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east end) shown at the head of this chapter— note "-]-" for
"cross"-and (2) a N.Y. & Wash. (PRR) error reading "N.Y.
7 WASH./R.P.O.," still in use today (the clerk ordering two
current postmarkers neglected to press a shift key in typing
"&"!). Other fascinating errors will be found in Transit
Postmark's files. A rare "EMERGENCY STAMP/R.P.O."
was used on the St. Albans &: Boston (CV-B8:M) in March
1902, for some reason; and some cancels were once surround-
ed by a second circle reading "MAIL DELAYED— TRAIN
LATE" (detachable).

Pre-R.P.O. railroad cancels, now extremely scarce, are a
fascinating study; but only those which are route agents'
postmarks were actually applied on trains. The word
"AGENT" need not appear; the oldest-known railroad
agent marking of all reads simply "RAIL ROAD" in Old
English type, applied on the Mohawk k Hudson Railroad
in New York State on November 7, 1837— now in the Harry
Dunsmoor collection. Since many station agents and post-
masters housed in small depots used cancelers or ticket stamps
containing railroad names, it takes an expert to distinguish


true route-agent cancels. Some authorities, notably O. A.
Olson and Professor Dennis, assert that the earliest cancels
were applied by conductors or baggagemen and should be
classed as "railroad" as distinct from "asrent" markins^s. But
Hall and other point out that such postmarking by railroad-
ers and other outsiders was prohibited. Some post offices
stamped mail with railroad marks to indicate routing, too,
further complicating the matter.

Some of the best-known agent cancels were those of
the Phikidelphia— Washington route and those reading
HARRISBG. &: LANG. RR., both now PRR (N.Y. &: Wash.-
N.Y. k Pitts. R.P.O.s); others were BOSTON k ALBANY
R.R., MIC.CENT.R.R., and so on. A "MAIL LINE" cancel
was used on the Louisville & Cincinnati Railroad in 1851.
The word "ACT" did not begin to appear until the 1850s
and 1860s, as a rule. Some early agent cancels are in pen and
ink or even pencil; others are stamped in red, blue, and
green as well as black, and some contain agent's names.
Harry Konwiser of New York and Arthur Hall of Cranford,
New Jersey, both noted philatelic writers, are two of our lead-
ing authorities on the earliest railroad (route agent) and
R.P.O. covers. Hall's collection of agent markings is prob-
ably tops, although that of O. A. Olson of Chicago is very
large. Konwiser's U. S. Stampless Cover Catalog, the stand-
ard text on the subject, lists all kno^vn pre-stamp-era agent
marks, and Delf Norona's Cyclopedia of postmarks lists
others. Some remarkable displays of agent and early R.P.O.
covers have been exhibited at leading stamp shows by Olson,
Hall, and others; some won prizes. One controversial agent
cover, "U.S. EXPRESS MAIL," is now know to refer to the
through express-agent runs (Chapter 6).

Regulations require that all R.P.O. postmarks now be
struck in black, but in emergencies red and other colors have
been used— notably on the temporary Wallula R: Yakima (UP)
Christmas R.P.O. (see Chapter 10) in 1942, where the clerk
was supplied only with a red pad. Air-mail fields and other
units, including our one unique Register Transfer Office,
are authorized to postmark facing slips in red.


Collectors particularly cherish the colorful covers with
cachets— piciorid.\ or colored worded devices on left half of
envelope— sponsored to mark anniversaries, World's Fairs,
"First Trips," and what not. With possibly a special-occasion
R.P.O. postmark and usually a commemorative stamp, such
an envelope is a prized addition to any collection. The o^overn-
ment recognizes the R.P.O. hobby by applying colorful pic-
torial cachets (showing an H.P.O. bus) and a special, spelled-
out postmark with "FIRST TRIP" in a long four-line
killer on new H.P.O. runs; by special exhibition R.P.O. post-
marks; and (rarely) by special postmarks with similar killer
on historic final R.P.O. runs. A recent example was the last
trip of the famous Reno R: Minden (V&:T) in Nevada, old-time
western route, May 31, 1950. Stamp clubs, too, issue cachets;
the one at Glen Ellyn, Illinois, sponsored four for the Eight-
ieth Anniversary of our first permanent R.P.O. (the Chicago
k Clinton, via Glen Ellyn), postmarked— 2,500 copies— on
the same line, now the CR:NW's Chic. & Omaha, August 28,
1944. Vivid pictorial designs in colors featured the first
R.P.O. and contemporary scenes. The same club sponsored
similar cachets on one New York Central "Fast Mail" Anni-

