Copyright
Bryant Alden Long.

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

. (page 17 of 38)
Online LibraryBryant Alden LongMail by rail : the story of the Postal Transportation Service → online text (page 17 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


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






5^ W



IP5



1=^






u


&








*i




J3


• ^


-^


"^


rt


«


u




o




O


r


rs




o


o


^^


U


>


*


Oi


c




z


O


o


9


<LI


1














a





w


o


o


^


b


s


S


Z


Z


^



> t
z S



z z



-^ eo ~



o

j:: z







[_;


Z


^




o>




c







^^,„^


n


-


^


U


ci;




^


';3




u


z^


.:^


^


CJ


:a






<u




>-


o


5


/~


u


u






£


^^


o




5J

z


a


^




tt.


_4J


5


sz


o


^


-




■3


w


^


J


r


>


o
to


c5

J


c


>





u

.2


:3

>




z


z


O


^


U


z


u


<


z


V2


3



U^ M X Pi



u £- H ^ - 2
ii E ^ ^ .5 w

tJ T" _ "5 £>



C b CJ =

n 2 cC L-



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.)



MJ W > S

o -S o U



■z


jr


u

(LI


h






c
o




u


«



= a



E -n



•S h



.2 '■"



< '5 '5 - Q



3 3 3



.> O .2



'^^ 2



3 _. ^

3 -C O



O — — >



C — o



<N eo — O -^



IM CO C-J



Cs| C4 <N CM -< —



u






-^


>


J


p:^


■^ —




3


c


2


h


c
U


z


(J






u


o

CD


t,"


><


fci


>>

go

w
u

U


03

c

o


u
u

6

c
U


c
o

>■


x:
U

5
fci)




c

<

cii


u

re


o


C

o

"c
o
Q


>-■

2


E


IS

u

8

c


«5




u






C

c
o

i


re

re

w

u



c
E

>- 3



Online LibraryBryant Alden LongMail by rail : the story of the Postal Transportation Service → online text (page 17 of 38)