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

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cards in widths between four and one-half and six and one-half


inches (those few over six and one-half inches can be tossed
into pouches). Even government departments often enclose
four-inch-wide material in five-inch envelopes that do not fit
cases. It is not the public's fault; the greeting card manufac-
turers, who willingly united to outla^v glittering mineral
particles in the interest of "safety of the clerks" (?), simply
have declined to co-operate here. As a temporary immediate
step, we ^vould suggest that posted statements urging use of
4i/4-inch-wide (or smaller) greeting cards, only, be given
prominence over all other holiday notices in post-office
lobbies. To improve both services and reventies, we would
also suggest a 4^ rate for all first-class matter not bearing
proper zone number (if applicable) or not conforming to the
size limits mentioned— such matter to be rated with postage
due if mailed otherwise.

While many clerks ^vill disagree, we feel that through-rim
titles like "Wash. & St. Louis R.P.O.," Avhich were tried out
from about 1935 to 1943 and then dropped, are far preferable
in many cases to the current short-run titles (^Vash. & Graf.,
Graf. & Gin., etc.— BScO). Where the same trains (with same
numbers) continue over most of the through route, the logical
and progressive titles then used shoAved general direction far
better (with large, well-known city names), and simplified
case examinations also.

W^e would also suggest a careful revie^v of the groAving prac-
tice of supplying important suburban and other post offices
exclusively by city mail-truck service in certain cases Avhere
R.P.O. trains or H.P.O.s actually traverse the to^vn. AV^hile
the city "supply" is often needed too, the distributing-line out-
let often seems neglected— as at Halethorpe, Maryland, "which
is supplied only as a branch of the Baltimore post office al-
though it is literally a junction of two railroads (^vith sta-
tions) carrying three R.P.O. routes. Although almost none
of the twenty-odd R.P.O. trains passing there actually stop,
many could serve it (and three subsidiary branches) by
"catcher." P.T.S. schemes, which are the primary index of all
mail routes, need improvement too. Restoration of the alpha-
betical arrangement should be considered, and R. E. Jones has


proposed a new type of scheme with multiple listings, combin-
ing that arrangement with the scheming of all "dis" points
under the supplying office— it deserves a careful trial. Schemes
should include all postal contract stations located in named
communities centering thereat— too many, like Montclair
Heights, New Jersey (a numbered station of Montclair) or
Arbutus (numbered station of Baltimore, via Halethorpe)
and Cottage City (the same of Brentwood), Maryland, are not
found in any scheme (nor alphabetized in Postal Guide) be-
cause they are not "named" stations; mail goes astray if ad-
dressed to them alone. Similarly, stations in communities
consolidated as part of a city should be named for the original
communities instead of being named arbitrarily— such as
"North Station" and "South Station" in Arlington, Virginia,
whereas the original towns composing it were named Claren-
don, Ballston, Cherrydale, and so on. Fortunately, New York,
Brooklyn, and other cities have restored many such old local
station names— which makes for prompt delivery of mail thus
addressed; but large Buffalo suburbs like Eggertsville and
Cheektowaga have just lost their station names (and Postal
Guide listing) insteadi

The new postal zone-number system should be broadened
to include these numbers in every case where any slip, label,
postmark, case header, scheme, postal guide, or other form
used in the P.T.S. bears the name of any "zoned" station or
branch of any city; long practiced in England, this policy
would benefit new clerks amazingly and speed distribution.
Clerks and their families deserve real railroad passes, in place
of their restricted commissions, as much as railroad men do.
In the Postal Service generally these facts need some publiciz-
ing: that it does not operate under a deficit when the huge
volume of franked congressional mail, government penalty
mail, and other free ser\ ices are figured in; that many political
postmasterships could be economically combined with the
assistant postmaster positions under Civil Service at large
offices; and that enough money could be saved in these cate-
gories (if Congress and the Departments paid their postage)


to pay for most of the postal improvements and benefits need-
ed within the P.T.S.

To simplify and standardize the titles of Service heads, we
would suggest the brief and dignified one of "Chief Superin-
tendent, P.T.S." for the present Assistant Executive Director,
Bureau of Transportation, as a start; similar titles used in
Canada and Britain have proven very satisfactory. Other
clerks have suggested such innovations as twenty-foot and
forty-foot R.P.O. apartments; registry cages and counter in
full R.P.O.s; intercom radio or telephone service in postal
cars; and the valuable ideas of issuing schemes in loose-leaf
form (with new pages to replace old ones being modified, as
has long been standard practice with the telegraph company),
and of furnishing recorded music while working—an accepted
benefit in industry.