Practically every World's Fair has featured an R.P.O. ex-
hibit, usually a car designated as a specially titled R.P.O. for
its duration. The earliest similar exposition cancel was
apparently the "ATLANTA EXPO./R.P.O.," used in 1885,
the only postmark applied at the regional Cotton States Ex-
position, Atlanta, Georgia. The "W^orld's Columbian Exposi-
tion at Chicago's "White City" in 1893 likewise had a duly
constituted Railway Post Office, but it apparently canceled no
mail; its rare postmark ("R.P.O./WORLDS COLUMBIAN/
EXPOSITION" in a shield) has been found only on facing
slips. The Pan American Exposition (Buffalo, 1901) had a
full R.P.O. car (DR:H) sorting all exposition mail, with a sou-
venir booklet The U. S. Railway Mail Service issued; no post-
mark is known. The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, 1904,
used an "EXPOSITION R.P.O./ST. LOUIS, MO." post-
mark; while the St. Louis Centennial featured a "CENTEN-


NIAL PARADFyR.P.O.," operated only on October 7, 1909,
as a horse-drawn Missouri Pacific mail coach on wagon wheels
(it was long thought to have been a streetcar R.P.O., but the
streetcars were elsewhere in the parade). An "R.P.O. EX-
HIBIT CAR, SPG. MASS." was used at the Eastern States
Exposition in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1925, 1929, and
perhaps in other years.

The Chicago Century of Progress (World's Fair) of 19.S3-
'34 had "exhibit cars", too— the Burlington's "Hannibal"
replica and a modern car. No "R.P.O.", the clerks still can-
celed covers, the wording reading "U.S. RY. POSTAL CAR
EXHIBIT/CHICAGO, ILL." with exposition name in the
killer. One prize cachet furnished at the car Avas printed on
the famous original Gutenberg Press, on display there. The
"NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR/R.P.O." shown at that great
event in 1939-40 consisted of a spruce, flag-decked New York
Central postal car. No. 4868. Featuring a green pillared de-
sign, attractive cachets were supplied along with the special
postmark on "Railway Mail Service Day," September 1, 1940
—commemorating the Seventy-sixth Anniversary of the
R.M.S., to the nearest 'week end. Five branches of the R.M.A.,
assisted by the Vincent Lopez Stamp Club, sponsored the day
and the cachets; the American Legion R.M.S. Post's band
played, and there were speeches and music by Second Assistant
P. M. G. Purdum, President Bennett of the R.M.A., clerk-
composer Barney Duckman, and others. Nearly one million
people visited the car, including many foreign postal clerks
who signed a register; Editor Koelln, who helped plan the set-
up, lent an attractive exhibit of rare covers. Clerks Pierce,
Hedlimd, and others purchased special immaculate uniforms
in which to ^vork mail and escort visitors.

The most recent exhibition R.P.O. was the "CHICAGO
RAILROAD FAIR/R.P.O." (Deadwood Central), which
cancel \v?s applied on a moving train at that Fair from July
to September, 1948 and 1949. Thousands of covers, many with
neat cachets, were canceled by clerks actually on duty in a
tiny R.P.O. baggage combination car in the quaint narrow-
gauge train running the length of the grounds. The same

THE "R.P.O. HOBBY" 265

R.P.O. train, wiihout cancel, operated at the Chicago Fair
of 1950. At the 1949 R.M.A. Convention at Omaha,
Nebraska (at which it became the N.P.T.A.), exhibits in-
cluded the replica of the Burlington's original Hannibal Sc
St. Joe car as well as their new streamlined Silver Post car and
an H.P.O.; a cachet, but no postmark, was provided. (Similar-
ly, no clerks or postmark were supplied on board a rubber-
tired Missouri Pacific R.P.O. car hauled in the Cornerstone-
Laying Parade for the new St. Louis post office in 1936, it

There have been countless colorful private railway cachets
too numerous to mention. They include one dated May 8,
1946, for the initial run of the PRR's new Robert E. Hanne-
gan, with N.Y. & Pitts, postmark; one for the one-hundredth
Anniversary of Chicago's first railroad, the C&NW, post-
marked October 25, 1948, on the Chi. 8: Freeport (sharing
the original tracks with the Chic. & Omaha for some miles);
a new Union Pacific cachet for the first trip of R.P.O. service
in Omaha & Ogden Trains 101-102, the streamlined City of
San Frayicisco, October 2, 1949; and many others sponsored by
Scott Nixon of Augusta, Georgia, by AMERPO, and by the
New Haven (Connecticut) Railroad YMCA Stamp Club, for
various special events.

