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Springfield-Boston line, begun in 1840 with two agents (who did little
sorting). The agent runs were expanded to form several New York-
Boston routes, one including a ferry to Long Island (from Stonington
to Greenport, thence via LIRR, 1845-48). True R.P.O. service on this


line via Springfield was first arranged for in 1865, when four postal
cars were built and labeled, clerks appointed, and the starting date set.
Then at the last minute one of the railways involved refused use of
its tracks unless much extra compensation was paid. Not until De-
cember 11, 1867, was the trouble alleviated and the first Spring Line
train operated as an R.P.O.— then designated as the Boston 8c New York—
under the direction of Chief Clerk W. H. Postley. The "Shore Line"
route to New York (the present Boston & New York, or "Big Line")
was added a few years later and became the Boston, Providence & New
York; but in fairly recent years the present titles were adopted instead.
It is the boast of either line (both NYNHfeH) that they can handle
all mails from the New York gateway for any point throughout New Eng-
land. The Spring Line has over twenty-five R.P.O. trains daily; the
Shore Line, about seventeen.

Note 7— The New York & WashingLon R.P.O. This vitally important
PRR route is the only all-electric main-line R.P.O. in America and
connects the nation's metropolis and capital. It traces its origin to one
of our earliest railways, the historic Camden & Amboy Railroad (Perth
Amboy to Camden, New Jersey, via Bordentown, with ferries to New
York and Philadelphia), which began carrying part of the New York-
Washington mails in 1832. Likewise— to the south— the Philadelphia,
Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad at first carried mail and passengers
only from New Castle, Delaware, to Frenchtown (near Perryville),
Maryland, with still longer boat connections to terminal points; while
the B&O had the Baltimore-Washington link. But by 1837 the gaps
had been spanned by rail, and in May, John E. Kendall— first postal
route agent in America— was appointed to run through from Philadephia
to Washington to "superintendent the mails." The facilities soon de-
veloped into a regular "traveling post office," as noted in detail in
Chapter 6. By 1838 the connecting New York-Philadelphia segment was
carrying two tons of mail daily, including five hundred pounds of letters;
and by 1844 the railroad had assigned their conductors to act as mail
agents— replaced by postal route agents about 1848. (The carriers made
heated objections to this change, protesting ". . . Nor is there any occa-
sion for such agents. The conductors . . . now perform all of the duties
they would have to discharge. They receive letters up to the point
of departure, and at all points on the road . . . They assort and mail
them in the apartments on the cars. Traveling postmasters can do no
more." Cf. Chapter 6.) The Postmaster General later complained that
New York firms were swamping the train-mail box. As for the earliest
known postmark connected with this route— a straight-line "PHILADA
RAIL ROAD," March 28, 1844— some authorities claim this was applied
by the train's conductor-agent, but the consensus is that the New York
D.P.O. applied it.

Despite numerous squabbles over mail pay both before and after the


line became a true railway post office, experimental R.P.O. trips were
finally operated in May and September 1864 (both involving north-
bound trips only, Avith N. Y. City distribution); and the New York 8c
Washington Railway Post Office was permanently established on Octo-
ber 15th of that year. This eventful occasion, following by four years
the introduction of through express-agent service, saw H. A. Stoneall
and Ed Brennan of the New York G. P.O. making the inaugural trip
in 1864. Our second true R.P.O., it still traversed the Camden & Amboy
but made connection to Jersey City over the N.J.R.R. & Transportation
Company's tracks (to this day the street paralleling the line in Newark
is N.J.R.R. Avenue); years later the route was shifted westward to a
new main line via Trenton and Bristol, which removed it from "The
Amboy" entirely. The R.P.O. train, which left Washington at 5:20 P.M.
to arrive at the New York ferry at six in the morning, used some old
red forty-five foot baggage cars fitted with steep-sloping (45°) letter boxes
because of the train's swaying— but there was a handsome lounge in the
end of the car, for use of both clerks and visitorsi While letters, only,
were sorted, the work even included distributing New York City mail
to boxes and stations, and the line's first regular clerk (succeeding the
G.P.O. men) was soon appointed— H. G. Pearson.

In 1865 catchers and cranes were first installed below Baltimore, and
in 1867 a second pair of trains was added for daytime operation. Quickly
dubbed "The Day Line" at the time, these same two trains (now Num-
bers 109 & 134) are still called that today, eighty-three years later! Ser-
vices rapidly increased; in the early 1900s the old Jersey City terminal
was replaced by the electrified Penn Station in New York, and by 1935
the electrification— after several earlier extensions— had enveloped the
entire line. Over three hundred clerks now serve on the line's numerous
R.P.O. trains— about twenty-two daily.

