Copyright
Bryant Alden Long.

Mail by rail : the story of the Postal Transportation Service online

. (page 16 of 38)
Online LibraryBryant Alden LongMail by rail : the story of the Postal Transportation Service → online text (page 16 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


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 ..



^^iii,l 1




;^ilj





-^



JS^*%,



J^S^^i^&pps,..,




■ — 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





^^^w^




E g'
o •=



E •=



■3; <"

c -Q






<



c




^1

< 2

U c
o

< s




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



Online LibraryBryant Alden LongMail by rail : the story of the Postal Transportation Service → online text (page 16 of 38)