Collectors cherish cancels of the unusual Royal Train
R.P.O. (PRR-NYCent-DR;H), which ^vas a United States
route for just five days (June 7-12, 1939), although operated
in Canada with a different postmark. A picked crew of R.M.S.
officials and clerks worked in the postal car of the pilot train
escorting King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on a visit
here via Niagara Falls, Washington, New York, and Rouses
Point (N.Y.); they canceled 318,000 covers with six types of
postmarks, including a machine cancel which was the only one
used on any steam R.P.O. train.

Terminal and Transfer Office cancels are not so standard-
ized as those of the iron road, and there are numerous \arie-
ties of hand and machine postmarks that cannot be classified
here. George Turner has listed nine varieties of terminal
cancels alone in Postal Markings; the newest ones at this writ-


ing still read, as a rule, " (CITY), (STATE) TERM./R.P.O."
with "RMS" in the killer. Some abbreviation of "Transfer
Clerk" or "Transfer OfTice" is found in the cancels of nearly
all such units, except those of the unusual, just-discontinued
"Relay Depot, East St. Louis, 111.," and the earlier (T.O.)
Round Table, Kansas City, Missouri. But the mark "L. M.
ACT" (local mail agent) was the one used by earlier, pre-
R.M.S. units of this type. Air Mail Fields, P.T.S., show even
more variety in their cancels; some were designated "R.P.O.s"
while killers vary from "RMS" (the commonest) to "AMS,"
"PTS" (newest), or no wording at all. No cancels have yet
been applied aloft, but cachets have (see Chapter 16). "PTS"
killers are slated for our newest terminal and T.O. marks.

There are specialized markings applied to transit mail in
post ofTices, often referring to R.P.O. trains, which attract
many collectors. "T.P.O." postmarks in Great Britain include
two attractive large modern types with double circles (with
black block or center-line fill-ins) and numerous smaller
types, some with stars. Neither British nor Canadian cancels,
which are a small standardized single-circle type, use killers.

Specializing collectors find the old streetcar R.P.O. cancels
of major interest—so much so that a Street Car Cancel Society
was founded (March 31, 1946) by Secretary Fred Langford of
Pasadena, California, and President Earl Moore of Chicago.'
It was thus the first R.P.O. society (though not for all R.P.O.
hobbyists) to be organized in America; it considers Transit
Postmark its official jotnnal and has issued some duplicated
Street R.P.O. material. The largest collection of American
streetcar R.P.O. covers is owned by member Robert A. Truax
of Washington, D. C; while Moore's collection of car
photos is probably tops. Street R.P.O. cancels exhibited
a most incredible variety of types. San Francisco alone had
both machine and hand cancels, with crude cork killers and
steel R.M.S. ones, and sexeral reversals or variations of title,
even to shifting it to the killer! Flag; cancels were used in

•The secretary is at 100 East Colorado St., Pasadena 1; membership. $1 for life.

THE "R.P.O. HOBBY" 267

Boston, St. Louis, and Cleveland, also with route name in
killer and with year dates separated.

While we have dealt mostly with the postmark-collecting
phase of the hobby in this chapter, the photo-collecting angle
and others are actually of equal importance. There are, of
course, no detailed classifications of photograph types, but
they can be grouped roughly as (1) views of R.P.O. trains,
(2) exterior views of R.P.O. cars, (3) interior views of cars,
and (4) miscellaneous. The largest collection of R.P.O.
photos is believed to be that of L. E. Dequine.

Other hobbyists avidly collect R.P.O. literature, data,
pouch labels, facing slips, forms, historical information,
schemes and schedules (particularly old-time ones), and what
not. Closely allied to the R.P.O. hobbyists are the seapost
and maritime cover collectors, who are catered to by the Mari-
time Postmark Society and Universal Ship Cancellation
Society as well as the T.P.O. Sc Seapost Society; but their
activities are beyond our scope here. Many leading maritime
collectors, however, are also very prominent in specialized
R.P.O. fields— including Robert S. Gordon of Northfield, Ver-
mont (our leading authority on foreign R.P.O.s); Vernon L.
Ardiff of Chicago, Illinois (a trolley and boat R.P.O. spe-
cialist); and Holton (similarly inclined).

The R.P.O. hobbyists are performing a noteworthy service
in helping to publicize the importance of the Postal Trans-
portation Service in American life today, and in the past they
have been responsible for at least four fifths of the published
material dealing with the Service (excluding the Raihuay Post
Office and official pamphlets) for the past thirty years. The
hobby well deserves Government support to the extent of
publicizing impending R.P.O. changes in advance, and of
selling P.T.S. schemes and schedules to collectors (now un-
available); revenues from the latter procedure and from
stamps for covers Avould soon return a profit. Such collectors
are real boosters of the postal service, and deserve all

Chapter 14


Here comes the Night Mail crossing the border,
Bringing the chefjue and tlic postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner and the girl next door . . .
Past cotton grass and moorland hoidder,
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder . . .

