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the Far Rock"— and other strange nicknames and numbers,
until the welcome words "Hang it up!" indicate a temporary
lull. {Note 3.)

Huge piles of mail are dumped up at both tables, especially
at the pouch rack, where the key man or dumper is lifting,
unlocking, emptying, and setting up the mail— a most strenu-
ous job, usually done by a junior clerk or substitute. The
large and small letter packages {bales and skins) and slugs or
fiats must be all set on edge facing the same way, so that
pouch clerks can instantly fling them to the proper separa-
tion. Each pouch and sack must be thrown open and exam-
ined for stray mail after emptying, and then bagged (in the
same fashion in which the original "empties" were received)
or piled for hand access; they are used to replace full pouches
later locked out. Labels are removed and placed in a box.

"Working packages" of letters for local offices and nearby
states are thrown directly (or via temporary pouches or boxes)
to the letter cases for sorting, instead of into the outgoing
pouches which are labeled to the towns along and beyond
the line and to connecting R.P.O.s. Similarly, packages tied
out from the cases are tossed on the pouch table to be thrown
off like the "made-up" packages. The head pouch clerk must
have a general knowledge of the routing for ten thousand or
more post offices in the distribution area and beyond— and
usually without a single chart or list to guide him!

Mail is now flying in all directions. Newspapers just pub-
lished are rushed to the train w'xxh. wrapper paste still wet,
and they are, of course, speedily handled exactly like the
pouch-rack mail. Some publishers include a complimentary
copy addressed to the clerk-in-charge, but there's no time to


glance at it now. There is often so much mail that separate
paper racks (and, rarely, pouch racks) are maintained for each
state handled. Meanwhile, incoming and locked-out pouches
and sacks are constantly being passed along to the tune of
"Up the alley!" "Down the alley!" or "Alley Oop!" Mail then
sent the other way is heralded as "Return Movement!" (offi-
cially, a reverse space shipment).

When extra or delayed connections not ordinarily due are
received by our train, the whole car becomes a madhouse on
wheels as frantic clerks try to get "up" (finish sorting all mail
at hand). Conversely, it may be that some connections due
our train are missed due to late running, and the pleasant
prospect of a light, little-to-do trip looms forth— despite the
tinge of regret at the resulting delay to the mail. Tense is the
excitement as leaving time nears, when a connection is often
made or missed by a split second.

The pouch-table "key man" and the paper-rack "end man"
have the most thankless tasks. The pouch dumper must con-
tend with insecurely tied letter packages which break and
shower the table and mail with loose letters which he must
stop and separate, face together, and tie, watched by the
impatient pouch clerk; and must stop and lock out pouches,
many ^vedged behind piles of under-table mail, just as an-
other heavy connection comes pouring in. The end man,
besides his usual heavy distribution and tie-out, mtist usually
drag and pile all mail coming down the alley, on the high-
stacked storage bins; and must unload, load, and often pile
all mail passing his door at every stop.

Serenely presiding over the car, the genial clerk-in-charge,
or chief, usually works a letter case just inside the first door,
which keeps him busy when not supervising. The other
"letter men" are busily flipping letters all over the eight or
ten other cases at high speed. It is no easy job, although they
are often dubbed cose admirals, especially if any are canvas-
sliy or afflicted with sackolifis (i.e., averse to locking out
pouches and sacks). As each pigeonhole fills up it is quickly
tied out, using a special knot requiring a real knack to tie.

Throughout the car the weird jargon of the Service re-


verberates, and while many terms have been or Avill be ex-
plained esle^vhere in our story, the follouing are typical
general or regional slang terms often used in the P.T.S.

A-C— Actual count of mail worked.

Angel— Extra, label found in bag of mail (not supposed

to be taken credit foi).
Appleknockers, knuckleheads, the boys— Crew going up

road as we go do^vn.
Balloon— Huge sack or pouch of mail, expanding vastly

when dimiped.
5^r7o— Prohibitory order ("There shall be no").
Bladders (German "blatter")— Ne^vspapers.
Braiyis-Chart or list of mail routes.
Bridge-rack, crab, jack— A small "pony" rack.
Butterfly— Wingnut used by railroader to set up pedestals

in car.
Buttons—Snap-on mail locks.
Catch— hocal exchange; the mail caught.
Civil-service— To thumb through a package of letters,

seeking errors, et cetera.
C/7/6— Correspondence file on mishandled mail.
Cripple or tr;???— Damaged pouch or sack.
D's, hickies, sinkers, mopics, miniLS points, brownies—