(See under "N.Y. & Washington" in Appendix I for many other
interesting index references dealing with this line.)

Note S.-New York 6- Chicago, N. Y. 6- Pitts.— Pitts. & Chic. R.P.O.S.
First R.P.O. service on the New York Central's noted New York &
Chicago was from New York to Buffalo on July 13, 1868, under the
designations of Albany & New York and Albany & Buffalo R.P.O.s. It
doubtless succeeded earlier route agent runs, for the first clerk-in-charge
of the new R.P.O., R. C. Jackson, was designated "Special Agent."
From the very start some ten different crews performed duty. Years
later (Chapter 8) the great "Fast Mail" made the line famous, and in
May 1903 the noted 20th Century Limited was first launched as an
R.P.O. on this route, cases being installed in the club car. The Century
received its first sixty-foot R.P.O. cars in 1923 and its first streamlined
equipment on June 15, 1938; specially canceled cachets for collectors
marked the event. As Trains 25 & 26, the Century of today indeed rep-
resents the Fast Mail's grandest reincarnation, with its great eighty-


foot strtanilinc'cl R.P.O. tars (see Chapter 10). "The Chic," as we have
shown, holds the records for size of cars, R.P.O. trains, and personnel.
"The Pitts," as the PRR's corresponding route is known, began as the
old Philadelphia & Pittsburgh RP.O. on May 21, 1865, with S. S. Talbot
as head clerk on its lone train. It later became (together with the present
Pittsburgh & Chicago, holder of R.P.O. speed record— Chapter 10) part of
the famous Limited Mail route. Today the line includes the de luxe
Broadway Limited passenger-R.P.O. streamliner, as well as the noted
Paoli Local of Philadelphia's fashionable suburban "Main Line" (Chap-
ter 12). (See under R.P.O. titles, in Appendix I, for index to further
reference— all 3 lines.) The Broadway Limited made a special stop at
Bucyrus, Ohio, in 1949 in honor of Clerk J. F. Fields of that town, who
finished his 42 years' service that day.

Note 9.— Operations and Labeling in P.T.S. Terminals. Terminal
clerks stamp a set of printed slips or labels for addressing mail, daily,
just after going on duty. Direct or line packages, or sacks, are tied out
and dispatched in the usual way (the stamped strip labels being used
on the latter), but mail for the secondary or residue cases is carried
thence by hand or in open sacks or tubs— usually banded with carriers'
straps in the case of circulars— and the appropriate labels transferred.
Labels of incoming sacks are stamped with the time and date and must
be worked in order— and before getting too "old." Partly empty or
"skin" sacks of circulars are outlawed and must be consolidated into
full sacks before release to the clerks— otherwise a full day's "count"
might be worked by someone in an hour or so! Terminal clerks
still perform their usual duties at home, including many hours
of examination study, at no extra pay (road clerks are paid more yet
work fewer hours). Compensatory time off is given for examinations
taken on duty, and compensatory days off when work on holidays is
required. Weekly days off are staggered, and usually only senior clerks
get Saturday-Sunday or Sunday-Monday layoffs. (Terminal clerks, like
road men, have a fine sense of fraternalism; clerks in the St. Louis
(Missouri) Terminal raised one hundred dollars in just a few days,
quietly and unobtrusively, to send a sick mail handler to the hospital.)
Sack racks used in terminals are built of piping, like those in the cars,
but are far more commodious and are in easily moved sections (holding
Niimber 2 or Number 1 sacks hung wide open) for quick tying-out. Com-
partments for storing extra labels are found behind the permanent
headers thereon, but many clerks just let the ribbon labels dangle in
long strips from the holders of their sacks.