— W. H. AuDEN (Courtesy G.P.O., London)

Just what is a typical system of overseas
R.P.O.s like? In normal times there is a
continuous chain of connecting railway
mail and steamship routes all aroimd the
world, sorting mails in transit by devious
methods often startlingly different from
ours {Note 17). Disregarding technical
duplications, R.P.O.s or related transit
mail routes have operated in fully 107 different countries or
colonies; and still do, in most. Rather than make tiresome suc-
cessive studies of the R.P.O. systems of each principal country,
we will defer brief descriptions of most of them to our next
chapter and concentrate here on one typically European sys-
tem located in a country in which we Americans have a deep
and natural interest. Since it differs from our own system even
more than do Continental net^vorks, we shall find the story of
the British "Travelling Post Office" to be of consuming in-
terest as we review the amazing contrasts it presents to our
American setup.

Imagine, if you will, R.P.O. cars without pouch tables,



newspaper racks, or case headers— but equipped with uphol-
stered leather padding, neat coco-fiber floor mats, and a huge
net apparatus for making two-way "catches." Then man these
cars v/ith raihvay mail clerks who have never iieard of gen-
eral schemes, mail locks, or periodic case examinations, and
who cut twine and open mailbags only with "the official scis-
sors." Next, conceive a railway mail service which has no per-
sonnel of its own (it is in common with that of the post offices),
which includes a letter bill with every primary dispatch of
first-class mail, and in which practically every term of speech
differs from the corresponding "American" word. Finally,
picture the great cities of Liverpool and Manchester, ^vhich
no R.P.O. train ever enters; yet, one leaves Liverpool night-
ly—never to return! That's just a bare introduction to
Britain's "T.P.O.s."

Furthermore, we find that a different title is assigned to each
train— no train numbers are used to designate the Traveling
Post Offices as they speed over the realm from the white cliffs
of Dover clear to the rugged lands of the north Scottish crofters
(Helmsdale) or out by Cornwall's famed Land's End. We
learn that letter bags are closed with lead seals and string and
that swing-out stools, cushioned to match the car padding,
(sometimes in a decorative design) are often furnished for
letter clerks. And no labels are placed on top of letter-pack-
ages (when used, they're on the back)! But before we poke
fun at such "quaint," apparently leisurely doings or start
bragging about the much greater amount of R.P.O. mail
sorted per man-hour— according to observers' claims— in the
States, we can do well to remember that in other respects the
English system ranks ahead of our own. Only on British
T.P.O. lines do we find (1) full facilities for sorting all types
and sizes of admissible mails (except parcels) with ease, in sepa-
rate cases; (2) automatic apparatus \vhich simultaneously
"catches" and dispatches up to one thousand, two hundred
pounds of mail at once, at full speed; and (.8) the ultimate in
safe, comfortably furnished mail cars. The largest R.P.O.
train in the world runs in Britain.

A daily high standard of performance, and not breakneck


speed, is the officially announced aim of the T.P.O. system;
but even so the service normally provides overnight delivery
by first carrier for any letter posted in the evening at London
for atiy place in England or Wales! Letters mailed on midday
T.P.O. trains can even be delivered the same evening. Never-
theless, the British Travelling Post Office does not even claim
to be a network of continuous, twenty-four-hour-a-day distri-
buting arteries with a main-line R.P.O. train everv few hours
or so, as in America; the country's small size makes it unneces-
sary. But the T.P.O. man's specialized job is a very vital one,
and he is highly respected, sometimes "almost revered," by
such few of the public as know he exists. James Tierney writes
to praise "the wonderful team spirit of the workers on these
trains; I don't know if you will find anywhere else a staff of
men working so keenly together for the accuracy and speed of
their service." The British clerk is speedy and efficient, per-
haps because he does work at a less frenzied pace than his
American colleague— in whose R.P.O.s the English chaps in
turn find quite a bit at which to poke fun. Our hectic pouch
racks, catcher hooks, and armed clerks always amuse them.