With a final look to the past and to the future, we approach
our conclusion. Some significant memorials, relics, and pic-
turizations dealing with the Railway Mail Service of days gone
by deserve our attention, and those of Armstrong and Pitney
have been already mentioned. The Burlington Route, which
is credited by this writer' with operating the hrst experimental
"railway post ofTice" on its Hannibal-St. Joe route, keeps a
replica of the original car used for display at expositions and
conventions; a painting of it and a memorial tablet is in the
St. Joseph, Missouri, post office. (The R.M.A. installed a
bronze plaque, years ago, in Chicago's Union Station to com-
memorate the Burlington's experiment.) Other art work
showing R.P.O. operations includes many famed Currier &
Ives prints depicting postal cars, as well as a sadly distorted
post office mural of an R.P.O. interior at Hagerstown, Mary-
land (clerks are lazily sprawled every which way, with almost
no mail in view). The grave of General Superintendent Bangs
at Chicago shows the postal car on the end of an R.P.O. train
disappearing in a tunnel, all in stonework. Some valuable
historical collections of R.M.S. relics have been made by 9th
Division Superintendent E. R. Chapin of Cleveland, includ-



ing rare old schemes and a "Rogues' Gallery" of old-time crew
pictures in six volumes; by Irving Cannon (a Detroit clerk)
and }. F. Cooper (San Leandro, California), who both com-
piled historical scrapbooks; by Assistant Superintendent I. L.
Johnson of St, Louis; by the late C. A. Kepner (of radio fame)
at Chicago; and by the writer of this book, in New Jersey,
for an "Eastern Railway Mail Museum" in connection with
the AMERPO society library.

Looking to the future, the day may come when the railway
mail clerk will work at the keyboard of a huge machine, sort-
ing twice the volume of mail the P.T.C. of today does. As
early as 1939 the Transorma Letter Distributing Machine
(from Holland) was sorting fifty-two letters a minute, tied by
an automatic binder, at the World's Fair, New York. Experi-
ments with sorting mechanisms have taken place in the Cleve-
land Post Office, and, just recently, in Chicago's— where Assist-
ant Superintendent of Mails John Sestak has perfected a semi-
manual machine of which three full-size duplicates have been
ordered for that office. The government has appropriated fifty
thousand dollars for perfection of a new distributing machine
by Remington Rand, and such devices may be in common use
someday in big P.T.S. terminals if not on the road.

Whoever mails a letter or a paper can do much, without
effort, to ease the lot of the P.T.C. and speed his own mail at
the same time. By using zone numbers, by boycotting wide
greeting cards, by addressing mail only to post-office points,
by spacing bulk mailings through the day at intervals,
and by writing the actual postal station or post office of de-
livery as the first word in the last line of address, both results
can be assured. For fast and easy handling in transit, un-
stamped bulk mailings, precancels, and metered letters should
be tied in bundles, faced with addresses turned the same luay,
and separated to states and cities if in quantity. (And when
you write that letter, remember that the Cleveland Branch,
N.P.T.A.— then the R.M.A.— originated National Letter Writ-
ing Week!)

If postal efficiencies are safeguarded, the Postal Transpor-
tation Service has a brilliant future ahead. There are more


postal clerks within its ranks today, sorting more mail in tran-
sit, than e\er before. It is fortunate that this great Service has
been controlled by the people, through Congress, rather than
operated as a great corpc»ration with princely official salaries,
miserly pay for clerks, offices overstaffed with relatives and
people with pull, and costly wastefulness all around— at least
so writes one clerk in the Journal. We are thankful that our
self-reliant men of the mail trains work under better condi-
tions than that.

Between the populous New England cities, across the rich
farmins: states and industrialized Midwest, over the Rockies,
through semi tropical groves, mighty forests, great canyons,
weavinq; their lifelines of communication and commerce
through the greatest and best empire in the world, speed the
never-resting R.P.O. train and the H.P.O. bus. Many a
grizzled veteran of the iron road, tired of his years of grinding
labor, might ponder at this point ... Is it all worth while?