Note 10.— The Seapost Service. As of Nov., 1950, this colorful service
had still not been restored after its World War II suspension period,
although funds were appropriated for this purpose about 1947. Al-
though the British had a seapost as early as 1857 and Australia had a


line reaching San Francisco by 1876, America's first own route was the
U. S.-German Seapost which began operating on the S.S. Havel (North
German Lloyd) March 31, 1891. Rapidly expanded with routes to
Britain, Central and South America, and Asia, the Seapost was employ-
ing about fifty-five clerks by 1941 and sorted over fifty million letters
annually on Atlantic runs alone. Suitable mail rooms, equipped with
cases and racks, are supplied by each steamship company for such ser-
vices, and clerks must be furnished first-class board and quarters free.
They have plenty of time for visiting in foreign ports and are allowed
full salary plus subsistence allowances while abroad; a diplomatic com-
mission is furnished, while brings instant admission to the most exclu-
sive and desirable foreign facilities. Clerks must have a high degree
of sophistication and be flawlessly dressed when off duty, however, or
their chances of appointment or retention by the Seapost are practically
nil. Seapost clerks must be experts at geography, at deciphering strange
scripts and foreign abbreviations, and at preparing complex interna-
tional records and letter bills. Seapost offices usually sort mail direct
to foreign R.P.O.s eastbound and to cities, states, and stations of New
York City westbound— most residue sorting being done by the foreign
clerks on shipboard, in the first instance, and by post-office clerks in
New York's Morgan Station in the second. Seapost clerks are noted
for their fidelity to duty in face of great danger; some have given their
lives in tragic shipwTecks and fires, and several were lost on the Titanic
after carefully conveying registered mails to safety. In their most recent
special service they detoured mails for Czechoslovakia in the nick of
time to keep them out of the hands of invading Germans. No seapost
clerk has ever been convicted of stealing from (or interfering with)
the mails anywhere. However, on October 19, 1941, the Seapost's sus-
pension became complete as its last route (to South America) closed
down, with its few remaining clerks transferred to the P.T.S.; and the
service has been sadly missed by all patrons of the overseas surface-mail
facilities, now greatly slowed. [The world's largest Seapost service was
India's former Bombay-Aden S.P.O. (P&OCo), operated from 1868 to
1914 with some hundred and three clerks on board, dwarfing any other
S.P.O.] Transatlantic seapost service to New York has been restored
now, but by foreign lines only— such as Sweden's "SJP 7, Goteborg-New
York" and others.

Note II.— Case Examinations and Schemes. A typical scheme is mostly
composed of pages like the one illustrated in Chapter 4, but it also
contains an alphabetical index, R.P.O. separation list, and notes. As
shown, offices in a county are included in the same brace as long as they
have just the same mail supply (which is usually an R.P.O. or distribut-
ing office, but may be a terminal or transfer clerk). A practice card is
printed for each office in the state, with the route or routes shown on
back of card exactly as in scheme (Fig. 2, Chapter 4). Following this,


the cards must be arranged in scheme order and carefully checked there-
by. Junctions of two or more R.P.O.s or air-mail routes are indicated
by asterisk in scheme and cards, and offices may be schemed as dis
to all such junctions (some states have nearly one hundred junctions,
with all routes on each to be memorized!). Clerks arrange their case
labels, like their car headers, as they prefer— generally as outlined in
Note 1 ; and these are later taken (together with clerk's own case if he
prefers) to the examination room. Cards must be constantly shuffled,
thrown, and missed ones separated for restudy. A perfect grade on cards
and junctions at the final test brings the clerk fifty merits, with prorated
merit citations for lesser grades down to 98 per cent (ten merits); special
merits are given for consistent grades of 99.5 per cent or over at at least
thirty cards per minute. All government property, including corrected
scheme and schedules (and spotless revolver) must be presented before
examination credit is given. A few unfortunate substitutes never make
the grade on these exacting tests and are forced to resign and seek other
work. One such sub, flunked for having thrown only 175 cards in half
an hour (seventy of them wrong), complained he couldn't understand
it— he made 100 per cent at home and "only looked at his map a few
times"! To fail any case exam brings a serious charge of twenty-five to
forty demerits, plus a required recasing with no extra time given.

Note \2.— Grades and Appointments. Grades of regular clerks, in-
cluding clerks-in-charge and clerks in special assignments over Grade 11,
range from Grade 1 at $2,870 annually in regular $100 steps up to
Grade 17 at $4,470. On all main lines and in transfer offices, clerks
receive automatic annual promotions up to Grade 11 ($3,870); but
for clerks otherwise assigned, the progression is only to Grade 9 ($3,670).
At longer intervals in later years, longevity increases are given to Grades
HA, IIB, or 9A, 9B, etc. Substitute registers are drawn up, one for
each state, except in Michigan (which has one for each peninsula)
and the District of Columbia (whose eligibles must choose Maryland
or Virginia rights). In very populous states, such as New York and
Pennsylvania, substitutes and junior clerks must often wait ten or
more years before their seniority entitles them to a road job; while
those in a smaller state with considerable R.P.O. mileage, such as
Maryland, can secure such a place almost immediately. Senior subs are
notified of possible vacancies on the usual "This-is-not-an-offer-of-
appointment" form, and they may accept or not, as they choose; some-
times a king sub waits for months before leisurely accepting just the
ideal job. Final appointment is made by Departmental letter of assign-
ment according to bids on file.

