On the other 
hand, most younger clerks— eager for the promotions that 
retirements bring them— are anxious to restore a compulsory 
retirement of sixty-five, sixty, or fifty-five. They argue that 
the old-timers need a few years of well-earned leisure and 
that too many have slowed up and must be "carried" by the 
young clerks. The argument goes merrily on, but it would 
certainly seem obvious that if a clerk is healthy, interested 
in his work, and truly efficient, he should be permitted to 
stay to seventy if he needs the money. 

Reactions to the final departmental "order of discontinu- 
ance" at the end of the month in which a birthday occurs 



FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO VETERAN 77 

are mixed. Many vigorous old-timers definitely hate to leave 
the job and the co-workers they like so much and snort at 
the idea of some sub abruptly relieving them in the middle 
of a trip when the fatal day arrives. Others eagerly await it, 
as an emancipation from a lifelong grind, perhaps flinging 
the old road grip into a river on the last run. 

Many outstanding clerks are honored with a dinner and 
gifts on their retirement, especially if they have become 
officials; but some were still on the road, like J. H. Lucitt of 
the N.Y. & Pt. Pleasant (CRR-NJ), to whom seventy clerks 
gave a banquet, autograph book, and diamond ring. An- 
other unusual retirement was that of Joseph McElvin of the 
Kan. City & Denison (M-K-T), whose father was still on the 
retirement rolls himself. And when Lum Andrews, of the 
Chic. & Council Bluffs (CB&Q), retired in 1919, his son Carl 
had been on the line fourteen years— and is still on it, a 
family record of 77 years' service on one line! (Note 22.) 

The low retirement annuity, averaging about fifteen hun- 
dred dollars annually for those retired before 1949, is a 
great hardship to many clerks. (Clerks retired now fare only 
a little better.) A mere fraction of active salary, it is 
unlike army, navy, and similar pensions in being subject to 
income tax too! Railroad employees retire at much better 
pay after paying less in deductions (6 per cent in the P.T.S.); 
their pensions are tax-exempt by law; and they often receive 
passes good for rides on most railroads for themselves and 
their family. On the other hand, the retired clerk's com- 
mission--restricted to single-route business trips as it was— is 
returned to him canceled as a souvenir! The P.T.S., though 
obviously eligible, has not been included in recent legisla- 
tion authorizing a liberally paid retirement after twenty 
years' service in "hazardous and arduous" government jobs. 

Some retired clerks secure part-time employment, others 
make for a quiet fishing retreat or chicken farm in the coun- 
try—still chatting with old pals down at the depot, and some- 
times continuing active in the N.P.T.A. and in retired clerks' 
groups. Some of the latter are the National Retired N.P.T.A. 
Clan (California); the Veteran R.P.C.s of New England, in 



78 MAIL BY RAIL 

Boston; the Seattle Retired Clerks' Club; the Old Timers 
Club, Syracuse, New York; the Twin City Retired Clerks* 
Clan' in Minnesota; and others in San Francisco and Fort 
Worth, Texas. 

Some clerks have doubtless reached the century mark, but 
the longest-lived clerks of whom we have records include 
the late John W. Masury of the Boston & N.Y. (NYNH&H) 
and Royal S. Dale of the Eland & Merrillan (CStPM&O- 
C&NW) in Wisconsin, both of whom lived to be ninety-seven. 
Mr. Masury was a world traveler during his twenty-nine-year 
retirement and was an active guest in the Odd Fellows Home, 
Worcester, Massachusetts, with his letter writing and Bible 
reading, until his death at almost ninety-eight late in 1949; 
Mr. Dale hailed from Romulus, New York, and was retired 
twenty years. Close seconds at ninety-six were Charles H. 
Hooton of the Wash. & Grafton (B&O), who just passed away, 
and William J. Cook of LeRoy, New York, who ran just 
four years on the N.Y. & Chic. (NYCent) before becoming a 
Collector of Internal Revenue. Hooton was born in a log 
cabin, had lunches with President Grant, and was active in 
Baltimore N.P.T.A. affairs. 

Oldest living ex-clerk at this writing is Joseph M. Kurtz, 
ninety-seven, of the Mount St. Joseph Home, Kansas City, 
Kansas, who ran on the old Leavenworth &: Miltonvale 
(KCLeav&W) and is active and in good health. Feted at his 
last birthday in a big celebration, he is a general favorite at 
the home and active in the religious services and singing; he 
reads and tells stories with gusto, and his clever humor is 
proverbial. Right behind him at last report were Charles 
J. Bohnstead of the old Mich. City, Monon & Indpls. (CI&L) 
in Indiana, and Robert C. Whaling of the former Roch. & 
Pittsburgh (BR&P-BR:0), who lives in Rochester, New York 
—both aged ninety-four. A. F. Coller, off the St. Paul & Miles 
City (NP), is ninety-three. Many other old-timers still keep 
hale and hearty through interesting activities. At last report 
these included former Chief Clerk A. T. Nichols, ninety- 



•Branch of National N.P.T.A. Clan. 



FROM WOULD-BE "SUB" TO VETERAN 79 

two, (who knew such diverse characters as Jesse James and 
President Lincoln), of St. Joseph, Mo.; C. J. Cissna, 
ninety-one, ex-Kan. City & ^Iemphis (StL-SF); and W. F. 
Doolittle, ex-chief clerk, Boston, ninety-one. To conclude 
our Honor Roll of old-timers still living, as far as we know, 
we salute the following (nominated by our correspondents), 
plus others mentioned later: 

J. E. Reid, 89, Kansas City & Denver (UP) 
James L. Stice, 88, P.T.S. author (see Chapter 16) 
Charles M. Brown, 86, Cairo &: New Orleans (IC); lives 

in Memphis, Tenn. 
Felley M. Miller, 86, Omaha & Ogden (UP); active in 

N.P.T.A., Council Bluffs, Iowa 
Thomas B. Robertson, 86, St. Loais & Monett (StL-SF) 
August Kraft, 85, St. Louis & Kansas City (MoPac) 
Morgan Jenkins, 80, Pittsburgh ^ Kenova (B&O); active 

in Huntington, West Virginia. 

Some very distinguished long-lived clerks have now passed 
on. Clarence E. Votaw of Fountain City, Indiana, lived to be 
ninety-five (1949); he was a prominent former assistant super- 
intendent and author, as described in Chapter 16. Andrew J. 
Baer, reputedly of the PRR's N.Y. 8: Pitts., closely resembled 
John Wilkes Booth and had a hair-raising escape from cap- 
ture following his Civil War military career and Lincoln's 
assassination; he helped save lives at the Johnsto-wn flood and 
finally retired to live in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to the ripe 
age of ninety-three. Richard G. Whiting, of Hyattsville, 
Maryland, passed on at ninety-two after many years on the 
N.Y. & Wash. (PRR); like Mr. Hooton, he was a friend of 
President Grant, while his father Avas a close associate of 
Grant's famed opponent, General Robert E. Lee, when a 
Mexican War colonel! (Mr. Whiting lived in the home town 
of the late Second Assistant P.M.G. Smith \V. Purdum, an 
ex-clerk; likewise that of this writer and other clerks.) 
William I. Woodruff, of the old Sioux City & O'Neill (CBS:Q) 
in Nebraska, had a famous photographic memory and could 
quote R.M.S. journals by the page; he lived to be ninety-one. 



80 MAIL BY RAIL 

One and all, such men have "fought the good fight, and 
kept faith" with the great Railway Mail Service which they 
knew. Well did they deserve a ripe old age of constructive 
leisure to round out their days in this, the new and modern 
age of the Postal Transportation Service. 



Chapter 5 



VIVID INCIDENTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 



... Of Needham's old tin suitcase and his tin-can drinking cup; 
He swore the boys who slit them just wasn't on the up . . . 
Of sweet potato leavin's on the doorknob which were placed, 
While through the train the big Chief Clerk so busily he paced; 
He came upon said doorknob and he grasped it good and strong— 
With a loud and angry bellow he announced something was wrong. 

— Selected (from The R.P.O.) 



The sorting of mail on trains makes a 
deep impression on those to whom it has 
not become just a part of the day's work, 
and humorous, dramatic, and even tragic 
happenings accentuate it. Perhaps a sub- 
stitute's memorable "first trip" is often 
the most interesting of such incidents to 
the reader, and Clarence Votaw describes 
his own hectic initial run in Jasper Hunnicutt thus: 

I followed 11 other clerks, who climbed hastily into 
the mail cars. Everyone but me knew exactly what to 
do and did it with celerity. First, a dozen valises opened 
and numerous books, schemes, schedules, and other arti- 
cles were produced . . . Our journey to Pittsburgh began: 
"Don't try to unlock the sacks of papers— only the 
pouches are locked. You face up." Pouch clerks, taking 
them by armfuls, threw the bundles with precision . . . 
"Poor fellow, he's stuck!" sighed the clerk-in-charge, very 
audibly . . . 

81 




82 MAIL BY RAIL 

A classic of such tales^ is told by E. M. Martindale, men- 
tioned in the previous chapter, and long of the Chic. & Omaha 
(C&NW). Watching the mail trains as a boy, he built a glam- 
orous picture of himself seeing the world from the car door. 
Appointed a substitute, he describes his first trip thus: 

"My fust duty was to take into the car some tons of Kansas 
paper mail. ... I had less than five minutes; but I did it 
somehow, though every nerve was quivering and my breath 
seemed gone forever. Just as I finished: 'Here, feller,' said a 
superior clerk, 'face this mail up in station order.' I didn't 
know the order of stations; but believing that hesitancy 
would be punished as mutiny, I tackled those huge stalls . . . 
A lurch of the car threw me off my feet and an enormous 
sack pinned me down. I was rescued by the superior clerk, 
thoroughly disgusted:— 'Guess embroidery work would suit 
you better!' But he turned in and helped; for we were ap- 
proaching Mount Pleasant and there were still scores of sacks 
to be sorted. (This was on the CB&Q's Chic. & Council Bluffs.) 

"These preliminaries finished, I was ushered back into the 
second car, where my patriotism was put to the test of drag- 
ging mail to the opposite end, lifting it to the tables, 'setting 
it up' piece by piece for the convenience of the swiftly throw- 
ing distributor. Before we reached Ottumwa, the glamour 
and glory of my dreams had departed, in company with the 
spotlessness of my shirt sleeves and bosom. I was dizzy and 
faint; the cars were dark with smoke and dust, and the whole 
scene inside seemed an endless tangle of pouches, sacks, and 
pigeon holes, these presided over by perspiring demons whose 
flying hands kept the air alive with packages and bundles, 
the while mumbling a jargon, concerning routes and connec- 
tions, which was all Fiji to me. Other demons rushed up and 
down the aisles, dragging behind them bags which anon they 
hurled from the train and snatched others as though by 
magic from the winds without. 

"The noise was deafening, myriad switches crashed alarm- 
ingly beneath the wheels, trains on other tracks suddenly and 



^See Chapter 12 for some hectic first trips on fast electric suburban R.P.O.s. 



VIVID INCIDENTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 83 

ominously rushed past, throwing me into a state of panic. 
Then the roll of the train, rounding sharp curves, taxed my 
strength and nerve, and levied toll upon the breakfast which 
I had eaten in such repose and anticipation. 

"The next hours dragged, naturally, but at length we ap- 
proached Murray, and having begged the boon of a moment's 
time, I drew myself together, opened a door, and prepared to 
receive the homage of a conqueror. I couldn't see a soull— 
Yes, there was a boy, my brother, and he cheered me loyally. 
And over in the 'News' office door my father gave a sort of 
military salute, and the ovation was at an end. I had tears 
and was prepared to shed them, but I didn't; I just sank 
down in utter weakness on a detested sack. 

"A new field of endeavor aAvaited me, however. By ukase 
of the clerk-in-charge I was to try the catcher, a performance 
which in my nervous state I mentally compared with powder 
making or bronco-breaking. I urged my inexperience and 
said I was ill, but to no purpose. 'Got to learn— as well now 
as any time,' he replied. 'Get ready. When she whistles, spot 
the crane. Just before you reach it, throw out your pouch 
hard, and raise the catcher; the rest'll come to you.' 

"I glanced ahead, unable to spot any crane, only switch 
targets, telegraph poles, and semaphores in spindling abun- 
d^-ice, but I knew it must be there somewhere so decided to 
raise the catcher in good time and wait for the 'rest to come 
to me.' It came— even sooner than I expected, and with such 
violence that the catcher was torn from my grasp, wrenched 
from its socket, and disappeared entirely, leaving me dumb 
and paralyzed. I had caught a semaphore post instead of the 
mail pouch. Grasping the situation instantly from the crash, 
fellow clerks yelled, 'throw it out,' meaning the outgoing 
pouch which I held stupidly in one hand. I quickly obeyed, 
and another tremendous crash and clatter followed its exit. 
A glance back showed that my pouch had crashed through 
the station's bay window. In mute horror, I thought the clerk- 
in-charge would revile me and report me and I should be 
ignominiously discharged and held for damages by the com- 
pany. Imagine my surprise when I saw him double over a 



84 MAIL BY RAIL 

pouch rack, howling with amusement, while the other clerks 
made pandemonium with merriment. 

"It was several days before they could look at me without 
whooping, and much longer before I could be induced to 
touch one of those pesky catchers." 

Experiences like this could be duplicated many times; 
but, tough as they seemed, they were not so soul-racking as 
those of lone substitutes taking over one-man runs for the 
first time. Not only aching muscles and frayed nerves are 
the lot of this kind of novice; he works under a tense, lone- 
some helplessness not experienced by the beginner accom- 
panying experienced clerks. The writer^ well remembers 
his first one-man run, where he worked under such tension 
that he carried lighted lamps the whole trip, so as to utilize 
the few moments lost traversing dark bridges or tunnels. 

Russel Danniel thus describes his first trip on the old 
Momence & Terre Haute (C&EI): 

"It was awful! I could handle the local mail all right, but 
when the other began to pile up I didn't know what to do 
with it. I imagined that if I missent a letter— the 'pen' for 
me. So when I got down to Terre Haute I 'massed' the 
whole pile on the post office. I soon received a note from the 
clerks there, asking why in blazes I didn't at least take out 
the Chicago city mail. When I got back to my room that 
evening, I wrote to my chief clerk, for God's sake, to send 
someone who could handle that run." 

More than one disillusioned sub has attempted to quit at 
once, although most are persuaded to remain by a bit of 
kindly official remonstrance and conniving. But one young 
man simply went back home the next day, after having some 
cards printed to forestall embarrassing questions, thus: 

Q._What are you doing here? 

A.— I have quit the mail service. 

Q.— Don't you like it? 

A.-No. 

Q.— Was the work hard? 

A.-Yes. 



•Professor Dennia. 



VIVID INCIDENTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 85 

Q.— What was it? 

A.— Lifting and unlocking two hundred pouches, shaking 
out contents, arranging same, removing pouches, locking 
same, carrying same away, jumping and stomping on mail 
matter, rearranging sacks, then going over same work, con- 
tinuing same seventeen hours without rest, with trains flying 
around curves and slinging you against everything that is not 
slung against you. 

The clerks' sense of humor runs largely to practical jokes. 
When a dignified middle-aged new sub showed up for duty 
on a St. Paul Sc Williston (GN) train, the second clerk coached 
him in just what to say to the clerk-in-charge, who arrived 
later. The head man arrived, and the distinguished-looking 
stranger was introduced to him as the new division superin- 
tendent, just appointed at St. Paul, whom the clerks had 
never met. The "superintendent" made an impressive inspec- 
tion, with the C.-in-C. deferentially answering his questions, 
and continued his investigative, official demeanor throughout 
the trip— at the end of which he revealed his identityl 

From several exchanges of tricks by two Chicago & Omaha 
(C&NW) clerks, whom we shall call Turner and Jones, the 
following prank is taken. There are no women clerks in 
postal cars, but there are in post offices. On a certain trip 
Turner received a note on the back of a Vermilion, Illinois, 
facing slip, inquiring, "Why in h don't you spell Ver- 
milion right?" and the slip was stamped "Postmaster, Vermil- 
ion." The angry Turner, on his next delivery to that office, 
made a profane rejoinder on his facing slip to the effect that 
no blinkety-blankety postmaster was telling him how to spell. 
A few days later he got an order to report to his chief clerk 
in Chicago. There he was handed a facing slip with the 
epithets he had called the Vermilion postmaster. "Did you 
write that?" asked the chief. 

"Yes, sir; he got funny with me and I " 

"But," interposed the chief, "the postmaster at Vermilion 
is a woman." 

Turner was stunned, but only for a minute, "Oh, I know. 



88 MAIL BY RAIL 

It's another trick of that blinkety-blankety Jones. I'll get 
even with him." 

Railway mail clerks have seldom been required to wear full 
uniform clothing. At times a blouse was required, and for 
several years a special cap and always a badge. During the 
period that both badge and cap were required this incident 
occurred on the former Chadron & Lander (C&NW), later 
Chadron & Caspar. It was a local and used to stop out at a 
small lake on the prairie, where the crew went swimming 
if there were no women passengers. One day the engineer 
sneaked back and started the train, causing all to make a mad 
rush to get aboard. It was but a short run to the next station, 
so the mail clerk locked out his pouch instead of putting on 
his trousers. Imagine his surprise when, instead of the usual 
agent, the agent's wife came to throw in his pouch. Horrified 
and insulted, she reported the trouserless clerk. When he 
got the correspondence he defended himself in a strong letter 
to the office, asserting that he was wearing his cap and badge, 
which was all the uniform prescribed by regulations. Tech- 
nically right, he got off with an admonition always to wear 
his pants at stations. 

Charles Hatch, of the St. Louis, Eldon & Kansas City 
(Rock I.), relates an incident in which the main actor was 
William Davenport, retired secretary of the 7th Division, 
R.M.A. He was on the St. Louis & Little Rock (MoPac), a 
few miles from St. Louis, when the train came to a stop. A 
hyena had broken out from its crate and was standing in the 
door of the baggage car, uncertain when to leap out. The 
crew, fearing the animal might injure people in the city, 
had stopped outside to ponder the problem. Davenport went 
forward and, seeing the beast, drew his revolver. But the 
hyena didn't look very tough, so he bolstered his gun and, 
picking up a chunk of coal from the right of way, made a 
strike on the nose of the astonished animal. Dazed, it slunk 
back toward its cage and the car door ^vas closed. The train 
proceeded on to St. Louis, where the beast was crated. A 
clerk certainly gets in on the "goings-on" in railroading. 

The writer (B.A.L.) was on duty in a N. Y. & Wash. (PRR) 



VIVID INCIDENTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 87 

Storage car when a half-grown alligator, destined as a pet for 
someone, crawled out of its crate and explored several stalls 
of mail. With some difficulty and cautious handling, he was 
coaxed back into his crate and the plank secured thereon. 

F. C. Gardner, Ret., of the Washington and Bristol R.P.O. 
(Southern) tells of a towerman at a crossing on the Toledo & 
St. Louis (Wabash) who was ordered to observe Train 4 from 
the ground one day and report. On that day Train 4 had 
picked up a shipment of baby chicks mailed at St. Louis in 
very hot weather; many had died and were "overripe." The 
third clerk, ordered to open the boxes and count and throw 
out the "ripe" ones, did so— flinging 137 of them out the door 
at once. One can imagine the dispatcher's consternation 
when he received this report: "I was on the ground to observe 
Train 4 as ordered and the *!$.*!34&:%!! postal clerk dumped 
a carload of rotten chicks on me!" Grown chickens, too have 
caused consternation— as when one clerk volunteered to help 
an expressman catch an escaped hen, only to find an inspector 
in the car demanding the cause of his absence when he re- 
turned after a merry chase around the depot. 

As for other animal tales: A monkey escaped from a bag- 
gage car into one R.P.O., amused the crew awhile, then 
smashed the C.-in-C.'s watch! A "religious" dos: at North 
Germantown, New York, would regularly catch the pouch 
thrown from N. Y. 8: Chic. (NYCent) trains— except on Sun- 
days. Other clever pets— dogs, deer, and what not— regularly 
meet various R.P.O.s today. Puppies and mice are enclosed 
by jokesters in fake pouches for other R.P.O. trains. 

When a Philadelphia transfer clerk opened a "restless" sack 
from New Haven, a huge black cat jumped out and high- 
tailed it northward. And the Newark Air Mail Field's cat 
once got pouched— and flown— to Pittsburgh. Likewise, the 
Spokane, Washington Terminal's pet kitten jumped in a sack, 
was dispatched three hundred miles, and safely returned after 
a frantic telegram; and another kitten jumped out of a pouch 
opened on a New England R.P.O. F. C. Gardiner tells of a 
tenderhearted Wash. &: Charlotte (Sou) clerk whose mother 
cat had kittens he had to dispose of— so he hid them in a box 



88 MAIL BY RAIL 

under his car's case ledge, knowing the car went on through 
to Atlanta. But his co-worker, a prankster, sought out the 
Charl. Sc Atlanta clerks privately and recovered the kittens; 
he took them back to Washington on the early train he ran 
on northbound and let them out in their yard to greet their 
owner laterl 

Tales of "catching on the fly" are legion. A. D. Bunger, 
of the Oelwein k Kan. City (CGW), had a series of failures to 
catch at Peru, Barney, and Lorimer, Iowa. Although the 
headlight daily revealed each pouch handing in its place, he'd 
swing out his hook and catch nothing— the pouch would be 
nowhere, not even on the ground. His correspondence on 
the matter piled up, but when an inspector visited, the catch 
was normal. Next trip it happened again at Peru and Barney, 
but at Lorimer the train stopped for passengers and the 
station agent threw in the Lorimer pouch and the Peru and 
Barney pouches also. The fireman had brought up the other 
two, explaining that he'd found them on the end of his rake, 
which he'd left protruding across the end of the tender. The 
rake had acted as a catcher, holding each pouch for miles. 

One clerk used to depend partly on a white horse in a 
certain field as a landmark for one catch— and missed it when 
the horse was moved to another lot. When Bert Bemis, now 
a well-known writer, was a clerk on the Omaha R: Denver 
(CBScQ) he made a nearly fatal exchange near Lincoln, Ne- 
braska. His key chain became entangled with the cords of a 
pile of sacks he was dumping out and they pulled him out 
to hang in space from the safety rod until pulled in by other 
clerks. One clerk on another run caught a small trunk off a 
truck instead of the intended pouch. 

When a Texarkana & Port Arthur (KCS) train once 
stopped in Leesville, Louisiana, a young lad jumped up and 
hung onto the catcher arm, seeking to "bum" a ride that way. 
When the clerk opened the door to make the catch at the 
next town he saw the boy in the nick of time, for it would 
have been fatal if the prongs of the oncoming crane had hit 
him. Dragging the frightened youngster inside, the clerk 
undoubtedly saved his life. 



VIVID INCIDENTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 89 

A classic catching story tells about a substitute who missed 
the first catch, which made his station list one behind, and 
he later put off each local pouch one station ahead and was 
reported by thirty-two postmasters for missending their mail. 
And legend has it that on reaching the terminal of the run 
he had up his catcher arm, since he thought one more town 
was due to be caught. 

Several authentic cases have been found like that of Fred 
Harmon on the Duluth Sc Thief River Falls (MStP k SSteM). 
He forgot to change his catcher to face the direction in which 
the train was moving. Thinking fast, he decided to pull up 
the catcher in reverse, which, while not hooking in the pouch, 
did knock it down from the crane. The demerits for a fail- 
ure in catching were less than those for being reported as 
leaving the pouch hanging on the crane. But Harmon's 
pouch momentarily whipped around the reversed hook and 
paused on the small end loop long enough for him to reach 
out and grab it, saving himself from any failure or demerits; 
then he changed his catcher. 

Some accidents and a few deaths have occurred in making 
catches. Defective arms or cranes sometimes bring injury. 
Sometimes a spot designated for delivery is not kept clear, 
and L. E. Clerk reports a whole row of cream cans bowled 
over like tenpins on an icy platform. Pouches have been 
sucked under the wheels of the car. Working hard on an all- 
night run recently, Otis M. Cropp, of the Chic, k Council 
Bluffs (CBRrQ), lost his footing in the door making a catch at 
Wyanet, Illinois, at seventy mph— and lost his life. The year 
before, a clerk fell from a Pitts. & St. Lou. (PRR) car the 
same way. Clerk Taylor of the former Detroit &: Mansfield 
(PRR) tried to catchTiro, Ohio, with a loose catcher and was 
pulled out the door to grasp the grab irons for dear life. 
Signboards and a busy highway interfered with the non-stop 
deliveries on this line, too, often scattering newspapers to the 
four winds. (See Chap. 1 re 1950 fatality.) 

A clerk who'd leisurely wait until the last minute to lock 
out and throw off his pouches was cured of that habit when 
the crew substituted a defective strapless one in his row of 



90 MAIL BY RAIL 

"locals"! One confident district superintendent, demonstrat- 
ing "proper catching" procedure, caught a steel bridge and 
floored himself. Other clerks have thrown off currency- 
pouches which burst, scattering bills everywhere (at Dunlap, 
Iowa, and from Cobre, Nevada, to Valley Pass); similarly, 
letters were scattered along the B&O from Brentwood to 
Hyattsville, Maryland, when a N.Y., Bait. & Wash, local clerk 
did the same. J. L. Buckmaster tells of a nervous sub who 
bit the stem off three three dollar pipes making the first catch 
on his first three trips. James L. Stice (Chapter 16) missed 
all cranes on the left-hand side of a single-track run while 
faithfully watching the right side, as when on double rail. 
Another clerk on the Reading caught the hose from a water 
tower alongside the Shamokin & Phila., a line known for 
its "extension cranes" which reach to catch from an inside 
track, A young clerk, assessed demerits for dispatching be- 
yond the proper spot because the mail messenger always 
stood there, hit a bull's-eye next trip and sent messenger and 
mailbags rolling over together. 

One clerk, teasing a sub after teaching him to catch, ex- 
pressed deep concern one Sunday when the sub could catch 
no pouches at the first two stops (they were not due that day). 
Stating that this would never do and he'd better catch the 
other offices himself, the clerk missed the next pouch (Rock- 
ford, Minnesota), the only one due! Another found his train 
moving too slowly and the hanging pouch too empty to be 
caught properly, and sighed in relief when the brakeman 
dashed out and retrieved the dropped pouch for him. Later 
he discovered that his outgoing pouch was still in his hand! 
In days of "sack time" one sleepy clerk was aroused too early 
for an exchange and caught a coal-chute which broke off the 
catcher; he installed a new one just in time. On Tol. & St. 
Lou. (Wabash) Train 2 a knocked-down inbound pouch 
bounced from the ground up onto the rear hook. 

A district superintendent inspecting the Chic, Ft. Madison 
& Kansas City (Santa Fe) was watching a catch about to be 
made when it was discovered that the door was stuck. Both 
the clerk. Bill Poole, and the official hit on the idea of using 



VIVID INCIDENTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 91 

a catcher in the car ahead; and they raced forward, with Bill 
seemingly in hot pursuit of the latter and yelling, "Get that 

son of a !" referring, of course, to the pouch. Men leaped 

for tables and cases to avoid the raging fight which they 
expected. 

The whole spirit of "serving the local" was well summed 
up by L. E. Davis, in the old Railway Post Office, who wrote, 
"The train was Kans, City & Memphis 105, the Frisco's 
crack Florida Special . . . through the Ozark hills. The night 
was coal black, and it was awkward holding onto the mail 
sack with one hand, the other on the crossbar . . . watching 
for the faint glow of the light on the crane . . . The wind 
tried to steal your breath away . , . There was both relief 
and satisfaction when I heard the 'whing' of the pouch as 
it was snatched. And on through the night the train rushed 
from station to station, like the song 'Blues in the Night.' 
From Thayer to Hoxie; from Hoxie to Jonesboro; from 
Jonesboro to Memphis . . . The progressive stages of life 
awakening: A few early risers in this town with a sprinkling 
of lights, and half the town awake at the next station . . . 
Darkies filing out to the cotton fields ... As the grand finale, 
the Missisippi, muddy and turbulent." 

To insure accuracy in distribution, the system of checking 
"errors" was devised as explained elsewhere; by it, one takes 
the slip from mail received from another and checks on the 
back any errors in sorting perceived. These affect a clerk's 
record, and naturally he resents being "checked" too zeal- 
ously. Theoretically, clerks are required to check all errors 
noted, but in the press of urgent distribution it is often 
impracticable. "It is only human nature to try to catch an 
error on someone who always checks you; while if a line is 
broad-minded about checking yours, you go easy with them." 
Some conscientious clerks, trying to check all errors, have 
been hounded out of the Service by their fellows, or at least 
ordered privately to desist. 

One sub, helping on a short run, lacked hours and was 
assigned to work a couple of hours in a car in the yards after 
his run. It happened to be a train for which he made sacks 



92 MAIL BY RAIL 

of papers, and one day he opened a sack in this yard car, 
hastily checked some newspaper errors, and sent the slips in 
without a glance. He had checked himself! A nortiiern clerk 
named Ulysses S. Grant had to watch his distribution for 
southern trains like a lynx— the famous name he bore was 
none too popular in Dixie as yet. 

Pranksters in the Service sometimes get back at overzeal- 
ous superiors. A certain division superintendent used to issue 
harsh orders on minor irregularities, and finally the clerks 
got up a fake "General Order" printed like the genuine and 
gave it out. It contained such notices as: 

Section 1. General. It is hereby ordered that all clerks in 
this division make up Shanghai Dis, regardless of quantity, 
to contain all offices on the Fook Lang Shang Hop San R.P.O. 
as far west as Tai Po Sing. 

Considerable complaint is made that mail for the late 
Robert G. Ingersoll is being sent to New Jerusalem. Extreme 
care should be taken to dispatch mail for this party accord- 
ing to Mark 16:16. 

Section 2. Suspensions. A clerk of Class 5, this Division, 
thirty-five days without pay for failing to cross two "t's" 
and dot an "i" in his trip report; also, one day without pay 
for purloining a registered letter. 

When Oscar Johnson was "tending local" on San Fran., 
San Jose & L. A. (SP) Train 71 years ago, he exchanged the 
usual small pouch with Surf, California, and was horrified 
after leaving there to find that a huge "2X" pouch for the 
same town had been "carried by"— little knowing that the 
San Francisco letter clerk had relabeled a big pouch of "city" 
with that name, behind his back, as a practical joke. At San 
Luis Obispo the city clerk, "up" on all his pouches except 
that one, missed it and yelled at Johnson to find the "Surf" 
pouch for him, relates J. Goodrich. 

"I got rid of it," assured Johnson: "just put it out, to go 
back on Train 71!" And the dumbfounded Frisco clerk had 
to dash out in the rain, have Train 71 held and hunt through 



VIVID INCIDENTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 93 

a truckful of pouches before he returned, drenched, with 
his mail. 

F. C. Gardiner relates a gay tale of the Wash. 8: Bristol 
(Sou) in Virginia. One of the clerks, prevented from smok- 
ing at home, started each run with a cigar always in his 
mouth;— no one could understand a word he said, and when- 
ever the clerk-in-charge heard grunts from him at any station, 
he assumed it was pouches being called. A water tank had 
developed a leak which, it developed, had not been fixed as 
supposed; and when the water boy filled it again at Roanoke, 
water flooded the floor, causing the disptaching clerk to yell: 

"CUDDEWADDEROFF!" The clerk-in-charge, in the 
other end of the car, grabbed his pouch record and yelled, 
"That's one." 

"CUDDEWADDEROFF!" again cried the cigar-mouth- 
ing clerk. 

"That's two," yelled the C.-in-C, knowing three pouches 
were due off there. 

"CUDDEWADDEROFF!" the dispatcher bawled, louder, 
to the railroad men. 

"That's all!" cried the chief, and dropped his check list. 

"CUDDEWADDEROFF! CUDDEWADDEROFF! CUD- 
DEWADDEROFF!" screamed the clerk, jumping up and 
down like a jumping jack. The head man turned, looked 
over his spectacles, and remarked, "Well, boys, I gues it's 
time to call them to take him to the bughouse." 

A clerk on the afore-mentioned "Boundary Line" run 
missed his train (a one-man run), told the dispatcher the 
railroad could not be paid for the unoccupied car, and got 
him to hold it until he caught up to it from the next 
train! Similarly, a clerk who forgot to put off a local pouch 
until he was half a mile out of town pulled the stop cord 
and asked that the train be backed up. The request was 
refused "with definite references to animals and ancestry," 
but he coaxed a farmer driving some bulls to town to take 
his pouch on in. 

And that brings us to the most famous of all railway mail 
animal stories. Owney, the famous traveling dog of the 



04 MAIL BY RAIL 

R.P.O.s, attached himself to the Albany, New York, post 
office in 1888, and the clerks made a collar identifying him 
therewith. Taken out for one trip in a mail car, he became 
an inveterate traveler. To his collar were attached checks, 
medals, verses, and postmarks by men in most states of the 
Union, plus a dollar from Old Mexico. Postmaster General 
Wanamaker made him a harness to carry the tags and medals, 
with memo book attached, but the accumulation became 
too heavy and it was sent to Albany for display. 

Owney was shut up in Montreal for nonpayment of board, 
which the Albany clerks had to foot; and seapost clerks later 
took him across the ocean— even to Japan, for a tag bestowed 
by the Emperor, and thence around the world (in 132 days). 
He was exhibited with his medals in halls and dog shows as 
"The greatest dog traveler in the world," and was right in 
his element at postal clerks' conventions. He stole the show 
at the 1897 National Association of Railway Postal Clerks 
(now N.P.T.A.) Convention by wagging his stumpy tail in 
a run down the aisle, to thunderous cheers, to mount the 
stage. He looked all around in glee, and it was fifteen minutes 
before order was restored. 

It was Owney's last triumph. He was a very ordinary-look- 
ing dog, almost ugly; and when he was in Toledo that 
August the postmaster did not know who he was and ordered 
him shot. The body was eventually mounted and sent to the 
old Post Office Department Museum in Washington, thence 
to several Worlds' Fairs, ending with the Chicago Century 
of Progress (1933), always attracting great attention. Today, 
resting in storage at the Washington City Post Office, is all 
that remains of the faithful "clerks' best friend" who had 
traveled 143,000 miles and received 1,017 medals. 

And as a final sequel, it seems that Owney has an inanimate 
successor of today which is traveling in R.P.O. pouches all 
over the United States and Canada— an old gray hat from 
California named "Dapper Dan!" Plastered with postmarks 
and tags inside and out, an album was finally attached to 
hold photos and data, and it was last heard of near Quebec 
about 1948. 



Chaptkr 6 




TRANSIT MAIL: FROM STAGE TO TRAIN 



Louder rolls the mighty thunder, louder changs the tireless bell, 
Wilder shrieks the warning whistle; each the startling story tell. 
Pouring out the canvas pouches on each platform without fail- 
Like a hunted deer, still flying, speeds the early morning mail . . . 

— A. M. Bruner 



In the early days of our republic the evolu- 
tion of mail transportation from horse, sulky, 
and stage to steamboat and railroad was a steady 
and dramatic development. (Deputy Post- 
master Hazard, who followed the Continental 
Army around 1776 with letters in his knap- 
— Courtesy Pojia/ sack, has been humorously dubbed "the earli- 
Markings est traveling post office.") The germ of transit 
mail service was planted in 1810, when a law 
was passed establishing thirty-five "Distributing Post Offices" 
—important post offices in centers of areas, counties, or states 
to which all mail was sent for redistribution in that area, and 
on to destination. The number of these offices, known as 
D.P.O.s, increased to fifty by 1859, then the number gradually 
fell and their function was absorbed by the railway mail cars 
after 1864. 

The distinction between the through mail for Distributing 
Post Offices, often called the "great mails," and local way- 
station mail was long maintained; iron locks were provided 
for the way mail and brass ones for the D.P.O. bags. D.P.O. 
postmasters received a commission for each letter redistrib- 
uted. Postage stamps had not been introduced, and post- 
masters entered each letter, and the postage due on it, on a 

95 



96 MAIL BY RAIL 

waybill which was tied up with letters going to a D.P.O. in 
brown paper. Its record was entered on the wrapper, and 
the packets, so wrapped, were referred to as "mails." 

Mails were first carried by railroad in England in 1830 on 
the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. The same year our 
first steam passenger road was opened by the BScO from 
Baltimore to EUicott City, Maryland (May 24, 1830), and 
soon Peter Cooper ran his famous race of thirteen miles be- 
tween his Tom Thumb engine and a powerful gray horse of 
Stockton & Stokes' mail stage. The slipping of a blower 
belt on the engine gave the race to the horse and the mail 
contract once more to the stage, but the iron horse was soon 
to prevail. The earliest record of mail being carried by rail- 
road is January 15, 1831, when some was hauled unofficially 
on the South Carolina Railroad, now mostly the Columbia & 
Charleston (Sou) R.P.O. The locomotive used was the Best 
Friend, first American-built engine, and it went to Bamberg, 
South Carolina. 

The above date is disputed and held by some to be 1834, 
which, if true, would change the "firsts," because in 1831 and 
1832 contracts were let to other operators, extra pay being 
granted for carrying the mail by rail as far as West Chester, 
Pennsylvania (over what is now the PRR's electric Phila. & 
West Chester R.P.O.), starting December 5, 1832, by Slay- 
maker & Tomlinson stages— perhaps the first authorized "mail 
by rail." It is hard to verify "firsts," for the contractors 
quickly transferred mails from stage or sulky to rails over 
portions of their routes as soon as possible. During 1832, and 
perhaps earlier in the year, mails were also carried over the 
B&O out of Baltimore, on the Saratoga k Schenectady Rail- 
road in New York— unofficial partial transfers from stage 
routes to the rails— and on what was probably the first com- 
plete mail-by-rail route authorized officially, New Jersey's 
Camden & Amboy Railroad, contracted by Postmaster Gen- 
eral Barry; it later became the PRR's New York &: Phila. 
R.P.O., still referred to as "The Amboy." The BXcO route 
used later became the old Bait, k Point of Rocks R.P.O. , 
on tracks no longer carrying mail; it first hauled mail officially 



TRANSIT MAIL: FROM STAGE TO TRAIN 97 

on this route in November 1834, to Frederick, Maryland, 
which is usually quoted as the first mail-carrying by rail. On 
August 25, 1835, the BR:0 was formally opened between 
Washington and Baltimore, and the following month con- 
tracts were let (still to the stage company) providing for mail 
to be carried partially by rail. The first orders, September 
ninth, provided for the exchange of mails once a day by day- 
light by rail. All night mail on that line was to go by stage, 
and coaches were held ready to receive any mail not arriving 
at the depot in time for the train. A direct contract was let 
January 1, 1838. Before that date, which is important in 
railroad mail history, advance had been made, although the 
report of 1837 showed but one contract with a railroad: it 
was on the Reading, from Philadelphia to Mauch Chunk, 
Pennsylvania, with branches to Reading and Port Carbon, 
117 miles. 

It was in the shift from stage to rails that a new job or 
profession appeared— that of the route agent, forerunner of 
the postal transportation clerk. On the old stage lines a local 
postmaster, who usually had his office in the tavern, took the 
mail portmanteau and opened it, exchanging "mails" while 
the stage driver changed horses. On the railroads this could 
not be done, except in a few instances where post offices were 
moved to depots; and soon a man was assigned to accompany 
the mail on the train, a separate apartment being set aside 
for the mails in some cases in 1835. This agent usually rode 
in the baggage cars, however, and was at first the baggage- 
man or other employee of the stage company or railroad. 

In May 1837 the Post Office Department began appointing 
"route agents" of its own on some lines, the first recorded 
being John E, Kendall, who ran from Philadelphia to Wash- 
ington, beginning at that time. Others followed, and were 
equipped with postmarking stamps to use on the local letters 
received along the way. The earliest known postmark is an 
Old English "Railroad" stamped by a route agent on the 
Mohawk &: Hudson R.R, in New York State on November 
7, 1837. (If anybody has a cancellation earlier than this date, 
he has something valuable.) 



98 MAIL BY RAIL 

With rapid appearance of railroads, Congress, on July 7, 
1838, declared all railroads to be post roads and provided for 
making direct contracts for mail by rail wherever the cost 
would not exceed by 25 per cent the cost by stage. It was 
really accepting and legalizing the iron age for mail, be- 
cause the Niles Register, May 18, 1838, describes the "progress 
and perfection" of route agent service then as follows: 

Mail cars constructed under the direction of the Post 
Office Department are now running on the railroads be- 
tween Washington and Philadelphia [now the N.Y. & 
Wash. R.P.O. (PRR)]. They contain two apartments: 
one appropriated to the use of the great mails, and the 
other to the way mails; and a post-office agent. The latter 
apartment is fitted up with boxes, labeled with names of 
all the small offices on or near the railroad lines. It has 
also a letter box in front, into which letters may be put 
up to the moment of starting the cars, and anywhere on 
the road. The agent of the Post Office Department at- 
tends the mail from the post offices at the ends of the 
route, and sees it safely deposited in his car. As soon as 
the cars start, he opens the letter box and takes out all the 
letters, marking them so as to designate the place where 
they are put. He then opens the way-mail bag and distri- 
butes its contents into the several boxes. As the cars ap- 
proach a post office, the agent takes out the contents of 
the proper box and puts them into a pouch. The engi- 
neer slackens the speed of the train, and the agent hands 
the pouch to a postmaster or a carrier, who stands be- 
side the track to take it, receiving from him at the same 
time another pouch with the matter to be sent from that 
office. This the agent immediately opens and distributes 
its contents into the proper boxes. Having supplied thus 
all the way offices, the agent, when arrived at the end of 
the route, sees the mail safely delivered into the post 
office. 

In conclusion, the writer become eloquent over this service. 
He actually calls it a "traveling post office," and asserts that 
"well executed, the plan must be almost the perfection of 



TRANSIT MAIL: FROM STAGE TO TRAIN 99 

mail arrangements. It is intended ... to extend a similar 
arrangement through to New York." 

In view of this little-known auspicious start in transit- 
sorting of mail, it may seem strange that transit-mail distri- 
bution progressed so slowly and that the coming of the mod- 
ern Railway Post Office was delayed until 1864. "Assorting," 
of course, meant the sorting of packets of local letters 
(wrapped) and of letters brought to the train for mailing or 
from the post office after closing of pouches. The equipment 
and service described above were rather exceptional, and not 
foimd on many routes. But the existence and importance of 
these agents, who were "assorting" transit mails en route for 
twenty-seven years before true R.P.O.s appeared, have now 
been likewise attested from numerous other documented 
definitions or descriptions of their duties. 

A typical pre-R.M.S. route-agent apartment, later in use 
by Agent J. E. White (a future general superintendent) was 
"a 7-by-l 0-foot apartment partitioned from the smoker" 
with sliding doors in both sides for exchanges, one opening 
across a gangway. The small letter case, table, and large 
packet boxes were illumined by a "wretched light . . . dingy 
oil lamps— as much light as a tallow dip of the third magni- 
tude." His simple distribution was purely local, and the mail 
received "made up." 

Also in 1838, the Postmaster General had a special presi- 
dential message carried from Philadelphia to New York by 
railroad mail in five hours (one hour faster than by stage) on 
December twelfth; and a month later definite authorization 
for railroad mail pay at $300 per mile annually was made. 
Meanwhile mail agents were appointed to the B8:0 Railroad. 
The earliest cancellation known on the B&O was dated 
August 17, 1838, and read "BALTO R.R." For many years 
routine instructions on duties of route agents were: 

1st. To receive letters written after the mail is closed, 
also way letters unpaid or prepaid, accounting to the 
deputy postmaster at the end of the route for all prepaid 
postage received, and to hand over said letters to the 



100 MAIL BY RAIL 

proper office for delivery of mailing, reporting a list of all 
such letters to the Auditor of the Department. 

2nd. To assort the mails for the several offices, being 
intrusted with the key to the iron lock for that purpose. 

3rd. To attend to the delivery and reception of mail 
bags. 

4th. To report all irregularities of service on the route. 

The duties of a route aj^ent included accompanying; the 
mail bags and pouches to the train and receiving them in his 
compartment or part of bap^cjage car. Tlien, as the train 
pulled out, he opened the letter box on the car platform and 
took out late-mailed letters. Before 1847, when stamps were 
introduced, he made out waybills for collection at delivery 
point on all late letters. In a car sometimes equipped with 
pigeonholes, he would distribute the way mail taken from 
the letter box, any way mail handed him, and that which he 
took from the iron-locked pouch given him on starting his 
run. He canceled letters brought to his car. Before reaching 
the station, he would take from its box that town's mail, 
mostly "mails" or wrapped packets and papers, and put them 
in a pouch for the local station. Mail or "mails" received at 
each station were treated the same as his initial mail, only 
local letters being dispatched en route, no connecting lines 
being dispatched until 1849. Mail for every office beyond the 
terminal of his run was made into sacks and packages for the 
terminal office or nearest D.P.O. 

The compartment, boxes, and other equipment for route 
agents varied from the unfurnished end of a baggage car to 
compartments provided with boxes, a table, chair and pigeon- 
holes. Agents were highly praised for their intelligence, 
honesty, fidelity, and hard work. They were early armed, 
and their compartment bore a sign of "No Admission." Fre- 
quently inspectors, and, on one exception, Postmaster Gen- 
eral Hall, tried to enter the compartment incognito; they 
invariably found it next to impossible. The railroads com- 
plained, however, that too many inspectors and postal agents 
were riding free on their various passes, and this was often 



TRANSIT MAIL: FROM STAGE TO TRAIN 101 

cited in mail-pay squabbles when officials tried to reduce the 
cost of mail transportation (averaging $50 to $300 a mile in 
1845). Some railways canceled all mail shipments, where- 
upon the Department used agents who (as passengers) carried 
mail in trunks. Hence service did not expand as fast as it 
should have, but all main lines soon had route agents. 

Route agents were provided between Boston and Spring- 
field and between Worcester, Massachusetts, and Norwich, 
Connecticut, in 1840; from Philadelphia on, agents were ex- 
tended to New York in 1848, and between Boston and Albany 
by 1850. Numerous other routes were established as railroad 
building extended westward. It was soon seen that the weak 
spot in the system was the Distributing Post Office at junction 
points and termini, where the "mails" had to be redistributed 
—■missing, of course, all close connections. An attempt was 
made to remedy this in 1857 by establishing mail "express 
agents" who continued from a line on to a connecting line 
with through mail. Express agents went over the Erie and 
on, by connecting lines, to Chicago, which somewhat speeded 
up the mail westward. In 1860 through routes with express 
agents were established from Boston to New York and on to 
Washington. (An early type of express agent appeared about 
1842— route agents carrying outside express packages.) 

Express agents facilitated the through dispatches greatly 
but did nothing for other lines and connections at junctions. 
It is believed that in the 1850s some route agents, on their 
own initiative, made up some pouches for other agents at 
junctions. In Old Postbags, Holbrook states with regard to 
the Boston-Springfield and Norwich-Worcester runs (the 
latter the first route to build a car just to carry the mails) 
that it is his opinion that there must have been "some sorting 
of through mail" on these two particular runs. And in 1857 
a proposal of the Postmaster General that "agents take 
receipt" for pouches from other route agents, as well as from 
postmasters and messengers, indicates there was some junc- 
tion exchange of pouches, thus by-passing the D.P.O. at that 
date. Unfortunately, the proposal was not carried out, or 
we would have copies of pouch lists of the time, clearing up 



102 MAIL BY RAIL 

this point. Additional weight to this theory is given by 
certain postmarks, but they could not be conclusive without 
data as to the time of arrival of the envelope postmarked on 
a certain date, proving that letter hadn't time enough to pass 
through its usual D.P.O. 

In all, the route-agent epoch of the mail service was a spec- 
tacular one. The route usually, but not always, coincided 
with the corporate name of the railroad. Detailed lists of 
such route postmarks have appeared in Konwiser's Stampless 
Cover Catalog and in Norona's Cyclopedia of U. S. Postmarks 
and Postal History (in New England, by Hall). Dr. Carroll 
Chase has listed 161 different route markings of agents, the 
collecting of which has become an important branch of 
philately. Solely on the basis of such postmarks, researchers 
like B. B. Adams and Seymour Dunbar have declared the 
Boston Sc Albany route (1852) or the Phila.— Washington 
"Potomac Postal Cars" (1862, before Davis's run), respective- 
ly, to have been "our first R.P.O."; but all evidence indicates 
that only ordinary agent service was involved. 

The number of agents jumped from 47 in 1847 to 295 in 
1855, and to 862 by 1873— for agents were used on branch 
lines well after the advent of the R.M.S, (until 1882, though 
cancels are known up to 1888), and, conversely, thirteen of 
the D.P.O.s were discontinued by 1859. Some of the D.P.O. 
clerks were detailed to the agent runs to make proper separa- 
tion for connecting roads for immediate dispatch at termini. 
Official observers sent in 1840 and 1848 to report on the 
British Traveling Post Office returned with adverse recom- 
mendations thereon, pleading excuses such as "our rougher 
trains"; but the idea was catching hold, for even Eastern 
offices were by-passing D.P.O.s to pouch on Midwestern 
routes like the Logansport & Peoria Agent and the Dayton & 
Michigan Agent in late pre-R.M.S. days. With letters lying 
in the Chicago D.P.O. untouched for two weeks, and with 
other delays "causing untold evils, bankruptcy, estrange- 
ments, crimes . . .," there was a crying need for reform. 



Chapter 7 



AMERICA'S FIRST RAILWAY POST OFFICE 



The guests do ride serene inside the air-conditioned train; 
It matters not if cold or hot, if sunshine, snow, or rain; 
The mail clerks sweat and fume and fret, their eyes all 

full of grime. 
Their backs do ache, their muscles quake, but mails go 

thro' on time. 
When maiden fair with flaxen hair receives her billet doux. 
She little knows how much she owes to men who brought 

it through . . . 

— S. C. Arnold 



The difficulties derived from the Dis- 
tributing Post Office and the wrapping and 
post-billing of letters vanished in a rela- 
tively few years after the establishment of 
Railway Post Offices in the 1860s. Oddly 
enough, a mooted question later arose over 
— Courtesy A. G. •^vho was the founder or father of the Rail- 
Hall, and S.P.A. ^y^y jyj^-j ^^^ ^j^^j. ^^^^ ^^^ f^j.gj. "Raii^vay 

Post Office." Twenty years after the estab- 
lishment of the service which is noAv the P.T.S., and ten years 
after the death of the principal actors in the drama, heirs of 
one of them raised the question of recognition or credit. An 
attempt was made by the Post Office Department then to 
ascertain the facts. The result was a so-called "official history," 
now known as Executive Document No. 20 of the 48th Con- 
gress, 2nd Session, or as Maynard's History of the Railway 
Mail Service. This research was not conclusive, owing to the 
loss of records by fire and to the failure of the investigators to 

lO.'i 




104 MAIL BY RAIL 

define the terms "First Railway Post Office" and "Railvay 
Mail Service." Many of the men questioned could not re- 
member clearly what had passed and, of course, each wished 
to give all credit possible to his friends. 

Recent research has brought to light some significant new 
source material, and it is now easier to trace the evolution of 
route-agent service to railway postal service. A glance at the 
route-agent system in 1860 shows that it was increasing 
rapidly with the constant building of railroad lines. On June 
30, 1864, there were 6,085 mail routes. Of these the mileage 
was: steamboat, 7,278; railroads, 22,666; stage and sulky, 
109,278 miles. While less numerous in mileage than the 
"star" routes of "certainty, celerity, and security," as the 
horse routes were dubbed,^ railroad transportation of mails 
was more important because it and the boat lines were the 
bis: arteries which fed the horse routes. These railroad routes 
at first formed an unorganized and unattached service loosely 
related to the Post Office Department, to local congressmen, 
and to the terminal distributing post offices. Technically 
they were given some supervision by the nearest large dis- 
tributing post office, in addition to some general instructions 
from Washington. And the D.P.O.'s at fast-growing cities 
like Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Chicago were still railway 
mail's worst problem when the War between the States burst 
on the scene. 

Congestion of army mail now posed an especially difficult 
problem at Cairo, Illinois, where both land and naval forces 
were assembling. Cairo was made a "Distributing Post 
Office," and special agents and extra clerks were rushed there 
to attack the mountains of mail piling up around station and 
post office. Among the special agents who came was George 
B. Armstrong, Assistant Postmaster at Chicago, in charge of 
its distributing post office. In lieu of a formal organization in 
transit mail service, the men in charge of large "Dis" offices, 
such as Clark of New York, Wheeler of Cleveland, and Arm- 
strong of Chicago, were conceded technical authority in a 



^The three words were indicated as •♦• in old ofiQcial records. 



AMERICA'S FIRST RAILWAY POST OFFICE 105 

large radius from their offices. So it was that Armstrong 
assumed charge of the mail situation at Cairo. There, with 
the co-operation of the Cairo postmaster, of General Grant, 
and of naval officers, by early 1862 the mail was received and 
dispatched with surprising order and speed. In recognition 
of this initiative, the clerks at Cairo presented Mr. Armstrong 
with a gold watch for his wife, and the contacts he made with 
General Grant and other officials were a great aid in his later 
plans for reorganizing railway mail, which as early as 1854 
had included the statement, "We should put the post office 
on wheels." 

Unfortunately, we do not have a good record of the exact 
special services that were performed at Cairo in this terminal 
emergency. Since special agents carried keys to the brass- 
locked pouches for their inspectorial duties, it is most prob- 
able that they opened and took out, in this war emergency, 
through mail for points beyond Cairo. If they didn't have 
the "Dis" mail for Cairo sorted before that point Avas reached, 
our information that "mail for Commodore Porter was de- 
livered as soon as a passenger could have made the trip" is 
an exaggeration. However, if proof is found that Armstrong 
did have this advanced opening of the "Dis" mails per- 
formed on the Illinois Central in May of 1862, that would 
not constitute the first "railway post office"— as we shall see 
when we examine "mail reform" later— but it would antedate 
considerably the experiment on the "Hannibal & St. Joe 
R.R." (now CB&:Q) now to be considered. 

This celebrated variant of the route-agent system was au- 
thorized on the Hannibal &: St. Joseph R.R., July 7, 1862, 
to meet an emergency caused by a close connection at St. 
Joseph, Missouri, with the pony express established two years 
before. The road completed in 1859 bade fair to become the 
main mail artery westward, after a remarkable run by a 
famous wood-burning engine, the brass-trimmed Missouri, 
which ran the 206 miles in four hours. The overland mail 
was delayed in the St. Joseph Distributing Post Office, and 
William A. Davis conceived the idea of deadheading east, 
boarding the westbound trains and taking out from the 



106 MAIL BY RAIL 

D.P.O. pouches those packets bearing the heavy pony express 
charges for California. When Davis— local assistant post- 
master and once postmaster at Richmond, Virginia— received 
necessary permission, the pony express was discontinued; but 
there was still a need for the experiment. There had been 
a route agent on the line, but in 1861 guerrillas had burned 
the bridge over the Platte River, wrecking the train and 
killing the agent, Martin Fields, who wasn't replaced. 

The railroad company furnished a baggage car, altered as 
requested by Davis, which was similar to a route agent's car; 
it was provided with a table and a case of sixty-five pigeon- 
holes, but had no pouch rack. Davis deadheaded east and on 
July 26, 1862, boarded the westbound train at Palmyra, 
Missouri, with "authority to open the brass-lock sacks and 
the St. Joseph distributing post office packages, taking there- 
from all the California letters, going by the overland stage 
route. These letters were made up precisely as they would 
have been at our office." This was the description made by 
a later assistant postmaster there— Barton— who, along with a 
special agent (A. B. Waller), made the trip starting this serv- 
ice. For a time Barton and Waller, together with Fred 
Harvey, ran as clerks in alternate directions. They were said 
to have had a postmarker, but no cancellation by it is now 
known. Davis was paid at the rate of $100 per month. 

The route was harassed by guerrillas and lack of mainte- 
nance, resulting in several suspensions in 1862 and abandon- 
ment of the work on January 19, 1863 (or 1865). After the 
war a railway post office was established on the line— the 
present Chicago & Kansas City R.P.O. (CB&Q), which is 
called "The Hannibal" to this day. Historically this was an 
interesting service, and high authorities say that the Fred 
Harvey involved was the one who later founded the great 
restaurant chain of that name, although one investigation cast 
doubt on this. With regard to evaluation of the Hannibal &: 
St. Joe's significance a bit later, it is interesting to note part 
of Davis's orders from Washington: 

"It is desired that the work be done as part of the business 
of your office; the car for this purpose to be considered a 



AMERICA'S FIRST RAILWAY POST OFFICE 107 

room in the office, the bills to be made out and accounts to 
be kept as at present in the name of the office . . . and the 
monthly returns made to this office of letters and papers sent 
and received . . ." 

According to the Burlington, Davis used a local case 
for sorting of way mails also, and his car was lettered 
"U. S. MAIL— NO. 1" and had one side door in the center 
of its vertical-clapboard sides, a tiny window on each, open 
platforms, and raised roof. 

Some have asserted that our service was patterned after 
England's; but while there were parallel developments, there 
was no known copying. We received no specific suggested im- 
provements from the two missions sent over there. What we 
did receive from England, however, was a definite stimulus 
for progressive service. 

Connected with the Post Office Department in Washington 
were several men who caught this reform spirit. H. A. Burr 
and A. N. Zevely were among them. George Buchannan 
Armstrong was likewise a former employee in Washington. 
His mother was a Buchannan, and it was her relationship to 
Senator Buchanan, the future President, that caused her to 
immigrate to America and her son later to secure a position 
as a clerk in the Contract Office of the Post Office Department. 
For this deep interest in the technical side of mail handling, 
he was recommended by his superiors to go to Chicago in 
1854 for a mail emergency there, when that city was suffering 
growing pains. It was while there that he became unofficial 
supervisor of route agents in a large radius and went to Cairo 
for the emergency of early 1862. 

Later, when the "official history" was being written, a 
department employee, H. J. Johnson, claimed that the top- 
ographer, H. A. Burr, had first suggested to Armstrong the 
putting of mail distribution "on wheels." Without detract- 
ing from the contribution of Burr, who had developed 
schemes of distribution for D.P.O. clerks, it may be said that 
neither Burr nor Armstrong himself, had thought out yet the 
plans adopted by Armstrong in 1864. Armstrong's first pros- 
pectus in early spring of 1864, even, underwent much change 



108 MAIL BY RAIL 

before it evolved into his railway post office by August twenty- 
eighth. Reports of Canada's "T.P.O. cars," sorting mails at 
less cost than our closed cars, may have hastened the idea.* 

No^v the war emergency drove Armstrong, Zevely, Clark, 
and Wheeler into a consideration of the complete problem of 
transit mail, a real study of "mail reform." Of all of these, 
the writing of only one, Armstrong, shows that he got to the 
bottom of the problem. In the eastern part of the country 
the problem was different and the demand for reform was 
different. The cause of most of the trouble was not delay of 
mails going through the "Dis," but rather delay in separating 
from the "Dis" letters arriving at New York, Washington, and 
Philadelphia for local delivery. In early 1864, Mr. Zevely 
took some clerks from the New York Post Office and made a 
few experimental trips in one direction; i.e., running into 
New York. This was no doubt the first experiment with 
working "city" mail on the cars; i.e., separating, on the train, 
mail for the city into substations and carriers for immediate 
delivery upon arrival. A meeting of postal officials was held 
in Cleveland the previous year, which emphasized the need 
of "postal reform" and gave the severest castigation that is 
on the record to the delays and abuses in the Distributing 
Post Offices, explaining how letters were sent by circuitous 
routings in order that more "Dis" offices would get com- 
missions for redistribution. 

Letters were subjected to so many distributions as entirely 
to absorb the postage charged upon them, and in some cases 
the distribution commission of a postmaster largely exceeded 
the whole proceeds of his office. Even when no abuse was 
practiced, a large portion of the correspondence of the coun- 
try paid an unnecessary tax of 25 per cent, besides the regular 
commission of 40, 50, or 60 per cent to which the mailing 
office was entitled. For instance, a hundred letters, on which 
the postage was three dollars, originating in small offices in 
Ohio and west of Pittsburgh, and destined for New England, 
were sent to Pittsburgh for distribution and there subjected 



"Postmaster General's Report, Washington, 1859. 



AMERICA'S FIRST RAILWAY POST OFFICE 109 

to a commission of 121/9 per cent; from Pittsburgh they were 
sent to New York or Boston, and there chargjed with a second 
commission of 12 1/4 per cent, and then forwarded to destina- 
tion. Assuming the average commission taken at the mailing 
to be 50 per cent, this three dollars' worth of letters paid a tax 
of 75 per cent in the shape of commissions while passing 
through the mail, or $2.25 out of $3. The delay was costly 
and annoying. 

One amusing story of how Armstrong originated our R.P.O. 
states that one winter in 1856 the postmaster at Ontonagon, 
Michigan, opened a long-delayed mail pouch from Chicago- 
only to find a lively family of mice ensconced in the mail: the 
parents and four offspring! (Another version says it was two 
rats, sent in a parcel, which mutiplied.) The indignant post- 
master is said to have reported the facts to Armstrong, who 
agreed that such appalling delays must be eliminated and the 
mails speeded sufficiently to prevent mice breeding in transit. 
But, as we know, he had suggested R.P.O.s two years before. 

A. N. Zevely was chosen to have charge of experiments 
with postal "reformx." He wrote various railroad officials in 
the spring of 1864, asking that special cars be prepared for 
experiments with "traveling post offices." Except for appar- 
ently wanting distribution on the cars, he seemed to have 
hazy ideas as to the technical improvements wanted. But he 
gave a sympathetic hearing to Armstrong, who made several 
trips to Washington to talk up general "reforms." The re- 
sult was that Zevely asked Armstrong to put his plan in writ- 
ing and submit it to Washington. This was done in three 
letters, the first dated May tenth. 

Armstrong proposed three basic changes. First, he wanted 
all possible direct mailing to "Dis" offices discontinued; this 
meant no more wrapping up of letters. Second, he proposed 
the reclassification of all post offices to show which were ter- 
minals, which star routes, and so on. The third was a system 
of Traveling Post Offices, which, while most important of the 
three, would be useless ivithout the other two reforms. 

In short, Armstrong, after classifying offices and dispensing 
with the wrappers which often had errors within, would have 



110 MAIL BY RAIL 

all letters for the same office or connection tied up in a pack- 
age. If they were all for the same office, he would have a plain- 
ly addressed letter on the top of the package, a modern direct 
package. Since all letters were not yet postage prepayed with 
stamps, he provided for continuation of the post-billing, but 
simplified the system, hi fine, his plan called for a melting 
down of the old system to mold anew the dispatching of mail 
via the railroads, which were building a network around Chi- 
cago and extending all over the Midwest. The traveling post 
office, he thought, would be the climax of it all. He said: 

But the main feature of the plan, which, after its in- 
troduction and final adoption to the service, would un- 
doubtedly lead to the most important results, is the sys- 
tem of railway distribution. To carry out the true theor)' 
of postal service, there should be no interruption in the 
transit of letters in the mail, and, therefore, as little com- 
plication in the necessary internal machinery of a postal 
system as possible, to the end that letters deposited in the 
post office at the last moment of the departure of the 
mails from the office for near or distant places should 
travel with the same uninterrupted speed as passengers 
to their places of destination as often as contracts with 
the Department for the transportation of the mails per- 
mit. It is well known to the public that passengers, travel- 
ing over railroad routes, generally reach a given point 
in advance of letters; when to that given point letters 
must pass, under the present system, through a distribut- 
ing office, as is largely the case now, the tardiness of a 
letter's progress toward its place of destination is pro- 
portionately increased. But a general system of railway 
distribution obviates this difficulty. The work being 
done while the cars are in action, and transfers of mail 
made from route to route, and for local deliveries on the 
way as they are reached, letters gain the same celerity in 
transit as persons making direct connections. 

Soon after sending in his letters on postal reform, Arm- 
strong had them published in pamphlet form for distribution 
to all who would read them. A meeting of experts was called 
at Washington in June, and there the consensus was to put 



AMERICA'S FIRST RAILWAY POST OFriCE 111 

some kind of traveling post office in operation in spite of the 
indifference of Congress, opposition of the Contract Office, 
and the ridicule of businessmen. With the exception of Arm- 
strong, nobody seemed to have a definite idea of what they 
were going to do; but he was trusted completely by A. N. 
Zevely, Third Assistant, who got permission from Postmaster 
General Montgomery Blair for Armstrong to try out his ideas. 
On July first the following was sent to Armstrong: 

Sir: 

You are authorized to test by actual experience, upon 
such railroad route or routes as you may select at Chicago, 
the plans proposed by you for simplifying the mail ser- 
vice. You will arrange with the railroad companies to 
furnish suitable cars for traveling post offices; designate 
"head offices" with their dependent offices; prepare forms 
of blanks and instructions for all such offices, and those 
on the railroad not "head offices"; also for the clerks of 
traveling post offices . . . To aid you in this work, you 
may select some suitable route agent, whose place can be 
supplied by a substitute, at the expense of the Depart- 
ment. When your arrangements are complete you will 
report them in full. 

George B. Armstrong 

Chicago, Illinois 

M. Blair 
Postmaster General 

The Department also acted upon the essentials of the other 
parts of the Armstrong plan. Orders Avere sent for reclassify- 
ing offices, discontinuing wrapping packets, and simplify- 
ing post-billing. Post offices were asked to make up letters in 
packages addressed to the post office on wheels with the near- 
est offices on the line marked No. 1, the next few offices 
No. 2, and farther ones No. 3, so that mail clerks could do 
first things first. Correspondence between Zevely and Arm- 
strong on August sixteenth indicated preparations Avere about 
completed and, incidentally, revealed the naming of the new 
service. Zevely said, "I also have to say that I have ignored 
the name 'traveling post office' and have adopted 'U. S. 



112 MAIL BY RAIL 

Railway Post Office.' This term was adopted; and, with the 
addition of the word "Mail" after "United States," is still 
in use today. Just before this Zevely had asked the Camden 
& Amboy to prepare for R.P.O. service. 

Armstrong arranged with General Superintendent G. L. 
Dunlap, of the C&NW R.R., to remodel a route agent's 
car. Letter cases with seventy-seven boxes each were bor- 
rowed from the Chicago D.F.O. and installed at angles. The 
car was about forty feet long, with two windows, upper deck 
lights, oil lamps, and no end doors. Armstrong arranged 
with the Chicago Times for publicity on his experiment, 
giving them the date when he would start the service from 
Chicago to Clinton, Iowa. He secured Harrison Parks, a 
route agent on the run to Centralia, and two Chicago D.P.O. 
clerks, Percy A. Leonard and James Converse, for the letter 
end of his car, and Asa F. Bradley to assort papers in a crude 
case of big 10x12 inch boxes. Leonard and Bradley were 
East States experts. 

And so, on August 28, 1864, this "United States Railway 
Post Office" left Chicago with its crew and some business 
and newspaper men who went as far as Dixon, Illinois. 
Among the visitors were editor James Medill, of the Chicago 
Tribune, and Captain James E. White, later long-time gen- 
eral superintendent of the Railway Mail Service. A canceler, 
probably reading simply "Chicago to Clinton," was used. 
The route was but slightly different from that of today's 
Chicago & Omaha R.P.O. ; it was the old "Dixon Air Line," 
originally the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad (Chicago's 
first) which made a wide circuit through Danby (Glen Ellyn) 
and then veered westward toward the Mississippi River. A 
little No. 1 mail was carried by, owing to strangeness of the 
case, but mail was worked on the trip with surprising ease 
and efficiency. The trip was rather rough, according to Mr. 
Medill, who was at first skeptical. When asked for an opin- 
ion, he said, "Why, Mr. Armstrong, your plan is the craziest 
idea I ever heard of in regard to mail distribution. If it were 
to be generally accepted by the Post Office Department, the 
government would have to employ a regiment of soldiers to 



AMERICA'S FIRST RAILWAY POST OFFICE 115 

follow the cars and pick up the letters that would blow out 
of the train." Later he became an enthusiastic backer of the 
new service. The clerks sorted through mails direct to con- 
necting services in addition to local exchanges. 

Very soon, other lines were started and a form of national 
organization developed. The first plan, December 1864, was 
to divide the nation at the Indiana border and place Arm- 
strong in charge of the territory west of the line and Wheeler 
east. The country was divided into divisions and the service 
placed under a General Superintendent of the Railway Mail 
Service, George B. Armstrong becoming the first incumbent. 
Wheeler resigned on December 20; and Parks— the pioneer 
R.P.O. clerk— succeeded him. 

Mr. Armstrong lived to see his ideas developed fully, re- 
signed in May 1871, and died a few days later. In Chicago a 
large school building bears his name, and in the Adams Street 
entrance to the old Chicago Post Office there was placed a 
monument and bust. It bears the following inscription: 

To The Memory 

of 

GEORGE BUCHANNAN ARMSTRONG 

Founder 

of the 

RAILWAY MAIL SERVICE 

in the 

UNITED STATES 

Born in Armach, Ireland 

Oct. 27, 1822 

Erected 

By the clerks 

IN THE SERVICE 

1881 

A duplicate is in P.T.S. headquarters in Washington. 

In addition, a bronze plaque in honor of Armstrong was 
installed by President Hughitt of the Chicago & Northwestern 



114 MAIL BY RAIL 

Railroad in November 1914 in their station at Chicago to 
commemorate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Service. It 
shows a bas-relief of the first R.P.O. cars, and a duplicate 
is on Armstrong's grave in Rosehill Cemetery there. 

Soon after the death of Armstrong, the heirs of William 
Davis, who had died in 1875, put in a claim to the Post Office 
Department for priority for their father as the initiator of 
the Railway Mail Service. Davis himself, after his three 
months' service deadheading east to take from westbound 
trains California letters for close connection with the stage 
at St. Joseph, had returned to his duties as assistant post- 
master there and never claimed any recognition for his 
services on the railway. The Maynard investigation turned 
up some interesting data and many erroneous statements. 
Few knew how to interpret the documents, and the net result 
was more confusion. The Armstrong family later published 
for private circulation a volume claiming exclusive credit to 
George B. Armstrong as the father of the Raihvay Mail 
Service. Since then this mooted question has become a 
perennial for postal writers, and especially for the rapidly 
growing philatelic journals. In addition to the Armstrong 
and Davis schools of interpretation there promises to be a 
new one, that of the Chicago & Cairo claimants, not to men- 
tion the Boston & Albany and Potomac Postal Cars claims 
already refuted. 

A brief statement of these schools of interpretation is now 
in order, so that the reader may take his choice. 

To Armstrong is conceded the founding of the "first 
permanent, complete, and official Railway Mail Service," 
through his postal-reform letters and his run from Chicago 
to Clinton, August 28, 1864. The Davis school claims that 
Davis's run from Palmyra to St. Joseph back in 1862 consti- 
tuted the first experimental railway post office because he was 
the first to open, officially, brass-locked sacks and take out 
mail in transit to be advanced past a distributing post office. 
The Armstrong school says if this constituted "sorting mail 
in transit," route agents had sorted in transit for years, be- 
sides performing local delivery and reception of way mail. 



AMERICA'S FIRST RAILWAY POST OFFICE 115 

The Davis school of historians rests its case by asserting that 
unless and until record is found of earlier authorization for 
opening brass-locked sacks and taking out letters for beyond 
a D.P.O., the Hannibal & St. Joe service constitutes the 
"first experimental railway post office." Journalistic writers 
of this school make broader claims, as we shall see. The 
Armstrong adherents deny to Davis any invention, and cer- 
tainly not the foundation of a service, because Davis was only 
■'a special agent" and took out only California letters. They 
cite records of route agents pouching to other route agents 
beyond a terminal and a D.P.O. via the express route agents; 
they say that the service of Davis was only a special service 
such as Armstrong had performed at Cairo, and the fact that 
it was soon discontinued eliminated him from being the 
founder of any railway mail service. They say Davis, as a 
special agent, sought to aid in an emergency in his distrib- 
uting post office, while Armstrong sought to and did destroy 
all distributing post offices in order to initiate the Railway 
Mail Service. 

Davis writers in popular and philatelic journals have made 
far wider claims than Davis historians. Articles have ap- 
peared, based on the Maynard document, headed "U. S. 
Mail First Sorted in Transit in 1862," 'Tirst R.P.O. Line in 
History was between Hannibal & St. Joseph," "Wm. Davis 
W^as the Father of the Railway Mail Service," etcetera. In 
1905 the legislature of Missouri appropriated seven hundred 
dollars for a tablet in the St. Joseph Post Office in memory 
of Davis, and a number of biographical sketches give him 
credit for founding the Railway Mail Service. 

As for the Chicago and Cairo theory, it will be recalled 
that before the Hannibal & St. Joe work by Davis, a situa- 
tion at Cairo, Illinois, has resulted in a special service 
being performed there. Special agents worked into Cairo 
and undoubtedly took out mail from the newly established 
Cairo Distributing Post Office for the Army of the Tennessee. 
No record has been found of orders to special agents to open 
brass-locked pouches which route agents carried, perhaps 
because the Chicago fire destroyed the route-agent records 



116 MAIL BY RAIL 

of that region. But it is possible that such may be found, in 
which case the course of the "firsts" discussion would be 
radically changed. 

The following is taken from the Post Office Department 
Information Service Bulletin for January 1950; it may help 
close the chapter, but not the argument: 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES 
POSTAL SERVICE 

Up until 1862 all mail carried on trains was distributed 
in post offices. In that year the postmaster at St. Joseph, 
Missouri, tried out a method of sorting and distributing 
mail on a moving train between Hannibal and St. Joseph. 
This was done in an attempt to avoid delays in mail de- 
partures for the West. The experiment was successful. 
In 1864 the first officially sponsored test of a railway post 
office car was made on August 28 between Chicago, 
Illinois, and Clinton, Iowa. On December 22 of that 
year the Post Office Department appointed a deputy in 
charge of railway post offices and railway mails. This 
marked the beginning of the Railway Mail Service. 

As a final summation of the two viewpoints, we might add 
that Davis supporters base their claims on his service having 
apparently been (1) the first line to distribute raw, unsorted 
mails for a state at a great distance— California; (2) the first 
distributing route to be authorized by special order from 
Washington as a new departure from route-agent service, 
although local exchanges were performed as on modern 
R.P.O.s; and (3) so far as is known, the first line officially 
authorized to open brass-locked pouches for distribution 
purposes. They further point out that the Post Office De- 
partment decided after recent studies that the Davis experi- 
ment was the beginning of R.P.O. service, as witness the 
carved date on the new Department building (Chapter 3); that 
the History of R.M.S. states that no earlier example of transit 
distribution of the through mails has been revealed after 
a "thorough search" of records; and that Railway Mail Asso- 
ciation (N.P.T.A.) members at Chicago officially concluded 



AMERICA'S FIRST RAILWAY POST OFFICE 117 

that this line was the first R.P.O. and said so in a plaque 
which they installed in the Burlington's replica. Some of 
Davis's more rabid early supporters even claimed that eras- 
ures and changes were made before publishing the History 
of the R.M.S., to throw major credit to Armstrong. Refuting 
claims that Topographer Burr had suggested the idea to 
W'^aller and Davis, one points out that Zevely himself stated 
it was Davis's own idea. 

In rebuttal, Armstrong supporters point out that only on 
the Chicago &: Clinton car were the full functions of a rail- 
way post office carried out. Pouches and sacks had been made 
up and addressed to the line (not done in Davis's case); its 
clerks had opened them to cut and work up the packages 
of individual letters for local dispatch and had made up 
mails for crossing star routes and points beyond termini. 
They were ready to make up mails for other R.P.O.s as soon 
as established, and probably did it for agent connections from 
the first day. Armstrong adherents deny claims that Davis 
ever sorted individual letters— despite public mailboxes 
shown on the car replica— stating that his distribution con- 
sisted of packet sorting, or possibly of opening packets of 
"St. Joseph Dis" but merely separating California points into 
new packets to be rebilled while seated at the table; they 
conclude that his operations in no way resembled those of 
an R. P. O. letter clerk. And so rests the case of a controversy 
unique in postal history, still going merrily on. 



Chapter 8 




THE RAILWAY MAIL COMES OF AGE 



In a country wild and Western, red with many a crimson stain, 
There's a city, name of Carson, 'twixt the foothills and the plain. 
And the treasured lore of Carson holds a legendary tale 
That deals with Baldy Baker and the "Dwight & Carson" mail. 
Baldy Baker was a mail clerk on the Dwight & Carson then, 
Tall, straight and strong and fearless, weighing 14 stone and 10 . .- 

— Earl L. Newton 



The impact of the first Rail- 
way Post Office upon the post- 
al service and the national 
economy was but a small one 
at the time, subject to discour- 
aging counterblo^vs; but Arm- 
strong and Zevely went deter- 
-Courtesy Postal Markings minedly ahead. Before its 

birth-year had expired, the 
N.Y. & Wash. R.P.O. (now PRR) was begun; leading post 
offices were instructed to dispense with ■^s'rappings, post bills, 
and letter packets, and tie letters with twine for quick R.P.O. 
handling; and thirteen more of the country's thirty-seven re- 
maining D.P.O.s were discontinued. 

The first full year of the infant R.M.S. (1865) saw the old 
N.Y. & Dunkirk (Erie) and Phila. & Pittsburgh (PRR) R.P.O.s 
established in the East (now the N.Y. & Sala. and N.Y. Sc 
Pitts.); but eastern postmasters, with their fat redistributing 
commissions, opposed any further expansion, and no more 
lines were added for a long time. But in the west the R.P.O.s 
grew both in numbers and facilities; first came the Chic. & 
Davenport (Rock I.), then the Chic. & Quincy (CB&:Q), 
Chic. & St. Lou. (Alton), Chic. & Centralia (IC), Clinton & 
Boone (C&NW) in Iowa, and the Chicago k Cairo (IC) on 
the route of the controversial service mentioned. 

118 



THE RAILWAY MAIL COMES OF AGE 119 

The earliest R.P.O.s had the crudest of equipment. News- 
papers, if handled at all, were sorted into large wooden boxes 
either on the floor or stacked case-like. Later some cars had 
a wooden rack of boxes opening at the bottom, the contents 
being gathered from below into sacks when full, with great 
difficulty. Mail sacks had no label holders, but rather tiny 
wooden paddles called whittlers; on these destinations were 
written, then shaved off for re-use until too thin. (Clerks 
unsure of routings were inclined to whittle off the ^rom line 
right away!) Wooden racks to hold paper sacks were not 
invented by White until 1874; the iron Harrison rack for 
papers and pouches (invented by C. H. Harrison of the 
R.M.S.) followed about 1879, and then the similar collapsible 
steel-pipe rack now in use. 

Pioneers of the scattered, radically new Service had to 
contend with an unwieldly mass of distributing offices still 
wrapping and post-billing ordinary letters, but were harassed 
most of all by the frightful messes of loose papers, untied 
letters, and heavily wrapped packets dumped onto them in 
"mixed" sacks by connecting agent runs. It often took five 
times as long to separate and face up the mail as it did to 
sort it, and drastic corrective orders were issued to all agents, 
including a simple faced-out tie-up of direct letter packages. 

"Catching" of mail on the fly by non-stop trains was prac- 
ticed on the N.Y. & Wash, as early as 1865, but in the absence 
of cranes and catchers, most early R.P.O. trains merely slowed 
up for the clerk to catch the pouch with his arm from the 
station agent. This proved dangerous to both men and after 
trying modified train-order sticks, crude wooden F-shaped 
mail cranes were substituted. Soon afterward the present 
simple steel hook and crane were adopted. 

To co-ordinate the Vv'ork of post offices with the new 
R.P.O.s, R.M.S. officials were early authorized to supervise 
the make-up of outgoing mails in all large post offices, and 
naturally many experienced clerks later became post-office 
superintendents of mails. The arrangement is still in effect. 

Expansion in the progressive Midwest continued, with 
Armstrong and post-office men working in harmony. Before 



120 MAIL BY RAIL 

1866 arrived, the Wisconsin legislature was petitioning Con- 
gress for R.P.O.s; and Harrison, the future rack inventor, 
planned the first cars to be constructed especially for R.P.O. 
service (aided by a Route Agent Johnson), for the first route 
there (on the C&NW to Green Bay). On September 6, 1866, 
transit distribution was restored to the historic Hannibal & 
St. Joe route, which then became the Quincy & St. Joseph, a 
true R.P.O. The next year saw the first "full R.P.O." cars, 
forty feet long, installed on the pioneer Chic. & Clinton 
(C&NW^) and on the Overland run continuing to Boone and 
Council Bluffs; they were designed by Armstrong, with Cap- 
tain James E. White (later General Superintendent) labeling 
the letter and paper cases. "Chief head clerks," now known 
as clerks-in-charge, were also first designated in 1867, and 
their duties specified. 

But in the East the continued antagonism snowballed into 
forces that threatened extinction of the whole Service. When 
Harrison Parks took over the three struggling lines there, he 
found no local service being performed and almost no quali- 
fied clerks; the Department was threatening to abandon the 
three. Bitterest opposition was in New England, around the 
just-established Boston & N.Y. (NYNH&H). The smoldering 
resentment of politically powerful postmasters and news- 
papers, notably in Boston, broke into raging flame in January 
1874 with an attack on the whole R.M.S. system by the 
Boston Morning Journal. Backed by the postmaster, it pro- 
posed an immediate return to D.P.O.s and route agents, de- 
cried the "extravagance" of clerks working only "half the 
time," and accused the Department of holding all westbound 
mails for the two daily R.P.O. trains to New York and of not 
providing southward connections for these two. Captain 
White of the R.M.S., in a masterful defense, published a 
stinging rebuttal— publicly informing the Boston postmaster 
of his duty to pouch on New York City and points beyond by 
means of a dozen closed-pouch trains a day; the necessity of 
needed rest periods and the studies currently arranging bet- 
ter connections were noted. 

At the height of the trouble the vexed postmaster had a 



THE RAILWAY MAIL COMES OF AGE 121 

bell installed in the office of the Division Superintendent, 
R.M.S., located in his building, and thereupon would sum- 
mon him as he would a messenger boy. The superintendent 
calmly aware of his responsibilities and his independence of 
the post office, ignored the bell; and when the enraged post- 
master sent a messenger after him, he sent back the message 
that the post-office head would have to call on him— "The 
bell is on the wrong end of the wire." By such firm tactics, 
and by steady improvements everywhere, the R.M.S. slowly 
established its position of authority and respected necessity 
in the East. It began to expand rapidly, until its lines con- 
nected with those of the Midwest. On the N.Y. & Chic, local 
runs alone, mail once requiring the exchange of forty-seven 
pouches from the New York G.P.O. was now dispatched in 
one pouch to the postal car. 

