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employees; distributing far more mail per man-hour than the
average post-office clerk, railway mail clerks put in over four
billion miles of travel annually to sort the staggering total of
twenty-one billion pieces of mail each year in 2,620 R.P.O.
trains! {Note ^.)

R.P.O. trains range from the famed streamliners like the
Century down to tiny branch-line or suburban locals, mixed
trains, or "Galloping Goose" diesels— even suburban electric-
car trains. Some major roads have exclusive all-mail, non-
passenger trains, such as Boston & New York Train 180 (see
Chapter 10), N.Y. &: Chicago (NY Cent) Train 14, or Chic. &
& Omaha (C&NW) Train 5. Most R.P.O. lines are named
directly from the terminal towns, but there are about one
hundred of them in which actual R.P.O. trains do not reach
one or both termini— usually because former R.P.O. service
has been partially replaced by closed-pouch train or truck ser-
vice reaching to the former terminus. If two or more R.P.O.s
terminate at the same cities, the name of an important inter-
mediate town is inserted; thus, the N.Y., Scranton &: Buff.
(DL&W) and N.Y., Geneva & Buff. (LV) both connect New
York and Buffalo. The only lines not named from two or
more towns are apparently the Boston S: Cape Cod (NYNHScH)
in Massachusetts and two R.P.O.-equipped New Hampshire
lake boats. R.P.O.s are normally named from north to south
and east to west, regardless of the relative importance of the
termini. Current lines are listed in Appendix I.

In most large cities the main post office (or an important
annex) is adjacent to the principal railway station, with con-
veyor-belt or hand-truck connection direct to the train plat-
forms. In Los Angeles mail porters unload sacks from stor-
age cars onto the belts at such a frenzied pace that alternate
fifteen-minute shifts are required. Special facilities, such as
rooms for accommodation of clerks and their baggage (grip
rooms) separating platforms with overhead signs for bulk


mails, and train-mail boxes, are installed at most large sta-
tions; and the P.T.S. Transfer Office is usually there also.

Chicago, birthplace of the P.T.S., is the biggest hub of
R.P.O. operations in America and probably in the world.
Nearly forty different R.P.O. lines, most of them carrying
from four to fifteen daily mail-sorting trains, converge there
from all directions; the huge Chicago Terminal, P.T.S. (con-
solidating many earlier ones), six transfer offices, an airfield,
one division and nine district offices, and large railway mail
dormitories, orsfanizations, and national memorials are all
centered there. New York, although boasting the largest
P.T.S. terminals, does not even rank a poor second in the
number of R.P.O. routes centering there— twenty-three, to
be exact; Kansas City and St. Louis have as many or more.
Philadelphia has but fifteen; Washington, sixteen.

Perhaps the typical "railroad town"— a small city or village
which is nevertheless an important railroad (and R.P.O.) di-
vision point or junction— plays an even more vital part in the
life of the railway mail clerk; its streets, small hotels, and
"beaneries" are often alive with P.T.C.'s. In Martinsburg,
West Virginia, on the Wash. Sc Chicago— Wash. &: Grafton
(BR:0) and Harris. S: Win. H.P.O., clerks' wives often meet the
train with forgotten work-pants, baked goodies, hot lunches,
or what not; Crestline, Ohio, with its famous Pennsy shops
(on Pitts. Sc Chicago R.P.O.), even has its own district office
and N.P.T.A. branch.

Miles City, Montana, on the St. Paul & Miles City (NP)
and other R.P.O.s, is famed for its "Tool House" Restaurant
run by "an ageless Chinaman named Toy Ling" who has
been host to the clerks for over thirty-five years. Adrian C.
Austin relates that nearly seventy clerks from four trunk-line
R.P.O.s "lay over" there, but no clerks live there. He de-
scribes a typical Christmas morning at three-thirty, the town
swarming with doubled-up cre^vs, when fifty clerks were eat-
mg at one lunchroom "half of them tired but glad the trip was
over, and the other half grouchy and bleary-eyed at having
to get up to go to work." Ashfork, Arizona (on the Santa Fe's
Albuquerque & Los Angeles), writes T. M. Bragg, is merely


"a small unincorporated village perched atop a malpais rock
formation, where drinking Avater is brought in in tank cars"
but with comfortable Harvey House lodgings.

Most of our great trunk-line R.P.O.s have a fascinating his-
torical background. The two big routes from New York to
Boston; the PRR's vitally important electrified N.Y. & ^Vash-
ington (connecting America's metropolis and capital); the
great New York & Chicago on the Central; and the Pennsy's
"Pitts" (N.Y. & Pittsburgh) could all tell stories of great in-
terest to the researcher or postmark collector. The evolution
of these lines has been summarized in the Technical Notes
(Notes 6—8); but Western lines like the Santa Fe's famed
"Ashfork" (Albuq. & Los Angeles R.P.O.), traversing the vast
desert country of New Mexico and Arizona as a southern
trunk route to Los Angeles, are just as worthy of historical
study. Most such lines carry six to twenty or more daily
R.P.O. trains!