We who have looked "beyond the ordinary" can answer
that. We who have seen the dingy industrial drabness of
Gray's Ferry, entering Philadelphia, magically transformed
into a shimmering golden panorama of radiant beauty at sun-
rise, while passengers slept; we who have watched daily for
some Tvinsome little lass who alwavs brought a sweet-scented
note to the train to mail to faraway Maine, then one day never
came again; we who have thrilled to the glorious fragrance
of wild Maryland honeysuckle as the train crossed the Mason-
Dixon line, unsensed by those in the air-conditioned coaches—
we can respond with a fervent Yes. This is our Service, now
and always, whatever our occupation— an indispensable, in-
genious network of living and pulsating mail-sorting arteries
of which nearly every American makes use ... of which every
American shotild be proud.


(A closing tribute, from two sources)

Let me sing you a song, just a wee little song

Of a picture that's taken from life:
Not of mail clerks so brave (be they angel or knave),

But the song of the postal clerk's wife.
Oh, her husband, you know, is the man on the go,

"In-and-outer" he is, with a will!
Of course mostly he's "out," don't you envy the lout—

Don't you wish you could travel with Bill?
But the woman at home, nary once does she roam,

She's the wife of the mail clerk so great.
And it's up to her now, just to whistle somehow,

Just to whistle and hustle and wait.
Someone phones "Can you play?" No indeed, not today.

"No indeedy, for Bill's on the road.
In some dim distant day he'll retire, then I'll play"—

And she takes up the twosome-made load.
Yes, she works with a will, as she pinch-hits for Bill,

For she loves him, that guy on the train.
So when singing your song to the valiant and strong.

Sing the "wife of the mail clerk's" refrain.

— Leta Bonifield Foley

The house must be still; "Quiet, children, no fun,'
Ma walks on tiptoe her work to get done,
For cards have appeared all over the place.
And Pa has assumed his "pre-exam face" . . .

— J. L. Simpson


Listen, folks, and you shall hear
Not the midnight ride of Paul Revere
But rather a tale so aged and true
Of what makes mail clerks' wives so blue.
On Monday morning all is well,
'Til in less time than it takes to tell,
While dusting off the mantel case
She upsets labels all o'er the place.
The postman loudly rings the bell
And brings a card John's sent to tell
Her: please to hunt around real hard-
He hasn't nary a register card!
She bundles them and sends them off;
But even then she doesn't scoff
When the next mail brings a note of sorts:
"Can you find me any more trip reports?"
Then when at last the week is o'er
And John again comes in the door.
She's glad to see him— and then unlocks
His case of dirty shirts and socks.
It seems to me— I've thought and thought-
It's not unreasonable, indeed it's not.
To think Saint Peter, watching o'er our lives.
Has a tender heart for mail clerks' wives!
— J. L. Simpson


Note \.—Case and Rack Separations. Cases consist of banks of pigeon-
holes, built flat against the car walls— except where case sections are
bent inward at a 45° angle to enable clerks to reach distant boxes more
easily. (These are called zuing cases; or, if the second case in a small car,
a bob tail.) Each case section measures ten or eleven pigeonholes high
and four to twelve columns wide; holes measure three to four inches
high and exactly four and a half (or four and a quarter) inches wide-
far too narrow to hold most greeting cards. A wide ledge runs the length
of all the cases, with drawers underneath for supplies and excess hats
or clothing. Case headers— when loose or "false" headers are used— are
cards about 4 by 71/9 inches with an inch-wide strip bent down to serve
as a label, the name of the separation being lettered thereon. "Perma-
nent" headers, used on smaller lines especially, are printed on strips
of paper glued on various sides of the square revolving sticks found at
the top front of every pigeonhole. Most clerks arrange their headers in
a rough geographical sequence, with each column representing an R.P.O.
line— the line package being made up at bottom and the directs above
it— in station order, order of size, or no order at all; occasionally a clerk
arranges all the lighter separations alphabetically in the vertical sense,
and simple cases for "directs" used by subs are usually alphabetical.
But in all cases exceptions are made for the heaviest boxes— which are
concentrated at lower right, for easy access. Many P.T.S. offices issue
official case diagrams and require all clerks to follow them; the ad-
vantage of uniformity is obtained, but at the sacrifice of efficiency from
clerks who can work better at a case designed to their personal ideas of
correctness and in cases of sudden mail-volume change.