In 1868 some sweeping, essential innovations were begun. 
First there appeared schemes of distribution (sorting lists), 
the first being one designed by Captain White— the Civil War 
officer slated to become a prominent R.M.S. leader— as a 
scheme for all lines out of Chicago. The first state scheme 
(1872) was that of Wisconsin, and the first Eastern one was 
for New York State; most were alphabetical "standpoint- 
exception" lists (still used by Western Union) on large sheets 
of paper, reading (for example, the Massachuetts scheme) 
thus: 

MASSACHUSETTS: -To Boston D.P.O. 

Except: 

Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire,"! o, ait, t? p n 

and Worcester counties / ' ^ 

Thus were clerks gradually relieved from "doping out" routes 
from maps and inquiries. 

The second new reform, the facing slip with its "error- 
checking" procedure, is said to date back to an inspection 
trip between Mattoon and Centralia, Illinois, to check accur- 



122 MAIL BY RAIL 

acy of sorting on the connecting Chic. Sc Cairo (IC); the in- 
vestigator discovered many errors in dispatch, resulting in 
inauguration of stamped facing slips in 1868 or 1869 and the 
issuance of orders to check errors thereon by 1871. Other 
reports, however, state that the two lines involved were the 
Lafayette-Quincy run and the Chic. R: Centralia (IC); and 
still others say the clerks themselves originated the error- 
checking idea informally to help each other learn best dis- 
patch, or that George S. Bangs originated it. (Facing slips 
were used in some post offices in 1864.) 

On July 1, 1869, the Railway Mail Service was first organ- 
ized in six divisions under a single general superintendent; 
Armstrong, who had planned the setup, was himself appoint- 
ed to the top position. All closed-pouch and route-agent runs 
were placed under R.M.S. jurisdiction. Resigning after only 
three years in top place, the great "Father of the R.M.S." 
died just a few days later in 1873. He had just put his whole 
life and heart into the great new field that was his. George 
S. Bangs succeeded him, but not before Armstrong had intro- 
duced the first standard mail cranes (1869) and the first 
extensive night R.P.O. trains. Giving overnight delivery to 
most mails within hundreds of miles, they were introduced 
over the protests of the railroads; they were needed particu- 
larly to transfer outbound local mails to an inbound morning 
local train at outer termini for early deliveries, and for 
keeping express mails in continuous movement. Armed 
guards were often assigned at night. 

With 1870 came the practice case and scheme examina- 
tions, another invention of Captain White. Designing the 
former, he had UP Master Carbuilder Stevens build the first 
one in Omaha, and he commenced the examinations in Chi- 
cago in 1872. He introduced a probationary period the same 
year, weeding out hundreds of incompetent politically-ap- 
pointed clerks. Bangs soon authorized him to order the sepa- 
ration of R.P.O. -bound mails from the post offices by States, 
and in New York City the "stating" of large periodicals direct 
by publishers was then begun under R.M.S. supervision. It is 
still done today, and sometimes symbols are supplied to en- 



THE RAILWAY MAIL COMES OF AGE 123 

able dispatch to routes. Most of such mailbags noAV go direct 
to R.P.O.s. 

Final fundamental step in R.M.S. innovations was the 
Schedule of Mail Trains, another White invention, first 
printed in the Chicago Postal Record, as was the pioneer 
Wisconsin scheme, in the issue of March 1872. It listed only 
the trains serving each junction, but it gradually evolved into 
today's schedules. 

The Service Rating System of merits and demerits, based 
on the Brown system on the railroads (whence Brownies), 
also had its first beginnings in 1872. In the same year ap- 
peared a set of Instructions to R.P.C.s. Among interesting 
requirements therein were that post bills were still to be 
made out for unpaid letters, that direct packages were to be 
faced out minus slips, and errors in direction or address 
were to be corrected by clerks— all of which instructions have 
now been directly reversed. 

By 1873, when Bangs came into office, there were just 752 
railway postal clerks in the United States. The same year, 
we might note, the American Bible Society was placing Bibles 
in mail cars and others on the Bait. & Cumberland R.P.O. 
(WMd) and B&O lines in Maryland. Next year Bangs issued 
his first R.M.S. Annual Report, later a large and important 
volume, but now absorbed in the small Annual Report of the 
P.M.G. By now there were eight divisions— the 8th out W^est. 

To Bangs also is credited the establishment of the first 
famous 'Tast Mail," on September 16, 1875. Previous to this 
time there had been fast service on short and separate lines, 
but their time value was lost at connecting points. Bangs 
therefore included in his report a recommendation for a 
through exclusive train over the various independent lines 
then connecting New York and Chicago, saving twelve to 
twenty-four hours in transit time. The service was organized 
and arrangements made with the hearty co-operation of the 
railroads involved; it was designated, as now, the N.Y. &: 
Chicago R.P.O. It traversed the N. Y. Central S: Hudson 
River and Lake Shore & Mich. Southern Railways. 

The initial trip, made with great ceremony, was the most 



124 MAIL BY RAIL 

publicized event in R.M.S. history and a significant milestone 
of progress in the entire Postal Service. General Superin- 
tendent Bangs himself was in charge at the old Grand Central 
Station, New York. Such prominent guests as the Vice-Presi- 
dent, the Honorable Henry Wilson of New York, the report- 
ers from all sizable Eastern newspapers, mayors, postmasters, 
and top railroad officials accompanied him at the ceremonies 
and on the trip. The train was composed of four postal cars 
with William B. Thompson in charge, and one drawing-room 
coach accommodating one hundred distinguished officials and 
visitors. The "letter" cars were fifty feet long, the "paper" 
cars sixty feet. All were painted white, trimmed in cream, 
and ornamented with gilt; each car was named after the 
governor of a state, the R.P.O. cars being designated the 
Tilden, Dix, Allen, and Todd. The name of the car and the 
words "United States Post Office" were included within large 
gilt ovals, while "The Fast Mail" and the railroad name were 
lettered on sides and ends. Painted landscape scenes and 
medallions in relief of both sides of the Great Seal of the 
United States (as shown on back of today's dollar bills) com- 
pleted the decorations. 

In the rainy dawn, mail wagons clattered from the old 
downtown New York Post Office up to Grand Central with 
their loads for the new train, simultaneously with others 
destined for the Cortlandt Street piers and the first trip of the 
Pennsylvania's own competitive Limited Mail. A picked crew 
of clerks received the mail— 43 pouches of letters, 663 sacks of 
ordinary papers, and bundles of newspapers numbering 
50,000 pieces, a total of 33 tons. Red bags were provided for 
the New York-to-Poughkeepsie mail, so the local clerks would 
be sure to sort it first— only to have the dyers' bill for the 
bags later disallowed by a Post Office Department clerk, un- 
familiar with the exacting conditions on the trains, as a silly 
extravagance! Perhaps it was; no more were dyed. 

The train pulled out and thundered on its way northward. 
At Albany 1 50 more bags were received from the Boston con- 
nections, while local catches continued apace. Crews were 
changed several times in the nine hundred-mile trip, with 



THE RAILWAY MAIL COMES OF AGE 125 

Bangs watching the Indiana crew while sitting on some 
pouches, watch in hand. At suburban Englewood, Illinois, 
a sudden lurch dazed the engineer with a blow to the head; 
but still the "hogger" brought his train into Chicago one 
minute early. He had made the run in twenty-six hours 
(or thirty— sources differ), or about half the former time. 
Then, exhausted, he fainted dead away. 

The successful performance was greeted with great satis- 
faction, and both England and France requested diagrams of 
the cars. But next year Congress reduced all railroad mail 
pay by 10 per cent, and the irate companies (who had invested 
$4,000 per car in the Fast Mail) withdrew the service July 22, 
1876, ten days after that act. In spite of public protests, the 
Fast Mail was not restored until 1881 (or possibly 1877, one 
source says), when the freshly painted train began rolling 
again— in two sections. The "Fast Mail" designation was 
dropped sometime after 1883, but regulation fast-mail trains 
on "The Chic," such as the Century, still keep up the pace. 

The Pennsy's competing Limited Mail route to Chicago 
and St. Louis (N.Y. k Pitts.-Pitts. & Chic-Pitts. R: St. Lou. 
R.P.O.s) began operating officially at the same time as the 
more famed Central's setup; in fact, non-mail-carrying runs 
began three days before (4:50 A.M., September thirteenth). 
Built in record time at Altoona, the cars were hauled by 
Engine 699, with Sam Knowles as conductor and Al Herbert 
as engineer (data which is sadly lacking for the Fast Mail 
run). The Limited Mail was withdrawn and restored to- 
gether with its competitor. By beating the New York Central 
in speed, the Pennsy eventually secured many of the desirable 
mail contracts. Its "Limited" was gradually succeeded by the 
famed Broadway Limited of today. 

Other "Fast Mails" followed in quick succession— on the 
IC's Chic. & Cairo, the PRR's N.Y. & Wash, (about 1883), the 
CM&StP's Chic. & Minn, (about 1898). But most famous of all 
others was the storied Overland transcontinental line which 
extended the New York & Chicago service on west to San 
Francisco. The Burlington's "Fast Mail," which made its first 
run on the Chic. & Council Bluffs (adjacent to Omaha) at 



126 MAIL BY RAIL 

3 A.M., March 11, 1884, claims to have been the first link in 
the chain; the train was prepared on one day's notice from 
the P.M.G. after a conference. Despite a greatly speeded-up 
timecard, it hit every stop on schedule on the 499-mile 
route, whereupon the Department at once shortened the 
schedule— and has done so a dozen times since, each increased- 
speed demand being promptly met without failure. On Feb. 
17, 1899, its Fast Mail (Train 15) made the run in 9 hours, 14 
minutes. This line, the C. Sc N. W., and the Rock Island all 
competed fiercely for the westbound mail contract, engaging 
in some stirring races. Gradually the C&rNW's Chic, k Omaha 
secured a plurality of the total R.P.O. service and is today 
usually considered the Midwest's transcontinental link; this 
route was a leader in the cutting of running time through 
the years. 

Following consultations, Captain White then succeeded in 
contracting with the Union Pacific at Omaha for a connecting 
Fast Mail on their Omaha k Ogden route and, at a second 
conference with South Pacific and Central Pacific heads in 
San Francisco, secured promise of their own fastest trains to 
carry on the Fast Mail from Ogden to the coast on the Ogden 
k San Fran. R.P.O. 

The first transcontinental Fast Mail from Omaha to the 
Pacific pulled out on November 15, 1889, at 7 P.M., forty-five 
minutes late— with Captain White, high postal and railroad 
officials, and newspaper correspondents from New York to 
San Francisco on board as guests. Thirteen tons of mail were 
taken on, mostly from the East via the N.Y. & Chic— Chic. &: 
Counc. Bluffs Fast Mail connection. The first lap, over the 
slowly ascending grades, prairies, and mountains to Cheyenne, 
Wyoming, was done in record time, the forty-five minutes 
being made up easily in these five hundred miles. Changing 
crews, the train pulled thirty miles farther to Sherman, the 
Continental Divide; then down through Laramie to Green 
River, Wyoming. This was the junction for the connecting 
fast mail to the Northwest (the UP's Green River k Portland), 
and twenty-three minutes were lost here— the car of officials 
and guests had been accidentally switched to the wrong con- 



THE RAILWAY MAIL COMES OE AGE 127 

sist. The Fast Mail had to back up to reach it, and fifteen 
more minutes were lost. With powerful head wind and a 
grade of 211 feet per mile to overcome, it seemed the time 
could never be made up by Ogden. 

But they reckoned without "Wild Bill" Downing, a famous, 
reckless engineer who came on at Evanston, Wyoming. Sub- 
stituting a more po^verful engine, he gave them such a hair- 
raising ride through the mountains and down Echo and 
Weber canyons as had never been dreamed of; with savage 
energy he sent the train rocking wildly as sparks and ballast 
flew from under the wheels. "Three miles in two minutes!" 
gasped Captain White at Devils Gate; and when their car 
careened until one set of wheels was off the rails, even 
General Manager Dickenson tried to have the train stopped. 
But the time was made up by Ogden; a speed record deemed 
"impossible" had been made through the daring of Railway 
Mail and Union Pacific personnel. The U.P. had been inter- 
ested in good R.P.O. service since its construction days, 
when even the track-laying train had its "Union Pacific 
R.P.O." 

From Ogden the epoch-making train proceeded as the 
Os:den & San Francisco, the famous "Overland" route. Hold- 
ing to its schedule, the Fast Mail continued through the 
ru^ijed terrain while clerks distributed both California and 
San Francisco City mail; with mails ready for dispatch, it 
pulled into Oakland Pier depot right on the dot. Total tran- 
sit time from New York to San Francisco was 108 hours, 45 
minutes— mighty good time in those days. 

Steady improvements in the Fast Mails continued. The 
CB&Q's Chic. & C. Bluffs Fast Mail even elicited a dramatic 
description of its passage from the great evangelist Bily Sun- 
day, who had considerable sentiment for it; it now carried six 
cars (150 tons) of mail. 

General Superintendent Bangs was succeeded in 1875 by 
Theordore N. Vail, the first railway postal clerk to be pro- 
moted on merit to the top R.M.S. position (see Chapter 16). 
Then came General Superintendent William B. Thompson 
in 1878, under whom the Railway Mail Service established 



128 MAIL BY RAIL 

its Daily Bulletin— which evolved into the familiar Postal 
Bulletin of today-on March 4, 1880. On July 1, 1882, all 
remaining route agents and "head clerks" were officially re- 
assigned under the universal title "railway postal clerks," and 
remaining agent runs became "R.P.O.s." 

On December 31, 1888, under another general superin- 
tendent (Nash), President Cleveland ordered the entire 
R.M.S. placed under the federal Civil Service. That meant 
that all appointments and promotions after May first were to 
be on merit alone— eliminating the political influences caus- 
ing discharge of hundreds of losing-party clerks at every new 
administration change, which had governed even such things 
as choice of runs and had permitted many incompetent 
appointments. 

The Gay Nineties, a typical period in the younger days of 
the R.M.S., were launched by the appointment of none other 
than Captain White as general superintendent, October 4, 
1890, succeeding J. Lowrie Bell and others. Life on the mail 
trains in this era was colorful and interesting, but certainly 
no picnic. Some of the conditions of the period, or of opera- 
tions shortly before or afterward, are reflected in a few de- 
scriptions such as this one by Votaw: 

"... A dilapidated car, vintage of 1860, which had not felt 
a paint brush for years . . . track visible through the broken 
floor . . . dingy from years of smoke from a single oil lamp 
which dripped gently on the floor. Old boxes like hens' nests 
served as a paper case; ... a rusty barrel stove on one side." 

Later the potbellied stove was often replaced by a cranky 
Baker (hot-water) heater; then came the first engine-heated 
steampipes (still used), but with no steam during advance 
hours. Men not near the little auxiliary stove froze, and had 
to blow the steampipes twice an hour during the trip. Sack 
carpets and heavy overshoes were needed to prevent freezing, 
for temperatures went below zero despite the stove. When 
one antiquated heater, unused for twenty-seven years, was lit 
in a recent car shortage it still "made smoked hams of the 
crew!" 

The dirty, leaky coal-oil lamps were often drained to fill 



THE RAILWAY MAIL COMES OF AGE 129 

those in "more important" cars, and candles substituted. 
Acetylene and Pintsch-gas lights— which still had to be lit 
from stepladders in inky darkness, and which were tapped for 
gas when a connecting line ran out, and candles furnished 
again— some from Germany, gradually appeared. At least 
clerks no longer wore sacks to ward off dripping oil! 

Cars themselves were, of flimsy wood construction, often 
rebuilt from other coaches scrapped as too old; whole chunks 
of rotten wood were pulled from some cars. One crew could 
never report their car's length as required, because it was 
inches longer going uphill than when level. Some compart- 
ments for clerks were as tiny as 3 x 7 feet, while clerks on 
the Lawrenceville & Carbondale (Lawr&W) in Illinois held 
forth in the caboose. Windows were far dirtier than at pres- 
ent—even "slimy." Western trains operated over light rails 
on loose-laid ties in black muck, hauled by old-style light- 
weight Baldwin or Rogers engines; one clerk was thrown in 
the same ditch three times. 

As for equipment, clumsy tie-on tags had now replaced the 
whittlers on mailbags; letter pouches were mostly leather ones 
with awkward multistaple fastenings— heavy, strapped hull- 
heads and light, strapless suckermouths. Some cars even had 
a "metallic forest" of wire ropes and rods to hold mailbags 
suspended open, instead of the usual racks. 

Salaries and working conditions would have seemed in- 
credible today. General Superintendent White drew less, in 
dollars, than the average clerk at present. Remembering that 
money had a much higher purchasing value then, we note 
that pay for the starting grade (Class I) was usually $800— 
sometimes as low as $610— a year. New subs were paid at this 
rate only for time worked, direct by the regular clerk for 
whom they ran, and often several days late; they received 
about $2.18 for each "day" worked, which might be a trip of 
more than twenty-four hours. 

There was no travel allowance, no overtime pay, no sick 
or annual leave, no study-allowance time. Nevertheless the 
new clerk was given a handsomely embellished certificate of 
appointment, printed in crimson or purple from engraved 



ISO MAIL BY RAIL 

script type! In contrast, old clerks who had slowed down were 
often summarily dismissed without pension— there was no 
retirement pay. 

Clerks had to sign an arrival-and-departure book before 
and after each trip and carry a photographic pass bearing 
their picture instead of the signed travel commission of today. 
Vivid memories of his old photo commission are recalled by 
Earl Newton, who growls in contempt at the old photo the 
office had used; but— 

Tildy Ann looked at the picture, then put 

Her arms round my neck, and she said; 
"Don't you know, John, that picture looks just as you did 

The summer before we were wed? 
I remember you sent me a photo like that; 

I'm sure you don't wholly forget— 
It looked pretty comely to both of us then. 

It looks pretty good to me yet . . ." 

There were no terminals, P.T.S., for the lines to dump 
"stuck" mails into; clerks not only had to sort all circulars, 
magazines, and parcels received into the train (as well as 
letters), but had to remain in the car at the terminus to finish 
sorting any undistributed mails— without pay. Even when 
terminals first appeared, road clerks were often forced to 
work long hours therein after completing a lengthy run of 
their own; if the train was late, they sometimes had to omit 
all sleep, do their stint of terminal duty, and report for the 
return journey with no rest whatever. They were also called 
into post offices to relieve mail congestion, especially at the 
turn of the century. Endless stacks of "blue-tag" paper mail 
was sorted, for example, both on the Pitts. & St. Lou. Limited 
Mail (PRR) itself— where clerks worked clear through be- 
tween terminals after much advance work at Pittsburgh— and 
in the St. Louis depot for additional hours after arrival. Still 
longer continuous runs existed in the Far West. 

The heavy mails brought many complaints, not all of 
which were justified. White once learned of one clerk who 
said he was swamped with far more mail on his run on the 



THE RAILWAY MAIL COMES OF AGE 181 

Omaha & Ogden (UP) than could possibly be distributed be- 
fore reaching Ogden. White accompanied him on the next 
trip, asking only that the clerk set up and tie out for his 
chief; and White himself "sorted out" the whole pile by 
North Platte, Nebraska, only one quarter of the way out of 
Omaha. The clerk never complained again. 

However, White was keenly aware of the genuine hard- 
ships which were nevertheless suffered by clerks throughout 
the Service, and he favored and predicted retirement annui- 
ties, increased salaries, travel allowances, longer layoffs, and 
high-speed trains many years before they came about. There 
were pettv restrictions, too: a rule was issued requiring clerks 
to turn each bag inside out after emptying, to be sure no mail 
was left therein. Since this would consume hours of valuable 
time, clerks commenced iisins; the bags inside out too— and 
the order was soon rescinded. There was an economy drive 
on the use of twine, requiring receipts for each ball by each 
clerk too; cut twine was ordered knotted together and re-used. 
Clerks on the old Detroit R: Albany (not a Michigan-to-New 
York State run, but an SP branch in Oregon) dispatched a 
two-foot-ball of saved twine to the division superintendent, 
labeled 'Tirst Annual Ball for Benefit of Baled-Hay Widows 
and Unidentified Orphans," which was displayed at head- 
quarters and the clerks highlv commended. 

Registered mail was another headache; it was dispatched 
in regularly scheduled striped pouches (stripes) and inner 
sacks, checked like other pouches; there were no facilities for 
quantitv billing to terminal offices or unauthorized destina- 
tions. John Fisher tells of the registered packages of gold 
and -^vhat not that poured east from California, eight hun- 
dred per trip, requiring four clerks to write them on the 
Albuq. Sc El Paso (Santa Fe) alone; one clerk went through 
to Kansas City to catch up. Other registered parcels, several 
hundreds, were found buried under storage mail. 

The bearded, adventurous clerks of that day included some 
picturesque characters— "Cheyenne Pete" of the Ogden 8: 
S. F. (SP), a legendary superman famed in verse, and many 
others. Clerks wore an indigo-dyed uniform with double- 



1S2 MAIL BY RAIL 

breasted coat and vest, and regulation silk-corded navy cap. 
For rough work, indigo rolled-collar flannel shirts and tent- 
duck overalls with "stomach protectors." When uniforms 
disappeared, a standard cap was prescribed with the letters 
"R.M.S.," richly gold-braided. But Northern clerks com- 
plained of freezing ears, and portly ones of "unbecomingness" 
to their broad, side-whiskered faces; so it too, gave way to the 
official badge of today. 

Coffee and lunches were prepared under difficulties, but 
often with a humorous or nostalgic note. The train box con- 
tained a frying pan and other cooking ware as well as a coffee 
pot, and old-time hot meals were cooked on the flat-topped 
stove— steaks, pork chops, ham and eggs, and fried potatoes, 
instead of today's cold sandwiches or "insipid canned goods 
warmed on the steam pot." Some railways allowed clerks to 
wash up, change, and eat in the diner at half price, or even 
had trays brought to the car door at bargain fees. Western 
ranch stops provided fresh eggs and fruit at country prices; 
and on leisurely branch lines the train would stop while the 
whole engine and mail crew shot ducks, geese, or pheasant 
for a game dinner to follow at home. 

But crews without stove heat did cooking with great diffi- 
culty, perhaps over kerosene-soaked twine balls. One type of 
car had gas lights so arranged that coffee could be heated 
thereon, but globes broke if any coffee boiled over. One 
N.Y. & Chic. (NYCent) clerk heated his coffee in this manner 
just after a rule against the practice had been issued, and 
just as he was serving coffee at Albany he was greeted by the 
chief clerk entering the car. 

"Well, Louis, how did you get your coffee heated so 
nicely?" he asked. 

"Oh, I got off at Schenectady and tied the pot to the brake 
beam where it would rub the wheels a little ... it warmed 
it just right," Louis assured him. The official, who of course 
knew better, just grinned and walked away. 

Trunk-line runs were so long and exhausting then that a 
few hours' sleep had to be allowed en route. Most clerks 
carried a "bed sack"— a worn-out sack stuffed with discarded 



THE RAILWAY MAIL COMES OF AGE ISS 

blankets, an old pillow, and work clothes, and handled at 
terminals by the grip man. Some cars had collapsible bunks 
which lay on racks or stall cleats and folded up; others used 
laced-paper-sack hammocks. Some long runs were three and 
four full days one way, and sleeping regulations required 
that any of the men could sleep one at a time if the mail 
was in good shape. Exhausted clerks sometimes slept more 
time than allotted, and one was removed from the Service 
for "sleeping on duty and giving as reason for failure to 
make catch, 'Did not hear the whistle.' " On shorter lines, 
rough cots were provided on top floors of large post-office 
buildings at termini of runs. 

A final sidelight of the period was the famed "car permit," 
issued theoretically as an admit card to various postal cars 
and stamped in bright red "Not good for transportation." 
Actually they were furnished to clerks as passes for rides over 
lines other than their own, even by officials of the Service, 
and all clerks-in-charge were expected to honor them for pas- 
sage in spite of regulations. As related by C. E. Parsons, they 
were used for many years until 1893, when they were quickly 
withdrawn after clerks from all over the nation were noticed 
in Washington, D. C, attending the presidential inaugura- 
tion on their permits. Despite howls of protest, no such 
passes were ever restored. 

Most trainmen also honored the permits, but some ob- 
served the regulations to the letter. One clerk riding on a 
permit in a B&O storage car next to the engine was killed 
in a wreck, and his family won an expensive suit against the 
road. Provoked B&O officials condemned the permits, saying 
the clerk should have been given a pass to ride the coaches, 
where no one had been hurt. Another permit-riding clerk 
was permanently "blackballed" from riding any part of the 
Missouri Pacific when he talked back to a conductor question- 
ing him as he reclined in a chair in the mail-car doorway. 
On being requested to pay fare as a result, he angrily re- 
marked, "If I do pay, I doubt if the Company will get it." 
Rench himself, riding by permit over the old St. Louis, La. & 
K.City (C&A), found himself in the car with a nervous new 



154 MAIL BY RAIL 

clerk instead of the one he knew— and to keep him from 
going stuck, Rench had to help him all night without pay, 
on a detour! 

There are many other vivid incidents of the old days. 
When no one on Albuq. & L.A. (Santa Fe) Train 3 had a 
match to light the Pintsch-gas lamps one evening, one clerk 
merely pulled the cord and borrowed one from the wrathful 
conductor. Then there was that notorious huge sack of mail 
labeled "Snowsheds D&D" (i.e., mail for "delivery and distri- 
bution") which a storage-car helper brought back to the old 
Ogden (Utah) Temporary Terminal, which had just made it 
up for dispatch, asking what the clerks wanted done with it- 
there was no such place as Snowsheds. The exhausted Ogden 
helpers, all detailed there twelve hours a day at $75 a month 
because of washouts on their line, all denied having made 
up the sack despite the label's evidence. The reason ^vas quite 
evident when the sack Avas opened— it was crammed ^vith tiny 
salve cans, the size of quarters, addressed practically every- 
where! The force, composed, by the way, "mostly of future 
R.M.S. officials," never distributed that noxious sack; it was 
allegedly relabeled once more to some imsuspecting line or 
post office in California. 

The postmaster at Letts, Iowa, once reported a crew on the 
old Davenport R: Atchison (Rock I.?— traversing his town) for 
throwing mail off the train into piles of cow manure. It had 
not been done intentionally thus far, but the provoked clerks 
now began to improve their marksmanship until they became 
pretty expert, says Rench. Appearance of a paper addressed 
to Letts on connecting lines from then on was sure to elicit 
bantering remarks, not all printable. When "Old Nathan," 
a clerk of that era, was discovered embroiled in a raging 
scuffle, yelling for help, in the end of the car where he was 
supposed to be sleeping one night, would-be rescuers crept 
in with drawn guns. They discovered, says Earl Newton in 
verse form, that he had a mouse in his pajamas! 

A booklet of 1902 by Superintendent V. J. Bradley (2nd 
Division) well reveals the scope of the Service at the time. 
There were then 179,902 miles of R.P.O. routes and 8,794 



THE RAILWAY MAIL COMES OF AGE 155 

clerks, handling 272,714,017 ton-miles of mail annually; there 
were eleven divisions. Despite the 76,000 post offices then 
existing, efficient R.M.S. distribution had enabled the great 
New York G.P.O. to cut its outgoing mail separations to less 
than 1,300 and the Philadelphia post office's to only 1,000. 
Bradley, admitting some clerks still got only $800, also 
pointed out how little of their layoff was actual free time. 
Clerks were averaging 98.74 per cent in exams, as against 
only 90.24 in 1890, and sorted thirteen billion pieces of mail 
a year. At about this time modern pouch records had just 
appeared. 

In the 1880s (and up to 1916) mail pay to the railroads was 
based on a quadrennial weighing of all mails during a fixed 
period of some 105 days; the country was divided into four 
sections, and one section was covered each period, with special 
clerks assisting. There were always weighings going on. 

Clerks of the era were particularly loyal to Postmaster 
General John Wanamaker, the great merchant-philanthro- 
pist, who took much interest in the R.M.S. (see Chapter 10 for 
his gold-medal awards). By 1902 they were running on 1,278 
steam, 23 trolley, and 49 boat-line R.P.O.s. By 1907 there 
were 14,000 clerks, and their accuracy in distribution was up 
to only one error in every 11,822 pieces handled (it was one 
in 2,824 in 1890). 

The railways continued to build up right and left, and the 
R.P.O. system was overexpanded as railway post offices were 
hastily installed on practically every piece of trackage longer 
than a spur. There was even one on the private track of the 
Nevada Consolidated Copper Company— the old Cobre &: 
Ely (NevNthn), serving Kimberly and other famous towns 
until scrapped (1941). 

An ill-dated experiment in shipping bulk mail to various 
distributing points in freight cars was commenced under the 
Hitchcock economy regime in 1909, causing great delay to 
thousands of magazines and catalogs and great confusion 
among clerks at distributing points, especially concerning 
weighings. (It was this mail which required the blue tags 
mentioned earlier, attached in a futile effort to keep it 



1S« MAIL BY RAIL 

Straight.) Protests from publishers finally secured a curtail- 
ment of the practice in 1912. By 1915 the force totaled over 
20,000 clerks; they were distributing nearly fourteen billion 
pieces of mail annually, 99.98 per cent correct, in 914 full and 
3,040 apartment cars, and mail-carrying trackage had reached 
the staggering total of 216,000 miles. 

Note: The period covered by this chapter would chrono- 
logically include the Spanish-American War and other special 
events (the Chicago fire, the "Gold Trains," etcetera) in- 
volving the R.M.S., but these are covered more appropriately 
in Chapter 11. Similarly, it would normally include the 
founding of the association which is now the N.P.T.A. (also 
the M.B.A.), but this will be better discussed in the follow- 
ing chapter, along with the significant events between 1910 
and 1940, which all seem inextricably linked with the railway 
mail labor movement. Most new developments since 1940 are 
in Chapter 16. 



Chapter 9 



PERILOUS DAYS: THE "ASSOCIATION" AND 
THE "BROTHERHOOD" 



There's a great jubilation about us, 

And, hailing from far and from near. 
From the shadowy vales to the hilltops. 

The sounds of rejoicing we hear; 
The goddess of fortune is smiling. 

Prosperity's coming our way— 
They've made us a travel allowance 

Of six shining coppers a day! . . . 

— Earl L. Newton 



Thrilling, sometimes horrifying, al- 
most incredible, is the saga of the railway 
mail clerk's successful fight for safer and 
better working conditions, for a closer 
approach to fair salaries, for the right to 
petition Congress, and for true labor 
unionism in its finest existing form. 
Until today the story never could be 
fully told; but now that tempers have cooled and many key 
figures in the bitter struggle have passed from the scene, many 
a cherished secret has been revealed to the researcher for the 
first time. One salient fact stands out— that it was America's 
railway mail clerks who initiated and spearheaded the suc- 
cessful restoration of basic constitutional rights to all govern- 
ment employees in 1912 and after. 

Postal employees cannot ask for a raise from the superin- 
tendent or postmaster; they cannot form a union which 
threatens to strike; their salaries are set by law. They will 

137 




158 MAIL BY RAIL 

receive pay commensurate with the cost of living, and other 
needed benefits, only when the public is enough aroused to 
demand such through its representatives in Congress. 

Before 1900, clerks, and officials as well, were very poorly 
paid. Many of these officials were naturally unfair in making 
appointments and promotions (with an eye to political ap- 
proval), were bitterly opposed to imionism, obtained privi- 
leges or railroad passes through political influence, and lived 
only for a chance to quit and grab a better job— preferably as 
a supervisor of mails for a railroad. (Some officials, of course, 
were of high character and entirely different.) Many clerks 
were removed from the Service merely because of politics 
or grudges— a white envelope meant one was fired. 

But clerks evidenced even more dissatisfaction with regard 
to the dangerous, poorly constructed and serviced postal cars 
in which they worked; clerks were being killed and injured 
in wTecks everywhere. Railroad Avork has always been dan- 
gerous, but working in the postal cars of that day was almost 
like working in a powder mill. Before the advent of double 
tracks, automatic block systems, heavy rail and ballast, the 
air brake, the automatic coupler, and legal control of rail- 
roadmen's working hours, wrecks occurred with dreadful 
frequency. The postal clerk was in the greatest danger; his 
car was generally the weakest in the train (often an old, re- 
modeled baggage car), was spotted at the head end, and hence 
received the brunt of any impact or followed the engine in 
case of derailment. 

Determined at least to provide a little financial security for 
the maimed clerks and bereaved families involved, a group of 
the employees met in Chicago on November 18, 1874, and 
organized the Railway Mail Mutual Benefit Association, the 
first national organization ever formed among railway postal 
clerks— the first in the Postal Service, it is claimed. A. B. 
Hulse was made president. The association was to provide 
straight life insurance at low rates, since old-line companies 
would not consider such risky fields of occupation; each mem- 
ber was assessed $1.10 upon the death of any other member, 
and $2,000 was paid to the latter's beneficiary. Lodges were 



PERILOUS DAYS 159 

formed throughout the country. The "M.B.A." has con- 
tinued to function throughout the years. Its newsy little 
magazine, the M.B.A. Reminder, was founded in October 
1921, and in 1942 the present national secretary— Benjamin 
F. Carle, former 10th Division Assistant General Superintend- 
ent—took over the reins. A recent sharp increase in rates 
induced a drop in membership from a high of 13,285 to but 
7,459 in 1947; but the association is again expanding and it 
still sends out $2,000 checks to beneficiaries from its Chicago 
headquarters. Active lodges are found at Boston, Cincinnati, 
Atlanta, Omaha, and elsewhere. 

But the M.B.A. of 1874 also endeavored to secure legisla- 
tion for better wage and working conditions, and it began 
this -^vork years before the post-office clerks' and carriers' 
national groups were even founded. Considerable publicity 
was given to the hazardous nature of the work, and by 1879 
legislation -was enacted by Congress to provide ninety days' 
full salary during incapacitation because of injuries on duty. 

And there was plenty of need for such legislation. The 
report of the Postmaster General for 1883 contained eleven 
printed pages of wrecks, and the 1884 report, fourteen pages. 
They were crammed with phrases like "Mail car was com- 
pletely destroyed"; ". . . was fatally injured and died the 
next morning"; ". . . was precipitated . . . and badly injured, 
and died on December 2"; ". . . neck was broken, killing 
instantly"; ". . . was caught in wreck and burned to death"; 
". . . so badly crushed as to be unrecognizable," and so on. 
From 1877 to 1884 25 clerks were killed and 147 seriously 
injured out of only 3,153 employed; in 1885-92 the figures 
jumped to 43 and 463. 

In 1883, furthermore. Congress arbitrarily reduced the pay 
of clerks in the two top classes by $50 to $100, making it only 
$1,150 and $1,300 per annum. This blow, coupled with un- 
fair political discriminations, led to the hasty organization 
of a "Brotherhood of Railway Mail Postal Clerks," in 1886, 
to protect the interests of clerks involved; but it was admit- 
tedly a Republican partisan group. It originated in the old 
5th Division and was denounced by General Superintendent 



140 MAIL BY RAIL 

Jamison and fellow o^cials (apparently including Captain 
White, who reports the incident) as "an association . . . 
inimical to private and public interests, because its purpose 
was intimidation and retaliation." 

That started the fireworks. The Department itself retali- 
ated, with eighty immediate dimissals. The B.R.M.P.C. was 
completely crushed, and the M.B.A. took care not to emulate 
its tactics. Next year (1887) the injury-on-duty salary benefit 
was extended to a one-year maximum— a benefit claimed as 
an M.B.A. credit. 

By 1888 the first railway mail journal had appeared— the 
R.M.S. Bugle, published by Abraham E. Winrott at Chicago. 
The next year Representative Hopkins introduced a bill to 
increase postal clerks' salaries, supported by both the M.B.A. 
and General Superintendent J. L. Bell. Bell organized his 
own lobby of railway mail clerks to come to Washington and 
plead for the increase; provided with free transportation, 
they were ordered to team up and visit congressmen. Enough 
votes were mustered, but filibusters killed the bill; and the 
delegates returned, anxious for an independent group. 

From this beginning, in part, sprang the great National 
Postal Transport Association of today. After a three-year 
discussion in the Bugle— 2iT\<\ by correspondence between the 
editor, James Elliott, of Minneapolis, and Harry First, of 
Cincinnati— the journal published a call for representatives 
of all eleven divisions to convene in Cincinnati in 1891. On 
July fifteenth, nineteen clerks met in the post-office read- 
ing room there, with First acting as chairman; and on July 
17, 1891, they formally organized the National Association 
of Railway Postal Clerks, now the N.P.T.A. The first actual 
convention was held in Detroit in August; M. C. Hadley, of 
Waltham, Massachusetts, was elected president, and M. H. 
Brown, of Atlanta, secretary. 

Its constitution provided that the N.A.R.P.C. was to be a 
fraternal beneficiary association providing for closer social 
relations, perfection of any movements of benefit to the clerks 
or the Service, and planning benefits to its membership in 
case of accidental death or disability. With the exception of 



PERILOUS DAYS . 141 

added labor-union functions, these provisions still hold true. 
Local branches, and later divisional associations, soon sprang 
up. The headquarters was considered to be at Hadley's home. 

In 1898 an efficient Beneficiary Department was founded 
at Omaha, offering insurance to the extent of $4,000 for 
accidental death and $18 weekly for disability. Organized 
by D. E. Barnes, of Wichita; August Bindeman, of Elyria, 
Ohio; N. L. Harrison, of Hornell, New York; and several 
others, it issued certificates numbered largely to correspond 
with division numbers to the charter members. It selected 
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for its Home Office and George 
A. Wood as secretary. William H. "Bill" Fry was appointed 
an enthusiastic National Organizer to solicit memberships, 
riding everywhere on his car permit; he also was the first to 
suggest the Women's Auxiliary. "Bill Fry" still adorns the 
N.P.T.A. membership card, but a town in Minnesota named 
after him ended up as "Bull Frog." 

The N. A. R. P. C. soon received special favors. Its ac- 
tivities were announced in the General Orders, and free leaves 
and transportation to National Conventions were given by 
the government. The R.M.S. Bugle became the official 
journal, but in September 1896 it was reorganized, with an 
eye to independent control, as the Railway Mail, edited by 
Elliott at St. Paul, Minnesota. In August 1899 he relin- 
quished it to outside control (it continued until 1918) and 
organized the Railway Post Office, now the Postal Transport 
Journal, as the N.A.R.P.C.'s official organ from then on. 
He was later succeeded as editor by Secretary George A. 
Wood, holding both offices concurrently. 

Meanwhile the wreck situation became intolerable. On 
the old Switz City & Effingham^ (IllRcIndS) alone there were 
thirty-eight wrecks within three years. There were 5,000 acci- 
dents during the 1890s; 14 deaths in 1897 and 75 for the 
period, despite new, stronger mail-car specifications drawn up 
by Captain White. By 1899, 4,500 of the 8,388 clerks were 
N.A.R.P.Cs. 



'Famed in early lore as "The Pumpkin Vine" or "The Abe Martin. 



142 MAIL BY R.\II. 

About 1900, through the efforts of the N.A.R.P.C. and 
Honorable J. A. Tawney, the clerks' first effective pleader in 
Congress, the previous maximum salaries were restored— fol- 
lowing an impassioned speech in which Ta^vney appealed for 
"Equality and Justice" and pointed out that R.P.C.s were 
subject to more continuous labor, stricter rules and discipline, 
and less of home and family comforts than any other govern- 
ment employees. (He described the travel allowances received 
by foreign railway mail clerks even then.) 

But discipline became even more severe, and in 1902 
(a year of 9 wreck-deaths and 390 injuries) came the crown- 
ing bloAv. President Theodore Roosevelt issued a startling 
proclamation. Civil Service Order No. 12, better known as 
the infamous Gag Rule. Issued in November, it read: 

All officers and employees of the United States . . . 
are hereby forbidden either directly or indirectly, indi- 
vidually or through associations, to solicit an increase 
in pay or influence in their own interest any other legis- 
lation whatever, either before Congress or in its commit- 
tees, or in any way, save through the department . . . 
in or under which they serve, under penalty of dismissal 
from the Government service. 

Three years later, when Roosevelt tried to fire a govern- 
ment printer who had disputed (on his bicycle) the Presi- 
dent's right of Avay, he found that legislative safeguards pre- 
vented it; therefore he issued a folloAv-up W^hite House order 
authorizing the instant dismissal, without reasons or appeal, 
of any government employee. 

From then on these two closely related Executive Orders 
were rigidly enforced by postal officials. Barred effective 
protests, employees' conditions became intolerable. Soon 
N.A.R.P.C. President J. A. Kidwell, departing from the 
Association's usual conciliatory tactics, made a speech at Chi- 
cago criticizing conditions, and was fired from the R.M.S. 
Wreck fatalities doubled in 1903; strong car specifications 
were drafted in 1904, but older cars still became more and 
more dangerous. Unclean water and filthy toilets were daily 
complaints, despite honest efforts by General Superintendent 



PERILOUS DAYS 143 

White, the N.A.R.P.C., and others to improve conditions. 

In 1904 the N.A.R.P.C. became the "Railway Mail Asso- 
ciation," and kept that name for 45 years. In 1907 a $100-a- 
year salary increase, credited to R.M.A. efforts, was secured, 
but in that year, also, White was succeeded by Alexander 
Grant as General Superintendent, with a marked change of 
policy for the worse. A stricter merit-and-demerit system, 
with "teeth," was first adopted; and its "plus and minus 
points" filled hearts with fear. A clerks' petition to Congress 
via approved departmental channels, demanding I.C.C. safety 
rules, was returned unapproved as "unhappily worded." 

By now 210 clerks had been killed since 1875 and there 
had been 9,400 R.P.O. wrecks; there were only twenty-six 
steel R.P.O. cars anywhere. Worse yet, in 1908 Taft was 
elected President and revamped the Gag Rule in emphatic 
terms (instead of rescinding it, as expected), and appointed 
Amos Hitchcock, a strict and economy-crazed politician, as 
the successor to Postmaster General Meyer. At the same time 
the first movement for retirement annuities had been begun 
in the 10th (Wisconsin-Minnesota-Dakota) Division, with 
R.M.A. groups banqueting officials; but rugged individualists 
among the clerks squelched it. However, legislation was 
passed granting SI, 000 death benefits for clerks killed on 
duty— claimed by the R.M.A. as its accomplishment. 

In 1909, however, the seething cauldron of resentment 
boiled over. Urban A. Walter, a clerk on the N.Y. & Chic. 
(NYCent), had just transferred to the Albuq. & Los Angeles 
(Santa Fe) for his health and was living in Phoenix, Arizona, 
on sick leave Avithout pay. Appalled at service conditions and 
determined to quit anyhow, he launched in June "the most 
remarkable publication since the time of William Lloyd 
Garrison" (who -was quoted freely therein)— the Harpoon, a 
vivid, red-and-yellow-bound, 6x8 inch, 32-page magazine. 

A huge red harpoon and the words "A Magazine That 
Hurts— For Postal Clerks" were on the front co\er, and a 
memorial tombstone to three clerks burned to death in a 
wreck was the frontispiece. "Strike?— No! Publicity?— Yes!" 
was its opening headline. Articles in tense, compelling style 



144 MAIL BY RAIL 

outlined its purpose "to let the public, especially the busi- 
ness public, knoiu . . . the abuses . . ." The horrible details 
of insanitary water and bedbug-infested lodgings were ex- 
posed. "The Gag Is Nailed!" cried Walter, pleading for 
support and decrying the customary fawning and cringing 
before the officials. The first edition of 15,000— produced 
under heroic conditions, a saga in itself— was sent to every 
senator and congressman, every big postal official, every 
worth-while newspaper, and thousands of R.P.C.s and P.O. 
clerks. Its articles were sensational yet positive, captivating 
the reader's interest in Walter's unorthodox, startling man- 
ner. He printed and circulated the paper at his own ex- 
pense for months, throwing a bombshell into government 
labor affairs, after a narrow escape from total failure. 

Gradually subscriptions and extra money came in; a car- 
toonist was hired and the N.E.A. syndicated the cover design. 
The second issue printed glowing tributes from many, bitter 
notes from officials, and startling articles on the unflushable 
"tank and can" in many cars, delay to mails through disgrace- 
ful personnel management at depots, rotten-wood cars, and 
"iced rat soup" (the rat was found inside the drinking water). 
It made newspaper headline everywhere. 

The leviathan of officialdom quivered with rage at the 
Harpoon's biting barbs. Both Urban and Beatty, the Ama- 
rillo & Pecos (Santa Fe) clerk who had sent in the dead rat, 
were promptly fired; officials threatened all supporters of the 
infamous magazine with dismissal; the Second Assistant 
Postmaster General decried the "flagrantly false representa- 
tions of the R.M.S." in it. The Railway Mail Association, 
with the exception of its fighting Publicity Committee, also 
threw up its hands in horror at these disloyal tactics. Under 
President J. T. Canfield, R.M.A. leaders honestly felt that 
their policy of respectful conciliation toward the Department 
was the best way of securing benefits for all clerks, and they 
doubtless thought they were saving at least one clerk's job 
by dismissing their militant Publicity Committee at the next 
convention (its chairman, E. H. Roberts, had been threatened 
with discharge). 



PERILOUS DAYS 145 

Walter moved the Harpoon to Denver, changed it to news- 
paper format, and backed up his campaign with hundreds of 
letters and telegrams to Congress, securing over two hundred 
pledges of support. The Department, a bit on guard by 
then, began to order wooden mail cars kept away from en- 
gines in the train consist; sanitation was improved a bit, a 
few more steel cars added, and up to thirty days' sick leave 
(evidently without pay) granted the clerks. Simultaneously, 
two law students among the clerks started a campaign for 
travel allowances, convinced by a study of the P. L. & R. that 
they were due. Others including the R.M.A., but especially 
the Harpoon, took up the fight; and legislation the following 
year (1911) granted the first pittance of twenty-five cents per 
day— although seventy-five cents was authorized— to clerks for 
travel expenses. 

But conditions were still intolerable. Clerks reporting 
filthy or unsafe cars were told to stop being so fussy. The Ser- 
vice Rating System was again expanded into a fearful weapon 
of discipline, with new penalties being added without notice 
to the clerks and harshly applied, to their complete surprise. 
Walter, raging against these and other practices, was sued 
three times for libel by the government, but without success. 
Lines were badly understaffed, but on top of this Hitchcock 
issued orders to "take up the slack" by reducing layoffs and 
lengthening hours. Men who "never went stuck" now cared 
little if they didn't get "up." Morale was at its lowest in the 
winter of 1910-1911; not even the customary Christmas help 
was allowed, and tons of Christmas mail remained unworked 
for days amid a chaos of sidetracked cars with men called in 
from layoffs, back-and-forth hauls until mail could be worked 
out, and quadrennial weighings where this shuttling became a 
four-year expense. The wreck situation was climaxed by 
a Christmas Eve crash killing four clerks— in a wooden car 
just passed at inspection despite new "safe-and-sound con- 
struction" specifications issued July first. When a catcher 
arm was pulled out of the rotten wood in another accident, 
the event was reported— and three years later the rotten wood 
had still not been replaced. 



Ho MAIL BY RAIL 

The press, which had been backing the Administration, 
now swung around to skepticism of Hitchcock's policies and 
pubhshed vivid accounts of dissatisfaction in the railway mail 
and post-office services, as well as photos of huge piles of 
"stuck" Christmas mail and broadsides against the Postmaster 
General. One striking photo was obtained by Walter at 
Denver, despite temporary arrest, of stacks of bag-mail. 

In January 1911 came the crisis: Clerks on the 225-mile 
Tracy & Pierre (C&NW) went on "strike." This line, now 
"The Elroy" (Elroy & Rapid City), was a twice-daily service 
from Minnesota into South Dakota's state capital, employing 
thirteen to sixteen clerks on a six-day-on, six-off basis. 
(Another source says two weeks on, one off.) Its borrowed 
sixty-foot car was choked with working mails for four states 
as "green" helpers arrived just at leaving time, leaving it still 
badly undermanned. The clerk-in-charge had to do almost 
half the letter sorting besides his heavy record work; over 
one hundred new clerks assigned to the line at some time had 
quit it, and the helper runs were going stuck five days weekly 
as early as 1899. In 1910 alone, sixteen dissatisfied clerks had 
resigned or transferred. 

Eight clerks "ran through," Avhile at least three (two at a 
time) were helpers between Tracy and Huron, South Dakota, 
leaving only two "through" men in each crew. Soon, how- 
ever, certain through clerks were ordered to run west only as 
far as Bltmt, South Dakota, since through-running of all 
clerks would necessitate a higher salary classification for the 
line. And there were no sleeping accommodations at Blunt, 
so these men had to run through to Pierre anyway, helping 
without pay. 

And now, in "taking up the slack," Superintendent Nor- 
man Perkins at St. Paul (who had profanely denounced 
the Harpoon) issued an order through Chief Clerk Denison 
at Aberdeen that all regular clerks on the Tracy & Pierre 
report on their layoffs without pay to keep up a vacancy on 
one of the helper runs out of Huron (its occupant had re- 
signed—the position was abolished). At least half the regular 
clerks lived in either Tracy or Pierre and would have to 



PERILOUS DAYS 147 

deadhead to Huron twelve hours before leaving time, taking 
three nights of their layoff for the unpaid trip. A protest to 
Denison, signed by Fred C. Ohman, Claire W. Holcomb, and 
other clerks, was fruitless. Thereupon all thirteen clerks, 
with one exception, declined to cover the extra runs and, as 
they came due, did not report. Some inspectors backed up the 
clerks at first, and even secured the discharge of one official 
involved; but that only outraged those higher up. 

All twelve of the "strikers" were suspended for insubordi- 
nation and failure to protect runs; five were later discharged, 
the others reduced. It was a startling situation— virtual 
mutiny, yet justified on the ground of unjust, physically un- 
endurable conditions. Mail piled up in appalling congestion; 
desperately, officials tried to get the line into working order. 
To assist Forsburg, the one "loyal" clerk (he was commended 
and promoted), two others were hastily transferred from near- 
by units; scores of substitutes were rushed to the line, and 
utter chaos reigned for two months as "strikebreakers" totally 
imfamiliar with the distribution were brought in from all 
nearby divisions. Even Chief Clerk Wolfe had to take the 
run once, in addition to helping sort 1,100 sacks of unworked 
papers on the station platform at Phillips, South Dakota. 
Mail rode up and down the line undelivered for a week or 
more; a letter from Miller to Huron, almost the next station, 
took several weeks to get there. 

The news spread like wildfire, making the Department 
apprehensive of new strikes. It was reported that a similar 
strike had occurred on the connecting Oakes & Hawarden 
(C&rNW), but investigation has indicated that it did not. 
Still, clerks every^vhere followed developments with consum- 
ing interest; the Harpoon took up the cause with vigor, and 
contributions to assist the strikers poured in. "What's the 
latest on the T.&P.?" was heard everywhere. Clerks and sub- 
stitutes called for runs on the line, overwhelmingly sympa- 
thetic with the cause, found every conceivable excuse for 
staying home or reporting sick. Forsburg and his regular 
assistant were treated with utter scorn, and their line was 
swamped with sacks of squealers and nixies. Over two hun- 



148 MAIL BY RAIL 

dred resignations were written out by clerks near by, ready 
to hand in if things didn't improve. 

One month after the strike began, indignation crystallized 
in the organization of the Brotiierhood of Railway Postal 
Clerks at Harpoon headquarters in February 1911. (A local 
group of the same name had been organized in Los Angeles 
in 1907 but was crushed by the Department.) For six years 
the B.R.P.C., while never the size of the R.M.A., was destined 
to be the most influential national group of railway mail 
clerks ever known thus far. It openly advocated affiliation 
with the American Federation of Labor; introduced a secret 
grip, ritual, and password; and organized active lodges at 
Denver, Chicago, Washington, San Francisco, Minneapolis, 
and a dozen other cities. Its colorful red-and-black union 
card was decorated with green and orange stamps certifying 
to dues payment ($1 and $2)— rare, attractive adhesives of 
which only a few specimens exist today. The initiation ritual 
was grimly humorous, the blindfolded candidate, as a "new 
sub," was put through a third degree of questioning by a 
Class 2 clerk, assessed "demerits" for his answers, and put 
through an appalling simulated wreck. 

Thus was literally fulfilled an announced purpose of the 
Harpoon in its first issue: "To cement the . . . clerks into one 
vast, vital, pulsating Brotherhood." Walter, elected secretary- 
treasurer, introduced for the first time among postal groups 
the direct election of national officers by mail ballot, the 
monthly published and open audit of funds, and the public 
handling of all routine business through its official journal— 
naturally, the Harpoon. 

Meanwhile the Department tried both appeasement and 
oppression on the "struck" line. Overdue promotions were 
handed out; even the strikers, before suspension, were offered 
clerk-in-chargeships (promptly refused). Then, suspended, 
they were spied upon or harassed until their discharge or 
reduction; substitutes were given demerits for not taking the 
run. Apparently none of the discharged clerks was ever 
reinstated; many went into business successfully, and Ohman 
(discharged, with Holcomb) later entered the legislature. Of 



PERILOUS DAYS 149 

those reinstated, one— Ed Bicek— is still running on the Elroy 
& Rapid City today. By now the public was thoroughly 
aroused; it did not know the merits of the case, but it did want 
its mail, and without delay. Telegrams poured into Washing- 
ton, Pierre, St. Paul, any seat of authority offering possible 
relief; both state assemblies petitioned Congress; newspapers 
reprinted Harpoon blasts. 

It worked. Within tAvo months the line had been raised to 
its proper class (salaries $100 higher), the objectionable Blunt 
runs were extended to Pierre, and the reduced clerks rein- 
stated in grade. Other clerks were induced to transfer to the 
line by salary increases, and a semblance of order was re- 
stored. It has been claimed that "the boys lost their fight," 
but the record indicates otherwise. And the Department, 
alarmed, did not stop there; "Walter's pitiless exposes of tragic 
wooden-car wrecks crushing clerks like matchboxes and of 
other abuses certainly helped secure corrective action. Con- 
gress, in particular, stepped in to pass the first "steel car law" 
on March 4, 1911 (the end of the strike)— providing that full 
R.P.O. cars had to be constructed under rigid safety speci- 
fications and built of equal strength to all other cars of the 
train, which meant "steel" on all principal railroads. July 1, 
1916, was set as the deadline for withdrawal of all main-line 
wooden cars; travel allowance was also increased to $1 a day, 
and thirty days' annual leave with pay was granted to certain 
six-days-a-week clerks (later voided). 

The Railway Mail Association claimed credit for all such 
benefits obtained, of course, and doubtless their influence 
did help. At their 1911 Convention in June at Syracuse, 
Peter J. Schardt, of Saukville, Wisconsin (later a high South- 
ern Railway official, just deceased), was elected president to 
succeed J, T. Canfield— on a "progressive" platform. Vice 
president at the time, he had been an aggressive worker for 
better conditions in the strike-famed 10th Division (Wiscon- 
sin-Minnesota-Dakota) and later its R.M.A. president, in 
contrast to the association's general appeasement policy. 
However, instead of threatening a great strike, as expected, 
the new president counseled moderation— an action which, 



150 MAIL BY RAIL 

like others of his, is staunchly defended by many N.P.T.A. 
leaders even today on the ground that such measures would 
have been ruinous; the "time was not ripe for unionism." 
The upshot was, however, that the R.M.A. could do little to 
help the situation; and it opposed strongly, of course, both 
the T.&P. strike and the Brotherhood itself. 

There was still the Gag Rule, and discontent and rebellion 
seethed everywhere. New groups of indignant clerks were 
organized in the Midwest and East, some later absorbed by 
the Brotherhood but others consisting of progressive R.M.A. 
units— notably in the 1st (New England) and 10th divisions. 
Ringleaders in all these fields were fired for their pro-labor 
activitites: Charles Quackenbush at Boston, C. P. Rodman 
in Omaha, John Albert "Whalen in Des Moines (the clerk 
who sent in the famous samples of rotten car wood), and 
many others. Whalen, allowed no defense (despite Second 
Assistant P. M.G. -published announcements of advance notice 
and defense facilities for all accused clerks), published his 
whole story in a challenging booklet (see Bibliography). New 
England clerks, -wroth at Quackenbush's discharge, elected 
him R.M.A. division president over the bitter opposition of 
its favor-currying incumbent officers; Quackenbush had to 
have his predecessor legally ousted from the hall. But mem- 
bers rallied to support him, and finally even got him rein- 
stated; the government ordered the voluminous procedings 
recorded in a "pamphlet," which turned out to be a 265-page 
clothbound book— one of our few all-R.M.S. volumes.! 

Postal inspectors spied on meetings of all progressive 
groups, took names of those advocating unions or affiliation, 
and cited many for discipline or removal; in the T.O., 
Omaha, Nebraska, spying inspectors were put on letter cases. 
Five hundred clerks declared they would resign in a body if 
General Superintendent Stephens of the R.M.S. were not 
removed. They asked instant relief from unpaid overtime, 
undermanned runs, unreasonable hours, dangerous cars, and 
payless retirements. Secretary Frank Morrison of the A.F. of 
L. took up the clerks* cause, and the Department extorted 
pledges from clerks to repudiate any group advocating affilia- 



PERILOUS DAYS 151 

tion therewith. Brotherhood members refusing to sign were 
reduced or fired on insignificant charges or for "pernicious 
activity." 

The very next year the tide turned. President Gompers 
of the A. F. of L. declared boldly for full constitutional rights 
for clerks; then progressive Senator Robert M. La Follette, 
backed by Senator Lloyd, introduced a sweeping measure 
calling for complete abolition of the Gag Rule and summary 
dismissals. The bill was the direct culmination of pleas from 
the Brotherhood, the Harpoon, a few bold R.M.A. workers, 
and the public as evidenced in thousands of letters and news- 
paper pleas— many of the letters being replies to an inquiry 
sent by La Follette to every clerk in the Service under 
promise of anonymity. 

In May, President Schardt addressed the R.M.A. in con- 
vention at New Orleans. He was expected to support the bill 
vigourously, in common with the rest of the giowing pro- 
gressive element; there was hope for its endorsement in a 
a body by the delegates. But Schardt, after long conferences 
with Second Assistant P.M.G. Stewart (General Superintend- 
ent Stephens's superior), finally reported to the delegates: 

"I argued for hours with Stewart for the right of direct 
petition . . . but finally grasped the significance of their posi- 
tion. I Avould have been a base poltroon and a traitor to the 
cause if I had done otherwise [than agree to oppose such 
legislation] . . ." 

With the "old guard" all too eager to follow the suggestion 
that voting for such an officially-disfavored bill would dan- 
gerously antagonize the Department, the convention— after 
t^s'ice denying Urban Walter the floor— "ruthlessly slaught- 
ered" the resolution favoring the Lloyd-La Follette bill by a 
vote of 44 to 20. 

Fortunately the bill was enacted anyhow on August 24, 
1912, amid great rejoicing by the Brotherhood, which had 
fought for it. The R.ALA, later took credit for securing the 
act's passage; but the record, alas, must stand. The laiv. Sec- 
tion 12 of the Post Office Bill, is still in force and reads essen- 
tially as follows: 



152 MAIL BY RAIL 

That no person in the classified civil service . . . shall 
be removed therefrom, except for such cause as will pro- 
mote the efficiency of said service and for reasons given in 
writing; . . . [he] shall have notice of the same and of any 
charges preferred against him and be furnished with a 
copy thereof, also be allowed a reasonable time for per- 
sonally answering same in writing, and affidavits in 
support thereof . . . 

Membership in any society, association, club, or other 
organization of postal employees, not affiliated with any 
outside organization imposing an obligation or duty 
upon them to engage in any strike . . . against the United 
States, having for its objects, among other things, im- 
provements in the condition of labor of its members, 
including hours of labor and compensation therefor and 
leaves of absence, ... or the presenting by any such 
person or groups of persons of any grievance ... to the 
Congress or any member thereof, shall not constitute or 
be cause for reduction in rank or compensation or re- 
moval of such person or gioups of persons from said 
service. 

The right of persons employed in the civil service of 
the United States, either individually or collectively to 
petition Congress, or any member thereof, or to furnish 
information . . . shall not be denied or interfered with. 

And Congress did not stop there; it also granted automatic 
progressive promotions to clerks after a year's satisfactory 
service in the next lower grade, granted up to one and one- 
half years' pay to any clerk incapacitated by injury while on 
duty, and provided for each eight hours of work of non-road 
clerks to be within not over a ten-hour spread. 

Such advances, for which the R.M.A. took credit, were all 
a great step forward; but the fight was not yet Avon. The De- 
partment found ways of circumventing the law to continue 
unjust dismissals, and in the same year efficiency ratings were 
introduced and often imfairly applied. Regular parcel post 
was introduced for the first time January 1, 1913 (Hitchcock 
mailed the first one), flooding the unprepared lines and creat- 
ing new resentment. 



PERILOUS DAYS 153 

In 1913 the Cincinnati R.M.A. Convention again rode 
roughshod over its progressive element, with hundreds of 
members deserting; but progress was made too. Direct mail- 
ballot election of national officers (as in the Brotherhood) 
was decided upon, and even the Harpoon applauded the 
move. The R.M.A. announced the securing of an optional 
thirty days' leave (payless) per year. And having discovered 
serious irregularities in the records and services of Secretary 
Wood, the association dismissed him and elected Rufus E. 
Ross, a progressive; but conservative August Bindeman 
(charter member) was elected editor of the Railway Post 
Office to succeed J. A. Kidwell, who as president had once 
defied the Department. 

The progressive element was headed largely by Carl Van 
Dyke of the 10th Division, his division president William 
M. Collins, and Edward J. Ryan of Massachusetts (represent- 
ing the Quackenbush unionists). Van Dyke, a capable clerk 
on the old St. Paul & Devils Lake (C&:NW), hailed from 
Alexandria, Minnesota; he was soon disciplined by the De- 
partment for "subversive activity" as a Brotherhood charter 
member and organizer, being demoted to a low-grade job in 
the St. Louis post office. Refusing to accept it he was fired. 
Still an R.M.A. member, he was elected division president by 
his outraged supporters and offered the equivalent of his 
R.M.S. salary to fight for the cause full time. He continued 
his effective trips to Washington, helped to secure a salary 
increase for certain clerks, and after much frustration finally 
organized a "Brotherhood of R.P.C.'s Grand Lodge" (inde- 
pendent) to assist the division R.M.A. in raising money for 
the cause. Charles J. Wentz, still active in retirement, was 
his secretary, and credits him with most of the responsibility 
for passage of the Anti-Gag Act. (The St. Paul Branch 
N.P.T.A. still owns its spread-eagle official seal.) 

Then Van Dyke ran for Congress— on the Democratic 
ticket in a Republican district— and won, in 1914, through 
support of postal men and thousands of friends. The first 
congressman to specialize in openly championing the railway 
mail clerks' cause, he secured them many legislative benefits. 



154 MAIL BY RAIL 

He prominently publicized some three hundreds clerks' resig- 
nations he had on file, to be handed in if thino^s didn't im- 
prove. He pleaded for true unionism in the R.M.A.; but 
meanwhile President Schardt had been appointed a chief 
clerk in January 1914, to be succeeded by a typical rigid 
conservative from Topeka, Kansas— George H. Fair. 

On May 1, 1914, the American Federation of Labor chart- 
ered the B.R.P.C, as a full-fledged affiliated union, with 
Clarence A. Locke as president. They still had plenty of in- 
justices to fight against, as their Harpoon files reveal— intimi- 
dation against Brotherhood membership direct from avowed 
anti-unionist General Superintendent Stephens; a nerve-rack- 
ing, demerit-backed "speed test" introduced on all trains to 
hound any efficient clerk who was nervous under observation 
or just a bit slower than average (some were fired); withheld 
promotions for those in official disfavor; rail passes for poli- 
ticians and rigidly restricted commissions for clerks; con- 
tinued fatal wrecks; diversion of letters and newspapers to 
the new terminal R.P.O.s (set up to take over parcels and 
circulars), delayed in sacks "held until full"; new mountains 
of "stuck" mail, due to insufficient force and poor handling; 
and recruiting of "bums off the streets" for substitutes, as 
portrayed in a vivid, "libelous" Harpoon cartoon showing 
Hitchcock beckoning to them from the window of a house 
of ill fame labeled "Postal Service." 

And in December, Postmaster General Burleson (who had 
succeeded Hitchcock) actually expanded his predecessor's 
stern policies in a vindictive proposal to Congress to abolish 
the Postal Service's eight-hour day, the one day's rest in 
seven, the eleven thousand promotions due to be made in 
1915; to cut substitute's salaries to thirty cents an hour, and 
put all terminals in the lowest pay classification. He pointed 
with pride to this $22,000,000 economy saving to be taken 
from the government's most underpaid employees. Yet the 
Raihvay Post Office, although publishing articles by progres- 
sives decrying the bill and even praising Urban Walter's good 
work (June 1913), went the conservative limit editorially- 
stating it could not criticize a single point of this program! 



PERILOUS DAYS 155 

But the outraged protests of the B.R.P.C. and R.M.A. pro- 
gressives brought immediate defeat to the measure, as pub- 
Hcly admitted by Congress. 

While the B.R.P.C. expanded its lodges, Senator William 
E. Borah was now persuaded to draft a bill to eliminate the 
speed test, and hundreds of clerks signed a petition in sup- 
port thereof. Stephens promptly announced that he would 
"remove for lying" every clerk signing it, adding, "I have 
the power, authority, and inclination to" do so. Borah then 
openly attacked Stephens in Congress, revealing the scores of 
letters he had recei\ed from clerks intimidated into writing 
him to "remove my name from the petition;" and accused 
him of violating the Act of 1912. Every Civil Service publi- 
cation except the Railway Post Office ("That worse than vile 
journal"— Walter) joined in denouncing the Stephens threat, 
as did the new Congressman Van Dyke. 

The crisis came in 1915. Yielding to the agitation, the 
Department abruptly demoted Stephens to a division super- 
intendent and replaced him by J. P. Johnson. And, tired of 
appeasement tactics, R.M.A. members were crying, "Beat the 
Old Gang!" to unseat Fair and Bindeman in their elections— 
which they did, selecting Ryan (the fighting progressive from 
Roslindale, Massachusetts) as president and Collins to a new 
position of industrial secretary, to fight for good legislation 
and better conditions. Collins, a Chic. & Minn. (CMStP&P) 
clerk from \'^erona, W^isconsin, was installed at the San Fran- 
cisco Convention in June together with Ryan, and in August 
the association succeeded in unseating Bindeman and elect- 
ing another progressive, Henry G. Strickland, of Kansas City, 
as Railway Post Office editor. 

Backed by most R.M.A. members and the Brotherhood, 
as well as by the Harpoon's nine thousand to twenty-four 
thousand subscribers (reports vary), the anti-speed-test law 
was passed. Representative T. L. Reilly, Senator Simmons, 
and others joined Borah and Van Dyke in sponsoring good 
postal legislation; Reilly even got a B.R.P.C. worker ap- 
pointed as a chief clerk at Richmond, Virginia. But the 
department had not given up the fight, as evidenced by Sec- 



156 MAIL BY RAIL 

ond Assistant Stewart's heated objections to that appoint- 
ment. It chose R.M.A. President Edward J. Ryan as its 
immediate target, since he had just issued a plainly worded 
(but respectful) protest against some increases in working 
hours at lower pay and against unusual hardships and mail 
delays already mentioned. 

As a direct result, President Ryan and two other leaders 
were discharged from the R. M.S.— for "circulating false and 
misleading information and fomenting discontent" among 
the clerks (cleverly circumventing the Anti-Gag Act in the 
wording). Ryan presented a masterful defense, proving that 
he had circulated only true facts and that the only "fomented 
discontent" in the R.M.S. was because of conditions he was 
trying to correct. Stewart, however, not only upheld the 
dismissal but canceled from thence forth all R.M.A. extended 
leaves and travel privileges and ordered all remaining asso- 
ciation officers back to their jobs as clerks. 

Strickland and Ross immediately resigned from the Service, 
and all three national officers were promptly voted full-time 
salaries by the Association— an unprecedented step. By 1916, 
R.M.A. officers were actively co-operating with Legislative 
Representative Yeates of the B.R.P.C. in backing Van Dyke's 
bills in Congress for fifteen-day paid vacations, limited hours, 
and better conditions in general— although three old-guard 
division presidents, and apparently General Superintendent 
Johnson, actually opposed the bills. The bills were passed, 
including one which restored reduced layoffs and the termi- 
nal straight eight-hour day which had been eliminated by 
Stephens; others provided full time for deadheading under 
orders and gave holiday and promotion benefits. But the 
Department still refused to compromise on the labor affilia- 
tion; inspectors opened clerks' letters or hid in doorways to 
spot labor-minded R.M.A. officers attending meetings. A 
clerk could still get fired by stating facts the "office" didn't 
like. 

The B.R.P.C. was still determined to eradicate these con- 
ditions and others; but its principal battles having been won, 
and not havinor much over two thousand members, the idea 



PERILOUS DAYS 157 

of merging with a stronger union came up when Walter 
decided to resign as secretary-treasurer and editor. When 
the R.M.A. refused to consider the Brotherhood's offer to 
merge with them (June 1915), provided that an A. F. of L- 
affiliation referendum be held, Carl Freeman (Walter's suc- 
cessor) proposed the affiliated National Federation of Post 
Office Clerks as a substitute. 

The B.R.P.C. voted to approve; and first of all, the famed 
Harpoon ended its eight-year career in February 1917, when 
it was absorbed as the "Harpoon Section" of the Federation's 
Union Postal Clerk. The Brotherhood itself came to the end 
of the road on April 25, 1917, when it amalgamated— at least 
in theory— with the N.F.P.O.C. But immediate new develop- 
ments altered the situation. 

The now largely pro-labor R.M.A. , in convention at 
Cleveland, directed its Executive Committee to take a refer- 
endum vote of its existing members— exclusive of any B.R.P.C. 
influx— on the controversial affiliation question; it also au- 
thorized the establishment of permanent association head- 
quarters in Washington. Two future national presidents 
(Collins and J. F. Bennett, a clerk from Alleghany, New York, 
on the Erie's N.Y. Sc Salamanca) and a future division super- 
intendent were on the Affiliation Committee, which was eager 
to reverse traditional policies entirely and take over the 
Brotherhood's coveted A.F. of L. charter. 

They won— 6,000 votes for affiliation, 2,072 against; and 
the R.M.A. 's A.F. of L. charter was issued December 22, 1917. 
On either January 1 or February 5, 1918, the association's 
new offices were opened in Washington's Bond Building— to 
be moved to the A.F. of L. Building in 1920. Aside from its 
Portsmouth, New Hampshire Beneficiary Headquarters, oc- 
cupied since 1902, this was the R.M.A.'s first real home-the 
headquarters having been divided between various presi- 
dent's homes, editorial offices in Kansas City, and temporary 
rooms in Washington's Continental Hotel. 

A large number of B.R.P.C. members now enrolled in the 
R. M. A. directly, while the others— temporarily under the 
N.F. P.O.C.'s wing— were retransferred to the association by 



158 MAIL BY RAIL 

agreement with the latter federation. (Hence the common 
report that the Brotherhood and the R.M.A. "amalgamated" 
in 1917.) The real fight was over at last, and the one thou- 
sand clerks in three areas who had written out resignations 
could now tear them up. The danger of gross injustice and 
summary dismissal Avas over, for the power of millions in the 
ranks of organized labor was behind the R.M.A. 

Legislative benefits secured by the R.M.A. in 1917 included 
travel allowances of $1.20 daily and a prohibition of salary 
reductions in reorganizations. The Association had redeemed 
itself as an undominated fraternal labor union ready to fight 
for its members; and Walter, his work in this field done, 
turned to other fields— editing a militant journal (Playfair) 
for World War I servicemen until his death about 1919. He 
was a fearless genius, "sympathetic, square, and upright." 

The united Association forged ahead, helping to secure a 
.$200 salary increase, $2 travel allowances, and other benefits. 
But there was one more serious hurdle to mount: "When 
R. M. A. officers asked for a departmental conference on non- 
legislative problems, Burleson and his cohorts refused to see 
or even recognize them. "They are not railway postal clerks," 
they claimed. Thereupon most of the division R.M.A. presi- 
dents (active clerks constituting the Executive Committee, 
now Board of Directors) decided to meet with the Depart- 
ment without their national officers; but two, the much- 
maligned Benton of the 8th Division, and Botkin of the 6th, 
stayed away and held out for 100 per cent recognition. Their 
firm stand was instrumental (after two fruitless conferences 
by the others) in securing the R.M.A. 's complete acceptance 
as the clerks' official representatives in 1920. Another help 
was the fact that Burleson had just been replaced by Post- 
master General AVill Hayes, an understanding man deter- 
mined to "humanize the postal service" (he had an inch cut 
off the huge No. 1 pouches— called humanizers to this day!). 

Early in 1921 the first collective-bargaining agreement ever 
made between the government and a federal union, the 
R.M.A., was signed by both sides. Samuel Gompers held it 
up as a model to other A.F. of L. groups. Meanwhile the 



PERILOUS DAYS 159 

affiliated groups had secured passage of the first retirement 
law in 1920 (annuities began at $180 to $720 annually); over- 
time at straight time was secured, sick leave with pay restored, 
and a standard seniority system drawn up by the R.M.A. and 
adopted by the Department. All later amendments thereto 
were made by the R.M.A. 

Aside from certain retrogressions in 1932—33 (pay cuts, 
especially) and in the late 1940s, steady progress has been 
made by the Association ever since. Many new friends in 
Congress arose: Senators James M. Mead, Thomas A. Burch, 
G. H. Moses, and William Langer; Representatives Clyde 
Kelly, John H. Tolan, and many others. The N.P.T.A. has 
secured hundreds of benefits since 1920 which we cannot 
possibly list here, but outstanding among them are (1) pro- 
gressive salary increases culminating in a $300 annual war 
time bonus in 1943 (made permanent at $400 in 1945), 
another $400 increase in 1945, one of $450 in 1948, and one 
of $120 on November 1, 1949; (2) steady increases in travel 
allowances, formerly $3 per day, on up to $6 by 1948; (3) 
longevity payment for current service beginning in 1945, 
amended to include past service in 1949; (4) increased com- 
pensation for night work and for travel on high-speed trains; 
(5) a five and one-half, then a five-day week, in 1935; and (6) 
liberalized annual and sick leave and promotions. By ad- 
ministrative bargaining, the Service Rating System was hu- 
manized and its provisions published; fairly strict sanitary 
standards were put in force; trains were made safer, with few 
or no fatalities in most recent years; other abuses were 
rectified. 

In 1947 the straight eight-hour day (with lunch, wash-up, 
and clothes-changing while on duty) was restored to the 
terminals, P.T.S., thirty years after its abolition by Stephens; 
but within a year the whole setup was abruptly withdrawn. 
Similarly, after enjoying standard pay-grade status for years 
after Stephens's day, the terminals were cut to the lower 
salary grade in 1933 and still remain there; and the high- 
speed train differential was abolished in 1950. Remembering 
also that all the above salary increases fall far below the 



160 MAIL BY RAIL 

current rise in cost of living, it can be seen that much remains 
to be done, as outlined later in Chapter 16. 

Meanwhile Collins had succeeded Ryan in the R.M.A. 
presidency in 1921, with Strickland becoming industrial sec- 
retary as well as editor. CoUins's outstanding work was cut 
short by his death in 1936, and impressive memorials were 
later erected to both him and Van Dyke. Bennett succeeded 
him, supervising the completion of a new Home Office in 
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the next year. At that office. 
Secretary J. J. Kennedy of Boston succeeded Ross in 1936, 
retiring in 1949 to give way to Jerauld McDermott of Indi- 
anapolis. The presidential chair has seen hectic days since 
1941, when Bennett was succeeded by Chester M. Harvey of 
St. Paul. Harvey was considered too conservative by oppon- 
ents who defeated him in 1947; Robert Rice of the Chic. 
&: Minn. (CMStP&P), an aggressive union worker and branch 
president, won the office. Then Rice, embroiled in differences 
with National Vice-President Ole Twait, was unseated— along 
with Twait— and replaced by President William M. Thomas, 
a Houston & Corpus Christi (T&NO) clerk from Royce City, 
Texas, and former division president, in 1949; he now heads 
the association and has won its undivided loyalty. 

In December 1949 the R.M.A. was officially renamed the 
National Postal Transport Association, as directed by its 
Omaha Convention, to conform to the new name of the 
Service; and in January 1950 the Railway Post Office became 
the Postal Transport Journal. It is edited by Industrial Sec- 
retary John L. Reilly (ex-N.Y. & Chic— NYCent), who suc- 
ceeded Bennett (the only man ever to have held three nation- 
al offices) as editor in 1945; Bennett had taken over upon 
Strickland's untimely death in 1943. In the official world 
George E. Miller (previously mentioned) succeeded Deputy 
Assistant P.M.G. John D. Hardy, a popular holder of the 
position, in 1948; while Hardy, known as "General Superin- 
tendent" when appointed, had followed Steve Cisler in 1938. 
This top position is now designated by the title "Assistant 
Executive Director of Transportation." 

In general the N.P.T.A. has held steadfastly to its status 



PERILOUS DAYS 161 

as a strong, independent fraternal union as attained in 1917. 
Strictly "open-shop," however, it has never coerced any clerk 
to join it, and its dues are unbelievably low— $1.75 to $2 
monthly, including insurance premiums and local dues 
(initiations are only $5)! Every postal transportation clerk, 
despite universal benefits obtained by the N.P.T.A., is free 
to exercise his traditional "right to work" and to join it or 
decline to join. And this policy has paid off— the N.P.T.A., 
including nearly every eligible clerk in its membership of 
twenty-eight thousands, has probably the finest record of or- 
ganizational loyalty within the industry of any voluntary 
labor union in the world. 

Even its most labor-minded leaders believe in friendliness 
and respect toward P.T.S. officials whenever possible, and 
such is nearly always the case. But, when felt necessary, there 
is plenty of frank criticism expressed. Throughout the years 
since 1917 the N.P.T.A.'s official journal has printed state- 
ments that it would have abhorred as traitorous before that 
date, as witness a fairly recent item: 

. . . The extent to which the present General Super- 
intendent has gone ... is a matter of common kno^vledge. 
Legally he may have had the authority to do things which 
at the same time are morally wrong and repugnant to 
a sense of fairness and equity. 

This excerpt (which does not refer to any present P.T.S. 
official) was written by an ordinary mail clerk without any 
hesitation, although in an earlier day he would have soon 
lost his job thereby. And yet the N.P.T.A. is so proud of 
high P.T.S. work standards that it firmly opposes any "easing" 
of clerks' distribution and "exam" requirements. 

The N.P.T.A.'s national president (salary now $9,500— 
originally $3,000), vice president, and industrial secretary- 
editor hold forth in a comfortably furnished suite of four 
huge, high-ceilinged rooms comprising the third floor of the 
noted Ashburton Mansion (1525 H Street) in Washington. 
Nicely refurnished as an office annex of the A.F. of L., this 
handsome and historic building has provided a separate room 



162 MAIL BY RAIL 

for each officer since they moved from the A.F. of L. Building 
in 1948. The fourth room, with an annex, is for the secre- 
tarial staff. Fireplaces, ranging from polished red marble to 
rich wood finish, grace each office; the editorial sanctum also 
houses the N.P.T.A. library of books on P.T.S., postal, labor, 
and government matters as well as bound volumes of the 
Postal Trayisport Journal. Attractive divans and other fur- 
nishings greet the ever-welcome visitor. 

The Beneficiary Department, still managed from the Ports- 
mouth, New Hampshire, office, handles all membership work 
and issuance of accident certificates; it pays $24.50 to $31.50 
weekly for accidental disability (and $4,000 for accidental 
death) from any external cause on or off duty. An attractive 
building is occupied exclusively by this office. Its work has 
been highly commended by state insurance commissioners 
and other experts. One of its big headaches is in convincing 
claimants that reporting all details of a ride and a picnic 
which was followed by an accident, or writing simply, "Was 
mowing lawn when accident happened," does not constitute 
a report of the accident itself. 

Besides a beneficiary certificate (unless a mere "social 
member)" and membership card, members receive a round 
gold pin bearing the Association's name, the A.F. of L. hand- 
clasp, and the new lock-shaped N.P.T.A. shield (showing 
train, plane, H.P.O. and terminal). The older pin, in old- 
time mail-lock shape and reading "R.M.A.— A.F.L.," is still 
by far the most commonly used, however. It corresponds to 
the stinger of the railroad brotherhoods; although the Asso- 
ciation is, of course, pledged not to strike. The membership, 
in 15 division associations, corresponding to the P.T.S. divis- 
ions, is subdivided into local branches found in every large 
city or railroad center. Division and national conventions 
are held every two years. 

N.P.T.A. elections and conventions are strictly big-time 
affairs, with plenty of pungency, publicity, and politics. Lead- 
ing candidates for the $8,000-and-up national offices buy space 
lavishly for full-page ads in the Postal Transport Journal, and 
words wax hot amid proclamations of ideal ability, charges of 



PERILOUS DAYS 16S 

Utter unfitness, and countercharges of departure from the 
truth. "WARNING!"-"A Rank Fraud Exposed!"-"Fault- 
finders!" are typical headlines over candidates' statements 
or comments thereon. In the best political tradition, the 
aspirant's most flattering photo usually accompanies his 
"committee's" broadside. The pre-convention ballot is held 
by mail. Finally about one hundred elected delegates join 
with hundreds of visitors at the official hotel in the conven- 
tion city, and a colorful week-long assembly begins. There 
are sight-seeing trips, banquets, and special celebrations 
scheduled, but the busy delegates have to leave such pleasures 
mostly to the ladies and visitors; they are too tied up in com- 
mittee meetings and sessions of the Board of Directors. Na- 
tional magazines and business associations are represented; 
the Asst. Executive Director of Transportation (ex-Gen. Supt. 
R.M.S.), the Postmaster General or other high postal officials, 
senators, the city's mayor and postmaster, and other promi- 
nent leaders invariably address the delegates by invitation at 
the start. Then comes the installation of officers; an inspiring 
memorial service; reports of the various committees, with 
hundreds of resolutions to be passed; necessary new business; 
and probab'- an adjournment in the Avitching hours before 
dawn. An N.P.T.A. convention is no pleasure junket. 

Since P.T.S. officials have always been promoted from the 
ranks, a policy has arisen of expecting them to retain N.P.T.A. 
membership but not to continue as officers thereof (for such 
division and national N.P.T.A. officers are most likely to be 
appointed officials). AVith few exceptions, these promoted 
union leaders usually remember their clerking days well and 
become wise and understanding P.T.S. officials. Retired 
Deputy Assistant Hardy is still a member of the Harrisburg, 
Pennsylvania, branch. 

