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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


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


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



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-


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


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

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 "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.


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


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.


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

(Name of soldier and unit)
A.E.F., A. P.O. 123 (or whatever it was)

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.


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

Following abolition of the official forty-hour week on De-
cember 22, 1941, clerks worked a minimum forty-eight-


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,


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


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

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