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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


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


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


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


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

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.")


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.


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.


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-


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


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

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


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


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



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


(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.


Hope (C&:0-formerly ihe Thur. & Price Hill, 11 1^ miles)
had always held the record; it, too, was in a mining region,

Online LibraryBryant Alden LongMail by rail : the story of the Postal Transportation Service → online text (page 15 of 38)