While some benefits and improvements for P.T.S. person- 
nel have, of course, originated from humane officials honestly 
seekins; the welfare of the clerks, the record seems clear that 
most beneficial legislation and departmental rulings have 
originated otherwise— as a result of the efforts of the N.P.T.A. 
and its affiliated postal unions. Any skeptic who doubts the 



164 MAIL BY RAIL 

power of the National Postal Transport Association in better- 
ing conditions among the clerks is referred to some simple 
examples: 

An oft-repeafed N.P.T.A. resolution: 

"We favor the Department ordering District Superin- 
tendents to call in a committee of clerks whenever a re- 
organization [of a line] is contemplated . . ." 

The Department's reply: 

. . . Proposed change would be impracticable. 

A second resolution: 

"We request tabulations on pay checks as to salary, 
night differential, travel allowance, and deductions." 
(Also, "leave-request slips showing amount of annual 
leave remaining.") 

Reply: 

Unnecessary and impracticable. Such information 
may be obtained by any employe on request. 

A third resolution: 

"We favor facilities for distribution on aircraft where 
length of route and volume of mail justifies, such distri- 
bution to be done by railway postal clerks." 

Reply {in effect): 

This is impracticable and not necessary. 

THE FINAL RESULT: 

After continual urging by the Association, every sug- 
gested proposal was adopted by the Department within 
a few years at most. (The Flying Post Offices, still in 
experimental stages, were definitely dubbed "successful.") 

The Seniority Rules, administered by the Department for 
the N.P.T.A. as stated, consist of many highly complex regu- 
lations; but the newest rules (put in effect July 2, 1950) are 
based on the principle that seniority is determined by date 
of appointment to the organization or line to which assigned. 



PERILOUS DAYS 165 

Nation-wide seniority as existing on railroad systems is un- 
known, and a clerk transferring to another line must start at 
the bottom of the list again in most respects. A senior clerk 
"surplused" from a discontinued line is often transferred to a 
new one where he is junior to clerks much younger in the Ser- 
vice than he. Although the membership once voted for a cer- 
tain type of straight service seniority, the Department object- 
ed to it as impracticable. 

The heart of the N.P.T.A. is in its local branches. The 
largest three, with about one thousand clerks each, are the 
New York (2nd Division) Branch, the Illinois (Gth Division) 
Branch at Chicago, and the Kansas City Branch; New York 
is tops just now with 1,243. Others have from a dozen or two 
members up to hundreds. Activities and characteristics of 
the various branches provide some remarkable contrasts. 
Practically all of them go in for big feeds and social good 
times of all sorts; but the latter range from the very enjoyable 
parties and picnics of the Washington, D. C, Branch where 
nothins: stronsrer than lemonade has been served to the riot- 
ous stag smokers of a branch not too far away, featuring 
powerful liquid refreshment and very questionable entertain- 
ment! Many branches and most divisions issue newssheets. 

The hu2:e New York Branch, though a storm center of con- 
troversy, has had a tremendous impact upon N.P.T.A. affairs 
in the last five years— largely through its aggressive journal, 
the Opeti Pouch, which has been a printed, nationally circu- 
lated newspaper since 1945. At that time the branch launched 
a powerful campaign for the correction of Service abuses— 
simultaneously accusing incumbent national R.M.A. leaders 
of incompetence, subservience to the Department, discrimi- 
nation against Negro clerks (then constitutionally barred 
from the entire association), alleged censorship, and failure 
to editorialize against wrecks and bad conditions on the part 
of the Railway Post Office, and deserting the principles of 
union labor. 

In rebuttal, the national officers stated that the branch was 
a leftist group dominated by Communists; that the R.M.A. 
was holding to its true ideals, free of departmental domina- 



166 MAIL BY RAIL 

don; that the association was not a union, but a fraternity 
in wliich dangerous social problems would result if discrimi- 
nation were ended; that the Railway Post Office considered 
its frank reports and photographs of wrecks, with its sympa- 
thies to the bereaved, as qute sufficient editorializing— and 
that no censorship existed. The branch and its sympathizers 
(mostly in the 2nd or N. Y.— N. J. Division) were ostracized, 
and they were unable to elect a single division officer or 
National Convention delegate that year (1945). In two short 
years, however, they were able to elect fighting Open Pouch 
editor George Cutler as division president, plus nearly half 
the area's national delegates— and they repeated this in 1949. 
They were active in the 1947 unseating of National President 
Harvey, although they later also repudiated his "pro-labor" 
successor they supported. When New York State and others 
passed Fair Employment laws forbidding union discrimina- 
tion the branch backed them and applied for legal authority 
to admit negroes. The National R.M.A., at high cost, fought 
the proposal in the courts but eventually lost when the 
Supreme Court declared the association to be a true labor 
union; it had to amend its constitution, and now admits 
clerks regardless of race to branches in states and cities hav- 
ing anti-discrimination laws. The general constitutional bar 
still remains, but at each successive recent National Conven- 
tion a larger percentage of delegates voted for a change (now 
50 per cent). 

It is still early to attempt an evaluation of merits in such 
a recent controversy, in which tempers have flared and some 
unwise utterances and misstatements of facts have been 
made on both sides. Probably the New York Branch's poli- 
cies and tactics were too extreme, and it may contain some 
individual radicals or leftists; but it must be admitted 
that (1) it has had a largely stimulating and wholesome in- 
fluence in reawakening the N.P.T.A. to its status as a non- 
dominated union and to its obligations to improve some 
crying abuses that are still rampant; that (2) careful inside 
observation has revealed no evidence of Communist leanings 
on the part of the branch's top officers, despite the suspension 



PERILOUS DAYS 167 

of one active member on allegedly trumped-up "subversive 
activity" charges (shades of Carl Van Dyke!) in 1949— its own 
Open Pouch has declared against Communism; and (3) that 
despite some unfortunate methods it has courageously fought 
for true democracy in action (not social intimacy) in N.P.T.A, 
race relations— conforming to the fair policies of the P.T.S. 
itself, in which white and colored clerks work together in 
equality and harmony. Even some Tennessee and Alabama 
N.P.T.A. officers have backed N. Y. Branch policy. (Most 
colored clerks belong to the National Alliance of Postal 
Employees.) 

The N.P.T.A. can well be proud of its Postal Transport 
Journal, one of the finest magazines in the field, despite this 
group's objection to it. During his long editorship, Henry 
Strickland had built up the Railway Post Office into a com- 
prehensive and interesting journal, edited with his prov- 
erbial friendly tolerance. Editor Bennett first introduced 
colorful covers and modern layouts, and the present editor, 
popular John L. Reilly, has continued improving it with 
special new features, photographic department headings, a 
"Contents," and other innovations. With very few excep- 
tions, it prints all material submitted, unless the Board of 
Directors rejects an article as defamatory or scurrilous. Presi- 
dential and Secretarial Reports, in each monthly issue, are 
followed by the voluminous Branch Notes, reporting meet- 
ings and personal doings every^^'here; a story in themselves, 
they vary from the dry or commonplace to talented and witty 
reports of wide interest. Some have even been in concealed- 
rhyme poetry (by S. J. Brian, Jr.), while Leon Cushman pub- 
lished a clever satire of one from the "Fallen Arch, Idaho" 
Branch. General articles, followed by editorials, are inserted 
between the two reports. 

There is an active national Women's Auxiliary to the 
N.P.T.A., founded at Indianapolis, June 7, 1899, at Organ- 
izer Bill Fry's suggestion. Auxiliary women have plenty in 
common, for their husband's occupation is a trying one from 
their standpoint— daytime sleeping, coming and going at all 
hours, horribly soiled work clothes to wash, a husband either 



168 MAIL BY RAIL 

gone for days or underfoot for a week, schemes and cards 
to look for and perhaps correct or assist with. Auxiliary 
branches feature meetings with book reviews, lectures, clerk 
welfare discussions, sewing. As with N.P.T.A. branches, 
their tastes vary from cultural meetings opened with prayer 
or Scripture, to the wild beer-and-cigarette parties of other 
units! The National Auxiliary furnishes scholarship loans 
to talented children of clerks and holds its convention along 
with the N.P.T.A.'s. 

There are other interesting railway mail clerks' organiza- 
tions. Besides the M.B.A., as mentioned, there are other in- 
surance groups, such as the national Postal Transport Hos- 
pital Association of Kansas City, and many "Immediate 
Relief" groups, such as the National Immediate Relief Asso- 
ciation at Washington. In New England the "Spring Line 
Association" and "Shore Line Association" of clerks running 
on the New Haven (the Bos., Spg. k N.Y. and Bos. R: N.Y., 
respectively) are famous for their clambakes and social affairs. 
A unique St. Louis & Texarkana Last Man's Club has been 
active since veterans of that former MoPac Line started it 
in 1940. There is a South Carolina Railway Mail Club, with 
its own clubhouse at Folly Beach; a Railway Postal Club at 
Lexington, Kentucky; an N.P.T.A. Social Club at Denison, 
Texas; two Railway Mail clubs (with dormitories) at New 
York and Boston; various P.T.S. Bowling Leagues, and other 
sports groups. The Postal Transport Hospital Assn. is now 
affiliated with the N.P.T.A. One and all, they help perpetu- 
ate the spirit of fraternity and mutual benefit that postal 
clerks have always cherished. 



Chapter 10 




AMAZING FACTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 



Have you heard about the White Mail that wended thru the hills. 
And days when all the slow train boys stepped off for daffodils; 
Of a Narrow Gauge's engineer who stopped his train so still 
While the fireman kissed his sweetheart who lived upon the hill? 
Of Evans on the Kill. Sc Trin. who hunted hill and vale 
While the train crew coaled the engine from that funny crank- 
up pail? 

— Tudor Francis Brown 



Shortly after 4 p.m. each week- 
day, a group of multiple-unit elec- 
tric cars— Train 2068— pulls out of 
Penn Station, New York City, east- 
bound into the Long Island Rail 
Road tunnel; one passenger car 
-Courtesy Postal Markings has a tiny R.P.O. compartment, 

containing a lone postal clerk bus- 
ily at work. Yet its destination is not some distant town, but 
merely the Far Rockaway section of New York City, out in 
Queens— and every morning, Train 2010 does the same thing. 
This R.P.O. serves several independent post offices both out- 
side and within the city (of which Far Rockaway is one); yet, 
when operated on its normal loop route, it never once leaves 
the city on its return trip (or morning outgoing trip)— the 
only loop R.P.O., and the only wholly intra-city outboinid 
or inbound R.P.O. run anywhere in America! At this writ- 
ing, the latter service has been suspended since May 8, 1950, 
due to a Jamaica Bay trestle fire; but its unique terminal 
points are still within the same city. No other R.P.O. boasts 
that distinction; although one California H.P.O. does (Los 

169 



170 MAIL BY RAIL 

Angeles & San Pedro, the later being part of Los Angeles.) 
Before the fire the afternoon run, Train 1072-1073, always 
operated clockwise about the loop, while a morning train ran 
around the other way. (The present morning run is now ex- 
tended to Rockaway Point.) And the postal clerk, with only 
two 2-hour round trips and a little advance work, must work 
out his allotted time between trains in the Penn Terminal, 
P.T.S., upstairs, in order to obtain a suitable layoff. 

Such is the amazing New York & Far Rockaway R.P.O. 
(LIRR), long-famed as one of the most utterly incredible 
operations of the P.T.S. The existence of R.P.O. service on 
this 23-mile electric line is largely explained by the unusual 
nature of the postal facilities of New York City— which, 
uniquely enough is served by seven independent post offices 
instead of one: New York, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Jamaica, 
Flushing, Long Island City, and Far Rockaway. The last 
four, with large branch offices for each community center in 
Queens, provide that Borough with all its mail service; and 
it is quite possible for mails from one Queens office to be 
sorted on an R.P.O. and dispatched to another, both being 
within New York City. The N.Y. & Far Rockaway, an im- 
portant link in this service, connects New York P.O. (Man- 
hattan Borough) with Far Rockaway P.O. (Queens Borough). 
Dozens of additional commuter trains, many with C.P. mails, 
ply over this third-rail line daily. 

Hefty loads of mail are received at Penn Station, and an 
assistant helps the lone regular clerk until leaving time. An 
old hand at the game, he makes up only a dozen or so 
separations on a "blind" letter case. But he has a busy run. 
with plenty of "hot local" to manage as he emerges from the 
tunnel, skirting the busy industries of Long Island City, past 
the nondescript frame houses and business center of Wood- 
side, and hard by vacant lots, row-houses, and apartments 
into fashionable Forest Hills. After serving busy Jamaica, 
he crosses City Line into Laurelton and Valley Stream; 
swinging south through open suburban country past various 
"manor" stations, he serves Lawrence and Hewlett in Nassau 
County before recrossing the city limits into Inwood 



AMAZING FACTS OF THE R.\ILWAY MAIL 171 

(Queens) and Far Rockaway, As we write, it is necessary to 
make the return journey exactly the same way. But normally 
the train (having changed its number at Valley Stream) stops 
only momentarily and continues straight ahead, soon turning 
north over the trestle to Ozone Park, Woodhaven, Wood- 
side, all within New York City, and back to Manhattan; the 
clerk hangs return-trip pouches long before reaching Far 
Rockaway, working both outbound and inbound mail. The 
unique line's future is, as yet, unsettled; but part of it may 
be absorbed by the city sub-way system. 

Equally incredible are the "records" held by some other 
lines. Our oldest R.P.O, has operated continuously for 86 
years— the C&iNW's historic Chic. Sc Omaha, as we know from 
Chapter 7. Our newest railway post office seems to be the 
Alpena Sc Durand (D&:M-GTW) in Michigan, established 
February 5, 1950; its 53-mile Bay City-Durand segment had 
not had R.P.O. service for years (the rest, old Cheboygan &: 
Bay City R.P.O., was closed pouch Cheb-Alpena). 

The longest R.P.O. in the United States is the Williston 
& Seattle (GN), 1168.9 miles from North Dakota to Washing- 
ton State! HoAvever, the route is in three divisions, with 
clerks changed at each point; and the longest clerks' run for 
individual clerks seems to be from Elkhart, Ind., to Syracuse, 
N. Y., 570.8 miles, on the N.Y. & Chic. (NYCent). But the 
longest run of a crew is apparently the East Div., Kansas City 
& Albuquerque R.P.O. (Santa Fe), terminating at La Junta, 
Colo.— 569 miles on its longest route. (The longest R.P.O. 
on record, however, as well as the longest run, used to be the 
old Deming Sc San Francisco R.P.O. (SP), New Mexico to 
California, 1198 miles.) 

The shortest rail-operated R.P.O. is the Carbondale & 
Scranton, on the D. & H., in the Pennsylvania coal region— a 
16-mile branch line. The lone clerk makes one daily round 
trip, with considerable advance -work at Scranton; he makes 
up 20 pouches dispatched to distant points on star routes 
even before leaving; and then has just 40 minutes for his 
actual run via Dickson City and Ohphant. {Note 22). Un- 
til 1949, however, the far shorter 10y2-mile Thurmond &: Mt. 



172 MAIL BY RAIL 

Hope (C&:0-formerly ihe Thur. & Price Hill, 11 1^ miles) 
had always held the record; it, too, was in a mining region, 
winding through a picturesque West Virginia canyon. Run- 
ning engine-backwards, southbound, this busy peewee line 
was cut out on September 17, 1949. However, the shortest 
line designated as an R.P.O., a tiny lake-boat run mentioned 
later, is only 9.5 miles long. 

The fastest R.P.O. between its termini is North Platte &: 
Denver (UP) Train 112, averaging nearly 70 mph; but from 
Kankakee to Rantoul Chic. Sc Memphis 1 (IC), the City of New 
Orleans, claims the title. Fastest local train is N.Y. k Wash. 
(PRR-electric) Train 255. What was once claimed as the fast- 
est run on record was made by Pitts. & Chic. Train 29, the 
PRR's Broadway Limited, at Ada, Ohio, June 12, 1905 (al- 
legedly, three miles in eighty-five seconds); and the fastest sus- 
tained long run may have been that of Engineer Bob 
Butterfield from Albany to New York on the N. Y. Central's 
Century, N.Y. & Chic. R.P.O. , on October 13, 1904, with 
future R.M.A. President Canfield as C.-in-C, which made up 
all but seven minutes after leaving Albany one hour and ten 
minutes late— allegedly reaching a 105-mph speed. (Both 
speed figures are seriously questioned today.) The Omaha 
& Denver (CBRrQ) is said to make up to 100 mph at times. 

One amazing: R.P.O. runs over six different railroads and 
also makes a unique "catch" at Greggton, Texas, by slowing 
down while incoming mail is thrown into a storage-car door— 
the Little Rock R: Fort Worth (MoPac-Tex&:P-CRI&P-FtW& 
DC-GC&SF-BurlRI). Another has a train number almost 
longer than its line— the tiny thirty-three-mile Dott &: Poca- 
hontas (N&W-W.Va.-Va.), on which Train No. 28-51-129- 
130-51-131-72-51-72-51-68-51 darts into numerous side-tracks, 
changing its number each time. 

The largest R.P.O. train in the coimtry is now N.Y. k 
Chicago (NYCent) West Division Train 14, carrying three 
full R.P.O. cars and over twenty-five clerks from Chicago to 
Cleveland. The N.Y. & Chic, is also the largest route in per- 
sonnel, with over one thousand clerks on all trains (all 
divisions); and furthermore operates the largest R.P.O. cars 



AMAZING FACTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 17S 

anywhere (80 ft.; 20-ft. storage). Until 1949, Train 180 of 
the New Haven's Bos. & New York, a solid mail train, held 
the record— it had more clerks, the same number of cars, and 
furthermore covered the whole run. (It now has two full, 
and one thirty-foot, R.P.O. cars; plus many storage cars, as 
does N.Y. & Chic. 14.) 

Nearly incredible is the fact that there is still a rural, 
single-track branch-line R.P.O. operating right into New 
York City. Dubbed "The Put," it is the little one-man, 51.8- 
mile Bre^vster & New York; running over the N.Y. Central's 
out-of-the-way Putnam Division through suburbs and typical 
country scenes, it provides little mail service for either 
Brewster or New York! Mails for Brewster are routed almost 
entirely via the busy suburban Chat. & N.Y. run (NYCent), 
while the "Put" terminates in the big town at Highbridge 
(Bronx), many miles from Grand Central and the G.P.O. 
But the clerk, busy with his local mails for Yorktown Heights, 
Briarcliff Manor, and Elmsford, has plenty to do on his daily 
round trip (three hours one way), leaving at 7:44 A.M. over 
the little track hidden in Van Cortland and Yonkers parks 
(its other suburban trains carry no R.P.O.). Equally unique, 
in sharp contrast, was the former Clearmont &: Buffalo 
(WyoRy) in Wyoming, a line with no clerk on it at all! A 
"joint employee" (mail and express messenger) rode it to sort 
mail for the Clearmont post office until World War II, tying 
it in rolls to be slung into troughs erected by the ranchers 
along a parallel R.F.D. route. 

Another amazing R.P.O. is the DL8:W's N.Y. k Branch- 
ville R.P.O., which is actually two totally different routes: 
(1) a heavy-duty main and suburban run, electrified from 
Hoboken (opposite New York) to Newark, Morristown, and 
Dover, N. J., with some trains continuing to Branchville, 
New Jersey; and (2) a steam line from Hoboken to Paterson, 
Boonton, Dover, and Washington, New Jersey, sharing only 
a few short miles of route (out of Dover) with the main line. 
Furthermore, the trunk-line trains of the N.Y., Scranton & 
Buffalo R.P.O. (DL&:W) operate over most of both routes 
several times daily! It is no wonder that perplexed postal 



174 MAIL BY RAIL 

clerks often send mail to the wrong route— a situation which 
could be avoided by redesignating the Boonton branch as the 
"N.Y., Paterson & Wash. R.P.O." Incidentally, "The Branch" 
(as it's called) serves at least six New Jersey towns bearing 
the same names as do offices in Virginia supplied by the 
Wash. Sc Charlotte (Sou)— Orange, Chatham, Roseland, Madi- 
son, Stephensburg, and Washington. 

Numerous other interesting examples of two lines desig- 
nated as one are found everywhere, such as the PRR's unique 
N.Y. & Philadelphia R.P.O. This is not the busy main line 
between those two cities (the N.Y. & Wash.), but rather the 
"old back road" track of the historic Camden & Amboy R.R., 
one of the first in America. Today not a single train runs the 
whole length of "The Amboy;" the northern segment diverges 
from a busy suburban route at South Amboy (which in turn 
veers off the main line at Rahway), and continues southwest 
to Spottswood, Jamesburg, and Monmouth Junction— rejoin- 
ing the main line into Trenton, New Jersey. Multiple-unit 
electric cars furnish the service— except on week-ends, when 
an electric locomotive takes over. The original "Amboy" 
track misses Trenton, however, and continues southward 
from Jamesburg and Bordentown as a double-tracked steam 
line used by the N.Y. & Phila.'s soutJiern segment— a totally 
distinct R.P.O.— from Trenton via a Bordentown cut-off and 
Burlington to Camden, New Jersey (opposite Philadelphia). 
The single north-end train makes no connection with the 
various south-end trains, and vice versa; packages labeled 
simply "N.Y. & Phila." of course can not be properly handled 
by either segment and must be worked out on the main line 
first. But the railroad considers the southern segment an ex- 
tension of its "Bel-Del" (Phillips. & Trenton) route— and 
sometimes runs mail trains over both stretches with the same 
number (R.P.O. crews and title being changed at Trenton)! 

The Spokane, Pasco & Portland (SP&S) even includes a 
long branch at right angles, on a different railway!^ Then 



'Wishram & Bend branch (Wash. -Ore., Ore. Trunk Ry.). Newest such branch, 
one off the Rous. Pt. & Alb. (D&H), just commenced operation to Lake George, 
N. Y. on Oct. 2, 1950. The Port. & Boston (B&M) comprises two totally different 
routes— one out of Portland, Me., one out of Intervale, N. H. 



AMAZING FACTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 17.5 

there was an old R.P.O. once due to "catch" its own terminal 
station— exchange mails by crane with its end-of-run post 
office. This ^vas the famed old Rumsey & Elmira (SP) or 
"Rum & Gum" in California; the Rumsey post office was 
reached half a mile before arrival at the station, the catch 
made from a crane in the postmaster's yard, and the pouch 
leisurely distributed during the layover. (The clerk was said 
to be the only one in the U.S. alloAved to certify to his own 
"Arrival & Departure Book" signatures, since the book had 
to be kept in the car, not the P.O.) Two other odd catches 
(with two cranes and two catchers) are still made daily by 
Memphis, Grenada R: New Orleans Trains 2 and 3 at each 
of two successive stations, due to heavy first-class mails, from 
its unusual forty-foot R.P.O. apartments. The longest dis- 
tance between catches or other mail exchanges on any line is 
from El Paso, Texas, to Columbus, New Mexico, on the SP's 
El Paso & Los Angeles R.P.O., 74.7 miles. 

The unique Royal Train R.P.O. (PRR-NYC-D&rH) made 
only one trip— in 1939— as described in Chapter 13. On the 
continuous St. Joseph k Grand I. (UP)— Omaha & Denv. 
(CB&Q) route in Nebraska there is an eactly alphabetical 
series of stations from A to K (Alexandria— Kenesaw) Avhich 
is a boon to clerks' studies there. The ninety-six-mile St. 
johnsbury R: Cambridge Jet. (St}R:LakeCh) in Vermont must 
contend with a record number of 94 grade crossings and 966 
bridges and culverts (twice the per-mile number of its nearest 
competitor, out west). The old Nyando & Tupper Lake 
(NY&rOtt), in New York State's Adirondacks, was often ex- 
pected to run without benefit of postal cars; Clerk Roy V. 
McPherson was forced to borrow abandoned post-office letter 
cases, sort paper mail into milk cans, and nail his bags to the 
wall when the railway gave forth with only a caboose or 
baggage car for his use. (Clerk W. H. Miller, of Atchison, 
Kansas, reports using the same milk-can technique on a snow- 
bound branch line.) 

Most picturesque of all, perhaps, are— or were— our mean- 
dering little narrow-gage R.P.O.s. There is only one left now 
in tJie United States— and even there, the railroad has applied 



176 MAIL BY RAIL 

to abandon service; but four are flourishing in nearby New- 
foundland (see Canada, Chapter 15). On the "toughest two 
hundred miles of rail in the world," the little San Juan, a 
three-foot-gage train of the DRrRGW's Alamosa k Durango 
R.P.O. still chugs out of Alamosa, Colorado, daily at 7 A.M., 
dips briefly into New Mexico via Chama, returns to Colorado 
about noon, and spends the afternoon climbing Cumbres Pass 
to Durango. So crooked is its horseshoe-curved mountain 
trackage that "the A. & D." passes the same section house three 
times! The thirty-foot apartment has its back rack cut to one 
row to save space, and even then only a slim clerk can barely 
squeeze through the aisle. The train was badly wrecked by 
an avalanche in 1948. 

The other famed narrow gauges of the Colorado mountains 
are all gone. We must skip, alas, the vivid stories of the 
picturesque Salida & Montrose (highest elevation of any 
R.P.O.) and the unique Antonito Sc Santa Fe or "Chili Line" 
into New Mexico (both D&RGW), recently discontinued. 
Tales of the Tennessee Tweetsie, the ET8:WNC's Boone R.- 
Johnson City, featured in a movie short of that name (North 
Carolina to Tennessee), and Ohio's "Bend, Zigzag & Crooked" 
(the BZRcC-OR&W's Bellaire & Zanesville) must wait— even 
though the Tweetsie was the last slim-gauge R.P.O. in the 
East, lasting until September 30, 1940. In quick retrospect we 
recall the cleverly nick-named "Slow & Low" (the PC's San 
Luis Obispo R: Los Olivos— note initials) in California, a typi- 
cal old-time light "pension run" whose six-foot-six clerk de- 
veloped a permanent stoop . . . the old, slim Wells &: Brad. 
(Erie?), of which only a couple of little rails still remain em- 
bedded in a Bradford, Pennsylvania, street , . . "The Narrow 
Gauge" of Illinois, which was the Galesburg & Havana . . . and 
scores of others elsewhere in Oregon, Virginia and so on. 

But most incredible of the narrow gauges were the tiny 
two-foot-wide R.P.O. tracks of Maine. A typical flea-gauge 
route was the WW&F's Albion & Wiscasset, 43.5 miles, oper- 
ating the smallest-known (7x7 feet) R.P.O. apartment any- 
where. The one tiny mixed train left Albion daily at 5:30 
A.M., its speed cut from 60 mph to 20, doubtless dreaming 



AMAZING FACTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 177 

of the four hundred mile slim-gauge network its promoters 
planned to extend to Quebec, Province of Quebec. Its last 
new postmarker was celebrated by a cacheted collectors' cover 
March 8, 1933— a wreck the following June 8th "finished" 
the railway for good. On the "Sandy River" (SR&:RL), two 
two-foot R.P.O.s operated until 1918— the Farmington & 
Rangely and Farm. &: Kingford; the twenty-one-mile Harrison 
& Bridgeton on the B&SR (later B&H) also discontinued its 
R.P.O. then, but ran other trains until late in the 1930s. Only 
the forty-six-mile Sandy River runs had the typical mail-car 
letter slot, catcher, and so on; most cars did not even have the 
standard lettering on them. Some of the equipment now runs 
on the Edaville Railroad, South Carver, Massachusetts. 

Still another type of amazing "railway post office" is fol- 
lowing the vanishing narrow-gauges into near extinction. A 
paradox in name, these are the boat-line R.P.O.s which sort 
mail for lakeside or bayside points in transit. (The term 
"R.P.O." was assigned to them when that was the only kind 
of transit-sorting unit known.) The whole tempo and atmos- 
phere of life on the mail boats is startlingly different from 
that in an R.P.O. car; but although four daily boat R.P.O.s 
still operate part of each year, only one actual postal trans- 
portation clerk still enjoys his work in the calm, quiet, and 
unhurried surroundings of a secluded lake or bay! Not for 
him are the roars, jerkings, and dangers of fast mail trains or 
hypos, the strain of night work, the hectic life of metropolitan 
maelstroms, the frantic scurry to dispatch connections. Alas, 
even he must restrict his idyllic existence to summers; the rest 
of the year he must take other assignments instead of his serene 
"banker's hours." And the joint employees on the other three 
boat runs do other boat jobs as well. 

Route agents, and later R.P.O. clerks, were placed on in- 
land boat lines at a very early date; postmarks apparently 
applied on Lake Erie (Buffalo) and Erie Canal boats go back 
to as early as 1857. By the 1890s the famed river packets and 
steamers on the Ohio and Mississippi usually carried mail 
units— R.P.O.s such as the old Cairo & Memphis and the 
Vicksburg & New Orleans; dozens of lakes and harbors boast- 



178 MAIL BY RAIL 

ed the service. Eighty-two clerks were serving on forty-nine 
boat routes by 1902. Nearly 250 different postmarks of boat 
routes are known, although many are mere renamings, cur- 
tailments, or extensions. Later the number fell sharply. Postal 
regulations for the service require safe boats, a suitable mail 
room, and first-class board for the mail clerk without charge; 
night boats must have a sleeping compartment for the clerk's 
"exclusive use." Since there are no train numbers, the boat's 
postmarker may show only the date or may show directions as 
"NORTH" or "SOUTH," or as "Tr 1" or "Tr 3" {trip 
numbers) in standard fashion. 

The one boat R.P.O. served by a regular clerk is the Inlet 
& Old Forge (Leon E. Burnap Boat Line), eighteen-mile 
New York State route on the Fulton Chain of Lakes in the 
Adirondacks. The most startling fact about the line, how- 
ever, is that it serves only two post offices and that its distri- 
bution consists of sorting patrons' mail for the Old Forge 
office— delivering it direct to private docks, as would an 
R.F.D. carrier (similar to the old Clear. & Buff, joint-employee 
R.P.O.). But the outgoing mails are sorted to proper P.T.S. 
connections, via Old Forge; and the Malone &: Utica R.P.O. 
(NYCent), its rail outlet, also pouches on the boat via 
Thendara and Inlet. A June-through-August operation, the 
boat makes two daily loop-shaped round trips, serving 125 
resort hotels and camps around the lake; the first trip leaves 
Old Forge, 8:30 A.M. 

And this is America's only R.P.O. where a lovely swim- 
suited bathing beauty, instead of the usual glum mail mes- 
senger, is likely to be on hand to make the on-the-fly ex- 
changes with the fortunate clerk— at present, any available 
substitute is assisfned. Exchanges are made hand-to-hand 
while the boat is in motion, the skipper (W. Donald Burnap) 
merely slowing up a bit. Small cloth satchels are used for 
patrons' exchanges (they must return one each time), 
but regulation pouches must be used for authorized dis- 
patches to the two post offices and the connecting rail R.P.O. 
The forty-foot, motor-powered R.P.O. boat Miss Ussma 
also accommodates up to twenty-six passengers as well as the 




-C. E. Hurdick (Wilkins of Brooklyn, Photographer) 



MAKING THE CATCH AT SHOHOLA, PENNSYLVANIA— Thousands of non-stop local 
exchanges like this one, made on the Erie's New York & Salamanca Railway Post 
OfRce in 1939, are still performed daily in the United States. 



^^ 1 -mm 






jHp _JHHNIi .. 



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■ — Postal Transport Journal 



HOW MEN SORT MAIL AT A MILE A MINUTE-This Is a typical close-up of clerks at 
work, snapped in the Southern Railway's Washington & Charlotte Railway Post Office 
on Train 34 which operates from North Carolina to the nation's capital. 




- -Xew York Central System 

CROSS-SECTION OF AN R.P.O. INTERIOR— This remarkable scale drawing by New 
York Central engineers was used in national magazine advertisements during 
World War II and shows the interior of the noted "Twentieth Century Limited" (New 
York & Chicago Railway Post Office). The interior details of such a car will be found 
identified and described on Pages 4, 5, and 17fF. 



UNLOADING THE ALBUQUERQUE & LOS ANGELES RAILWAY POST OFFICE-Mail is 
being unloaded from the storage end of this typical Santa Fe combination car (R.P.O. 
apartment at left) direct onto post office-bound moving belts at Los Angeles Union 
Station. 

Si'.i:,; Im Railway 





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E •= 



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A TINY FORMER TWO-FOOT GAUGE RAILWAY POST OFFICE CAR-This view of the 
Harrison & Bridgeton Railway Post Office, a tiny train of the Bridgeton & Sandy 
River Railway shown leaving Hiram, Maine, in 1934, is but an echo of the departed 
past. The toy-like two-foot railways are all gone today, and only one narrow-gage 
R.P.O. remains in the United States. 



A TYPICAL LOCAL 
SHORT-LINE RAIL- 
WAY POST OFFICE 
OF TODAY - The 
postal apartment is 
at the extreme rear 
(right) of this York & 
Baltimore motor train 
on the picturesque 
"Ma & Pa," the Mary- 
land & Pennsylvania 
Railroad. 

— L. E. Dequine 



A POSTAL TRANS- 
PORTATION SERVICE 
"TERMINAL" - This 
viev\/ of the old Wee- 
hawken (New Jersey) 
Terminal Railway 
Post Office, snapped 
at the West Shore 
Railroad station in 
1932, is still typical of 
terminal interiors. 





-\V. J. Dennis 

OWNEY, FAMED TRAVELING DOG OF THE MAIL CARS— This bemedalled mascot of 
the old Railway Mail Service is described on Pages 93 and 94. Stuffed, he is now 
in storage at the Washington City Post Office after many exhibitions. 



IT 



^^t^^^^ 









—Beit Swilling and B.A.L. 
NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR RAILWAY POST OFFICE— Regularly established as a 
temporary unit with the above title, in full operation except for remaining stationary, 
this New York Central exhibit car is shown here on Railway Mail Service Day at 
the Fair in September, 1940, with author (B.A.L.) about to make the catch. 




- — Burlington Lines 




— Burlington Lines 
REPLICA OF THE ORIGINAL HANNIBAL-ST. JOE MAIL CAR-These two views show 
the exterior (top) and interior of this controversial experimental railway post office, 
operated just before the Railway Mail Service was founded, as described on Pages 
105 to 107. 




f_^ -—-"-'■ 



-Walter Thayer 




-Harold Laniljcn 



THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT— Shown at the top at Whitefish, Montana, we 
have the Great Northern's "Oriental Limited," Train 4 of the Williston & Seattle, 
longest railway post office route in America (1169 miles)— and, in sharp contrast, 
the interior of the Thurmond & Mount Hope Railway Post Office (C&O) in West Vir- 
ginia, shortest in the country until 1949 (lO'i miles), with Clerk Esker W. Davis 
shown on duty, at the bottom. (Chapter 10) 




— William C. Janssen 
FORMER INTERURBAN TROLLEY RAILWAY POST OFFICE-This beautiful old Texas 
Electric car carried the Denison & Dallas run in Texas, now a highway post office 
route, until December 31, 1948. (Chapter 12) 




AN ELECTRIC-CAR RAILWAY POST OFFICE OF TODAY-This apartment car of the 
Summit & Gladstone (Lackawanna Railroad) in New Jersey is operated by a motor- 
man at left end. 




— J.ilm Cil.l. Smith 

OLD-TIME CITY STREET RAILWAY POST OFFICE-This spruce new car, built in 1915 
as No. M-1 of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company, was used on several routes 
in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The exterior view is at top, interior at bottom. Further 
details, as well as the car's final disposition, are In Chap. 12. 



-John Gibb Smith 




HAIL 




- -I'.riti-h R;nl. 



A BRITISH RAILWAY POST OFFICE-This is the Down Up Special Travelling Post Office 
(Midland and Scottish Regions, British Railways) operating from London to Aberdeen, 
Scotland; see Chapter 14. 




— British Railways 



Courtesy of Postmaster General. London 



CLERKS AT WORK ON A BRITISH TRAVELLING POST OFFICE-At the left we see a 
sorter prepared to make the "catch" by the automatic apparatus shown on car 
in top picture; despatching arm holds outgoing pouch (bottom left) ready to be 
sheared off. At right, clerks are busy at the "sorting frame " 




Donald M 



A CANADIAN RAILWAY POST OFFICE TRAIN-This is a train of the Gaspe & Camp- 
bellton (Canadian National) snapped at Matapedia, New Brunswick; the postal car 
(behind engine) closely resembles United States cars. 




- -Guntev Stetza 

RAILWAY POST OFFICE CAR IN GERMANY-This is a typical "Bahnpost" sorting 
coach of the Deutsches Post (German State Railways). 



THE FLYING POST OF- 
FICE— This simple cross- 
section of the center 
fuselage of the Fairchild 
Air-mail Packet shows 
the sorting case, over- 
head boxes, and pouch 
racks of the clerk's com- 
partment where moil 
was sorted in transit 
aloft on several routes in 
1946. 

■ — Fairchild Aircraft 




MODERN HIGHWAY 
POST OFFICE-This sleek 
mail-sorting bus oper- 
ates on the Pikeville & 
Bristol (Kentucky-Vir- 
ginia) and Welch & 
Bristol (W. \/a.-\/a.) 
routes. The exterior of 
No. 79 is shown at 
center, interior at bot- 
tom. Rack at right folds 
down to hold pouches. 

— White Motor Company 




rrrc 

rrrrrrrrf' 

rrrrrrff rr- 

rrrrr[[[(mrrrr rr 







1 1 1« 



1 1 



I I 



III 




■' ^^^^i^^?<!^:? ■* 



1 Ilk Cential System 
A FAMED POSTAL STREAMLINER OF TODAY-The noted "Twentieth Century Limited" 
is shown here carrying the New York & Chicago Railway Post Office, of which an 
interior diagram has been shown earlier. 




— Burlington Lines 
THE ULTIMATE IN MODERN POSTAL CARS-With the modern refinements described 
in Chapter 16, this handsome car "Silver Post" Is used by the Burlington's Chicago & 
Council Bluffs Railway Post Office. 




-Postal Transport Journal 



THE LATE SMITH W. PURDUM: BELOVED EX-HEAD 
OF THE SERVICE— Starting out as a mail clerk on 
the PRR's New York & Washington Railway Post 
Office, Mr. Purdom climbed to the highest ranks 
of the Service on merit, finally becoming Second 
Assistant Postmaster General and heading the 
entire Railv/ay Mail Service (now the Postal 
Transportation Service). Hailing from Hyattsville, 
Maryland, he earned the respect and affection of 
practically all who knew him. 




< c 



t: o 



Q. 



AMAZING FACTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 179 

8 X 12-foot mail apartment. The clerk must handle money 
orders, registers, C.O.D.s, stamps, etc., for patrons (including 
boat riders) just like an R.F.D. carrier or post-office window 
clerk. The scenic trip is not always made without adventure; 
an excited new camper may miss the "catch" and have to fish 
for a wet bag of mail, a terrific windstorm may come up (one, 
blowing 80 mph, smashed the windshield), or an emergency 
landing made to deliver Girl Scout trunks by parcel post. In 
a double L-shaped sorting case, the substitute clerk works 
his mail; outgoing letters must first be postmarked, while 
incoming mail— addressed via Old Forge post office to either 
the R.P.O. or name of camp— is sorted to patrons' boxes and 
placed in the satchels. Main hotel bags are hung on hooks 
on the side wall, in English fashion. 

The unique service was established either in the 1890s or 
on July 24, 1901 (accounts vary), through influence of Cabi- 
net members and other prominent camp owners, by contract 
with the Fulton Navigation Company. During the years just 
one clerk lost his life— though a good swimmer, he never came 
up when a safety chain broke and he fell overboard. 

Our other three R.P.O. boat lines are similarly oper- 
ated during simimer only over connecting lakes in New 
Hampshire; all are managed by joint-employed private 
contractors. These are (1) the tiny Asquam Lake R.P.O. 
(Squam Livery), 9.5 miles from Holderness to Sandwich 
Point (no P.O.), New Hampshire, which is our shortest 
designated R.P.O. and the only one manned by a woman 
clerk (Contractor Kathryn O'Neill) whose boat Oriole covers 
most of Squam Lake and connects with the Woodsville & 
Boston (B{i-M) via Ashland, New Hampshire; (2) the Alton 
Bay k Merrymount (L. P. Beck Boat Line), 27.8 miles via 
Wolfeboro on southern Lake Winnepesaukee, connecting 
with the Portland R: Boston (BR:M) via Alton Bay and Dover; 
and (3) the strange 21.5-mile Lake W^innipesaukee R.P.O. on 
the north end of that lake, operating from Lakeport (station 
of Laconia) via The Weirs to Bear Island, New Hampshire. 
A post-oflice clerk is detailed from the Laconia post office to 
sort mail for its contractor on E. J. Lavallee's steamer Uncle 



180 MAIL BY RAIL 

Sam, which now uses the only machine canceller on any oper- 
ating R.P.O. It exchanges mails between its three post offices 
as well as delivering that for patrons (addressed via the head 
oflice, Lakeport, as on the other lines). Dubbed as "a combi- 
nation of star route, R.F.D., R.P.O., and branch of Laconia 
P.O.," the "Lake Winnie" was denied recognition as an 
R.P.O. for several years recently when it was officially rele- 
gated to rural route status and stricken from R.M.S. records 
(although the clerk innocently continued using the R.P.O. 
postmarker). Restored to P.T.S. listing now, it connects with 
the Woods. R: Boston (B&M) at Lakeport; established by Act 
of Congress in 1919, its contractor-carrier must be appointed 
on recommendation of New Hampshire senators or congress- 
men—its clerk compensation is specially fixed by the PL&R! 
A few rail R.P.O.s have a steamer connection to complete 
the journey, too, on which sortation of mails is continued. 
The Phila. k Norfolk (PRR) uses the steamers Maryland and 
Elisha Lee, containing large mail rooms with cases and racks, 
to carry mails and clerks across Chesapeake Bay from Cape 
Charles, Virginia, to Norfolk (once the independent Cape 
Charles & Norf. R.P.O.). And the Mackinaw City 8: Calumet 
(DSS&A) in Michigan has its entire R.P.O. train carried over 
the water intact on the car-ferry steamers Chief Watawam or 
Sainte Marie across 8.7-mile Mackinack Strait. A very color- 
ful part-boat run of bygone days was the old Truckee & Lake 
Tahoe (SP) in California, on which the historic boat 
Marion B. served the water-bound 80 per cent of the route 
until it suddenly blew up in 1941, killing the clerk. Some 
recently discontinued all-boat runs, too, were most unusual- 
such as the old Claremont Sc Hopewell (Haynie Boat Line) 
on Virginia's James River, serving tiny plantation villages of 
a bygone era and sorting mail in one direction only (toward 
Hopewell; hence the R.P.O. was omitted as a service for 
Claremont in the Virginia scheme!). It quit about 1944. An- 
other was the all-year-round Bellingham &: Anacortes 
(BTransCo), earlier the picturesquely-titled Bell. & Friday 
Harbor, serving numerous post offices on islands off the Wash- 



AMAZING FACTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 181 

ington State coast, using the M/S Osage; it lasted until June 
30, 1950. 

There are acually six or eight other boat lines— not R.P.O.s 
and not under the P.T.S.— which definitely sort some mail in 
transit; they range from the Skaneateles Lake Powerboat 
Route (ex-R.P.O.), out of Skaneateles, New York, on which 
an R.F.D. carrier distributes mail en route for 625 cottages 
about the lake, to the famed ninety-seven-mile River Route 
R.F.D. in isolated Hell's Canyon (Idaho), deepest gorge in 
America, \vhere almost no mail is actually sorted on Kyle 
Grady's mucli-publicized boats, Idaho and Florence. Mail on 
some lines is informally pen-canceled. Until June SO, 1948, the 
unique Detroit River Station of the Detroit, Michigan, post 
office was located on board the sixty-five-foot steel motor craft 
George F. Becker to sort and deliver mail to officers and sea- 
men of some ninety Great Lakes ships there. The service, 
only one of its kind in the United States, was begun June 17, 
1895; mail was placed in buckets slung over the side of each 
ship, amid many hazards. There were many other historic 
boat runs (see Note 15). 

But to return once more to the true railway post offices. 
The colorful or paradoxical titles and unusual nicknames 
used for them are amazing in themselves. Actually used 
officially are such romantic or weird titles as the "George. &: 
Grace." (LR:N) in Alabama, witli its closed-pouch extension to 
Graceville, Florida; and the "Pad. R; Hick." (NCfcStL), from 
Paducah to Hickman, Kentucky. But the prize one of all 
was doubtless the officially titled "Thief. &: Crook." from 
Thief River Falls to Crookston, Minnesota (GN), now dis- 
continued. The Cincinnati &: St. Louis (B&O) is, of course, 
dubbed the "Sin & Saint" and the N.Y. &: Mauch Chunk 
(CNJ) "The Chunk" or "The Much Junk." There was a 
Welch R: Jenkinjones (N&W) in W^est Virginia. 

Some interesting coincidences exist, or have existed, in rail- 
road names; thus the Boston &: Albany (BR:A) has exactly the 
same name as the railway carrying it— as did the old Louisville 
& Nashville (L8cN). Until recently there was both a Colum- 



182 MAIL BY RAIL 

bus k Norfolk R.P.O. (Nk\V) from Ohio to Virginia, and a 
Norfolk R: Columbus (UP) in Nebraska; and also a Spring- 
field R: Indianapolis (CCC&StL) out of Springfield, Ohio, and 
an Indianapolis k Springf. (BRrO) running into Springfield, 
Illinois. All four, except the Cols. 8: Norfolk, which was 
named in reverse order because consolidated after the Norf. & 
Cols, began, have been discontinued. 

The most fantastic R.P.O. title of all time Avas of a line 
which, in the literal sense, never existed— the "Greaterville 8: 
Total Wreck" in Arizona. Its "record" was excitedly uncov- 
ered by a correspondent for the Go-Back Pouch, 8th Division 
newssheet, a few years ago; he sent in an item from an old 
General Order of 1887 reading "Greaterville and Total 
Wreck . . . discontinue pouching on . . ." and so on. It -was 
noted that the two names in the title were those of two tiny 
mining towns— doubtless once connected by a long-aband- 
oned short railway. The news was written up in the Raihvay 
Post Office and in philatelic journals; collectors wanted its 
postmark; inquiries poured in. But when officials searched 
their dusty files, no record of it was found. Finally a studi- 
ous clerk on the nearby El Paso R: L.A. (SP) revealed that 
there never cotild have been such an R.P.O.; the two Arizona 
towns (Total Wreck is now discontinued) were only fourteen 
miles apart, with a huge mountain range in between. He 
showed that the original item had not been quoted in full; 
it referred to the post offices at Greaterville and at Total 
Wreck, the correspondent having failed to copy the state 
name (Arizona). But in railway mail lore the famed old 
R.P.O, has already become a permanent tradition. As Editor 
Monroe Williams stated in the Go-Back Pouch: 

The Greaterville & Total Wreck R.P.O. has been estab- 
lished and can never be discontinued. It will forever 
steam out of Greaterville on a roadbed that never knew 
rails. It will climb the rough edges of the Whetstone 
Mountains. It may pass the Lemonade Springs and the 
Cigarette Trees in the Great Rock Candy Mountains but 
certainly it will run on and on until it finally comes into 
its terminal— a Total Wreck. 



AMAZING FACTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 18S 

But there have been real R.P.O.s, too, with no trains 
entering either named terminal— it's true of the Wash. & 
Bluemont today (see Chapter 12), even as it was toward 
close of service on the old Spring Valley & N.Y. (NJ&NY) 
when trains operated only from Montvale to Jersey City, both 
in New Jersey— yet the named termini were both in New York 
State! Dubbed "The Virginia Creeper," the Wash. 8: Blue. 
(W&:OD), furthermore, is the only R.P.O. officially classed as 
"electric" (it no longer is, though several suburban M.U. 
R.P.O.s are); and is the only R.P.O. traversing the heart of 
Arlington, Virginia, Washington's suburban metropolis— a 
city served by none of the seven R.P.O. and H.P.O. routes 
crossing its borders! And we are reminded of the DR:RGW's 
former Salt Lake City & Kanab (now S.L.Cy. &: Richfield 
H.P.O.) famed as "The Polygamy Special" or "The Marys- 
vale," whose 125-mile star-route extension from Marysvale to 
Kanab was longer than the R.P.O. run. And today's Reno & 
Las Vegas (SP) in Nevada is also over 60% star route— largely, 
as on "The Kanab," over paths which never knew rails! 

But getting back to the subject of striking nicknames, who 
but postal clerks could ever have conjured up "The Dream- 
liner" (Det. & Or. Rap.), "The Galloping Goose" (Spok, & 
C.C), "The Horny Toad" (Alb. k El P.), "The Leaky Roof" 
(K.C. R: Mem.), "The Little Windy" (L.Rock k Ft.W.), "The 
Macaroni" (Hou. R: C.C), "The Monkey Wrench" (Pul. & 
Mt.A.), "The Old Man's Darling" (Ak. &'Del.) and "The Ox 
Cart" (Knox. Cart. 8: At.)? Or, "The Pow Wow" (Fug. & 
C.B.), "The Preacher" (St.L. k Parsons), "The Puddle 
Jumper" (Port, k Sea.), "The Pumpkinvine" (Roa. k Win- 
ston-Salem), "The Poor Boy" (Jack, k Tam.), "The Raging 
Sioux" (Chi. R: SuCy.), "The Rickety Bang" (Gr.Jct. k Og.), 
"The Scissorbill" (St. L. k Mem.), "The Pickle Vat" (Tex- 
arkana. Ark. Term.), "The Moimtain Goat" or "Belvidere" 
(Phill. R: Tr.), "The Pedro" (Og. R: L.A.), and to cap it all, 
"The Wooden Axle" (Harri. k Nash.)? [See Appendix I 
for complete data on each line.) 

There are at least six stories as to why the MoPac's Kan. 
City &: Pueblo is called "The Doghouse" (and so are the 



184 MAIL BY RAIL 

Philn(lclj:)liia and Ilanishurg, Pennsylvania, Terminals); 
uhilc the NT's Duluili R; iMpls. is siill "The Scally" because 
ol ilie Swcilish liunberman who once rode it saying "I tink 
skall I go down lo St, Paul" and so on. Farthest apart of 
identical nicknames are our two "Coast Lines"— the Wash. & 
Flor.-Flor. R: jack and San F., San ). R; L.A. {see Afjpx. J). 

But utterly fantastic were some nicknames of discontinued 
lines! Besides ones we'\e named, ^\■e recall Itlaho's Ketcluun 
R; Shoshone (UP)— "The Ketch &: Show," of course; the one- 
time Klkton R: Bridgewater (NR-\V), formerly CWRy (Va.) and 
thus "Crooked R; Weedy"— now a C.P.; the horrifying "Fish &: 
Dirty Feet" (the CR:P's old Salmon R: Blackfoot, Ida.); the 
"Tin Can" (Waco R: Stamford, Texas- M-K-T); the "Under- 
brush Limited" in Michigan (Frankf. R: Toledo, AARy) 
and "The Two Brothers" (Harry. R; Frank.— see Chapter 
I). Then there were "The Sowbelly," an old Kansas City 
roiuing; and "7^he Kite," a loop-like, kite-shaped former 
local run on the Albuquerque R: Los. A, (Santa Fe)— the name 
still clings to the remaining part. At least nine lines out of 
New York, St. Louis, Council BlufTs, San Francisco, and 
elsewhere are called "The Valley"; these, togeiiier with lum- 
dreds of other nicknames (many explained elsewhere in the 
book), are all listed in Appendix L 

One of the most unbelievable P.T.S. operations is the 
ingenious process of sorting out mails for an individual city 
to separate postal stations, or even to carriers, on a speeding 
train hundreds of miles away! Confined mostly to night 
trains, it permits instant delivery of city letters by the first 
carrier— mail that ^\•oldd olher\\'ise be delayed loin" to t\venty- 
four hours. 1 hus the N.Y. R: Chic. (NYCent) works city mails 
for New York, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, 
Rochester, Syracuse, Toledo, and Detroit! "City clerks" even 
make up direct letter packages for important firms, buildings, 
and individuals to be delivered direct to addressee. Such clerks 
must usually memorize the proper postal station serving each 
street, as \vell as the exact house-number breaks if the street 
is in more than one zone; their case-examination cards show 
every street, or part street with house niunbers, of any im- 



AMAZING FACTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 185 

portance in the city. Most clerks personally pay for and use 
special letter-case headers with printed house-number breaks; 
but others can work a "city" well under plain headers or 
even, with some experts, "blind"— a miraculous feat when 
the complex data to be memorized is considered. Clerks run- 
ning into Los Angeles sometimes make direct bundles of fan 
mail for movie stars. 

Large-city stations have zone numbers, and zoned mail is 
instantly sorted by substitutes using simple numbered head- 
ers (the numbers racket, as the process is dubbed). But regu- 
lar "city men" must know the exact route of any unzoned 
letter instantly. A huge amount of such mail is distributed; 
thus one Omaha & Denver (CB&;Q) train dispatches twenty- 
five pouches of ^vorked Denver City mail daily. (Much Mil- 
waukee and Dallas city mail is now distributed by a simple 
alphabetical system.) 

The story is told of one Chicago City clerk on the Chic. & 
Council Bluffs (CBSjQ) who was plugging away at his case 
dead to the world, and particularly, to some commotion back 
in the car. A clerk had just collapsed, seriously ill, and was 
being asked where he lived. Hardly had the victim gasped 
his city address than the preoccupied Chicago clerk barked 
out "Carrier 145, 2nd morning delivery; if it's special, pouch 
it to the Main . . ." (See Note 16.) 

Other amazing facts of the Service involve the clerks them- 
selves. Their dexterity in sortation from memory has been 
publicized by Dr. Irving Cutter as "an amazing exhibition of 
both physical and mental skill," and these complex duties 
must be carried out under a set of stringent and rather inter- 
esting regulations. For example, a clerk sorting mail for his 
own state or city is not allowed to take out or open a letter 
addressed to himself, no matter how urgent; every letter must 
go on through exactly as addressed. And if he accepts a letter 
from a patron and postmarks it, he can under no circum- 
stances return it for correction or withdrawal— not even the 
very next minute. 

Clerks have run up some remarkable personal records. 
J. W. Bloom, of the old Wmspt. & Mahaffee (NYCent), was 



186 MAIL BY RAIL 

recently banqueted and given a plaque by the Williamport, 
Pennsylvania, Branch N.P.T.A. for ha\ing been their secre- 
tary lor fifly-oue years. Retired clerk Al Glasser boasts a rec- 
ord of twenty-four years' perfect attendance at New York 
(2nd Division) Branch meetings; they also gave him a plaque, 
but Bob Ripley rejected his record with "I don't believe it." 
Ripley, however, did feature two other clerks in his nation- 
wide cartoon: (1) Bowman M. Peterson, "The Ground Hog 
Man" of the Knobel 8: Memphis (MoPac), whose grandfather, 
father, and he were all born on February 2; and (2) A. E. 
Igou, of the Chatt. & Meridian (AGS, Tenn.— Miss.), the 
famous "\'owel Man." Peterson's line, by the way, is called 
"The Pete," and is very unusual because of its train splitting 
to go in two or three directions. 

Speaking of names, we have mentioned Clerk Ulysses S. 
Grant but not a well-known district superintendent, Mr. 
Orange Lemon. Clerk C. H. Miller, of Memphis, is "The 
Thirteen Man"— everything in his life is based on the number 
thirteen; and, similarly, Clerk Jimmie Mayer of the old 
McCall R; Nampa (UP) in Idaho was in a wreck involving that 
number throughout. Clerk-in-Charge J. J. Ferris made a 
round trip on the Chatham R: N.Y. (NYCent) on his eightieth 
birthday in 1920; while on the Watertow^n k Aberdeen 
(MR:StL) in South Dakota, it was always either a Sonday or a 
Holliday on that line for years (the two alternating clerks). 
Wartrace, Tennessee, by the way, claims to have produced 
more railway mail clerks for its size than any other United 
States town or city— 31 out of a population of 700. The Chic. 
& Minn. (CMStPRrP) is loaded with "Mutch Mohr Ham and 
B. Loney" among other clerks! 

When Clerk Charles W. Houghton of Charlestown, New 
Hampshire, dropped his good jackknife somewhere in his 
pouch rack, as he discovered later, he hastily wrote notes to 
all fourteen of the postmasters he pouched on. Fourteen 
knives were mailed back to him— none of them his! (Return- 
ing them, he received his own two days later.) W. F. Kilman 
once dumped up a silk dress and "scrambled eggs" from the 
same sack (taken on via catcher) and later received a pouch 



AMAZING FACTS OF THE R.4.ILWAY MAIL 187 

containing a live racoon and a large package of butter lying 
next to a skunk hide! In Kansas, recently, a pouch of letters 
was cut up under the wheels of an R.P.O. train— and postal 
officials patched up each tattered letter so well that one man 
received (the second time) a letter he'd read, torn up, and 
thrown away while waiting for the train! 

Recently B. O. Wilks, of the Monett & Okla. City (StL-SF), 
received no receipts for five registers he sent to Vinita, Okla- 
homa, until he coaxed a "duplicate" out of them. Then he 
was suddenly called in, later, by an inspector at Tulsa who 
showed him his original receipt amid a big file of papers 
dealing with a startling irregularity— the receipt was from the 
island of Okinawa, where the reds had been found by a 
World War II army postal clerk in a sack of ordinary parcels. 
And the inspectors declared there was no connection with the 
incredible fact that the soldier himself hailed from Vinita, 
Oklahoma! Less serious was the discovery of a registered case, 
competely unaddressed, on one Eastern line— the label was 
located just in time on the pants seat of a clerk who had 
been sitting on it. 

Clerk-in-Charge L. Beaumont Reed, of the N.Y. &: Pitts. 
(PRR), ran in his mile-a-minute train for sixteen miles with- 
out an enfrineer- he had been knocked senseless, leanins: out at 
Atglen, Pennsylvania, by the mail crane. Reed also caught on 
the fly "mail, female, and bluefish" as he says. A young lady 
at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, ran excitedly to the mail-car door, 
trying to board the moving train, and he had to catch her by 
the waist and pull her inside to prevent an injury; and again, 
on the Montauk & N.Y. (LIRR), he caught a pouch contain- 
ing both the mail and a fresh bluefish that a mutual friend of 
Reed and postmaster wanted to send him! 

The records made by some clerks on case examinations 
are "incredible," as some expert observers have exclaimed 
after investigation. Brilliant case-exam records were formerly 
recognized by gold-medal awards, especially by Postmaster 
General Wanamaker around 1890; and later all 100 per cent 
exams were listed in General Orders. (Unfortunately, both 
practices have been discontinued; but a welcome innovation 



188 MAIL BY RAIL 

now provides 50-merit awards for continued high grades 
made at 30 cards per minute.) Tlie over-all high score in 
the main Gold Medal competition was said to have been won 
by C. H. Oler, of the N.Y. & Chic. (NYCent)-his exact rec- 
ord seems unavailable. The highest divisional record went 
to the 3rd, taken by Hardy T. Gregory, as listed below. 
Superintendent White's grand-prize medal, the next year, 
was won by J. F. Phelps; while the best all-time record is said 
to have been Abe Singer's (N.Y. & Chic, also), who made 100 
per cent on every exam taken. He later founded the Amster- 
dam (practice card) Printing Company. 

Today the finest record of continuous case-exam accuracy 
in all America is held by genial Joseph A. Hoctor, of the 
N.Y. & Wash. (PRR). A friendly, lifelong West Philadelphia 
resident (and a good-looking bachelor!), he has made 100 per 
cent on every examination— case or otherwise— in the past 
seventeen years; that is, for thirty-four consecutive case exam- 
inations! He throws his cards at an average of thirty-four per 
minute; they are mostly for the states of New York, Pennsyl- 
vania, Maryland, and the Carolinas, and taken under the ex- 
aminer at Philadelphia. He studies by "association": con- 
necting the offices on the Wash. & Charlotte (Sou) with the 
idea of "charred," for example. An excellent worker in the 
car, he has received special letters of commendation from the 
Department; nevertheless he prefers to use headers helpfully 
annotated with office-lists on his North Carolina letter case. 

The best speed record is evidently held by William M. 
Manion, of the Des Moines & Kan. City (Rock I.)— 101 cards 
per minute! This was made on Section B of Missouri re- 
cently, under Examiner Meikel of Kansas City, and nearly 
99.9 per cent correct. Close behind comes Clerk Patzke of 
the Minneapolis &: Des. M. (Rock I.), 99 cpm. Other high 
recent records were made by John E. Joyce (88), John F. 
Mullins (81), Sub. Charles Giebel (76), Frank J. Graczyk 
(70) and Charles Thuston (58). 

Getting back to accuracy, perhaps the best existing record 
of total perfect exams (62 out of 70) goes to Fred J. Billing- 
ham of Chicago, as shown in Table I; but at least one 






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190 MAIL BY RAIL 

younger clerk has made 100 per cent in every examination 
thus tar— Kenneth D. Nowling (appointed 1947) of the 
Council Bluffs, Iowa, Terminal. He has made 100s on six 
examinations, 3,519 cards, on California and nearby states. 
E. J. Bay less and Harry Fried, also in Table I, have nearly 
equaled Billingham's amazing percentage. This table (page 
189) includes all names of living clerks known to us who 
have made 100 per cent in two-thirds or more of all exams 
over a sizable period of years— beginning in each case at 
(or within a few years of) the time of appointment, and 
terminated as of 1950. Intensive research failed to bring out 
other similar records which doubtless exist. 

Next to Abe Singer's unconfirmed record, Billingham's 
is the highest in sheer numbers of cards thrown at 100 per 
cent— or some 58,000; his grand total, G5,432 cards at 99.99 
per cent, defies all known records past and present. The 
late District Superintendent Reese Porter (Table II) actually 
threw more consecutive perfect cards than Joe Hoctor; but 
in number of consecutive exams, Hoctor is probably tops for 
all time (Porter threw thirty-one of his last thirty-two exams 
pat—?d\ but the final one; on Louisiana, largely). And E. J. 
Bayless threw 28,949 cards at an average of 99.9 per cent, 
with twenty-eight 100-percenters. The list below includes 
those of the above records for which we had appropriate data 
(consecutive 100s) as well as the notable one of the late James 
E. Thompson, who was retired with high honors after taking, 
at one sitting, a demonstration test— throwing all six New 
England states, Boston City, and Michigan at 100 per cent, 
the highest known record of several perfect exams taken at 
once. The following list is of typical, all-time records known 
to us of consecutive 100s; many in Table I, and others, would 
be eliirible, but records are missinsj. 

Space forbids, alas, a similar listing of all-time records of 
near-perfect, high-volume total cards throws such as those of 
Bayless and many others. Like him, 11th Division Medalist 
C. H. Field of the Denver R: Ft. Worth (CJIS) had a 99.99 per 
cent average, back in 1890. (The 4th Division Medalist, at 
99.98, was the aged H. M. Robinson listed in Chapter 4.) 



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Credit is due, however, to many others for generally out- 
standing examination records.- (See Note 22.) 

In particular, we recall the unavailable record of A. J. 
Quinn, a former N.Y. & Chic. (NYCent) clerk, who was said 
to have made 100 per cent on "exam after exam"— he got so 
irritated at the kidding about his pats that he finally with- 
drew a card after an exam and stuck it in a "wrong" box; 
but it had been wrong in the first place, the story goes, and 
by coincidence he stuck it right and kept his record! 

Ingenious system of memorizing have been devised by 
many clerks to assist them in improving grades and speed. 
Some imagine themselves running a train over each railway 
on their postal-route map; others learn each county or each 
line separately, devise poetic jingles or catch sentences, or 
just grimly master card after card. Although others had been 
using the general idea long before, one of the first system of 
weaving post-office names into written "stories" was devised 
by Haig Kapigian of Camden, New Jersey, in 1931. Another 
clerk in Maryland, in his first substitute year, conceived in- 
dependently a similar method, but with a ncAV, original sys- 
tem of notation and procedure, in 1939; called the Supply 



"Including J. R. Goodrich, Eureka &: S.F. (NWP), Retired; Substitute O. A. 
Jensen, 11th (Texas) Division: E. S. Williams, Graf. & Cincinnati (B&O); 
Substitute R. A. James, District 7, Houston, Texas; Thomas McCart, Mpls. k 
Sioux City (CStPN'&:0)— thirty-nine 100-percenters; R. E. Rex, Louisville, 
Kentucky; J. C. Shields, Mpls. & Des M. (Rock. I.); Substitute E. C. Bull, 
Philadelphia. Pa., Terminal; \V. W. Allen, Jr., NY. & Chic. (NYCent), Re- 
tired; H. B. Richardson, Cleve. SL- St.L. (CCC&:StL), who threw more cards 
(82,406 at 99.89 per cent) than anyone else has reported; E. E. Evans, Pitts. 
& St. Lou. (PRR), with five 100s in a month; J. S. Wegener, Ash. &: Milw. 
(C&rNW); Harry Swift, Greenport X: N.Y. (LIRR), Retired; Substitute W. 
Adams, District 4, Portland, Oregon; F. E. Ely, N.Y. & Chic. (NYCent); W. 
O. Hare, St. Lou. & Texark. (MoPac), Retired; Justin E. Smith, Kan.sas City 
&: Albuquerque (Santa Fe); Peter Koefer, Chic. S: Burl. (CB&Q), 1893 medalist, 
who made lOO's on nearly all exams; H. W. Schuster, Columbus (Ohio) Termi- 
nal: E. J. Eraser, Detroit 8; Chic. (NYC-MC). declared "most accurate" in 1890; 
C-in-C A. B. Clark, Gr. Rap. R: Chic. (C&O), Retired; and several veteran 
"steady lOOpercenter" clerks on the McMester & Amarillo (CRL'IP), referred 
to us l)y Substitute William Mullen (also with a good record), whose names 
were unavailalile. First clerks to become eligil)le for the new 50-merit awards 
were William Shultz of the N.Y. & Chic. (NYCent) and S. K. Dinkins of the 
Pitts. & St. Lou. (PRR), in 1950. 



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Narrative System, it is sold regularly by a small New Jersey 
partnership. A second regularly advertised method was the 
Case Examination Study System, written by Clerk F. A. 
Reynolds of Roanoke, Virginia, based on home-drawn map 
diagrams and charts and marked cards. Other methods and 
devices, including cardboard "cell liners" and an aluminum 
"Drudge Eliminator" for handling cards (by J. G. Mcllhen- 
ny), are well-known, 

A railway mail clerk covers an incredible amount of mile- 
age in his lifetime. Some say the most outstanding record of 
all was made by Keith Koons, retired off the Albuq. k Los 
Angeles (Santa Fe), who traveled the astounding total of over 
2,905,775 miles in the R.M.S. inclusive of the United States 
Seapost, which was part of it for much of his career; 2,750,2vS3 
miles was while actually on duty, and the remainder was 
official "deadheading." But the highest rail mileage is the 
generally accepted standard for sucii records, and the greatest 
figure recorded for any known clerk by the writers (after 
much publicity and research) was run up by Arthur Piper 
as indicated above. The late John S. Wegener, a close 
runner-up, was said to have done "nearly 3,000,000" miles, 
but a check revealed the figure above as accurate. (Both he 
and Richardson, in this list, had splendid exam records; see 
last footnote.) The preceding list shows the highest total 
rail mileages known to us; it doubtless omits many unknown, 
equally good records. 

Of the above clerks, believed now all retired, more is told 
of Reed, Rench, Kilman, and Davenport elsewhere; see 
Chapters 5, 13, and IG. 

Then there is the P.T.S, "coffee man," one of the most 
picturesque characters in American railroading! He is a 
clerk who has been coaxed (or coerced!) into supplying all 
his co-\vorkers with hot coffee daily at fi\e cents to eight 
cents a cup. His big wooden box, loaded into the car with 
the grips, contains all his supplies. Long before lunch he 
preheats the pot of water on the steam cooker (if any), then 
lights his alcohol burner and puts on the brew to percolate, 
using an iron stand or hanging it by a chain— unless there is 



AMAZING FACTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 195 

an electric hot plate. (Some coffee men cover the pot with 
an empty sack, "preferably well seasoned," giving the brew 
a rich flavor of wet canvas— ignoring the juicy dirt drippings 
which are all too likely to fall in!) The pot may or may not 
contain the actual coffee; some men boil water only, supply- 
ing jars of instant coffee, cocoa, and tea balls for self-prepara- 
tion by the customers as desired. Others brew tea also. 

At the crucial moment the coffee man spreads out the 
materials— coffee, a can of evaporated milk for cream, 
another can of sugar (usually containing a bent spoon for 
serving it), and several stirring spoons in a glass. Then he 
cries, "That stuff is ready!" or some similar phrase, or per- 
haps rings the "lunch bell" by tapping the resonant light 
globes with a knife. The tin cups are filled one by one as 
the "nectar birds" or coffee-lovers step forward, often hurling 
many a gay insult in his direction— with particular reference 
to the various horrible things he is alleged to have brewed 
the liquid from. It was such tradition that brought forth 
Dan Moschenross's popular, slyly phrased Road Coffee 
Recipe: 

In the caldron boil and bake 

Filet of a fenny snake. 

Eye of newt and toe of frog. 

Wool of bat and tongue of dog; 

Adder's fork and blind worm's sting. 

Lizard's leg and owlet's wing. 

Tiun the steam do^vn very low 

Then 'round the caldron dancing go. 

The coffee man is constantly "accused" of reaping fabulous 
profits from his "concession," especially if caught sporting a 
new car; while he himself as stoutly maintains that he is 
losing money and doing it "as a favor for the boys!" Prob- 
ably the truth of the matter is somewhere in between. Most 
P.T.S. coffee men turn out a fine cup of the brew indeed, 
and the wise clerk will give him an occasional word of ap- 
preciation along with his ribbing. 

There is always the chronic complainant who declares 
that tlie brew doesn't taste right and should be thrown out 



196 MAIL BY RAIL 

the door— usually eliciting the rejoinder that it didn't taste 
right "because I decided to wasii the pot today for tiie first 
time in ten montlis"; other coffee men make less printable 
replies. Still another source of irritation is the old "free 
coffee trick" by which the crew persuades one of the newer 
clerks that "this is free coffee nioht; the coffee man's cele- 
brating his birthday" or something like that. 

"just walk right up and fill your cup, and thank him as 
you go by," the new man is told. He does. The harassed 
coffee maker, not in on the trick, sharply demands his nickel; 
and both parties to the heated argument following are soon 
enlightened by the amused merriment of all those looking on. 

The coffee man has other trials too. Very likely he in- 
herited the job involuntarily to begin with, having discov- 
ered that it "went with" the assignment— he may despise the 
stuff himself. With the total lack of food-heating devices on 
many older cars (even on a key line like the PRR's N.Y. & 
Washington) and with use of electric appliances often for- 
bidden, he has a trying time brewing the amber fluid. His 
little stove is usually homemade from a cup or can with im- 
provised wick. And, if there is steam, he may have trouble 
getting it. Needing some one day, a certain coffee man sent 
a sub outside at the next stop to ask the engineer to turn it 
on. When the sub jumped back inside he reported that he 
couldn't find which end the engine was on, and all the con- 
ductor would tell him, in response to his frantic inquiries, 
was, "The front end, of course!" 

Another man "inherited" a coffee job and rather liked it— 
which was more than the crew could say for his brew. Finally, 
one evening, the hefty pouch clerk walked up to him and said, 
'Trom now on, I'm coffee man!" The chap responsible for 
the insipid fluid looked him over, and meekly surrendered 
his box! 

There wms the coffee man, too, ^vho moved from Kansas 
to two other states in succession, and his family left his big 
pot behind each time. It finally caught up with him at the 
start of a run, and he shoved it in a corner of the postal 
car to take home. He couldn't find it at the end of the run; 



AMAZING FACTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 197 

it had been accidentally unloaded as a piece of mail and 
sent back to his old address labeled on the box. 

Then there are the furiously hectic days of the pre- 
Christmas period. Extra cars and clerks (largely temporary 
ones) are added to practically all lines; regular clerks are 
given extra trips, or overtime in their terminals; and these 
terminals, P.T.S. are flooded with tons of excess letter mail 
(mostly Christmas cards) as well as gift parcels as train after 
train, swamped at every stop, must turn over huge pouches 
unworked. Half the cards are too \vide for train pigeonholes, 
as noted, and can be forced into them only amid great delay 
and frayed tempers. Terminal letter cases, often in storage 
the rest of the year, have wider boxes and are worked largely 
by uomen or youths called in as non-certified clerks. Addi- 
tional "Temporary Terminals, P.T.S." are set up at places 
like New Haven, Connecticut; Pocatello, Idaho; Toledo, 
Oliio (all three consisting of cars set on sidings, at last re- 
port); Detroit, Michigan (Convention Hall); Seattle, and 
Midwestern points like Fargo and Aberdeen, South Dako- 
ta. Late running (even to transferring to one's inbound train 
before destination) and long continuous hours— up to forty- 
eight hours at once— are common; road clerks seldom get 
any extra pay, due to "deficiencies." 

Most interesting, hoAvever, are the temporary Christmas 
R.P.O. lines set up over new routes. At last report the 
strangely named Walla Walla Sc Wallula (UP) was the only 
complete one still operated, and not even this one is set up 
unless schedules and conditions warrant. It connects with a 
second Christmas route, an extension of the regular Mosco\v &: 
Haas (UP) to Wallula; both are in W'ashington State, 
although the Moscow & Haas is out of Moscow, Idaho. 
The W^W. k Wallula is a one-man branch-line run set 
up Avhen warranted in December and operated until the 
twenty-fourth. No special postmarker is furnished the line; 
it has used the former Spokane R: Moscow's (SCd'ARrP) can- 
celler, and later an old Wallula Transfer Office "knocker." 
For a period this Santa Claus line was absorbed by the sup- 
posedly permanent Walla Walla &: Pendleton (UP), a short- 



198 MAIL BY RAIL 

lived route (only a few years old) now part of the Pend. & 
Yakima. There was formerly a Wallula & Yakima (UP) 
Christmas R.P.O. along this route. The t\vo "current" routes, 
now seldom set up, were operated annually until recently. 

Favorite Christmas stories include the one about the 
Toledo R: St.L. (Wabash) "non-cert" who was given a big 
holiday sack to "throw under the wheel," meaning in the 
car's xuJieel bin ^vhere the brake wheel was; he asked in 
amazement, "You mean throw it under the train?" And 
Dan Moschenross penned a classic "letter to Santa Claus," 
published in the Railway Post Office, now the Postal Trans- 
port Journal: 

Dear Santa Claws: 

When you come around agin pleez bring us pore postal 
clurks sum . . . zippers fur our pouches and sacks. They 
dunt cost much and we wud save enuf time to pay for 
them quik. When there aint nobuddy lookin, paint 
our leter boxes black inside . . . instead of the same color 
as post cards . . . Bring all the postmasters what hang up 
kctcher pouches a supply of tuff envelopes with return 
to put leters with muney in. This aint as much as sum 
folks ask for. 

Yours trooly . . . 

Some of the stran2:e facts involved in the routins^ and 
"schemins: ' of mail in the P.T.S. seem unbelivable. Since 
the P.T.S. headquarters furnishes no alphabetical schemes 
and no official lists of no-ofhce communities to any clerk, they 
may either "nixie" mail for such points (send to dead-letter 
ofiice) or voluntarily learn the proper dispatch— which thou- 
sands do. Two thirds of all United States communities have 
no post offices, authorities say, and this is confirmed by one 
clerk's hand made "nixie scheme" for New Jersey, thrice as 
long as the postal scheme. 

Regular scliemes contain some startling paradoxes. Im- 
portant offices located directly upon an R.P.O. —like sub- 
urban Pel ham, New York, on the Boston, Spring, k N.Y. 
(NYNH&H)— may be "schemed" and dispatched entirely dif- 



AMAZING FACTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 199 

ferently (in this case, as a branch of the New York G.P.O.), 
altlioiigh the R.P.O. is the main service for the towns on 
both sides. The N.Y. R: Wash. (PRR) goes right through— 
or under— the cities and towns of Weehawken, Union City, 
Secaucus, and Harrison, New Jersey, without stopping or 
supplying a single one of them. As "The Wash" continues 
through New Jersey, in the heaviest-populated area along 
our busiest railroad, it nevertheless passes two tiny way-station 
towns without post offices— Adams (P.O. Franklin Park). New 
Jersey, and Edgely (P.O. Bristol), Pennsylvania. And, in 
Maryland, the line traverses a dozen towns served by closed- 
pouch trains only— as well as still another, Cheverly, which is 
served only from Hyattsville on the B&O's N.Y., Bait. & Wash. 
R.P.O. miles away! 

There are special reasons, desirable locally, for all of these 
strange postal practices. As for others: For years, pouches 
made for old Phila. 8: Norf. Train 449 (PRR, with R.P.O. 
clerks on boat portion only) could contain no mails for 
points local to that R.P.O. (except Fort Monroe, Virginia); 
the actual train ^vas closed-pouch. Judging by titles, one 
would expect New York to dispatch mails for Philadelphia to 
the N.Y. k Phila. R.P.O. (PRR) and for Albany to the 
Albany, King. &; N.Y. (NYC-WS) and so on; but that is never 
done— fast trunk-line trains on other routes reach the same 
points quicker and more often. For years Cape May, New 
Jersey, was never "good" to the recently discontinued Phila. 
&: Cape May (P-RSL) which once went there; and even today, 
Mackinaw City, Michigan, is "no good" to the Mack. City &: 
Cin. (PRR). Some northbound East Coast trains connect 
three different R.P.O.s serving Buffalo, New York, as titles 
indicate (Buff. R: Wash.-PRR, N.Y., Geneva Sc Buff.-LV, and 
N.Y., Scrant. R: Buff.— DLR:\V^) yet cannot properly dispatch 
Buffalo mail to any, because their direct N.Y. R: Chic. (NY 
Cent) connection to that city is quicker! 

Many R.P.O. trains actually dispatch mails to a distant train 
leaving their far terminus before they arrive— by "advancing" 
pouches over an earlier C.P. train during their distribution 
before leaving. Other trains must distribute mail for a dis- 



200 MAIL BY RAIL 

tant state before that for a smaller nearby one, because di- 
verging lines fan out at an earlier station to cover the faraway 
state. Mails may be diverted hundreds of miles from a direct 
route to secure earlier delivery by fast trains; at certain times 
of day Richmond, V'irginia, dispatches mail for ofhces in that 
state on the Phila. Sc Norfolk (PRR) clear to Washington and 
Philadelphia to connect that line. Mail is often sent pur- 
posely in just the wrong direction for miles, so as to connect 
a returning R.P.O. train at an earlier stage in its journey 
to allow more time for distribution (when faster dispatch 
is unavailable, or to connect an inboimd local, as we have 
noted). Mail for a given city, for which an R.P.O. makes a 
direct pouch, is often xvilhlicld from that pouch for hours- 
it is better "advanced" by some earlier connection. 

Clerks must know the exact proper connection for mails 
to a given R.P.O.— often best via the distant end, not via the 
point of direct connection. Mails between offices actually in 
sight of each other (as Perth Amboy, New jersey, and Totten- 
ville, Ne"\v York) must often travel over a circuitous 50-to- 
350-mile route— to save expense of a direct transfer by using 
existing facilities; but in such a case clerks must see that over- 
night delixery is ahvays effected. A letter posted at Iron- 
wood, Michigan, about 5 P.M., for one-mile-distant Hurley, 
Wisconsin, is a touchy example— it must be connected via 
Ash. k Milw. (C^-NW) Trains 212 and 211 over a .S46-mile 
journey! Mails from the New York area to Atlantic Citv, N. J., 
must cross the entire state of New Jersev fivice—v\3. the N.Y. 8: 
Wash. R.P.O. and Phila. k Atl. City C.P. (both PRR). 

A pouch must be made up when due, usually daily, by all 
R.P.O.s for each office or line listed to receive its dispatches 
—even if empty— in order to keep records straight without 
using time-consuming written reports. On the other hand, 
the heavy mails addressed to mail-order houses and other 
firms often necessitate authorized pouches for such compan- 
ies; thus trains distributing Philadelphia City actually 
"pouch on" Sears, Roebuck R: Company and put it off at the 
nearest station. Worked mails for suburban postal stations 
may be similarly put off at outlying points. The volume of 



AMAZING FACTS OF THE IL\ILWAY MAIL 201 

mail received for offices pouched on, by the way, is often in 
complete disproportion to population. On one Eastern 
line most trains need to pouch on Schenectady, New York, 
but not Albany (which is larger, closer by, and the state 
capital!); some make newspaper-sacks for West Point and 
Mt. Vernon, but not Syracuse or Buffalo, New York. Clay- 
mont, Delaware (its second most populous city) is not even 
made up on the state's primary racks in P.T.S. terminals, its 
mail is so lis:ht. 

P.T.S. state schemes reveal some other hard-to-believe 
facts: That Clayton Lakes, Maine, is not served by any 
United States mail route (only via Lac Frontiere, P.Q., on the 
QC's Lac Front., Vallee Jet. & Quebec R.P.O. in Canada).^ 
That only two R.P.O.s directly serve Rhode Island . . . that 
there are no R.P.O.s wholly in that state, Maryland, or Dela- 
ware . . . that towns once of topmost postal prominence as 
"junctions" of R.P.O.s have later lost both their R.P.O.s, 
their post office, and sometimes even their identity in gazet- 
teers (Red Bank, Pennsylvania; Araby, Maryland; and many 
others) . . . that Weehawken, New Jersey, is not served by 
either R.P.O. terminating there (Alb., K. & N.Y.-Ros. & 
N.Y.; see Appx. I) and, from most standpoints, not even by 
its ozvn P.T.S. Terminal . . . that strange P.T.S. sym- 
bols and terms can arouse even a G-man's suspicions as 
Clerk J. F. Cooper's wife discovered to her dismay. (She rent- 
ed practice cards to clerks and mailed little correction slips to 
customers reading ". . . Change Walnut Creek R: La Fayette 
(C.C.County) to Baypoint k S.F. . . . Your ALO. rec'd O.K. 
. . ." and so on, and was summoned by the FBI for investi- 
gation!) 

Few people know that they can walk up to any R.P.O. 
car (or H.P.O.) door and buy a stamp; clerks-in-charge are 
required to keep ones and threes on sale. Others, hastily 
addressing a letter to some prominent newspaper, firm, build- 
ing, or street followed only by a state name, would be amazed 



•The Maine General Scheme shows supply only as "Lac Frontiere, P.O.", 
followed by names of U.S. R.P.O. 's connecting thereto such as the St. Albans 
k Boston (CV-B8dM). 