Dress a rack— Hang pouches therein.
English— New England (States).
Fly-paper, ivind-mail-Air mail.
Hash or house mrt//— Miscellaneous bag mails.
Hards— hetters whose route is unknown.
High-xvheeler, hy po— Highway post ofHce.
Hitting mail, virgin, one for the knocker— hetter to be

Jumbo— To put mail in a jumbo pouch for reworking

down the road.
Jack-pot, swamp— A jumbo pouch.
LA /oc/{— Snap-on lock or "Lock, Andrus" (from name

of inventor).
Miid—^la\\ matter.

Nixie— An unsortable, misaddressed letter.
Pilot— Mail piler (i.e., "pile-it").


Prill a rock— To remove and lock all pouches.
Red (from abbreviation "reg.", or from former red-
striped pouches)— A registered piece.
Red man, money ma??— Register clerk.
Rob a 6ox— Collect from station letter box.
Sleeper— Vnoliserved letter left in car.
Stringer— Vouch (sack) hung on rail.
Sxuindle sheet— Trip report; balance sheet on registers.
Trunk, Jog— An exceedingly heavy parcel.
Wnrt—An extra trip.
Way clerk— 'Loc^A clerk (who makes catches).

By this time the switch engine shifts our car to the regular
train consist. There is usually at least one new clerk on
board, and some wag is sure to holler, as we move, "We're off!
Missed everything!" (i.e., all connections due). But the
greenhorn's visions of an easy trip are sharply shattered as
the car backs in again to receive mountains of connecting
mail as well as more from the city post office. The engineer
is jerking the car fearfully, and someone yells "Why doncha
go back to school and learn how to drive an engine!"

"Seventy-six in the house!" yells the pouch caller, and the
chief checks off a score of pouches from Train 76 as they are
called "—with a one . . . Avith a two ... a three-X" as before
(serial numbers indicating the first, second, and last of three
identical pouches). Work continues feverishly; a big road
engine is now coupled on ("We've got a horse!"), and leaving
time is almost here. Sometimes the clerks' hours of duty are
by now nearly half over. The local city dis pouch, containing
what little mail was missent to our train, is flung out, and an
air of tense expectancy pervades the whole car.

"Throw the bums out!" comes the cry, and startled by-
standers, expecting to see some tramps ejected from the car,
are unaware that bums are only the sacks of empties often
thrown off before leaving. Then comes the conductor's wel-
come cry "O.K. on the mail!" and his two short whistle blasts.

"We're off!" It's the real thing this time, and we pull out
and gather speed as the red man on his stool yells for a helper.
We are fast approaching the first station at which mail is de-


livered, and letter, pouch, and paper clerks must have all the
"No. I mail" (tiiat for first section of the line) worked up by
then to keep from "carrying by" a letter or a paper.

At the engineer's signal, the letter man on tlie local state
case ties out the package for this station from his row of
"locals" and throws it in the pouch with its other mail; the
local clerk locks it and rushes to the door. If it is a non-stop
exchange, he quickly throws the pouch in the designated area
and catches the incoming pouch off the crane with his hook.

This pouch must be completely distribiued before reach-
ing the next station, so that the local letter package and
pieces from the first office to the second one can be gotten
into the next pouch (along with the letter man's tie-out)
before it is locked out. Arms work like pistons, and the job
is done just in time. This ingenious process is repeated all
down the road, while mails for far-distant states are simul-
taneously being sorted out to the finest degree.

Anything can happen on an R.P.O. run. Lights may fade
out, necessitating tying out all cases and working the pouch
mail by the feeble glow of candle lamps. The car's under-
pinning may go haywire, requiring it to be "shopped" for
repairs— with every letter package, pouch, and sack to be tied
out, unloaded, transferred, and installed in a new car amid
much delay.

Most prominent stations along the line, as well as leading
distant points, will be identified by special nicknames. Thus,
on the N.Y. & Washington R.P.O. (PRR), New Brunswick,
New Jersey, is "Once-a-week" (from porters' abbreviation
" 'Runsweek"); North Philadelphia is "Longest Straight
Street in the World" (Broad Street, crossing the P.R.R.);
Perryville, Maryland, on the wide Susquehanna is "The
River"; and Middle River, Maryland, of Martin Bomber
fame is "The Airplanes." Down South, Savannah, is "Yam-
a-craw" and Miami, "My-oh-my"; while Boston is sometimes
"Boss-town" and Chicago "She don'-go."