The difference in nomenclature between the English and
American systems is in itself a fascinating study. Phrases of
considerable length and dignity are often preponderant; thus
a letter package is a bundle of correspondence, and the X-man
is called the carriage searcher. We speak of a crew of clerks,
but in England this is a team of officers, or, collectively, the
staff. Usually officers assigned to distribution (sorting) are
naturally dubbed sorters, although their official titles might be
those of postman higJier grade, S.C. & T./ and so on, or of
other grades; one's fellow sorters are often called the bods.
Pouch dumpers are bag openers; the R.P.O. car is a T.P.O.
carriage or sorting coach (or van), but the whole train is a
mail. It would never do to apply this term to a closed-pouch
train, iiowever; if the latter is an all-mail affair, like most of
them, it is a bag tender. A letter case is usually a sorting frame,
and the separations made up thereon, selections. (But a case

'Sorting clerk & telegraphist; British telegraphs are part of the Post OflBce.


dia^am, and hence in many cases the sorting frame itself, is
called a letter plan.) A sorter gets on top of, not "up" on, his
work— or else (in rare cases) fails or goes up the ivy (goes
"stuck," or stucko, as the English sometimes say). Instead of
"laying over" a day at his outer terminal, a sorter says he's
resting away; he catches pouches on the fly with the apparatus;
he gets aggregation or ogg, not overtime; and if he's a city
clerk, he is often called a postman and is said to be sorting his
mail to postmen's ivalks, not to carriers. To avoid a failure, a
sorter may have to depend on a last-minute scramble (shirt
tail finish) to clear his mail. Each trip is a journey, newspapers
are simply news, and surplus clerks (a different type from
ours) are redundant sorters; errors are missorts. Other equally
interesting terms will follow.

Britain has only about five hundred T.P.O. "officers"
(sorters), but they distribute over 500,000,000 pieces of mail
annually. They usually work in attractive, full-size sixty-foot
coaches bearing the royal crest and script letters "OR"
(George Rex), as well as the letter slot and "ROYAL MAIL"
wording mentioned. Also on the side of the car are four col-
lapsed pouch-dispatching arms (two beside each safety-rodded
sliding door); two large "side lights" for catcher duty; and a
large "apparatus door," recessed for the height of the car, con-
taining the huge hinged-frame net catcher folded against it.
Some cars have tiny, narrow horizontal windows in a row
under the eaves. These cars cost over $10,000 each (prewar)
and travel some four million miles yearly. Inside there are
no racks; one entire side of the coach is devoted to sorting
frames, the other to a continuous ro-^v of iron pegs (one and
one-half inches apart) on which mailbags are hung limp by
one rins^ from the wall.

Car-interior paint varies from green to a new "duck-egg
blue" (some English ducks lay bluish eggs); and green leather
covers the upholstered horsehair padding applied to all walls
and projecting edges, case ledges, and even horizontal rase
partitions. In lieu of safety rods, it serves to absorb the buffet-
ings received by clerks when rounding sharp curves or in case
of wreck. Case pigeonholes vary in size from those for short


letters (large enough for most greeting cards) to those for long
letters and packets (\vide cards and small "flats") in some in-
stances, and those in neius frames, the largest boxes, used for
sorting newspapers and large packets; such cases have differ-
ent-sized boxes according to "position" values. The wide
horizontal case partitions are enameled with numbers (in lieu
of headers); vertical partitions are very narro^v and recessed
concavely to enable instant withdrawal of mail. Sorting frames
average about fifty-four (six tiers of nine each) boxes, but vary
from forty-five up to eighty-tAvo on riexvs and packet frames.
(Photos show some clerks standing all letters in certain narrow
boxes on edge; but this is not standard practice.)

All comforts and conveniences possible are supplied. The
R. L. officer (registry clerk) has his own special five-foot
frame with a locking roller-shutter closing over it. Electrical-
ly operated "urns," ovens, or hot plates are found in all cars;
tea can be boiled in half an hour, foods quickly cooked or
warmed by hot plate, and urns switch oflF automatically when
contents are boiling or when emptied; the largest R.P.O. has
three urns and several ovens. The case ledges or tables are
covered with green baize, and the news desks (cases) have
breast boards to keep mail from falling. There is no worry
about separating pouches and sacks, for the same standard
mailbag is used for all postal matter; the term pouch refers
only to the leather containers in which bags are packed for
non-stop dispatch. Outgoing bags are hung directly behind
the proper letter frame, their large printed tags mounted on
the pegs above them— and the sorters, most conveniently,
reach directly behind to bag off their "tied-up bundles."
(With few made-up bundles received and with cases for sort-
ing all "flats," there is little need for a pouch table.) There
is the tisual xunrdrobe cupboard (closet) and "combined lava-
tory and wash-up."

Of course vexatious irregularities can play havoc with the
intended provisions for comfort— broken urns and carriage

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