202 MAIL BY RAIL 

to see the clerk on an R.P.O. state case quickly recognize 
the city for which intended (or rapidly thumb through letters 
in his large-city boxes and often finding another missive 
properly addressed to the same destination, permitting in- 
stant dispatch). One substitute even successfully dispatched 
a letter addressed by some half-wit to "My Father, Atchison 
Co., Mo."; he sent it to the county seat, as per the P.L.R:R.— 
where the family and the son's habits were known. 

Which clerk has served on the greatest number of R.P.O.s? 
The most amazing record seems to be that of Earl S. Levitan, 
of the PRR's N.Y. R: Wash.— thirty-three R.P.O. lines, term- 
inals, and transfer offices. Close behind him we find Fred A. 
Perry, N.Y. 8: Salamanaca (Erie), Retired, thirty; j.M. "Doc" 
LeConey, Pitts. Sc St. Lou. (PRR), Retired, twenty-seven; 
Al Humpleby, also N.Y. k Wash., twenty-four; and many 
others. Certain cities, too, boast innumerable R.P.O. con- 
nections; five different R.P.O.s over the same track connect 
Washington, D. C. and Alexandria, Va., while until recently 
there were six R.P.O.s over five different tracks between 
Norfolk and Suffolk, Virginia. And one route, recently dis- 
continued, did not even provide a postal car for its clerk- the 
Fond du Lac Sc Janesville (CR:NW, in Wisconsin), where 
engines were removed from part of a locomotive unit to pro- 
vide a space. 

Unique among all United States communities is a colony 
of retired postal clerks founded at Clermont, Florida, by 
Railway Mail Clerk Ernest Denslow of Ashtabula, Ohio, in 
1923. The Postal Colony Company there has erected hun- 
dreds of homes for the old-timers there and has laid out 
many acres of rich orange groves, providing both investments 
and an avocation for active and retired clerks. It has its 
own N.P.T.A. branch— the only one composed wholly of 
retired clerks, and the only one not at a railway division 
point or junction. Distinguished departmental, Senate, and 
N.P.T.A. leaders visit it. 

Such, indeed, is this amazing Postal Transportation Service 
of ours. From the New York G.P.O. Building employees' en- 
trance (where P.T.C.s are instantly ushered past by respectful 



AMAZING FACTS OF THE RAILWAY MAIL 205 

guards, while P.O. men must obey seven signs demanding 
badges and package inspections) clear out West to those vast, 
lengthy R.P.O. runs (like the SP's San Fran. R: Los A.) where 
clerks are off duty 22 days each month (making just 4i/^ round 
trips), the service presents a panorama of the unbelievable. 
Even its N.P.T.A. has one incredible distinction— that of be- 
ing America's only national fraternity which did not lose a 
cent on investments or securities during the great 1929-39 de- 
pression, and the Amsterdam Printing Company's official 
P.L.&R. Qricstions & Answers contained until 1950 a startling 
baby-talk boner "Engineer or motorman of R.P.O. train shall 
give timely notice, by Avhistle ^vhistle or otherAvise . . ." But 
many a clerk would agree that most paradoxical of^anything 
in the entire Postal Service are those prominent post office 
lobby posters imploring mailers not to post tiny, undersized 
letters and greetings that might get lost— but saying nary a 
word about those awful, unsortable, super-sized holiday cards 
that torment every railway mail man. 

As we go to press, however, we are faced with such an 
incredible (and disheartening) chain of recent events that 
other things pale into insignificance— namely, the actual or 
threatened abandonment of more than nijie of our most 
interesting and unique P.T.S. operations, all within the year 
1930' We note particularly (1) Suspension of our last intra- 
city and last loop R.P.O. running, as told at start of chapter; 
(2) Abandonment of our last trolley R.P.O. (S. Berdo. R: L.A., 
May 6th— see Chapter 12); (3) Discontinuance of our only 
electric interurban Terminal, P.T.S. (same chapter); (4) Im- 
minently-threatened abandonment of our last U, S. narrow- 
gage R.P.O., Ala. & Durango, as just disctissed; (5) Discon- 
tinuance of our last P.T.S. -operated R.P.O. outside the 48 
states, and of our only other narrow gage line— the San |. Sc 
Ponce, P.R., June 30 (Chapter 15); (6) The end of all Alaskan 
R.P.O. service, including the Fair. R: Seward (May 22) and 
Nenana Sc St. Michael— see Chapter 15; (7) The demise of our 
most spectacular and unique C.P. line (Ridge. R: Durango, 
Chapter 3) on March 31; (8) Last run of the historic Reno & 
Minden, famed VR;TRR ex-narrow-gage mining road, on 



204 MAIL BY RAIL 

May 31 as told in Chapter 13; and (9) Abandonment of our 
only all-year-round boat route, Bell. & Anacortes, as men- 
tioned in this chapter. Never in all our history has the 
proverbial axe fallen on so many fascinating P.T.S. opera- 
tions at once— and may we earnestly hope that its blows are 
now done with; that unique new installations will arise to 
take their places; and that those amazing and fascinating 
phases of the P.T.S. which still remain may be preserved in the 
public interest as tokens of a vital national service which 
should always intrigue us. 



Chapter 1 1 



THE CHALLENGE OF THE UNUSUAL 



It may be north, south, east or west— the mail must hurry through; 
The postal clerk may take no rest, with all these things to do. 
He does not see what waits ahead, nor care what lies behind; 
The hungry mail sacks must be fed. To all else he is blind . . . 

— Earl L. Newton 




The Postal Transportation Service 
has met, with flying colors, the chal- 
lenge of every emergency which has test- 
ed its mettle. The most striking and dis- 
tinguishing characteristics of the Rail- 
way Mail Service (as it was designated 
throughout the period this chapter 
covers) have perhaps been the high 
standards of ability and citizenship and 
the almost military degree of discipHne required of its per- 
sonnel. A swiftly moving train is no place for a sluggard or 
weaklins:, and the Civil Service examination for admission is 
another incentive toward high standards. Discipline has been 
paramount since the days of the first railway mail clerks (large- 
ly Civil War veterans) and is reflected even today in the 
written orders, the "Black Book," and in the district and divi- 
sional ranks of P.T.S. officialdom. 

The great Chicago fire of 1871 was the R.IM.S.'s first big 
challenge. Although its division headquarters was destroyed 
when the Post Office Building burned to the ground. Super- 
intendent Bangs promptly stationed postal cars at various 

205 



206 MAIL BY RAIL 

points about the city, called in the clerks who were on layoff, 
and took care of all outgoing mail. Mail connecting via 
Chicago was detoured, and prompt and efTicient local mail 
scr\ice was soon under way. Oddly, enough, the post-ofTice 
and R.M.S. quarters were twice again destroyed in later 
smaller fires, requiring the R.P.O. cars to be spotted about 
the city again as before. 

The R.M.S. had the key job of opening the first post offices 
and mail routes in Oklahoma, durins: the breakneck land 
rush of 1889; a railway mail clerk opened the first Guthrie 
post office. But most pitiful of the emergencies to which the 
Service lent its valiant hand was the great Jacksonville, 
F-orida yellow-fever epidemic of 1888. Little dreaming that 
Walter Reed would reveal just eleven years later that only 
mosquitoes carried the yellow death, R.M.S. officials ordered 
all mail originating at Jacksonville fumigated in a boxcar at 
La Villa Junction near Waycross, Georgia. Busy railway mail 
clerks carried out this magnificent but futile endeavor by 
perforating the "deadly" letter bundles and newspapers in this 
car (a total of three million pieces) and smoking them with 
fnmigant for six hours. They suffered many miseries at 
"Camp Destitution," as they dubbed their restricted outpost. 

A more pleasant occasion was in July 1892, when a num- 
ber of clerks from the East were surprised by a courteous 
"invitation" to come to Omaha on July twenty-ninth and 
take a trip to San Francisco; it was explained that the De- 
partment wanted to reward their good services and that West 
Coast clerks wotild be benefited by their coming. Three divi- 
sion superintendents and thirty-six clerks made the enjovable 
trip, and doubtless California clerks were much edified by 
the visit. But when the time of return arrived (August 
fourth), the men were taken to two postal cars (one CBR:Q, 
one LSJl-MS) and issued Springfield rifles with two thousand 
cartridges plus Colt .45s with one thousand rounds to fit. It 
was explained that the real purpose of the trip was to effect 
in secrecy the transfer (by registered mail) of $2,000,000 from 
the San Francisco Subtreasury to the one at New York, to 
bolster lowered reserves there. The armed clerks first con- 



THE CHALLENGE OF THE UNUSUAL 207 

voyed the transfer of five hundred boxes of gold direct from 
the subtreasury to the train; R.M.S. officials, in charge of 
General Superintendent White himself, receipted for them. 

Then the journey of the first famous postal "Gold Train" 
began. Actually officially described as a "Silk Train" 
throughout, the secrecy and deception of the arrangements 
were perfect; and it was well they were, what with the gold- 
hungry train robbers then abroad. As related by Superin- 
tendent White, all went well; but there were some thrills 
and narrow escapes. Flagmen and would-be hobo passengers 
were alike frightened out of their wits to find the train 
suddenly bristling with guns like a porcupine's quills when 
the doors flew open. A letter addressed to one desperate out- 
law was handed in by a clerk at San Francisco even before 
leaving; after leaving the SP's "Overland" Ogden Sc S.F. 
route, an engineer at Rawlings, Wyo., refused to take the 
train because bandits had twice waylaid his that day; broken 
draws caused several delays. But the gold went through! 

Later "gold trains" were many times as richly laden, how- 
ever, although the million-dollar train of 1914 was an ex- 
ception. Supervised by Division Superintendent James L. 
Stice of Pittsburgh, this train took on fifty pouches of gold 
via twenty-five armed R.P.C.s (ordered to shoot to kill on 
interference) from the Philadelphia mint for the New York 
Subtreasury. Only Stice and four inspectors made the actual 
trip, after a missing pouch at Philadelphia was finally located 
back at the mint. Stice collapsed from a heart attack after- 
ward, but recovered and is living today. Then there was a 
$3,200,000 "Silver Train" operated by the 8th Division 
R.M.S. from San Francisco to Chicago, loaded entirely with 
coins. But by far the biggest such train on record (actually 
a series of trains) was operated by the Service in the 1930s 
to carry fifteen billion dollars in gold to the undergroimd 
vault at Fort Knox, Kentucky— only to carry most of it back 
out again later. 

The next most important civilian emergency was the San 
Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. The 8th Division's 
new headquarters building at Seventh and Market was swept 



208 MAIL BY RAIL 

by interior fires, partially extinguished by heroic Clerk 
George E. Lawton, who happened to be inside. Postally, 
special letter-sorting facilities were set up in the Oakland 
Pier Transfer Office, R.M.S., instead of in R.P.O. cars. Al- 
though much mail missed connection, all R.P.O. trains oper- 
ated in and out of the city on schedule regardless of danger; 
most clerks managed to get to work despite paralyzed transit. 
People wrote desperate notes on cuffs, shingles, cardboard- 
all Avere transmitted post-free, though paper mails had to 
wait two weeks. 

And in one recent domestic crisis the R.M.S. proved its 
Avorth on a national scale— the huge railroad strike of May 
24-26, 1946. In the earlier big strikes of 1888 and 1894, 
none of them nation-wide, most R.P.O. trains continued to 
be operated under edicts forbidding interference with any 
United States mail train. But on this occasion no such re- 
straint was attempted; practically every railway in the nation 
shut down at 5 P.M. on May 24, 1946 (postponed from 4 
P.M., May eighteenth, when earlier delays to many trains 
ensued). R.M.S. offices, geared for action, had previously ar- 
ranged for R.P.O. cars to be operated on most of the few pas- 
senger trains which railroad managements were able to force 
through. Operated by railroad officials in business suits, such 
trains carried clerks giimly struggling with mountains of 
mail for which they had no outgoing connections, carrying 
on fearlessly despite violence and sabotage attempted by strik- 
ers. Other clerks crowded into transfer offices or stayed home 
to await orders, while many others were assigned to terminal 
R.P.O.s. 

Emergency truck routes were set up to handle the vast 
bulk of the mails, which had to be sorted at post offices amid 
considerable loss of time; but mails were delivered daily, and 
delays cut to a remarkable minimum. At least one full- 
fledged temporary Iligh^vay Post Office was set up— on the 
Salisbury R: Knoxville (Sou) in North Carolina— Tennessee, 
where C.-in-C. Pat Knowland hung pouches inside a big 
moving van carrying his mail and sorted it on the floor. 
General Superintendent Carey of tlie 2nd Division reported 



THE CHALLENGE OF THE UNUSUAL 209 

the "equivalent of H.P.O. service" having been set up there 
too, and advised his clerks that "in meeting this crisis, you 
exceeded all expectations! You are deserving of the highest 
commendation." Some crews were stranded in cars at out-of- 
the-way places at the strike deadline; many were short of 
funds, food, or overnight facilities (one clerk had to sleep in 
his car, inside of a big No. 1 sack, both nights). Clerk Bob 
Chilton, of the Houston, Texas, area, stranded at his outer 
terminus, pitched in at the post office there and had the 
pouches normally made for his line "killed"; then he made 
up the mails into direct pouches for dispatch over Missouri 
Pacific bus lines and argued the bus company into accepting 
and handling them! 

Other strikes have hounded R.P.O. operations since, par- 
ticularly coal strikes in nearly every year from 1946 on^vard 
(as well as a threatened railway strike in 1948, when long- 
distance truck routes were again planned for in detail). Each 
coal strike forces the suspension of many R.P.O. branch lines 
(some of which are never restored) on every coal-burning 
railroad, and three-day-a-week service on others, playing the 
utmost havoc with schedules and mail deliveries. A trainmen's 
strike in 1950 created chaos in several areas. 

Of major interest, however, are the brilliant performances 
of the R.M.S. in each of the three major wars since its in- 
ception. When Spanish-American war troops were assem- 
bled in the South in 1898 prior to Cuba's occupation, a flood 
of mail swamped the post offices near the camps. Large 
postal cars were immediately stationed wherever needed, par- 
ticularly on sidings near Tampa, Florida, and Camp Chica- 
mauga, Georgia. Crews with a wide knowledge of territory 
were assigned to work up mail for the armies to separate 
companies, regiments, batteries, and ships— and mail from 
the soldiers, of course, to regular connections. After depart- 
ure of the transports, all mail for enlisted men whose desti- 
nation was unknown was dispatched to Key West, Florida, 
and thence to Santiago, Cuba. 

Postal assents saw that the mails followed the flas: as our 
armies landed on each island. Officers and men of the R.M.S. 



210 MAIL BY RAIL 

were placed in charge of setting up temporary organizations, 
and regular mail service followed promptly despite crude 
equipment. At Ponce, Puerto Rico, army carpenters made 
worktables; and at Manila, Superintendent Vaille of the 
R.iM.S. took over the post office and native clerks with little 
trouble. The Spanish clerks struck at first, but soon the 
Spanish merchants persuaded the more desirable workers to 
resume work so they could get their mail. Of course, as con- 
ditions became settled, directors of posts were appointed in 
each territory and permanent organizations set up by the 
Department as R.M.S. forces were withdrawn. During the 
8th Army Corps campaigns in Luzon a Spanish R.P.O. on 
the Dagupan— Manila Railroad w^is taken over by the army 
postal men, who put it into operation as the Dacupan & 
Manila Military R.P.O. ; the corps exchanged mails daily 
with its mail clerk and retained control at least until 1901. 
Civilian R.P.O.s were later established on such routes in all 
three territories (see Chapter 15). 

Far more dramatic was the impact of World War I upon 
the R.M.S. —which took complete charge of all mails for the 
armed forces overseas. The German juggernaut, rolling into 
Belgium and France in 1914 and years following, thoroughly 
disrupted normal postal service; but, with Teutonic effici- 
ency, military R.P.O.s, or Bahnposts, were set up in the con- 
quered territory (such as the Bruxelles— Lille Bahnpost from 
Belgium into France, carrying German soldier mail free.) 

At home in America living costs soared, especially upon 
entry of this country into the war in April 1917; railway 
mail clerks, because of the vital military mails they handled, 
were exempted from the draft. But thousands of them en- 
listed anyway; the undermanned R.P.O.s became choked 
with a deluge of mail for army camps and overseas, and the 
lines were soon turning over dozens of unworked pouches to 
terminal R.P.O.s each trip. Special legislation protected the 
jobs of those who enlisted, while other acts provided a slight 
salary increase. Veteran clerks pleaded for reinstatement. 

In France was created, mostly by R.M.S. personnel detailed 
to die A.E.F. Postal Administration, the largest network of 



THE CHALLENGE OF THE UNUSUAL 211 

military R.P.O. lines and terminals ever set up by Americans 
at any time. (The British, too, set up military R. P. O.s— par- 
ticularly the "B.E.F. Main Line T.P.O." from Boulogne to 
Cologne, operated January 1919 to the end of occupation. 
Six trains, manned by ten crews in British "T.P.O." coaches, 
operated— usually with very primitive lights and heat.) By 
1918 eighteen American R.P.O.s and six additional closed- 
pouch lines had been activated on the French railways— plus 
the new Bordeaux Terminal R.P.O., which received United 
States-bound mail from the lines and sorted 84 per cent of it 
out to direct packages for American cities, towns, or R.P.O. 
routes. Main-line military R.P.O.s were from Paris north to 
Boulogne (A.P.O.^ No. 751); south to Orleans (797), Cha- 
teauroux (738), and beyond; Paris west to Le Mans (762); 
Le Mans to Rennes (940), and also to Tours (717), on the 
Le Mans Sc Tours R.P.O., whose postmarks are the most com- 
monly found. Other lines to Bordeaux, Nancy (915), Dijon 
(721), and so on, were similarly named; postmarks read 
"NORTH" or "SOUTH" in lieu of train numbers, plus the 
letters "M.P.E.S." 

These letters referred to the "Military Postal Express 
Service," an A.E.F.P.A. subsidiary, which was organized by 
veteran R.P.C. Marcus H. Dunn (later general superintend- 
ent). The Bordeaux Terminal was efficiently managed by 
Superintendent James Cruickshank, another R.INLS. veteran 
(later Superintendent of Air Mail Service). Officials and dis- 
tributors there included such R.M.A. leaders as Peter Schardt 
(during periods of absences from his post as Superintendent, 
2nd Division), Chester A. Harvey, L. C. Macomber (all 
future national or division presidents), and many others. 
The terminal distributed up to 44,555,000 letters a month 
(582 tons of mail), dispatched in sealed pouches. When ships 
were due to sail, no hours were too long and no conditions 
too forbidding to prevent a speedy all-out dispatch. Robert 
Bend, Macomber, and others have vividly described life at 
Bordeaux Terminal in the Railway Post Office, particularly 



'Army Post Office. 



212 MAIL BY RAIL 

one huge Thanksgiving feast and their Christmas tour of the 
city after services at historic Sacre Coeur Church. 

United States postal detachments manned by R.M.S. per- 
sonnel were set up in other parts of the world— at Vera Cruz, 
Mexico, and even as far away as Siberia. A leading member 
of that far-flung unit was the late Joseph P. Cleland, of the 
Omaha &: Denver (CB&:Q), who was renowned as a three- 
times-round-the-world traveler. 

At home there was the great wartime Chelsea Terminal 
R.P.O. in New York City. Here all distribution of out- 
bound mails for soldiers overseas was performed in a huge 
hall running the length of Pier 86 at West Forty-Sixth Street, 
occupying the entire second floor; all classes of overseas mail 
were worked out to the smallest military units. Clerk-in- 
Charge Bill Sterling and Chief Clerk Fred Hance had the 
terminal as their sole responsibility. This huge overseas mail 
center had originated as a small unit (upstairs in the old 
Grand Central R.P.O.) established by William I. Votaw. 

AH army overseas mail was ordered diverted there, and 
half-frozen clerks struggled with it in overcoats until the 
"world's largest one-room heating plant" was installed. Hap- 
hazard overseas addresses used by the public (as, "110 Engi- 
neers, France") gradually were standardized in the general 
form: 

(Name of soldier and unit) 
A.E.F., A. P.O. 123 (or whatever it was) 
FRANCE. 

Hundreds of patriotic "dollar-a-year" volunteers worked 
alongside the paid men and women clerks in the terminal, 
with steady efficiency, including such notables as Henry 
Ward Beecher, Jr. At Christmas the Army furnished the 
public standard-sized cartons for doughboys* gifts— easily dis- 
tributed due to their uniformity. Before the Chelsea Term- 
inal closed it featured a large redistributing center at one 
end, manned by army clerks who redirected parcels addressed 
to men leaving France to the proper United States separa- 
tion center. Incidentally, "Railway Mail Posts" of the 
American Legion sprang up at New York and elsewhere. 



THE CHALLENGE OF THE UNUSUAL 213 

World War II, hou'cver, provided the most climactic chal- 
lenge of all to the Raihvay Mail Service. Even from the very 
first of United States peacetime conscription following the 
start of the holocaust in Europe in 1939, no deferments for 
raihvay postal clerks were announced. Expertly trained dis- 
tributors, handling increasing loads of vital military corre- 
spondence, were drafted into the Army by the hundreds; 
living costs mushroomed, and trains again went hopelessly 
"stuck." And yet in 1940, with mail volume up 6 per cent 
and with 32,000 fewer total postal employees than in 1913, 
railway mail clerks handled their entire additional load 
without extra cost to the Department— "an astonishing in- 
crease in productivity." 

Then came the blow of Pearl Harbor. John E. Painter, 
R.M.A. secretary at San Francisco at the time, describes it as: 

December 7, 1941— the stab in the back! . . . Mingled 
feelings . . . Alerts . . . R.P.O. car windows blacked out. 
Local non-stops missed. Poor lights. Why not curtains 
instead of black paint? . . . Clerks sign up for civilian 
defense. Clerks offer their services in any capacity . . . 
Clerks buy War Stamps and Bonds . . . Clerks enlist. 
Clerks are drafted . . . Christmas trains run late— move- 
ment of troop and supply trains . . . Clerks buy War 
Stamps and Bonds . . . Submarine off the coast . . . Guards 
placed over bridges'; listening posts . . . Mails go through, 
but late . . . Schedules revamped overnight . . . Fewer 
trains . . . New Year's Eve just another night. Neon lights 
stay dark. Clerks stay home . . . Retired clerks advise 
Department they are ready for service . . . More trains 
canceled . . . R.M.S. offices put on nine-hour day, six days 
a week . . . R.ALA. arranges meetings during blackouts 
. . . Wives say, "Remember, purl harder," and knitting 
goes on . . . Shortage of rubber, clerks begin to walk . . . 
Shortage of sugar, wives retain natural sweetness . . . 
Clerks buy Stamps and Bonds . . . Life goes on; not as 
usual, but in the American way, to save the American 
day. 

Following abolition of the official forty-hour week on De- 
cember 22, 1941, clerks worked a minimum forty-eight- 



214 MAIL BY RAIL 

hour, but often as much as a sixty- or seventy-hour, week or 
more. Road clerks had numerous extra trips, paid at "time 
and a half" for the first time in history (actually much less, 
through technicalities). Thousands of temporary wartime 
"subs" were hired, but many were quickly drafted or quit 
to take high-paying war-plant jobs (as did some regular 
clerks). Emergency plans were laid for rerouting R.P.O.s 
disabled by bombings or invasions. Mails increased to all- 
time record heights. Delayed R.P.O.s were sidetracked as the 
mains (troop trains) rushed past. 

A vast proportion of the mail was for army camps and 
other military separations not yet made up on racks and cases, 
causing much inconvenience until new case diagrams could 
be drawn up and new pouches established. Pouches had to 
be hung in aisles and odd corners— there was no room in the 
racks. The haphazard addresses on domestic military mail 
were appalling; hundreds of new military posts with complex 
lonsf names were inserted into the Postal Guide and schemes, 

O 

while the military addresses furnished soldiers often varied 
considerably therefrom. The shortage of trained distributors 
to handle these vital army mails became acute. But not until 
the summer of 1942, when two thousand railway mail clerks 
were in the forces, were limited deferments finally granted 
to key residue clerks doing scheme distribution and to essen- 
tial officials. Then in November came President Roosevelt's 
sweeping directive which began: "I am anxious to make sure 
that no man should be deferred from military service by 
reason of his employment in any Federal Department or 
agency ... in Washington or any other place"! 

Again postal clerks ^vere indiscriminately drafted, much to 
the despair of field officials and of R.M.A. branches at New 
Orleans and elscAvhere, who had passed numerous resolutions 
requesting deferment of expert distributors. Much pleased, 
however, was the big New York (2nd Division) Branch, which 
had passed an opposing resolution just one month before, 
demanding no occupational deferments for clerks whatever. 

By December of 1944, 3,952 clerks were in the forces. Of 
these, twenty-five had laid down their lives, mostly terminal 



THE CHALLENGE OF THE UNUSUAL 215 

clerks— five of them from Perm Terminal, New York, alone. 
Half of the letter mail was being worked in these same term- 
inals as nearly every train went hopelessly stuck; pouches 
for a single state "up to 25X" were turned over to them im- 
worked by the score. Not until 1945, the last year of the war, 
were clerks over thirty finally deferred, and then it was too 
late to make much difference. Five thousand clerks eventu- 
ally went into the forces. 

Of special interest during those days of womens' auxil- 
iaries (the WAC, WAVES, and so on) were the famotis 
"TWERPS"— Temporary Women Employees, Railway Post- 
al Service. Women clerks in the terminals, numbering only 
a handful in the 1920—40 period, were greeted by hundreds 
of new sister workers as high-school bobby-soxers, house- 
wives, and grandmothers were added to the ranks of the \var- 
time subs along with teen-age boys and older men. Harassed 
clerks-in-charge racked their brains over problems of extra 
washrooms, special rest facilities, and budding romances 
across the letter cases. Alone among practically all fields of 
labor, only the R.P.O. trains themselves still remained closed 
to women workers. The Los Angeles Terminal was especially 
proud of its one hundred girls, one of whom would bring 
around fresh coffee and rolls each Sunday morning. A special 
farewell party was held for them after the war in view of 
their "job truly well done," with coffee, doughnuts, and kisses 
from the C.-in-C! Women loaded bag-mail at train stops. 

Photostated "V-Mail" letters, with tiny, nearly illegible 
addresses, made letter distribution a real headache, and the 
well-deserved granting of free postage to military personnel 
caused the volume of soldier and naval mail to soar to un- 
precedented heights. R.P.O.s everywhere ran out of standard 
pouch and sack equipment, as this was channeled overseas. No. 
2 sacks, awkwardly tagged in green with the words "FIRST 
CLASS MAIL," were declared to be letter pouches for the 
duration— much to the confusion of pouch clerks and railroad 
porters. To augment thinning stocks of the standard large 
No. 1 sack, coarse burlap bags were commandered, many of 
them still bearing the names of some kind of sugar or feed 



216 MAIL BT RAIL 

printed on them. (Easily worn through, they were supplied 
with loose collar fasteners that always got lost, until some- 
one thought to have them fastened on.) With such make- 
shift equipment and with mail stacked ceiling high, condi- 
tions were much as Transfer Clerk Ruben Ericson of Port- 
land, Oregon, described them: "The boys don't sing at their 
work any more; the coffeepot rusts in the pie box. The day 
when a clerk just did an honest day's work has gone with 
the wind ... he does the work of a horse . . . Tired and sore 
. . . you never get down to the [last] sack." 

In 1944 the Postal Service handled over 1,482,000,000 
pieces of mail for army personnel— most of it through R.M.S. 
hands. Retired clerks were reinstated not only in the 
terminal R.P.O.s but even at Selective Service headquarters 
itself, where their sorting skill proved most valuable. Par- 
ticipation in buying war bonds and stamps was 100 per cent 
in three R.M.S. divisions, 99 per cent in the other twelve; 
clerks gave gallons of blood for plasma, and one branch gave 
$700 to purchase a Red Cross ambulance. They organized 
R.M.S. Buddy Clubs in New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, 
Indianapolis, and elsewhere, which sent steady streams of 
letters and gifts to fellow clerks in camp or overseas. Newsy 
bulletins published especially for them were sent over too— 
the Broadcaster, from Washington clerks; the Kansas City 
Service News or Buddy News; St. Louis's Buddy Club News; 
and t\vo Trip Reports (from New York and Indianapolis). 

Even in the prosaic "calling" of rotary lock numbers the 
usual "V— Vinegar" quickly became "V for Victory"! Vital 
registered military shipments were carried over key routes, 
guarded by an armed soldier or marine for whom sympa- 
thetic clerks made up beds of sacks in the end of the car. 
Clerks even read of one of their number, a prisoner of war 
in Germany, sending back to his buddies through neutral 
channels for R.M.S. schemes and schedules to studyl Not 
until V-) Day did the pressure let up; the five-day week was 
restored in October 1945, and drafted clerks were reinstated 
in the R.M.S. as fast as they were released. Deprived of their 
R.M.A. membership under New Hampshire insurance regu- 



THE CHALLENGE OF THE UNUSUAL 217 

lations, special rules had to be made to permit their rejoin- 
ing without a second initiation fee (some unfortunate veter- 
ans had already paid it). Wartime subs were quickly re- 
leased, the last ones leaving on March 31, 1946. 

But what of the overseas picture this time? Instead of 
calling in the R.M.S., the entire job of distributing incoming 
and outgoing military mails was handled by the Army Postal 
Service and the navy mail clerks. There is no denying the 
fact that they did a splendid, heroic job of it, under the most 
trying difficulties and dangers. And yet the record seems 
clear that had the Railway Mail Service been permitted to 
take over the whole setup as before, a still better and an 
amazingly efficient job could have been done ^vhich would 
have eliminated most of the constant complaints of six-month 
delays, misunderstandings, lost mails, and what not with 
which postal officials were swamped (from both civilian and 
army patrons) the whole time. 

And much credit for the splendid accomplishments that 
did transpire must go to the many R.M.S. officials and clerks 
who were placed in the Army Postal Service after their en- 
listment or induction, many becoming instructors. The vast 
majority of all outbound army mail was again addressed to 
Army Post Offices, but the standard form of address was now: 

(Name of soldier and unit) 
A.P.O. No. — 
c/o Postmaster, New York, N. Y.^ 

These mails were sorted by a huge Embarkation Army Post 
Office, later the Postal Concentration Center at Long Island 
City, New York, and by other smaller army units. 

Furthermore, no military R.P.O.s were operated on the 
European continent by United States forces in this war, 
either. Air mail constituted the bulk of the traffic; intensive 
bombing had left almost no usable track or railway cars; and 
the army postal men knew little about transit-sorted mail 
and its advantages. Mails from New York to France were 
routed from the port of entry (after mails for nearby units 



*Or San Francisco, or other embarkation point. 



218 MAIL BY RAIL 

were taken out) in solid railroad cars for Paris, where a Base 
Post Office broke it up and scattered Postal Regulating Sec- 
tions did the final sorting. A few special trains were oper- 
ated (one called the Toule de Suite Express) to haul closed- 
pouch mails only. The A.P.S. did sort mail in at least one 
stationery French-type R.P.O. car (spoorzuagon) in Holland. 

However, some important military R.P.O.s zvere operated 
—in Germany and Holland, by the British, and outside of 
Europe, by United States forces. The first R.P.O. of the 
British Army of the Rhine began operating September 30, 
194G, from Herford to Hamburg; operations were later ex- 
tended to Dusseldorf and the Hook of Holland, ihis last 
service continuing to June 4, 1949. Four crews of four 
soldiers each manned standard German R.P.O. cars, using 
'TIELD POST OFFICE" cancels. 

Best-known U. S. Army R.P.O. was in Iran (Persia), from 
Bandar Shapur on the Gulf to Teheran, the capital, on the 
Iranian State Railways. Operated largely by the 711th and 
730th (later 791st) Railway Operating Battalions of the Mili- 
tary Railway Service, Persian Gulf Command, it traversed a 
single-track, standard-gauge route through miles of desert via 
Arak and Ahwaz. The two daily trains handled military 
letters for the occupying forces and for Russia, the latter 
being turned over to the connecting Soviet-operated line 
from Teheran to Tobruk and the U.S.S.R. In three separate 
four-wheeled German R.P.O. cars, clerks of the American 
and British armie.=, as well as civilian Iranian R.P.O. clerks, 
distributed mail for their respective personnel. With no 
official title or postmark known to us, this railway post office 
operated until July 1, 1945. 

In China we operated the Tientsin & Chinguantoo R.P.O., 
a 150-mile route serving Marine outfits guarding the railway 
and manned by Marine clerks— probably the only line so 
staffed. Clerk T. V. Atwell (on military leave from the 
R.M.S.) reported that the train once returned to Tientsin 
minus its mail car— which was finally located in a train mak- 
ing tracks for Manchuria miles away. Atwell, the other mail 
clerk, and three generals pleaded with railway personnel in 



THE CHALLENGE OF THE UNUSUAL 219 

vain— none could understand English— as they were shifted 
around; with only two days' rations on board, it took them 
five days to be returned to Tientsin. 

The Tokyo-Sapporo Military R.M.S. route on the Japan 
State Railways was operated by the Army, using an R.P.O. 
car with small square windows and the lettering "U.S. MAIL 
CAR" and "AOMORI-SAPPORO" in English and Japanese. 
Though it carried all the first-class mail for northern army 
units, only registered matter was sorted in transit; this alone 
kept two six-man cre\vs busy. They had a sixty-two-mile car 
ferry. 

There was a still better-known Military R.M.S. route in 
North Africa, but despite contrariwise reports, it did not 
actually sort mail in transit. This train from Casablanca to 
Oran, however, did carry a mail clerk; he received, separated, 
and dispatched closed bags of mail over his five hundred-mile 
run in green-painted, ten-ton cars lettered "M. R.M.S." He 
had a bunk to sleep in during his twenty-four-hour trip, but 
no case or racks. It was projected to go on to Algiers and 
connect with two smaller M. R.M.S. routes operating there, 
and was in charge of M. R.M.S. Director Carl Gray with a 
daily ten-car mail train for nearly a year. One Algiers route 
was given a ceremonious 'Tirst trip"— with the mail car left 
behind, as embarrassed brass-hats discovered! 

Highly publicized in the military news of the day was 
"the first time in history that clerks sorted mails in planes," 
also over North Africa, in April, 1943. Actually, no pieces 
of mail were sorted— nor was it the first time clerks had been 
assigned to mail planes (done in the 1920s— see Chapter 16). 
Clerks detailed from A.P.O.'s loere assigned to planes, but 
only to separate bags for dispatch as before. A "mobile post 
office" was also operated in an army truck to serve Allied 
forces: it had a postmark, but there is no evidence that it 
sorted mail in transit or carried clerks on duty when travel- 
ling. By far the largest proportion of distribution in transit 
in World War II, however, was done in the Navy Post Offices 
on our ships, which carried out detailed and comprehensive 
transit-sorting of mails from home ports clear to Pacific 



220 MAIL BY RAIL 

theaters of action— many navy mail clerks being former 
R.P.C.s, who were publicly commended by the Navy for their 
magnificent performance as a class. 

Railway mail clerks in general invariably distinguished 
themselves in both courage and ability, and in both postal 
and combat units, in every part of the forces to which as- 
signed; most became officers of considerable rank, but some 
met a heroic death. No one could have gi\en more of a 
"last full measure of devotion," perhaps, than young Substi- 
tute Joseph Rozeman of an Atlanta, Georgia, district. He 
subscribed fifty dollars monthly in war bonds out of his small 
wages as soon as Pearl Harbor was attacked; solicitous 
oflicials protested to no avail. Failing in attempts to enlist in 
the Marines, he \vas drafted in the infantry instead; he was 
detailed to a permanent United States installation but de- 
manded (and was given) combat service in the Pacific— then 
was w'ounded on Leyte, finally killed on Luzon. Railway 
mail officials were sent to several occupied and other coun- 
tries after the war to rehabilitate civilian postal service, par- 
ticularly in Germany; hers was placed in charge of former 
R.M.S. General Superintendent Steve A. Cisler and ex- 
R.M.A. President Pete Schardt— former R.M.S. Division 
Superintendent, A.E.F. postal head, and Southern Railway 
official. Even today ex-clerk Archie Imus is top postal officer 
for Germany's United States Zone. (See Chap. 15 re Turkey.) 

When war broke out anew in 1950 in Korea, again involv- 
ing this country, the P.T.S. quickly girded for action. Once 
more, military mails gained priority and were handled as in 
World War IL 

But even in the absence of war's alarms there are still 
floods, wrecks, fires, and sometimes train robberies to chal- 
lenge the mettle of the railway mail clerk. Over seventy-five 
R.P.O. lines have had to suspend service at once because of 
floods, as in the widespread ones of March 1936 from Maine 
to Ohio. As in the Beardstown deluge (Chapter 1), the appal- 
ling Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Flood of 1889 was taken in 
stride by clerks on the N.Y. Sc Pittsburgh, the Pennsy's main 
line. They found dieir train stalled at the edge of the flood; 



THE CHALLENGE OF THE UNUSUAL 221 

water was rising at a dangerous rate. But one clerk quickly 
jumped out, ran up a side street, and returned with a wagon 
and four horses into which all mail was loaded. They drove 
to Altoona and sorted it there at the post office. 

There are dramatic stories of other floods. The de luxe 
Ambassador, Train 332 of the CentVt-B&;M's St. Albans & 
Boston R.P.O. out of Montreal, Quebec, was stalled bet-\v'een 
two track washouts in a vast waste of water at Roxbury, 
Vermont, for nearly a week without any contact from the 
outside world; Clerk Harold Kimball had to walk fourteen 
miles to get his mail out. That was in the 'twenties; but 
earlier, in 1905, St. Lou. k Little Rock (MoPac) Train ,6 ran 
smack into a fifteen-foot wall of water at Piedmont, Mis- 
souri; the engine crew jumped back into the R.P.O. car as 
their head end was hurled into the torrent, and Clerk 
Wilson Davenport finally swam fifty yards of raging water 
to high ground to secure help, saving a drowning tramp on 
the way. Floods invade even postal cars, necessitating piling 
all mail on top of racks and working knee-deep in water; 
Clerks Harry Stone and j. G. Mcllhenny did that for hours 
in a Kansas City R; Albuquerque (Santa Fe) mail car in 
Kansas City, and when relieved could get home only by 
walking over car tops and yard fences. Ogden R: San Fran- 
cisco (SP) Train 9 was twice involved in huge floods on the 
"Overland" route. In 1911, says the Go-Back Pouch, the 
train left Ogden on February tenth and didn't get back to 
its terminus until after eleven days and a 2,300-mile detour. 
Rabins: streams and washed-out trestles and tracks confronted 
it everywhere; food, water, and necessities ran out, the SP 
dining-car department finally furnishing rations; the hungry 
and unwashed clerks were shuttled in slow stages to Winne- 
mucca, San Francisco, Sparks, Reno, Sacramento, Portland, 
and back to Ogden! The other (1921) flood involved a fierce 
storm on the Utah salt flats, with tOAvering waves of brine 
from the Great Salt Lake crashing the train as clerks swept 
water out. 

This same train was the victim of one of the most spectacu- 
lar wrecks in R.M.S. history. On September 12, 1932, Train 



222 MAIL BY RAIL 

9 left the rails near Emigrant Gap in the Sierras, and the 
R.P.O. car tumbled six Jnuidred jeet down a mountainside 
without a single fatality! All four clerks were badly injured, 
yet they convoyed their registers by truck to Sacramento, 
checked out each pouch after hours of guarding the mails, 
and completed their trip report in full detail. 

In typical contrast was the most recent of our major 
R.M.S. wrecks, mentioned with a few others in our first 
chapter. When the Pennsy's Red Arroiu, N.Y. Sc Pittsburgh 
Train 68, reached Bennington Curve at Gallitzin, Pennsyl- 
vania (near Altoona), a sudden derailment brought death to 
six Pennsylvania clerks in February 1947— H. E. Bohner of 
Lemoyne, H. L. Bowman of Bowmansdale, W. E. Moore of 
Pittsburgh, P. J. Leiden of Altoona, B. M. jakeman of Phila- 
delphia, and G. C. Bowman of Tyrone, who was suspended 
eight hours by his feet before being cut loose, dictating his 
will in the meantime. Others were badly hurt. 

The news shocked the nation, for scarcelv even one or two 
clerks per year had been killed in wrecks for decades— none 
at all in 1944, 1941, 1939, and other recent years. But the 
employment of untrained wartime railway workers and lack 
of equipment upkeep were beginning to show; three more 
men were killed that year, or a total of 33 for the twelve 
years 1936—47 inclusive. The wrecks record is again im- 
proving, but much needs to be done in pushing a vigorous 
safety program. 

W^e can only skim through some of the other vivid or tragic 
wreck scenes of the past. We see the New York Central's 
Wolverine, N.Y. k Chicago Train 8, running off a curve at 
Rochester in 1945, killing Clerk Al Van Camp; another 
N.Y. R: Chic, train piling up at Canastota, New York, two 
years later, when another Al became a hero by saving the 
lives of scores amid scalding water and steam (Al Novak, 
flagging a second train just in time); the Fourth-of-Tuly crack- 
up in 1944 of the Santa Fe's Chief, when clerks sloshed 
around in hot oil, saving pouch mail, to be greeted and as- 
sisted by General Superintendent John Hardy, who was 
riding the same train; the Chic. Sc Omaha (C&NW) train 



THE CHALLENGE OF THE UNUSUAL 223 

which broke in two just after a clerk threw off the Vail, Iowa, 
pouch, injuring a passenger, because the pouch hit a switch 
standard opening the points; the two widely separated clerks 
killed in the same month (July 1937) at grade crossings, each 
by an R.P.O. train on which he had once worked: one on the 
New Haven's Boston & N.Y. at Warwick, Rhode Island, the 
other at Hoopeston, Illinois, on the Chic. & Evansville 
(C&EI); and many others, which pass in a crashing panorama 
before our eyes. Only yesterday, heroic clerks on Chi., Ft. 
Madison &: K.C. (SFe) Tr. 22, in the shock of a frightful wreck 
(July 5, 1950), did practically all the rescuing of injured pas- 
sengers. (No clerks were seriously hurt in the crash of the 
PRR's Spirit of St. Louis, Pitts. & St. Lou. Tr. 31, on Sept. 
11, 1950, into a troop train, killing many soldiers.) 

The most historic of all mail-train crack-ups was doubtless 
the song-famed "VV'reck of the Old 97." The engine and four 
cars of Washington k Charlotte (Southern) Train 97 simply 
crashed down over the broken side of a seventy-five-foot 
trestle at Gretna, near Danville, Virginia, on September 27, 
1903. Eleven mail clerks were killed, but three other clerks 
of that crew have survived to this day, still in the Service or 
recently retired. Two of them, J. H. Thompson and Jennings 
Dunlap, stayed on the same line until then. Thompson re- 
tired in 1941 to his home at Lexington, Virginia, after com- 
piling a huge scrapbook of "Old 97" clippings and meeting 
every President since McKinley. He was a good friend of 
David G. George, author of the famous song, who was the 
telegrapher at Gretna and had a premonition of the wreck; 
he often told Thompson how he watched Old 97 race "down 
grade at ninety miles an hour" to the fatal curve, an hour 
late, with two firemen keeping up a full head of steam. 
Thompson reveals that George lost an entire fortune defend- 
ing his song rights. 

Some remarkable "series" of wrecks on the same line, or 
involving the same clerk or other strange coincidences, have 
occurred. Besides the thirty-eight afore-mentioned wrecks on 
the old Indianapolis & Effingham, we recall that James L. 
Stice (see Chapters 10 and 16) was in eleven smashes and 



'^^4 MAIL BY RAIL 

injured in four, and that seven consecutive wrecks on the 
Omaha & Kansas City (MoPac) years ago invariably involved 
one particular clerk— it caused so much superstition among 
trainmen that railroad officials demanded his transfer. Roy 
V. McPherson, of the Utica, New York Terminal, has pub- 
lished accounts of four amazing hairbreadth escapes from 
death; in one case he would have been decapitated at Moira, 
New York, when the engine smashed its cab in sideswiping a 
boxcar, had he not jumped back from the mail-car door just 
in time. Again, running on the old N.Y. & O. R.R., his train 
was derailed at an open switch at Kildare, New York, just a 
few feet behind a standing boxcar of dynamite. And finally, 
in addition to nearly drowning on a cruise on his layover, he 
tells of Slopping his Nyando & Tupper Lake (NY&O) R.P.O. 
train upon a trestle near Madawaska, New York, to have a 
derailed truck of the tender fixed— only to fall off the trestle 
and get sucked into a quagmire in tlie creek below, barely 
getting out! 

In 1948 the two opposite R.P.O. trains on the same run 
were both wrecked when they met head on— Newport &: 
Springfield (BR:M-CVt-CP) Trains 78 and 79, near Newbury. 
Vermont. Train crews on both crack Boston-Montreal fiyers 
were killed, but the clerks escaped ^vith injuries; they care- 
fully salvaged the mail from the crumpled steel R.P.O. cars, 
one having to be cut up by torches for junk. It was the worst 
wreck in all New England in a forty-five-year period. And 
on the C. R: N.W. the same train was wrecked three times 
in 1942— Chic. & Omaha Train 5; while in a 1945 smashup, 
day-old chicks, turkeys, and white mice escaped the mails 
when Buffalo Sc Wash. (PRR) Train 575 was wrecked, its 
mail car jumping over the engine! 

An astounding thing happened on the old Hutchinson &: 
Kinsley R.P.O., a Santa Fe cutoff route in Kansas, because 
of a wreck not involving any mail train! On delivering the 
first pouch en route one trip (Partridge, Kansas), the puzzled 
local clerk remarked that the depot had been moved across 
the track, even though it still bore the same name. Making 
the next throwoff, Abbeyville, tliey noticed tire train cross- 



THE CHALLENGE OF THE UNUSUAL 225 

ing another railway. "They've built a new railroad here 
since we were out last week, John," remarked the local man. 
This station, also on the wrong side, flew by before they 
could check its name; but on viewing the "scenery," it ap- 
peared as familiar as ever. But when the third station 
whizzed by on the wrong side, the alarmed clerks called the 
train porter and asked where they were. They were at 
Ellenwood, on the Santa Fe's main line twenty miles north 
or Zenith, the cutoff stop where they thought they were! 
The conductor, familiar with both routes, had nesrlected to 
notify the clerks of a sudden detour necessitated by a wreck 
on the cutoff. The disarming similarity of the two routes, 
even to parallel competing raihvays on the left for miles out 
of Hutchinson and identical blind sidings and chutes, had 
been responsible. 

The specter of fire is ever-present. A Diesel locomotive 
blaze on Albuq. & Los Angeles (Santa Fe) Train 18 at Fon- 
tana, California, cracked all window glass on the R.P.O. 
car recently and set its vestibule fabrics afire; clerks assisted 
in quenching it with extinguishers, one being injured. A far 
worse fire in Detroit R: Cincinnati (BR:0) Train 57 at Weston, 
Ohio, not long; aQ;o consumed all mail in the letter cases and 
all clerks' belongings and grips; yet the men managed to 
save all registers and escape uninjured. The Rock Island's 
Rocket, Train 7 of the Omaha R: Colorado Springs hit a huge 
oil truck at Dellvale, Kansas, in 1947, and flaming oil \vas 
showered into the R.P.O. car from all openings; pouches 
of mail caught fire, exits and creep doors were stuck or 
blocked, and clerks barely escaped. At least four clerks have 
been killed in other fiery wrecks— Paul Crysler and John Gall, 
in that of a Chicago 8: Streator^ (CBRrQ) gasoline car at 
Oswego, Illinois (194.S); and two others on the Atlanta, Val- 
dosta R: Jacksonville (Sou-GCR:F, near Valdosta, Georgia, in 
a burning-trestle collapse) and on a Childress R: Lubbock 
(F\V'R:DC) gas rail car near Casey, Texas— both in 1942. A 
Norf. R: Winner (CR;NW) R.P.O. car was derailed at Spencer, 



'Now Chi. & Zearing. 



226 MAIL BY RAIL 

Nebraska, rolled over, and burned with its mail (the clerk 
escaped) just recently in 1950. 

There may be smoke where there is no fire, as Clerk-in- 
Charge L. Beaumont Reed of the N.Y. & Pitts. (PRR) fortu- 
nately discovered one day at Monmouth Junction, New Jer- 
sey; he scented a hotbox there and notified the baggageman 
that it was a certain engine ponywheel. In spite of a cautious 
crawl from there on (to pick up a new locomotive at Tren- 
ton), the hot wheel and its mate sheered off at Princeton 
Junction, New Jersey, and the pony frame dropped to the 
tracks. No one was hurt as the train ground to a stop. Reed 
little dreamed that the Pennsy's famed Congressional would 
be wrecked from that same cause on the same tracks a few 
years later, somewhat farther south, at Frankford Junction 
in Philadelphia, to become the most appallingly fatal rail 
wreck of modern times. (Neither did the two clerks on the 
N.Y. & Wash, multiple-unit local just ahead of the Congres- 
sional suspect anything, even though one of them— this writer 
—had personally observed Frankford Junction as a check mark 
for his C.-in-C. just a half hour before!) Reed's valiant feat 
was credited by all with saving himdreds of lives (see Chap. 16 
re broadcast). 

Many daring train robberies occurred, too, in addition to 
the few mentioned previously— especially on lines out of San 
Francisco. (Mail-train robbers were once given the death 
penalty.) The most spectacular was undoubtedlv the De 
Autremont brothers' bombing of a Portland R: San Fran. fSP) 
R.P.O. train near Siskiyou, Oregon, on October 11, 1923. 
They ruthlessly halted the train with a dynamite trap, killed 
every trainman and postal clerk (only one or two R.P.C.'s 
were on duty), and stole thousands of dollars. Postal inspec- 
tors, with only a coat and some tools as evidence, spent 
$500,000 carrying out the world's biggest man hunt for three 
and one-half years; all three brothers were eventually cap- 
tured and jailed. The gutted R.P.O. car, rebuilt, was event- 
ually wrecked again at Lowell, Oregon, in 1946; again re- 
built, it is still in use. 

A second Port. & San Fran, mail robbery, a $40,000 unde- 



THE CHALLENGE OF THE UNUSUAL 227 

tected rifling of a registry convoy in San Francisco, remained 
a mystery from 1937 to 1946, when a post-office registry clerk 
was arrested as the culprit. Four bandits held up the old 
Deming &: San Fran. (SP) just out of Deming, New Mexico 
in 1883 by spreading the rails, killing the engineer, and fir- 
ing into the mail car; they got only ^1,000 out of the mail 
in lieu of an expected $100,000 pay roll, and the clerks were 
instrumental in the bandits' later capture through their de- 
scriptions. And on the Ogden & San Fran. (SP), in 1900 two 
"hoboes" on Train 10 pulled out .45s at Suisun City, Cali- 
fornia, and halted the train. By threat of dynamiting they 
forced the clerks to admit them, then they seized the regis- 
tered pouches and fled with them in the uncoupled engine! 

The notorious Roy Gardner, too, held up his first big mail 
train on the Ogden R: S.F. About 1918 he boarded a storage 
car at Roseville, California, robbed the pouches therein as 
well as a clerk deadheading in the car, and finally leaped 
from the train. Already sought by posses, Gardner was now 
vigilantly searched for in several states; hut in 1920 he boldly 
climbed into the closet of a Phoenix k Parker (Santa Fe) 
R.P.O. car as it left Phoenix, Arizona, attempting to hold up 
burly Clerk Herman Inderlied by surprise. Inderlied "saw 
red" at that; he simply knocked the robber down, seized 
his club as it was poised over his head, grabbed Gardner's 
gun, sat on him, and called for help! A railroad cop took 
him prisoner, and was given half of Inderlied's $5,000 rcAvard 
from the Postmaster General. 

Clerk Z. E. Strong was killed in a most imusual robbery 
of St. Paul Sc Miles City Train 2, the NP's North Const 
Limited. A young supposed new substitute, with forged cre- 
dentials, held up the crew^ with a sudden gunshot. Strong 
was shot as soon as he made a slight nervous move; the other 
clerks were disarmed and tied or locked in closets, and 
$50,000 in currency taken. Near Minneapolis, Clerk H. M. 
Christensen broke open the closet door with his shoulder, 
noticed the bandit still in the car, and dashed the other way 
into the express car. With the express messenger, rearmed, 
he nearly captured the impostor as the latter hastily jumped 



228 MAIL BY RAIL 

Tvlicn the train slowed down. He was captured a month later. 

But the greatest mail-train robbery in all history netted 
from $2,000,000 to $3,000,000 in an insidious holdup of 
Chic, k Minneapolis (CMStP&P) Train 57 at Roundout, 
Illinois, on Friday, the thirteenth of June, 1924. The band- 
its hid in the engine cab, held up the locomotive crew, and 
made them stop the train and flash a headlight signal. Ac- 
complices in an auto then shot out a mail-car window, 
forced out the eighteen clerks with gas bombs, and drove off 
with sixty-four registered pouches. The best available postal 
inspectors were assigned to the resulting investigation, head- 
ed by Inspector William J. Fahy who was considered the 
"ace of them all." Finally a certain detective got an incredi- 
ble "tip" by phone from an underworld character; in a daze, 
he decided to risk his whole career and bring his shady 
woman informer before Chief Inspector Rush D. Simmons. 
She told the chief postal sleuth a gruesome story. 

Her husband was in jail for another postal theft of which 
she claimed he ^v•as innocent. She had flirted with the officer 
who'd arrested him in efforts to secure his release; the officer 
in question had "fallen" for her, and now her retribution was 
at hand— she had coaxed out of him the fact that he was the 
head of the Rondout robbers' gang. "Name the manl" 
snapped Simmons. 

"Postal Inspector William Fahy!" 

It was true; another renegade postal employee— but not 
an R.M.S. man— was responsible, having connived with the 
gangsters. He and his five accomplices were caught and jailed 
for long terms, and all the stolen money recovered.* 

In die P.T.S. itself dishonesty is so rare that only once in 
a great Avhile does some clerk succumb to temptation, to the 
great chagrin and anger of all others on the line thus dis- 
honored. Quickly and quietly, postal inspectors will trap 
such a cul])rit (usually by many test mailings), enter his car 
or terminal, and escort him out of the Service forever. The 



'See Professor Dennis' The Travelling Post Offire (still availahle-see Rihliog- 
rapliy) for three reniarkalily humorous or interesting train-robbery stories on 
pages 91, 109, and 111 thereof. 



THE CHALLENGE OF THE UNUSUAL 229 

few cases quickly reviewed here are almost the only ones on 
record for several years. These included (1) a clerk on a 
C&NVV route who fingered over his mail for money-laden 
letters when traversing a dark tunnel, later caught pocketing 
some of them when another clerk lit a cigarette just then; 
(2) an Eastern terminal clerk, lacking funds for his girl 
friends, who found the quarters in those little cloth fdm mail- 
ers sticking to his fingers (quickly detected from secret-gallery 
peepholes); (3) an unfortunate clerk on a PRR run caught 
with letters, money, and bills scattered over his dormitory 
bed wiiere he was lying in a stupor, finally arrested in his car 
by a clever ruse; (4) two clerks on different lines who em- 
ployed the idea of slipping valuable letters into ofiicial or 
stamped envelopes addressed to themselves or to a fake firm, 
so as to never get caught taking mail from the car— they were 
apprehended just the same; (5) a tobacco-chewing clerk con- 
victed of stealing money out of letters (later resealed) by 
James Stice, after he became an inspector, through the to- 
bacco flecks on envelope flaps; and (6) a Kansas City clerk 
convicted in 1915 of participating in a $25,000 theft of 
money from a Chicago bank pouch which later arrived 
stuffed with waste paper. Actually, in any five-year period, 
only about seven or eight such cases ever occur among all 
thirty thousand railway mail clerks— a top record in indus- 
trial honesty! 

There are, of course, some unusual, not easily classifiable 
situations that challenge clerks' ingenuity. One was when 
Mpls. R: Miles City (CMStPR:P, now St. Paul k Aberdeen) 
Train 15 was pulling out of Minneapolis after the disheart- 
ened crew had noticed the Minneapolis Dis pouch (due for 
dispatch there) still nestled in the rack. But as the train 
backed into its wye a few blocks farther on. Clerk Hyatt 
noticed a Minneapolis post-oflice truck waiting at the cross- 
ing. With a yell, he jumped out and thrust the pouch into 
the startled dri\er's lap with a hurried explanation, regain- 
ing his train just as it was starting up. In Illinois, R.M.S. 
officials had to order the CM. Sc O. R.R. to slow down its 
overnight Chicago, Springfield and St, Lou. mail train at 



230 MAIL BY RAIL 

Lockport— where its 80-mph speed caused mails to be shred- 
ded to bits in the local pouch thrown off there, the post- 
master having to paste letters back together after finding the 
pouch about 6 A.M.I 

Of course there are the particularly odd or unusual post 
offices, not to mention the great amount of mail received for 
long-discontinued ones, that challenge the ingenuity of our 
railway mail clerks; but in general the fascinating stories of 
these situations are not within our scope here. Large suburbs 
without post offices, cities and towns straddling state lines 
(with one or two post offices), and the post offices named 
exactly like other large localities within the state, all call for 
more-than-usual genius in distribution. Clerks are supposed 
to know the routes of all discontinued post offices, even if 
long-forgotten at the time of their entering the Service, for 
which mail is still received. Hundreds of tiny rural post 
offices are discontinued annually, as has been the practice for 
decades, because of extension of rural routes providing direct 
box service to residents of each small hamlet. 

In the P.T.S. general scheme of the state involved, the 
little Greek letter delta (A) is prefixed to the name of each 
doomed office immediately upon its closure— a symbol that 
perhaps incorporates more pathos, more poignant sentiment, 
than any other used in the Service; it is unknown outside 
of it. Three years later the forgotten hamlet, symbol and all, 
is stricken out of the scheme; the rural route serving it bears 
only a prosaic number instead of perpetuating its name. 
The village still sleeps on, even if only a tiny crossroads in 
the wooded farmlands; but all have now forgotten it. All, 
that is, but the veteran clerks who have given their lives to 
the Railway Mail Service and the P.T.S. —to meeting the 
challenge of seeing that the tiny-hamlet mails are still sent 
home, as well as the "challenge of the unusual" in the great 
events of national history. 



Chapter 12 



R.P.O.S ON THE TROLLEY TRAIL 



Over a glitter of blue-burnished steel 
Singing a song of the flange of the wheel . . . 
Down in the street. The milkman stays, 
Halting his team for a moment to gaze; 
He looks, he sees, and hears the ring 
Of the onward rush of the "Green. & Spring." 

— Phil Boi.ger 




The 6th day of May, 1950, 
marked the end of an era in 
transit mail distribution so 
remarkable, so unique, that 
no other country even ap- 
proaclied the incredible stage 
of development which it 
reached in America. At 7:50 
P.M. that day the last true 
trolley-car R.P.O.^ in America completed its final run into 
Los Ang^eles, California; a big red steel interurban car with 
a twenty-foot postal apartment, it had just rolled into the 
Pacific Electric terminal from San Bernardino, 57.7 miles 
eastward. The epic history of the American trolley R.P.O. 
service, begun in St. Louis late in 1892, had come to its close 
—fifty-seven and one half years later. 



R.P.O. 



—Courtesy Postal Markings 



'See Chapter 15 for trolley R.P.O.s still operated in France and Swilzeiland 
(there mn\ he others); also see Austria, Canada, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, 
Spain, Sweden (same chapter). Trams in Leeds, England, carry public mailing 
boxes. 

231 



232 MAIL BY RAIL 

Yes, an era has ended— unless, that is, one considers the 
electric suburban R.P.O.s of the Eastern states, with multiple- 
unit electric cars, to be in the same class. Or unless, by chance, 
the P.T.S. should once more authorize electric-car R.P.O. 
apartment service on one of several modernized interurban 
trolley routes which still operate in Illinois, Iowa, Pennsyl- 
vania, and else^vhere. 

Trolleys still play an important part in P.T.S. operations, 
for there are still numerous trolley-operated closed-pouch 
routes— the Wilkes-Barre R: Scranton (LRrWV) and Phila. & 
Media (PST) C.P.'s in Pennsylvania, the Carlinville R: St. 
Louis C.P. (ITS) in Illinois, and others. And until 1948 there 
were still three true trolley R.P.O.s operating; but while the 
other two were actual holdovers of traction-era mail-car op- 
erations, the San Bernardino R: Los Angeles was then a brand- 
ne^v route! Operated for only tAvo and one-half years, it tra- 
versed the longest route of the still-operating Pacific Electric 
system, once the world's largest interurban net^v'ork, via 
Covina, San Dimas, and Fontana. At first the San Bernardino 
k Los Anoeles also connected with the abandoned L. A. &: 
San Pedro trolley R.P.O., to be described a bit later. 

The unsung final trip of the San Bernardino service, re- 
placed immediately by an identically named H.P.O., was 
marked only by the cancellation of collectors' covers for this 
never-to-be-repcated event. But, in contrast, the line was first 
inaugurated with impressive ceremonies on September 1, 
1947. Car No. HOG, cleaned and shiny, had just been com- 
mandeered from the much shorter L.A. Sc Redondo Beach 
(PE) run, which ceased operation the previous day; and 8th 
Division General Superintendent T. L. Wagenbach was in 
charge of the special observances at the Sixth R: Main Streets 
Depot. Pullman-built, the big trolley contained express and 
baggage sections, as well as the mail unit, and was fifty-five 
feet long. It operated separately from passenger and freight 
units on its three-hour run— the majority of its route furnish- 
ing no passenger service. Earlier the route had been a busy 
passenger line whose express cars exceeded even the present 
railroad streamliners in speed between the same two points. 



R.P.O.'s ON THE TROLLEY TRAIL 233 

and with C.P. mail service. The new route greatly improved 
the handling oE local mails, formerly delayed by dispatch to 
Los Angeles and back, and expedited through mails by direct 
connection to main-line R.P.O.s at both termini. The same 
service is now furnished by the new H.P.O., which -^vas placed 
in operation at departmental option as an "economy" meas- 
ure after P.E. had announced long-range plans to convert the 
route to Diesel freight operation if granted permission. 

The Postal Transportation Service, to be sine, still lists 
one existing R.P.O. in the same "Electric" category as the 
Los Angeles lines mentioned. This is the Washington & 
Bluemont (WR;OD) in Virginia— which, however, has oper- 
ated gas-electric and Diesel units exclusively for years now. 
Long a busy interurban trolley line with big green-and-gold 
cars, it was in its very earliest days a steam road starting from 
Alexandria (the Alex., Loudon R; Hamp. R.R.) which became 
the Alex. & Round Hill R.P.O. Its termini were later shifted 
a few miles (to Washington and Bluemont) upon electrifica- 
tion in 1912. It now operates only for the 44.6 miles from 
Rosslyn, Virginia (station of Arlington, opposite Washing- 
ton), to Purcellville, due to a seven-mile track abandonment. 
Its last trolley-operated R.P.O. service was gradually replaced 
by Diesel operations about 1942, during a two-year suspen- 
sion of all passenger service. Two roimd trips of R.P.O. 
operations are furnished daily in fifteen-foot apartment 
facilities inside streamlined gas-electric and Diesel units; it 
is a busy one-man rim, and nimierous collectors seek its post- 
mark. {Other details in Chapter 10.) 

But the East also boasts several other busy suburban 
R.P.O.s operated by electric cars coupled to form trains. 
Although these cars do not travel singly, the head car is 
operated by a regular motorman despite the fact that the 
track is part of a regular railroad system on which the trolley 
wire is contacted by "pantagraphs" instead of trollev poles. 
In fact, two of these lines vie for the title of "second shortest" 
R.P.O. in the United States. 

One is the picturesque twenty-two-mile Summit &r Glad- 
stone (DL&W) in New Jersey. Its "multiple-unit" strings of 



234 MAIL BY RAIL 

cars connect at Summit with main-line electric commuter 
trains to Newark and New York. Our second-shortest inde- 
pendent R.P.O., its scenic single track winds through attrac- 
tive towns and luxurious suburban estates. The forty minute 
R. P.O. -passenger run is but one of numerous busy daily com- 
muter trains and has a fifteen-foot mail apartment and motor- 
man's booth at the front end. Nicknamed "The P. 8: D." 
(Passaic & Delaware branch), its clerk has to round out his 
working time in Hoboken Terminal or on the connecting 
N.Y. & Branchville (DL&:\V). Don Steffee tells of the time 
Substitute Leslie Sheridan drew this combination assisrnment 
one hot summer day; he had all the doors open and got the 
motorman to call out the stations. Near one, Sheridan quick- 
ly locked out its light skin pouch and threw it down to the 
end of the car— whereupon the breeze through both doors 
quickly Avhipped it outside! Fortunately the motorman oblig- 
ingly backed up to retrive it, amid shouted explanations to 
the deafish but schedule-conscious conductor, to the amuse- 
ment of the passengers and to Sheridan's embarrassment. 

The Summit & Glad., like the N.Y. & Far Rock. (Chapter 
10), is a true electric-car R.P.O.— a// passenger and mail 
service is by M.U. electrics. But a perplexing borderline case 
is the so-called Phila. & Paoli (PRR) in Pennsylvania, which, 
if truly a separate R.P.O., is the second shortest of them all 
(twenty miles). This is the famed Paoli Local of Philadel- 
phia's fashionable "Main Line" suburbs. In fact, it actually 
does traverse the Main Line of the PRR, being simply a short 
run of the N.Y. & Pittsburgh R.P.O. thereon; it uses clerks 
and postmarkers of the latter line and is not even separately 
listed in P.T.S. schemes or schedules. But, on the other hand, 
it uses its own tracks exclusively (alongside the others) and is 
named independently in the List of Official R.P.O. Titles! 
A hot run, it is about the busiest of all multiple-unit locals, 
perhaps, with its three daily fifty-minute trips each day. 
Mountains of mail, including that of colleges at Haverford 
and Bryn Mawr, must be sorted by only one or two clerks 
in a fifteen-foot apartment. And "The Paoli" has no terminal 
to do its advance distribution! A similar case is the M.U.- 



R.P.O.'s ON THE TROLLEY TRAIL 235 

electric W. Trent. & Phila. (Rdg., N. J. -Pa.), with steam trains 
of the N.Y., Bak. & Wash, using its route. 

There is at least one other true all-electric-car R.P.O., 
however— the PRR's nearby Phila. &: West Chester. Formerly 
the Phila. &: Perry, (with a long steam-operated segment to 
Perryville, Maryland), it serves Lansdowne, Swarthmore, 
Media, and other busy suburbs on a 27.5-mile run. The 
R.P.O. includes within its organization a more direct nine- 
teen-mile closed-pouch run on real interurban trolley cars of 
the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company, be- 
tween pretty much the same two termini (its Philadelphia 
end is at suburban Upper Darby); but no clerks serve on 
these streamlined trolleys. Two clerks work in the apartment 
car on the actual multiple-unit R.P.O. run on the PRR, ex- 
cept on holidays— as Paul Wisman discovered to his dismay 
when he was ordered to make the first road trip of his life 
thereon one Christmas. It was almost leaving time when he 
arrived, mail was stacked high in the doorway, and his helper 
left the car as the train pulled out. W^isman could not even 
secure a time table until the third station, and knew nothing 
of the line; with a station flashing by every fifty seconds on 
the one-hour run, he could work nothing but a few registers. 
Duly putting off empty pouches at each station, to keep rec- 
ords straight, he "carried by" two full storage pouches for 
local points. At West Chester, trying to get receipts for his 
reds, he found the post-office registry clerk in Christmas 
services at church. On the equally hectic return trip all the 
unsorted outbound and inbound mail had to be hastily baled 
into six pouches for 'Thiladelphia GPO Dis." 

We have already mentioned the local runs on the electri- 
fied N.Y. 8: Washington (PRR), a route also shared by 
main-line trains. On one of its Philadelphia-Trenton M.U.- 
car locals, one harassed substitute found himself in the same 
predicament as Wisman, It was his first run and he had no 
idea of the requirements; taking no chances, he locked all 
doors and sat on the mail to ride both ways of the whole trip 
—disregarding all frantic poundings on the door. Investi- 
gating officials finally decided they could not penalize him 



236 MAIL BY RAIL 

when he pointed out he had followed orders to "stick right 
with the train, even if you can't do anything else." There 
are many other suburban electric runs on main-line railways 
out of New York and Philadelphia and perhaps elsewhere, 
but they share the tracks with steam or Diesel through trains 
(except for the northern electric segment of the PRR's N.Y. 
& Phila.-see Chapter 10). The N.Y. k Wash. (PRR) is evi- 
dently the only main-line R.P.O. electrified from end to end, 
although others use electric engines in mountain areas only 
(in Virginia and the Far West). 

But to return to the true trolley-car R.P.O.s, most people 
are amazed today to learn that such service was operated on 
city streetcar lines for nearly forty years. These cars sorted 
mail in transit between the main city post office and its 
stations, "pouching" on each other just as the steam R.P.O.s 
did; extensive night "circuits" were developed to cover a 
wide area in loop fashion. This unique service utilized at 
least a hundred ornate white-and-gold "ghost cars" (as they 
were known) on city streets alone, on which letters were 
neatly machine-canceled or hand-stamped as well as sorted. 
In 1895 all street railways were made post routes by Act of 
Congress, and by 1898 there were forty street R.P.O. lines 
operating over 379 miles of route, on which 1 12 clerks sorted 
1,889,090 pieces of mail daily. The trundling little cars put in 
some 1,745,000 miles of travel annually and usually carried 
a boy to reset wire-jumping trolley poles and fix switches. 

As early as 1862 a patent was taken out for collecting and 
conveying mails to city post offices by "street railway cars" 
(horsecars), but no action was taken on the idea until about 
1890, when closed-pouch mails were first handled by trolley 
(on Minneapolis— St. Paul intercity lines, now Twin Cities 
Rapid Transit, and on the little Dunkirk k Fredonia Railway 
in New York State). In Germany trolleys reputedly carried 
pouch mail at Berlin as early as 1881. 

But in June 1891, Major J. B. Harlow-postmaster at St. 
Louis, Missouri— made a more detailed proposal: to use 
streetcars for delivery and collection of mails to and from 
postal stations, stores, offices, and carriers. The first trial runs 



R.P.O.'» ON THE TROLLEY TRAIL 237 

of this closed-pouch route were made in cars of the Lindell 
Avenue Electric Railway in either August or September, 
1891; it carried a motored car and trailer that was preceded 
by a bell-ringing passenger car to warn postal stations to pre- 
pare their mails. 

On March twenty-third, orthodox R.P.O. service had been 
authorized on the steam West End Narrow Gauge branch of 
the St. Louis Cable &; Western Railroad (later St. Louis Sub- 
urban Railway) out to suburban Florissant, Missouri. Called 
the St. Louis & Florissant R.P.O., this route was gradually 
electrified to become a trolley line (as the city grew rapidly 
in that direction) between October and December, 189L 
And in one month or the other— sources vary— the first trolley 
R.P.O. in America came into existence, making its inaugural 
run of two daily round trips under the same title as its steam 
predecessor, but serving the suburban post offices only. The 
18.1 -mile route averaged eighty-one miles' service daily event- 
ually; its first R.P.O. compartment occupied half of a thirty- 
four-foot, open-platform mail-express-milk car (St. Louis Car 
Company), with four windows and a long door on each side. 
It contained a canceling table, pouch rack, and letter case. 

AlthouQ;h some have denied that true mail distribution 
was performed on the line at this time, records show that 
some new twenty-eight-foot R.P.O. cars were introduced on 
December 5, 1892, and the round trips increased to three 
daily, arrangements being made to serve substations and com- 
mence "city" sorting. No cancels of the steam line are known. 

On February 3. 1893, the St. Louis & Florissant R.P.O. was 
established as our first real city "Street R.P.O.," it is true; 
for not until that date did clerks begin canceling, sorting, and 
exchanging city mails between stations en route. Most ex- 
perts agree that it was this line which first used the cancel 
"ST. LOUIS, MO., STREET R.P.O. No. 1" and a simi- 
larly worded flag; the oldest existing example of the postmark 
is dated }uly 4, 1893, and o\vned by John Snow. The new 
cars carried a daily average of 1,000 pounds of mail as com- 
pared with but 150 on the old steam route; the cars were 
mounted on huge diamond-truck wheels. 



238 MAIL BY RAIL 

In a dramatic test, mail from one substation was posted, 
sorted, transmitted, and delivered to a typical addressee with- 
in less than one hour— service such as intracity mailers can 
look for in vain today. A dozen other successful St. Louis 
routes were established soon afterward on many lines, which 
long outlived the Florissant route; the latter succumbed to 
closed-pouch service as early as 1904 and eventually became 
the St. Louis Public Service's Piodiant— Ferguson car line (on 
which buses were just recently substituted). 

The second route was the 14-mi. Grand Avenue Circuit, 
established May 16, 1896, and operated (after consolidation 
of the smaller companies) by the United Railways; and by 
the end of the year forty-seven R.P.O. and C.P. routes had 
been set up. Clerks collected mail from 288 special white- 
painted street boxes, served practically all city stations and 
eight suburban offices, and even exchanged mails with sixty- 
three carrier routes— permitting the carriers to use part of 
their letter cases to arrange their mail for delivery while the 
postmen rode out on the cars. Both carriers and clerks made 
up bags or pouches for many other street R.P.O.s and carrier 
routes, whether they were intersecting or not. The govern- 
ment paid the Railways four dollars per day per car, 
including the wages of the motorman and his conductor or 
trolley boy. A reporter from the St. Louis Republic, riding 
an inauguaral trip, noted that "the denizens of North St. 
Louis are much more given to letter writing" than those in 
the South End, and that "it may be that the good people of 
Carondelet . . . have not yet awakened to the fact that the . . . 
mail-collecting system [here] is the best in the world." The 
St. Louis lines were taken over by the R.M.S. shortly after 
the beginning, but were turned over to the local post office 
again in 1899, as were the routes in all other cities; most of 
the best-known St. Louis lines were established later, in 1904. 
But on November 15, 1915, the advent of motor mail trucks 
caused the scrapping of all that city's services; one car re- 
mained in use until very recently as a St. Louis P.S. rail- 
grinder, and is no preserved in the St. Louis Electric Railway 
Historical Society's outdoor museum. 



R.P.O.'s ON THE TROLLEY TRAIL 239 

Brooklyn— the second city to have streetcar R.P.O.s— had 
five routes on the Brooklyn City Railway and the Atlantic 
Avenue Railway; the first, ceremoniously opened August 8, 
1894, was the Brooklyn &: Coney Island R.P.O. Cars No. 1, 
5, and others served such longforgotten communities as West 
Brooklyn, Lessers Park, and Unionville, all long since ab- 
sorbed by the city. A combination R.P.O. -smoker, No. 101, 
went via Adams Street to Thirty-Sixth Street on Atlantic 
Avenue Railway tracks. All routes quit in 1914, including 
the main 12-mile Brooklyn Circuit R.P.O. 

Boston was next to install mail clerks on streetcars; five 
lines were introduced May 1, 1895, on the W^est End Street 
Railway (later Boston Elevated); two other routes followed. 
Steam R.P.O. lines were connected at all raihvay stations, 
and up to forty-fi\ e thousand letters were made up for carri- 
ers daily on one route. Six lines were day runs; but the 
longest, the Boston Circuit R.P.O., was a night rvm serving 
twenty-one stations on three round trips and covering most 
of the short-line routes. As it w-as the only line with sufficient 
time to cancel much mail, postmarks of the other routes- 
such as the 6.4-mile Boston & North Cambridge— are exceed- 
ingly rare. 

Fourth in line Avas Philadelphia, which opened its tw^elve- 
mile "H Sc P R.P.O." on the Peoples Passenger Railway on 
June 1, 1885, connecting Stations H and P; it was soon ex- 
tended to form the Phila. R: Germantown R.P.O., Inter the 
Phila. R: Chestnut Hill. The old G.P.O. at Ninth R: Market 
Streets installed special spur tracks for cars of the various 
street railway R.P.O.s, which soon increased to six or seven 
in number; one, the 5-mi. Phila. R: Darby, reached that suburb 
over one of the three streetcar routes contacting it. The three 
original Philadelphia cars were full R.P.O.s, -^vith storage 
stalls in one end and a 240-box letter case around all three 
sides of the other; a rack in the middle held twelve pouches. 
and a stamping table w^as opposite. Some routes operated 
over the Peoples' Traction (which used trailers). Union Trac- 
tion, and similar early systems; but all were soon consolidated 
as the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company, the present 



240 MAIL BY RAIL 

"P.T.C." In 1015 tills company built a handsome new car 
for the Ser\ ice, as ilhistrated herewith; dubbed ihe M-1, it 
was noted for its smooth lines and spacious interior. The 
appalHng disappointment of the P.R.T. can well be imagined 
when, just two months later, on October eleventh, the 
United States mail contract which expired on that date was 
not renewed. All R.P.O. service had to be discontinued on 
that date, and the proud M-1 was rebuilt as salt car L-12, 
which at last report still operates over P.T.C. tracks today. 
New York City, the fifth to install street railway post offices, 
oddly enough had only one route (unless the Brooklyn lines 
arc included). This was the very extensive, cable-operated 
Third Avenue R.P.O. (3rdAvRy), which began operation of 
its 1 2.1 -mile route with great fanfare on either September 27 
or 28, 1895, in the presence of high officials, reporters, and a 
huge crowd; the former \vere treated to refreshments at the 
Colonial Hotel on One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Street. 
The new route eliminated handling of 951 daily direct 
pouches over the steam elevated railway. Little white Brill 
cable trailers were used— the twenty-foot, single-truck, open- 
platform tvpe with three windows on each side and the letter- 
ing "UNITED STATES MAIL" vying for attention with 
two huge decorative circles. Later designated as the "Third 
Ave. Distributing Car," the route ran from the old main post 
office on Park Roav via the Bowery and Third Avenue to 
serve old Stations D, F, H, Y, L, |- and others up to Wash- 
ington Bridge, reaching the latter via 125th Street and Am- 
sterdam Avenue, to 190tli Street. Its eight cars were lettered 
"A," "B," "C," and so on, and were designed in Third Avenue 
Railway shops from a fidl-size partial model by J. H. Robert- 
son; they were loaded on sidings on Mail Street and pulled 
by horses to the cable tracks. With 380 letter-case boxes in 
each end, the little cars pouched on steam R.P.O.s and ad- 
vanced mails to the depots by t\vo hours and more; twenty-six 
clerks were used. Outmoded by the new pneumatic tubes 



•Now known as Cooper fZone $), Murray Hill (Ifi). Grand Central (17-22), 
Lenox Hill (21). Triborough (35), and Manhattanville (27) sutions, 
respectively. 



R.P.O.'s ON THE TROLLEY TRAIL 241 

and the electrified "el," the route gave up on September 28 
or 30, 1900. 

The sixth permanent system, one of the very largest and 
most interesting, was that of Chicago. The city had just trebled 
in size by absorbing suburban Lake View, Jefferson, Hyde 
Park, and Lake, Illinois (who remembers them?), with their 
factories and mail-order houses; and by 1895, Postmaster 
Washington Hessing had persuaded Gth Division Superin- 
tendent Lewis L. Troy, R.M.S., to experiment with specially 
built postal street cars on Madison Street as early as May 
twenty-fifth (before New York's first line). Aldermen tried 
to block the new scheme as one forbidding traction men to 
strike, but Mayor Swift issued special permits for each car. 
A Pullman Palace cable trailer. No. I, made the first run, 
leaving Madison and Rockwell Streets via the West Chicago 
Street Railroad amid much ceremony and speechmaking: 
"The poor man will be able to have his letter go . . . and be 
delivered as quickly as by special messenger!" But no mail 
was carried, clerks handled dummy pouches only in the cable 
train loaded with notables. Two other routes were "begun" 
simultaneously, but it was some days before even closed 
pouches were carried. 

Declared successful, the three runs were put into regular 
operation and mail sorting begun on November 11, 1895: 
postmarkers and official titles were supplied. Car No. 1, 
used on the Chicago R: Madison Street R.P.O. (five miles), 
was one of the most unusual in the country. It was a mail- 
passenger combination with a skylight in the fifteen-foot 
R.P.O. apartment, which contained a 176-box letter case. 
Later cars, of the overhead-trolley type, were full R.P.O. 
cars carrying up to three clerks; two were named the Wash- 
ington Hessing and John H. Hubbard, after the postmaster 
and his assistant; the white cars were richly decorated in gold. 
During strikes the postal cars were respectfully exempted 
from molestation, and traction companies began painting 
cars to match until postal heads stopped it. The two other 
pioneer routes were the Clark Street— Lincoln Avenue (later 
Chicago & North Clark Street) R.P.O. on tlie North Chicago 



242 MAIL BY RAIL 

Street Railroad (3.8 miles), and the Chicago Sc Milwaukee 
Avenue (8.8 miles). The cable lines were mostly electrified 
in 1889 and all routes taken over by the United Traction 
Company. (The "Chic. &" was later dropped from titles or 
changed to "Chic. 111.") 

There were eventually six lines, mostly of great length; 
one reached Evanston and another the American Corre- 
spondence School— which sometimes "stuck" some luckless 
trolley R.P.O. crew with seventy-five pouches of letters. A 
circuit R.P.O. setup, without special postmark, was started in 
1909 to serve fifteen stations, eleven of them directly, on an 
eventual twenty-five mile run. By that time postal cars were 
being barred from the city center because of traffic congestion, 
but until then all daytime R.P.O. cars met regularly in the 
Loop to exchange pouches, beginning at 5:30 A.M. daily and 
making sixteen hourly round trips. At least eight cars and 
thirty clerks were employed, as well as collectors and face-up 
men with carts to collect from boxes or deliver bulk mail to 
firms. From 60 to 420 pouches of mail were sorted in one 
day or night on some lines; one line handled 3,260 pouches 
(hauled or distributed) in one day in 1909. Clerks canceled 
and sorted the mail, then pouched (1) on all stations en route 
both ways, (2) on the opposite car of their route, (3) on the 
G.P.O., and (4) on steam R.P.O. lines at depots. But pneu- 
matic tubes and motor trucks doomed the s)stem; it folded, 
completely, on November 21, 1915. 

Chicago, however, saw the revival of one of its streetcar 
R.P.O.s tor one glorious day of renewed operations thirty-one 
years later, on August 23, 1946. It was to help celebrate the 
Diamond Jubilee of the American Philatelic Society, which 
includes some R.P.O.-postmark collectors. The Chicago Sur- 
face Lines brought out its one well-preserved R.P.O. car, 
renovated to its original condition at a cost of $10,000 (tor 
the subway-opening transit parade in 1943), and operated it 
once more from the Hamilton Hotel to the post office, 
manned with mail clerks. Bereft of modern motors, it was 
hauled by another car, and its special postmark of 



R.P.O.'8 ON THE TROLLEY TRAIL 245 

"CHICAGO. ILL./STREET CAR R.P.O." was given to 
thousands of addressed "covers." 