Somewhere along here comes the welcome lull of "coffee
time," the clerks' brief fifteen- or twenty-minute lunch peri-
od; on long runs, two or more may be allowed. A typical


mail-car "coffee man" (see Chapter 10) provides a fragrant
brew to accompany the lunches brought in bags, or occasion-
ally purchased at way-station restaurants (i.e., at a Harvey
House out West), or bought from the coffee man or some
other clerk who may operate a "commissary" of sandwich
ingredients, pie, and sometimes even hot dishes.

On heavy-mail trips, conscientious clerks olten eat with one
hand and stick mail with the other, or simply postpone lunch
until the end of the trip. Lunch time has its pranks, too,
when jokesters substitute raw eggs for someone's hard-boiled
ones, or dust crullers with plaster-of-Paris "sugar." But road
life is usually at its best at lunch time— clerks relax comfort-
ably on ledges, tables, or mailbags and eat amid a friendly
chat or while reading a paper or viewing passing scenes on a
daylight run. Some clerk, celebrating a family addition or
promotion, may treat all to refreshments or cigars; a real party
may be thrown. During World War II most R.M.S. coffee and
commissary men had their R.P.O. units listed as "institutions"
to secure necessary rations.

Through tunnels, over great trestles, and aroimd sweeping
curves the train roars on. As it approaches each junction sta-
tion where other R.P.O.s intersect, letter men quickly tie out
all packages due to be dispatched there and toss them in the
proper pouches, which are locked out and unloaded as soon
as the train grinds to a stop "in the house," the door clerk
calling the pouches to the chief in his usual jargon. A few
mail-car Romeos meanwhile eye the station-platform girls
through the Avindows with a fond and delighted gaze, whist-
ling to their companions "Boy! Will you look at that!" But
mountains of mail are being loaded, and soon the station,
luscious blondes and all, is speedily left behind. Occasional
unscheduled operating stops or delays sometimes bring forth
the accusing remark, "Never stopped here before!"

The stacks of working pouches surrounding the pouch
table gradually disappear, and the exhausted key man is likely
to give a pleasurable sigh as he anticipates a well-earned
breathing spell. He dumps the last pouch and waits. But
all too often the head pouch clerk then calls:


"Send down that next bin now!" Then the disillusioned
dumper discovers that stacks of reserve pouches were stored
in the end of the car for lack of room! Only after countless
miles of toil will the pouch men finally get "up"; then all
full pouches must be locked out before a few minutes of
relaxation can be enjoyed— unless, as often happens, there are
other assignments then requiring assistance. Clerks who are
"up" are usually needed to tie out cases or run out directs of
letters on the pouch table.

There are more catches "on the fly" which the local clerk
dare not miss, for any pouch not caught nets him five de-
merits. Some "hot runs" have less than a minute between
certain catcher stations, such as between Berwyn and Branch-
ville, Maryland— two adjacent Washington suburbs on the
N.Y., Bait. R: W^ash. (BR;0); the cranes are just four blocks
apart, with long stretches of other suburbs on both sides. A
pouch clerk must work like lightning to serve two such towns
in time for them to exchange mails.

Clerks are given lists of landmarks by which to recognize
their approach to each mail crane. But at night these arc
invisible, whistle signals are obscure, and a veteran clerk
must go by the sound or "feel" of the tracks as he passes over
switch points, trestles, and other structures. At station after
station he promptly delivers "mail for the local inhabitants,
whose day would be ruined if you carried it by . . . going
through tOAvns when everybody is still in bed, the farmers'
lights beginning to show up as you get down the road . . .
moonlight across the fields, and all that sort of thing . . . even
getting whiffs of what you think is ham and eggs cooking,"
as one clerk writes us.

Some clerk is sure to liven up the journey by suddenly
staring out a window and crying, "Oh, see the big wreck!"
"Wow, cars strewn all over the track!" "Whew, what a fire!"
or something equally startling. New men present hastily
crane necks trying to see, only to bob back and forth in con-
fusion at the howls of "Other side! No, other side!" until
they catch on to the trick in considerable embarrassment,
after beholding nothing unusual whatever.