Note IS— Classes of Runs and Hours Involved. All lighter runs, such
as one-man branch lines, or other runs whose units of mail worked are
below a certain norm, are designated "Class A" organizations— which are



in the lower salary grade along with terminals and airfields; the major
lines are all in Class B, with the exception of short local runs on such
routes. On a basis of 253 days per annum, the Class A clerk must
average at least seven hours and ten minutes of daily road duty, with
fifty minutes credited for home duties to make up his eight-hour day.
Class B road clerks require only a six-hour, twenty-five-minute daily
average, with one hour thirty-five minutes' home allowance. Some Class
B runs are so long that the ten to sixteen hours on duty at a stretch en-
titles the clerks to incredibly long layoffs (Chapter 10); conversely, many
short branch-line or suburban runs either require a five- or six-day work
week without layoffs, or else necessitate a clerk putting in extra time
daily in a terminal (or connecting R.P.O.) to make up his seven and
one-sixth hours.

Note li.— The Rotary-Lock "Alphabet." Some of the popular key
words for calling off the lock letters on valuable mails are:


Harry, Huckle-



Boy, Baby



Vinegar, Victory

Cat, Charley









Lucky (See




Chapter 14)



Goat, Good



There are no "I" locks. Telegraph and telephone companies use similar
.alphabets but they vary a good bit.

Note 15.— Boat R.P.O.s and Related Water Services. Some interest-
ing former R.P.O. boat lines include the old Baltimore & Norfolk and
Baltimore &: West Point (Virginia), operated on the City of Richmond
and other Chesapeake Bay steamers until the 1940s; the historic 44.2-mile
Ticonderoga & Lake George R.P.O. (Champlain Transportation Com-
pany) on Lake Champlain in New York State; the storied Sacramento
River R.P.O. on the steamers Apache and Modoc, from Sacramento to
San Francisco, California; the old Baltimore & Hicks Wharf, terminat-
ing at a little Virginia landing no longer even a post office; the Detroit
& Algonac (White Star) combination R.P.O. and R.F.D. in Michigan;
the unique New York & St. George and the Jersey City & Brooklyn, both
in New York Harbor during the 1890s; the Alexandria Bay & Clayton
(Thousand Islands Steamboat Company, seventeen miles) and the
Wanakena & Cranberry Lake (later a boat R.F.D.), both in New York
State. The New York & San Juan and New York & Canal Zone Sea Post
Offices, normally connecting to our Caribbean territories, were long
designated as boat R.P.O.s. Other mail-boat routes which still operate
and which are said to still sort certain mails in transit include the
Chain O' Lakes R.F.D. out of Waupaca, Wisconsin (originally R.P.O.


from Wisconsin Veterans Home, King, Wisconsin); the Bay View-Lake
View route on Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho; one on Coeur d'Alene Lake,
Idaho, from Coeur d'Alene to Black Rock Landing; and one on Coos
Bay, Oregon. Some noted former part-boat R.P.O.s included the old
Calistoga &: Vallejo Junction, described in Chapter 12, and the Cen-
tralia & Hoquiam (NP-PS&GHTCo) in Washington, 1891-1942 but
with all service on U.P. rail lines in recent years; also the Baton Rouge
&: Houston (NOTex&Mex), which used a car ferry across the Mississippi
until bridged in 1947.

Now a closed-pouch route, our longest boat-line R.P.O. of all was the
Seattle & Seward (Alaska Steamship Company), 2070 miles, from Wash-
ington State to Alaska; its suspension in 1942 proved permanent. It
served Juneau, Skagway, and Kodiak as well as no-office points where
clerks were authorized to deliver mail. Steamers like the 5.S. Alaska and
Baranof had to navigate the British Columbia straits in night fogs solely
by whistle echoes from the two shores, and when the whistle broke. Clerk
O. L. Brooks was called upon one night to fire his revolver for an hour
instead. It was a costly service; the company charged four thousand
dollars for each round trip of clerk and mails, and one boat sank in
nine minutes with all mail after striking a rock (all hands escaped).
Like the old Seattle & Skagway, this line connected with such other old
time Alaska boat routes as the Seward 8: Unalaska (S.S. Starr), Goodnews
& Unalaska Bay (1942), Seattle & Sitka, Cordova & Kodiak, and Valdez
& Udakta. Until recently the Nenana & Eagle R.P.O. operated on the
eastern Yukon, apparently on the S.5. Yukon; it succeeded the former
Dawson & Nenana out of Dawson, Y. T., the only United States R.P.O.
ever to be named from a foreign terminus, with its motor launch Kusko.
The Sunrise &: Seldovia and Tanana River R.P.O.s are also reported as
long-abandoned boat lines in Alaska.