Cincinnati was the next city to have a trolley postal system, 
but only on one line: the 7.6-mile Walnut Hills & Brighton 
(CinStRy), begun November 11,1895. This R.P.O. was later 
retitled the "BRIGHTON CAR," using standard city flag 
cancels with that phrase in the "killer"; it served Brighton 
and other suburbs, operating a handsome four-wheel, open- 
platform car until 1915. 

The nation's capital then joined the parade with its 4.86- 
mile Pennsylvania Avenue R.P.O. (CTCo); a sixteen-foot ex- 
horsecar trailer was rebuilt for the first trip on December 23, 
1895, from the Georgetown carhouse to the Navy Yard. No 
"token" service, the initial run was swamped with huge bags 
of Christmas mail, which "were quickly sorted." Cars 
pouched on Georgetown, Central, and other stations as well 
as steam R.P.O. trains. This, too, was a cable line; and when 
its powerhouse burned, the company operated our only 
known horsccar R.P.O. from September 30, 1897, to April 
1898. The R.M.S. chief clerk, G. Car, selected A. B. Carter 
and D. J. Bartello as the first trolley R.P.O. clerks there, and 
their names, together with that of J. P. Connolly of New 
York's Third Avenue R.P.O. (later a writer), are alone en- 
shrined in our public records of known clerks who pioneered 
in this remarkable field. Permanent cars numbered 1 and 2, 
and lettered "UNITED STATES RAILWAY MAIL SERV- 
ICE" in red and gold, were introduced later; they sorted an 
average of 162 letter packages, 22 sacks, and 128 pouches 
daily. The route, as well as two short-lived lines begun later, 
was converted to conduit trolley operation long before final 
discontinuance in 1913. At last report one car was still used 
by Capital Transit as a yard tool shed. 

San Francisco fell in line in 1896, with three lines begun 
simuhancously on September tTventy-eio;hth; the main one, 
a cable route, beinir the four-mile Market Street or Market 
Street k San Francisco R.P.O. (MktStRy), operating from the 
Ferry Station to Stanyan Street. Service on all lines quit 
September 4, 1905, but cars continued in closed-pouch serv- 



244 MAIL BY RAIL 

ice, and one was caught in the street by the 1906 earthquake 
and fire. Rochester, New York, installed its East Side and 
West Side R.P.O.s (Rochester Electric Railway) in 1896 over 
15.3 miles of route; later they were retitled "Car Collection 
Service B" and "C," and cars lettered accordingly, and quit 
about 1908. The Baltimore system was to follow next. 

In 1898, Pittsburgh's lone route was added to the list of 
street R.P.O.'s; its 12.4-mile Fifth k Penn Avenue Circuit 
R.P.O. (PghRys) began operating that year on Valentine's 
Day. It was discontinued in 1917, after being retitled simply 
as the "Street Car" or "Street" R.P.O. ; a Duquesne Traction 
Company route to the East End, likewise planned to carry 
clerks, remained a C.P. No more cities were equipped until 
Seattle inaugurated its oddly titled Seattle k Seattle R.P.O. 
(SMuRy); this loop used Car "A" mostly, and quit in 1913. 
The next to last city to install street R.P.O.s was Cleveland; 
its Cleveland Circuit R.P.O. (CERy) was introduced on Car 
0204 on an experimental basis March 1, 1908. Placed in 
regular service April third, it operated until about 1920. Last 
of all was Omaha, introducing five lines (July 1, 1910-March 
10, 1921) using "white tram cars," including the 5-mile Omaha 
& Benson and the Union Depot & Stockyards R.P.O.s 
(ORrCBStRy). Cancels are very rare. In contracting for ser- 
vice, the government cautioned that its clerk could not be 
compelled to act as trolley boy, as the company had hoped! 

Most remarkable, however, was the splendid set-up used in 
Baltimore, a highly-efficient example of a city-distribution sys- 
tem never yet quite duplicated by modern methods. Its three 
main lines were opened May 29, 1897, using sixteen-foot, 
single-truck rebuilt passenger cars— the Towson & Catonsville, 
Arlington 8: South Baltimore (to Fairfield), and Roland Park & 
St. Helena R.P.O.s (City&Sub-BaltTrac). The white cars had 
blue and gold decorations and circular dark-glass monograms 
reading "U.S.M." In the light-oak-finished interiors busy 
clerks sorted an average 120 pouches and 56 sacks of mail 
daily, at a cost of about $34,000 annually. A photo of Car 220 
shows a wire cowcatcher in front of the open-front platform, 
and the proud lettering "UNITED STATES RAILWAY 



R.P.O.'s ON THE TROLLEY TRAIL 245 

POST OFFICE" (different from Washington's) on the side. 
The traction companies consolidated as tiie United Railway 
& Electric (now Baltimore Transit), which built six new cars 
to Post OfRce Department specifications in 1903— twenty-six 
feet long and weighing 18,691 pounds. At least fifteen clerks 
were employed, up to three on each car; eleven carrier sta- 
tions and twenty-four substations were pouched on, as well 
as steam R.P.O.s at depots as elsewhere. 

Not only were both local and express R.P.O. cars (with 
appropriate signs) operated— the Baltimore cars even made 
"catches on the fly"! It was done by the clerk leaping out as 
the car slo^ved, emptying the collection box, and catching up 
to his R.P.O. "with lightning rapidity." In 1910 the Arl. 
& S. Bait, was renamed the Bait, k Arlington, and the 
Roland Park &: St. Helena, no longer reaching that suburb 
near Dundalk, was curtailed as the Rol. Park R: Highland- 
to^vn. But the ToAvson 8: Catonsville tapped far suburbs at 
both ends, even reaching Ellicott City, miles beyond Caton- 
ville (possibly by closed-pouch extension). Cars converged 
upon the main post office daily at 5 A.M., where the clerks 
would unlock them and begin runs lasting until midnight. 
The lines became a Baltimore institution; residents timed 
their sleep by the cars' passage, and tourists gaped at the 
only such installation in America after World War I. But 
by the late 1920s s^varming traffic had sleeved the little old 
cars intolerably; speedy motor trucks offered ser\'ice so fast 
as to overcome both the advantages of distribution in transit 
and the lightninglike collections while traveling. 

Thus it was that on November 5, 1929, Second Assistant 
Postmaster General Smith Purdtim— himself a veteran Mary- 
land R.M.S. man— regretfullv signed an order terminating 
the last street-railway post offices in the United States. And 
on November ninth, just twenty short years ago, the final 
trip of all was made over ihe old "Tows. R: Catons." Before 
the end of the month the cars had been broken up for scrap. 
Todav Baltimore Transit's speedy streamlined passenq;er 
trolleys still ply over the tracks from Towson to Catonsville, 
but they arrived too late for restoration of the unique 



246 MAIL BY RAIL 

R.P.O. to be considered, though the once-speedy mail trucks 
which doomed it are in turn often slowed in today's choked 
traffic. 

Although the doom of the city lines had been foreshad- 
owed as early as 1899 (General Superintendent White, though 
very hopeful for them, pointed out how the shortness of 
routes and many petty disruptions prevented efficient or 
complete distribution) there Avere numerous other suburban 
and interurban trolley R.P.O. routes which survived far 
longer. All have now been discontinued— largely because the 
entire interurban line quit; but on the other hand, city 
streetcars still carry passengers (and in some cases pouch 
mail) over quite a few of the former city R.P.O. routes. 

Two of our most picturesque interurban R.P.O.s were 
on the Indiana Railroad, a farflimg traction system consoli- 
dating most of the earlier long-distance trolley companies of 
Indiana. One route, the seventy-six-mile Peru S: Indianapo- 
lis, operated for only three years (September 2, 1935— Sep- 
tember 10, 1938); like its companion route, it was part of the 
vast interurban trolley network of yesterday by which one 
could travel on connecting cars from central New York State 
clear to the heart of Wisconsin or down into Kentucky. 
This R.P.O. operated a fifteen-foot mail apartment in one 
passenger car on daily round trips. Its service, extended to 
South Bend, was revived in H.P.O. form in 1941 (Chap. 16). 
The other route, the eighty-six mile Fort Wayne k New 
Castle (IRR), was one of the most interesting of all trolley 
R.P.O. runs. It served fifteen post offices directly, and many 
others through these; a one-man run (two weeks on and one 
off), it was supplied by substitutes the third week. It began 
operation on September 2, 1935, as the Waterloo & Dunreith, 
to replace R.P.O. runs which competing steam roads had 
given up; its route had been consolidated from four connect- 
ing trolley systems (the FtWRrNW, FtWR:N, UTI, and 
THR-E). The extensions to Waterloo and to Dunreith were 
dropped in 1937. It used a fifty-ton car even longer than a 
coach (sixty-one feet), although separated by bulkheads into 
passenger, motorman's, and R.P.O. (fifteen-foot) compart- 



R.P.O.'s ON THE TROLLEY TRAIL 247 

ments, connected by two-foot creep doors. Bob Richardson 
has given a tlirilling account of a typical winter run of this 
R.P.O. which sliould be perused by every reader of these 
words^— he describes the dark bulk of Car 376 looming beside 
Fort Wayne's "one bright spot" (the interurban station) at 5 
A.M. . . . the huge pile of pouches loaded into the R.P.O. 
. . . the screeching of wheels on frozen s\vitches . . . tearing at 
65 mph through snow-covered helds . . . breakneck exchanges 
with mail messengers at way stops . . . freezing canceling ink 
. . . througli Bluffton and iMuncie, America's book-renowned 
"Middletown" . . . the clerk, in crushed hat and sweater- 
overalls combination, scooting through the "doghouse door" 
to chin with the conductor . . . coasting downgrade into New 
Castle to the courthouse at 8 A.AL 

So heavy was the R.P.O.'s "business" that even the vesti- 
bules and passenger seats had to be filled with overflow mail- 
bags. But the bus-minded Indiana Railroad was determined 
to scrap all of its safe and commodious trolley service, even 
knowing the new buses could never equal its speed. And on 
January 18, 1941, the faithful R.P.O. made its last run— north 
out of New Castle, ^^•ith little publicity; only seven hundred 
collectors' covers were handled, the motorman getting the 
last one (at Fort Wayne). People came to watch the car at 
every crossroads, and village postmasters brought their last 
pouches to the car ^\'ilh unashamed tears in their eyes. Sold 
to Chicago's South Shore Line, Car 376 was rebuilt as their 
present Line Car 1101. The new Fort Wayne Sc Indianapolis 
H.P.O. restored service to the route January 17, 1949. 

Two famous old routes were begun about 1910 on the 
Great Northern's "Inland Empire" interurban division— the 
ninety-mile Spokane R: Moscow (from Washington State to 
Idaho's "Psychiana" headquarters) and the thirty-two-mile 
Coeurd'AleneR: Spokane (Ida.-Wash.; both SCd'A&P). The 
heavy, exclusively mail-express-baggage interurbans were 
given up in April 1939, on the Moscow route and on the 
other by the next year or so. Called "The Greenacres," this 



•"Indiana's Trolley Car P.O.," Linn's Weekly, Sidney, Ohio, March 9, 1940. 



248 MAIL BY RAIL 

run to Coeur d'Alene (the only R.P.O. with an apostrophied 
title) was one of two known trolley R.P.O.s to have inspired 
poetic publication! Substittite Adrian B. Dodge describes its 
story in the Raihuay Post Office, soon alter discontinuance; 
proud of his little office "fifteen feet troin stem to stern," he 
nevertheless recalls one startling crash when the trolley pole 
got caught and jammed into the root: 

... It gives the clerk a might queer feeling 

As it pokes its way through the express-car ccilingi 

The other trolley R.P.O. to have brought forth published 
verses in its memory was the grand old Greenfield & Spring- 
field (Northhampton St. Ry.— Conn. Val.) in Massachusetts. 
In the absence of an early-morning steam train for upvalley 
points, this service was begun at the insistence of Postmaster 
Cambell of Northampton and leading newspapers. It used 
Car 500, a forty-one-foot Watson Car Works model with 
ornate gilt striping and lettering, two large sliding doors, 
and mail slots. Officials riding the inaugural run in August 
1901 pronounced it a great success; the forty-three-mile route 
served Northampton and Holyoke en route, with alternate 
runs via West Springfield and via Chicopee Falls. Robert T. 
Simpson was the one-man run's first clerk; and, probably 
alone of all interurban R.P.O.s, it worked Springfield and 
Northampton city mail. Cars delivered newspapers direct to 
newsdealers and exchanged pouches by "matching doors" at 
sidings. The clerk must have changed cars at Northampton, 
for No. 150 of the Connecticut Valley Street Railway (mail- 
passenger combination) was used north of there. Pouches for 
Hatfield, Massachusetts, were flung directly on the doorstep 
of the house containing the post office, reported Clerk 
William B. Quilty, at night— until he was finally furnished 
with a key to "steal inside with it like a burglar." 

Tearing along at 50 to 60 mph, the cars were scheduled 
an hour faster than passenger runs— and were known to pitch 
ne\v subs headfirst into some open mail sack in the rack. 
Others suffered acutely from car sickness; but not even the 
worst blizzard ever stopped the service. Cars connected with 



R.P.O.'s ON THE TROLLEY TRAIL 249 

the old Williamsburg &: Northampton R.P.O. (North. St. Ry), 
which began operating much earlier on July 5, 1895; this 
branch to "Burghy" used a small, boxlike full R.P.O. car, 
No. 38. The poem which immortalized the line, Phil Bolger's 
Flight of the Green & Spring, was published in a leading 
Springfield newspaper— an excerpt from it is at the head of 
this chapter. The route folded up in 1924. 

Also in New England was the Camden R: Rockland in 
Maine, on the Knox County Electric (or RT8:C). Contro- 
versy still rages as to whether this short roadside line was a 
streetcar or interurban R.P.O.; it operated for eight miles 
out from the M.C. station in Rockland until the early 1930s, 
thus being claimed by the pro-streetcar group as being really 
our last street-R.P.O. route (instead of the Towson R: Caton- 
ville). But the line seemed truly "interurban" in character- 
defined as connecting two sizable towns separated by open 
country— and is so classed by this writer and other collectors. 
Its car, No. 18, began operation about 1893. 

A similar borderline case was at the nation's other extreme. 
The old Haywards & Oakland traversed 14.9 miles of built- 
up territory, largely street trackage, ever the Alameda Coun- 
ty Electric (OSLJIH) via Oakland streets to Fruitvale, San 
Leandro, and Haywards, California, in three daily 1 14-hour 
trips. Operated from January 1, 1902, to March 31, 1920, it 
was part of a co-ordinated mail and express system including 
a C.P. branch to San Lorenzo and dubbed the "f^ay R: Oak." 

A most interesting run was the old thirty-mile Doylestown 
& Easton (Phila. R: Easton Elec.) in Pennsylvania, which oper- 
ated two deck-roofed, double-truck, mail-passenger cars with 
"ELECTRIC POST OFFICE" stenciled on the R.P.O. 
apartment. This short-lived, mistitled run (for Easton is 
north of Doylestown) ran only from 1904 to April 1, 1908. 
The two hour run connected at Doylestown with two laps of 
C.P. trolley service to Willow Grove and Olney, Philadelphia, 
where city streetcar R.P.O.s provided connection to the 
G.P.O. Oddly enough, only the short Willow Grove— Phila- 
delphia segment of this trolley route is still operating; Avhile 
practically all of the much longer Philadelphia— Norristown 



250 MAIL BY RAIL 

— Allentown— Easton route of Lehigh Valley Transit was still 
running passenger trolleys in 1950. Both lines carried C.P. 
mails until very recently. 

A unique combination trolley-and-boat run operated in 
California until 1938— the Calistoga & San Francisco R.P.O. 
(SFRrNV), or "Cal &: Val," it having operated only to Vallejo 
Junction for a period. A steel mail-apartment car was used 
on its forty-one-mile route from Calistoga to North Vallejo 
(or South Vallejo), with connecting service via the ferry El 
Capifan* the rest of the way, most of the sorting being done 
thereon. The Go-Back Pouch tells of an old-time clerk-in- 
charge who was once suspended for one day without pay 
on this run, for some minor infraction of rules. By mistake 
the office suspended him on a day he was due to work, in- 
stead of withdrawing pay for a layoff day (as was customary 
on one-man runs); he took to the hills for a vacation and 
could not be found, so mails piled up in the trolley and boat 
all that day with no clerk to work them! (The same thing 
once happened on the Phila. 8: Norfolk (PRR), another 
part-boat run, when the whole crew missed their train when 
swimming on a layover.) In Michigan the Pt. Huron, Ma- 
rine City 8: Det. (DURy) connected at least one independent 
boat R.P.O. similarly. 

Best known of all interurban trolley R.P.O. s were prob- 
ably the two recently discontinued ones which survived until 
1948. Most unique of all '^vas the Los Angeles R: San Pedro 
(PE), a trolley loop route with botJi terminal points inside the 
same city's limits— Los Angeles, which includes the independ- 
ent post office of San Pedro (exactly as in the 'Tar Rockaway" 
case). Service was by the big red cars mentioned earlier, 
operating up to three Ss^-hour trips each weekday in both 
directions around the 29.6-mile route. This strange R.P.O. 
hauled vast quantities of mail to the Los Angeles Harbor at 
San Pedro— one load brought down to the S.S. President was 
the largest ever shipped out over the Pacific. It operated from 
July 1, 1922, to June 22, 1948, over the spruce four-tracked, 



♦Ferry link discontinued Sept. 12, 1937. 



R.P.O.'s ON THE TROLLEY TRAIL 251 

rapid-transit right-of-way south to Watts and around the 
double-tracked loop via Long Beach, Gardena, and other sub- 
urbs outside the city; two H.P.O.s, one of the same name, took 
over upon discontinuance. The trolleys still operate as the 
L.A. R: San Pedro C.P. 

The other route, our second most recently discontinued 
one, was the interesting Denison Sc Dallas on a long Texas 
Electric interurban route, 76.4 miles. Three handsome big, 
arch-windowed "Bluebonnet" cars contained the ten- and 
fifteen-foot R.P.O. apartments used on this northeast Texas 
run. Most cars used only the lettering "R.P.O." not spelled 
out; two daily three-hour, one-man trips were operated. Its 
end hastened by a collision between two cars (injuring a 
transfer clerk), the entire Texas Electric system was discon- 
tinued December 31, 1948; some months later the Denison 
& Dallas H.P.O. took over the resulting star-route service. 
In contrast to this railroad-enforced discontinuance of serv- 
ice, the L. A. Sc San Pedro was taken off strictly at depart- 
mental option; frequent passenger and freight service con- 
tinues over its main routes to the beach area. 

The second of the two "Beach Lines" was the compan- 
ion loop route of the L.A. k San Pedro— the Los Angeles & 
Redondo Beach (PE), It measured 19.3 miles via Beverly 
Hills, at which place it dispatched many movie stars* mail, 
and 14.8 miles via Culver City. From 1941 to 1947, when it 
was discontinued, the R.P.O.'s outer terminus was at Venice, 
(within the Los Angeles limits), thus constituting still a third 
electric R.P.O. with both termini inside one city; it operated 
largely over tracks without passenger service. Another 
unusual route was Ohio's Toledo &: Pioneer (T&W), with 
daily service on R.P.O. Car 52; it returned halfway, each day, 
as far as Aliens junction to connect a closed-pouch trolley 
for Adrian, Michigan, and then went back to Pioneer to pick 
up the evening mail for way points and Toledo. There were 
dozens of other similar long-abandoned interurban R.P.O.s; 
some, however, like the Baltimore Sc Annapolis (\VBR:A) in 
Maryland, carried busy passenger and C.P. mail service for 
decades after the R.P.O. ceased (about 1910). Operated well 



252 MAIL BY RAIL 

into 1950 as ihe B. X: A. electric, the latter carried all mail 
for Annapolis and points south until 1948, and much there- 
after. The New Bed, R; Providence (UnionSt.Ry, Mass. -R.I.) 
used No. 34, a unique ex-horsecar with one electric truck, on 
a run once reaching Onset; the car is still preserved on a 
"rail-fan" line. 

Besides the closed-pouch lines, we must mention the drop- 
letter mailboxes which were carried on Buffalo, Knoxville, 
and Grand Rapids trolleys (as well as in Des Moines and 
Burlington, Iowa, and elsewhere). In 1930 mail was being 
carried on seven thousand miles of route by 220 traction com- 
panies at a cost of $028,000, and even in 1948 there were still 
1,297 miles of such route being operated by forty-two com- 
panies. In both Canada and the United States, R.P.O. clerks 
have been assigned to ride trolley C.P. routes to guard the 
mails, as on the old Coytesville & Hoboken C.P. (PSRy) in 
New jersey. 

In closing, we can but barely mention such long-aband- 
oned trolley R.P.O.s as the Annapolis Jet. & Annapolis, Md. 
(VVB&A); the Beaver Fls. k Rochester (or Vanport— BVT) and 
Bristol & Doylestown (BCElec) at opposite ends of Pennsyl- 
vania; lines from Cleveland to Garrettsville, Middlefield, 
Painesville (Fairport), and Wellington, Ohio; Dallas &: Cor- 
sicana, Tex. (TE); Exeter &: Amesbury, N.H.-Mass. (EH&A); 
Ft. Dodge R: Des Moines, Iowa (FtDDMJlS, still CP elec); 
Georgetown (Hammerville) & Cincinnati, Ohio (GPRrC); 
Herk. R: Oneonta, N.Y. (SNYRy), now HPO; numerous lines 
out of Los Angeles on the P.E.; Pen Van Sc Branchport, N. Y. 
(PYR;LS); Peoria, Line. &: Springf., III. (ITS, now elec. CP); 
Phila., Newf. & Atl. City, N.J. (WJRrSS); Portland &: Corvallis, 
Ore. (PERrP-SP or OE), now H.P.O., plus lines to Cazadero 
and Whiteson; Providence k Fall River, R.I. -Mass. (NBSR- 
USiRy); Wareham R; Fall River, Mass. (FRR:NB?), and the 
York Beach R: Portsmouth, R.I. -Mass. (SERy). 

Regarding the Los Angeles lines, at least four or five of 
them (or their connections) are still operated as busy trolley 
C.P. routes; and until May 28, 1950, most of them centered 
at a unique interurban electric terminal, the only one of its 



R.P.O.'s ON THE TROLLEY TRAIL 253 

kind— the Pacific Electric Terminal, P.T.S., in the traction 
depot at Sixth and Main. It pouched on nearly 100 subur- 
ban offices by trolley and on all outgoing R.P.O.s including 
the electric ones; but its work was taken over by the Term- 
inal Annex, Los Angeles P.O., on May twenty-ninth. Hence 
even today, Los Angeles— the motors of whose last trolley 
R.P.O. are hardly yet cool— most nearly symbolizes the his- 
toric "age that is past" of our forgotten railway mail traction 
lines, with its white-and-gold city streetcars which only this 
great metropolis (and Detroit) never had. 



Chapter 13 



CANCELS AND CAR PHOTOS: THE 
"R.P.O. HOBBY" 



I really like that run I'm on, it's usually just "tops"; 

But when the train-mail bags come down, it's "Slim, come hit 

these 'drops'." 
And scores of jumbled letters in each frequent, bulging pouch 
Must needs be canceled clear and clean, as o'er the pile I crouch; 
For bids with "date illegible" may bring us legal woes— 
And smudgy markings mean we've R.P.O. "fans" as our foes! 

- B.A.L. 




—Courtesy Postal 
Markings 



Railway Post Ofiice operations, long a 
topic of mystery or fascination to many, 
have in one short decade become the 
subject matter of a popular new hobby 
now sweeping over the English-speaking 
world. For many years before, there had 
been a scattered few such hobbyists 
(mostly philatelists who liked postal 
markings or history as much as stamps); 
but now himdreds of other collectors, rail 
fans, and even railway mail clerks themselves are joining in 
the fun. Collectors long ago became curious about those odd 
postmarks, with no hint of a state name, reading "FLAX. & 
WHITE./R.P.O." (a MStPR.SSteM short line into Montana) 
and so on. They soon ferreted oiu lists of such lines and 
learned that by mailing a self-addressed stamped envelope 
inside a larger cover addressed, for example, "Clerk-in- 
Charge on Duty, Flax. & Whitetail R.P.O. , via Flaxton, 

254 



THE "R.P.O. HOBBY" 255 

N. Dak.," one could obtain most current R.P.O. postmarks. 
(The title of the nearest R.P.O. or H.P.O. serving any to^vn 
can be obtained from the post office, or proper Division office- 
see Chapter 3, footnote.) 

A few ran into trouble with overzealous inspectors, who 
questioned the right of clerks to cancel such covers (in 
Canada they cannot); but careful study of the P. L. Sc R. 
passages covering that subject reveals that only the placing 
of extra marks or endorsements thereon, by the clerk, is pro- 
hibited. As leading collectors expanded their researches, 
many wrote articles dealing with the more unusual R.P.O. 
routes— operations as well as postmarks— which were pub- 
lished in philatelic journals along with check lists of lines. 

About 1928, when such literature was becoming increas- 
ingly noticeable in stamp journals, a Glasgow collector named 
James H. Tierney ^vas \valking through the Central Railway 
Station there one evening— but, like most Scottish collectors, 
he then knew nothing of railway post offices. Noticing a 
train with the wording "ROYAL MAIL" and a red letter 
box on the side, he stopped to investigate. He learned that 
letters could be posted therein if prepaid with an extra half- 
penny stamp, and that they would be handled in the 
"traveling post office" which occupied the car. He dropped 
in an envelope addressed to himself and eagerly awaited the 
postman next morning— who duly brought him his first Brit- 
ish R.P.O. postmark. That not only started Tierney's inten- 
sive interest in collecting railway mail cancels, photos, and 
information (to the extent of eight albums)— it also provided 
the impetus for establishing the first and only general society 
of R.P.O. "fans" anywhere, even todayl 

Tierney contacted several like-minded philatelists during 
the next ten years and wrote many articles on the "T.P.O.s"; 
and on January 6, 1938, he and they organized the "Trav- 
elling Post Office Society" in commemoration of the British 
railway mail services, then exactly one hundred years old. 
Norman Hill, an English school instructor in Rotherham, 
was chosen secretary, and they soon began to circulate by 
mail, scrapbook "bulletins" of news clippings, postmarks, 



256 MAIL BY RAIL 

and general information among all members. Scores of mem- 
bers, from tiie United States and elsewhere as well as in 
Britain, were gradually admitted under the very high re- 
quirements for eligibility. But the membership consisted 
entirely of R. P.O. -minded philatelists and included no British 
railway mail clerks. 

While Britain is thus credited with organizing the new 
hobby's first society, America brought forth its first journal. 
This was Transit Postmark, founded at Jackson Heights, 
New York City, in July 1942, and now published at Ral- 
eigh, Tennessee.' Its founder, railway mail clerk William 
Koelln, had a herculean task on his hands, for not even a 
list of R.P.O. fans was in existence at the time. Nevertheless, 
his first issue was in sixteen pages of neat offset printing. It 
featured the first installment of Koelln's pet project: a col- 
lossal proposed list of all the R.P.O. titles and variations ever 
used. Primarily philatelic. Transit Postmark nevertheless 
featured articles on unusual R.P.O. operations, history, and 
service changes from the start. Publicity in other stamp jour- 
nals printing occasional R.P.O. articles or columns— such as 
Cancellations, Linn's Weekly, and others— helped to get sub- 
scribers. Some interested railway mail clerks also joined in 
supporting and subscribing to the project, with L. N. Van- 
divier, of the Indpls. & Louisville (PRR) , becoming assist- 
ant editor and taking over the Koelln list project. 

Ben L. Cash, retired from the Omaha & Kan. City 
(MoPac), and a leading R.P.O. collector and writer for years, 
pitched in to help, as did many others. In 1941 and 1942 
attempts to organize an R.P.O. society were made by Dick 
Bush of Schenectady, New York, L. E. Dequine of Long 
Branch, New Jersey, and others. But Koelln persuaded most 
enthusiasts to join the Postal Cancellations Society (then the 
"I.P.S.S.") instead. Both the Rnilumy Post Office and Linn's 
published articles in praise of Transit Postmark's appear- 
ance and of its contents, however, the former describing it 
as "a publication of value and interest." Both journals re- 



'Edited by H. E. Rankin, Box 152, Raleigh, Tenn.; $1 a year. 



THE "R.P.O. HOBBY" 257 

printed a paragraph from it which advocated collecting 
R.P.O. cancellations as "a hobby in reach of all; if time is 
limited, collect only certain states, a division . . . if cash, col- 
lect only current markings . . . had for next to nothing." 

Koelln, a clerk in the Penn Station Transfer Office in 
New York, accomplished some of the most intensive railway 
mail research work on record in his insatiable quest for facts 
and data on every R.P.O. run in history. He soon published 
the first complete list of all operating R.P.O.s (Department- 
al lists consist of abbreviations only, and omit some runs). 
And yet he found time to be an active R.M.A. and M.B.A. 
officer, attending many conventions, and meanwhile writing 
for other publications and building up his huge collection 
of covers, schedules, and R.P.O. miscellany. Victimized by 
a dread disease, he had to give up Transit Postmark after 
issuing its delayed February 1944 number; mourned by all 
who kncAV him, he passed a^vay in March 1945. (His untimely 
death followed shortly that of his warm supporter, Rnilway 
Post Office Editor Henry Strickland, and just preceded that 
of Carroll Frost, an ardent R.P.O. collector and contributor, 
of the N.Y. Sc Wash.— a triple blow to the hobby.) 

Suspended for two years. Transit Postmark was revived in 
January 1946 by Stephen Hulse of Glenshaw, Pennsylvania, 
R.P.O. column editor of Linn's and Cancellations, assisted by 
Vandivier and this writer. R.P.O. -minded rail fans were re- 
cruited from the ranks of railroad hobbyists for the first 
time. In November 1947 another mail clerk — Hershel 
Rankin of the Memphis k New Orleans (IC)— took over as 
editor and has issued it since then. Some printed pages, 
photographs, and specialized lists have been added to the 
publication, now supported by more R.P.O. fans than ever. 

In direct contrast to the situation in America, the R.P.O. 
hobbyists of Britain (although long in touch with United 
States "fans") were completely out of touch with the actual 
sorting clerks on British lines until December 1946. In that 
year the British sorters' union corresponding to our N.P.T.A. 
began to issue its small clerks' journal called the Traveller. 
Through contacts made with a United States clerk who 



258 MAIL BY RAIL 

served in our Army in England, copies were exchanged with 
the New York Branch's Open Pouch, and this fact was men- 
tioned later in the Raihuny Post Office. Transit Postmark's 
newest associate editor, another railway mail clerk, saw the 
notice and undertook to bring the two English groups into 
contact in his capacity as a United States member of the 
T.P.O. R: Seapost Society (as it had now become). Subscrib- 
ing to the Traveller, he was able to insert a notice about the 
society therein— and British clerks learned for the first time 
that some Englishmen had railway mail operations for their 
hobby! Several interested British sorters joined at once, con- 
tacting United States clerks and hobbyists also in the process. 
As Secretary Hill of the society learned of the "T.P.O. 
sorters' " union and journal for the first time, he immediately 
contacted Editor Ron Smith of the Traveller (who had just 
joined the society); and many enthusiasts on both sides of 
the Atlantic subscribed to the little joinnal. So ended a 
"double surprise" in which news of each development had to 
cross the Atlantic twice! 

During the very next month (January 1947) the T.P.O. 
& Seapost Society issued the first copy of its own ne^v bi- 
monthly journal, T.P.O., featuring a pictorial cut (by courtesy 
of the Traveller.) This interesting little journal contains ex- 
cellently reproduced postmark illustrations and photos of 
R.P.O. equipment and operations as well— for the society 
now welcomes non-philatelic R.P.O. fans in addition to col- 
lectors. Society membership doubled within little over a 
year, resulting in the formation of a new American R.P.O. 
Section of the group late in October 1948, which was formal- 
ly organized in January 1949 to cater to the many new United 
States members. Eventually, on July first, it became techni- 
cally an independent affiliate of the parent body. 

Popularly known as "AMERPO" for short, the American 
Section and the Headquarters Section in Britain are still 
closely linked in a fraternal sense to form one international 
brotherhood of R.P.O. and H.P.O. enthusiasts— the Travel- 
ing Post Office and Seapost Society, still the only such group 
in the world. Dick Bush, of whom we have heard, was elected 



THE "R.P.O. HOBBY" 259 

secretary,^ and L. O. Ackerman, president. In 1950 the Na- 
tional H.P.O. Society was organized (for H.P.O. postmark 
collectors only) by V. J. Geary, J. S. Bath, and H. E. High- 
tower; it publishes a monthly, H.P.O. Notes.' (Note 22.) 

Spearheaded now by both "AMERPO" and Tramit Post- 
mark, the hobby is at present gaining headway in America 
with increasing momentum. The Section Supplement, 
AMERPO's own newssheet, appeared in July 1949, and at- 
tractive membership cards are furnished, while the journal 
T.P.O. is duplicated and mailed both in Britain and America. 
A printed journal, the R.P.O.-H.P.O. Magazine, is planned 
for 1951 by Michael Jarosak, former managing editor of 
Transit Postmark (Note 22). The rise of the hobby has been 
a source of particular amazement. to the average railway mail 
clerk, who considers that his occupation is just one more little- 
known job and nothing to get excited about. 

The collection of R. P.O. -canceled covers, and sometimes 
of photos of the trains or cars invoked, is still the backbone 
of the hobby's activities. Both can be mounted in albums, 
and the photos usually are; but the largest cover collections 
can be filed only in boxes or drawers. As we know, Koelln 
and Cash had two of the largest cover collections; leading 
collectors of today include Hulse, Vandivier, Rankin, jaro- 
sak, Dequine (all mentioned earlier) and many others- 
such as Elliott B. Holton of Irvington, New Jersey (author 
of the former column "Our Vanishing R.P.O.s" and other 
philatelic writings), and X. C. Vickrey of Chicago, not to men- 
tion eminent specialists spoken of later. Postal Markings, 
an offset-printed periodical, featured hundreds of R.P.O. 
articles and postmark illustrations while edited by W. Stew- 
art of Chicago and by Stephen G. Rich of Verona. N. J., 
himself an authority on many R.P.O. markings, and hence 
has been one of the most helpful publications for all rail- 
road-cover collectors. 



*The secretary is located at Brandywine Box 96, Schenectady 4, New York; 
membership is presently fifty cents per year for accepted applicants. 

"Address Secretary, Box 342, Dayton I, Ohio; about $1.50 a year. 



260 MAIL BY RAIL 

Thus, Richard S. Clover, a leading collector and writer, 
once listed four distinct variations of our single current 
standard R.P.O. postmark in that publication. In general, 
hou'ever, this standardized cancel applied on R.P.O. trains 
consists of a single circle about I'/^q inches in diameter 
(variations from 28 to 31 millimeters), containing the word- 
ings, plus an elliptical or lens-sect bar-killer for canceling the 
stamp. The killers of all postmarkers made before November 
1, 1949, contain the letters "RMS" (in new ones made since, 
"PTS"). Three removable slug lines are provided for train 
number, month and day, and year; the letters "R.P.O." are at 
the bottom. All steam and electric R.P.O.s, as well as some 
boat lines, use this type cancel. 

Standard (not First Day) Highway Post Office cancels are 
identical, except that "H.P.O." is substituted for "R.P.O." 
and the letters "RMS" in the killer omitted (from the very 
start— in anticipation of a future title change); periods are 
also often omitted from abbreviated H.P.O. names, and 
^vhen not abbreviated the state or states of its location are 
often included. For example: (1) "BALT R: WASH/HPO" 
and (2) "WASHINGTON, D. C, R: HARRISONBURG, 
VA. /H.P.O." New H.P.O. killers, however, read "PTS." 

R.P.O. line titles change frequently as runs are shortened, 
lengthened, or rerouted; the old Reforin k Mobile (ATRrN) 
in Alabama was once designated, at least in part, by nine 
different earlier titles. Therefore there are thousands of old 
titles to collect, as well as numerous "varieties" of wording 
and design— official abbreviations are seldom used. Some col- 
lectors specialize in narrow-gauge and old boat routes or vari- 
ous nineteenth-century markings. 

True R.P.O. markings of the past century reveal a rich 
variety of sizes and types. From 1875 to 1905 many extra 
wordings, such as "FAST MAIL," "LIMITED MAIL" (with 
handsome target-style killer), "BALTO.MD.," are found in- 
serted in R.P.O. cancels, as well as the clerk's name in some 
cases. The most recent known example of the latter was the 
postmarker used by Wilson Davenport of the St. Lou. & 
Little Rock (MoPac); he had a private elliptical killer at- 



THE "R.P.O. HOBBY" 261 

tached to it, tipped vertically to contain his name and a star 
in the center, and his postmark impressions are collectors' 
items today. (Davenport, mentioned earlier, has been a 
N.P.T.A. officer or national delegate since 1904 and is still 
active in "retirement" with his St. Louis postal-supply busi- 
ness). Train numbers (and even year dates) were often 
omitted on such early cancels; the words, DAY, NIGHT, 
NORTH, SOUTH, and so on, were usually substituted— or 
even TAW (for "Train A, W^est"). The earliest true R.P.O. 
cancel, of course, was the rare "CHICAGO TO CLINTON" 
used on Armstrong's first 1864 run; specimens are said to 
exist, but no collector seems to know who has them (the 
same thing applies to the e\en rarer postmark of the 1862 
"Hannibal R: St. Joe" route). One of the earliest R.P.O. can- 
cels in collections is "CHICAGO TO DAVENPORT" (1868). 

Of remarkable interest are the errors and oddities in word- 
ing that appear in some cancels. Two are (1) the "WAY-(- & 
LAKELAND" (now the ACL's Waycross & Montgomery, 
east end) shown at the head of this chapter— note "-]-" for 
"cross"-and (2) a N.Y. & Wash. (PRR) error reading "N.Y. 
7 WASH./R.P.O.," still in use today (the clerk ordering two 
current postmarkers neglected to press a shift key in typing 
"&"!). Other fascinating errors will be found in Transit 
Postmark's files. A rare "EMERGENCY STAMP/R.P.O." 
was used on the St. Albans &: Boston (CV-B8:M) in March 
1902, for some reason; and some cancels were once surround- 
ed by a second circle reading "MAIL DELAYED— TRAIN 
LATE" (detachable). 

Pre-R.P.O. railroad cancels, now extremely scarce, are a 
fascinating study; but only those which are route agents' 
postmarks were actually applied on trains. The word 
"AGENT" need not appear; the oldest-known railroad 
agent marking of all reads simply "RAIL ROAD" in Old 
English type, applied on the Mohawk k Hudson Railroad 
in New York State on November 7, 1837— now in the Harry 
Dunsmoor collection. Since many station agents and post- 
masters housed in small depots used cancelers or ticket stamps 
containing railroad names, it takes an expert to distinguish 



262 MAIL BY RAIL 

true route-agent cancels. Some authorities, notably O. A. 
Olson and Professor Dennis, assert that the earliest cancels 
were applied by conductors or baggagemen and should be 
classed as "railroad" as distinct from "asrent" markins^s. But 
Hall and other point out that such postmarking by railroad- 
ers and other outsiders was prohibited. Some post offices 
stamped mail with railroad marks to indicate routing, too, 
further complicating the matter. 

Some of the best-known agent cancels were those of 
the Phikidelphia— Washington route and those reading 
HARRISBG. &: LANG. RR., both now PRR (N.Y. &: Wash.- 
N.Y. k Pitts. R.P.O.s); others were BOSTON k ALBANY 
R.R., MIC.CENT.R.R., and so on. A "MAIL LINE" cancel 
was used on the Louisville & Cincinnati Railroad in 1851. 
The word "ACT" did not begin to appear until the 1850s 
and 1860s, as a rule. Some early agent cancels are in pen and 
ink or even pencil; others are stamped in red, blue, and 
green as well as black, and some contain agent's names. 
Harry Konwiser of New York and Arthur Hall of Cranford, 
New Jersey, both noted philatelic writers, are two of our lead- 
ing authorities on the earliest railroad (route agent) and 
R.P.O. covers. Hall's collection of agent markings is prob- 
ably tops, although that of O. A. Olson of Chicago is very 
large. Konwiser's U. S. Stampless Cover Catalog, the stand- 
ard text on the subject, lists all kno^vn pre-stamp-era agent 
marks, and Delf Norona's Cyclopedia of postmarks lists 
others. Some remarkable displays of agent and early R.P.O. 
covers have been exhibited at leading stamp shows by Olson, 
Hall, and others; some won prizes. One controversial agent 
cover, "U.S. EXPRESS MAIL," is now know to refer to the 
through express-agent runs (Chapter 6). 

Regulations require that all R.P.O. postmarks now be 
struck in black, but in emergencies red and other colors have 
been used— notably on the temporary Wallula R: Yakima (UP) 
Christmas R.P.O. (see Chapter 10) in 1942, where the clerk 
was supplied only with a red pad. Air-mail fields and other 
units, including our one unique Register Transfer Office, 
are authorized to postmark facing slips in red. 



THE "R.P.O. HOBBY" 26S 

Collectors particularly cherish the colorful covers with 
cachets— piciorid.\ or colored worded devices on left half of 
envelope— sponsored to mark anniversaries, World's Fairs, 
"First Trips," and what not. With possibly a special-occasion 
R.P.O. postmark and usually a commemorative stamp, such 
an envelope is a prized addition to any collection. The o^overn- 
ment recognizes the R.P.O. hobby by applying colorful pic- 
torial cachets (showing an H.P.O. bus) and a special, spelled- 
out postmark with "FIRST TRIP" in a long four-line 
killer on new H.P.O. runs; by special exhibition R.P.O. post- 
marks; and (rarely) by special postmarks with similar killer 
on historic final R.P.O. runs. A recent example was the last 
trip of the famous Reno R: Minden (V&:T) in Nevada, old-time 
western route, May 31, 1950. Stamp clubs, too, issue cachets; 
the one at Glen Ellyn, Illinois, sponsored four for the Eight- 
ieth Anniversary of our first permanent R.P.O. (the Chicago 
k Clinton, via Glen Ellyn), postmarked— 2,500 copies— on 
the same line, now the CR:NW's Chic. & Omaha, August 28, 
1944. Vivid pictorial designs in colors featured the first 
R.P.O. and contemporary scenes. The same club sponsored 
similar cachets on one New York Central "Fast Mail" Anni- 
versary. 

Practically every World's Fair has featured an R.P.O. ex- 
hibit, usually a car designated as a specially titled R.P.O. for 
its duration. The earliest similar exposition cancel was 
apparently the "ATLANTA EXPO./R.P.O.," used in 1885, 
the only postmark applied at the regional Cotton States Ex- 
position, Atlanta, Georgia. The "W^orld's Columbian Exposi- 
tion at Chicago's "White City" in 1893 likewise had a duly 
constituted Railway Post Office, but it apparently canceled no 
mail; its rare postmark ("R.P.O./WORLDS COLUMBIAN/ 
EXPOSITION" in a shield) has been found only on facing 
slips. The Pan American Exposition (Buffalo, 1901) had a 
full R.P.O. car (DR:H) sorting all exposition mail, with a sou- 
venir booklet The U. S. Railway Mail Service issued; no post- 
mark is known. The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, 1904, 
used an "EXPOSITION R.P.O./ST. LOUIS, MO." post- 
mark; while the St. Louis Centennial featured a "CENTEN- 



264 MAIL BY RAIL 

NIAL PARADFyR.P.O.," operated only on October 7, 1909, 
as a horse-drawn Missouri Pacific mail coach on wagon wheels 
(it was long thought to have been a streetcar R.P.O., but the 
streetcars were elsewhere in the parade). An "R.P.O. EX- 
HIBIT CAR, SPG. MASS." was used at the Eastern States 
Exposition in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1925, 1929, and 
perhaps in other years. 

The Chicago Century of Progress (World's Fair) of 19.S3- 
'34 had "exhibit cars", too— the Burlington's "Hannibal" 
replica and a modern car. No "R.P.O.", the clerks still can- 
celed covers, the wording reading "U.S. RY. POSTAL CAR 
EXHIBIT/CHICAGO, ILL." with exposition name in the 
killer. One prize cachet furnished at the car Avas printed on 
the famous original Gutenberg Press, on display there. The 
"NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR/R.P.O." shown at that great 
event in 1939-40 consisted of a spruce, flag-decked New York 
Central postal car. No. 4868. Featuring a green pillared de- 
sign, attractive cachets were supplied along with the special 
postmark on "Railway Mail Service Day," September 1, 1940 
—commemorating the Seventy-sixth Anniversary of the 
R.M.S., to the nearest 'week end. Five branches of the R.M.A., 
assisted by the Vincent Lopez Stamp Club, sponsored the day 
and the cachets; the American Legion R.M.S. Post's band 
played, and there were speeches and music by Second Assistant 
P. M. G. Purdum, President Bennett of the R.M.A., clerk- 
composer Barney Duckman, and others. Nearly one million 
people visited the car, including many foreign postal clerks 
who signed a register; Editor Koelln, who helped plan the set- 
up, lent an attractive exhibit of rare covers. Clerks Pierce, 
Hedlimd, and others purchased special immaculate uniforms 
in which to ^vork mail and escort visitors. 

The most recent exhibition R.P.O. was the "CHICAGO 
RAILROAD FAIR/R.P.O." (Deadwood Central), which 
cancel \v?s applied on a moving train at that Fair from July 
to September, 1948 and 1949. Thousands of covers, many with 
neat cachets, were canceled by clerks actually on duty in a 
tiny R.P.O. baggage combination car in the quaint narrow- 
gauge train running the length of the grounds. The same 



THE "R.P.O. HOBBY" 265 

R.P.O. train, wiihout cancel, operated at the Chicago Fair 
of 1950. At the 1949 R.M.A. Convention at Omaha, 
Nebraska (at which it became the N.P.T.A.), exhibits in- 
cluded the replica of the Burlington's original Hannibal Sc 
St. Joe car as well as their new streamlined Silver Post car and 
an H.P.O.; a cachet, but no postmark, was provided. (Similar- 
ly, no clerks or postmark were supplied on board a rubber- 
tired Missouri Pacific R.P.O. car hauled in the Cornerstone- 
Laying Parade for the new St. Louis post office in 1936, it 
appears.) 

There have been countless colorful private railway cachets 
too numerous to mention. They include one dated May 8, 
1946, for the initial run of the PRR's new Robert E. Hanne- 
gan, with N.Y. & Pitts, postmark; one for the one-hundredth 
Anniversary of Chicago's first railroad, the C&NW, post- 
marked October 25, 1948, on the Chi. 8: Freeport (sharing 
the original tracks with the Chic. & Omaha for some miles); 
a new Union Pacific cachet for the first trip of R.P.O. service 
in Omaha & Ogden Trains 101-102, the streamlined City of 
San Frayicisco, October 2, 1949; and many others sponsored by 
Scott Nixon of Augusta, Georgia, by AMERPO, and by the 
New Haven (Connecticut) Railroad YMCA Stamp Club, for 
various special events. 

Collectors cherish cancels of the unusual Royal Train 
R.P.O. (PRR-NYCent-DR;H), which ^vas a United States 
route for just five days (June 7-12, 1939), although operated 
in Canada with a different postmark. A picked crew of R.M.S. 
officials and clerks worked in the postal car of the pilot train 
escorting King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on a visit 
here via Niagara Falls, Washington, New York, and Rouses 
Point (N.Y.); they canceled 318,000 covers with six types of 
postmarks, including a machine cancel which was the only one 
used on any steam R.P.O. train. 

Terminal and Transfer Office cancels are not so standard- 
ized as those of the iron road, and there are numerous \arie- 
ties of hand and machine postmarks that cannot be classified 
here. George Turner has listed nine varieties of terminal 
cancels alone in Postal Markings; the newest ones at this writ- 



266 MAIL BY RAIL 

ing still read, as a rule, " (CITY), (STATE) TERM./R.P.O." 
with "RMS" in the killer. Some abbreviation of "Transfer 
Clerk" or "Transfer OfTice" is found in the cancels of nearly 
all such units, except those of the unusual, just-discontinued 
"Relay Depot, East St. Louis, 111.," and the earlier (T.O.) 
Round Table, Kansas City, Missouri. But the mark "L. M. 
ACT" (local mail agent) was the one used by earlier, pre- 
R.M.S. units of this type. Air Mail Fields, P.T.S., show even 
more variety in their cancels; some were designated "R.P.O.s" 
while killers vary from "RMS" (the commonest) to "AMS," 
"PTS" (newest), or no wording at all. No cancels have yet 
been applied aloft, but cachets have (see Chapter 16). "PTS" 
killers are slated for our newest terminal and T.O. marks. 

There are specialized markings applied to transit mail in 
post ofTices, often referring to R.P.O. trains, which attract 
many collectors. "T.P.O." postmarks in Great Britain include 
two attractive large modern types with double circles (with 
black block or center-line fill-ins) and numerous smaller 
types, some with stars. Neither British nor Canadian cancels, 
which are a small standardized single-circle type, use killers. 

Specializing collectors find the old streetcar R.P.O. cancels 
of major interest—so much so that a Street Car Cancel Society 
was founded (March 31, 1946) by Secretary Fred Langford of 
Pasadena, California, and President Earl Moore of Chicago.' 
It was thus the first R.P.O. society (though not for all R.P.O. 
hobbyists) to be organized in America; it considers Transit 
Postmark its official jotnnal and has issued some duplicated 
Street R.P.O. material. The largest collection of American 
streetcar R.P.O. covers is owned by member Robert A. Truax 
of Washington, D. C; while Moore's collection of car 
photos is probably tops. Street R.P.O. cancels exhibited 
a most incredible variety of types. San Francisco alone had 
both machine and hand cancels, with crude cork killers and 
steel R.M.S. ones, and sexeral reversals or variations of title, 
even to shifting it to the killer! Flag; cancels were used in 



•The secretary is at 100 East Colorado St., Pasadena 1; membership. $1 for life. 



THE "R.P.O. HOBBY" 267 

Boston, St. Louis, and Cleveland, also with route name in 
killer and with year dates separated. 

While we have dealt mostly with the postmark-collecting 
phase of the hobby in this chapter, the photo-collecting angle 
and others are actually of equal importance. There are, of 
course, no detailed classifications of photograph types, but 
they can be grouped roughly as (1) views of R.P.O. trains, 
(2) exterior views of R.P.O. cars, (3) interior views of cars, 
and (4) miscellaneous. The largest collection of R.P.O. 
photos is believed to be that of L. E. Dequine. 

Other hobbyists avidly collect R.P.O. literature, data, 
pouch labels, facing slips, forms, historical information, 
schemes and schedules (particularly old-time ones), and what 
not. Closely allied to the R.P.O. hobbyists are the seapost 
and maritime cover collectors, who are catered to by the Mari- 
time Postmark Society and Universal Ship Cancellation 
Society as well as the T.P.O. Sc Seapost Society; but their 
activities are beyond our scope here. Many leading maritime 
collectors, however, are also very prominent in specialized 
R.P.O. fields— including Robert S. Gordon of Northfield, Ver- 
mont (our leading authority on foreign R.P.O.s); Vernon L. 
Ardiff of Chicago, Illinois (a trolley and boat R.P.O. spe- 
cialist); and Holton (similarly inclined). 

The R.P.O. hobbyists are performing a noteworthy service 
in helping to publicize the importance of the Postal Trans- 
portation Service in American life today, and in the past they 
have been responsible for at least four fifths of the published 
material dealing with the Service (excluding the Raihuay Post 
Office and official pamphlets) for the past thirty years. The 
hobby well deserves Government support to the extent of 
publicizing impending R.P.O. changes in advance, and of 
selling P.T.S. schemes and schedules to collectors (now un- 
available); revenues from the latter procedure and from 
stamps for covers Avould soon return a profit. Such collectors 
are real boosters of the postal service, and deserve all 
encouragement. 



Chapter 14 



ON FAR HORIZONS: I—THE BRITISH T.P.O.S 



Here comes the Night Mail crossing the border, 
Bringing the chefjue and tlic postal order, 
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor, 
The shop at the corner and the girl next door . . . 
Past cotton grass and moorland hoidder, 
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder . . . 

— W. H. AuDEN (Courtesy G.P.O., London) 




Just what is a typical system of overseas 
R.P.O.s like? In normal times there is a 
continuous chain of connecting railway 
mail and steamship routes all aroimd the 
world, sorting mails in transit by devious 
methods often startlingly different from 
ours {Note 17). Disregarding technical 
duplications, R.P.O.s or related transit 
mail routes have operated in fully 107 different countries or 
colonies; and still do, in most. Rather than make tiresome suc- 
cessive studies of the R.P.O. systems of each principal country, 
we will defer brief descriptions of most of them to our next 
chapter and concentrate here on one typically European sys- 
tem located in a country in which we Americans have a deep 
and natural interest. Since it differs from our own system even 
more than do Continental net^vorks, we shall find the story of 
the British "Travelling Post Office" to be of consuming in- 
terest as we review the amazing contrasts it presents to our 
American setup. 

Imagine, if you will, R.P.O. cars without pouch tables, 

268 



THE BRITISH T.P.O/s 269 

newspaper racks, or case headers— but equipped with uphol- 
stered leather padding, neat coco-fiber floor mats, and a huge 
net apparatus for making two-way "catches." Then man these 
cars v/ith raihvay mail clerks who have never iieard of gen- 
eral schemes, mail locks, or periodic case examinations, and 
who cut twine and open mailbags only with "the official scis- 
sors." Next, conceive a railway mail service which has no per- 
sonnel of its own (it is in common with that of the post offices), 
which includes a letter bill with every primary dispatch of 
first-class mail, and in which practically every term of speech 
differs from the corresponding "American" word. Finally, 
picture the great cities of Liverpool and Manchester, ^vhich 
no R.P.O. train ever enters; yet, one leaves Liverpool night- 
ly—never to return! That's just a bare introduction to 
Britain's "T.P.O.s." 

Furthermore, we find that a different title is assigned to each 
train— no train numbers are used to designate the Traveling 
Post Offices as they speed over the realm from the white cliffs 
of Dover clear to the rugged lands of the north Scottish crofters 
(Helmsdale) or out by Cornwall's famed Land's End. We 
learn that letter bags are closed with lead seals and string and 
that swing-out stools, cushioned to match the car padding, 
(sometimes in a decorative design) are often furnished for 
letter clerks. And no labels are placed on top of letter-pack- 
ages (when used, they're on the back)! But before we poke 
fun at such "quaint," apparently leisurely doings or start 
bragging about the much greater amount of R.P.O. mail 
sorted per man-hour— according to observers' claims— in the 
States, we can do well to remember that in other respects the 
English system ranks ahead of our own. Only on British 
T.P.O. lines do we find (1) full facilities for sorting all types 
and sizes of admissible mails (except parcels) with ease, in sepa- 
rate cases; (2) automatic apparatus \vhich simultaneously 
"catches" and dispatches up to one thousand, two hundred 
pounds of mail at once, at full speed; and (.8) the ultimate in 
safe, comfortably furnished mail cars. The largest R.P.O. 
train in the world runs in Britain. 

A daily high standard of performance, and not breakneck 



270 MAIL BY RAIL 

speed, is the officially announced aim of the T.P.O. system; 
but even so the service normally provides overnight delivery 
by first carrier for any letter posted in the evening at London 
for atiy place in England or Wales! Letters mailed on midday 
T.P.O. trains can even be delivered the same evening. Never- 
theless, the British Travelling Post Office does not even claim 
to be a network of continuous, twenty-four-hour-a-day distri- 
buting arteries with a main-line R.P.O. train everv few hours 
or so, as in America; the country's small size makes it unneces- 
sary. But the T.P.O. man's specialized job is a very vital one, 
and he is highly respected, sometimes "almost revered," by 
such few of the public as know he exists. James Tierney writes 
to praise "the wonderful team spirit of the workers on these 
trains; I don't know if you will find anywhere else a staff of 
men working so keenly together for the accuracy and speed of 
their service." The British clerk is speedy and efficient, per- 
haps because he does work at a less frenzied pace than his 
American colleague— in whose R.P.O.s the English chaps in 
turn find quite a bit at which to poke fun. Our hectic pouch 
racks, catcher hooks, and armed clerks always amuse them. 

The difference in nomenclature between the English and 
American systems is in itself a fascinating study. Phrases of 
considerable length and dignity are often preponderant; thus 
a letter package is a bundle of correspondence, and the X-man 
is called the carriage searcher. We speak of a crew of clerks, 
but in England this is a team of officers, or, collectively, the 
staff. Usually officers assigned to distribution (sorting) are 
naturally dubbed sorters, although their official titles might be 
those of postman higJier grade, S.C. & T./ and so on, or of 
other grades; one's fellow sorters are often called the bods. 
Pouch dumpers are bag openers; the R.P.O. car is a T.P.O. 
carriage or sorting coach (or van), but the whole train is a 
mail. It would never do to apply this term to a closed-pouch 
train, iiowever; if the latter is an all-mail affair, like most of 
them, it is a bag tender. A letter case is usually a sorting frame, 
and the separations made up thereon, selections. (But a case 



'Sorting clerk & telegraphist; British telegraphs are part of the Post OflBce. 



THE BRITISH T.P.O.'s 271 

dia^am, and hence in many cases the sorting frame itself, is 
called a letter plan.) A sorter gets on top of, not "up" on, his 
work— or else (in rare cases) fails or goes up the ivy (goes 
"stuck," or stucko, as the English sometimes say). Instead of 
"laying over" a day at his outer terminal, a sorter says he's 
resting away; he catches pouches on the fly with the apparatus; 
he gets aggregation or ogg, not overtime; and if he's a city 
clerk, he is often called a postman and is said to be sorting his 
mail to postmen's ivalks, not to carriers. To avoid a failure, a 
sorter may have to depend on a last-minute scramble (shirt 
tail finish) to clear his mail. Each trip is a journey, newspapers 
are simply news, and surplus clerks (a different type from 
ours) are redundant sorters; errors are missorts. Other equally 
interesting terms will follow. 

Britain has only about five hundred T.P.O. "officers" 
(sorters), but they distribute over 500,000,000 pieces of mail 
annually. They usually work in attractive, full-size sixty-foot 
coaches bearing the royal crest and script letters "OR" 
(George Rex), as well as the letter slot and "ROYAL MAIL" 
wording mentioned. Also on the side of the car are four col- 
lapsed pouch-dispatching arms (two beside each safety-rodded 
sliding door); two large "side lights" for catcher duty; and a 
large "apparatus door," recessed for the height of the car, con- 
taining the huge hinged-frame net catcher folded against it. 
Some cars have tiny, narrow horizontal windows in a row 
under the eaves. These cars cost over $10,000 each (prewar) 
and travel some four million miles yearly. Inside there are 
no racks; one entire side of the coach is devoted to sorting 
frames, the other to a continuous ro-^v of iron pegs (one and 
one-half inches apart) on which mailbags are hung limp by 
one rins^ from the wall. 

Car-interior paint varies from green to a new "duck-egg 
blue" (some English ducks lay bluish eggs); and green leather 
covers the upholstered horsehair padding applied to all walls 
and projecting edges, case ledges, and even horizontal rase 
partitions. In lieu of safety rods, it serves to absorb the buffet- 
ings received by clerks when rounding sharp curves or in case 
of wreck. Case pigeonholes vary in size from those for short 



272 MAIL BY RAIL 

letters (large enough for most greeting cards) to those for long 
letters and packets (\vide cards and small "flats") in some in- 
stances, and those in neius frames, the largest boxes, used for 
sorting newspapers and large packets; such cases have differ- 
ent-sized boxes according to "position" values. The wide 
horizontal case partitions are enameled with numbers (in lieu 
of headers); vertical partitions are very narro^v and recessed 
concavely to enable instant withdrawal of mail. Sorting frames 
average about fifty-four (six tiers of nine each) boxes, but vary 
from forty-five up to eighty-tAvo on riexvs and packet frames. 
(Photos show some clerks standing all letters in certain narrow 
boxes on edge; but this is not standard practice.) 

All comforts and conveniences possible are supplied. The 
R. L. officer (registry clerk) has his own special five-foot 
frame with a locking roller-shutter closing over it. Electrical- 
ly operated "urns," ovens, or hot plates are found in all cars; 
tea can be boiled in half an hour, foods quickly cooked or 
warmed by hot plate, and urns switch oflF automatically when 
contents are boiling or when emptied; the largest R.P.O. has 
three urns and several ovens. The case ledges or tables are 
covered with green baize, and the news desks (cases) have 
breast boards to keep mail from falling. There is no worry 
about separating pouches and sacks, for the same standard 
mailbag is used for all postal matter; the term pouch refers 
only to the leather containers in which bags are packed for 
non-stop dispatch. Outgoing bags are hung directly behind 
the proper letter frame, their large printed tags mounted on 
the pegs above them— and the sorters, most conveniently, 
reach directly behind to bag off their "tied-up bundles." 
(With few made-up bundles received and with cases for sort- 
ing all "flats," there is little need for a pouch table.) There 
is the tisual xunrdrobe cupboard (closet) and "combined lava- 
tory and wash-up." 

Of course vexatious irregularities can play havoc with the 
intended provisions for comfort— broken urns and carriage 
gang^vays, eye-straining "half lights," dangerously rough 
lurchings from the engine driver, or freezing trips following 
an unheated stationary period (advance time) are all too well 



THE BRITISH T.P.O/s 275 

knoAs'n. When the Avindows of one car ^vere suddenly ^vashed 
thoroughly, the staff commented, "We must have been mis- 
taken for first-class coaches!" (It all sounds strangely familiar 
to American clerks, as does the sometimes-disregarded pro- 
vision that the T.P.O. coach should be separated from the 
engine by another carriage if possible. The objection is the 
rough riding, rather than a safety factor, however.) 

The staff consists mostly of post-office sorters who volunteer 
for traveling duties and are detailed largely from the London 
G.P.O., although provincial staffs hail from Birmingham, 
Glasgow, and so on. They wear no badges. (A Civil Service 
Commission appoints these clerks originally by competitive 
exams, exactly as with us.) Most T.P.O. sorters are, or soon 
will be, classed in two principal grades— Po5/777Y7n Higher 
Grade and Postman— under the current reallocation of staff; 
the officer in charge, or O/C (clerk-in-charge), is of the Assist- 
ant Inspector grade thereunder, although many are in the 
old grade of Overseer at this writing. Popularly, the O/C is 
called the guv' nor or gaffer; he is required only to attend to 
supervision and the necessary reports, any assistance he may 
give to a sorter being purely voluntary. He does not, as per- 
sistently reported (even in a film), occupy a private office on 
the train; at least not in any modern T.P.O. Nor does he, 
as on United States lines, sell stamps to the public. 

The average sorter works on the lines only on a term basis; 
each four or five years' road duty is followed by a required 
period of two years or more in a stationary (or static) office. 
He may still be considered a reserve officer for emergency 
T.P.O. runs; and conversely, during road terms, any extra 
duty needed to equalize time must be done in post offices- 
there are no P.T.S. terminals. Acting additional clerks are 
called pressure men, but there are no substitutes. Promotion 
is from the ranks, but mostly to post-office positions. Sorters 
in service prior to 1947 may travel permanently. 

While sorters average only about $38 a week in total pay^ 



*Pre-devaluation pound values, a more accurate economic picture, arc used 
here. 



274 MAIL BY RAIL 

and allowances, they are furnished many special items free- 
all necessary medical attention, protective clothing (work 
clothes), free soap and towels, free grips {tot. bags), and certain 
ration privileges. And, of course, British living costs are low- 
er. Travel pay consists of a duty allowance ($1.80-$2.10 
weekly) to compensate for the strenuous work, payable even 
when on leave, and a subsistence or trip allowance ($1.30 to 
$2.40 per trip) covering board and lodging. Largely because 
of the six-day week, British clerks also have shorter rest days 
or layoffs than American clerks; but here again their days off 
are free from all studies and home duties, and they have much 
more annual leave— twenty-one actual days yearly. They av- 
erage about one and one-half to two days off per week, depend- 
ing on size of the line; but if a five-day week is introduced, 
as the postal union is urging, length of time off will be only 
slightly under American standards. 

New men, freshly detailed to a T.P.O. from the post ofRces, 
are given two weeks' tuition in T.P.O. duties at the Central 
Training School, London, or at regional schools elsewhere. 
Demonstrations in sidetracked T.P.O. carriages, as well as 
instruction trips, follow; on short lines such trips may be the 
only instruction available. The London T.P.O. school pro- 
vides the only example of T.P.O. sorters using practice cards; 
they are a postwar innovation and still used by new learners 
only, and are not sorted to T.P.O.'s. Clerks on all runs termi- 
nating at London are drawn from the various London post 
offices, while provincial lines and outlying short runs [half- 
way jouryieys) are staffed from their terminal offices. Round 
trips [return journeys) on the latter are made within one day. 

In most cases a T.P.O. sorter is an English gentleman— and 
dresses accordingly, even when on duty. Business suits and 
spruce white shirts are not an uncommon sight in the mail 
car. Clerks on medium-heavy work slip protective clothing 
(like P.T.S. officials' "coveralls") over street wear; but only the 
neivs rats and others on heaviest assignments have to change 
clothes. Meticulous and rules-conscious, they are required to 
refuse unauthorized privileges asked by the public (such as 
irregular postmark impressions); but their courteous and 



THE BRITISH T.P.O.'s 275 

helpful attitude to all comers, including collectors, is pro- 
verbial. The O/C can even approve the admittance of a 
visitor, at his discretion. Most sorters are of a high degree of 
intelligence, culture, and good nature, although they jokingly 
call themselves topers in spite of their usual temperate 
habits. They usually work on a five-week cycle but rotate 
among the various assignments (numbered, as in our crews) 
as listed on the running sheets (register of runs). Denied use 
of schemes, most T.P.O. men— especially the R. L. officer, who 
is the key distributor— carry a tip book of important local 
routings. 

To view a typical British T.P.O. run, let's take a trip on 
the great Down/Up Special of the Midland and Scottish 
Regions, British Railways. We would call this route the Aber- 
deen Sc London R.P.O.; but the British apply titles to each 
train only, the line's other trains being designated as the North 
West T.P.O. and so forth. World's largest R.P.O. train, the 
Down/Up Special is faster than the line's speediest passenger 
train as it roars through the night up to Scotland— yet it does 
not actually pass througJi a single large city! T.P.O.s leav- 
ing London are Down Mails and those arriving there Up 
Mails (regardless of direction); so our train is really the 
"Down Special" to begin with. It is often dubbed "The 
Longest and Largest," "The Night Mail," or just the Special; 
but in railway circles it is the West Coast Postal or Postal 
Special. It is one of two pairs of non-passenger, all-mail trains. 

At about 7 P.M. the ftfty-odd sorters manning the Special 
begin to converge upon the Euston Station mail room from 
all parts of London and its suburbs, carrying handbags. Most 
arrive via suburban train, bus, underground (subway), or 
tram (trolley), but even those commuting in by train over 
the Special's own route must pay fares; their official warrants 
(commissions) are no good for deadheading to work. At the 
mail room, with its lockers and bulletin boards, the sorters 
pick up their black cloth tot bags which they use instead of 
grips. Their contents are mostly work clothes, for the British 
clerk need carry no headers, schemes, schedules, slips, or 
labels; such of these as he requires are sent direct to the car in 



276 MAIL BY RAIL 

the train-supplies bag (labeled "T.P.O, Stores"). Since the 
tot l)ags arc not heavy, there is no grip man. 

A "rather fussy little shunting engine" brings in the long 
line of sixty-foot coaches from the Willesden yard, where they 
are marshaled (made up), and spots them at Euston's No. 2 
platform. Fully five cars are sorting carriages, while the rest 
are for stoxuage or storage mails (one devoted largely to the 
catcher apparatus). By seven fifteen, the reporting time, the 
sorters are inside the car and donning their coveralls; the 
handbags containing overnight needs are stowed on overhead 
shelves; all sorters sign the lick sheet (like our old arrival-and- 
depnrture book!), and the 1 14-hour stationary period begins. 

All slips, labels, and letter bills have been previously fur- 
nished, stamped, and run out by ofiice personnel; and twine 
and sealing materials accompany these supplies in the "stores" 
bag. Three of the jimior sorters or mail porters (postmen 
under reallocation) thereupon hang some 250 to 280 bags 
on the pegs in each R.P.O. car, in limp Christmas-stocking 
style. Bag labels contain extra holes for quick hanging on 
pegs or in surplus-label ro^vs overhead. Each sorting coach is 
also equipped with sealing presses, car keys, reference books 
such as the Postal Guide and P.O.'s in the United Kingdom, 
a postmarker, rubber stamps, various pairs of official scissors, 
and (in one car) an "official watch"— a standard timepiece 
brought up by runner from the G.P.O. Inland Section. 

In th.? absence of headers, many sorters use a piece of duke 
(or Duke of For/^j— chalk— to mark or abbreviate the names 
of the various selections (boxes) in the letter frames. Some 
prefer a cardboard diagram of the case arrangement, showing 
all the names, hung overhead. But the more expert sorters 
often dispense with both and pretty much "work blind," 
guided only by the consecutive numbers from one to fifty- 
four or so. Newspapers are simply sorted into the big pigeon- 
holes at the nczvs desk, gathered up, and "bagged off" w'ith 
the letters. Most sorters arrange their cases by standard letter 
plans (diagrams) furnished by the Department, but do other- 
wise if preferred. Separate cases and plans are used for each 
postal division of England and Scotland, for certain heavy 



THE BRITISH T.P.O.'s 277 

counties, for cities, for foreign mails, and for the mixed (nn- 
sorted). Since even short-letter boxes are five inches Avide and 
the other cases have wider ones, there is no trouble with 
wade greeting cards! Oflficial diagrams are usually alphabetical 
in the horizontal plane, except for heaviest separations (placed 
near bottom center, according to "position values" deter- 
mined by test); most selections are directs, others are Forward 
or Dist. (dis) boxes, and very few wdll be labeled to connect- 
ing T.P.O.s. 

The "order book" is used in England, as here, except that 
it is kept on the train; "authorized amendments and correc- 
tions" to circulation (routing) instructions must be noted 
therefrom. (Like check sheets, extra trips, primary-secondary 
residue, G.P.O., Postmaster General, this is one of the few 
terms ivhich is common to both British and American prac- 
tice.) The neatly dressed officer-in-charge, presiding at a spare 
(unused) letter frame equipped with a stool, keeps not only 
the order book but also the tick sheet, which is a combination 
check sheet (pouch record) and trip report; the main circula- 
tion list, the nearest thing to an R.P.O. schem.e; the forroard 
list (alphabetical list of all bags made up and dispatched); 
the time bills (T.P.O. train schedules); the postal volumes 
mentioned; and T.P.O. rule books and duty schedules. The 
tick sheet mtist show the date stamp of the postmarker, signa- 
tures of all on dutv, especially of the carriage searcher, and re- 
ports of all mail mis-sent or overcarried (carried by). 

One of the first bags received in the coach contains the daily 
orders from the chief superintendent (of the T.P.O. Section) 
for the train and official mail for the O/C. The "guv'nor" 
is permitted to ansiver his official correspondence in detail 
while on duty; at the halfway point his replies (all enveloped 
and postmarked) are sent back to London via the transfer bag 
(go-back pouch). Answers will be in the office by 7 A.AL of 
the day following that when the letters ^vent out. 

Ne^\'s reporters enthusiastically describe the Special as "a 
thing of beauty inside and out," \vith beams of lifjht from its 
"big electric bulbs giving a dazzling and bizarre effect." Mails 
arrive at trainside in motor vans or on trolleys (hand trucks) 



278 MAIL BY RAIL 

and are quickly separated and lined up to the proper coach by 
station postal employees. A ShefTield newsman, the first ad- 
mitted to a T.P.O. (lf)31), stated, "The perfect organization 
commences with the loading . . . No rush, just organised 
speed." ("Speed" is right— many "Special" clerks sort seventy 
letters a minute!) A sorter called the clerk "ticks off" both the 
letter bags and newspaper bags on the check sheet as another 
officer calls the labels. All inbound bags of identical origin 
are in the same series regardless of contents, but instead of 
using serial numbers, the last bag of the series (the "X," as 
we say) is called the final, and any others, extra bags. (The 
final bag has a pink tag showing total number in series.) 

The regular (final) bags are stacked behind the bag open- 
er's table (part of the case ledge), and the extra bags, usually 
containing newspapers, behind the appropriate neu'S desk. 
From all of London and southern England the bags come 
flooding in— from the suburbs, from the London district 
offices (branches), and especially from the huge Inland Sec- 
tion, or "Big House," which sorts all the provincial mails (par- 
ticularly in daylight hours, when T.P.O.s seldom operate). 
The highly graded bag opener opens up each bag with the 
official scissors (its ends curved to avoid injuring the bag), for 
British mailbags are tied with string and lead-sealed at the 
ofiice of origin, the sealing press stamping its official signet 
thereon. Cutting the string also detaches the big 2x5 inch 
cardboard label from each steel-ringed bag (which is stenciled 
"GREAT BRITAIN-POST OFFICE"), then the opener 
must turn each bag inside out lest any mail remain therein. 

Meanwhile one clerk has been stationed in each stowage 
brake (non-passenger cars are "brakes") to pile the storage 
mails as diagrammed in his bag-duty book. As in the United 
States, bags are stacked carefully in station order with the 
first-off ones close at hand, and the stowage-van officer is ad- 
vised to chalk up the names of the various separations. But 
he must also lock all doors with a key, later surrendering this 
to the O/C, unless railway employees are detailed to this. 

In the T.P.O. coach the bog hiimper (dumper) must quick- 
ly locate the tied-up entry items (registers and urgent matter) 



THE BRITISH T.P.O.'s 279 

with attached letter bill which are looked for in each final, 
or "bill," bag. The bill, a postmarked green form listing all 
registered and special-delivery (express) items, jury sum- 
monses, mailed telegrams, parliamentary notices, and other 
official matter, must be included in each regular bag whether 
entry items are present or not; if six or more items, they come 
inside a small enclosure bag. All entry items and bills arc 
placed in a nearby tray, checked by totals, and transferred to 
the R. L. officer (register clerk) with an initialed form against 
his receipt. (On British lines the R. L. officer may accept 
mail from the public for registration.) 

Most incoming mail consists of working bundles— quickly 
tossed to the proper sorting frame, perhaps to the broad-ac- 
cented warning, "Coming ov-aaar!" If too many bundles 
come flying over, the sorter may cry, "Take it easy, sonny 
boy!" or something similar, whereupon further packages are 
relegated to the skips, which are baskets for overflow mail. 
Letters to be worked, cut open with the oflicial scissors, are 
usually stacked on end between the case and the front board; 
balls of heavy twine are in overhead holders. American 
twine knives, first introduced in 1949, are becoming popular; 
but most sorters use the official scissors to cut all twine both 
on working bundles and when tying iip after finishing. No 
sorters are armed, not even the R. L. man; but registers are 
properly convoyed. 

As the R. L. oflicer prepares his outgoing letter bills, the 
short stationary period nears its end. By then he must have 
his tally sheets (balance sheet), outgoing extra-bag record, 
transfer sheets (bulk-receipt forms for bag opener), and his 
sealing press all functioning properly. His registers are dis- 
tinctively marked with two crossed blue lines (+) and neat 
printed labels showing both registry number and origin— a 
convenience adopted in nearly every country but the United 
States. Mail containing coins or jeAvelry is given compulsory 
registration, if detected, at the addressee's expense. 

The last collection has been made from the station's late- 
fee posting box, and the zero hour of eight-thirty approaches. 
Mail trucks with the final loads from Euston Square Post 



280 MAIL BY RAIL 

OfTice, and latecomers with letters to mail, hurry to the train- 
side. At a prolonged blast from the whistle the great Night 
Mail slo"\vly pulls out; it crawls under Ampthill Square and 
Ilampstead Road and gathers speed, passing Regent's Park on 
the left and the Camden Town section to the right. It is carry- 
ing at least three thousand bags of mail, including five hun- 
dred or more "workers," containing seventy thousand letters 
(about two thousand, eight hundred packages) and thousands 
of newspapers all to be sorted. Mail received later may equal 
and even exceed this total. The electric tea urns are switched 
on, and some men place soup or other food in the various 
handy electric ovens. 

The Special rushes through South Hampstead tunnel, past 
Killburn Station and Willesden Junction, then crosses the 
London city line into the thickly settled Middlesex suburbs; 
Wembley (8:43) is first, but not served going north. Sorters 
are busy in all five T.P.O. coaches— the two English cars, the 
tTvo for Scottish divisions, and the Glasgow city car. The bag 
opener is thro"\ving letter bundles in all directions— the 
labeled bundles (directs) going right into the proper outgoing 
bag, of course. Nine storage cars precede and follow them! 

At exactly 8:46 the train is due to make its first "catch"— 
the apparatus working at suburban Harrow, Middlesex. All 
Harrow letter bundles have now been tied out, the R. L-. man's 
billed bundle of entry items is ready, and all mail is put in 
the bags due off here; each bag is sealed with the T.P.O.s im- 
print. Then they are stuffed into the outgoing leather pouclies 
and tightly strapped. The pouches to be caught have been 
previously hung on the lineside apparatus (mail crane) by 
Harrow's local apparatus postman (mail messenger). The 
gallows-shaped structure has from one to three pouchfuls of 
mailbngs hung on its high projecting arm. Attached to the 
standard are suitable lights, plus a permanent folding receiv- 
ing net at the bottom; all fittings are at the exact proper height 
to engage the identical complementary equipment on the 
train. Since wayside signs erected at approach points are hard 
to see at night, the iron man or apparatus officer (local clerk) 
must expertly recognize the exact sound of the overhead 



THE BRITISH T.P.O.'s 281 

bridges and so on which constitute the fix-on for this particu- 
lar catch. 

Outgoing pouches are hung on the "despatching arms" be- 
side the regular doors— only one to each arm, but with t^venty 
such arms on the train there is far more than enough equip- 
ment. With speed up to 60 mph and more, precision timing 
in working the iron is vital. As soon as the crane is sighted, 
the apparatus officer presses levers which lower both the car- 
riage net and despatching arms into working position; an 
electric bell also rings continuously to warn clerks not to ap- 
proach the open center of the apparatus coach (where the 
big safety door beside the net has also opened automatically). 
With a thunderous roar, the po^verful strap of the carriage 
net catches the incoming pouches, which bound into the car 
with great force; simultaneously, the outgoing pouches are 
trapped by the wayside net, whereupon the despatching arms 
fold back automatically. When the carriage-net lever is re- 
leased, it too folds back, and the bell stops. It is a ticklish busi- 
ness to lo'wer the projecting devices at the exact proper in- 
stant onlv, for they Avoiild quickly engage some station plat- 
form, signal, or other railroad structure if extended too quick- 
ly. Important stations have several lineside standards in op- 
eration, permitting the exchange of over half a ton of mail at 
one time— despite a sixty-pound limit on each pouch contain- 
er. Expert iron men learn to recognize fix-ons instantlv by 
counting wheel clicks, by listening for the rattle of points 
(switches), and so on. 

The bags "caught" must be opened at once, examined for 
damaged items, and the immediates (No. 1 local packages) 
separated from the labeled bundles and No. 2 or No. .8 work- 
ing bundles; the immediate bundles must be cut and sorted 
at once, as mail for nearby stations mav be included. The 
entire process, including the numbered line separations, close- 
Iv resembles American practice; ho^ve\'er, many small ^vay 
offices are served only by indirect conveyance. 

With the suburban area well behind, the Down Special 
speeds through the darkened countryside with its mvriad 
twinkling lights to work apparatus marks (catches) at Wat- 



282 MAIL BY RAIL 

ford, Hemel Hempstead, and Berkhamstead-Tring; then the 
train enters Buckinghamshire to serve Leighton Buzzard, Bed- 
fordsliire (just over the county line) and Bletchley. Bucking- 
hamshire, all non-stop. The bag opener bags up his inspected 
empties (in one of the bags, as we do), and labels them to the 
Inland Section, which is the "bag control office" for most 
T.P.O.s, for forwarding by opposite trains. Of the many 
enclosure bags included in his dumped-up mails, not all con- 
tain registers; ordinary "dis" mails for close connection at 
some distributing office are often placed in these little inside 
bags, perhaps labeled "IMMEDIATE" for instant attention. 

The busy sorters make an exceedingly fine distribution for 
all points in Scotland and Northwest England, making up 
selections (directs) for practically every post toivn (independ- 
ent post office) in the territory. (The smallest post offices all 
consist of sub-offices, each operated as a rural station of some 
post town, and their mails are included in the same bundle 
or bag with the proper post town's.) Sorters do not distribute 
mail by scheme, for the routing of British mails is based en- 
tirely on the grouping of all these post towns into a number 
of divisions (consisting of one or several counties), each with 
its central distributing centre— a.t some large post office— which 
sorts practically all mails for its area (for closed-pouch for- 
warding) during daylight hours. 

Each T.P.O. has its own main circulation list showing the 
proper dispatch for all points from that train; and clerks are 
simply expected to gradually memorize the proper routings 
from continual experience therewith. Many smaller "directs" 
on the frame will become labeled selections, to be thrown into 
a bag for some distributing-center office. By this process all 
mails are delivered in Britain within twenty-four hours— by 
closed-bag dispatch if posted early in the day, and by T.P.O. 
sortation when mailed toward evening. 

Now it is teatime; for tea, not coffee, is the T.P.O. man's 
beverage. Instead of one volunteer handling the tea, a formal 
tea club is organized on each T.P.O. with a duly elected chair- 
man, secretary, and treasurer. Members receive a small hono- 
rarium (for the extra work involved), plus possible dividends 



THE BRITISH T.P.O.'s 285 

at the end of the year, from the profits. Customers pay only 
four pence (seven cents)— for six cups— per round trip, on 
the Special. Supplies having previously been purchased by 
club members assigned thereto, the brewing is done by the 
first member to get "on top of" his sorting duties; when ready, 
the huge steaming pots are carried through the cars by two 
char wallahs (tea men) starting from each end. In normal 
times tea clubs on the Down/Up furnish a complete "commis- 
sary" of chocolate, biscuits, cigarettes, and what not— at a 
$6,000 annual turnover! Official meal allowances of thirty 
minutes in each four hours are credited to each sorter in his 
wages, but two or three quick ten-minute snacks each way are 
about all actuallv taken, and then only if mail volume permits. 