Now we are approaching the end of the trail. "Every turn
of the wheel, now!" we hear. There is often a shirttail finish,
trying to get "up" on the heaviest case or rack. Perhaps the
red man has gotten "up" a bit early and is busy balancing
his records— his ninety-mile balance sheet, someone will slyly
call it, with the joking insinuation that he tries to keep occu-
pied thereon (on his handy little stool), while other clerks
are locking out racks and hoping for help, during the last
ninety miles of the trip! But he has a tough, responsible job.

Tiie "grand tie out" is now under way, and the letter men
leave only a few main pigeonholes in, for handling mail
from the last few stations. Identical separations in adjacent
cases are massed out on each other (combined), and very light
directs are massed into the proper R.P.O. boxes. (Last-
minute mails may be sorted flat on a table.) Then the pack-
ages are handed to helpers to tie; the big tie-out spreads to
the pouch rack as the letter packages are thrown in, and the
pouch man cries "Come on, you case lizards!" to letter men
hesitating to assist. Overhead boxes are emptied into the
proper type bag, and all pouches closed with the standard
lock ^vhich snaps shut under simple pressure. Only a few
pouches for last-minute mails are left in the rack. The end
man, his papers tied out earlier, drags and piles the pouches
in the proper bins; tray tables are detached, iron pedestals
knocked down by stretcher bars, racks are folded back, and
bag mail piled in their places.

Now the last station has been served and the last pouch
locked out and piled by the weary end man, who sinks into
a stupor on a pile of bag mail. Wastepaper and twine must
be bagged in a special sack and sent to the terminal office; all
outgoing pouches are checked. Some clerk, with gay cries of
"Geronimo!" (battle cry of World War II paratroopers), may
threaten to "parachute"; i.e., jump off at one of the last few
stations— especially if near his home— without doing any un-
loading. But this is forbidden except in special emergencies,
and persistent "paratroopers" really get into trouble.

Then comes washing-up time, and the grimy mail slingers
await their turn by the collapsible, potbellied washbasin


{Note 4). Most clerks-in-charge try to allow the last twenty
or thirty minutes or so of each trip for wash-up and for
counting slips from mail worked (for the trip report), chang-
ing clothes, and relaxing a bit. There may even be time for
a friendly little game, seated in a circle on the handy wooden
boxes used for receiving case mail from the pouch table.
Other clerks may read a paper, stamp slips, chat, or even doze
a bit (mailbags make a dandy couch). Pranksters play their
usual tricks, like nailing down someone's shoes or filling his
"little grip" full of locks.

But if it has been a really hectic trip, with the car choked
with extra mails, there's no time for such as that! To keep
from going stuck, many a crew has worked right into its
terminal and locked out afterward. If it is still impossible
to get "up" even then, the crew must reluctantly go stuck on
its heaviest distribution, anyway. Then the unworked (or
uncooked) mail must be placed in "emergency pouches" and
sent to the local terminal, P.T.S., for sorting. (If some of
the unworked mail is in residue packages from which the
directs only have been picked out, they are marked with
kisses— X X X— to indicate it.)

Now our train is in the yards— it pulls up to the platform—
and watches are compared as we hear the welcome words
"We're in!" Usually we arrive on the button, but in case of
late running (sometimes paid for as overtime), a tiny fraction
of a minute may spell the gain or loss of an extra item of
travel allowance— an additional $1.50 for each clerk!

The clerks quickly unload all mail onto the hand trucks
brought up by the station porters, while the clerk-in-charge
lingers to the last as he fills out his many reports. Valuable
mails are convoyed to the post office (or another train) by an
armed clerk. One clerk is assigned as X-man to examine all
parts of the car for stray sleepers, and following him, a trans-
fer clerk double-checks every case and box. Last to be un-
loaded is the dog load of sacked empties (bums) and coffee
outfit or pie box.

it is usually in the gray hours of dawn that the weary
clerks finally stumble towards the "Railroad Y," dormitory.


or small hotel where they customarily secure their sleep— or
toward some all-night restaurant, first, for a bite. Some clerks,
living at this end of the run, will make for home as best they
can via owl car or auto. Most large cities and important rail-
road towns have a Railroad Y.M.C.A. operating twenty-four
hours a day and located upstairs in the principal station;
dormitories containing several beds each, plus washrooms
and recreational facilities, are available there for all railroad
men. In New York, Pittsburgh, Chicagro, Boston, and other
cities there are special dormitories operated by and for rail-
way mail clerks only— such as the Railway Mail Club in New
York's Hotel Statler; and spacious facilities, formerly in the
Fort Pitt Hotel, in the Smoky City.