Some clerks economize by using narrow "half-headers," or with only
column of headers to each three rows (three names being lettered on
each). On a certain "Washington & Charlotte (Sou) train the Atlanta
City clerk in one crew spelled out his headers with colored letters cut
from magazines; the city clerk in another crew cut printed trademark
headings from ads of all the big concerns for which firm mail was made
up— Coca-Cola Company, Atlanta Constitution, and pasted them on!
Some clerks use a colored pencil or, with difficulty, a bit of chalk to
mark up names on the square sticks.



The pouch rack consists of from two to six units, usually fourteen
pouches each, evenly divided between both sides of the car, the aisles
and tables running between them. Toward the head of the car there
is usually an extension of the rack on the left side only, used partly
by the clerks at the letter case immediately opposite and partly for
restricted purposes. Collapsible frames of steel piping form the basis
of the rack arrangement; a series of loose hooks holds the strap-locked
canvas pouches with their rolled, braided edges and the loose-mouthed
sacks, which are closed by a cord and fastener running through holes
about the edge. Pouches have a few similar holes, for hanging. The
pouch diagram is almost never alphabetical or in any other semblance
of orderly arrangement, except that rough geographical divisions may
be observed, and similar pouches are usually hung adjacent. The one
general rule, as observed in the official pouch diagrams issued by all
P.T.S. offices, is that the heaviest bag separations are usually hung in
the front row next to the aisle; then come those in the other front row,
then those in the two back roAvs, and last of all (the lightest pouches)
the separations in the overhead boxes. Light pouches for immediate
dispatch are hung in the aisle, limp, on the front rail. Sacks are ar-
ranged likewise. (No one but the greenest sub, in a mail car, ever says
bag; all are either pouches or sacks.)

Sacks used in the P.T.S. are nearly always the largest or No. 1 size,
except for the No. 2 sacks used for papers in terminals; but a number
of small No. 3 sacks are usually received containing mail. Although
twice too big for proper hanging in the car, the No. 1 sacks are the
only ones big enough to hold the huge volume of papers distributed
therein. All regular pouches are standardized in the No. 2 size, except
for the special flat, heavy "catcher" pouch. Sacks and pouches, almost
never washed, soon become very gray and grimy from tlie constant
dragging on floors and platforms, and the dust and dirt is quickly trans-
ferred to hands, clothing, and air.

Note 2.— Direct, Line, and "Dis" Make-ups. There is a separate case
for each state distributed in the railway post office car, and on each
one, except on the "mixed states" case, there is one box for each large
city and sizable town in a given state. When full, these boxes are tied
out with a blank stamped slip on the back to become a direct package,
the address on the top letter serving as that for the whole bundle.
Names of small post offices served out of a medium-sized "direct" office
are often penciled on the appropriate header and its letters included
with the other mail in it. The largest cities, however, have a great
many such small offices supplied therefrom, and their mail must be
made up as separate dis packages, labeled accordingly— the headers read-
ing "BALTIMORE DIS" or a similar wording. And, finally, letters
for all the state's rural offices served directly or indirectly from an R.P.O.
line are placed in the line packages addressed to the various R.P.O.s


serving the state. Some clerks include lists of offices served thereby on
both their line and dis headers. Cut twine, removed from working
packages, presents a real disposal problem; newer cars have little space
under ledges for discarding it, and clerks resent it on the floor. The
only alternative is constant time-consuming trips to the waste bag.

As illustrated in Chapter 2, the slips placed in the line and dis boxes
for use as package labels show the destination as first line printed there-
on, the nature of contents as the second line, and the R.P.O. of origin
as the third (with the abbreviation "FR" for "from"). The clerk's dated
name-stamp impression appears on the bottom half of the slip— or on
the back of pouch labels for similar separations on the rack, the labels
being printed identically; many hundreds of such slips and labels must
usually be stamped and arranged at home each layoff.