The tea clubs themselves date back at least to the 1890s. One 
tale from those days tells of an officer who threw out his old 
cracked teacup; it struck a telegraph pole, crashed into bits, 
and the pieces flew back to hit the guard (conductor) in the 
face. The "brains" thundered back into the T.P.O. coach at 
the next station, profanely demanding (in \ ain) to knoAv who 
had thrown it. Following such occurrences, T.P.O. officials 
evolved the current rule covering such playful habits, with 
severe penalties: "The throwing of bags, packets, balls of 
string, or anv kind of missile, either inside a Mail or outside 
... is forbidden." 

"While most of the train's distribution is for the Scottish Di- 
visions, English mails for the local North West Division are 
being busily sorted in two cars. Now the Night Mail is ap- 
proaching Rugby, \\^ar\\'ickshire, its first actual stop; here, at 
10 P.M., dispatches to nearby Birmingham and much of "War- 
u'ickshire are made. Huge loads of bags from the East Anorljan 
counties and Lincolnshire are taken in, brought over by bas 
tenders of the "Peterboro Line." After pulling out, the "Peter- 
boro" mails must be sorted at top speed; for it is only fifteen 
minutes to the very "fast mark" (by apparatus) at Nimeaton, 
Warwickshire, and the correspov.dencc due off there must be 
fully separated for dispatch at this 70-mph catcher station. No 
less than 360 pounds of mail (in nine forty-pound pouches) 
are exchanged in both directions at its three mail cranes. 



284 MAIL BY RAIL 

The huge receipt at Nuneaton must be sorted in time for 
connection at Tamworth, Staffordshire, the next stop— the 
closest point to Birmingham, and the line's first T.P.O. junc- 
tion. Mails for that city, as well as for the northeastern coun- 
ties, are received and dispatched here, a connection being 
made with the key cross-country Midland T.P.O. (LMS— now 
Midland Reg.) from Bristol to Newcastle-on-Tyne. The pro- 
portion of English mail has been steadily decreasing, and as 
the train passes Stafford (the Up Special's junction with the 
LMS's Crewe-Birmingham T.P.O.), the two English divi- 
sions coaches commence their gradual conversion into "Glas- 
gow city" cars. A second respite for tea is enjoyed along here. 

At 11:42 P.M. the Special reaches Crewe, a Cheshire town 
which is England's Chicago— the nation's largest railroad and 
T.P.O. junction. In normal times thirteen T.P.O. trains enter 
or leave Crewe station between 11 P.M. and 2 A.M., alone, 
each night. Several Glasgow toxun sorters get on here; while 
certain halfway officers (short-stop clerks) get off, to work back 
to London on the Up Special. Numerous intersecting T.P.O.s 
are connected here, including the LMS's Crewe-Birmingham 
and Shrewsbury-York T.P.O.s, the Crewe-Cardiff (GWR), 
and others. Vast loads of mail, fifteen hundred bags or more, 
are dispatched and received from Liverpool, Manchester, Bir- 
mingham, and so on. With only 16 minutes here, speedy and 
delicate timing is essential; the transfer bag is put off for the 
"Up" (containing some mis-sent items, even as with us!), and 
outgoing bags for the three big cities mentioned (all near- 
by) and for many parts of Ireland, Wales, Cheshire, York- 
shire, and South Lancashire are ticked off. As we pull out, at 
least fifty-five men are now tackling the mail on our train. 

Starting at Crewe, the three Glasgow coaches are redesignat- 
ed as a separate unit, the Crewe-Glasgow S.C. (sorting carriage; 
i.e., a small R.P.O.), which will later diverge to the west. The 
town sorters are working Glasgow mail out to stations, post- 
man's walks, and suburban sub-offices. Any out-of-course (de- 
layed or mis-sent) bags received at Crewe or elsewhere must be 
opened, sorted, and reported if the contents can be properly 
advanced; while individual mis-sent letters are also "written 



THE BRITISH T.P.O.'s 285 

up" on a form in detail (with name, address, origin, and so 
on), not merely "checked." 

The working mail is now all for Scotland (except a bit for 
northern Ireland), but a heavy apparatus exchange is made at 
Warrington, Lancashire, nearest point to the big cities of 
Liverpool to the west and Manchester to the east. After a 
third cup of tea a stop is made at Preston, Lancashire, where 
the Preston-Whitehaven T.P.O. route (LMS) branches off; 
final receipts from the two large cities are taken on here in- 
stead of at Warrington, and again the coaches are loaded to 
capacity. For two hours the train traverses Lancashire, West- 
moreland, and Cumberland, crossing the bleak Pennines and 
other mountains, and "catching" Lancaster, Carnforth, and 
Penrith. By now the sorters are tying up most of the letters in 
their frames and dropping them in the limp bags to the rear. 
No labels are used, if dispatched in a direct bag. Preliminary 
dispatches for most large Scottish towns are bagged and sealed, 
to be put off at Carlisle; like all other bags tied out early, they 
are taken into the proper "storage brake" and piled. The 
final tie-out of the bags is no^v under way, for Carlisle is the 
end of the run for our team (crew); most officers assist, and 
then comes wash-up time as the O/C finishes up his reports. 
If it is, say, a light week-end trip, there may be a little time 
for a friendly game (poker or solo whist), note writing, or a 
chat. Protective clothing is doffed, and at 3 A.M. the tired 
London sorters climb out at the end of their three hundred- 
mile run. North-end clerks from both Carlisle and Aberdeen, 
as well as more Glasgow city men, get on liere to take their 
places; meanwhile connection is made with the Carlisle-Ayr 
S.C. (ScotReg), a short branch line. 

Most sorters sleep at private lodginghouses, but small hotels 
also are favored. Overnight lodgings are usually dubbed the 
digs (although many, witli \vry humor, refer to their quarters 
as a doss or flophouse). While our crew slumbers, the "North 
Division" (as Ave ^vould say) of the Special thunders across 
the Scottish border to Carstairs Junction, where it is reas- 
sembled as parts of three R.P.O. trains with separate engines— 
the Crewe-Glasgow S.C, the Carlisle-Edinburgh S.C. (which 



286 MAIL BY RAIL 

works Edinburgh City and Midlothian mail), and the Special 
proper. The two sorting carriage trains soon veer off to the 
left and right, and the much-shortened Special, now manned 
by only three or four clerks, sweeps northward via Coatbridge 
and Perth (making numerous "catches" all along) into Aber- 
deen, at 8:13 A.M., connecting the second carrier delivery 
there as well as an air-mail route carrying all mail for the 
Orkneys. The Special has sorted at least 200,000 pieces of 
mail on its 50-mile journey, and its last dispatch at Aberdeen, 
if the King is staying at Balmoral Castle, is a special one to 
him from Buckingham Palace. 

Meanwhile the London sorters are sleeping, usually about 
six or seven men to a house, after recording its address in the 
mail-room book (for emergency calls). If a regularly reserved 
accommodation is not used on some occasion by a sorter while 
on leave, the Department allo^vs "compensatory payments to 
landladies." Arising at I or 2 P.M., the clerks have a good 
breakfast and then enjoy such pastimes as the cinema, walks 
about town, or billiards and snooker at a workingmen's club 
there. Some may study at part-time Workers' Education Asso- 
ciation classes, while certain dashing Romeos will look up 
their "favourite blondes" or brunettes instead. After a three- 
course dinner at 8 P.M., the officers then meet the Up Special 
for the return journey at 8:43. 

After sprawling itself all over Scotland, the Special has long 
since been again consolidated into one train— the Glasgow 
(R.P.O.) and Edinburgh (C.P.) sections (with no independ- 
ent titles, southbound) having rejoined it at Law and Carstairs 
Junctions. The London staff quickly boards it at Carlisle, 
and in general the return trip to Euston follows the same pat- 
tern as the Down journey. But the Up Special is even larger 
than the Do^vn, for it has seven R.P.O. cars or sorting coaches; 
mail for all England and for London City is worked, to the 
practical exclusion of Scotch "correspondence." One English 
county division alone may occupy half of a sixty-foot coach; 
thus the sorting van nearest the engine handles Middlesex 
and Surrey letters only. Another coach handles the cross post 
or "local," plus Hertfordshire; there is an apparatus coach. 



THE BRITISH T.P.O.'s 287 

used also for stowing tied-out bags; and two London city cars, 
one inchidinCT a foreisjn division. 

TJie stroncT team spirit of mutual assistance Tvhicli exists on 
the Up Special and other T.P.O.s is proverbial. Contrary to 
the unfortunate exceptions often noted on United States 
trains, the usual regulations requiring such mutual help are 
observed to the letter in England; if one man has finished his 
sorting, he immediately volunteers to assist someone else. Tf 
one division is running light while another is swamped, the 
O/C promptly reassigns the former's sorter to dig out the man 
who is going stuck. The comradeship of the tvpical T.P.O. 
team is also reflected in the gay ditties or bits of harmonizing 
sometimes indulged in, even as with us. But such music may 
be abruptly ended if the next stop reveals a huge pile of 
buckshee stowage, (or working) mail— i.e., "free" or not due 
to the train— to be crammed into the coaches! 

On a recent journey of the "Up" it was revealed that English 
clerks as well as ours perform some remarkable feats in dis- 
patching misaddressed mail. An unaddressed picture postcard 
carrying only a brief message beginning "Dear Mr. Ricards" 
turned up, but one of the sorters (who are permitted to cor- 
rect poor addresses, in England) immediately marked it "try 
Bushey" and dispatched it to Bushey, Hertfordshire, at Wat- 
ford. He had remembered the same handwriting on a pre- 
vious postcard, which on being located revealed that the writer 
was "seeing Mr. Ricards" in Bushey after returning there from 
vacation! 

Some 65 men work on the Up Special, and they make up a 
selection (direct package) for practically every post town in 
England, and even direct bags for each separate office in Sur- 
rey, Middlesex, Buckinghamshire, and most of Kent. One 
London car works letters for "The City" (London's Eastern 
Central District only) out to carriers or postman's walks; but 
since most carrier routes there consist only of single short 
streets or of buildings (or banks and firms) made up direct, 
no sorting by street-number breaks is necessary. The Eoreign 
Division in the same car sorts letters to countries and divisions 
(formerly even to foreign R.P.O. lines in Europe and Asia); 



288 MAIL BY RAIL 

New York, N. Y., is made up. In the second London coach, 
zoned mail for all the rest of London's 12(S numbered 
subdistricts (zones) is worked out; thus "S.E. 10" in a Lon- 
don address (Greenwich) is Zone 10 of the South Eastern 
District Office. Almost no London mail is received unzoned, 
and sorters are not required to learn street-and-number dis- 
patch for such letters, but many voluntarily learn and dispatch 
a considerable number of such items each trip. 

The staff works busily as we approach London, for it is a 
T.P.O. tradition to avoid failing (going stuck) if at all pos- 
sible. After the tie-out, all waste twine, seals, and labels are 
placed in a special red waste bag (to be searched later for stray 
mail, as in the United States); the sorters wash up, pack their 
tot bags, and finish their actual journey at 4 A.M. in London; 
then they unload the coaches. 

Station duties at London also include "dispatching the 
vans" (mail trucks) to the various London district offices, the 
Inland and Foreign sections, and to railway stations and sub- 
urban post offices. The mail has been worked up to such a 
fine degree that only a cotiple of residue bags (i.e., London 
G.P.O. Dis) are turned over to the Inland Section; the vast 
bulk of the mail goes out in direct bags all over southern Eng- 
land, although one or two day T.P.O.s are also connected. 
A late arrival at London may spell considerable excitement- 
taxis can be commandeered to rush valuable mails to impor- 
tant railway connections, with penalties for any driver refus- 
ing; and sorters eagerly note details on their aggregation sheets 
(overtime record) to see if their minimum hourage has been 
made up and any agg due to be paid them, as they say. At the 
end of each week sorters must also make individual claim for 
their trip allowances by mailing a docket to the office after the 
last run. Einallv the carriage searcher CX-man) inspects all 
the frames and takes up the mats, looking for strav letters, 
often using an electric extension bulb to assist. He does it 
diligently, for he knows that if railroad men later find any 
mail therein he must pay the finder a sixpence (ten cents) for 
each letter, or two shillings (forty cents) for a registerl There 



THE BRITISH T.P.O.'s 289 

is often a weary wait for transportation home, for there are 
few vehicles running at that hour. 

All British T.P.O. lines are now operated by the T.P.O. 
Section, London Postal Region. A chief superintendent (cur- 
rently, Mr. C. R. Clegg) manages the setup from offices in the 
great King Edward Street Post Office Building and occasional- 
ly makes inspection trips over the lines. One sorter, pleasantly 
surprised by a visit from former Chief Superintendent Fielder, 
wrote afterward that ". . . he speaks English just as we do!"; 
but relations with officialdom were not always thus. A morose 
chief superintendent of decades past once strode into a T.P.O. 
coach to scowl at the sorters in stony silence, eliciting the re- 
mark of "I beg your pardon, sir?" from one wag. 

"I didn't speak!" was the grumpy rejoinder. 

"Sorry," the sorter explained innocently, "I thought you 
said, 'Good evening, gentlemen'!" 

Over seventy T.P.O. trains are operated over about twenty- 
five different routes in normal times; a fe-\v prewar lines still 
remain to be restored. Like American lines, most of the 
T.P.O.s have accumulated nicknames. Thus the Southern 
Region's South East and South West T.P.O.s (London to 
Dover and Dorchester, respectively) are both called "The 
Tram-car"; the Northwest T.P.O. (a short run of the Down/ 
Up Special route, to Carlisle) is "The Ten" (or "10 o'clock") 
or "The Nightmare"; the LMS's suspended London R: f^olv- 
head T.P.o! (which once used a "UNITED STATES MAIL" 
postmark) was, of course, the famous "Irish Mail"; and the 
short Liverpool-Huddersfield T.P.O. (LMS) is humorously 
dubbed the "Liver Sc Udders." This is the T.P.O. which never 
gets back to Liverpool— its team works back on different-route 
T.P.O.s and on a bag tender as guards. "The Cale" (Cale- 
donian) refers to several Down/Up Special short runs. 

The Great Western T.P.O. (GWR) or "Ghost Train" is 
an all-mail, no-passenger train operated nightly from London 
to Penzance, Cornwall, where forty sorters work some one 
thousand letter bags on a 325-mile journey, plus up to three 
thousand registers. Leaving London at 10:10 P.M., the train 
sweeps past the Bristol Channel seacoast, the rolling bracken- 



290 MAIL BY RAIL 

covered hills of Somerset, the lonely and misty marshes and 
rocky hillocks around Dartmoor. Eight Penzance clerks get 
on at Plymouth to sort mail for their town to carriers, as well 
as the Cornwall mail; all other mail (except Devon's) must 
be "up" by Bristol. The Great Western is famed for its 
"travelers' tales" or anecdotes thereof, but we can mention 
only a couple here. In one coach the regular bag for Liskeard, 
Cornwall (due off by apparatus), is hung beside a bag of 
fragile matter for that town, labeled and handled accordingly 
—and one new bag hanger innocently inquired "if Liskeard 
Fragile ^vere anywhere near Liskeard"! When several Danes 
(delegates to a postal convention) ^vere once invited to visit 
the G.W., one overseer "missed reading the paper, paid extra 
attention to his appearance, and put on his best suit and most 
charming manner, thinking someone had said dames!" An- 
other alarmed Great Western sorter, followed by a policeman 
all the way home, discovered it was merely the one Avho lived 
next door. (One crew on this line has asked for a "G ?c 8"— 
eight days "ofT" each two weeks; but they'll work 19 hours 
daily to get it, if approved!) 

The Preston-Whitehaven T.P.O. (LMS), or "The Truck," 
is a typical short line along the northwest coast of Cumber- 
land; it has only three clerks (the smallest number ever as- 
signed to a T.P.O.) and exchanges with practically every oflRce 
on the line. On such branch lines the O/C is often the R. L. 
officer, as in the United States. Some side lines, temporarily 
short of T.P.O. coaches, have used portable frames installed in 
the I) rakes. 

Trains work city mail for many towns, like Penzance, but 
not for Liverpool, Birmingham, and Manchester, three of the 
largest cities! Two routes from York to Bristol and from Lon- 
don to Edinburgh operate— the second route in the latter case 
being the LNER's London-York-Edinbingh T.P.O.^ (includ- 

■The "LNER" is now the N. E. Region, British Rvs.; these familiar railway 
abbreviations are still in nse. The restricted city sortintj is quickly explained: 
All TPO trains arrive in the Midlands around midnight, and there is plenty 
of time for local sorting at these three big cities. Onlv towns at the extremities 
of the longest rims— London, Pen/ance, Glasgow, et cetera— require city sorting 
in transit due to morning arrivals. 



THE BRITISH T.P.O.'s 291 

ing the N.E. T.P.O., its short run). Yet many other parts of 
Britain have no direct T.P.O. service at all, including not only 
Manchester but also inland sections of North England, most of 
Aberdeenshire, and all northwest Scotland, northern Devon, 
and so on. Pending restoration of a central route, only coastal 
lines serve Wales. The progressive T.P.O. Section, however, 
has expansive plans for the future. Already two brand-new 
extensions of service have been opened: ( 1 ) from Birmingham 
to Derby on the former Birmingham-Bristol (LMS), now the 
Derby-Bristol T.P.O.; and (2) from Haughley out to Peter- 
boro on the East Anglian T.P.O, (LNER), connecting ^vith 
the North East route of T.P.O.s, both in 1949. Two other 
runs intersect the Derby-Bristol at Birmingham— the LMS' 
Crewe-Birmingham and Midland T.P.O.s. 

T.P.O. sorters encounter a few vexing problems which are 
a bit different from those of American R.P.O. clerks. True, 
they are spared the rigors of a Christmas rush on the road— 
because the entire T.P.O. system shuts down each year for 
two weeks preceding Christmas, in direct contrast to the 
United States practice of expansion. But the clerks, who are 
anxious to have all-year road sorting restored, must be 
plunged into imfamiliar surroundings to work mails in the 
Inland Section or other post offices. Another headache is the 
fact that the actual post office or sub-office of address, on a 
given letter, may be any of the last three place names thereon— 
in contrast to American practice, where it alwavs is the next 
to last. The public often disregards official urgings to capital- 
ize the post-town name, to alleviate this problem; but it faith- 
fully follows the official address forms suggested in the Postal 
Guide, which show sub-office name, post town, and county 
in the case of small hamlets, post town and countv for most 
post towns, and office name only in the case of large cities! 

In Britain, despite unarmed sorters, one never hears of 
T.P.O. trains being held up and robbed; it just isn't done. 
There was, however, a series of mysterious mail thefts on the 
old London-Manchester Bag Tender (LMS) which continued 
for ten years before they were solved. Finally the guard in 
charge, one of of the LMS's most trusted employees, was 



292 MAIL BY RAIL 

caught slitting open a mailbag; it seems he had a grudge 
against the railway for failing to transfer him to the seashore 
for his Avife's health! 

Serious wrecks, too, of T.P.O. trains are rare; no sorter has 
been killed in one since 1927, when three or four lost their 
lives in a crack-up of the LMS's York-Shrewsbury T.P.O. Few 
can recall any other fatalities, except when three sorters 
were killed in a wreck of the London-Holyhead Irish Mail 
(LMS) in 1916, and on that tragic occasion of long ago when 
the Firth of Tay trestle collapsed in 1879; a postal bag-tender 
guard was lost in the sinking train, there being no survivors. 
(A few clerks are assigned to bag tenders to separate and load 
mails.) Recently the two most noteworthy T.P.O. train smash- 
ups both involved the Down/Up Special. The Mail crashed 
into a halted passenger train at Winsford, Cheshire, on April 
16, 1948, killing many passengers; the first sorting coach was 
smashed to bits, but only three sorters were injured, thanks to 
the strong all-steel construction and the great distance from 
the engine. Clerks hastened to assist survivors and save the 
mails, and Sorter W. }. Carrick was awarded the Daily Herald's 
coveted Order of Industrial Heroism. On the other occasion 
the Special was rammed from behind in Scotland, injuring 
four sorters, some years before. When the East Anglian T.P.O. 
(LNFR, London-Norwich) was wrecked at Gidea Park, Ilford, 
Essex, in 1947, the scene was a shambles of wrecked fittings 
and coaches, shattered glass, and scattered letters; but again 
clerks hastened to rescue injured passengers and forward valu- 
able mails, and even insisted on reporting for their return trip 
despite severe shake-up and shock. (See end of Note 18.) 

Floods and freeze-ups have worked real havoc on the 
T.P.O.s, however. The great English blizzard of 1940 termi- 
nated an unbroken record of fifty-five years of consecutive 
nightly trips of the Down/Up Special (except Christmas 
niglit); the two Specials were both stranded in huge drifts on 
Beattock Summit and were annulled for four days. (Soon 
after, all T.P.O.s were suspended for the duration of World 
W^ar II.) The great ice storm of March 1947 forced complete 
suspension of many T.P.O,s and delayed others up to fourteen 



THE BRITISH T.P.O.'s 29S 

hours; apparatus working was abandoned. Chief Superin- 
tendent Fielder immediately ordered special meals and hot 
drinks served to sorters affected, at stations en route; they 
were particularly welcomed by one crew which worked thirty- 
three hours continuously, then reported for work again that 
same day. Many were the trains which had to give second 
circulation (rerouting) to their delayed mails; and on the 
South East T.P.O. (SouR), the Down and Up trains passed 
each other five times in one night before getting on the right 
lines for their destinations. 

On the Great Western (GWR), of course, a humorous 
angle was sure to develop from such frightfully beastly weather 
and the severe floods which followed it. One of its badly de- 
layed trains had just pulled into Exeter, Devon, whereupon a 
local news reporter hastened up to interview the O/C— whom 
he caught snatching a nap beside the steampipes. Aroused, 
he sleepily yawned to the inquiring stranger that "the bad 
weather and our late arrival can in no way be attributed to 
the Labour Government" (which is, of course, strongly backed 
by postal union men). The statement duly appeared in the 
Devonshire press that evening. 

There have been tales of unorthodox objects caught by the 
apparatus, of course, since the very earliest days— ranging from 
viaducts and signals to a wheelbarrow filled with baled rags 
(which nearly wrecked the LNER's old York-Newcastle S.C. 
at Chester-le-street, Durham, in the 1890s). A different sort 
of tale comes from the North West T.P.O. (LMS), which was 
once honored by an unexpected visit from the King and 
Queen (then Duke and Duchess of York); showing great in- 
terest in everything, they left after giving the O/C a warm 
handshake. The thrilled gaffer "for weeks afterwards wore 
a glove on his hand, but refused to take the advice of an 
irreverant young member of the team who enquired, 'Why 
don't you pickle it in vinegar, guv'nor?' " On the North East 
(LNER) another sorter consistently imposed upon the team 
by napping on duty; he was cured, one night, by having his 
face liberally daubed from the ink pad as he snored. On 
waking, he breezed into the station buffet for lunch as usual I 



294 MAIL BY RAIL 

On the North West (LMS) one "guvnor" discovered with 
iiorror that his tick sheet had been used to wrap up a greasy 
buncli of fish and chips, by the very sorter helping him hunt 
for it. 

Tiie American influence is occasionally felt. During the 
serious economic "dollar shortage" following World War II, 
men receiving a family allowance on the birth of a new ciiild 
were said to be "pursuing the official dollar." And when 1947 
brought forth the popular ditty "Open the Door, Richard" 
from New York's Tin Pan Alley, railway mail men on both 
sides of tlie Atlantic were soon hounded by the phrase when- 
ever porters brought up huge loads of mail to the car. 

Working conditions and salaries of T.P.O. men are the 
particular concern of the T.P.O. Branch, Union of Post Work- 
ers—the union which corresponds to our N.P.T.A. The 
U.P.W. and its predecessors have secured innumerable bene- 
fits for the sorters; travel allowances, annual and sick leave, 
and retirement annuities were obtained for them long before 
they were secured by American clerks. The branch holds 
quarterly meetings, with a mnil representative speaking for 
each T.P.O. The T.P.O. "Whitley Committee," a group of 
labor and management representatives (dubbed the staff side 
and the official side), forms the basis of their very successful 
collective bargaining. Abotit 98 per cent of all sorters belong 
to the U.P.W. (all but the most distant provincial members 
are in the T.P.O. Branch). Enjoyable social gatherings, in- 
cluding an annual Iron Road Revels, feature branch activi- 
ties. The branch has also made admirable proposals, in inter- 
national contacts, for temporary exchanges of postal person- 
nel between British and overseas railway mail routes— an idea 
bound to provide better mail service and more international 
good will throughout the world wherever applied. 

Both the T.P.O. Branch and the British Government have 
done much in the way of publicizing the T.P.O.s through lit- 
erature, radio programs, and the cinema. Each month the 
branch issues an attractive printed journal of eight to twenty 
pages, the Traveller— ^n outgrowth of a mimeographed 
T.P.O. News Letter (published for its members in the armed 



THE BRITISH T.P.O.'s 295 

forces from 1941 to 1946). Featuring illustrated articles on 
R.P.O.s of the world as well as union news, it has a subscrip- 
tion list (in Britain, America, and elsewhere) three times as 
large as the branch membership! Ron Smith of the Down/Up 
Special is its editor, and he is assisted by William D. Taylor, 
formerly active as branch secretary. The government pub- 
lishes numerous booklets of the T.P.O. service, as listed in the 
Bibliography, mostly free to the public; one is a beautiful 
volume bound in transparent plastic and printed in three 
colors (for the T.P.O. Centenary), and another features a 
map of all T.P.O.s (which reminds us that the United States 
Government has never issued such a map). The T.P.O. 
Branch publishes a booklet for new union members assigned 
to road duty; also numerous magazine and newspaper fea- 
ture articles on the T.P.O.s have been published, as well as a 
106-page book, English T.P.O.'s, by C. W . Ward. For the 
history of Britain's T.P.O.s, we must refer all readers to the 
pages of this excellent volume (Note IS). A new list of current 
British T.P.O. routes is in Appendix I. 

A complete short motion picture, Nifi:Iif Mail, was produced 
by the G.P.O. Film Unit in 19.S6 to picture the srorv of the 
Down/Up Special; it has been viewed by many in both Britain 
and America. Just tt-n years later (December 14. 1946) the 
British Broadcasting Corporation featured a special program 
with actual sound effects and interviews on board the same 
T.P.O. There is also a well-known, very attractive painting 
by Golden entitled 'T.uston Station: Loading the T.P.O." 

Since Britain's (and evidently the Tvorld's) first T.P.O. was 
first inaugurated on January 6, 18.^8, its railway mail services 
have given 1 1 2 years of magnificent service to the public. Space 
forbids consideration here of such unique British institutions 
as the famed Post Office Railway (an automatic, unmanned 
electric tube railway, hauling closed mailbags onlv, under 
London's streets), and the popular "railway letter" service by 
which railway conductors handle specially stamped letters out- 
side of the mails. And thus we take leave of the fascinating 
Travelling Post Offices of "tliis realm— this England" with the 



296 MAIL BY RAIL 

words of the distinguished poet W. H. Auden, from whose 
epic poem Night Mail we have quoted at the start of our 
chapter, still ringing in our ears: 

Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb— 

The gradient's against her but she's on time . . . 



Chapter 15 



ON FAR HORIZONS: II— FROM CANADA 
TO THE ORIENT 



From the frozen wastes of Lapland 
To the rice-lands of Cathay: 

Even there the mail trains rumble- 
Even there the tired clerks sway . . 
- B.A.L. 




—Courtesy Postal 
Markings 



Aside from the continental United States 
and Great Britain, doubtless the most sig- 
nificant countries to us from a railway mail 
standpoint would be Canada and Mexico- 
plus, of course, the outlying United States 
territories, where R.P.O. operations differ 
markedly from those in the States. A brief 
study of the systems in each of these three 
areas, plus a short review of that of India (a typical Asiatic 
country), will follow. Very brief summaries of other national 
systems will be tabulated in conclusion. 

THE DOMINION OF CANADA 

Canada's modern network of nearly two hundred R.P.O. 
lines is intermediate in character between the United States 
and British systems, but the American influence has the edge 
by far, for Canadian lines are closely synchronized with ours. 
About twelve hundred men, officially designated as "railway 
mail clerks," man the coast-to-coast layout; but they are ap- 
pointed by promotion from the post offices, as in England. 

297 



298 MAIL BY RAIL 

They then, however, become a permanent part of the Rail- 
way Mail Service, as Canada still officially entitles its opera- 
tions. The R.M.S. is part of the Post Office Department, as 
in the United States, but is headed by a chief superintendent 
at Ottawa (in English fashion)— currently, Mr. "\V. G. Ross. 
Of the transcontinental mail channels, perhaps the most 
important chain from east to west coasts (3,770 miles) is com- 
posed of the following R.P.O.s: 

1. Halifax 8: Moncton R.P.O. (Can.Natl., 189 miles). 
Nova Scotia to New Brunswick. 

2. Monc. & St. John (Can.Natl., 89 miles), in New Bruns- 
wick. 

3. St. John & Montreal (Can.Pac, 482 miles). New Bruns- 
wick to Province of Quebec. 

4. Mont, k Toronto (CN, 336 miles). Province of Quebec 
to Ontario. 

5. Tor. &: Ft. William (CP, 812 miles), in Ontario. 

6. Ft. Wm. & Winnipeg (CP, 419 miles), Ontario to Mani- 
toba. 

7. Winn, k Moose Jaw (CP, 398 miles), Manitoba to Sas- 
katchewan. 

8. M. J. & Calgary (CP, 434 miles), Saskatchewan to 
Alberta. 

9. Cal. k Vancouver (CP, 642 miles), Alberta to British 
Columbia. 

Of these, the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 7th lines listed are all long 
ones, broken up into two or three divisions, as in the United 
States; but, in contrast to our practice, each division is named 
as a subsidiary R.P.O. The division titles are used only in 
schemes and on slips or labels, not in schedules (thus the St. 
John R: Montreal comprises the St. John &: Lac Megantic, 
Lac Merantic k Sherbrooke, and Sherbrooke k Montreal 
clerks' runs). As in the United States, all R.P.O. lines were 
apportioned long ago among fifteen administrative areas (now 
sixteen, wiili Newfoundland added), but these are called 
postal districts, not divisions— usually designated by the name 



FROM CANADA TO THE ORIENT 299 

of the headquarters city. Despite the fact that all long-dis- 
tance ordinary letters have been carried by air for three years 
now, the R.P.O.s are thriving. 

Canadian R.P.O. schemes are termed distribution lists or 
sortation books; much larger than ours, they are sturdily 
bound in cloth board. They are issued for each province in 
a convenient and handy alphabetical form (as in our earlier 
official schemes, now unfortunately obsolete). Spaces between 
each line permit instant insertion of ne^v post offices. However, 
no mail routes are listed for the large-city offices, and the 
scheming of "dis" offices, Avithout using either that abbrevia- 
tion or asterisks, is a bit confusing to our eyes. The Schedules 
of Mail Trains, likewise much larger than ours, are models 
that we could •well emulate; timetables are clear and detailed 
(direct lock bags for nearby points are bracketed with station 
of dispatch), and the svmbols for frequency of ser\'ice are 
superbly simple. Instead of using over t^vo hundred complex, 
arbitrary letter-combination symbols fas does our P.T.S.) 
the Canadian R.AT.S. numbers each weekday from 1 to 6 and 
combines them with "Dy.*" (daily) and "Dv." (dailv except 
Sunday; thus, "daily exc. Sun., Mon., R: Sat." is Dy.-l 6). Clerks 
memorize the principle instantly. 

Some Canadian R.P.O. cars— their seventy-two-foot ones- 
are almost the world's longest. Most cars closely resemble ours, 
evcent that they are usually lettered only "MAIL AND EX- 
PRESS" or something equally noncommittal. Inside the 
appearance is practically identical, but the lock bags hung for 
letter mails differ markedly from our pouches (a huge, per- 
manently attached lock and bolt is used to close the top in 
accordionlike folds). Facing slips are folded, as in former 
United States practice, for use in the slide-in label holders on 
all bags. Slips are larger and thicker, and the same handy 
registrv labels and good strong tTvine are used as in Fmjland. 
The public is not permitted to purchase stamps from R.P.O.s. 
C.P. routes, designated B.C.S. (baggage car service), some- 
times carry registry conx'oys. 

Canadian R.P.O.s usuallv deliver letters overnight, via 
first carriers, to any point within four hundred to eight hun- 



500 MAIL BY RAIL 

dred miles. City sortation on night trains likewise works 
Montreal or Toronto mails out to carrier routes for the first 
daily delivery. Now performed by railway mail clerks, the 
city distribution was formerly done by "city sorters" bor- 
rowed from post offices; semicircular cases in the car end are 
often used. Several terminals exist (at Toronto, Regina, and 
so on), which resemble ours; but local post offices run them— 
not the R.M.S. 

Tea is the favorite beverage en route, and regular hotels 
are patronized at the end of the run, where sizable layovers are 
gi\en. Layoffs are a bit shorter than in the United States, 
however, for clerks must put in forty-four weekly hours of 
actual road duty (without study allowances). Eighteen days' 
annual leave is given. Duties in the car are rotated among the 
men, including the duty of local exchanges by the catching 
arm, which is just like ours. Clerks take regular case exami- 
nations, using practice cards (up to twenty-five hundred per 
province) printed and sold by the Post Ofiice Department; 
passing is 90 to 95 per cent, but for promotions, 97 per cent. 
One card-exam per year is required, and clerks use many 
study methods, varying from "adaptations of Pelmanism" to 
just plain memory work. Five questions each are asked, at the 
same examination, on Canada's P. L. R: R.; on the instructions 
to clerks; and on specific train connections for letters between 
given points. Salaries are considerably less than those of 
the United States, but living costs are also lower; higher pay 
is being sought. 

Canada's interesting types of R.P.O.s include some unusual 
boat and part-boat runs and some still more remarkable "in- 
ternational" routes, for Canadian R.P.O. cars are used inter- 
changeably with ours— plus four busy narro'iv-gauge R.P.O.s 
in Newfoundland. But most roiues in Ne'wfoundland are 
not only boat lines but still retain English titles, such as the 
Argentia R: N. Sydney T.P.O. (.S.S. Bar Haven) or Cabot 
Strait T.P.O. ; its former boat was sunk by enemy action 
when on its run October 14, 1942, killing 137. The four 
unique slim-gauge R.P.O.s in Ne^vfoundland include the 
Newfoundland Railway's 545-mile "Express" or St. Johns 



FROM CANADA TO THE ORIENT SOI 

k Port aux Basques R.P.O., Avhose three clerks are often snow- 
bound and dug out by dog teams; their R.P.O. and others were 
pictured on former NeAvfoundland stamps. On idyllic Prince 
Edward Island— the province with no crime, divorce, poverty, 
or liquor— the unique Charlottetown R: Sackville R.P.O. (CN) 
makes connection to the mainland via railway, the car-ferry 
steamer Prince Edward Island (also shown on a stamp) then 
rail again; two other rail R.P.O.s serve the island only. Then 
there is the "Muskoka Lakes Steamer" (MLNavS:HCo), 
with clerks running from Gravenhurst to Port Carling 
and Rosseau, Ontario. Two similar routes in British Colum- 
bia operate: one is the Robson 8: Arrowhead R.P.O. (.S.5. 
Minto), and the other is variously entitled the T.P.O. Bur- 
rard Inlet, the Indian River R: Vancouver, or simply as the 
"Burrard" or "Burrard Inlet," B. C, post office (its present 
postmark)! The latter distributes patrons' mail to docks but 
is operated as a post office and not by the R. M.S. —it consists 
of a mail boat (usually the 5.5. Scenic), operated for twenty- 
five years by Postman-Captain Anderson, And the Quebec, 
Natash. R: N. Shore (ClarkeSSCo) on the St. Lawrence has 
three unique "Seapost" and "Poste Fluviale" runs (see Appx. 
I for list of these and of all Canadian R.P.O.s). 

Best known of the many international routes is perhaps the 
DRjH's Rouses Point 8: Albany (for United States-operated 
lines are named after points in this country only), which ac- 
tually runs from Albany to Montreal, P. Q.; like many other 
such runs, it uses United States clerks and postmarkers and 
serves no Canadian local stations. One such United States 
route operates entirely in Canada except for a mile or two in 
Buffalo and Detroit— the Buff. & Chicago, East Div. (NYC- 
MC); Canada's Ft. Erie S: St. Thomas R.P.O., on same tracks, 
gives the local service. Canada, similarly, has many routes 
entering the States, like the CN's Island Pond R: Montreal out 
of Island Pond, Vermont, or completely crossing one of them— 
like her remarkable St. Johns R: Montreal R.P.O. (CP), trav- 
ersing the width of Maine for hundreds of miles, exchanging 
mails with United States lines but not serving: local offices 
(they receive mail from nearby R.P.O.s). 



502 MAIL BY RAIL 

The most incredible of all border R.P.O.s is doubtless the 
amazing joint operation ot the P.T.S.'s VVarroad & Duluth 
R.P.O. and Canada's Fort Frances &: Winnipeg, comprising 
the CN raihvay from Duluth lo Winnipeg. '1 he two R.P.O.s 
overlap for almost a hundred miles in Ontario and Minne- 
sota. United States clerks run from Duluth to International 
Falls, Minnesota, and cross into Ontario via Fort Frances 
to Crozier, where they get off — after delivering even the 
Canadian local mails, in international sealed sacks, between 
the Falls and Crozier. Canadian clerks take over the run at 
that point and work west^v•ard to cross the border again be- 
tween Rainy River, Ontario, and Baudette, Minnesota; and 
they in turn serve several United States to^vns from Baudette 
to Warroad, Minnesota, inclusive! These offices, "schemed" 
to the Warroad Sc Duluth, are actually served by clerks of the 
Canadian route only, who use and deliver regulation United 
States pouches (left by the United States crew) for each town. 
The "Canucks" also handle much mail for Penasse, Minne- 
sota (via W^arroad), our northernmost United States post 
office, for which all mails must be carried throuo;h Canada. 
Finally the train crosses into Canada again via South Junction, 
Manitoba, and on to Winnipeg. 

Some complex and interesting variations from standard 
practice are necessary on such routes. Many items must be 
segregated for customs inspection; direct letter bags for offices 
and R.P.O.s across the border, in either direction, must be 
prepared as sealed tie sacks; local offices are served by pouch 
or sealed sack, depending on country traversed, regardless of 
which nation's clerks are on duty; and periodic counts of inter- 
national parcels and the complex foreign registry regulations 
must be observed to the letter. Since United States lines enter- 
ing or nearing Canada "pouch on" many Canadian offices and 
lines, and vice versa, border lines of both countries must carry 
scaling presses and equipment to prepare the needed sealed 
sacks. United States clerks "put up" Canadian provinces, us- 
ing sortation books and cards from Ottawa, exactly as they do 
tiieir on-n examinations; but Canadian clerks do not learn 
United States states. Each country must dispatch mails in its 



FROM CANADA TO THE ORIENT SOS 

own bags only, and return the other's empty; vari-colored 
tags are used to denote each class of international mail. 

Mail carrying by rail in Canada dates back to 183G, when 
the first railway was built (Laprairie to St. John's, P.Q.); most 
railroads began carrying mailbags as soon as constructed. 
Route agents began sorting local mails on the St. Lawrence 
k Atlantic Railroad (as well as on steamers) about 1851. The 
first true R.P.O., the Niagara Falls R: London (Grand Trunk), 
began operating in 1854; and by 1857 forty clerks were run- 
ning on fourteen hundred miles of route throughout eastern 
Canada, although an 1865 report lists only seventeen actual 
R.P.O. lines. As late as 1874, however, lines like the Toronto 
&: Windsor (GT) used no letter cases; letters were thrown 
loose into the large parcel and paper boxes (resembling the 
ones once used in the United States). The first R.P.O. in 
western Canada, the 132-mile Winnipeg Sc Brandon, began 
operating January 2, 1886; on June 28, 1886, the first through 
R.P.O. train left Montreal for the Pacific Coast. 

The clerks' union is the Dominion Railway Mail Clerks' 
Federation, founded about 1885 as the regional (Eastern) 
Railway Mail Clerks' Association of Canada at St. John, N. B. 
In January 1917 it was consolidated with the Western Rail- 
way Mail Clerks' Federation (founded 1912), at Winnipeg, to 
form the present organization. About 1921 it affiliated with 
the Canadian Federation of Postal Employees, and in 1944 
with the Civil Serxice Federation; however, it withdrew from 
the former federation after an "unfortunate" strike of postal 
and railway mail clerks about 1924, sponsored by the C.F.P.E. 
Like our N.P.T.A., the D.R.ISLC.F. believes in encouraging 
the highest standards of performance of duty by each clerk, 
expressed in the words "W^e must give as well as take," in order 
to deserve and better secure the improved conditions for 
which the organization often successfully bargains. 

It, too, is comprised of divisional associations, one to each 
postal district, and of branches at all important railroad 
centers. About 80 per cent of all clerks are members, and a 
full-time secretary serves the federation at Ottawa. Here, too, 
is published its well-printed journal, the Railway Mail Clerks 



304 MAIL BY RAIL 

which is published in English and French editions cleverly 
bound together witli separate covers and titles. Enjoyable 
outings are held jointly by the D.R.M.C.F. and the N.P.T.A., 
including friendly Toronto- Buffalo area family picnics. 

Electric rail fans will be interested to know that one rail- 
way mail clerk is assigned to the trolley-operated Port Stanley, 
St. Thomas R: London B.C.S. (LR;PS) in Ontario to convoy 
registered mails on Train 48 from London to St. Thomas; 
and that until 1938, operating postal cars of the former 
Windsor R: St. Thomas (CN) were hatiled by trolley locomo- 
tives, likewise, from London to St. Thomas. Previously, cars 
of other R.P.O.'s had been similar hauled; but Canada never 
had any true trolley R.P.O.s supplying either local or city 
stations. However, several C. P. runs are trolley. 

The Dominion's railway mail clerks, dubbed "Canada's 
Night Riders" by Deputy P.M.G. Turnbull in a recent radio 
address, have to contend with (as he pointed otit) cars that 
"sway, roar, bounce, lurch, scream around curves, jerk like 
a busting broncho"— in addition to the lo-^v salaries and long 
hours. We can leave them Avith no better parting salute than 
one which Mr. Turnbull quoted as oft applied to them: "The 
key men who swiftly dispatch the nation's business . . . who 
race against time and win." 

THE UNITED STATES TERRITORIES 

In all the outlying territories of the United States, only one 
R.P.O. still remains— and even that is not a P.T.S. operation! 
The Postal Transportation Service, which was operating fotir 
interesting rail and boat R.P.O.s in Alaska and Puerto Rico 
in 1949, closed out the last of these operations in 1950; and 
the 10 short former R.P.O.s of HaAvaii, such as the old Aiea 
& Waianae (Oahu RR?) had disappeared long before. (Lines 
formerly operated by the R.M.S. in Cuba and the Philippines, 
however, are still flourishing; as detailed later— but under in- 
dependent governments.) 

The transition of Alaskan postal service to 100 per cent 
closed-pouch operation with air routes as its basis is now com- 



FROM CANADA TO THE ORIENT 805 

plete; rail and boat services carry little but non-first-class 
mails, and operate about weekly to monthly as opposed to 
daily air operation. With even ordinary three-cent letters be- 
ing carried mostly by air, and with official disapproval toward 
any increased frequency of R.P.O. running or to establish- 
ment of H.P.O.s as the fixed policy there, the death-blow to all 
distribution in transit was inevitable. The infrequent R.P.O. 
services were made to appear quite useless because of such 
handicaps, in comparison with the air lines' overpowering 
speed and frequency factors. 

Very interesting, however, is Alaska's longest rail-operated 
closed-pouch route, the Fairbanks R: Seward C.P., which was 
an R.P.O. until May 1950; this connects the very center of 
the Territory with its south coast. The other two R.P.O.'s 
were steamboat runs, with mails sorted by a joint employee. 
The Juneau, Sitka R: Skagway (J. V. Da\is Boat Line), 496 
miles through the coastal bays, served the present and former 
capitals; it had weekly service on each of two sections until 
its steamer burned in 1947— listed as "Suspended" thereafter, 
it was oflicially discontinued in May, 1950. The other boat 
line, the Nenana R: St. Michael R.P.O., operated bi-weekly in 
summer until discontinued Oct. 15, 1949; it traversed the 
famed Yukon for 1,028 miles as our longest boat R.P.O. (the 
St. Michael end w^as closed-pouch). The joint employee 
served on two Alaska R.R. steamers, the Alice and Nenana, 
using a postmarker reading "ALASKA" at the bottom in- 
stead of the usual "R.P.O." 

Alaskan R.P.O.s had to contend with the highly unorthodox 
ways in which Alaskan mails were and are handled as com- 
pared to operations in the States— dispatches of mail-bags ad- 
dressed to no-office points, "catches" made by the train from 
hand-held train-order hoops, the rigid exclusion of ordinary 
parcels and much printed matter from mailing to most areas 
in \vinter, special regulations for mailing gold dust and 
bullion, and mails for railroaders at section houses formerly 
delivered hand-to-hand. 

Trains on the Fairbanks &: Seward C.P. operate over the 
470-mile Alaska Railroad on probably the most leisurely 



906 MAIL BY RAIL 

schedule on record. The R.P.O. and passenger trains used to 
take only 32 hours for the run, with both lunch and over- 
night stops; but this breakneck speed was reduced to a 37- 
hour trip well before the last day of R.P.O. service— when 
Clerk John F. Rowland finished his final run on May 22, 1950. 
Contrary to a common impression, the Fair. Sc Seward was a 
short-lived R.P.O. of comparatively recent origin; it was not 
established until May, 1936, when Clerk J. B. Carson inaugu- 
rated its career of just 14 years with a borrowed postmarker. 
The line was a mere newcomer among the many boat R.P.O.'s 
Alaska then boasted— the Alaska S.S. Co.'s 2070-mile Seattle 
&: Seward (now C.P.), the Seward S: Unalaska on the S.S. Starr, 
and many others (Note 13). Clerk Rowland, who furnished 
us much of this information, was transferred to the Seattle R: 
Portland R.P.O. in Washington and Oregon; and he now 
runs on this Union Pacific line. 

Today, Fairbanks R: Seward C.P. trains leave Seward north- 
bound on Tuesdays and Saturdays (the Saturday trip was the 
R.P.O.) and on days when steamers arrive, at 8:30 A.M. as 
always. Of the mail which is loaded on before leaving, the 
clerk used to distribute some 20 to 30 pouches and sacks re- 
ceived here— including mails addressed to the Nenana R: St. 
Michael, Nenana Dis, and so on, for Avhich he did advance 
sorting; he occupied a 30-foot compartment with five racks, 
and dispatched nearly all of his own outgoing long-distance 
mail by air. Fully 50 per cent of the mail received is addressed 
to no-office localities— which, however, are practically all listed 
in the second half of the very unusual "standpoint scheme" 
which is the only one issued for Alaska. The end of all R.P.O. 
service has worked havoc with this scheme, for no longer can 
any office be schemed to a distributing line; however, it has 
always listed the offices alphabetically in Canadian fashion 
with summer and winter services (manv no-office points were 
routed only to some R.P.O.). The clerk used a self-compiled 
local scheme also. 

By 1 P.M., our train arrives at the fast-growing metropolis 
of Anchorage; and it stays here all afternoon and all night. 
(The R.P.O. stayed there both Saturday and Sunday nights, 



FROM CANADA TO THE ORIENT S07 

with the clerk utilizing railroaders' overnight accommoda- 
tions.) Early in the morning, much mail is loaded on from 
the big new Anchorage Post Office; and again the train leaves 
at 8:30. It passes in succession magnificent snow-capped 
mountains . . . glaciers gleaming in the sun . . . the Matanuska 
resettlement colony . . , Curry, the lunch stop . . . scenic 
McKinley Park ... a stop for supper at Healy . . . Nenana, 
where the R.P.O. connected the Nenana &: St. Michael every 
other trip . . . and into Fairbanks at 10:30 P.M. But no longer 
does the clerk worry about balancing his registers, which were 
the line's real mainstay in its closing years; nor has a pouch- 
rack been already neatly re-hung for the return trip as before. 
Until the close of R.P.O, service, Clerk Rowland would return 
to Anchorage with the mail train the following morning 
(Tuesday) then lay off until Friday, when he'd complete the 
trek into Seward; he was relieved for occasional extra week.s 
by a part-time clerk, and both men worked under a District 
Superintendent at Anchorage. 

W^ith the present increase in population and commerce, 
C. P. -passenger trains on this route now operate daily iu the 
Anchorage area and thrice weekly from there to Fairbanks. 
It is to be earnestly hoped that the great benefits of both local 
and through transit-distributed mail can be eventually re- 
stored to Alaska, by means of (1) Flying Post Office service on 
trunk air lines, (2) speeded-up local R.P.O. service every other 
day on the Fairbanks & Seward (possibly also on the shorter 
daily Palmer-Whittier and Skagway-Whitehorse runs); and 
(3) modern H.P.O. service on the Alcan and connecting high- 
ways. Both air and surface mails would be speeded more 
than ever before, that way; the resulting encouragement to 
Alaskan self-suffiiciency, commerce, and Statehood would be 
well Avorth the investment in time-saving and efficient transit 
distribution with local exchanges. 

Puerto Rico had just one R.P.O.— the unusual narrow-gage 
171.9-mile San Juan R: Ponce (Amer.RR.ofP.R.) which made 
its last run on June 30, 1950. Here, too, the extreme slowness 
of the carrier's trains was a factor in discontinuance; both mail 
delay and costly clerical overtime (up to 10 hours!) were in- 



808 MAIL BY RAIL 

volved. Tlie railroad was planning a reorganization, further- 
more, and pulled off the two particular daylight trains in 
which the Spanish-speaking clerks had daily traversed two- 
thirds of the island's circumference for years. They worked 
city mail for both termini, and served Areceibo, Mayaguez, 
and other important towns on their 9-hour run; and until 
1941, they connected the N.Y. &: San Juan S.P.O. (seapost) 
which is still in a suspended status (it tised the steamers 
America and Barinquen). Several C.P. and passenger trains 
still operate on the ex-R.P.O. line, but most first-class mail 
goes by star route; and the addition of an H.P.O. route or of 
speeded-up R.P.O. service on the reorganized railway, or 
both, would provide Puerto Rico with far faster mail service 
th.-*n ever before and other benefits also. A standard general 
scheme was issued for Puerto Rico, with all post offices routed 
either to San Juan or Ponce "Dis," or to the R.P.O. ; the two 
cities were schemed as "junctions," although only the one dis- 
tributing line was shown (even omitting the N.Y. 8: S. Juan). 
Oddly enough, both of our last two narrow gauge R.P.O.s 
were associated with this word "San Juan"— the name of the 
Ala. R: Durango's train (Chap. 10). 

The one remaining R.P.O. route in a United States terri- 
tory, however, is in the Canal Zone. The Panama Canal 
R.P.O. (Panama RR) is not controlled by the P.T.S. or even 
by otir Post Office Department, but is operated by the Bureau 
of Posts of "The Panama Canal," an independent United 
States Government bureau. This 47.6-mile international 
route, running "from Coast to Coast in 85 minutes," is 
the only R.P.O. in the Zone or in the Republic of Panama, 
and has operated since canal construction in 1905. From 
Panama, R.P., on the Pacific, the R.P.O. runs northwest via 
Balboa Heights (Ancon's railroad station), Corozal, Pedro 
Miguel, and Frijoles, C.Z., to the joint station for Cristobal, 
C.Z,, and adjacent Colon, R.P., on the Atlantic. The daily 
R.P.O. train largely parallels the canal and is staffed by "rail- 
way mail clerks" (official title) who report for only thirty 
minutes' advance time. The postmasters at Ancon and Cris- 
tobal supervise the R.P.O. Since there are only about twenty- 



FROM CANADA TO THE ORIENT 309 

four civilian post offices in the entire Zone (all served by the 
R.P.O. directly or otherwise), the official "scheme" is merely 
a section of the Canal Zone Postal Guide listing the offices 
(and other localities, as in Alaska) with the station through 
which served. 

Like the former Alaska lines, the Panama Canal R.P.O. is 
atuhorized to deliver mail for residents of no-office points, like 
Frijoles, to "the railroad station agent or anyone accepting 
mail for him." Even registered and insured mail, if made up 
by the Ancon or Cristobal post offices in special form, can be 
delivered by the clerks to addressees residing along the rail- 
way. Clerks are required to pouch daily on Balboa, Balboa 
Heights, Ancon, and Cristobal— plus international sealed 
sacks for Panama and Colon, as well as "additional pouches 
as necessary." Panamanian laborers employed by the Canal, 
formerly "silver employees" (because of pay scale), are re- 
quired to assist and obey the clerks during receipt and delivery 
of mail at the car door; and pavmasters carrying pav rolls for 
these and U. S. white-collar workers (formerly "gold employ- 
ees") can ride in the postal car to safeguard the same. In nor- 
mal times the R.P.O.s connection to the States is by the N.Y. Sc 
Canal Zone S.P.O. out of Colon (formerly designated as an 
R.P.O.; now inoperative). At one time the United States Rail- 
way Mail Service may have operated the rail R.P.O., for it 
uses a standard canceler with "RMS" in the killer. Clerks are 
authorized to accept letters ^vith Panama and United States 
stamps on them, but must forward them for canceling and for 
rating with postage due; all such mails are considered 
"foreis^n" and must be wavbilled when bagged. CP service, 
only, is operated for Panama Republic postal movements. 

MEXICO 

Mexico's interesting R.P.O. network, like Canada's, is svn- 
chronized with ours. Aiming to attain the highest modern 
standards, the system operates mostly over the National Rail- 
ways of Mexico— which actually claims to have R.P.O. service 
over all its trackage. There are about 120 routes, supervised 



510 MAIL BY RAIL 

by a "Chief of the Transportation Office, General Postal Ad- 
ministration" assisted by his regional "Postal Inspectors." 
Most routes are called O.P.A.s (Officina Postal Ambulanle), 
but some are designated as Servicio Ambulantc, and they are 
named in reverse order for the return trip. The clerks (and 
hence the service) are popularly designated post Lren and 
number about five hundred; olTicially agentes postal ambu- 
lanle, they are exempt from loading storage mails and similar 
"porter work." 

Connecting with United States lines at El Paso, for ex- 
ample, is the important "O.P.A. Juarez y Torreon" (NRM; 
i.e., Juarez R: Torreon R. P.O.)— or, northbound, the Torreon 
y Judrez. Its service continues on into Mexico via the O.P.A.'s 
Torreon y Aguascalientes and Aguas. y Mexico, also on the 
National Railways. Other lines include the heavy O.P.A. 
Nuevo Laredo y San Luis Potosi (MP-NRM), likewise a 
heavy Mexico City connection to Laredo, Texas: and the 
O.P.A. Nogales y Navojoa (SP). Postmarkers are issued 
separately to each clerk regardless of the different lines he 
may run on, and hence show no titles; arbitrary numbers are 
used. Some domestic Mexican mails are forwarded in part 
over speedy connecting United States R.P.O.s for fastest dis- 
patch to Mexican destinations. Mail receipts are given for 
each bag of mail (nimibered and billed to correspond). 

Sealed sacks of international mails are regularly exchanged 
by United States and Mexican R.P.O.s. and American clerks 
distribute Mexican mails to lines by standpoint scheme, the 
border-area O.P.A.s (like Western Canada lines) being listed 
in United States schedules. Mexican R.P.O.s often deliver 
mails direct to persons stationed at small railroad section 
posts or way stations which have no post office; if no postal 
representative is on hand, letters can be handed to addressees. 
Mexican postal cars, which much like ours, have no tables 
fitted to the newspaper racks. Hence reports have arisen that 
"mail to be distributed is poured on the floor"; but Avhile this 
was done on small lines years ago, the standard practice is to 
work papers out of an opened sack or to improvise a table 
from sacks piled up or spread on ilie rack. Sack mail is sealed 



FROM CANADA TO THE ORIENT 311 

before dispatch. Many cars have no fans or electric lights, but 
these are being installed. 

The two to tour clerks assigned to each train usually bring 
a small portable stove for heating coffee and food en route, 
but modern food-heating devices are planned. Mexican 
clerks are notably courteous, polite, and loyal to their govern- 
ment—though they have the right to strike against it. They 
are naturally paid much lower salaries than United States 
clerks ($3.50 daily in 1948), but here again the low cost of 
living helps to equalize things. Layoffs are not quite so long 
as ours. Clerks often alternate in clerk-in-charge assignments, 
in day and night runs, and so on. They are issued detailed 
state schemes (with much postal-guide data included), as well 
as one of Mexico itself, and are expected to memorize hun- 
dreds of routings of the tiny no-office localities. No practice 
cards are used except occasional homemade ones. Clerks be- 
long to a general communications union (the S.N.T.S.C. 
O.P.!) instead of to a postal or railway mail group, and joint 
meetings and banquets have been held by this union and the 
EI Paso Branch, N.P.T.A., which have been attended by 
clerks and high officials as well— a laudable boon to interna- 
tional friendship. The future of Mexico's system is bright. 

INDIA 

(Including Burma and Pakistan) 

Like the Canadian and Philippine systems (and like ours 
up to 1949) the Railway Post Office system of India is 
designated as "the Railway Mail Service," and the same 
types of divisions, each headed by a superintendent, are used. 
Furthermore, "catchers" for non-stop exchanges resemble the 
United States type; layoffs are much like ours (clerks often 
work four days, then are off three); and, finally, the R.M.S. is 
"entrusted with almost the whole sorting (i.e., transit distri- 
bution) of the Post Office," exactly as in this country. 

W^orking conditions, efficiency of operation, and salaries 
have all improved remarkably in recent years. Sorters on the 
more than 450 lines now receive about 45 to 120 rupees a 



S12 MAIL BY RAIL 

month (about $36, a good salary in India). Cars are small, 
often only fifteen feet in total length, and, like English 
T.P.O.s, contain no pouch or sack racks. But they are fitted 
with electric lights, and special resthouses have been provided 
by the government at "changing stations" and termini for the 
sorters, as they are called. An attendant and necessary uten- 
sils are provided there for cooking meals; hence most lines 
offer only a low travel allowance or none at all. 

Runs often comprise a full week of varied dtuies, includ- 
ing certain hours at a Mail Office (terminal R.P.O.) or Record 
Office, and a deadhead journey or two to complete the cycle. 
Mail Offices (with a postmark such as "POONA R.M.S.") also 
employ many regular terminal clerks, who get only one day 
off in ten; however, they usually work only six to seven and 
three-quarter hours a day, depending on whether it is night 
or day work. On the trains "FM" (foreign mail) sorters work 
up to twenty-seven hours without rest, and special R.P.O. 
trains for such mails are normally operated out of Bombay. 

R.P.O.s are called R.M.S. Sections^ and a typical example 
is the Darjeeling Mail, which is officially "Section E-ll" (1 1th 
run in "E" Division) on the Ben. &: A. and D. H. Rys. Cars 
on this line are painted "DARJEELING MAIL" in large 
letters with a royal crest underneath, and have a "late fee" mail 
slot; wino- cases, with boxes twice as big as ours, are found 
inside. (This line operates from Parbatipur to Darjeeling, 
up in the Mount Everest foothills.) A typical trunk line, on 
the G.I. P. Railway from Bombay to Delhi, consists of Sections 
B-19, F-1, and A-15. Trains are numbered, but "in" and 
"out" designations are usually used. 

The Indian R.M.S. dates from 1863, when the first sorting 
section was established on the G.I. P. Railway from Allahabad 
to Cawnpore. After heated arguments over railroad mail pay, 
the Post Office was able to expand the services over the coun- 
try. Old postmarks reveal that both the terms "R.P.O." and 
"T.P.O." were used at first, but later dropped in favor of 
R.M.S.; "Mail Guards" and "Mail Agents," each with their 
own R.M.S. cancelers, appeared. Today R.P.O. trains use 
postmarkers showing simply the number of the section, as 



FROM CANADA TO THE ORIENT 813 

"B-2," and of the crew or set on duty, such as "SET 1 ." Sorters 
must turn in detailed trip reports with every irregularity 
recorded. There is only one "Schedule of R.P.O. Trains" for 
all of India, and this is published as a fifty-page appendix to 
the Postal Guide or List of Indian Post Offices; called the List 
of R.M.S. Sections, this appendix includes all necessary time- 
table data (including junction connections) for every section 
operated. Compiled in tabulated list form, with section titles 
all in one left-hand column, it appears thoroughly complicated 
to our eyes— in fact, almost as remarkably complex as our 
P.T.S. brochures appear to Indian R.M.S. men! India's 
schemes or sortiji^ lists seem to be even more hopelessly con- 
fused; issued separately from each large postal center, thev 
consist of non-alphabetical regional standpoint schemes with 
the post offices listed in arbitrary order. 

India had one of the world's first planned training pro- 
grams for new R.M.S. men. Some interesting excerpts are 
given here from a significant report by Nilkanth D. Purandare, 
retired R.M.S. inspector at Poona who has conducted many 
such courses between 1928 and 1943. Mr. Purandare (whose 
father founded the Foreign Mail Sections') thus describes the 
wartime revival of the classes in September 1943: 

Seventeen such classes were opened at the Head- 
quarters stations of the R.M.S. Divisions . . . Taking into 
consideration the costly living in Bombay . . . the Gov- 
ernment decided to pay regular pay and other allow- 
ances to the twenty trainees to be deputed to the R.M.S. 
Training Center, Bombay G.P.O. . . . The Sorting Office 
of the Bombay R.M.S. is the biggest in the whole of 
India ... As the number of post offices to be learned by 
heart by a trainee in the Bombay R.M.S. is much larger, 
I got the period extended to three months . . . For prac- 
tical work they used to be deputed for actual sorting to 
the R.M.S. Mail Office. 

The number of post offices to be learned by heart . . . 
was about four thousand durine the course of about 
twelve weeks. I had, therefore, fixed a quota of three 
hundred to three hundred and fifty per week, or about 
sixty per day. I had about four or five copies of the List 



S14 MAIL BY RAIL 

of Indian P.O.s, and introduced the system of dictating 
the names of the P.O.'s in the class. . . . Notebooks were 
introduced . . , This copying work in two places had a 
good result, as the trainees had a good practice in 
spelling . . . 

We had map reading, and explaining of train connec- 
tions of the R.M.S. sorting sections in India, for which 
bags are closed by the Bombay R.M.S.; . . . the beats of 
R.M.S. sections and the situation of postoffices on the 
several railway lines etc. ... I introduced the system 
of a written test ... A monthly report on the progress 
of each trainee was sent to the Division Superintendent 
. . . about one hundred and sixty boys received train- 
ing ... It was a pleasure to teach others what you know, 
and be of use to the community at large. It was a duty 
after my own heart. 

R. P.O.s in Pakistan and Burma closely resemble those in 
India proper. Pakistan has adopted some new postmarkers for 
use on air mail and registers sorted on the lines, the cancel 
indicating one or both functions. Burma's Rangoon-Manda- 
lay Mail and Moulmein Night Mail are well known; newer 
postmarks, like that of the Minhla-Thayetmo R.P.O., show the 
route title. 

CENTRAL AMERICA 

Costa Rica.—K.P.O.s. called Ambulantes or Ferrocnrril, 
from San Jose to Ramal, to Limon, et cetera; two or three 
routes, one reported as early as 1907. 

C?/6<2.— About seventy routes, called Ambulates (or S.P.C), 
except for immediately following the Spanish-American W^ar. 
Then our R.M.S. took over and renamed them accordingly— 
thus the "Cardenas y Santa Clara Ambulate" became the 
"Cardenas R: Santa Clara R.P.O." from 1899 to 1902. A main 
line is the Habana y Camaguey Ambulate (URH-CubRR). 
Two boat R. P.O.s (called Topor) and three H. P.O.s {Camioyi) 
operate, including the Camion Habana y Managua. 

Guatemala.— Ti\e current routes operate, with twelve nms 
f hereon (numbered in order), from Guatemala City to San 



FROM CANADA TO THE ORIENT 515 

Jose and other points. Clerks postmark and sort loose letters 
handed in, but otherwise are said to handle closed pouches 
only; lines are designated Correos Nalionales—Ambulante, 
says specialist George K. Clough. 

Jamaica.— Two routes, evidently operated as one, and called 
simply the "T. P.O.— Jamaica"; the government's narrow- 
gauge railway, starting at Kingston, diverges into two long 
branches to Montego Bay and to Port Antonio. Established 
in 1901. (For Puerto Rico, Panama, see "U. S. Territories.") 

EUROPE 

Austria.— Ahout. seven hundred R.P.O. runs, numbered in 
order, on some forty "first-class" and seventy "second-class" 
routes. Designated as Fahrendes Postamt, the R.P.O.s are 
typified by the Wien-Innsbruck (14) and Innsbruck-Lindau 
(61,62) east-west trunk line. Established about 1852, the sys- 
tem uses postal cars, each known as a postambulance. Austria 
has, or did have, our only known cable-incline R.P.O. —the 
St. Anton-am-Arlberg, operated with special cancel for a 
winter mountain-sports event. 

Belgium .—Ahoni fifty short runs, wdth such titles as Nord I 
and Nord II (i.e., North route, No. 1 and 2), Brussells-Anvers; 
Midi IV (Namur-Brussells), et cetera. First run was about 
1849 (Liege-\'erviers); supervised by Office of Travelling 
Posts. One seapost to England, the Oostende-Dover. 

Bulgaria.— Ahoul one hundred and fifteen runs, such as the 
Amb. Gyveshevo-Sofia, Varna-Sofia, et cetera. 

Cyprus.— This island's various "R.P.O." postmarks actually 
originate at small "railway (i.e., trackside) post offices"; no 
postal cars are operated at all! 

Czechoslovakia.— Ahonl three hundred routes, wdth no less 
than 996 runs, all numbered, with up to four clerks per thirty- 
foot car. Large boxes for newspapers and parcels, Avell padded, 
are typical of the sorting cases. "Praha-Plzen" and "Praha- 
Cheb" are two heavy routes. Depots have terminal R.P.O.s. 



816 MAIL BY RAIL 

Denmark.— About three hundred modern R.P.O.s, called 
Dansk Bureauer, manned by lour hundred and fifty clerks; 
the first one was operated 1852. A great trunk R.P.O., 
Bureauer 2085 between Copenhagen and Frederikshavn (600 
kilometers), consists of an all-postal train of two or three 
postal cars with fifteen clerks; it connects many other routes, 
all designated by train number only. R.P.O. cars are divided 
by partition into "ofiice" (letter and newspaper) and "parcel" 
sections (all other traffic). Clerks, carefully trained, are select- 
ed from the post ofiices and work a straight six-day week. 

Eire {Ireland}.-Y)uh\in & Cork T.P.O. and Dublin R: Gal- 
way T.P.O., Day and Night,' were only runs operating in Eire 
at last report, due to the coal shortage. Normally, the 
Portadown & Derry and Belfast R: Northern Counties (to 
Coleraine) T.P.O.s operate in British North Ireland, and 
others in Eire; but the two lines are isolated from Eire's and 
from each other (the Dublin R; Belfast formerly connected 
to both). Dating from 1855, Irish services are on the English 
pattern; however, labeled cases and decorative interior trim 
are found. (Carrier: Amalgamated Transport of Eire.) 

Finland.— Ahoui thirty-three R.P.O.s (184 runs), including 
Helsinki-Turku, Vaasa-Seinajoki. 

France.SomQ IGO Bureaux Ambulants (regular R.P.O.s), 
Courriers-Convoyeurs (local branch lines), and Wagons- 
Postes (Fast Mails) on the Rapides or express trains traverse 
the country. Main lines, showing railways traversed, include 
the Ambulants Paris a Marseille (Sud-Est) and Marseille a 
Lyon Rapide (Mediterranee). The best French postal cars 
contain sorting cases Avith holes of all sizes, \vide case tables 
with drawers and cupboards, and even nicely cushioned chairs 
(at least before the war). But other clerks ^vork only in danger- 
ous old Avooden cars or in tiny compartments in second-class 
passenger or baggage \ans. A fe^v runs operated even through- 
out World War II. Many brigades (crews) used characteristic 
wavy-circle postmarkers, reports Dr. Carroll Chase (leading 



^Actual place names and postmarks are in Gaelic. 



FROM CANADA TO THE ORIENT 317 

United States authority). Operated since 1844, the centenary 
of the ajnbulants was marked in 1944 by a special stamp, only 
one of its kind on record. There are day (1 °) and night (2°) 
runs. (Army R.P.O.s: See Chapter 11.) The C. -Convoy eur 
Mulhouse-Ensisheim, 15 km., is a real trolley R.P.O. on the 
Mulhouse Tramways, 

Germany .—In 1937 Germany had over five thousand BaJin- 
posts (R.P.O. runs) over probably about five hundred routes, 
and most have been restored to service. Trunk lines include 
the Berlin-Hannover and Koln-Hannover Bahnposts (all 
German State Raihvays). Like our P.T.S., the Bahnposts are 
a separate service, divided into numbered districts, and clerks 
are assigned to districts only (detailed to any or all rims as 
directed). After special training (case examinations are not 
used), clerks are assigned to duties on an eight-hour day basis, 
under supervision of the Military Governments' commimica- 
tion branch. Since 1890, Bahnpost clerks have had travel al- 
lowances and higher pay than post-office clerks; night differ- 
ential, annual and sick leave are granted. The Reichpost suc- 
ceeded in operating some routes even throughout World War 
II, though others were annihilated by bombs. W'hen the mili- 
tary governments took over in 1945 some prew^ar cars still had 
skylights and prettily decorated interiors, in conformance 
with Reichsfiihrer Mitler's "beauty of Tvork" edicts; the new- 
est cars are all steel, aboiu 21.6 meters long, with a special 
bag-opening compartment in the center— encircled by extra- 
large pigeonholes to accommodate contents (in lieu of pouch 
rack). Ingenious dust-eliminating devices and revolving cases 
are found. The Bahnposts have operated since 1841, the vari- 
ous states having differing types at first (e.g., "K.WURTT. 
BAHNPOST" in Wurttemberg). While the Strassenhahn- 
briefkasten (streetcar ^viih letter box) in Hamburg is not a 
trolley R.P.O. as reported, there may be electric-car Bahnposts 
at Frankfurt-am-Main. There is an international line into 
Belgium (Herbesthal-Cologne) which pouches on offices in 
three countries. Postmarks show "BAHNPOST," and train 
number as "ZUG." 



S18 MAIL BY RAIL 

Greece.— Severn] routes, as Larissa-Piraeus, and another in- 
to Alliens, have been restored since the war. 

Hungary— In 1939 there were over fourteen hundred 
R.P.O. runs on 297 routes, but by 1947 only 111 postal cars 
had been salvaged following war damage. The first run, to 
Vienna, was established 1868; later ones were Budapest-Oder- 
berg, Pest-Kassa, et cetera. 

Itnly.-Ahout 250 R.P.O.s, including Torino-Roma (Turin 
& Rome), and (earlier) the Amb. Firenze-Massa, Bologna- 
Milan, et cetera. Fifty-seven runs operated by 1889. The 
routes traverse the Italian State Railways. (See Sardinia.) 

Luxemburg.— Both ambulanls and Bahnposts recorded; 
Luxemburg-Trier, Luxembourg-Echternach, 3 other lines. 

Netherlands.— Tw'^nty -{our rail and boat R.P.O.s now op- 
erated, such as Amsterdam-Einhoven and Rotterdam-Utrecht. 
Several R.P.O.s connected a Flushing-Harwich Seapost run 
to England until 1939. Of great interest are four steam 
tramway R.P.O.s (Burgh Haamstede-Zijpe, Rotterdam- 
Hellevoetsluis, Rotterdam-Zuid Beijerland, and Spijkenisse- 
Oostvoorne, with reverse runs, on the Rotterdamshe Tramweg 
Maatschappij). They use box-like cars with five small, high 
windows (and a door) on each side; five earlier runs on the 
Arnhem-Zeist route (NBMaat) used electric tram cars. 

Noncay.—Ahoux. three hundred clerks man the two hun- 
dred-odd R.P.O.s on the Norwegian State Railways, the ser- 
vice being designated Reisende Posfekspedisjoncr. Important 
lines are Oslo-Trondheim and Oslo-Kornsjo (into Sweden). 
Mails are divided to line segments and sorted in small cars. 
Clerks, interchanged with those in post offices, work a forty- 
hour week; and enjoy excellent single-room layover facilities 
(government-furnished) plus twenty-one days' annual leave. 

Poland.— Th^TQ. were only six Poczt. Wagonie (R.P.O.s) re- 
ported in 1937; many more doubtless exist now. Numerous 
new postal cars have been built in double-quick time since 
1945; full cars contain large and small case boxes and pouch 
table; others use half of a passenger coach. Poland had R.P.O.s 



FROM CANADA TO THE ORIENT 319 

before we did, and by 1863 had lines from Warsaw to 
Czestochowa (connecting to Vienna), Bydgoszcz (to Berlin) 
and Grodno. Present routes also include Bielsko-Kalwaria 
(?); but the heavy line W^arsaw- Leningrad has always been op- 
erated by the Russians. 

Portugal.— About twenty-eight Ambulantes.' Postmarks, at 
least early ones, show no routes. 

Sardinia.— There is doubtless R.P.O. service from Caorliari 
to the island's north end, but available records of Sardinian 
posts deal mostly with Piedmont, its former mainland prov- 
ince (now Italy). Turin-Genoa Posie Amb. ran there. 

Soviet Russia (also Latvia, Estonia).— Poshtovy Vagony 
(postal cars) of Russia operate over a vast network of railways, 
although no current information could be obtained from 
Soviet representatives. The Trans-Siberian Express from Mos- 
cow to V'ladivostok, Siberia, carries an R.P.O. route which is 
perhaps the world's longest. Beside the P.V. Leningrad-War- 
saw (see Poland), other rotites connect to Moscow and all 
other centers; lines are designated by number only, there 
being at least seventy-eight routes. Terminals (depot sorting 
units) exist at many points. About five Postvaguns operate in 
Soviet Estonia (Tallin-Sadam, Valk-Tallin), and several in 
Latvia (Ritupe-Riga, Riga-Valka), as well as in Lithuania and 
the Ukraine. 

Spain.— At least forty-one Ambulante traverse Spain, in- 
cluding Irun-Madrid, Malaga-Seville, Madrid-Vigo (an ex- 
press run). Others are on slow mixed trains, even showing 
"MIX." [tren mixto) in the cancel. (TRANVIAS/BARCE- 
LONA, a tramway postmark, is applied to car-letter-box mail; 
it is not a trolley R.P.O.) Postal cars are about forty feet, divid- 
ed into working and storage sections; mailbags are hung on the 
walls and sealed as in England. The fast Midnight Mail from 
Madrid to France has three compartments manned by six uni- 
formed clerks (wearing tan smocks). Permanently labeled 
porcelain headers are used by letter clerks, with "dis" ofTices 



*Or Ambulancia. 



S20 MAIL BY RAIL 

printed in red on each; while their mailbags are colorfully 
embroidered with embossed letters in red, yellow, and blue. 

Szveden.—The Postkupe Svenska operates a highly efficient 
network of some 217 P.K.P.s (RPOs) -which are designated by 
number (independent of train number). Huge seventy-five 
foot,, forty-ton cars are often used (among the very longest) 
containing cases with all sizes of boxes as well as pouch racks 
like ours, overhead racks for parcels, and numerous cupboards, 
important loutcs are P.R.P. 9 and -IG (Stockholni-BoUnas), 
81 (Goteborg Malmo), and 308 (Boden-Kiruna), the latter 
going far north of the Arctic Circle and using electric loco- 
motives of the Lapland Railway. The eight hundred clerks 
sort mails much on the United States principle, using a large 
R.P.O. schedule (Tidtabeller for Jarnav.igsposterna and 
scheme (Forteckning), each covering the whole of Sweden and 
incorporating ingenious maps and diagrams. There are about 
fifteen men to a car, carefully trained and interchangeable 
with post-office staff; they receive annual leave up to thirty-five 
days annually but have no layoffs. Most lines are electrified 
and are on the S^vedish State Rys. 

Switzerlond.—K.F.O. operations, designated both as Bahn- 
post and Ambulant in bilingual postmarks, include the 
Zurich-Basel line and an express nm out of Geneva. Most 
lines are electrified, including at least one usino- single electric 
cars— the Stansstad-Engelberg segment, Luzerne-Engleberg 
Bahnpost. 

Tinkey.—The Turkish "Mobile Service" system has just 
been converted into a complete modern R.P.O. network for 
the first time, under supervision of Virgil Jones (a P.T.S. 
superintendent from Kansas) and his United States Postal 
Mission; there are over one hundred runs. A scheme and 
complete R.P.O. schedule of Turkey were both issued last 
year, and the Isianbul-Adana became one of two trunk 
R.P.O.s out of Istanbul, replacing primitive route-agent 
service— the other is the Istanbul-Ankara. 

Yugoslavia.— There are about one hundred and fifteen 
lines, with some R.P.O.s over three hundred miles long; routes 



FROM CANADA TO THE ORIENT 321 

include Sarajevo-Burgojno, Tuzla-Doboj, et cetera. Cars on 
long runs contain two beds, a sliower, and an ice-cooled food 
cupboard; clerks receive free board and lodging on layoxers, 
as \ve\\ as a "subsistence allowance" higher than that of travel- 
ing officials! 

AUSTRALASIA 

^w5/ro//fl.— Authorities state that the only R.P.O.s still op- 
erating in this subcontinent are those of New South Wales, 
except for one very unusual one, operating only once a month, 
attached to the Pay Train, Trans-Australian Raihvay (post- 
mark reads just that); Pay Train 1 runs from Port Augusta to 
Watson, and Train 2 from Fisher to Kals;oorlie. The N.S.W. 
lines, using late-fee letter slots, consist of the SOUTH (Sydncy- 
Junee), WEST (Sydney-Dubbo), NORTHWEST (Sydney- 
Werris Creek-Narrabu) and NORTH (Werris Creek junc- 
tion-Glen Innes) "T.P.O." runs. However, very recently re- 
ported were a Sydney-Brisbane and Sydney-Albury run, and a 
Quoran-Alice Springs T.P.O. (South Australia, 1948) in addi- 
tion. Clerks work in uniforms, including officer-type caps, 
and work at permanently labeled cases (^vith large compart- 
ments for parcels). Cancels read "T.P.O. 2 NORTH/N.S.W.- 
AUST." et cetera. The first T.P.O.s operated about 1870 and 
at one time traversed most states of the Commonwealth; 
but T.P.O.s in Queensland, Victoria, and Tasmania quit in 
1932. (South Australia had a "P.O. RAILWAY" postmark- 
ing mail as early as 1867.) Early T.P.O.s used two compart- 
ments of a passenger car painted "ROYAL MAIL VAN" and 
used candles; when letters were burned by the latter, kerosene 
lamps were put in. 

Indonesia (Java).— At least one line, the North Borneo 
R.P.O., operates out of Batavia, Java. Clerks use large-holed 
sorting cases but no racks. 

A^ezu Zealand.— One main-line R.P.O., only, still operates— 
the "T.P.O. MAIN TRUNK" (postmark incl tides "Auck- 
land, N.Z."), from Auckland to Wellington. Many shorter 
lines once operated, including branches of this one to New 



S22 MAIL BY RAIL 

Plymouth, Thames, and Woodville; also from Wellington to 
Napier via Woodville. On the South Island there was a main 
line from Invercargill to Christchurch (via Dunedin) and 
two branches out of Christchurch. Long called Railway 
Travelling Post Offices, these services began in 1878. The re- 
maining 426-mile main line uses modern four-truck cars on 
fast trains, with two senior clerks— called "train agents"— as 
the crew. A detailed local service is given at all stations. A 
small restroom equipped with stove and many 'conveniences 
is furnished the clerks, who travel .SOO.OOO miles a year; service 
was suspended in World War II. Clerks from post-ofTice mail 
rooms man the R.P.O., workino: five weeks in the office for 
each one on the road. Trains leave at 3 P.M. both ways, make 
sixteen stops. 

Philippine Republic— About tw^enty-eight railway postal 
clerks now run on the newly-restored routes in the Philippines 
under direction of Vincente Gonzales, Chief, Railway Mail 
Service (Bureau of Posts); these consist of the Manila-San 
Fernando and Manila-Naga City R.P.O.s (ManilaRR) on 
Luzon, and the Iloilo-Capiz R.P.O. (Philippine Railway) on 
Panay Island. The 378-kilometer Manila-Naga line is the 
longest, and carries two clerks in each direction. Operating 
practice, which was under the U. S. Railway Mail Service for 
many years after 1899 and used the same official postmark 
designs, closely resembles ours. Until the Japanese invasion 
in 1941, the Manila-Naga Camarine Sur operated in addition 
to the other R.P.O.s; all were taken over by the Japanese but 
operated almost entirely as closed-pouch service. Earlier there 
were as many as ten lines— many of them organized by our 
military forces in 1898 or by an R.M.S. postal mission then 
(see Chapter 1 1). Some Spanish routes operated still earlier, 
but no records seem available. 

SOUTH AMERICA - ASIA - AFRICA 

We must apologize to our good friends to the south, as well 
as those in the other two continents, outside of India, for our 
inability to include specific information on their very interest- 



FROM CANADA TO THE ORIENT S25 

ing and progressive railway postal services— both because of a 
lack of space and an extreme paucity of available data other 
than technical postmark information. Korea, despite its new 
significance in world affairs, has apparently never had R.P.O.s 
according; to its Consul General. 

South America has interesting Ambulancias in Bolivia and 
Chile and extensive R.P.O. services in Argentina, Brazil, 
Colombia, Peru, British Guiana, and most other countries. 
The "Transvaal T.P.O.," one of two in South Africa, is 
particularly interesting— a long run from Johannesburg to 
De Aar. Japan has some twenty-eight routes, using small 
compartments in view of the passengers, in which clerks sort 
into big-holed cases; many lines are electrified. China had sev- 
eral routes before its collapse, including the Pieping-Yukuan 
and Shanghai-Nanking R.P.O.s and a Yangtze seapost route 
(publicity exhibits for an expansion program even included 
model R.P.O. cars). 



Chai'ter 16 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 



When I've made my last trip in the new tin train, 

And have tied out my last sack; 
And have headed west toward the land of rest, 

From whence no once comes bark, 
It would soothe my dream to be pulled by steam 

On that ride down the Glory track. 