Even if a quick turn-around permits only five or six hours'
sleep, most clerks still insist on time out for a good meal and
often for a pool game or other recreation as well. On the
other hand, a long layover will permit several hours of movie
going, visiting, or sight-seeing in the terminal city before
reporting for duty. However, quite a few clerks have run
into a certain city for decades without ever bothering to look
it over. One man may visit relatives, another do some shop-
ping, a third make for a tavern, a fourth ride streetcars or
what not, until time to go to work.

Their grips, meanwhile, have been stacked on shelves in
the station or post-office grip room. Strange things can hap-
pen in grip rooms; in one case a suitcase of valuables was
stamped, labeled, and sent as air mail by a postal patron, only
to lose Its label when in an R.P.O. car, get unloaded along
with grips and mail at the end of the run, and be deposited
on the grip-room shelves to gather dust for years (as do many
old grips, full or empty, left there by retired or deceased
clerks). It wzs discovered long after the patron had been re-
imbursed for his loss after a fruitless search! Another clerk,
whose grip was always being moved to an obscure corner by
a second clerk (who coveted its proper spot), finally nailed the
offender's grip securely to the shelf— and eventually took it
with him and threw it off a bridge when the practice con-
tinued! A mail thief, prowling in a post-office basement, once


Stole a valuable ladies* suitcase en route to Asbury Park, New
Jersey, carefully removing the tell tale tag bearing stamps and
address; to avoid detection, he retied the latter to an old piece
of luggage on a truck near by. It happened to be a truck of
mail clerks' grips, and the tag ^vas placed on that of Roger
Gaver of the N.Y. &: Wash. (PRR). This piece of "mail"
was soon discovered and promptly dispatched to Asbury Park
—to the mutual ire of the lady addressee and of Gaver, wno
had no supplies for his runs until he got his grip back six
months later!

When several men sleep in one dormitory room there is
often at least one first-class snorer. In one Railroad "Y"
several regular patrons who are thus unfortunately afflicted
voluntarily (and most considerately) segregate themsehes in
a special "snorer's room" furnished to them. There are many
snorer stories, but the best probably comes from Washington,
D. C., where a very loud-snoring clerk always registered for
a certain dormitory at the "Y" in Union Station. A clerk on
the opposite crew, who usually used the same room on alter-
nate nig;hts, was once assigned to run extra on a Christmas
trip Avith the first man, and crew members warned him of the
snorer. The extra clerk promptly reserved all four beds
(they were only twenty-five cents, then) in that room. But
the snorer was tipped off about this effort to exclude him,
so he used one of the beds anyhow, slept free, and made the
rafters grroan with his noise while the harassed extra man
tried to sleep! Such is life at the outer terminal; then comes
the busy return trip, with new duties for all.

Chapter 3


While I am taking hours of rest in my big white bed each day,
My thoughts, they get to wandering, and wander miles away . . .
To the grand old gang on Tour 1, at the "Cleve Term" R.P.O.;
At times it seems but yesterday, but 'twas long, long years ago. . . .

— Guy Streby

— Courtesy Postal Markings

Like a gigantic spidenveb
sprawled across the living map
of tliese United States, a net-
work of over seven hundred
busy Railway Post OfTice lines
on 165,000 miles of route is
speeding our mails in all directions twenty-four hours a day.
For example, there's the famed transcontinental "Fast Mail"
route which includes the New York Central's great 20fh
Century Limited (a train of the N.Y. R: Chicago R.P.O.V the
C&N W's Chic. Sc Omaha, the Union Pacific's Omaha Sc Ogden
and Ogden R: Los Angeles, and the SP's storied Ogden & San
Fran, or "Overland" route.

They are typical of the 7,666 mail trains operated daily
by our vast railway mail system and involving 600,000 miles
of daily travel. These railways rush well over forty billion
pieces of mail each year to our 41,500 post offices and their
branches— ranging in size, with the same impartial type of
designation, from New York, New York (population 7,84 L-
000) to Huntley, Virginia (population 3)!

Fewer persons are employed in the Postal Transportation
Service than in the New York City Post Office— yet the P.T.S.
sorts or transports the vast bulk of all our mail matter with



amazing efficiency. It is truly the lifeblood of the "world's
biggest business" (the U.S. P.O. Department; annual turnover,
$16,000,000,000). Its living flow of transit-sorted mails are
expertly handled by only 71/9 per cent of our 400,000 postal

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