Note \6.—City Distribution. Despite the amazing fact that experi-
mental New York City distribution on trains was done as early as 1864
(Note 7), regular sortation of city mails on appropriate trains was not
authorized until 1882 or 1883— and amid considerable opposition from
postmasters. But later they enthusiastically endorsed the idea, and at
first the city clerks were borrowed from the appropriate post office (as
in England). Later they were returned to their home offices in a "per-
sonnel trade" whereby they were exchanged for the R.P.O. clerks on
the streetcar routes. By 1900 some postmasters were even insisting on
excessively detailed distribution and at unseasonable hours, meanwhile
changing station boundaries in complex fashion, and the service had
to be curtailed somewhat. But it is still done on a remarkable scale; New
York City is sorted on lines as far away as California and Florida.
Oddly enough, R.P.O. lines are no longer permitted to sort city mails
for St. Louis, Missouri (reportedly by request of postmaster), and its
service suffers accordingly. Substitutes must now carry zone headers.


Note \7 .—Transit-Mail Routes Around the World. In normal times
the following route represents one chain of R.P.O.s and S.P.O.s (sea-
posts) girdling the globe. It follows the largely water-bound path indi-
cated largely because of absence of seapost connections out of Vladi-
vostock (there are continuous connecting R.P.O.s across the Eurasian
continent from that point west to Portugal). This route is based on
actual postmarks in the Robert Gordon collection:

1-New York 8: Chicago R.P.O. (NYCent); 2-Chic. 8: Omaha
(C&NW): 3-Omaha & Ogden (UP); 4-Ogden Sc San Francisco (SP);
5— Nippon Seapost (Asama Mam, and so forth), San Francisco to Yoko-
hama; 6— Marseille a Yokohama Poste Maritime, Yokohoma (Japan) to
Marseilles (France); 7— Marseille k Paris Ambulant (Sud-Est RR); 8—
Paris au Havre Ambulant (I'Ouest RR); and 9— Le Havre a New-York

Note \8.~Historical Notes, English T.P.O.s. The first mail was car-
ried by rail in Britain on November 11, 1830, from Liverpool to Man-
chester. (In 1837, while Americans celebrated Independence Day^ the
first special mail trains on the Grand Junction Railway began running
and were soon carrying seven hundred bags daily). England's first
T. P.O.— said to be the world's first railway post office— was the experi-
mental Birmingham-Liverpool T.P.O. (Grand Junction Railway),
which began operation using a converted horse boxcar with crude sort-
ing shelves January 6, 1838; it was the suggestion of Frederick Karstadt.
(Sir Rowland Hill, however, had suggested sortation in transit on
stagecoaches in 1826.) The original route is now part of the
ham-Crewe and other T.P.O.s.

Further T.P.O.s were established the same year on the North Union
and the London & Birmingham railways, and soon there was a network;
the first out of London was from Euston Station to Bletchley, extended
to Preston on October first. The exchange apparatus was invented by
G.P.O. men the very first year; and the story was told soon afterwards
of a kitten, mailed in a parcel by a foolish patron, which was "caught"
by apparatus and later rescued unharmed. An enthusiastic account of
the system in 1842 describes this net apparatus, and the sorting of letters
into "holes around the wall" over the table, while local mails were ex-
changed in bags with each town.

The present all-mail Down/Up Special was first arranged for by the
Postmaster General in 1855 but did not get started until July 1, 1885;
however, all-mail trains from London as far as Bristol were established
in '55, and the Great Western (whose first night T.P.O.s operated in
1840) was speeded up. In 1859, T.P.O.s were instructed to stamp all
letters handled. The London & Northwest T.P.O. began in 1865. Oddly
enough major British routes had titles and date stamps like our own
"JY 31 63" (instead of 31 July, as now) on the Southeastern R.P.O.;

Online LibraryBryant Alden LongMail by rail : the story of the Postal Transportation Service → online text (page 34 of 38)