— Robert L. Simpson 




The bright future prospects of the 
P.T.S. are closely linked with the im- 
pact made upon the Service by today's 
innovations— and, conversely, with the 
impression made by the P.T.S. upon 
the nation at lars^e, as revealed in con- 
temporary literary and artistic media 
and in its contribution thereto of so 
many distinguished professional lead- 
ers. In closing, an appraisal of these 
interesting trends is fitting. 
The sudden advent of air mail, with a speed factor completely 
offsetting the time saved by transit-sorting when long distances 
are involved, has presented an unprecedented challenge to 
the future of mail distribution en route. From the very first 
experimental balloon-mail fligiit in pre-railroad days (1835) 
up to the inception of mail-plane trials aroimd 1911 and 
establishment of our first air-mail route in 1918, an implied 
threat to the future of R.P.O. service as we know it has existed; 
and the expansion of air services since has intensified it. For- 

324 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 325 

tunately, the Railway Mail Service— as the natural channel for 
transit mail— was very early assigned the task of establishing 
"air-mail fields" to sort the air mail; for it had to be kept 
separate from ordinary letters, and post offices obviously could 
not furnish the facilities. Handily located right at each major 
airport, the A.ALF.s soon became a vitally important part of 
the Service. 

Today the Postal Transportation Service operates nearly 
forty Air Mail Fields manned by o\er t^velve hundred clerks. 
The complex special schemes needed for sorting air mail, 
which cannot as yet be routed to distributing lines, eventual- 
ly assumed their present form (listing definite dispatches for 
each first- and second-class office, but massing others on dis- 
tributino; centers). A.iNf.F. clerks handle in the mails manv 
rare items and unusual articles having vital time priority. 
Biologicals, cut flowers, anti-borer insects (with a life cycle 
too short for sea transport to Hawaii), wasps for pollination, 
fresh poultry, bees, ne^vs mats, and urgently needed spare parts 
are quickly rushed by them to all corners of the earth. They 
are expert sorters; at Omaha (Nebraska) A.M.F., for example, 
clerks work New York City air mail out to stations bet^veen 
planes and often take 1,000-card examinations 100 per cent 
correct, at up to forty cards per minute. 

In spite of trials, such as their unreasonably low salary 
classification, A.M.F. clerks do yeoman service in the hours 
between their long commuting trips (in post-office trucks or 
by such little public transportation as exists). Since most air 
mail must finish its trips to smaller offices by land, they pouch 
on all nearby R.P.O. routes and distributing offices. The "fly- 
paper fields" are already developing tales and traditions of 
their own in the P.T.S. pattern. A favorite story at Jackson- 
ville (Florida) A.M.F. deals with former Postmaster General 
Hannegan's unexpected visit there while waiting to change 
planes. He walked in and greeted Clerk J. B. Glover with 
"Fm Bob Hannegan, the Postmaster General." Grover, not 
even glancing upward, retorted, "Yes, and Fm President Tru- 
man." Only after insistent explanations was he convinced, 
amid many a hearty laugh at his confusion. 



326 MAIL BY RAIL 

Years ago, however, farsighted railway mail clerks became 
convinced that the A.M.F.s were not enough— that for maxi- 
mimi cross-coimtry speed to the ultimate degree air-mail ser- 
vice should be combined with actual distribution aloft in the 
planes. It is not known who first suggested the idea, but it 
was probably put forth well before the first ne\vs of such ex- 
periments (overseas) reached this country in 1928. For the 
world's first Flying Post Office was not the one recently oper- 
ated across America as a result of such sugsrestions; it was ac- 
tually the Stockholm-London Air Post Office, which operated 
intermittently from June 18 to September 6, 1928, from 
S\veden to England via Malmo. Actual sortino: of letters aloft 
was performed by expert clerks from the Stockholm G.P.O. 
on ten flights, sponsored by the Swedish Air Traffic Associa- 
tion (English and Swedish postmarks). 

Here in America a planned attempt to have a clerk placed 
on a plane (to sort mail between Forth Worth and San An- 
tonio, Texas) was first put forth by Superintendent C. J. 
Taylor of the Ilth Division, R.M.S., in the early 1930s; but 
Washington disapproved the suggestion. About 1935, Walter 
W. Mahone, of the Rich. Sc Clif. Forge (CR:0) in Virginia, 
introduced perhaps the first R.M.A. resolution for sortation 
on planes; and by 1939 the Association was approving similar 
resolutions at each national convention. That same year ac- 
tual non-stop catch-and-delivery service by planes was intro- 
duced around Pittsburgh experimentally on May twelfth (the 
permanent service began August 12, 1940); All-American Air- 
lines operated this rotite to Huntington, West Virginia, and 
others to eastern Pennsylvania for ten years. No clerk was 
carried and no letters distributed, but the flight mechanic (or 
sky clerk) did "sort" small pouches of mail en route into the 
rubber containers which were thrown off at way points; mails 
to be "caught" were placed in similar containers hung in a 
ring of nylon rope which was hooked up by a second rope from 
the plane and reeled upward. One hundred twenty-five stops 
were served, but service was discontinued on June 30, 1949. 

Clerks renewed their efforts to put clerks aloft as the result 
of the "pickup service" impetus, but Department officials re- 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 327 

jected all such suggestions as impracticable until early in 1 943. 
At tiiat time Postmaster General Walker broke ^vith tradition 
to declare that studies were being made of "distribution of 
mail en route in transcontinental airplanes" and that railway 
postal clerks— excellently fitted for the work— should be used 
therein. Although other air-mail officials scoffed by saying 
that letters would slide out of the case whenever the plane 
banked, plans ^vere steadily perfected and were publicly an- 
nounced by Postmaster General Robert Hannegan in Janu- 
ary 1940; and on March thirty-first, Fairchild Aircraft re- 
leased its "Flying Mail Car" plans. 

At 1 P.M. on September 25, 1946, the first flight of the 
experimental "Washington, Dayton R: Chicago Flying Post 
Office" (TWA) actually took off from the Washington Na- 
tional Airport, and mails were sorted aloft for the first time in 
America. I'he specially equipped cargo liner had been on dis- 
play since 9 A.M., and elaborate ceremonies preceding the 
take-off had involved Postmaster General Hannegan, Second 
Assistant Postmaster General Gael Sullivan, and Air Mail, 
W'ar Department, and T.W.A. officials. Mr. Sullivan and the 
other officials on board the flight sorted the air mail (mostly 
collectors' covers) out to states and directs in the compact case; 
but no postmark was applied- the mail was canceled in W^ash- 
ington, with special cachets used. Arriving at Chicago in 
three and one-half hours, the plane was then routed to Pitts- 
burgh and New York. On October first, another F.P.O. flight 
was operated clear from Boston to Los Angeles on American 
Air Lines* Midnight Expediter; and on the same day the Fair- 
child Packet (Flying Mail Car) got its chance. United Air 
Lines flew it from New York to San Francisco in exactly twelve 
hours; and on October third, it was routed to Seattle and then 
back to New York the next day. The Packet's squared fuselage 
accommodates a unique semicircular letter case, two pouch 
racks and a table, mail chutes, ten overhead boxes ^vith gates, 
intercom phone, and a special cushioned chair for sorting 
while seated. Soothing color schemes, fluorescent lighting, 
and other modern devices are used. 

All Flying Post Office operations were suspended after 



S28 MAIL BY RAIL 

October 4, 1946, and have not been resumed at this writing; 
but officials involved declared the experiment an unqualified 
success, and its permanent establishment has long been ex- 
pected. No definite routes have yet been authorized, nor any 
mail postmarked aloft (although cachets, only, were applied 
on the Expediter). Carrying up to twelve thousand pounds 
of bag mail in addition to that for sorting (an estimated one- 
fourth of total), the service could greatly speed up all long- 
distance air mail in conjunction with C.P. feeder routes. If 
air mail is ever to travel as speedily as (he air-line passenger, 
flying post offices are an obvious "must" (cf. Armstrong ex- 
cerpt. Chap. 7). 

To sum things up, careful studies seem to indicate that the 
triumphal entry and advance of modern air-mail facilities rep- 
resent an encouras;inCT challenQ;e— not a threat— to the future 
progress of our railway post offices and of mail sortation in 
transit generally. And this is said even with all due regard to 
the dire predictions of both clerks and officials, here and there, 
who in recent years have painted dark pictures of our R.P.O.s 
becoming nearly or totally extinct— with "all first-class mails 
being sent by air" in closed pouches. The living proof that 
such fears are groundless is found in the postal systems of 
Canada, France, and Norway, where all long-distance letter 
mails have been sent by air mail for years, yet with almost no 
curtailment whatever of their flourishing R.P.O. networks 
having resulted! Most letters travel not over three hundred to 
five hundred miles or so, and over such distances R.P.O.s are 
faster than planes in elapsed mail-transit time— for sorting in 
transit, plus elimination of truck hauls to airports, overcomes 
the speed differential of air travel. The advent of air mail 
has encouraged a corresponding upsurge in the use of surface 
mails; and furthermore, when air mails are grounded by bad 
weather, still more traffic is thrown to the R.P.O.s. And it is 
essential that R.P.O.s be preserved for such eventualities, as 
well as to handle newspapers and other time-value mail, and, 
further, to deliver air mail to all the many smaller destinations 
that have no airfields! The case for the future seems self- 
evident: A co-ordinated network of R.P.O.s, H.P.O.s, and 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 329 

Flying Post Offices must, and certainly will, furnish the back- 
bone tor the Postal Service of Tomorrow.^ 

The second great modern innovation in mail transportation 
is the new Highway Post Office— welcomed by all railway mail 
men with open arms, in sharp contrast to the coming of air 
mail. True highway-borne R.P.O.s, these new mail-sorting 
buses are equally popular Avith the public and are operated 
under laws designed to protect short-line railways from com- 
petition. The expansion of this new service has "top priority 
in Post Office Department planning," with at least one hun- 
dred more routes projected in addition to the similar number 
now operated. Detailed analyses of costs and operations of 
the hypos or higli-wheelers, as the clerks call them, have proved 
them to be a magnificent and permanent success after nine and 
one-half years of close observation. The one factor of elimi- 
nating mail-messenger costs and delays (for the H.P.O. drives 
direct to post-office doors) at stations has saved the government 
thousands of dollars. It is planned to re-establish most dis- 
continued R.P.O.s in this new form and to place H.P.O.s on 
many long star routes. 

It will amaze most of us to learn that America's first sorting 
of mails on moving highway vehicles occurred in 1896! These 
early, horse-drawn "H.P.O.s" were called Collection R: Dis- 
tribution Wagons in the cities and Lxperimental Postal 
Wagons in rural areas. The first of these were two vehicles, 
each designated simply as "COLLECT'N &: DIST'N 
WAGON NO. 1," which began operation simultaneously in 
New York and in Washington on October 1, 1896; they were 
manned respectively by Clerks J. P. Connolly and R. N. Jeffer- 
son, among others. Operated not by the R.M.S. but by city 
post offices, these wagons performed local city distribution 
along with the streetcar R.P.O.s, with which they were co- 
ordinated, but they concentrated on collecting and sorting 



^At present, universal three-cent air mail for long distances would be economi- 
cally fantastic. Figures from both the Postal Transport Journal and Railroad 
Magazirie reveal that the air lines are paid as much (and sometimes far more) 
for transporting all air mails as the railways— unsubsidized— are paid for 
carrying ten to eighteen times as muchi 



550 MAIL BY RAIL 

drop mails en route to the post office. The idea was borrowed 
either from the R.M.S. or from a similar service in Berlin, 
Germany, the latter having apparently been the first such ser- 
vice on record. The usual letter cases and pouch racks were 
installed, and wagons pouched on outgoing R.P.O. trains 
(supposedly relieving post oflices of up to 50 per cent of out- 
going distribution). Actually, business firms hopelessly 
swamped the wagons, seeking these early dispatches, and both 
wagons were soon transferred— to Buffalo and St. Louis, where 
tliey were discontinued in 1903 or 1904 {Note 20). 

The odd Experimental Postal Wagon Service had its be- 
ginning April 3, 1899, at Westminster, Maryland— the inven- 
tion of E. W. Shriver of that post office. Its first eight-foot, 
two-horse wagon was painted in blue and gold ("U. S. 
POSTAL WAGON") and fitted with a counter, drawers, and 
fifty-eight-box case. It served a thirty-mile rural route out of 
Westminster, delivering mail direct to patrons in sixty-three 
rural hamlets (largely fourth-class post offices, then discon- 
tinued) and farm stops. The clerk or "postmaster" not only 
expedited his carrier deliveries by doing his usual preliminary 
sorting while traveling, but also sold stamps and money orders, 
just as in a regular post office. On December twentieth, t!iis 
service became Route A as three additional ones (B,C,D) 
were established from that oflFice, covering Carroll County; 
other routes followed at Frederick, Maryland, and in Penn- 
sylvania and Missouri. The clerk canceled mail from patrons 
with a rimless postmarker bearing a straight bar biller. Soon 
after 1905 the routes became ordinary R.F.D.s. But none of 
these wagon services sorted mail between offices. 

The first verified, recorded suofOfestion for H.P.O.s within 
the Railway Mail Service was the brain-child of James F. 
Cooper of the old Tuolumne R: Stockton (Sierra Railway) and 
the late Carl E. Allen (Sacramento R: San Francisco— SP) 
in California; utterly unaware of any other alleged like pro- 
posals, they hit on the idea of H.P.O.s during conversations 
in 1925. Noting that a new highway between Cooper's 
termini was ten miles shorter than his run and was siphoning 
so mucli traffic (including bag mails) from the railway that 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 331 

abandonment was imminent, they took action and began 
publicly advocating "bus R.P.O." service. Cooper introduced 
the first Division Convention resolution for H.P.O.s at San 
Francisco in 1927, following its approval by his Sacramento 
Branch, R.M.A. He wrote letters to bus companies, clerks, 
and officials plugging the idea, and 8th (California) Division 
delegates were finally directed to support H.P.O.s at the Na- 
tion Convention. L. C. Macomber (who claimed to have 
introduced a national H.P.O. resolution in 1915— not found 
in the records) and others, too, hammered away at the pro- 
posal; but no action was taken, and Cooper's line quit in 1938. 

Meanwhile the first true highway post office in the world 
(sorting mail between offices en route) is said to have been 
established in Germany in 1929. No details are available, and 
France also claims to have been first to operate a route, al- 
though her poste automobile riirale (founded September 1, 
1926) was much more like otir Experimental Postal Wagons 
and may not have even sorted mail while moving. In this 
country clerks redoubled their efforts, and in that same year 
of 1929, Walter W. Mahone (the Flying P.O. proposer men- 
tioned earlier) vigorously proposed the use of H.P.O.s on star 
routes and else^vhere— only to have his resolution soundly 
voted down at his Washington (D.C.) Branch meeting. The 
Department, in turn, rejected an officially submitted sugges- 
tion of Clerk H. E. Weiler for such service as "too far ahead of 
the times, and Congress will not appropriate money." But 
six years later the Mahone resolution was adopted both by his 
branch and the .3rd Division Convention, and that same year 
(19.35) the National R.M.A. voted likewise. 

Then in July 1937 the first American motor vehicle to sort 
mails en route began operation, but not as an H.P.O. This 
surprising and little-known service was operated in Miami, 
Florida, by the post office there, until December 1941; it con- 
sisted of a three-ton, thirteen-foot Autocar truck manned by 
three clerks who sorted foreign registered air mail, only, in 
transit between the Miami A.M.F. and the Pan-American Air- 
port at Dinner Key Base— using a thirty-six-box letter case. 
(The restoration and expansion of similar services, on post 



332 MAIL BY RAIL 

office-airport-railroad station circuits operated by the P.T.S., 
has been suggested in a meritorious proposal publicized by 
one clerk in the Postal Transport Journal. Runs to distant 
airports would permit a good bit of sorting, and both air and 
ordinary mail could perhaps be expedited.) 

In 1938 an investigating committee discovered that branch- 
line R.P.O. service had been cut by twenty-two million miles 
annually since 1922, and that mail circulation was being stag- 
nated by the resulting unwieldy star routes. The urgent need 
and the economy and convenience of proposed H.P.O.s on 
such lines was stressed; newspapers like the Greensboro 
(North Carolina) Neius took up the fight for "bus post offices." 
At a 1939 congressional hearing it was shown that German 
H.P.O.s were successfully expanding, and Representative 
Gillie of Indiana pleaded for such service to replace discon- 
tinued interurban and other R.P.O.s. (Clerks in the Indi- 
anapolis area had been so outspoken in suggesting the new 
service that one authority credits their office there with origi- 
nating the idea.) The route particularly in question was the 
short-lived, already-doomed Peru & Indianapolis R.P.O. 
(IRR) described in Chapter 12. 

Through concerted efforts by the R.M.A., Mr. Gillie, and 
others, Congress finally passed a joint resolution authorizing 
an experimental H.P.O. over this route. But even though 
the electric line had already designed the mail-sorting bus it 
planned to use thereon, President Roosevelt vetoed the bill at 
Departmental urging— on the grotmds that volume of avail- 
able mail was insufficient, that other R.P.O.s supplied all its 
larger offices, and that the legislation was restrictive (to one 
line only). At last, in 1940, a second bill was introduced by 
the Department allowing it to establish routes anywhere— 
and, backed by clerks and officials alike, it Avas enacted. 

On February 10, 1941, the Washington &: Harrisonburg 
Highway Post Office — first in America — left the national 
capital on its inaugural 142-mile journey through Virginia's 
beautiful Shenandoah Valley (over Highways 50, 15, Va.-55, 
and 11). Despite Indiana's pleas, it was the first route au- 
thorized; a spruce new government-operated White bus was 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 335 

used— a Model 788, with full R.P.O. equipment and powerful 
underfloor engine, finished in shiny red, blue, and silver with 
the lettering "UNITED STATES iMAIL - HIGHWAY 
POST OFFICE." The route was set up to supplement single- 
trip R.P.O. service on the old Wash, k Lexington (Sou) which 
connected the same two points. Oddly enough, the first letter 
had been mailed in the new H.P.O. eleven days before— by 
President Roosevelt, on his birthday (January 30), as it posed 
before the White House for photos. 

In the cool darkness of that early dawn on February tenth 
a little knot of postal officials and an interested clerk or two 
(including this writer) gathered to witness the historic e\ent. 
Genial John D. Hardy, then General Superintendent of the 
R.M.S. (which was assigned to operated all H.P.O.s), entered 
the vehicle to distribute the first mail— consisting mostly of col- 
lectors' covers, over fifty thousand being mailed. Amid new 
fittings exactly like those of an R.P.O. apartment, Clerk-in- 
Charge Clyde C. Peters, of Harrisonburg (a Washington & 
Lexington veteran), worked with the busy assistance of Clerks 
O. R. Liskey, L. H. Grove, and C. M. Bellinger. Both Mr. 
Hardy and his superior, Honorable Smith W. Purdum 
(Second Assistant Postmaster General), rode the thirty-three- 
foot bus on the first trip as the clerks sorted mail into 120 
letter-case separations and three five-foot racks of pouches. 
Safety belts, supplied to all, were not needed, because of the 
smooth riding of the streamlined vehicle. 

Although the citizenry of Washington ^vas conspicuous by 
its absence on this much-publicized occasion, any doubts as 
to the people's reception of the innovation in Virginia were 
soon dispelled. Cheering crowds, brass bands, and special re- 
ceptions greeted the colorful bus at Middleburg, Front Royal, 
Strasburg, Toms Brook, Woodstock, and Harrisonburg. A 
Middleburg restaurant treated crew and spectators to coffee 
and pastries, and after stirring speeches at Harrisonburg, A. 
G. Carter ("co^vboy postmaster" of Edinburg, also on the 
route) presented Mr. Purdum with a pistol he had used rid- 
ing the Montana ranges. Arrival at this terminus was right 
on time (1 1 A.M.), with the return trip being made on sched- 



534 MAIL BY RAIL 

iile with equal punctuality. The H.P.O. was the first dis- 
tributing line to serve the great suburban metropolis of Arl- 
ington, Virginia (adjoining Washington), although this par- 
ticular mail supply was recently discontinued. The route it- 
self, an outstanding success, continues to operate every week- 
day, supplying superbly efficient service to the Valley. 

The triumphal commencement of the first route fired the 
two principal groups of H.P.O. backers within the R.M.A. 
with new enthusiasm, and it was natural that the second and 
third routes should go to their areas. By extending the Peru 
& Indianapolis route north to South Bend, all objections to 
revival of this now-defunct line had been met; and the 152- 
mile South Bend, Peru &; Indpls. H.P.O. began operating 
May 3, 1941, over Highways 12-22-31. While the interurban 
trolley company ruefully ditched its blueprints for a contract- 
operated bus (the government provided the vehicle), the 
populace went wild with enthusiasm; the eight-car official 
motorcade was greeted with receptions everywhere by many 
of the 780,000 postal patrons whom it still benefits. Then came 
the San Francisco &: Pacific Grove (Calif., 151 miles) on 
August fourth, with an even more ceremonious inaugination 
at which James F. Cooper was deservedly the honor guest; he 
was given a reception at his home town of San Leandro, and a 
specially inscribed souvenir bell (rung at each stop) for his na- 
tionally known bell collection. Nine officials made the run, 
which likewise traversed at one end the route of a discontinued 
trolley R.P.O. (the "Hay k Oak" of Chapter 12). 

Further establishment of H.P.O.s was delayed by W^orld 
War II until 1946; but of the three routes established that 
year, two are particularly noteworthy. One, the 184-mile 
Union & Mobile (Gulf Transport Co.) from Mississippi to 
Alabama, was the first postwar and first interstate R.P.O., the 
first one operated by contract carrier (as R.P.O.s are), and 
the longest one yet established; it replaced a C.P. railroad- 
truck route of the same name, formerly an R.P.O. The other, 
unfortunately, was to become the first and only H.P.O. to be 
abandoned thus far— the old Jackson &: Benton Harbor, in 
Michigan (October 15, 1946-July 31, 1947). It was terminated 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 535 

after less than a year "because of excessive costs for factory 
maintenance under private contract," -with the expensive 
vehicle deteriorating to a very serious extent. 

After 1946 there was another lull until the ncAv Belleville 
& Wichita H.P.O. bloomed forth in Kansas in June 1948— 
but that was the signal for a steady stream of new routes to 
appear, without interruption, from then until the present day. 
Almost one hundred H.P.O. routes are now in operation, Avith 
new ones being added nearly every month. The longest run 
is the new Richmond R: Sanford (283.6 miles) from Virginia 
to North Carolina; while the shortest, thus far, is the Los 
Angeles R: San Pedro (California, 58-61 miles). Two of the 
new H.P.O.s traverse, almost exactly, proposed routes sug- 
gested in the original script of this book. One, the 114-mile 
Baltimore & Washington (in Maryland) restored service large- 
ly along the long-defunct routes of the old Bait. R: Annapolis 
(WBR:A) and Hyattsville & Chesapeake Beach (CBRR) 
R.P.O.s, as well as serving new territory around Prince 
Frederick and near Annapolis. 

The second of these two H.P.O.s, the Goshen Sc Newrsrk 
(N. Y. State-New Jersey), is already adding to the colorful 
traditions of the P.T.S. It seems that for a long time Clerks 
C. W. McMickle, "William Norkaitis, and Charles Sullo (and 
their driver) had been slowing down the H.P.O. to wave to an 
invalid brother and sister at Butler, New Jersey; and when 
Christmas (1949) arrived they surprised the shut-ins with a big 
Christmas party with gifts of goodies, books, and money from 
themselves and others. This H.P.O. was established as the 
MiddletoAvn R: Newark on November 29, 1948, only to be 
slightly rerouted into Goshen and accordingly renamed the 
following January 24— to the consternation of postmark col- 
lectors who failed to get the Middletown standard cancel! It 
replaces the old Wanaque R: N. Y. R.P.O. (Erie) and restored 
service to dozens of towns on the former Middletown R: N. Y.'s 
(NYSRrAV') west end— also furnishing it to the upper-bracket 
Montclair-Caldwell suburban area. "The Gosh," as it is 
called, has a companion route — the Wanaque R: Newark 
H.P.O., which took over the east end of the N. Y. S. R: W. 



333 MAIL BY RAIL 

(then curtailed as the Butler 8: N. Y.) on the same date. The 
new VV^anaque run has established a real record for speed in 
delivery; officials report one letter mailed at Ridgefield Park, 
New Jersey, at 11 A.M. delivered to the addressee in North 
Bergen, via H.P.O. and special-delivery messenger, at 12:45 
P.M. same day! 

On the human side, life on the H.P.O.s differs quite a bit 
from that on the mail trains. There is no coffee man on the 
H.P.O. bus; at lunch time the driver merely makes an un- 
official stop at a roadside restaurant and all hands partake of 
a good hot meal! To avoid going "stuck," clerks on the Jiypos 
have doubtless persuaded more than one driver to stage a 
slight slowdown or to linger a bit while important connections 
are tied out. Styles in H.P.O. vehicles are already changing— 
the once-universal red, blue, and silver color scheme is giving 
way to two shades of rich maroon, with only one stripe of the 
patriotic hues; and new models are even more streamlined 
than early ones, many of them being huge articulated "two- 
car" units which bend in the middle. The H.P.O.s have suf- 
fered only a few accidents on the road, with no injuries. 

The law which prohibits establishment of H.P.O.s so as to 
compete with or exterminate existing short-line R.P.O.s is 
presently interpreted rather liberally. H.P.O.s can be estab- 
lished- wherever R.P.O. service is "insufficient;" and where 
existing R.P.O. service is not sufficiently economical, frequent, 
or speedy in the eyes of the Department, it has ruled that 
such facilities are insufficient for the public interest. Both 
of the New Jersey H.P.O.s mentioned, as well as most of those 
out of Los Angeles, were established to replace existing 
R.P.O.s (although railroad service continued to operate) in 
the interests of economy and flexibility. Establishment of both 
of our first two H.P.O.s was later followed by discontinuance 
of R.P.O. service between the same termini, althougrh routes 
differed. Although it cannot be proven that the new service 



'Provided, according lo official policy, that supervision and garage facilities 
are available, that climate is satisfactory, that grades do not exceed 6 per cent, 
and that there are sufficient large post offices supplied without making the 
route too long. 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE S37 

hastened the demise of either R.P.O., it cannot be denied that 
when a mail contract is the final economic factor which en- 
ables a railroad "short line" to survive, substitution of 
H.P.O.s could be fatal and affect adversely many commimi- 
ties served in spite of the very beneficial mail service supplied. 
While a vast majority (if not all) of our current H.P.O.s were 
needed very badly to provide good service, it is to be hoped 
that future routes may be established more particularly in 
areas having no R.P.O. service whatever. Such territories, 
needing H.P.O. service urgently, include the south half of 
New Jersey (with only two short R.P.O.s left); the Southern 
Maryland-Northern Neck (Virginia) area, where a "Wash- 
ington & Fredericksburg H.P.O." via the Morgantown bridge 
(to replace the huge motor-route networks out of both cities) 
would do wonders; and vast portions of New England, the 
Mountain states, Oregon, Washington, and else^vhere. Simul- 
taneous pouches made by a connecting line sho'^v that the 
Wash. & Fred, route (in Maryland alone) would receive over 
twice the mail handled by the new Bait. & Wash. 

But to return to the true Railway Post Office, it too is under- 
going a modern transformation. Today is the age of the 
streamliner, of the swift and colorful Diesel-electric giants 
which haul our transcontinental expresses. Even America's 
earliest streamliner of all, the Burlington's Pioneer Zephyr, 
was an R.P.O. train (Lincoln &: Kansas City); and since its 
inaugural run November 11, 1934, millions of high-speed 
miles have been run by P.T.C.s on streamliners— despite 
crack-ups like that of the Zephyr at Napier, Missouri, in 1939. 
With most of our principal trunk lines now using the new- 
type equipment, schedules have been speeded by several hours 
on many R.P.O.s, mails advanced beyond all previous records, 
and railway mail clerks forced to work at a more frenzied pace 
than ever before. 

Well-known R.P.O. streamliners of today include the famed 
20th Century Limited (Note S); the Santa Fe's Chief (Kan. 
City & Albuquerque-Alb. & Los A. R.P.O.s); the B&O's 
Capitol Limited (N.Y., Bait. & Wash.) and Continental (Wash. 
&: Chicago); the Lehigh Valley's Black Diamond and Asa 



JW MAIL BY RAIL 

Packer, which are New York, Geneva & Buffalo Trains 9, 10, 
25, and 26; the Broadway Limited (see Chapter 3), electric 
and steam semi-streamliner, which made its first trip on the 
PRR's New York & Pittsburgh, June 15, 1902; the Tennes- 
seean, Trains 45 and 46 on the Southern, whose R.P.O. cars 
on the Wash, and Bristol, continuing to Memphis, are named 
the Corinth and Grand Junctioyi; and so on. 

To the postal transportation clerk himself a more welcome 
sequel to the streamliners' advent has been that of the latest 
style modern R.P.O. car. Still few in number, the new cars 
are styled for real comfort and efficiency. There had been 
almost no change in R.P.O. car design and furnishings since 
the 1890s, but one day in April 1946 the Pennsylvania Rail- 
road presented to the Department its new "dream car," the 
Robert E. Han7iegan— designed jointly by railroad and postal 
authorities, incorporating many clerks' suggestions. Built 
at the Altoona Shops under direction of Dan M. Shaeffer, it 
was numbered 5239 and named after the Postmaster General, 
to whom it was dedicated at Union Station, Chicago, on April 
twenty-third. This car has new safety features, wider doors, 
modernized heating and lighting systems, a stainless-steel 
steam cooker, large enclosed washroom and closet with auto- 
matic light, unbarred double safety-glass windows, luggage 
compartments, some case boxes for oversize mail, automatic 
platform lights, and other improvements such as ball-bearing 
trucks. It was put in service on the Broadiuay Limited (N.Y. 
& Pitts.-Pitts. k Chic. Trs. 28 R: 29) on May 8, 1946 (with 
collectors' cachet to celebrate), and has served on that route 
(sometimes on the New York R: Washington) ever since. 

Even the Hannegan leaves much to be desired, and has been 
often shopped for repairs; but the newest cars incorporate 
many more superior features. Specifications for such cars are 
now drawn up by the joint N.P.T.A.-P.T.S. Car Construc- 
tion Committee, and as a result the Milwaukee Road built a 
model of one new car type which is a postal clerk's dream. 
Fluorescent lighting, automatic non-stop-exchange signals, 
electric hot plates that really boil coffee, electric refrigerators, 
plastic table coverings, and three closets are just a few of the 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 5S9 

ultramodern improvements included. Some of these refine- 
ments have actually appeared in the newest cars, but govern- 
ment experts and railroad engineers still object to the hot 
plates and fluorescent lights as "unnecessary." It is to be hoped 
that the committee's toned-down current specifications (which 
still permit mere steam pots, strong electric bulbs, iceboxes, 
and folding basins) will be revamped with enough "teeth" 
to insist on all essential improvements of the Milwaukee plan, 
as well as at least two rows of wide "oversize" boxes (which 
need be but half as high) at every case instead of at only the 
registry case. Nevertheless, excellent new cars have been intro- 
duced on many lines— the El Paso & Los Angeles (SP's Golden 
State Limited), the Burlington's Chicago 8: Council Bluffs 
(whose beautiful new car, Silver Post, was dedicated by high 
officials on March 25, 1948), on many Milwaukee Road lines, 
on some Pennsy and ACL routes, and several others. 

Of particular significance are two important suggestions for 
radical changes in distributing equipment (in the cars) which 
have been considered by the committee. One of these inno- 
vations has met with its enthusiastic approval, as well as that 
of clerks and officials generally— the new light"\veight rack ex- 
tension and table combination invented by the late Monroe 
Williams, a clerk who became a leading R.M.A. division presi- 
dent and editor. It does away with the entire present setup 
of cumbersome pedestals, bars, and heavy tables by substitut- 
ing feather-light folding-leg tray tables alternated with "rack- 
arm" extensions of the pouch rack (furnishing extra separa- 
tions). First tested on the SP's Ogden & San Francisco on 
April 17, 1946, it was permanently installed thereon on De- 
cember thirty-first and has received hearty approval since from 
nearly all concerned (there has been some objection on 
Omaha-Ogden runs). The Department has made the new 
installation optional in all new-car specifications; and, as it 
is cheaper to construct, it is likely that all railroad companies 
will adopt it for new car-building. The other suggestion, 
disapproved by the committee, is nevertheless an idea for 
which a vast number of clerks have continuously agitated— the 
"center-case" car, with pouch rack at one end and paper rack 



S40 MAIL BY RAIL 

at the other, which eliminates the danger and loss of time re- 
sulting from so many clerks having to stop to pass bagmail up 
and down the alley. Most existing cars have the pouch table 
in the center, and letter or paper distribution must cease 
whenever pouches are passed to or from the door. It would 
seem that this suggestion deserves equally prompt adoption. 

A still more welcome innovation is the all-too-infrequent 
air-conditioned postal car. Most air-cooled trains carrying 
mail cars still omit the latter from the air-conditioned setup, 
and strenuously working clerks must swelter in it all summer. 
In 1910 the country's first air-cooled R.P.O. cars were installed 
on the Kansas City Southern Railroad (K. C. R: Siloam Springs 
and connecting R.P.O.s) by order of its president, ex-P.T.C. 
Harvey C. Couch. Air conditioning was recently introduced 
on the Mpls. Sc Miles Cy. (NP) run and a few others, and fur- 
ther experiments are under way. Long called for in N.P.T.A. 
resolutions, this improvement is desperately needed in all 
warmer climates. Some officials have objected that frequent 
door openings make it impracticable, but buses and trolleys 
stopping for passengers much more often have been success- 
fully air-conditioned in practice. 

A comprehensive program of drastic reorganization and 
improvement of the entire postal transport organization was 
bco;un in 1946, which had its final culmination in the creation 
of the Postal Transportation Service on November 1, 1949. 
Improved personnel practices were to be the first step in this 
long-range program, and as a result the first stage was put 
into effect with the appointment of fifteen new Counselor- 
Instructors, one in each division, on April 16, 1946. These 
men, besides assisting new substitutes, were available to regu- 
lar clerks also. (Terminated in 1950— see Chapter 3.) 

The second stage of the program— national joint confer- 
ences between the Department, the N.P.T.A., and the car- 
riers—began just six days later (April 22, 1946). At Chi- 
cago all R.M.S. officials, from the rank of former chief clerk 
on up, attended their first big conference as Association, rail- 
road, and air-line officers joined in the conclaves on that day. 
The conference laid far-reaching plans for departmental and 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 341 

field reorganization, improved distribution facilities every- 
wiiere, postwar schedule changes, improved labor-manage- 
ment relations, the challenge of air mail to other mail trans- 
portation, faster mail-handling techniques and transportation, 
and many similar topics. Many of the plans advanced have 
since been carried out, particularly the establishment of "line 
committees" (or "organization committees") to represent 
the men of each line— as long urged by the R.M.A.— in all 
reorganizations. 

The third phase— complete reorganization of the Second 
Assistant Postmaster General's ofTice and all postal transport 
facilities— took place September 22, 1910. At this time the 
General Superintendent R.M.S. became the Deputy (2nd) 
Assistant Postmaster General, Surface Postal Transport; and 
the various division superintendents and chief clerks v/ere 
given the new titles outlined in Chapter 8. The Bureau of 
Railway Mail Service at Washington became that of Surface 
Postal Transport— and the R.M.S. title was to survive in the 
field for only three more years. There was much agitation 
for a change therein from R.M.A. members, for the R.M.S. 
had expanded to include numerous highAvay, terminal, and 
air-mail facilities and ^vas bes:innins: to lose control over the 
latter. But suggestions for a ne^v name varied from the 
lengthy one finally adopted to such simple titles as "Transit 
Mail Service"— put forth by the R.M.A.'s largest branch, 
by its big Sixth Division, and by this Avriter. It ^vas ear- 
nestly felt that such a brief and apt title would emphasize 
that raihvay mail clerks do not just "transport" the mail 
but sort it iji transit, and that it Avould be handy and in- 
volve change of only one word or letter (R.M.S. to T.M.S.). 
In fact, the corresponding title of "Transit Mail Association" 
narrowly missed adoption by the N.P.T.A. as its new name 
at the same time, due to parliamentary maneuvers. But 
postal officials, pointing out that clerks handled some other 
mails as well as transit mails, effected consolidation of the 
R.M.S. with the semi-independent "Air Mail Service" on 
November 1, 1949, under the title of Postal Transportation 
Service. Corresponding name changes took place in the field, 



342 MAIL BY RAIL 

and others in Washington; in 1950 the head ofTice became the 
Bureau of Transportation, and the chief of the Service again 
redesignated as the Assistant Executive Director thereof. 

In 1949 the Hoover Commission on Organization of the 
Executive Branch issued a report recommending a sweeping 
reorganization of all postal services. Many meritorious pro- 
posals were included (and some adopted); but its short-sighted 
suggestion to have the post offices absorb the Terminals, 
P.T.S., was fortunately disapproved. Often falsely accused of 
"duplicating" post office functions, the terminals are a vital, 
co-ordinated part of the P.T.S. 

Another major innovation which has greatly affected the 
P.T.S., though not a part of it, is our interesting new postal 
zone-number system. Its absorbing history cannot be given 
here, but suffice it to say that it was a railway mail clerk- 
Nathan A. Gardner of the Ogden (Utah) Branch, N.P.T.A.— 
who apparently first suggested zone numbers for all large 
cities. He publicized a plan in the October 1940 Raihvay Post 
Office calling for a system almost identical with that finally 
adopted nationally by the Department in 122 large cities in 
May 1943. Already in use in Pittsburgh (and, partly, in Cam- 
bridge, Massachusetts) at the time, the plan— long in use in 
European cities— proved popular and helpful in sorting of 
wartime mails by new clerks and soon showed its value as 
a permanent fixture. It permits instant sorting of city mail 
to stations. 

City clerks in R.P.O. trains were soon furnished suitable 
lists and requested to add the zone numbers of their city to 
the station case headers they used; later all P.T.C.s were asked 
to make separate zoned and unzoned packages for any cities 
made up direct. Veteran clerks, mostly distrustful of the Avhole 
idea, often snorted and disregarded the numbers altogether; 
it was freely claimed that patrons usually used the wrong num- 
bers anyhow and that "zoning" was a menace to the jobs of 
expert city sorters— low-paid, untrained non-distributors 
would soon take over. But other city clerks, particularly new 
ones just learning their assignment, were pleased at the ease 
and speed with which any zoned letter could be sorted. Clerks 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE S4S 

on state cases occasionally began making up the unzoned and 
zoned separations requested, despite fun-poking from the 
veterans, who still used the traditional two boxes for each 
city's "long" and "short" letters instead (as many still do). 

As a matter of fact, tests show that close to 99 per cent of 
all zone numbers used are correct, and that there will always 
be enough unzoned mail to require the usual number of ex- 
pert city clerks on the lines. The zone numbers have been a 
godsend to numerous R.P.O.s which formerly went "stuck" 
on city mail regularly; it is the ideal assignment for the new 
subs who are always being broken in. 

According to the N.P.T.A., the real threat today to efficient 
city-distribution assignments comes not from the zone num- 
bers but from the radical new alphabetical system of sortation 
now ordered used on trains working city mail for Dallas and 
Milwaukee. Highly praised by Department officials as more 
economical and speedier than the system of sorting direct to 
carrier stations, this new method proposes an unbelievably 
simple separation of the mail by alphabetical groups accord- 
iuCT to street names— those besjinnins: with A-B-C to one box, 
with D-E-F to a second, and so on. Only a very few downtown 
streets, firms, and so on are sorted by the old method; the 
bulky city scheme and complex examinations are cut out. 

It is not disclosed how the mail ever reaches its carrier sta- 
tions under this strange system, and Association officers claim 
that at least one rehandling of all mail must take place and 
that specific reports of delayed mail have been unearthed as 
a result. On the other hand, postal officials claim that less 
handlings are involved and that Texas clerks particularly are 
much pleased with the innovation. Wisconsin clerks have 
protested vociferously, however, and are anxious to retain the 
former system of "expeditious delivery of important mails 
direct to patrons ... at the earliest possible moment after 
arrival . . ." and to continue to study their city examinations 
to qualify for such service. If expanded, the alphabetical 
method will at the very least constitute a threat to handy zone- 
number distribution, and it is to be hoped that the obvious 
advantages of the zoning system will prevail in the end. 



844 MAIL BY RAIL 

Another improvement in the Postal Service, not primarily 
a P.T.S. function, nevertheless affects its clerks markedly— 
the Postal Suggestion Program. Clerks are no\v publicly pre- 
sented with cash awards or certificates for approved sugges- 
tions for improved postal devices or operations. Railway mail 
men have been at the forefront in submitting Avorth-while 
proposals, and the first nine cash awards to P.T.S. officials 
and clerks were made in 1948. At impressive ceremonies W, 
L. Lanier (a clerk-in-charge at the Air Mail Field, Washing- 
ton, D. C.) was awarded $375 for his suggestion of additional 
uses for an existing form, eliminating entry of registered 
pouches on a second form. Second prize went to A.A. Chiccitt, 
a Pittsburgh office clerk, for proposed discontinuance of an 
unused space form. The most recent award was one to Clerk- 
in-Charge William F. Leutwyler of the Philadelphia Termi- 
nal, P.T.S. 

A more specific recent P.T.S. improvement is a co-operative 
safety program involving the N.P.T.A., service officials, the 
Compensation Bureau, and even Congress. Honorable George 
D. Riley, staff director of the Senate's postal committee, even 
made a tour of the country exclusively in R.P.O. cars in 1947; 
he had numerous unsafe or unsanitary conditions corrected 
on the spot and others reported. N.P.T.A. officers have made 
special surveys of many lines and terminals, too, and have 
provided new detailed forms for special reports. Inadequate 
medical facilities in terminals are being publicized; a national 
N.P.T.A. survey of all mail cars was completed in February, 
1950. 

Experimental installations of devices for automatic ex- 
changes at "catcher" stations have been tried out for years. 
One of these appliances w^as invented by Albert Hupp, of 
Kansas City, and was tried on the old Hyattsville k Chesa- 
peake Beach (CBRR) at the Chesapeake Junction (D.C.) sta- 
tion—attracting so much official attention to the ceremonies 
that even President Taft turned up, and for the first time in 
history a United States president rode in an R.P.O. car! But 
this experiment of 1912, using six cranes with special catcher 
arms which engaged a three-pronged device on the car, failed 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 845 

to make a hit despite its apparent success. Officials have often 
examined the ingenious English catcher apparatus but do not 
feel it is adaptable for our usual exchange of one small pouch 
only. Other experiments were tried even back in the Gay 
Nineties and earlier. Our newest such device, at last report, 
was still being operated— but only on one line, the Eastport 8c 
Spokane (SIRy., Ida.-Wash.). The car has a dispatching arm 
which makes a half turn as soon as the crane shears off the 
pouch, thus causing the same arm to hook the incoming 
pouch from the crane. But if there is too much or too little 
mail in the pouch, it does not work, and the ideal device is 
still to be found. Although not automatic, an ingenious im- 
provement of the conventional catcher hook has been modeled 
by Joseph Goodrich, formerly of the Eureka Sc San Francisco 
(NWP); it can be reversed instantly without removal. Lloyd 
A. Wilsey of the Elroy R: Rap. City (C&;N\V) has launched a 
new campaign for automatic or improved catchers and restora- 
tion of catcher and R.P.O. service. 

Electric warning devices for approach to the crane are an 
improvement needed even more, and the first experimental 
installation was probably an electric bell in the car, rung by 
the engineer, which ^vas installed in R.P.O. service on the 
Rock Island in 1940. While this was succcessful, clerks prefer 
an automatic device; and after many other experiments such 
an appliance was invented by the Minneapolis-Honeywell 
Regulator Company. Its earliest model appeared in 1942 and 
was later successfully tested on Milwaukee Road runs. (An 
installation on the rails, near stop points, actuates an elec- 
tronic circuit when train wheels engage it.) It has been ap- 
proved by the N.P.T.A. Board of Directors, but officials have 
still not accepted is as a "satisfactory device." The newest 
proposed installation is one invented by Ben B. Kirby, a 
Kansas City clerk, and demonstrated at the 1949 Convention; 
it has a film tape which indicates distance between stations, 
buzzes automatically a mile from the station, and also indi- 
cates which side of the train it is on. 

In the field of administrative and personnel relations, too, 
some very welcome innovations have actually take place. In 



346 MAIL BY RAIL 

1947 a joint R.M.A.-R.M.S. committee revised the 314 com- 
plex questions and answers of the standard annual P.L. & R. 
examination to eliminate twenty-four obsolete or confusing 
queries, and in 1949 officials made many clarifying revisions 
and substitutions therein and reduced the total questions to 
only (!) 284. However, much remains to be done in further 
amelioration, especially in connection with the many compli- 
cated registry queries which affect very few clerks. The secret 
"rating" of clerks by their clerks-in-charge on forms known 
only to the office, much resented by the rank and file, has been 
eliminated— clerks are advised of rating now and permitted to 
inspect report forms. In 1947, Senator William Langer made 
a personal survey of R.M.S. working conditions, pay scales, 
and operating practice, writing letters to each clerk; welcomed 
by all of them, they replied in frankness and in detail, with 
considerable benefit resulting. 

Efforts to publicize the Postal Transportation Service to 
our citizens generally have been redoubled in recent years. 
The radio, particularly, has been put to good use. A series 
of numerous outstanding talks on the Postal Service, mostly 
on the (then) R.M.S., was given by Charles A. Kepner (late 
6th Division R.M.A. president) in Chicago for several years 
over WJJD, beginning in 1936. Three of his principal R.M.S. 
addresses (later duplicated and broadcast elsewhere) were The 
Journey of a Letter (the detailed handling of an R.F.D.- 
mailed letter as sorted by Chicago city clerks on the Chicago &: 
Carbondale— IC Train 26); Examinations in the R.M.S. (part- 
ly in verse form); and The Story of a Raihvay Postal Clerk, 
based on Clarence Votaw's book mentioned later. Some pro- 
grams took the form of short plays by Clerk C. W. Edwards 
and others, and fan mail displayed marked interest. In De- 
cember 1946 a fifteen-minute R.M.S. interview was broadcast 
to Californians by office clerk Lyle Lane, of Los Angeles, over 
KGER's Civil Service News program; and in April 1948 the 
new 6th Division president— Joe Baccarossa— revived Kepner's 
idea by talking on the R.M.S. and Postal Service over WCFL. 

Of probable interest to readers is the fact that a program 
based particularly on one part of this book (the saving of an 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 347 

express train from wreck by Clerk Reed— see Chapter 1 1) was 
broadcast two years before publication by the state of NeA\ 
Jersey (Department of Economic W^elfare) in 1948 over a series 
of a dozen different stations— W'N J R, Newark, and others 
—on "This is New Jersey," December 20, 1948-January 31, 
1949. On May 19, 1949, 8th Division N.P.T.A. leaders put on 
a program over KRKD, Los Angeles, which also proved very 
popular. One commercial program recently referred humor- 
ously to the "college cheer of the railway mail clerks: 'Swing 
and Sway on the Santa Fe'!" But perhaps the most dramatic 
of all railway mail broadcasts on record was the one from an 
actual R.P.O. car in motion, on New York & Chicago 
(NYCent) Train 47 at Schenectady, New York, April 12, 1938 
—the direct sounds of the train and a greeting from C-in-C 
Bert R. Decker were sent over a national network via Station 
\VGY on a "Postal Service at Work" program. Railway mail 
clerks have also made an outstanding showing in popular 
intercity quiz programs; Memphis clerks bested a team of 
engineers by the highest score ever made (23 to 3) on 
WMC's "It's a Hit" program, while several "Quiz of Two 
Cities" programs (Los Angeles-San Francisco and Dallas-Fort 
Worth) have featured PTCs. 

There have been several motion-picture films dealing at 
least in part with the P.T.S. One of them— Here Comes the 
Mail, featuring railway mail clerks and other postal men at 
work— was produced in 1935 by H. L. Hanson (and Gil Hyatt) 
of the St. Paul post office, for a postal employees' joint coun- 
cil; but the St. Louis Branch, R.ALA., doubtless made the 
most use of the film. It ^vas shown 281 times to over forty 
thousand people between 1935 and 1947, including clubs, 
churches, and colleges as well as postal groups; it drew high 
praise from prominent Americans. Bret Callicott acted as 
narrator for this film, showing a thirty-foot R.P.O. car in full 
operation. A second film of this same title was planned in 
1947 by Carl Dudley Productions at Beverly Hills, California; 
but unfortunately the footage then shot had to be scrapped. 
It contained a dozen R.P.O. scenes showing a full Southern 
Pacific R.P.O. car, with seven clerks loading and distributing 



848 MAIL BY RAIL 

mail; R. A. Norris, the C-in-C, even exhibited a "clerk-in- 
cliarge badge" (ink spot on pants from sitting on postmark 
pad) to make it authentic! Los Angeles area clerks were used. 

Two other railroad films dealing in part with the R.M.S. 
were shot by Dudley during the same year for the Association 
of American Railroads— A/o/n Line, U.S.A. and Big Trains 
Rolling, relating mostly to trains in general. However, they 
also produced a film strip Railroads and Our Mail (for still 
projector) dealing exclusively with railway mail opera- 
tions—also in California, in Technicolor, in 1948; it shows 
all phases of mail handling by R.P.O. trains, with Los 
Angeles Branch President Moyes and three other clerks fea- 
tured therein. Two or three Hollywood feature pictures, in- 
cluding 7oe and Ethel Tiirp Call on the President and Sj)ecial 
Investigator, have contained fictional sequences based on 
R.P.O. operations; also 20th Century-Fox's "March of Time" 
film, Watch Dogs of the Mail (1948-49), dealt largely with the 
same subject. The New York Central Railroad produced a 
film for its employees in 1948, Within the Oval, which showed 
Clerk Ray Smith, of their N.Y. k Chi. R.P.O., on duty in the 
Century's postal car; and Clerk Gil Mereweather of the N.Y. 
& Chic. (NYC) produced a complete film. Take a Letter (1948 
—shows all stages of a letter's trip). Filmosound, Inc., has 
issued The Mail, sho^ving a letter's journey on a fast stream- 
lined R.P.O.; and the Educational Film Service (Battle Creek, 
Mich.) a film Post Office— the. "complete story of mailing a 
letter," with train scenes. 

And the P.T.S. has just made its debut over television! On 
October 19, 1949, WOW-TV at Omaha televised Hugo Palm- 
quist and R. Matthews of the Omaha &; Denver (CBR;Q) and 
Omaha R: Ogden (UP) working mail in the N.P.T.A. Con- 
vention exhibit car (Chapter 13). 

But in the field of literature no full-size printed, descrip- 
tive book dealing primarily with the R.NLS. or P.T.S. -other 
than this volume— has appeared since 1916. The Saturday 
Evening Post for February 1, 1947, featured tAvo pages of full- 
color photos (not too authentic) and much additional text in 
its absorbing article "Postman on Wheels" by Ricliard 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 349 

Thriielson; it featured Ed Nemeth on the N.Y. R: ^\^ash. 
(PRR). Simi\:ir]y, the San la Fe Ma gnzine (July 194G) printed 
a feature "R.M.S." by Gordon Stratclian— dealing wiiii their 
Albuquerque R: Los Angeles run— which was so popular that it 
was reprinted and expanded as a booklet with many photos. 
Considerable other material on the Service, including this 
writer's "Mail-Key Railroaders," will be found listed in the 
Bibliography along with many pamphlets and miscellany. 

The government has issued no public literature on the 
P.T.S. since the 1880s, when its big technical book. History 
of the Railway Mail Service, was prepared by the Department 
as Senate Executive Document #40,'* followed by a handsome 
leatherette pamphlet, the Raihvay Mail Service (by Post- 
master General Thomas Jones; embossed gold stamping, ex- 
cellent text and photos). With the exception of bound vol- 
umes of government R.M.S. reports and clerks' data, techni- 
cal books on railway mail pay, and general postal books with 
incidental R.M.S. mention, there have been only about five 
real bound \oIumes ever issued on our subject. They include 
C. E. V'^otaw's Jasper Hunnicutt of Jimsonhorst (a delightful 
humorous fiction story, 1907); General Superintendent |. E. 
Wiiite's Life Sjmn and Reminiscences of the R.M.S., far more 
readable and interesting than the History (1910); Professor 
W. J. Dennis* The Travelling Post Office (1916); Earl L. 
Newton's The Nixie Box, consisting of R.M.S. poetry only, 
of a most enjoyable type (1927); and possibly S. D. Spero's 
Labor Movement in a Government Industry (nearly half 
R.M.S. matter, 1924). Except for the last, all these \'olumes 
were written by onetime clerks and were more or less privately 
published— as was one sizable mimeographed book, \V. F. 
Kilman's Two Million Miles on the Railroad (printed covers, 
194G); and a paper-bound printed book of Postal Service inci- 
dents, James L. Stice's Free Enterprise (about one third 
R.M.S.matter, 194r)). 

Only two known published short stories of the R.M.S., as 
it then was, have appeared— £. S. Dellinger's entertaining "T- 



■Forly-cighih Congress, 2nd Session; by Maynard. 



S50 MAIL BY RAIL 

Series Mail Key," in Railroad for June 1936, and this writer's 
"By Return Mail" (Our Youth, July 17, 1949). Many news- 
paper stories of the Service have appeared; on an inspection 
trip on one R.P.O., Doug Welch, of the Seattle Post-Intelli- 
gencer, relates how he dared not touch even one letter in th.- 
awesome presence of this heavily armed "relatively small and 
select group of postal employees"! Within the P.T.S. we have, 
of course, the Postal Transport Journal; a frequently issued 
News Bulletin, likewise published by the N.P.T.A.; the De- 
partment's monthly Post Haste and its divisional General 
Orders; and many N.P.T.A. regional periodicals, such as the 
Open Pouch and the Sth Division News-Lettd -th ? latter in- 
cluding, until recent years, a colorful historical su'?plement 
founded in 1941 by Monroe Williams as the Go-Bi k Pouch 
(from which we've quoted liberally). There ar • scores of 
others (Note 21). The N.P.T.A. also publishes an .. Kcellent 
illustrated booklet. The N.P.T.A. and the Postal Transpor- 
tation Clerk (formerly The R.M.A. and the Railway Postal 
Clerk); and there are the stamp and R.P.O. hobby journals. 

Railway mail clerks have made outstanding records as dis- 
tinguished Americans. The late Senator Clyde M. Reed, for- 
merly governor of Kansas and prominent newspaper publish- 
er (Parsons Sun), was a clerk on the old Sedalia &: Denison 
(M-K-T, Mo-Texas), appointed in 1889 at $800 yearW. Later 
a division superintendent, he saved the lives of three clerks in 
a safety campaign, saved the government huge sums in mail 
pay by exposing railroads' false weight divisors, and •"as later 
elected to the Senate and was active on the Post Office and 
Post Office Roads Committee (although strictly following 
Departmental viewpoints on legislation). Several other ci ;rks 
have attained seats in Congress, including Carl Van Dyke (as 
noted) and, just recently, A. C. Multer (New York) and G. L,. 
Moser (Pennsylvania)— who have assisted in beneficial legis- 
lation, as Van Dyke did. 

Railroad president Harvey C. Couch, of the Kansas City 
Southern, was appointed as a clerk on the St. Louis Sc Tex- 
arkana (MoPac) in 1899; he organized a telephone company 
in spare time, resigned from the Service in 1905, sold out to 



I 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 851 

Bell, and acquired control of nearby gas and electric com- 
panies and eventually of two small railroads. Merging them 
with the K.C.S., he became president of the consolidation in 
the late 1920s and was active also, as we know, in putting 
air-conditioned R.P.O. cars thereon. All his life he was active 
in installing other benefits for the clerks, riding and chatting 
with them and entertaining them royally at his summer home. 

Theodore Newton Vail, distinguished former president of 
American Telephone and Telegraph, was a former Omaha & 
Ogden (UP) clerk who later became general superintendent 
of the R.M.S. In his telephone career he originated the 
coveted Vail Gold Medal, still awarded to phone employees 
for outstanding devotion and loyalty. In more recent times 
the brilliant and checkered career of Peter J. Schardt, retired 
high Southern Railw^ay official was still making history up to 
his recent death (April 19, 1950). Appointed in 1900 from 
Sauk\ille, Wisconsin, to the C&NVV's Ishpeming & Chic. 
R.P.O., he soon began his spectacular rise to innumerable 
high positions as outlined in Chapters 9 and II; he was chair- 
man of the National A.A.R. Committee on Railway Mail 
Transportation and a very popular speaker. A Brigadier 
General when assigned to Germany in 1945, he was awarded 
the coveted Medal of Freedom for his "exceptionally meri- 
torious achievement" in postal work there. H. C. Forgy and 
F. W. Hickson, former and present Managers of Mail and 
Express for the UP, 'vvere both ex-clerks. 

Still in the Service at last report were Frank Cumisky, 
Olympic gymnastic champion, and James W. Garnett, who 
served as president of the world's largest Bible class. Cumisky, 
a clerk in New York's West Side Terminal, P.T.S., has 
been American gymnastic champion for years and an Olympic 
star since 1932; while Garnett, whose class met at the First 
Baptist Church of Kansas City, was a leader in the R.M.A. 
and M.B.A. there and later an assistant district superintend- 
ent. Many other clerks are active in religious ^vork, and quite 
a few, like Reverend C. T. Wilhelm and Reverend Lawrence 
Fuqua, have become ministers eventually. 

A remarkable number of railway mail men have attained 



352 MAIL BY RAIL 

prominence as writers. Karl Baarslag, of Silver Spring, Mary- 
land, the distinguished Reader's Digest contributor and 
author of four popular books (one from Oxford University 
Press), such as Robbery by Mail, was once a sub on the old 
Grand Rapids &: Jackson (MC) in Michigan. Samuel Bias, 
still employed in the Penn Terminal (New York), sells first- 
rank fiction to national magazines; his recent story, 
"Revenge," made Collier's. Donald M. StefFee, of Brooklyn, 
leading United States authority on high-speed train operation 
and schedules, sells articles regularly at top rates to Railroad 
Magazine and occasionally to newspapers; long at West Side 
with Cumiskcy, he is now on the N.Y. & Chic. (NYCent). 
Both Steffee and Sidney Goodman, another Penn Terminal 
clerk, are chess champions as well as Avriters; Goodman is the 
author of the new book. World Chess Championship, 1948, 
issued by Chess Press. Bert Bemis, once of the Omaha S: Den- 
ver (CBR;Q), writes for Coronet and similar magazines; while 
a former clerk in the Washington (D.C.) Terminal— name 
withheld by request— is now one of America's highest paid 
naval writers, Roy V. McPherson, just retired from the Utica 
(New York) Terminal, has sold numerous articles to Fate 
magazine and to newspapers. 

Professor W. Jefferson Dennis, of Parsons College, Fairfield, 
Iowa, is the author of several other volumes besides The 
Travelling Post Office; his Tacna and Arica (Yale University 
Press is the standard text on the subject. He was once a clerk 
on the Des Moines X: Sioux City (CRrNW) in Iowa. Clarence 
E. Votaw, author of both Jasper Hunnicutt and Patriotism, 
was a clerk on the PRR's Pittsburgh &: St. Louis who 
became an assistant division superintendent; retired at 
Fountain City, Indiana, twenty-eight years until his death at 
ninety-five in 1948, he was an energetic traveler. Christian 
worker, woodsman, and contributor to newspapers as long as 
he lived. His son, \Villiam I. Votaw, left the Monon's Chic, 
Monon. R: Cin. R.P.O. to become a Seapost official and, pres- 
ently, one of the heads of United States Lines. Thomas J. 
Flanagan of the Atlanta & Albany (CGa) is the author of books 
like The Road to Mt. McKeithen and By Pine Knot Torches 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 85S 

(by Atlanta Independent Press), and of published poems and 
prose in the Atlanta Constitution and college journals. The 
late Guy M. Smith, retired from the Indpls. R: Peoria (CCC8: 
StL), wrote two hooks— Romance of Danville Junction and 
100 Years of Baseball (just published, in 1950). 

Purely in connection with their work in the Service, numer- 
ous clerks have attained national prominence as high postal 
officials, or have sacrificed chances of official promotion to 
dedicate their Uves to fellow clerks as N.P.T.A. workers. The 
late Henry \V. Strickland, editor of The Railway Post Office 
for twenty-eight years, was an outstanding example— and he, 
too, was hailed as an "able and versatile writer." A former 
Kansas City Star reporter, then a clerk on the Rock Island 8: 
Kansas City (Rock I.), he became editor in 1915 and indus- 
trial secretary in 1921. Friendly, tolerant, modest, he was 
also a staunch champion of A. F. of L. imionism, and his 
sudden death (on the job, June 14, 1943) was a great blow to 
all concerned— including the writer, \vho was proud to have 
been his friend. The magazine staff could find no picture 
of their modest editor for publication when they searched 
his photo files that day. Of strong Christian convictions, he 
had a helping hand for all, and he wanted no profane or ques- 
tionable material in the Railway Post Office. 

Long known as the "Dean of Railway Mail Clerks," John 
H. Pitney, of the present Boston 8: Troy (BS;M), was appoint- 
ed a pre-R.M.S. route agent in 18G1 and worked on the mail 
trains for fifty-five years; a song composer and community 
benefactor, he \vas feted by the highest officials on his golden 
wedding and was beloved by his townspeople in Eagle Bridge, 
New York, for the Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church 
which he built in 1882, partly in honor of the R.M.S. (Its 
gable window depicts the story of postal transport, showing 
an R.P.O. train.)* Similarly, David E. "Daddy" Barnes of 
Kansas City, \\'ho just passed on, was called the "Grand Old 
Man" of the R.M.S.; he ^vas a charter organizer and later 



'After surviving three frightful wrecks, Pitney met an ironic fate in 1920- 
fatally injured by a runaway R.M.S. truck, years after his retirement! 



354 MAIL BY RAIL 

national president of the N.A.R.P.C. (now N.P.T.A.). Start- 
ing as a clerk on the Rock Island's Kansas City & Caldwell, he 
Avas noted for his abstemious habits, conscientiousness, inter- 
cession for the rights of fellow clerks, and addiction to clean 
speech. Today's Assistant Executive Director of Transporta- 
tion (General Supt. R.M.S.), George E. Miller, was a 
clerk on the PRR's New York & Washington and an active 
Baltimore R.M.A. leader; all his predecessors in that position, 
for uncounted decades, have been clerks -who worked their 
way to the top. And the late beloved Honorable Smith W. 
Purdum, who reached the still higher position of Second As- 
sistant Postmaster General, was a clerk on the same line; a 
long-time resident of Hyattsville, Maryland, he literally 
"worked himself to death" on the job (foregoing all sick and 
annual leave), living only three days after his retirement in 
1945. He was esteemed alike by the clerks and by all who 
knew him. More R.P.O. men, unquestionably, have climbed 
to high Post Office Department positions than those of any 
other Postal Service branch— but space forbids elaboration. 
Clerk Fred A. Ryle of the Den. & San Ant. (M-K-T-Tex) was 
awarded the Carnegie Medal for heroicly rescuing a trapped 
railroader amid great danger in a wreck and fire at Comol, 
Texas in December, 1947. 

Other active clerks have made outstanding achievements in 
fields outside the Service. William B. Carpenter, of the Bos- 
ton & Albany (B&A), is acclaimed by the New York Times as 
one of our leading Shakespearean scholars, and several other 
clerks have qualified as experts on the works of Shakespeare 
and other classicists. Clerks in New York State, Florida, 
Missouri, the Dakotas, and elsewhere have become leading 
state legislators. And just at random we take note of such 
men as Judge M. S. Morgan, prominent Texas jurist in Who's 
Who (once with the R.M.S.); Labor Commissioner "William 
J. McCain of Arkansas (ex-Little Rock and Forth Worth, 
MP-T&P-CRIRrP); Brigadier General Thomas C. Dedell, late 
army hero and Utica Public Safety Commissioner (a clerk for 
forty years); Dr. K. J. Foreman, Professor of Philosophy and 
Bible at Davidson College (who subbed under Greensboro, 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 355 

North Carolina, R.M.S. office); John F. Stahl, featured by 
Ernie Pyle as hiking from Panama to Texas at fifty-seven (a 
former clerk); several clerks who became talented artists with 
pen or brush while remaining in the P.T.S., such as Roger 
Gaver (N.Y. & Wash., PRR), Otto Augsburg (Superintendent 
District 3, Chicago, retired), and the late George Risinger 
(Dodge City & Trinidad, Santa Fe); \V. H. Strauss, leading 
Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, industrialist (ex-N.Y. R: Pitts., 
PRR); and numerous other prominent leaders in professional 
fields of every description— not to forget the many P.T.S. 
officials, like Virgil Jones (Chapter 15), who have been as- 
signed to reorganize the postal system of some entire foreign 
country— Turkey, Germany, Japan, the Philippines, or some 
other nation. 

As for the myriad amateur composers and talented mu- 
sicians within the P.T.S. , this topic is closely linked with that 
of the few songs and other musical pieces which deal \vith the 
Service. Larry G. Cowe, one of the famed N.B.C. Trouba- 
dours, is a clerk out of Pocatello, Idaho. Several unpublished 
P.T.S. compositions, some of them circulated in duplicated 
form, have been written by clerks in New York's Penn Termi- 
nal, including "In the Good Old R.M.S." and "The Boys of 
the R.M.S.," by Barney Duckman (1939, 1941); "There's a 
Story I Must Tell," by Charles Haller of Jamaica (1941); and 
"A Day in Penn Terminal," a piano solo (1945) by Herman 
Hammerman of Brooklyn. (Hammerman's song, "Land of 
Hope," with words by Guiterman, was published by Empire 
Music.) Two other P.T.S. songs have been privately pub- 
lished or circulated somewhat— "Railway Mail," by Joseph H. 
Grubbs, retired from the Seaboard's Washington &: Hamlet; 
and "Mail Train," by this writer. Ladies of the N.P.T.A. 
Auxiliary have produced two songs, both composed by clerks' 
wives; and Mrs. Harriet Locey's "National W.A.R.M.A. 
.Loyalty Song" (1945) is perhaps the best Service song yet 
written. It was preceded as their official song by an earlier 
one, "Auxiliary Day" (1935), by Mrs. E. J. Mullins and Mrs. 
I. L. Johnson. The only known railway mail song issued as 
standard sheet music, other than the "Loyalty Song," was the 



356 MAIL BY RAIL 

Burlington Railroad's number, "The Fast Mail," by A. M. 
Bruner (1897) but it did not mention clerks or mail-sorting. 
A work of this kind should not close without mention of 
at least some of the more undesirable conditions within the 
P.T.S. which can be corrected, and which the N.P.T.A., as 
well as many officials, are attempting to remedy as rapidly as 
possible. In fact, such conditions are very often not the fault 
of Department heads, but rather the result of insufficient con- 
gi-essional appropriations or of the unjust provisions of exist- 
ing laws. (These constructive criticisms, like our future 
recommendations, represent the views of the authors as private 
citizens and not, necessarily, those of P.T.S. or N.P.T.A. 
heads.) Thus it is now illegal to ship livestock next to the 
engine on a train, but still permissible to spot R.P.O. cars 
with human occupants in this dangerous and rough-riding 
position! (The P. L. R: R. discourages, but does not prohibit 
the practice.) There are other unsafe practices still needing 
correction, although one of the worst— operation of single- 
unit branch trains with gasoline motors and R.P.O. unit 
housed together— has just been legally prohibited; and the 
last of the dim and dangerous old oil lamps formerly used have 
just been eliminated. 

The terminals, P.T.S., are particularly the subject of 
troublesome discrimination imder the law. Terminal clerks 
are lower paid, for the maximum grade is held at two steps 
below road levels; they are allowed no study time or time for 
correcting schemes and schedules (though their time slips 
show spaces for same); they have been recently again denied 
the privilege of eating, washing up, and changing work clothes 
on official time, as is justly enjoyed by train clerks. The same 
applies to P.T.S. Air Mail Fields. 

Others— notably, the road men— are seriously concerned 
over such things as the recent expansion of time deficiencies in 
assigned working schedules, whereby most o\ertime and extra 
trips bring no extra pay (due to cutting of advance time far 
below that necessary for clerks to work the required forty- 
hour-week equivalent). And the advent of high-speed trains 
had previously resulted in all too much "deficiency" even be- 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 357 

fore; clerks do not work on a mileaore basis like railroad men. 
And although a speed differential (providing extra time 
credits for clerks rtmning on trains at speeds of over 42 1/^ 
mph) was introduced May 25, 193G, official investigations de- 
clared it to be technically illegal. On November 28, 1949, 
the differential was raised to 50 mph (a decided cut in bene- 
fits) and was then terminated entirely June 30, 1950— the 
grace period being granted only to permit the N.P.T.A. to 
initiate mileage legislation in Congress. Such legislation, 
planned by the association for years, ^vas introduced, using a 
42-mph factor to place all road work on a mileage basis— with 
deficiency eliminated; but the government disapproved it, 
and Congress did not pass the law. As a result, clerks now 
make many additional trips at "no pay." 

Then there are such matters as the recent elimination (ex- 
cept in heavy road service and transfer assignments) of 
the standard ^vell-dcserved pay differential long existing be- 
tAveen post-office clerks and all classes of railway mail clerks 
in the P.T.S.'s favor; the "reduction" of many clerks-in-charge 
through no fault of theirs; the petty technical P. L. K: R. rul- 
ings, such as orders to check "all" errors and report all letter 
packages ^vithout slips, which it is impossible to observe in a 
busy postal car without very serious delay; the over-em- 
ployment of temporary help and elimination of needed 
overtime for experienced clerks; the denial of time and a half 
to substitutes; the recent assignment of terminal mail handlers 
(laborers) to actual distribution of primary parcel post and 
similar duties, which is properly done much more efficiently 
by clerks who know the routings— many small oflices and 
localities are included in primary "directs;" and the economic 
plight of active clerks, and particularly of retired ones, during 
periods of inflation. (From 1939 to 1947 food costs rose 103 
per cent, general living costs 65 per cent, and clerks' incomes 
only 30 per cent— and latest pay raises involved only a 
trifling percentage increase.) Betterment of such conditions 
is to be earnestly hoped for; for the last two, in particular, can 
result in serious losses of efficient clerical personnel in P.T.S. 
organizations everywhere. 



358 MAIL BY RAIL 

Clerks differ as to the means which should be taken to 
solve such problems, although most agree that all efforts 
should be channeled through the N.P.T.A. But some have 
taken matters into their own hands. When terminal clerks 
were reduced to their present relative grade in the 1930s, some 
clerks sued the government personally for restoration, with 
back pay, and succeeded; but it at least one case alleged re- 
prisal was suffered by a lady terminal clerk who was reassigned 
to an air-mail field one and one-half miles from transporta- 
tion. Other clerks have personally presented data to congress- 
men; when one exhibited his entire working equipment 
(PL&R, schemes, cards, trip report, space data, and so on), the 
impressed representative declared the job should pay twice 
what it did. Another clerk (in the clerks' Journal) ad- 
vised publicizing to all "the fun of poking letters for twelve 
hours, of carrying a one-hundred-pound pouch through 
crowded aisles on a 60-mph curve, of getting up at midnight 
to work the rest of the night ... of breathing those sulfur 
fumes for a half hour after passing that tunnel . . . those dirty 
clothes on washday after a 'nice' paper run in July," not to 
mention pasting scheme corrections that don't fit! 

The ingenious clerk, like the one faster or slower than aver- 
age, has his particular troubles. One chap on a one-man run, 
on his day off around Christmas time, noticed three truckloads 
of working mail waiting at the depot for his R.P.O.'s next trip. 
Rather than go stuck then and delay the mail, the clerk got 
into his car (standing near by) and worked up all this mail 
on his own time, making no claim for overtime in his report 
of the case. He was severely censured, without a word of 
praise, and told not to do it again! A typical "fast" clerk out 
W^est, who recently resigned, wrote, "I am tired of the dirt and 
lousy conditions ... I hate to be penalized because I am fast, 
by having to 'carry' the drunkards and the brainless idiots," 
i.e., slow men whose "work is full of mistakes." While an 
extreme case, it is true that no excuse exists for the clerk who 
is deliberately lazy or intemperate; and a good clerk resents, 
for example, an insinuation that he must slow down or his 
terminal's average "count" will be raised to a level difficult 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 559 

to maintain. On the other hand, the efficient and hard-work- 
ing clerk whose best speed is a little lower than average suffers 
much undeserved persecution from his fellows. He is often 
painstakingly accurate, except when he works himself into a 
nervous frenzy trying to keep up with others— often skipping 
lunch, he works harder than the "speed demon" in actuality, 
as one veteran pointed out. 

Besides other current complaints mentioned earlier, there 
are such problems as the frequent loss of certain transit-mail 
distribution to the post offices in cases where the P.T.S. should 
properly work it, and more efficiently; the prolonged assign- 
ment of clerks vice' a. C-in-C on leave, without being paid ac- 
cordingly; outmoded surroundings, devoid of needed com- 
forts and attractive appearance; the post-office policy of per- 
mitting patrons to address parcels on one side only (often de- 
laying sorting by having to turn it over six times to read the 
address, or preventing delivery by loss of only label); and the 
current policies regarding road grips. Not only must clerks 
pay for both grips (used for government property) and carry- 
ing charges, but they also must contend with congested grip 
rooms and lack of lockers. 

And if the facts were known about the serious mail delays 
due to broken train connections resulting from the "daylight 
saving time" fad, the public would soon demand its elimina- 
tion—or its universal, year-round application. (Mothers of in- 
fants, at least, would rally to the cause!) 

A major problem, however, is that occasioned by the whole- 
sale abandonment of short R.P.O.s on branch lines and the 
curtailment of distribution on some through routes— both re- 
sulting in slower and poorer mail service. With some excep- 
tions, the former results simply from passenger service aban- 
donments on the part of the railroad; and while H.P.O.s are 
often substituted today, all too often a non-distributing star 
route is the only replacement. While much of the distribution 
may be retained in the P.T.S. and performed on an adjoining 
trunk line, the local-exchange service suffers considerably. 
Sometimes main-line personnel is expanded to cover branch 
curtailments, but on the New York Sc Chicago (NYCent) and 



560 MAIL BY RAIL 

Other lines, clerical force has been cut instead while connect- 
ing side lines folded up. In the 8th (San Francisco) Division 
alone the number of R.P.O.s declined from eighty-six in 1911 
to t^venty-eight today, ^vith existing lines curtailed sharply. 
The reason for the familiar current slowness of the mails in 
most areas without rail passenger service will now be obvious 
to all! {See Nole 22.) 

Commuter short lines, particularly, present a grave prob- 
lem, because their principal traffic flow is in reverse direction 
to R.P.O. requirements; and if service is curtailed to only 
city-bound morning trains and outbound evening ones, no 
R.P.O. service can properly operate even though some passen- 
ger trains remain. A vivid example was on the old Spring 
Valley k New York R.P.O. (N fR:NY-Erie), which until 1940 
still had one outbound morning train (serving mail to all 
stations) and an inbound one to collect all mail posted dur- 
ing the day. When the two R.P.O. trains were pulled off it 
was useless to put an R.P.O. on the wrong-direction commuter 
runs. The line's demise was a severe loss to the local postal 
economy, as evidenced (at a farewell dinner to Clerk David 
Gladstone) by the statements of over one-hundred postmasters 
and guests from along the line who testified to the improved 
service the R.P.O. had brought to the communities. As for 
main lines, service on the SP's Ogden R: San Francisco has 
been cut since 1915 from three to two through runs daily, 
from five large city distributions to two small ones, and the 
local service to nothing east of Sacramento. 

Still more alarming, however, has been a recent tendency 
to discontinue certain important R.P.O. runs when passenger 
trains still operate at apparently suitable hours. When exist- 
ing postal trains ^v^ere recently Avithdra^vn by the PRR from 
the Detroit R: Mansfield and the Philadelphia k Atlantic City 
R.P.O.s (in Michigan-Ohio and in New Jersey), no R.P.O. 
service was placed on any of the remaining fast passenger 
trains, which still leave the various termini at ideal early 
morning hours for mail distribution. Over a long period of 
time the Philadelphia R: Cape May (P-RSL) suffered a similar 
fate, although early passenger trains still run on this route to 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 561 

both Cape May and Wildwood; now all these leading New 
Jersey resorts— even the metropolis of Atlantic City— are com- 
pletely without R.P.O. service. The Reading from Bound 
Brook to Trenton in the same State is now without local ser- 
vice, though through R.P.O. and local passenger trains oper- 
ate. The entire service of the Bay City R: Detroit R.P.O.— two 
round trips— was eliminated when all four local trains were 
pulled off by the railroad, although two new fast expresses now 
operate. Possibly the lack of local trains ^vas deemed a factor 
making mandatory the discontinuance of most of the R.P.O.s 
listed. But it is to be hoped, certainly, that the possibility of 
restoring transit distribution to all these routes— with catcher 
service for "the local"— is a very real one; and there are num- 
erous similar cases elsewhere needino: correction. 

P.T.S. clerks have publicized some very worth-while sug- 
gestions on preventing branch-line curtailments in general. 
Many suggest that the Department actively advocate or assist 
the survival of existing short lines with better contract offers, 
intervention at hearings, and so on— particularly if a con- 
tinued contract might avoid actual abandonment, with result- 
ing loss of railway ratables, higher local taxes, unemployment, 
poorer mail service if H.P.O.s are not put on, and hardships 
to the public outweighing any money saved. (On the contrary, 
P.T.S. men are forbidden to testify or protest, as clerks or offi- 
cials, at abandonment proceedings.) One clerk proposes gov- 
ernment-operated H.P.O.-type, flanged-wheel units on the 
numerous ex-R.P.O. branch lines where freight service still 
exists (". . . thus saving tire expenses . . . traffic jams and 
rough roads"). Such plans, plus H.P.O.s, would help out 
greatly— as would wide use of the new RDC-4 rail car. 

But we would also recommend a careful study of existing 
passenger schedules of all railways listing same in the Official 
Guide. A surprising number of branch lines still operate a 
daily trip with some sort of unit for passengers, often at con- 
venient early hours for R.P.O. service and yet which are not 
thus equipped. Where volume of mail justifies, possibly con- 
siderable much-needed R.P.O. service could thus be begun 
or restored in many areas needing it. 



362 MAIL BY RAIL 

It is hard to believe, but even today there are those who 
would do away with the P.T.S. and the R.P.O.s entirely. They 
include airmail-minded leaders in high places in government 
and commerce, backed by political contributions, it is 
claimed; and we must all be alert to protect America's splen- 
did Postal Service from this threat. 

Making no pretense of expert knowledge, we might venture 
to offer a few proposed general reforms or new improvements 
of possible benefit to the P.T.S., in addition to those already 
put forth; they are mostly ideas submitted by us to the 
Department's suggestion program or borrowed from the 
pages of the Postal Transport Journal. Some of these apparent 
needs in employee benefits and Service improvements include 
the immediate granting of twenty-six days' annual and fifteen 
days' sick leave— such as is enjoyed by all other government 
employees; the periodical laundering of sacks and pouches, 
as done by some other countries and as recommended by 
many officials; air-conditioning, a "must" in intolerably hot 
weather; strong, lintless twine; printed office-and-number 
registry labels, as used in other nations; and the substitution 
of a modernized version of the "weight system" for the present 
complex and costly space basis of railroad mail pay. Accord- 
ing to clerks' claims the current system has choked needed 
distributing space with storage mails, has devoured vast sums 
in payment for empty return movements and other unused 
space (no other shippers pay for it), and has become a general 
headache to all clerks-in-charge who struggle with the forms. 
One shipper figured that the government lost $85 on one car- 
load of light straw hats, after figuring all postage paid and 
space costs; on a weight system, a profit would show. How- 
ever, new space rules eliminating paid deadhead movements 
are now being requested by the Department at hearings. 

Legal regulation of the size of greeting cards is a crying 
need within the P.T.S., for case boxes in R.P.O. cars are 
smaller than anywhere else. Besides persuasive programs or 
extra-postage charges, we need the definite, statutory prohibi- 
tion within the United States mails of envelopes or greeting 
cards in widths between four and one-half and six and one-half 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 363 

inches (those few over six and one-half inches can be tossed 
into pouches). Even government departments often enclose 
four-inch-wide material in five-inch envelopes that do not fit 
cases. It is not the public's fault; the greeting card manufac- 
turers, who willingly united to outla^v glittering mineral 
particles in the interest of "safety of the clerks" (?), simply 
have declined to co-operate here. As a temporary immediate 
step, we ^vould suggest that posted statements urging use of 
4i/4-inch-wide (or smaller) greeting cards, only, be given 
prominence over all other holiday notices in post-office 
lobbies. To improve both services and reventies, we would 
also suggest a 4^ rate for all first-class matter not bearing 
proper zone number (if applicable) or not conforming to the 
size limits mentioned— such matter to be rated with postage 
due if mailed otherwise. 

While many clerks ^vill disagree, we feel that through-rim 
titles like "Wash. & St. Louis R.P.O.," Avhich were tried out 
from about 1935 to 1943 and then dropped, are far preferable 
in many cases to the current short-run titles (^Vash. & Graf., 
Graf. & Gin., etc.— BScO). Where the same trains (with same 
numbers) continue over most of the through route, the logical 
and progressive titles then used shoAved general direction far 
better (with large, well-known city names), and simplified 
case examinations also. 

W^e would also suggest a careful revie^v of the groAving prac- 
tice of supplying important suburban and other post offices 
exclusively by city mail-truck service in certain cases Avhere 
R.P.O. trains or H.P.O.s actually traverse the to^vn. AV^hile 
the city "supply" is often needed too, the distributing-line out- 
let often seems neglected— as at Halethorpe, Maryland, "which 
is supplied only as a branch of the Baltimore post office al- 
though it is literally a junction of two railroads (^vith sta- 
tions) carrying three R.P.O. routes. Although almost none 
of the twenty-odd R.P.O. trains passing there actually stop, 
many could serve it (and three subsidiary branches) by 
"catcher." P.T.S. schemes, which are the primary index of all 
mail routes, need improvement too. Restoration of the alpha- 
betical arrangement should be considered, and R. E. Jones has 



B64 MAIL BY RAIL 

proposed a new type of scheme with multiple listings, combin- 
ing that arrangement with the scheming of all "dis" points 
under the supplying office— it deserves a careful trial. Schemes 
should include all postal contract stations located in named 
communities centering thereat— too many, like Montclair 
Heights, New Jersey (a numbered station of Montclair) or 
Arbutus (numbered station of Baltimore, via Halethorpe) 
and Cottage City (the same of Brentwood), Maryland, are not 
found in any scheme (nor alphabetized in Postal Guide) be- 
cause they are not "named" stations; mail goes astray if ad- 
dressed to them alone. Similarly, stations in communities 
consolidated as part of a city should be named for the original 
communities instead of being named arbitrarily— such as 
"North Station" and "South Station" in Arlington, Virginia, 
whereas the original towns composing it were named Claren- 
don, Ballston, Cherrydale, and so on. Fortunately, New York, 
Brooklyn, and other cities have restored many such old local 
station names— which makes for prompt delivery of mail thus 
addressed; but large Buffalo suburbs like Eggertsville and 
Cheektowaga have just lost their station names (and Postal 
Guide listing) insteadi 

The new postal zone-number system should be broadened 
to include these numbers in every case where any slip, label, 
postmark, case header, scheme, postal guide, or other form 
used in the P.T.S. bears the name of any "zoned" station or 
branch of any city; long practiced in England, this policy 
would benefit new clerks amazingly and speed distribution. 
Clerks and their families deserve real railroad passes, in place 
of their restricted commissions, as much as railroad men do. 
In the Postal Service generally these facts need some publiciz- 
ing: that it does not operate under a deficit when the huge 
volume of franked congressional mail, government penalty 
mail, and other free ser\ ices are figured in; that many political 
postmasterships could be economically combined with the 
assistant postmaster positions under Civil Service at large 
offices; and that enough money could be saved in these cate- 
gories (if Congress and the Departments paid their postage) 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 865 

to pay for most of the postal improvements and benefits need- 
ed within the P.T.S. 