The pouch rack contains the same three classifications of direct, line,
and dis pouches— though necessarily much fewer in number. Dis pouches
are made for only the very largest distributing offices, and line pouches
only where close connections or quantities justify. All in all, at least
seven categories of incoming mail matter must be disposed of by the
pouch clerk: (1) Mixed-states letter packages (whether or not labeled
to this R.P.O.), thrown to the mixed case— the clerk thereon transferring
any mail for states worked to other cases; (2) bundles addressed to local
states, or to that section of them "local" to this line, which are trans-
ferred (directly or indirectly) to the proper state case— any state distri-
buted being considered "local" in this sense; (3) distant state working
packages, labeled to the state only, which are thrown to connecting
R.P.O.s distributing same; (4) packages for other R.P.O.s, labeled to a
specific line and containing letters local thereto; if the line addressed
is not "pouched on," it will be thrown to a connecting R.P.O. or to a
dis (or direct) pouch for a city which does pouch it; (5) dis packages,
containing mail for distribution from large post offices, which are
thrown into a dis or direct pouch for the city named if made, otherwise
to a connecting R.P.O.— many times such packages (and packages for
connecting R.P.O.s) are voluntarily cut and reworked to a finer degree
by letter clerks; (6) direct packages for post office named on top letter,
thrown to best dispatch available (direct pouch if made, otherwise to
R.P.O. or to some dis pouch according to scheme); and (7) flats or slugs
(large single pieces), handled exactly like direct packages.

Note $.— Terms Used in Calling Pouches. There is no time in a busy
R.P.O. to read off an entire label like "New York Sc Pittsburgh Train 11,
two, from Madison Square Station, New York, N. Y."; so the caller
simply yells, "From the Madhouse with a two!" as indicated. Similarly,
all the other strange names in this paragraph (Chapter 2) simply indicate
the office or line of origin, and the contents (if other than mixed mails);
many other such nicknames of post offices and lines are heard. The
numbers "with a two," and so forth, are serial numbers, explained later


in the chapter. To sum up the other names called off in this case, "Tom
Cat" refers to a pouch from the local transfer clerk or "T.C."; "Rockin'
Chair Line" is some light connecting line, allegedly a "soft snap";
"The Dog-house" could be either the Kansas City & Pueblo R.P.O.
(MoPac) or the Philadelphia Terminal, P.T.S. Next we have the Win-
sted k Bridgeport R.P.O. (NYNH&H, in Connecticut); West States work-
ing mail from Holyoke, Massachusetts; a pouch from some city that is
reputedly a "living cemetery"; direct packages from Chatham & New
York (NYCent) Train 438; a working pouch from the same; Train 46
of some well-known R.P.O.; a second Chatham &: New York train; the
sixth pouch of New York State received from the G.P.O.; Ohio working
mail from Grand Central Station of New York Post Office; and the
New York & Far Rockaway R.P.O. (LIRR).

Note 4.— A Paradox at "Wash-up" Time. On practically every two-
car R.P.O. train this laughable situation is sure to occur when clerks
attempt to wash up. First the man washing hastens to bar the "end
door" from within, so he can stand in the aisle beside the washbowl
without the door being suddenly opened and flung against him with
violence. However, some clerk in the second car is sure to want ad-
mittance immediately thereafter, and he must needs kick and bang, on
the door frantically to attract the washer's attention above the train
noise. Finally, after much delay and annoyance on both sides, the door
will be opened for the man to come through to the first carl Amusingly
enough, this is all avoidable if only the clerk will squeeze in front of the
basin, in normal position and completely out of the aisle.

Note 5.— Assignments of Postal Transportation Clerks to Various
Units. About half of our 32,000 railway mail clerks are assigned to the
3,000-odd R.P.O. trains operated daily in the United States, including
electric-car suburban trains— 14,604 of them on June 30, 1950. (Only
one or two clerks run part time on boat lines, the other boat R.P.O.s
being served by joint employees; and the last trolley-car R.P.O. carrying
clerks quit in May 1950.) 6,564 other clerks work in the terminals,
P.T.S.; 1,432 are transfer clerks, and some 445 (rapidly increasing) are
on H.P.O.s. About 1,300 (including officials) are in field offices, while
the remaining number of seven thousand or so consists mostly of sub-
stitutes, in all these categories, plus mail handlers (laborers) in terminals.

Note 6.— The Boston & Nen' York and Boston, Springfield ir New
York R.P.O.s. The latter route— the well-known "Spring Line"— operates
over part of one of our earliest pre-R.P.O. "route-agent" runs, the

Online LibraryBryant Alden LongMail by rail : the story of the Postal Transportation Service → online text (page 33 of 38)