To simplify and standardize the titles of Service heads, we 
would suggest the brief and dignified one of "Chief Superin- 
tendent, P.T.S." for the present Assistant Executive Director, 
Bureau of Transportation, as a start; similar titles used in 
Canada and Britain have proven very satisfactory. Other 
clerks have suggested such innovations as twenty-foot and 
forty-foot R.P.O. apartments; registry cages and counter in 
full R.P.O.s; intercom radio or telephone service in postal 
cars; and the valuable ideas of issuing schemes in loose-leaf 
form (with new pages to replace old ones being modified, as 
has long been standard practice with the telegraph company), 
and of furnishing recorded music while working—an accepted 
benefit in industry. 

With a final look to the past and to the future, we approach 
our conclusion. Some significant memorials, relics, and pic- 
turizations dealing with the Railway Mail Service of days gone 
by deserve our attention, and those of Armstrong and Pitney 
have been already mentioned. The Burlington Route, which 
is credited by this writer' with operating the hrst experimental 
"railway post ofTice" on its Hannibal-St. Joe route, keeps a 
replica of the original car used for display at expositions and 
conventions; a painting of it and a memorial tablet is in the 
St. Joseph, Missouri, post office. (The R.M.A. installed a 
bronze plaque, years ago, in Chicago's Union Station to com- 
memorate the Burlington's experiment.) Other art work 
showing R.P.O. operations includes many famed Currier & 
Ives prints depicting postal cars, as well as a sadly distorted 
post office mural of an R.P.O. interior at Hagerstown, Mary- 
land (clerks are lazily sprawled every which way, with almost 
no mail in view). The grave of General Superintendent Bangs 
at Chicago shows the postal car on the end of an R.P.O. train 
disappearing in a tunnel, all in stonework. Some valuable 
historical collections of R.M.S. relics have been made by 9th 
Division Superintendent E. R. Chapin of Cleveland, includ- 

*Long. 



366 MAIL BY RAIL 

ing rare old schemes and a "Rogues' Gallery" of old-time crew 
pictures in six volumes; by Irving Cannon (a Detroit clerk) 
and }. F. Cooper (San Leandro, California), who both com- 
piled historical scrapbooks; by Assistant Superintendent I. L. 
Johnson of St, Louis; by the late C. A. Kepner (of radio fame) 
at Chicago; and by the writer of this book, in New Jersey, 
for an "Eastern Railway Mail Museum" in connection with 
the AMERPO society library. 

Looking to the future, the day may come when the railway 
mail clerk will work at the keyboard of a huge machine, sort- 
ing twice the volume of mail the P.T.C. of today does. As 
early as 1939 the Transorma Letter Distributing Machine 
(from Holland) was sorting fifty-two letters a minute, tied by 
an automatic binder, at the World's Fair, New York. Experi- 
ments with sorting mechanisms have taken place in the Cleve- 
land Post Office, and, just recently, in Chicago's— where Assist- 
ant Superintendent of Mails John Sestak has perfected a semi- 
manual machine of which three full-size duplicates have been 
ordered for that office. The government has appropriated fifty 
thousand dollars for perfection of a new distributing machine 
by Remington Rand, and such devices may be in common use 
someday in big P.T.S. terminals if not on the road. 

Whoever mails a letter or a paper can do much, without 
effort, to ease the lot of the P.T.C. and speed his own mail at 
the same time. By using zone numbers, by boycotting wide 
greeting cards, by addressing mail only to post-office points, 
by spacing bulk mailings through the day at intervals, 
and by writing the actual postal station or post office of de- 
livery as the first word in the last line of address, both results 
can be assured. For fast and easy handling in transit, un- 
stamped bulk mailings, precancels, and metered letters should 
be tied in bundles, faced with addresses turned the same luay, 
and separated to states and cities if in quantity. (And when 
you write that letter, remember that the Cleveland Branch, 
N.P.T.A.— then the R.M.A.— originated National Letter Writ- 
ing Week!) 

If postal efficiencies are safeguarded, the Postal Transpor- 
tation Service has a brilliant future ahead. There are more 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 367 

postal clerks within its ranks today, sorting more mail in tran- 
sit, than e\er before. It is fortunate that this great Service has 
been controlled by the people, through Congress, rather than 
operated as a great corpc»ration with princely official salaries, 
miserly pay for clerks, offices overstaffed with relatives and 
people with pull, and costly wastefulness all around— at least 
so writes one clerk in the Journal. We are thankful that our 
self-reliant men of the mail trains work under better condi- 
tions than that. 

Between the populous New England cities, across the rich 
farmins: states and industrialized Midwest, over the Rockies, 
through semi tropical groves, mighty forests, great canyons, 
weavinq; their lifelines of communication and commerce 
through the greatest and best empire in the world, speed the 
never-resting R.P.O. train and the H.P.O. bus. Many a 
grizzled veteran of the iron road, tired of his years of grinding 
labor, might ponder at this point ... Is it all worth while? 

We who have looked "beyond the ordinary" can answer 
that. We who have seen the dingy industrial drabness of 
Gray's Ferry, entering Philadelphia, magically transformed 
into a shimmering golden panorama of radiant beauty at sun- 
rise, while passengers slept; we who have watched daily for 
some Tvinsome little lass who alwavs brought a sweet-scented 
note to the train to mail to faraway Maine, then one day never 
came again; we who have thrilled to the glorious fragrance 
of wild Maryland honeysuckle as the train crossed the Mason- 
Dixon line, unsensed by those in the air-conditioned coaches— 
we can respond with a fervent Yes. This is our Service, now 
and always, whatever our occupation— an indispensable, in- 
genious network of living and pulsating mail-sorting arteries 
of which nearly every American makes use ... of which every 
American shotild be proud. 



S68 MAIL BY RAIL 



THE MAIL CLERK'S WIFE 
(A closing tribute, from two sources) 

Let me sing you a song, just a wee little song 

Of a picture that's taken from life: 
Not of mail clerks so brave (be they angel or knave), 

But the song of the postal clerk's wife. 
Oh, her husband, you know, is the man on the go, 

"In-and-outer" he is, with a will! 
Of course mostly he's "out," don't you envy the lout— 

Don't you wish you could travel with Bill? 
But the woman at home, nary once does she roam, 

She's the wife of the mail clerk so great. 
And it's up to her now, just to whistle somehow, 

Just to whistle and hustle and wait. 
Someone phones "Can you play?" No indeed, not today. 

"No indeedy, for Bill's on the road. 
In some dim distant day he'll retire, then I'll play"— 

And she takes up the twosome-made load. 
Yes, she works with a will, as she pinch-hits for Bill, 

For she loves him, that guy on the train. 
So when singing your song to the valiant and strong. 

Sing the "wife of the mail clerk's" refrain. 

— Leta Bonifield Foley 



The house must be still; "Quiet, children, no fun,' 
Ma walks on tiptoe her work to get done, 
For cards have appeared all over the place. 
And Pa has assumed his "pre-exam face" . . . 

— J. L. Simpson 



TRANSIT MAIL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE 869 



Listen, folks, and you shall hear 
Not the midnight ride of Paul Revere 
But rather a tale so aged and true 
Of what makes mail clerks' wives so blue. 
On Monday morning all is well, 
'Til in less time than it takes to tell, 
While dusting off the mantel case 
She upsets labels all o'er the place. 
The postman loudly rings the bell 
And brings a card John's sent to tell 
Her: please to hunt around real hard- 
He hasn't nary a register card! 
She bundles them and sends them off; 
But even then she doesn't scoff 
When the next mail brings a note of sorts: 
"Can you find me any more trip reports?" 
Then when at last the week is o'er 
And John again comes in the door. 
She's glad to see him— and then unlocks 
His case of dirty shirts and socks. 
It seems to me— I've thought and thought- 
It's not unreasonable, indeed it's not. 
To think Saint Peter, watching o'er our lives. 
Has a tender heart for mail clerks' wives! 
— J. L. Simpson 



TECHNICAL NOTES 



Note \.—Case and Rack Separations. Cases consist of banks of pigeon- 
holes, built flat against the car walls— except where case sections are 
bent inward at a 45° angle to enable clerks to reach distant boxes more 
easily. (These are called zuing cases; or, if the second case in a small car, 
a bob tail.) Each case section measures ten or eleven pigeonholes high 
and four to twelve columns wide; holes measure three to four inches 
high and exactly four and a half (or four and a quarter) inches wide- 
far too narrow to hold most greeting cards. A wide ledge runs the length 
of all the cases, with drawers underneath for supplies and excess hats 
or clothing. Case headers— when loose or "false" headers are used— are 
cards about 4 by 71/9 inches with an inch-wide strip bent down to serve 
as a label, the name of the separation being lettered thereon. "Perma- 
nent" headers, used on smaller lines especially, are printed on strips 
of paper glued on various sides of the square revolving sticks found at 
the top front of every pigeonhole. Most clerks arrange their headers in 
a rough geographical sequence, with each column representing an R.P.O. 
line— the line package being made up at bottom and the directs above 
it— in station order, order of size, or no order at all; occasionally a clerk 
arranges all the lighter separations alphabetically in the vertical sense, 
and simple cases for "directs" used by subs are usually alphabetical. 
But in all cases exceptions are made for the heaviest boxes— which are 
concentrated at lower right, for easy access. Many P.T.S. offices issue 
official case diagrams and require all clerks to follow them; the ad- 
vantage of uniformity is obtained, but at the sacrifice of efficiency from 
clerks who can work better at a case designed to their personal ideas of 
correctness and in cases of sudden mail-volume change. 

Some clerks economize by using narrow "half-headers," or with only 
column of headers to each three rows (three names being lettered on 
each). On a certain "Washington & Charlotte (Sou) train the Atlanta 
City clerk in one crew spelled out his headers with colored letters cut 
from magazines; the city clerk in another crew cut printed trademark 
headings from ads of all the big concerns for which firm mail was made 
up— Coca-Cola Company, Atlanta Constitution, and pasted them on! 
Some clerks use a colored pencil or, with difficulty, a bit of chalk to 
mark up names on the square sticks. 

370 



TECHNICAL NOTES 371 

The pouch rack consists of from two to six units, usually fourteen 
pouches each, evenly divided between both sides of the car, the aisles 
and tables running between them. Toward the head of the car there 
is usually an extension of the rack on the left side only, used partly 
by the clerks at the letter case immediately opposite and partly for 
restricted purposes. Collapsible frames of steel piping form the basis 
of the rack arrangement; a series of loose hooks holds the strap-locked 
canvas pouches with their rolled, braided edges and the loose-mouthed 
sacks, which are closed by a cord and fastener running through holes 
about the edge. Pouches have a few similar holes, for hanging. The 
pouch diagram is almost never alphabetical or in any other semblance 
of orderly arrangement, except that rough geographical divisions may 
be observed, and similar pouches are usually hung adjacent. The one 
general rule, as observed in the official pouch diagrams issued by all 
P.T.S. offices, is that the heaviest bag separations are usually hung in 
the front row next to the aisle; then come those in the other front row, 
then those in the two back roAvs, and last of all (the lightest pouches) 
the separations in the overhead boxes. Light pouches for immediate 
dispatch are hung in the aisle, limp, on the front rail. Sacks are ar- 
ranged likewise. (No one but the greenest sub, in a mail car, ever says 
bag; all are either pouches or sacks.) 

Sacks used in the P.T.S. are nearly always the largest or No. 1 size, 
except for the No. 2 sacks used for papers in terminals; but a number 
of small No. 3 sacks are usually received containing mail. Although 
twice too big for proper hanging in the car, the No. 1 sacks are the 
only ones big enough to hold the huge volume of papers distributed 
therein. All regular pouches are standardized in the No. 2 size, except 
for the special flat, heavy "catcher" pouch. Sacks and pouches, almost 
never washed, soon become very gray and grimy from tlie constant 
dragging on floors and platforms, and the dust and dirt is quickly trans- 
ferred to hands, clothing, and air. 

Note 2.— Direct, Line, and "Dis" Make-ups. There is a separate case 
for each state distributed in the railway post office car, and on each 
one, except on the "mixed states" case, there is one box for each large 
city and sizable town in a given state. When full, these boxes are tied 
out with a blank stamped slip on the back to become a direct package, 
the address on the top letter serving as that for the whole bundle. 
Names of small post offices served out of a medium-sized "direct" office 
are often penciled on the appropriate header and its letters included 
with the other mail in it. The largest cities, however, have a great 
many such small offices supplied therefrom, and their mail must be 
made up as separate dis packages, labeled accordingly— the headers read- 
ing "BALTIMORE DIS" or a similar wording. And, finally, letters 
for all the state's rural offices served directly or indirectly from an R.P.O. 
line are placed in the line packages addressed to the various R.P.O.s 



372 MAIL BY RAIL 

serving the state. Some clerks include lists of offices served thereby on 
both their line and dis headers. Cut twine, removed from working 
packages, presents a real disposal problem; newer cars have little space 
under ledges for discarding it, and clerks resent it on the floor. The 
only alternative is constant time-consuming trips to the waste bag. 

As illustrated in Chapter 2, the slips placed in the line and dis boxes 
for use as package labels show the destination as first line printed there- 
on, the nature of contents as the second line, and the R.P.O. of origin 
as the third (with the abbreviation "FR" for "from"). The clerk's dated 
name-stamp impression appears on the bottom half of the slip— or on 
the back of pouch labels for similar separations on the rack, the labels 
being printed identically; many hundreds of such slips and labels must 
usually be stamped and arranged at home each layoff. 

The pouch rack contains the same three classifications of direct, line, 
and dis pouches— though necessarily much fewer in number. Dis pouches 
are made for only the very largest distributing offices, and line pouches 
only where close connections or quantities justify. All in all, at least 
seven categories of incoming mail matter must be disposed of by the 
pouch clerk: (1) Mixed-states letter packages (whether or not labeled 
to this R.P.O.), thrown to the mixed case— the clerk thereon transferring 
any mail for states worked to other cases; (2) bundles addressed to local 
states, or to that section of them "local" to this line, which are trans- 
ferred (directly or indirectly) to the proper state case— any state distri- 
buted being considered "local" in this sense; (3) distant state working 
packages, labeled to the state only, which are thrown to connecting 
R.P.O.s distributing same; (4) packages for other R.P.O.s, labeled to a 
specific line and containing letters local thereto; if the line addressed 
is not "pouched on," it will be thrown to a connecting R.P.O. or to a 
dis (or direct) pouch for a city which does pouch it; (5) dis packages, 
containing mail for distribution from large post offices, which are 
thrown into a dis or direct pouch for the city named if made, otherwise 
to a connecting R.P.O.— many times such packages (and packages for 
connecting R.P.O.s) are voluntarily cut and reworked to a finer degree 
by letter clerks; (6) direct packages for post office named on top letter, 
thrown to best dispatch available (direct pouch if made, otherwise to 
R.P.O. or to some dis pouch according to scheme); and (7) flats or slugs 
(large single pieces), handled exactly like direct packages. 

Note $.— Terms Used in Calling Pouches. There is no time in a busy 
R.P.O. to read off an entire label like "New York Sc Pittsburgh Train 11, 
two, from Madison Square Station, New York, N. Y."; so the caller 
simply yells, "From the Madhouse with a two!" as indicated. Similarly, 
all the other strange names in this paragraph (Chapter 2) simply indicate 
the office or line of origin, and the contents (if other than mixed mails); 
many other such nicknames of post offices and lines are heard. The 
numbers "with a two," and so forth, are serial numbers, explained later 



TECHNICAL NOTES 873 

in the chapter. To sum up the other names called off in this case, "Tom 
Cat" refers to a pouch from the local transfer clerk or "T.C."; "Rockin' 
Chair Line" is some light connecting line, allegedly a "soft snap"; 
"The Dog-house" could be either the Kansas City & Pueblo R.P.O. 
(MoPac) or the Philadelphia Terminal, P.T.S. Next we have the Win- 
sted k Bridgeport R.P.O. (NYNH&H, in Connecticut); West States work- 
ing mail from Holyoke, Massachusetts; a pouch from some city that is 
reputedly a "living cemetery"; direct packages from Chatham & New 
York (NYCent) Train 438; a working pouch from the same; Train 46 
of some well-known R.P.O.; a second Chatham &: New York train; the 
sixth pouch of New York State received from the G.P.O.; Ohio working 
mail from Grand Central Station of New York Post Office; and the 
New York & Far Rockaway R.P.O. (LIRR). 

Note 4.— A Paradox at "Wash-up" Time. On practically every two- 
car R.P.O. train this laughable situation is sure to occur when clerks 
attempt to wash up. First the man washing hastens to bar the "end 
door" from within, so he can stand in the aisle beside the washbowl 
without the door being suddenly opened and flung against him with 
violence. However, some clerk in the second car is sure to want ad- 
mittance immediately thereafter, and he must needs kick and bang, on 
the door frantically to attract the washer's attention above the train 
noise. Finally, after much delay and annoyance on both sides, the door 
will be opened for the man to come through to the first carl Amusingly 
enough, this is all avoidable if only the clerk will squeeze in front of the 
basin, in normal position and completely out of the aisle. 

Note 5.— Assignments of Postal Transportation Clerks to Various 
Units. About half of our 32,000 railway mail clerks are assigned to the 
3,000-odd R.P.O. trains operated daily in the United States, including 
electric-car suburban trains— 14,604 of them on June 30, 1950. (Only 
one or two clerks run part time on boat lines, the other boat R.P.O.s 
being served by joint employees; and the last trolley-car R.P.O. carrying 
clerks quit in May 1950.) 6,564 other clerks work in the terminals, 
P.T.S.; 1,432 are transfer clerks, and some 445 (rapidly increasing) are 
on H.P.O.s. About 1,300 (including officials) are in field offices, while 
the remaining number of seven thousand or so consists mostly of sub- 
stitutes, in all these categories, plus mail handlers (laborers) in terminals. 

Note 6.— The Boston & Nen' York and Boston, Springfield ir New 
York R.P.O.s. The latter route— the well-known "Spring Line"— operates 
over part of one of our earliest pre-R.P.O. "route-agent" runs, the 
Springfield-Boston line, begun in 1840 with two agents (who did little 
sorting). The agent runs were expanded to form several New York- 
Boston routes, one including a ferry to Long Island (from Stonington 
to Greenport, thence via LIRR, 1845-48). True R.P.O. service on this 



374 MAIL BY RAIL 

line via Springfield was first arranged for in 1865, when four postal 
cars were built and labeled, clerks appointed, and the starting date set. 
Then at the last minute one of the railways involved refused use of 
its tracks unless much extra compensation was paid. Not until De- 
cember 11, 1867, was the trouble alleviated and the first Spring Line 
train operated as an R.P.O.— then designated as the Boston 8c New York— 
under the direction of Chief Clerk W. H. Postley. The "Shore Line" 
route to New York (the present Boston & New York, or "Big Line") 
was added a few years later and became the Boston, Providence & New 
York; but in fairly recent years the present titles were adopted instead. 
It is the boast of either line (both NYNHfeH) that they can handle 
all mails from the New York gateway for any point throughout New Eng- 
land. The Spring Line has over twenty-five R.P.O. trains daily; the 
Shore Line, about seventeen. 

Note 7— The New York & WashingLon R.P.O. This vitally important 
PRR route is the only all-electric main-line R.P.O. in America and 
connects the nation's metropolis and capital. It traces its origin to one 
of our earliest railways, the historic Camden & Amboy Railroad (Perth 
Amboy to Camden, New Jersey, via Bordentown, with ferries to New 
York and Philadelphia), which began carrying part of the New York- 
Washington mails in 1832. Likewise— to the south— the Philadelphia, 
Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad at first carried mail and passengers 
only from New Castle, Delaware, to Frenchtown (near Perryville), 
Maryland, with still longer boat connections to terminal points; while 
the B&O had the Baltimore-Washington link. But by 1837 the gaps 
had been spanned by rail, and in May, John E. Kendall— first postal 
route agent in America— was appointed to run through from Philadephia 
to Washington to "superintendent the mails." The facilities soon de- 
veloped into a regular "traveling post office," as noted in detail in 
Chapter 6. By 1838 the connecting New York-Philadelphia segment was 
carrying two tons of mail daily, including five hundred pounds of letters; 
and by 1844 the railroad had assigned their conductors to act as mail 
agents— replaced by postal route agents about 1848. (The carriers made 
heated objections to this change, protesting ". . . Nor is there any occa- 
sion for such agents. The conductors . . . now perform all of the duties 
they would have to discharge. They receive letters up to the point 
of departure, and at all points on the road . . . They assort and mail 
them in the apartments on the cars. Traveling postmasters can do no 
more." Cf. Chapter 6.) The Postmaster General later complained that 
New York firms were swamping the train-mail box. As for the earliest 
known postmark connected with this route— a straight-line "PHILADA 
RAIL ROAD," March 28, 1844— some authorities claim this was applied 
by the train's conductor-agent, but the consensus is that the New York 
D.P.O. applied it. 

Despite numerous squabbles over mail pay both before and after the 



TECHNICAL NOTES . 375 

line became a true railway post office, experimental R.P.O. trips were 
finally operated in May and September 1864 (both involving north- 
bound trips only, Avith N. Y. City distribution); and the New York 8c 
Washington Railway Post Office was permanently established on Octo- 
ber 15th of that year. This eventful occasion, following by four years 
the introduction of through express-agent service, saw H. A. Stoneall 
and Ed Brennan of the New York G. P.O. making the inaugural trip 
in 1864. Our second true R.P.O., it still traversed the Camden & Amboy 
but made connection to Jersey City over the N.J.R.R. & Transportation 
Company's tracks (to this day the street paralleling the line in Newark 
is N.J.R.R. Avenue); years later the route was shifted westward to a 
new main line via Trenton and Bristol, which removed it from "The 
Amboy" entirely. The R.P.O. train, which left Washington at 5:20 P.M. 
to arrive at the New York ferry at six in the morning, used some old 
red forty-five foot baggage cars fitted with steep-sloping (45°) letter boxes 
because of the train's swaying— but there was a handsome lounge in the 
end of the car, for use of both clerks and visitorsi While letters, only, 
were sorted, the work even included distributing New York City mail 
to boxes and stations, and the line's first regular clerk (succeeding the 
G.P.O. men) was soon appointed— H. G. Pearson. 

In 1865 catchers and cranes were first installed below Baltimore, and 
in 1867 a second pair of trains was added for daytime operation. Quickly 
dubbed "The Day Line" at the time, these same two trains (now Num- 
bers 109 & 134) are still called that today, eighty-three years later! Ser- 
vices rapidly increased; in the early 1900s the old Jersey City terminal 
was replaced by the electrified Penn Station in New York, and by 1935 
the electrification— after several earlier extensions— had enveloped the 
entire line. Over three hundred clerks now serve on the line's numerous 
R.P.O. trains— about twenty-two daily. 

(See under "N.Y. & Washington" in Appendix I for many other 
interesting index references dealing with this line.) 

Note S.-New York 6- Chicago, N. Y. 6- Pitts.— Pitts. & Chic. R.P.O.S. 
First R.P.O. service on the New York Central's noted New York & 
Chicago was from New York to Buffalo on July 13, 1868, under the 
designations of Albany & New York and Albany & Buffalo R.P.O.s. It 
doubtless succeeded earlier route agent runs, for the first clerk-in-charge 
of the new R.P.O., R. C. Jackson, was designated "Special Agent." 
From the very start some ten different crews performed duty. Years 
later (Chapter 8) the great "Fast Mail" made the line famous, and in 
May 1903 the noted 20th Century Limited was first launched as an 
R.P.O. on this route, cases being installed in the club car. The Century 
received its first sixty-foot R.P.O. cars in 1923 and its first streamlined 
equipment on June 15, 1938; specially canceled cachets for collectors 
marked the event. As Trains 25 & 26, the Century of today indeed rep- 
resents the Fast Mail's grandest reincarnation, with its great eighty- 



376 . MAIL BY RAIL 

foot strtanilinc'cl R.P.O. tars (see Chapter 10). "The Chic," as we have 
shown, holds the records for size of cars, R.P.O. trains, and personnel. 
"The Pitts," as the PRR's corresponding route is known, began as the 
old Philadelphia & Pittsburgh RP.O. on May 21, 1865, with S. S. Talbot 
as head clerk on its lone train. It later became (together with the present 
Pittsburgh & Chicago, holder of R.P.O. speed record— Chapter 10) part of 
the famous Limited Mail route. Today the line includes the de luxe 
Broadway Limited passenger-R.P.O. streamliner, as well as the noted 
Paoli Local of Philadelphia's fashionable suburban "Main Line" (Chap- 
ter 12). (See under R.P.O. titles, in Appendix I, for index to further 
reference— all 3 lines.) The Broadway Limited made a special stop at 
Bucyrus, Ohio, in 1949 in honor of Clerk J. F. Fields of that town, who 
finished his 42 years' service that day. 

Note 9.— Operations and Labeling in P.T.S. Terminals. Terminal 
clerks stamp a set of printed slips or labels for addressing mail, daily, 
just after going on duty. Direct or line packages, or sacks, are tied out 
and dispatched in the usual way (the stamped strip labels being used 
on the latter), but mail for the secondary or residue cases is carried 
thence by hand or in open sacks or tubs— usually banded with carriers' 
straps in the case of circulars— and the appropriate labels transferred. 
Labels of incoming sacks are stamped with the time and date and must 
be worked in order— and before getting too "old." Partly empty or 
"skin" sacks of circulars are outlawed and must be consolidated into 
full sacks before release to the clerks— otherwise a full day's "count" 
might be worked by someone in an hour or so! Terminal clerks 
still perform their usual duties at home, including many hours 
of examination study, at no extra pay (road clerks are paid more yet 
work fewer hours). Compensatory time off is given for examinations 
taken on duty, and compensatory days off when work on holidays is 
required. Weekly days off are staggered, and usually only senior clerks 
get Saturday-Sunday or Sunday-Monday layoffs. (Terminal clerks, like 
road men, have a fine sense of fraternalism; clerks in the St. Louis 
(Missouri) Terminal raised one hundred dollars in just a few days, 
quietly and unobtrusively, to send a sick mail handler to the hospital.) 
Sack racks used in terminals are built of piping, like those in the cars, 
but are far more commodious and are in easily moved sections (holding 
Niimber 2 or Number 1 sacks hung wide open) for quick tying-out. Com- 
partments for storing extra labels are found behind the permanent 
headers thereon, but many clerks just let the ribbon labels dangle in 
long strips from the holders of their sacks. 

Note 10.— The Seapost Service. As of Nov., 1950, this colorful service 
had still not been restored after its World War II suspension period, 
although funds were appropriated for this purpose about 1947. Al- 
though the British had a seapost as early as 1857 and Australia had a 



TECHNICAL NOTES 377 

line reaching San Francisco by 1876, America's first own route was the 
U. S.-German Seapost which began operating on the S.S. Havel (North 
German Lloyd) March 31, 1891. Rapidly expanded with routes to 
Britain, Central and South America, and Asia, the Seapost was employ- 
ing about fifty-five clerks by 1941 and sorted over fifty million letters 
annually on Atlantic runs alone. Suitable mail rooms, equipped with 
cases and racks, are supplied by each steamship company for such ser- 
vices, and clerks must be furnished first-class board and quarters free. 
They have plenty of time for visiting in foreign ports and are allowed 
full salary plus subsistence allowances while abroad; a diplomatic com- 
mission is furnished, while brings instant admission to the most exclu- 
sive and desirable foreign facilities. Clerks must have a high degree 
of sophistication and be flawlessly dressed when off duty, however, or 
their chances of appointment or retention by the Seapost are practically 
nil. Seapost clerks must be experts at geography, at deciphering strange 
scripts and foreign abbreviations, and at preparing complex interna- 
tional records and letter bills. Seapost offices usually sort mail direct 
to foreign R.P.O.s eastbound and to cities, states, and stations of New 
York City westbound— most residue sorting being done by the foreign 
clerks on shipboard, in the first instance, and by post-office clerks in 
New York's Morgan Station in the second. Seapost clerks are noted 
for their fidelity to duty in face of great danger; some have given their 
lives in tragic shipwTecks and fires, and several were lost on the Titanic 
after carefully conveying registered mails to safety. In their most recent 
special service they detoured mails for Czechoslovakia in the nick of 
time to keep them out of the hands of invading Germans. No seapost 
clerk has ever been convicted of stealing from (or interfering with) 
the mails anywhere. However, on October 19, 1941, the Seapost's sus- 
pension became complete as its last route (to South America) closed 
down, with its few remaining clerks transferred to the P.T.S.; and the 
service has been sadly missed by all patrons of the overseas surface-mail 
facilities, now greatly slowed. [The world's largest Seapost service was 
India's former Bombay-Aden S.P.O. (P&OCo), operated from 1868 to 
1914 with some hundred and three clerks on board, dwarfing any other 
S.P.O.] Transatlantic seapost service to New York has been restored 
now, but by foreign lines only— such as Sweden's "SJP 7, Goteborg-New 
York" and others. 

Note II.— Case Examinations and Schemes. A typical scheme is mostly 
composed of pages like the one illustrated in Chapter 4, but it also 
contains an alphabetical index, R.P.O. separation list, and notes. As 
shown, offices in a county are included in the same brace as long as they 
have just the same mail supply (which is usually an R.P.O. or distribut- 
ing office, but may be a terminal or transfer clerk). A practice card is 
printed for each office in the state, with the route or routes shown on 
back of card exactly as in scheme (Fig. 2, Chapter 4). Following this, 



378 MAIL BY RAIL 

the cards must be arranged in scheme order and carefully checked there- 
by. Junctions of two or more R.P.O.s or air-mail routes are indicated 
by asterisk in scheme and cards, and offices may be schemed as dis 
to all such junctions (some states have nearly one hundred junctions, 
with all routes on each to be memorized!). Clerks arrange their case 
labels, like their car headers, as they prefer— generally as outlined in 
Note 1 ; and these are later taken (together with clerk's own case if he 
prefers) to the examination room. Cards must be constantly shuffled, 
thrown, and missed ones separated for restudy. A perfect grade on cards 
and junctions at the final test brings the clerk fifty merits, with prorated 
merit citations for lesser grades down to 98 per cent (ten merits); special 
merits are given for consistent grades of 99.5 per cent or over at at least 
thirty cards per minute. All government property, including corrected 
scheme and schedules (and spotless revolver) must be presented before 
examination credit is given. A few unfortunate substitutes never make 
the grade on these exacting tests and are forced to resign and seek other 
work. One such sub, flunked for having thrown only 175 cards in half 
an hour (seventy of them wrong), complained he couldn't understand 
it— he made 100 per cent at home and "only looked at his map a few 
times"! To fail any case exam brings a serious charge of twenty-five to 
forty demerits, plus a required recasing with no extra time given. 

Note \2.— Grades and Appointments. Grades of regular clerks, in- 
cluding clerks-in-charge and clerks in special assignments over Grade 11, 
range from Grade 1 at $2,870 annually in regular $100 steps up to 
Grade 17 at $4,470. On all main lines and in transfer offices, clerks 
receive automatic annual promotions up to Grade 11 ($3,870); but 
for clerks otherwise assigned, the progression is only to Grade 9 ($3,670). 
At longer intervals in later years, longevity increases are given to Grades 
HA, IIB, or 9A, 9B, etc. Substitute registers are drawn up, one for 
each state, except in Michigan (which has one for each peninsula) 
and the District of Columbia (whose eligibles must choose Maryland 
or Virginia rights). In very populous states, such as New York and 
Pennsylvania, substitutes and junior clerks must often wait ten or 
more years before their seniority entitles them to a road job; while 
those in a smaller state with considerable R.P.O. mileage, such as 
Maryland, can secure such a place almost immediately. Senior subs are 
notified of possible vacancies on the usual "This-is-not-an-offer-of- 
appointment" form, and they may accept or not, as they choose; some- 
times a king sub waits for months before leisurely accepting just the 
ideal job. Final appointment is made by Departmental letter of assign- 
ment according to bids on file. 

Note IS— Classes of Runs and Hours Involved. All lighter runs, such 
as one-man branch lines, or other runs whose units of mail worked are 
below a certain norm, are designated "Class A" organizations— which are 



TECHNICAL NOTES 



379 



in the lower salary grade along with terminals and airfields; the major 
lines are all in Class B, with the exception of short local runs on such 
routes. On a basis of 253 days per annum, the Class A clerk must 
average at least seven hours and ten minutes of daily road duty, with 
fifty minutes credited for home duties to make up his eight-hour day. 
Class B road clerks require only a six-hour, twenty-five-minute daily 
average, with one hour thirty-five minutes' home allowance. Some Class 
B runs are so long that the ten to sixteen hours on duty at a stretch en- 
titles the clerks to incredibly long layoffs (Chapter 10); conversely, many 
short branch-line or suburban runs either require a five- or six-day work 
week without layoffs, or else necessitate a clerk putting in extra time 
daily in a terminal (or connecting R.P.O.) to make up his seven and 
one-sixth hours. 

Note li.— The Rotary-Lock "Alphabet." Some of the popular key 
words for calling off the lock letters on valuable mails are: 



Apple 


Harry, Huckle- 


Nuts 


Uncle 


Boy, Baby 


berry 


Oscar 


Vinegar, Victory 


Cat, Charley 


Johnny 


Peter 


Willy 


Dog 


King 


Queen 


X-Ray 


Eddie 


Lucky (See 


Rats 


Yellow 


Funny 


Chapter 14) 


Sammy 


Zebra 


Goat, Good 


Money 


Tommy 





There are no "I" locks. Telegraph and telephone companies use similar 
.alphabets but they vary a good bit. 

Note 15.— Boat R.P.O.s and Related Water Services. Some interest- 
ing former R.P.O. boat lines include the old Baltimore & Norfolk and 
Baltimore &: West Point (Virginia), operated on the City of Richmond 
and other Chesapeake Bay steamers until the 1940s; the historic 44.2-mile 
Ticonderoga & Lake George R.P.O. (Champlain Transportation Com- 
pany) on Lake Champlain in New York State; the storied Sacramento 
River R.P.O. on the steamers Apache and Modoc, from Sacramento to 
San Francisco, California; the old Baltimore & Hicks Wharf, terminat- 
ing at a little Virginia landing no longer even a post office; the Detroit 
& Algonac (White Star) combination R.P.O. and R.F.D. in Michigan; 
the unique New York & St. George and the Jersey City & Brooklyn, both 
in New York Harbor during the 1890s; the Alexandria Bay & Clayton 
(Thousand Islands Steamboat Company, seventeen miles) and the 
Wanakena & Cranberry Lake (later a boat R.F.D.), both in New York 
State. The New York & San Juan and New York & Canal Zone Sea Post 
Offices, normally connecting to our Caribbean territories, were long 
designated as boat R.P.O.s. Other mail-boat routes which still operate 
and which are said to still sort certain mails in transit include the 
Chain O' Lakes R.F.D. out of Waupaca, Wisconsin (originally R.P.O. 



380 MAIL BY RAIL 

from Wisconsin Veterans Home, King, Wisconsin); the Bay View-Lake 
View route on Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho; one on Coeur d'Alene Lake, 
Idaho, from Coeur d'Alene to Black Rock Landing; and one on Coos 
Bay, Oregon. Some noted former part-boat R.P.O.s included the old 
Calistoga &: Vallejo Junction, described in Chapter 12, and the Cen- 
tralia & Hoquiam (NP-PS&GHTCo) in Washington, 1891-1942 but 
with all service on U.P. rail lines in recent years; also the Baton Rouge 
&: Houston (NOTex&Mex), which used a car ferry across the Mississippi 
until bridged in 1947. 

Now a closed-pouch route, our longest boat-line R.P.O. of all was the 
Seattle & Seward (Alaska Steamship Company), 2070 miles, from Wash- 
ington State to Alaska; its suspension in 1942 proved permanent. It 
served Juneau, Skagway, and Kodiak as well as no-office points where 
clerks were authorized to deliver mail. Steamers like the 5.S. Alaska and 
Baranof had to navigate the British Columbia straits in night fogs solely 
by whistle echoes from the two shores, and when the whistle broke. Clerk 
O. L. Brooks was called upon one night to fire his revolver for an hour 
instead. It was a costly service; the company charged four thousand 
dollars for each round trip of clerk and mails, and one boat sank in 
nine minutes with all mail after striking a rock (all hands escaped). 
Like the old Seattle & Skagway, this line connected with such other old 
time Alaska boat routes as the Seward 8: Unalaska (S.S. Starr), Goodnews 
& Unalaska Bay (1942), Seattle & Sitka, Cordova & Kodiak, and Valdez 
& Udakta. Until recently the Nenana & Eagle R.P.O. operated on the 
eastern Yukon, apparently on the S.5. Yukon; it succeeded the former 
Dawson & Nenana out of Dawson, Y. T., the only United States R.P.O. 
ever to be named from a foreign terminus, with its motor launch Kusko. 
The Sunrise &: Seldovia and Tanana River R.P.O.s are also reported as 
long-abandoned boat lines in Alaska. 

Note \6.—City Distribution. Despite the amazing fact that experi- 
mental New York City distribution on trains was done as early as 1864 
(Note 7), regular sortation of city mails on appropriate trains was not 
authorized until 1882 or 1883— and amid considerable opposition from 
postmasters. But later they enthusiastically endorsed the idea, and at 
first the city clerks were borrowed from the appropriate post office (as 
in England). Later they were returned to their home offices in a "per- 
sonnel trade" whereby they were exchanged for the R.P.O. clerks on 
the streetcar routes. By 1900 some postmasters were even insisting on 
excessively detailed distribution and at unseasonable hours, meanwhile 
changing station boundaries in complex fashion, and the service had 
to be curtailed somewhat. But it is still done on a remarkable scale; New 
York City is sorted on lines as far away as California and Florida. 
Oddly enough, R.P.O. lines are no longer permitted to sort city mails 
for St. Louis, Missouri (reportedly by request of postmaster), and its 
service suffers accordingly. Substitutes must now carry zone headers. 



TECHNICAL NOTES 381 

Note \7 .—Transit-Mail Routes Around the World. In normal times 
the following route represents one chain of R.P.O.s and S.P.O.s (sea- 
posts) girdling the globe. It follows the largely water-bound path indi- 
cated largely because of absence of seapost connections out of Vladi- 
vostock (there are continuous connecting R.P.O.s across the Eurasian 
continent from that point west to Portugal). This route is based on 
actual postmarks in the Robert Gordon collection: 

1-New York 8: Chicago R.P.O. (NYCent); 2-Chic. 8: Omaha 
(C&NW): 3-Omaha & Ogden (UP); 4-Ogden Sc San Francisco (SP); 
5— Nippon Seapost (Asama Mam, and so forth), San Francisco to Yoko- 
hama; 6— Marseille a Yokohama Poste Maritime, Yokohoma (Japan) to 
Marseilles (France); 7— Marseille k Paris Ambulant (Sud-Est RR); 8— 
Paris au Havre Ambulant (I'Ouest RR); and 9— Le Havre a New-York 
Poste-Maritime. 

Note \8.~Historical Notes, English T.P.O.s. The first mail was car- 
ried by rail in Britain on November 11, 1830, from Liverpool to Man- 
chester. (In 1837, while Americans celebrated Independence Day^ the 
first special mail trains on the Grand Junction Railway began running 
and were soon carrying seven hundred bags daily). England's first 
T. P.O.— said to be the world's first railway post office— was the experi- 
mental Birmingham-Liverpool T.P.O. (Grand Junction Railway), 
which began operation using a converted horse boxcar with crude sort- 
ing shelves January 6, 1838; it was the suggestion of Frederick Karstadt. 
(Sir Rowland Hill, however, had suggested sortation in transit on 
stagecoaches in 1826.) The original route is now part of the Birmi.ng- 
ham-Crewe and other T.P.O.s. 

Further T.P.O.s were established the same year on the North Union 
and the London & Birmingham railways, and soon there was a network; 
the first out of London was from Euston Station to Bletchley, extended 
to Preston on October first. The exchange apparatus was invented by 
G.P.O. men the very first year; and the story was told soon afterwards 
of a kitten, mailed in a parcel by a foolish patron, which was "caught" 
by apparatus and later rescued unharmed. An enthusiastic account of 
the system in 1842 describes this net apparatus, and the sorting of letters 
into "holes around the wall" over the table, while local mails were ex- 
changed in bags with each town. 

The present all-mail Down/Up Special was first arranged for by the 
Postmaster General in 1855 but did not get started until July 1, 1885; 
however, all-mail trains from London as far as Bristol were established 
in '55, and the Great Western (whose first night T.P.O.s operated in 
1840) was speeded up. In 1859, T.P.O.s were instructed to stamp all 
letters handled. The London & Northwest T.P.O. began in 1865. Oddly 
enough major British routes had titles and date stamps like our own 
"JY 31 63" (instead of 31 July, as now) on the Southeastern R.P.O.; 



382 MAIL BY RAIL 

and for many years, mails were sorted to railway divisions (much as in 
America). The present county-division sorting was introduced by C. W. 
Ward, author of British T.P.O.s. Paid overtime (aggregation) for clerks 
began in 1897, and other benefits soon afterward. Earlier R.P.O. desig- 
nations, such as "Sorting Tender" and "Railway Sorting Carriage" 
gradually disappeared, with only the present "T.P.O." and "S.C." re- 
maining. All T.P.O.s were suspended for World War II by September 
21, 1940, but most were restored beginning in 1945. Considerable cele- 
bration marked some resumptions; a gay "Pig's Head Supper," with 
outstanding guest talent, was put on by T.P.O. men soon after. 

[In addition to the fatal wrecks reported in Chap. 14, the old Tam- 
worth-Lincoln S.C. (LMS) landed in a field years ago, killing one clerk.] 

Note 19— Writers of the P.T.S. (In addition to those in Chapter 16.) 
LaVern R. ZARR of the Chicago &: Council Bluffs (CB&Q) has sold 
articles on the P.T.S. and other subjects to newspapers. Captain James 
E. WHITE (later General Superintendent R.M.S.) also wrote Service 
articles for periodicals in addition to his book, A Lifespan and Remi- 
niscences, we've mentioned. Bruce L. BIRMINGHAM, retired (Illinois 
Branch 10th Division, N.P.T.A.), writer of the Chicago Tribune's 
"Wake of the News" column, also wrote a poetry book. Beckoning 
Trails. Samuel M. GAINES, late 11th Division superintendent with a 
fifty-year service record, wrote published poetry of considerable charm 
("I have lived, I have loved, I have laughed— Life's glorious wine I have 
quaffed . . .") and was an art collector and air-mail expert. Dr. Envin 
A. SHAFFER (ex-Buffalo & Washington, PRR) is the author of three 
non-P.T.S. books {Major Washington, Cavalier Prince, The Pennsyl- 
vanian) and has degrees from six colleges. Honorable William D. 
STEWART (ex-Ninevah & Wilkes-Barre, D&H-New York to Penn- 
sylvania), later a New York State legislator, v^rote the book Kanisteo 
Valley as well as magazine articles. Tudor F. BROWN, Pittsburgh & St. 
Louis (PRR), wrote a poetry book {Beyond the Blue) and other pub- 
pushed verse— and the poetry of Hugh GORDON (ex-St. Louis & 
Monett, StL-SF) has appeared in books also. J. P. CONNOLLY of the 
New York & Washington (PRR) and Third Avenue R.P.O. (TARy) sold 
two articles to Railroad Magazine. Fred S. WIGHTMAN, retired 
R.M.A. leader of the Williston & Seattle (GN), wrote a noteworthy 
article for the same journal— "10 Days on a Train in the Cascades"— and 
is secretary of the Seattle Retired Clerks Club. 

Earl L. NEWTON, Nixie Box author, wrote other equally excellent 
verse and is in retirement at Kalamazoo, Michigan. James L. STICE, the 
Free Enterprise writer, has been mentioned frequently herein; he was 
an early case-exam medal winner, checked nearly seventy-five hundred 
errors on other clerks (only 282 were checked on him), and became a 
division superintendent and an inspector. Hubert C. WELSH of the 
Salisbury & Knoxville (Sou) writes verse of much merit, including one 



TECHNICAL NOTES 383 

much-reprinted poem about the heavy mails to Montreal and Ridge- 
crest, North Carolina, on his line in summer. Harold KIMBALL, an- 
other Railroad Magazine contributor, runs on the St. Albans 8: Boston 

(see Chaper II), and E. Ray LOVE of Tiflin, Ohio, writes P.T.S. short 
stories, as did Votaw. Leander POOLE of the Chattanooga & Meridian 

(AGS, Tenn.-Miss.), a friend of Jack London, wrote for national 
magazines under the name of Bill Sykes. John E. THWAITS (once 
shipwrecked, on Alaska's old Sewarcl & LInalaska) wrote for various 
magazines. H. H. HAIN, retired from the New York & Pittsburgh 

(PRR), wrote the first history of Perry County, Pennsylvania (1,088 
pages). Stan GOULD, another ex-clerk, wrote the book An American 
System of Self Defense (Eastern Press, Chicago). J. P. CLELAND of 
Omaha, Nebraska, a clerk for forty years, was a lecturer and world 
traveled as well as a writer. Frank GOLDM.AN of the Philadelphia 
Terminal, P.T.S. , wrote a prize-winning article for Scribner's Commen- 
tator (1942). LeRoy O. CLARK of the 14th Division office at Omaha 
writes short-short stories. Scores of other clerks write articles often for 
the Postal Transport Journal and doubtless for other journals also; M. 
A. PRIESTLY of the Wash, k Cin. (C&:0) won a prize with an H.P.O. 
article in the Huntington (W.Va.) Herald-Advertiser, and Assistant 
Postmaster General REDDING (over-all head of the P.T.S.) is a leading 
journalist and author. 

Note 20.— Collection & Distribution Wagons. These early horse- 
drawn "H.P.O.s" were painted white with gold striping, like the 
trolley R.P.O.s, and contained a postmarking ial)le as well as the cases 
and pouch rack. They advanced mails to trains by as much as twenty- 
four hours in both New York and Washington (daily trips in each city 
were sixteen and nine respectively). The Washington wagon had a 
door in the rear and carried two pos'men to gather in the letter-box 
mail; clerks postmarked the mail and distributed it to states, city directs, 
and local R.P.O.s; but by evening there was too much mail even to 
postmark. Postmarks were of the large single-circle type, with two 
lines of print in the upper arc, and read "COLLECT'N R: DIST'N/ 
WASH'N D.C./WAGON No. 1," the latter figure being repeated in a 
lens-sect bar killer. The New York route operated past the West Side 
stations from Fourteeenth Street to Thirty-fourth Street and beyond, 
and had a hectic special run one day; reporter Dorothy Dare of the 
World had been sworn in as an auxiliary clerk when that paper decided 
to "cover" this trip and was soon proudly postmarking letters so fast 
that only blurs resulted. A regular clerk had to stop her, and she took 
her revenge in an article in the World next day! The service there lasted 
only ten months— it was discontinued August 2, 1897, when the new 
pneumatic-tube service replaced it, with the wagon transferred to 
Buffalo, where it made only seven trips a day. On June 30, 1899, both 
wagons were transferred to St. Louis, where they ended their days. 



584 MAIL BY RAIL 

Note 2].— The "Go-Back Pouch" and Other Regiovnl Publications. 
Monroe Williams, late editor of the Go-Back Pouch during its retenily 
terminated but colorful career, outlined its purpose in that popular 
publication's "First Dispatcli": 

The "Go-Back Pouch," like charity, covers a multitude of 
sins. We all know that what goes into this convenient separa- 
tion is off the record and not meant to be recalled until it has 
had time to be forgotten. Likewise, we know that in the 
memories of the old-timers ... in the files of their own personal 
go-backs, there is a wealth of information on the early history 
and traditions of our Service ... It is hoped that we may 
provide here ... a place where these recollections may be 
recorded, that the flavor and essence of the early days . . . may 
not be forever lost. 

N.P.T.A. di\ ision and branch publications still being published include 
the 8/// Division Neios Letter (parent medium of the Go-Back Pouch), 
Official News Bulletin (3rd Division), 12//^ Division News, Up to the 
Second (2nd Division), The First ]Vord (1st Division), and Division 
NeuKS Letter (lOih Di\ision); and the following publications of branches 
indicated: Texarkana RePerCussions, Postal Transit (Kansas City), Tall 
Corn Bulletin (Des Moines, Iowa), Little Rocket (Little Rock, 
Arkansas), Long Island Sound (Long Island Branch, Jamaica, New 
York), Pick-Up (St. Louis). Booster (Florida Branch), Nixie News (Cin- 
cinnati), Ptiilty Sentinel (Philadelphia), two called The Standpoint (Los 
Angeles and Forth Worth); and the following, all entitled Branch Nexus 
preceded by name of branch indicated: Alabama, Georgia, Buffalo, 
South Carolina, and Illinois. 

Note 22.-Addenda. In Chapter 10 (p. 171) our shortest R.P.O., the 
Carb. &: Scrant., should have been noted as having been formerly the 
much longer Ninevah fc Wilkes-Barre (D&:H) starting from New York 
State (see Note 19, W D. Stewart); and on p. 190, after Nowling's exam 
record, add that of S. M. Atkinson of the Cin. &: Nashville (L&N)-a// 
lOO's thus far, after 3 years' service. In Chap. 13 on p. 259, British readers 
should make note that membership in the T.P.O. fc Seapost Society is 
5y_ to accepted applicants (inquiries to N. Hill, Netherleigh, Old 
Wortley Rd., Rotheiham, Yorks.); U. S. readers, note that The R.P.O.- 
H.P.O. Magazine is to be published monthly at $1 annually by M. 
Jarosak, 62 New York Ave., Brooklyn 16. In Chap. 16 (p. 360). it should 
be noted that the substitution of closed-pouch service for local R.P.O.s 
in New Jersey and elsewhere is partiridarly to be deplored in view of 
the fact that not even local mails can then be exchanged by way-pouch 
in star route fashion— mails must sometimes cross the state to a terminal 
for sorting, just to be delivered in the next town. 



i 



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APPENDIX n 



BIBLIOGRAPHY 



Although only a short partial bibliography, this listing includes all 
known bound books in English dealing primarily with our subject, with 
the exception of purely technical volumes (such as those on railroad 
mail pay, weighings, or legal questions and those issued by the Post Office 
Department or as Congressional reports). In general, other material 
is listed only if referred to in text; and if starred (*) it deals only in 
minor part with our subject. It is hoped to publish a complete Bibliog- 
raphy in separate form, or as part of the next edition of this book. 

DENNIS, W. J. The Travelling Post Office. Des Moines, Iowa: Home- 
stead Ptg. Co., 1916. (50^, from Parsons College, Fairfield, Iowa.) 

WHITE, J. E. A Life-span and Reminiscences of the R.M.S. Philadel- 
pliia: Deemer &: Jaisohn, 1910 

NEWTON, Earl L. The Nixie Box. Kalamazoo: Horton-Beimer Press, 
1927. (R.M.S. poems) 

MAYNARD (SECOND ASST. P.M.G.), History of the Railway Mail 
Service (Senate Exec. Document #40, 48th Congress, 2nd Session). 
Washington: Government Printing Office, 1885 

CARR, Clark E. Railway Mail Service: Its Origin and Development. 
Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1909 

ARMSTRONG, Geo. B. Jr. The Beginnings of the True Railway Mail 
Service. Chicago: Lakeside Press, 1906 

, A History of the R.M.S. {P. O. & Railway Mail Services). Wash- 
ington: Columbian Correspondence School, 1903. 

FAMILY OF W. A. DAVIS, The Railway Postal Sewice. ; About 

1890. (Booklet) 

BRADLEY, V. J. The U. S. Railway Mail Service. Buffalo: National 
Association of Railway Postal Clerks (N.P.T.A.), Pan-American Ex- 
position, 1901. (Booklet) 

VOTAW, C. E. Jasper Hiinnicut of Jimsonhorst. Chicago: Union Book 
& Publishing Co.. 1907 

406 



BIBLIOGRAPHY . 407 

KILMAN, W. F. Txco Million Miles on the Railroad. Little Rock, 
Arkansas: Self-published (mimengra plied, printed covers), 1946. 
$1.50 from author. R.D. 7 Box 578, Little Rock 

•SPERO, S. D. Labor Movement in a Government Industry. New 
York: G. H. Doran S: Co., 1924 

McD.ANIEL, C. F. Railway Mail Civil Service Course. Cedar Rapids, 
Iowa: McDaniel. 1920 

POSTMASTER GENER.AL, Charles H. Quackenbush: A Letter . . . 
Washington: Government Printing Office, 1912 ('265-page book) 

WASHINGTON, J. A. Neio York & Wn^hingfon R.P.O. Photo Album. 
Washington: Self-published, 1948. 53.50 from author, 1236 Colum- 
bia Road NW., Washington 9 

, Fairrhild Air Mail Packet. Hagerstown, Md.: Fairchild Engi- 
neering & Aircraft. 1946. 

•HART O^V. A. F. Old Pnstbags. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1875 
and 1928. Pp. 303ff: $5 

GUI KIN, W. L. U. S. H.PO. History & Catalog. Omaha: Culkin 
Stamp Co., Box 400, 1950. $1.00 

•NORONA. Delf. Cyclopedia of U. S. Postmarks and Postal Hi^fnry. 
Moundsville, West Virginia: American Philatelic Society, 1933-35. 
Vol. IT from L. R. Stadtmiller, Asheville. N. C. 

•KONWISET^. H. M. U. S. Sfampless Cover Catalog. Portlnnd. Mnine: 
Severn W. Jewett Co., 1947. R.P.O. section by A. G. Hall. S2..50 

•STIGF, J. L. Free Enterprise. Fayetteville. Arkansas: Self-published, 
1945. About one-'hird RMS. material. $1.50 from C. E. Rench, 
251 1 Broadway, Parsons. Kansas 

STRACH.AN. Gordon. P. M.S.: Thf S'nry of the Raihoay Mail Service. 
Chicago: Santa Fe Railway. (Booklet) Free 

LONG. B. A. The Supply Narrative System CGard-studv method). 
Verona. New Jersey: Intermezzo House, 1939, 1945. 50 cents. 
(Booklet) 

REYNOI DS. F. A. Case Examination Study System and related book- 
lets. Roanoke. \'ireinia: Atwood Reynolds, 1946. $2 each from 
publisher. Box 522. Roanoke 3 

WHAI FN. T. A. Mnvpisnrur: A Petition. Des Moines, Iowa: Self- 
published, 1914. fPamphlet) 

VANDIVIER. L. N. Chrrk-Us't of R P.O. Routes (AH-time). Memphis: 
Transit Postmark, 1949. $1 from publisher, Box 152, Raleigh, 
Tennessee. (Booklet) 

JAMES. Postmaster General Thomas L. The Railway Mail Service. 
New York: , 1888 (?). (Booklet) 



408 MAIL BY RAIL 

KUHNLE. William. History of the U. S. Seapost Service. New York: 

C/O 2nd Division, P.T.S., U. S. Parcel Post Bldg., 1919. (Booklet) 
LONG, B. A. "Mail-Key Railroaders," Trains. Milwaukee: April, 194L 

(Milwaukee 3, Wise.) 
WARD, C. W. English T.P.O.s. Croydon: Self-published, 1949. $4.40 

(30/6) from author, 14 Tavistock Road, Croydon, Surrey, England 
POSTAL TRANSPORT JOURNAL (formerly The R.P.O.), monthly. 

1525 H Street. Washington 5, D. C. $1.50 year 
THE TRAVELLER, monihly. 45 Hamilton Avenue, North Cheam, 

Surrey. England, 50^ (3/—) year 
THE RAILWAY MAIL CLERK, monthly. 167 Holmwood Avenue, 

Ottawa, Ontario. 75 cents a year 
TRANSIT POSTMARK; T.P.O., and similar journals: See Chapter 13 

for addresses and rates, also Note 22. 

Note: Numerous other publications and periodicals, many 
with specific article citations, will be found mentioned particu- 
larly in Chapters 1.9, 12, 13, and 16. Most of them are national 
magazines whose addresses are a matter of public record; but 
where such is not the case, the publication is out of print if no 
address is given. All N.P.T.A. publications mentioned are 
issued at the address given just above for the Postal Transport 
Journal. (The address of Our Youth is 912 Belmont, Chicago 
14.) 



INDEX 



Current R.P.O.s and H.P.O.s, as well as most railroads, 
are indexed in Appendix I 



Africa, 219. 323 

Air conditioning, 340, 362 

Air fields, 61, 87, 328//, 358^ 

Air mail, 324-329; 64, 87, 211, 262, 266. 
286, 307, 314, 341, 344 

Airplane, 3, 219, 327 

Akron & Delphos, Ohio (AC&Y), 183 

Alaska, 3041} 

Alphabetical distribution, 41, 343, 
A'o/e I 

Alinon & W'iscasset, 176 

Ambulantes, 310, 314, 315, 319, 520 

Amer. Fed. of Labor, 148// 

AMERl'O, 258 

Amsterdam Printing Co., 54, 188, 203 

"Angel," 21, 41 

Animals, 58, 86. 87. 224 

Arizona, 60, 143. 182, 227 

Arkansas. 52,62, 91 

Arlington, Va., 183, 233, 334, 364 

Armstrong. Ceo. B., 104/7, Hl/f, HS/f, 
261. 328, 365 

Army Post Office (A.P.O.), 211-2. 217-8 

Asst. Executive Director of Transpor- 
tation, 43, 160. 342 (See General 
Supt.) 

Australia and Australasia, 321, 323 

Badge, 16, 86. 132, 273 
Bag, Note 1; 5, 18, 26, 36, 51 
Baggage cars, 46, 97, 100, 106, 138 
Baltimore &: Ohio R.R., 25, 960. 123. 

133; see BiO lines, Appx. I 
Bait. & Pt. of Rock^, 96 
Bandits, 8, 226/7 

Bangs, George S.. 6, 122//, 127. 205 
Belgium. 210, 315 
"Black Book." 16, 49, 54, 58, 205 (See 

Postal Laws & Reg.) 



Boat R.P.O., 177-181; 3, 199, 204, 250. 

260, 267. 300, 311, 305-6, 308, 314, 

Note 15 
Books. 295, 348, 349 
Bordeaux Terminal, 211 
Boston, see Massachusetts 
Bowie & Popes Creek, 60 
Branch lines, 31, 60^, .359, 360 
Brotheihood of Railway Mail Postal 

Clerks, 139, 140 
Brotherhood of Railway Postal Clerks. 

148, 151, 153-158 
Bureau of Transportation, 43, 342 
Burlington Route (R.R.). 7. 105, 365; 

see CBiQ lines, Appx. I 
Burma, 314 
Burr, H. A.. 107. 114 

Cachets, 263//.- 177. 327, 328. 338 

Cairo, 111., 104, 105, 115 

Cairo & Memphis (l)oat), 117 

Cairo &: New Orleans, 79 

California, 12. 34, 71. 92, 127, 155, 
175//, 203, 206, 222, 227. 249. 250. 
330, 334, 347, 360 

Camden & Amhoy R.R., 112, 174 

Canada, 297//, 327, 365 

Canal Zone. 308, 309 

Cancellation — See Collectors; Post- 
marking 

Capital Transit, 44, 243 

Car permits, 133// 

Case, letter, 17; 1, 3, 5, 10. etc. 

Catches, 1. 21//, 47, 60. 83/7, 119. 133, 
145, 172/7. 186, 198. 215, 269//. 280^, 
300, 305, 311, 326. 344-5. 361. 363 

Cats. 87; Note IS 

Chadron &: Casper (Lander), 186 

Checking errors, 91, 121. 122, 357 



409 



410 



MAIL BY RAIL 



Chelsea Terminal, 217 

Chicago. 12, 23, 32, 112, 122. 138. 140, 

185.205.2^1,338,316. 365 
Chicago & Clinton. 117, 120. 263 
Chief clerk (see District supt. also). 

37, 14. 72. 78, 810. 146-7, 154, 212. 

243, 341 
Childress S; Lubbock, 225 
China, 92, 218, 323 
Christmas mail, 197-8; 145, 212. 213. 

235. 213. 262, 291, 335. 358 
Cincinnati, see Ohio 
City distribution, 184. 200. 287. 290 
Civil Service. 21. 128, 142, 152. 155, 

205, 316, 364 
Civil Service Commission, 6, 47^, 273 
Civil service schools, 14. 47 
Clearmont & Bullalo, 173 
Clerk, postal transportation (ry. mail), 

1, 6-12, and throughout book 
Clerk-in-charge (chief), 73//; 9, 11. 

18//, 36, 38, 41, 45, 49, 51/7, 59, 60, 69, 

72//, 81//, 93, 120, 135, 146, 148, 

186-7. 201, 208. 215, 226, 250, 254, 

273, 311. 333, 344^, 357, 359, 362 
Cleveland, see Ohio 
Closed pouch (C. P.), 31//; 42, 43, 57, 

120, 122, 171, 181, 199//, 211, 218. 

232[J, 245, 249/7, 270. 282, 286, 295, 

299//, 315, 322, 328, 334 
Cobre & Ely, 135 
Coffee man, 194^; 24 
Collectors, 25AJJ; 247, 249, 327, 338 
Colorado, 34, 145^, 176 
Commissions, travel, 14, 77, 130, 364 
Conductor. 22, 46, 53, 153, 247, 262 
Covers, 254//; 213, 327. 333 
Crane. 1, 2. 12. 23. 25. 83, 890, 119. 

122, 175, 187, 280. 283. 344 
Cuba, 209, 314 

Davis, William A, 105, 114-117 

Deficiency, 356 

Delaware. 8, 201 

Demerits, 71, 72, 89, 90, 123, 113, 148, 

154 
Detroit, 181; see Michigan 
Detroit & Albany, 131 
Detroit R; Mansfield, 89, 360 
Directs, 25, 27, 35, 40, 119//, 184, 185, 

211.271.282 



"Dis", 16. 17. 22. 35, 41. 57, 92, 272. 

299. 3U6, '606, 364 
Disiubutmg I'osi OUice (D. P. O.). 95, 

luoi/ 
Distiibuling Machine, 366 
District supcniuciKlcul (see also Chief 

Clerk), -14-15; 13, -11. 52, 09, 71, 76, 

90, 117, 199, 229, 230, 234, 235, 355 
Divisions, 44; 43, 49, 122, U6, U4, 141, 

i6j, 'ZOl, 216, Zjj, 500 
Division gciieial superintendent, 44; 

76, 85, 92, 121, 151, 134, H6, 155, 

157. 206//, Z'ZO, TSl, 2-ll. 311. 314, 

326, 341, 55U, ^b'l, J65 
Dogs, 67, 93. 94 
Dumper, 19, 2U, 25, 270 
liletlric routes, 231-253 
tmergenty pouch, 27 
Empties, iy, 22, 47, 282 
England, 268//; 21, 96, 102, 107, 125, 

2y5, 257, 299, 304, aij-6, 345, 364; 

Appx. 1; Note IS. 
Engmeei, 98, 187, 272 
Examinations, 51//; 7, 10, 40, 42, 52#, 

122, 135, 161, 187//, 269, 300. 302. 

317, 325, 343, 346, 363, 368 
Exchanges, local. 90. 97//, 113, 116. 

Vli; see also Catches, Cianes 
Expositions, 263 

Fairbanks & Seward, 203 

Fairs, World, 263 

Fast Mail, 4. 30, 123, 125^, 260. 263. 

316, 319, 356 
Fires, 2j5//; 205, 207, 244 
Floiida, 4, 69, 202. 2U6, 325, 331 
I' lying Post Othce, 326//; 219 
Food, 8, 11, 23, 24, 132, 195, 283, 294 
Fiance, 316-7; 210, 211, 217-8, 328, 331 

Gag Rule, 142// 

General Orders, 92. 141, 182. 187, 349 

General Superintendent (see Asst. 
Exec. Dir. of 1 ransp.), 6, 37, 45, 99, 
112, 113, 120. 122, 127/f, 137//, 150//, 
161, 205//, 220, 222, 246, 334, 341. 
349,351,334,365 

Germany, 317; 218, 220, 355 

Grades, 58, 59, 187-193, Note 12 

Greece, 318 

Grip man, 15, 18, 132 

Guns, 70#; 1. 10. 15, 16. 49, 86. 134 



INDEX 



411 



Hannibal & St. Joseph R.R., 105, 

115//, 261, 26-1, 2u5, 365 
Hardy, John D., 6, 160, 163 
Harpoon, The, 143-157 
Hanington & Frank. City, 8, 184 
Harvey House, 24, 33. 195 
Hawaii, 304; 213 
Headers, 16, 17, 41, 63, 65, 185, 188, 

269, 276, 364 
Highway Post Office, 329/f; 3, 4, 32. 

35. 43, 162, 169, 177, 163, 201, 208, 

232, 247, 251-259, 361, 363, 367, 305, 

308 
History, 95- 168; 205/? 
History oj the R.M.S., 103, 115-117, 

349 
Hook, Note 2; 1, 65, 68, 89; see Catches 
Hold-outs, 61 
Hungary, 318 

Hyattsvihe. Md., 79. 90, 199, 354 
HyaLts. dc Chesapeake Beach, 335, 344 

Idaho, 181, 184, 186 

Illinois, 7, 8, 74, 85, 89, 112, 121, 129, 

278 
India, 311-314 
Indiana. 84, 246, 334, 352 
Inspectors. 8, 36, 71, 72, 87, 88, 100, 

147. 150. 156. 187. 209, 226. 228. 

255, 273, 310, 313 
Iowa, 60, 82, 88, 134 
Iian, 218 
Italy. 318 

Jacksonville. Fla.. A.M.F., 325 
Japan. 219. 323 

Juneau, Sitka S: Skagway, 305 
Junctions, 41, 52, 57, 58, 101, 123, 201, 
202, 284, 308. 313 

Kansas. 75. 78. 224, 353 

Kentucky, 207 

Key chain, 1, 6, 50, 88 

Key man, 1, 8, 49, 62, 100, 105, 248 

"Killer," 243, 200, 204, 266, 309 

Korea, 220, 323 

Label, 1, 2, G. 15/7, 28, 39, 41, 50/7, 61, 
66, 276. 282. 285. 293. 319. 361. 369 

Labor unions, 137-168; 294-5, 303, 313, 
349, 353 



Lake Shore & Michigan Southern 

R.R., 133 
Layolls. 14, 47, 61, 63, 67, 73, 135, 145- 

147, 156, 300, 311 
Leavenworth i .Miltonvale, 78 
Letter men, 20/7, 08 
Lingo of service, 21, 270 
Li\erpool & Manchester R.R., 96; 

Note IS 
"Local," 22, 23, 84. 90/7, 89. 100, 122, 

170^, 250; see Exchanges 
Locks, 18, 21, 26, 27, 40, 41, 68, 95. 

100, 106. 216, 269, 299 
Lockout, 19, 20. 25, 26, 39, 51, 52, 61, 

63, 89, 234 
Lodging, 28, 29, 32, 285, 286 
Los .-Vngeles, 31, 38, 215, 231, 250, 252. 

348 
Louisiana, 88, 151 

"Made up," 19, 61, 282, 288 
Magazines. 140, 141. 167, 256/7, 349, 

350 
Mail agents, 99, 266, 312 
Mail bags, 24, 27, 72, 129; see Pouches, 

Sacks 
Mail boxes, 42, 117,231,252 
Mail car, 10, 24, 269, 271 
Mail handlers, 51, 357; Note 9 
Mail messengers, 55. 90. 247. 280, 329 
Mail train, 14//; 1, 12 
Maine, 3, 176,201, 219, 301, 367 
Maryland, 9. 23. 25, 60, 96, 12:5, 199, 

201. 244/f, 2510, 330. 335. 337. 363/f, 

367 
Massachusetts, 31, 64, 101. 120, 121. 

150. 2^8 
"Massed." 26. 84, 325 
M.B.A.; M.D.A. Reminder, 136-140 
Memorizing systems, 192, 194, Dibl. 
Merits. 58. 59. 123. 143. 188 
Mexico. 309/7; 212 
Michigan, 109, 180, 199, 200, 360 
Mileage, 193, 194. 357 
Miller, George E., 43, 160, 354 
Milwaukee Road (R.R.), 338; see 

Appx. I 
Minneapolis, see Minnesota 
Minnesota, 52, 46, 72, 76, 85, 90. 141, 

153, 227, 229, 302 
Missouri. 42. 53. 105. 221, 237 



412 



MAIL BY RAIL 



Motion Pictures. 295. 346. 347 
Music, 355: 67. 287. 353, 365 
Mutual Benefit Assn., 136-140, 168 



Omaha (see Nehraskn); A.M.F., 325 
Ol>en Pouch, 165//, 350 
Oregon, 131, 226 
Owney. 93, 94 



Narrow gauges, 175-177; 300, 307 

National Federation of P. O. Clerks, 
157 

National Postal Transport Assn. (R. 
M.A.), 140- 168; 6. 11, 32. 75//. 86, 
94 , 1 1 6, 1 36, 1 72. 1 86. 202, 203, 2 11 //, 
220. 248. 257, 261, 265. 303-4, 310-1, 
326, 331//. 339-348, 3">0-35a, 362, 365 

Naval mails, 217. 219, 220, 267 

Nel)raska, 88, 131, 175. 325 

Ncnana &: St. Michael, 305 

Netherlands, 318: 218 

Nevada, 135, 183, 203 

Newark (sec N.J.); A.M.F., 87 

Newfoundland, 300-301 

New Hampshiie. 141, 160, 162, 175, 
179, 186 

New Haven R.R., 173; .see Appx I, 
lines out of Boston, Pittsfieid, etc. 

New Jersey, 23. 29. 37, 51, 00. 96, 173, 

174, 199^ 201, 203, 223//, 335, 360-1. 
306 

New Mexico, 9, 227 

Newspapers, 5. 18, 19, 51, 61, 119/7, 

315; see Paper rack 
New York Branch N.P.T.A., 165//; 

214 
New York Central R.R.. 30. 172, 359; 

See Afjpx. /, N.Y. & Chic, Chat. & 

N.Y.. etc.; also 121, 133 
New York City. 28, 30. 35. 121, 135, 

169//. 173. 199, 217. 239, 240, 329 
New York State, 60, 70. 87. 97. 121, 

175. 178. 181, 201, 223. 224. 235, 
244. 253 

New Zealand, 321, 322 

Nixies, 21, 198 

No-postofTice points. 198, 230, 364 

North Dakota, 46, 66 



Oakcs el- Hawardcn, 147 
Oclwein X: Kansas City, 188, 256 
Ogden (sec Utah); Term., 134 
Ohio. 9, 32, 140. 153, 243. 244, 251 
Oklahoma. 187. 206 



Package, letter, 3-5, 15, 18-20, etc. 

Packets, 5, 106. 111. 117-119 

Pakistan, 314 

Panama, see Canal Zone 

Paper rack, 20, 35, 61//, 106, 120, 269. 

317 (.see Newspapers) 
Parcel post, 5, 12, 35, 42, 49, 66, 130, 

131. 152, 154. 179, 187. 197, 305. 

315-6, 320-1, 357, 3.59 
PennsNlvania, 28, 51, 65, 96, 97, 171. 

187, 220, 222, 232. 244. 249, 326 
Pennsylvania R.R.. 33. 98//. 338; see 

Appx. I, N.Y. & Wash., N.Y. & Pitts.. 

Pitts. & Cine. etc. 
Penn Terminal, P.T.S., 36, 38, 215, 

352, 355 
Penn Transfer Office, 48 
Persia. 218 

Peru Jv lndianapoli.s, 246. 332 
Philadelpliia (and Term.), 32. 125, 

188, 200, 207. 235, 239. 344, 307 
Philately, 254-267: 102. 114-5, 182,232, 

212, 287; see Collectors 
Philippines, 210, 322. .3.55 
Pigeonholes, 1. 5. 17, 20. 26, 34. 57, 73. 

82. 100, 106. 197, 271. 276, 317 
Pony Express 105. 106, 118 
Postage, 45, 10 1. 303 
Postal agent. 100 

Post-biliing. 103. 110, 111, 119, 123 
Postal liullelin, 127 
Postal Cancellations Society, 256 
Postal Guide, 73, 214, 291, 312, 313, 

364 
Postal Laxi's 6- Regulations, 73, 145, 

180, 202. 203. 252, 300, 346, 356/7 
(.see Black Book) 
Postal Service. 2, 43. 51, etc. 
Postal supply houses, 54. 261 
Postal transportation clerk, see Clerk 
Postal Transport Hospital A.ssn., 168 
Postal Transport Journal (The R.P. 

O.), 167; 3, 11, 70//, 81, 91, 141, 153, 

155, 162-5-7. 182. 189. 198. 211, 248. 

256, 267, 332. 342. 350-2. 362, 367 



INDEX 



413 



Postmarking. 50. 73. 97. 101. 106. 178^, 

197. 218. 231//. 241//, 25^-207. 306, 
309-31G S19, 322. 326-330, 335-348, 
36^: see Col lectors 

Pastmaster. 85. 94/7, 101, 105, 108-110. 
120. 121. 134. 137, 103, 175. 186. 187. 

198. 217, 236. 241, 247, 201, 338, 360 
Postmaster General, 3, 8, 61, 89, 96, 

99/7. 108. 111. 120. 135. 139. 143. 154, 

158. 103. 227. 277, 308. 325. 327 
Post onices, 230; 1, 2, 3, 6, 13, 15-19, 

97-99, 178-182. 309-320, etc. 
Post Office Department, 31, 43, 94, 
97/7, 107. Ill//, 121. 140. 141. 147- 

159. 161. 238. 215, 298, 300, 308, 326, 
829, 3.32. 336. 310. 356, 362 

Post roads. 98 

Poiiclics. \'ote I: 5, 17; 2, 4. 10. 15, 22- 

20. 03-65. 85-93. 119-121. etc. 
Pouch clerk, 20, 24, 25. 00. 81 
Pouch rack, 19. 26, 51, 270, 307. 320, 

327, 330, 339 
Pouch record, 135. 277 
Pouch lahlc, 19. 20, 25, 27. 51. 65. 318 
Practice cards, 54-58, 191-194, 201, 300, 

325 
Pr.iriire cases. 52. 54, 122 
Puhlishers, 19, 03. 122, 348^ 
Puciio Rico, 210, 307 
Purdum. Hon. Smith W.. 76. 264, 354; 

2nd plioto sec. 

Quincy & St. Joseph, 120 

Rack.s. 17/7, 35. 36. 41. 42. 47, 49. 61. 

65. 66, 119, 129, 133, 176. 186, 201, 

214. 219, 221, 237, 312, 321 (see 

Pouch rack) 
Radio. 3-16. .3^7. 365. 366 
Railroad V.M.C.A., 28. 29 
Railroad mail— Railway letters, 45, 46, 

295 
Rnihvay Mail, The, 141 
Railway Mail Assn., see National 

Postal Tran.sport Assn. 
Railway mail cl'dw. 28, 77. 168 
Railway mail clerks, see Clerks 
Railway postal clerks, see Clerks 
Raihray Post Office, see Postal Tr. 

Jnurnnl 
Redistribution, 3, 101. 118 



Retirement, 77, 130, 143, 150, 159 

Revolver, see Guns 

Rhode Island, 71, 201 

R.M.S. Bugle, 140, 1-11 

Routes. 1. 4, 19, 54-57, 198/7. 282 

Route agents, 97-102; 53. 106, 107, 111. 

114-5, 119/7, 128, 177. 261, 262. 302, 

320, 353 
Rural free delivery (R.F.D.), 179^, 

230. 330. 346 
Russia, 319 

St. Louis. 237; and see Afi.ssouri 
Sacks, 5, 17, Note 1; 18-20, 23, 39. 41, 

47-51. 62 66, 91-92, etc. 
Safety bar, 4, 88, 271 
Salaries. 59; 49, 129, 158-9, Nnte 12 
San Francisco (and Terminal), 39. 

155. 206, 207, 213, 227, 243 
Santa Fe R.R., 347, 3-19; see Appx I, 

Alb. X; L.A., K.C. & Alb., etc. 
Schedules. 15, 16, 40-44, -19, 54, 57, 81. 

123. 126. 213, 216, 257, 267, 277, 298. 

319, 320. 333. 341 
Schemes, .54-55; 2, 15, 43. 57. 63. 64, 

81. 121-3. 180, 198, 201. 214. 216. 

230. 207-8. 277. 298/7. 306. 308. 311 
Seaposis. Note 10; 45, 94. 194, 256, 267, 

301. 308, 352 
Seniority. 159, 164. 165 
Separations. 17. 19. 26, 41, 61. 69, 102, 

108, 122, 135. 2H, 219 
Sioux City 8; O'N'eill, 79 
Slang, see Lingo 
Slips, 3, 15. 16. 27, 58, 68. 69. 85. 91, 

121/7, 201, 262, 263, 267, 276, 298. 

299, 357, 364 
South Carolina, 11, 96 
South Dakota. 146/7 
Space. .59, 07. 135. 362 
Spanish-American ^Var, 209/7 
Special delivery, 66. 73, 185, 279 
Special agents, 104-100, 115 
Speed dilTcrcntial, 159. 357 
Spokane, Wash., Terminal, 87 
Stalls (bins). 5 
Stages. 96-99, 104. 100. 114 
Stamps. 12, 58. 95, 100, 110, 179, 201, 

213, 245. 255. 309. 317, 330 
Star routes, 35, 104; 36, 42, 117. 183, 

251, 331. 332 



414 



MAIL BY RAIL 



Station agents, 86, 88, 119 

Steel cars, 3, 149 

Storage and storage cars, 5, 13, 15, 18, 

20, 42. 51 
Street-car R.P.O., 236 216, 219, 266 
Strikes, \4GfJ, 208. 209, 241. 303, 311 
"Stuck", 5, 27, 45. 53, 62, 81, 130, 145. 

146, 154, 213, 242, 270, 336 
Sulistiiutes, 47-59; 5, 7. 8, 17, 19, 58, 

62. 75, 77, 81/7. 90. 91. 129. 147. 148, 

154, 179. 185. 188, 191, 192. 202. 214, 

217, 220. 227, 234-5, 246, 248. 273. 

340, 357 
Suggestion program. 344, 362 
Superintendent of mails, railroad, 45, 

119 
Sweden, 320. 326, Note 10 
Swing room, 36 

Television, 348 

Tennessee, 62, 186, 256. 347 

Terminals P.T.S., 35-41; 3, 27, 29, 43, 

49, 51. 59, 60. 70. 72. 87. 130. 134, 

154. 159. 162, 170. 189, 190, 201-2, 

208-216, 223, 229. 265 6, 273, 301, 

312, 315, 319. 342. 3.52. 355 8. 366 
Terminals, railroad. 4, 26-31. 50, 100- 

105. 115. 122. 133. 183, 199,233,235, 

251. 253. 308. 312. 333 
Texas. 33, 70, 172. 209. 251. 354 
Thurmond &: Mt. Hope (Th. & Pr. 

Hill). 171 
Tie outs. 26, 40, 50,228 
T.P.O., 2,58 

Tracy 8: Pierre, 146, 147, 1.50 
Transit, in, 3. 45, 114, 181, 214, 268, 

328. 341 
Transit mail, 95, 99, 104, 108, 231, 

266, 359 
Transit Postmark, 256-259. 266 
Transfer clerks and T.O.'s, 41-43; 27, 

32. 38, 45. 51. .52. 58. 87. 150, 202, 

208, 216, 257, 262, 265, 266 
Traveling Post Office (book), 228, 349, 

352 
Traveling Post Office & Seapost Soc, 

258 
Traveling post office, 268-296; 95, 98, 

102, 108-111. 211, 255. 258,267, 300, 

301, 313. 316. 321-323 
Traveller, The. 257. 258. 294 



Trip report, 27. 40, 61 . 62. 73; Note 21 
Trolley R.P.O.s. 231-253; 203. 260, 

264//. 304, 317-319. 329, 332, 334 
Turkey. 320. 355 
Twine, 18, 299. 362 

Uniform, 47. 86. 131. 132. 321 

Unions, see Labor unions 

Union Pacific R.R., 127; see A{)px I, 

Omaha &: Og., etc. 
"United States Mail," 2, 115, 219, 240, 

244 
United States territories, 301-309, 315 
Utah, 134, 183, 221 

Vail, Theodore N., 127, 351 

Vermont, 221, 224 

Virginia, 65, 93, 174, 180, 183, 200, 

202, 223, 233. 333. 337 
Votaw, Clarence E., 45, 47, 79, 81. 128, 

346, 349. 352 

Walter. Urban A.. 143-158 
Wanamaker, P.M.G. John, 94, 135, 

187. 335 
Wa.shington, D. C. 29. 32. 37, 39. 43. 

65. 88. 84. 107, 133, 142. 157, 161, 

202.243,327,329,341 
Washington State. 9. 59, 180, 197 
Watertown !l Aberdeen. 186 
Wayl)ill. 96. 100. 269. 276. 279, 309 
Way mail. 95, 98. 100, 107 
Weighings, mail, 55. 135. 145. 350, 362 
West Side Terminal. 351. 352 
West Virginia. 32, 69. 172 
White, James E., 120-123, 127-131, 140- 

143. i88. 246, 349 
Wisconsin. 120, 121, 200 
Wives, clerks*, 167, 168, .368. 369 
World War: 1. 210/7; IT, 213/7. 24 
Wrecks, 221-226; 8-10. 69, 72, 138^, 

148, 154, 165, 166, 186, 220, 292-3. 

354 
Woman's Auxiliary, 141, 167-8, 215, 

355 
Wyoming, 126, 127 

Yugoslavia, 320 

Zcvely, A. N., 107-109. Ill, 112, 117, 

118 
Zone numbers, 342-343; 185, 240. 288, 

363, 364 






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