There are great chains of R.P.O. trunk lines along the
Pacific Coast and through the Southern states, too, in addi-
tion to the transcontinental and Atlantic Coast link-ups
already described— as this Florida-Washington state itinerary


Atlanta 8c Jacksonville (Sou) in Georgia and Florida.
Atlanta R: Montgomery (A&WP, Western Ry. of Alabama),

Montgomery k New Orleans (L&N), Alabama to

New Orleans 8: Houston, (TexRrNO), Louisiana-Texas
Houston R: San Antonio (TexR:NO), in Texas
San Antonio R: El Paso (TexR;NO), also in Texas
El Paso 8c Los Angeles (SouPac), Texas to California.


Los Angeles k San Diego (Santa Fe), extreme south end
of route in California


San Francisco Sc Los Angeles (^ valley route), in

Portland R: San Francisco (SouPac), in Oregon and

Seattle & Portland (NP), in Washington and Oregon
Blaine Sc Seattle (ON), in Washington State (through

trains to Vancouver, B. C.)

In common speech, clerks usually refer to trunk R.P.O.
routes by single-syllable abbreviations, such as "The Chic"
(N.Y. Sc Chicago-NYCent), "The Ham" (Washington R: Ham-
let, North Carolina, on the Seaboard), "The Pitts" (N.Y. &
Pittsburgh-Pitts. &: St. L.-Pitts. R: Chi. on the PRR, also BR:0's
Wash, k Chic), "The Wash" (N.Y. Sc Wash.-PRR), etc.
The latter R.P.O. is likewise also dubbed "The Wash-Line,"
much to the embarrassment of a staid young substitute who
once told his girl that he worked thereon, whereupon she de-
cided he must be employed in a laundry! (Other abbrevia-
tions and nicknames will be found scattered throughout the
book, as well as following R.P.O. Titles in our Appendix I;
while nicknames in particular are dealt with in Chapter 10.)

Supplementing the R.P.O. trains are many "closed pouch"
or "C.P." trains on routes not having R.P.O. service; for
example, there was the picturesque Ridgcway R: Durango C.P.
(RGSou) on the famed narrow-gauge lines of the Colorado
Rockies. According to V. A. Klein and Eldon Roark, this
route used old Packard or Pierce-Arrow autos fitted with
flange wheels and sawed-off cabs, which sped their way pre-
cariously across creaky wood trestles spanning gaping can-
yons; dubbed "The Galloping Goose," each was manned by a
nonchalant flagman-brakeman-conductor-operator who wired
the throttle wide open for the whole trip— even if hauling a
boxcar of mail, freight, and express! Another roughhewn
Western route is the old Tonopah Sc Mojave CP (SP) and star
route, called "The Jawbone" and formerly an R.P.O.; it
begins in the old Tonopah (Nev.) gold fields and winds up
in a thinly settled part of California, and now uses railroad
trucks to haul mails via highway instead of over the old rails.


A typical longer route is the current Buffalo Sc Cleveland
C.P., 184 miles (Nickel Plate).

At the other extreme are many small C.P.s on busy subur-
ban railways too short for R.P.O. service, in our big metro-
politan areas, with as many as fifty mail-carrying trips daily
—often using electrified service, like the Jamaica R: Brooklyn
C.P. (LIRR) in New York City; but no C.P. lines carry
clerks. Many C.P.s are trolley lines. New metal storage con-
tainers (with special cars to accommodate them) are now being
introduced to handle bulk mails in C.P. service. Thousands of
"star routes" or mail-truck lines connect outlying post offices
with offices or junctions on the R.P.O.s, and the latter often
"pouch on" each office on the route. (See Chapter Ifi for
H.P.O. and air lines.) Most R.P.O.s have C.P. trains also.

Second only in importance to our R.P.O. net^vork are the
sixty-odd terminals, P.T.S. (formerly terminal R.P.O.s),
usually located in important large post-office buildings or
railway stations; but local postmasters have no jurisdiction
over them. Terminals, P.T.S., have two important func-
tions: to sort the vast majority of all not-so-urgent bulk mails
(magazines, parcel post, circulars) which would otherwise
congest the R.P.O. lines intolerably; and secondly, in many
cases, to "advance" letters and newspapers for heavv suburban
R.P.O.s or other R.P.O.s converging at points of congested
mail traffic like Harrisburg or Atlanta, sorting out letters
between trains into direct separations for all sizable post
offices on these lines. Only when an outgoing R.P.O. train
is directly connected are incoming mails for such lines sent
to the train instead of to the terminal first— which may also
handle all mails for some areas without R.P.O. service.

Terminal clerks work an eight-hour day, five days a week,
and are often dubbed "termites" in fun. In each terminal
there are cases for circulars (and letters, if worked), parcel
racks, and paper racks (handling magazines), for all states
assigned to be distributed. The unit for each state is divided
into a primary (city and large town), secondary (small town),
and residue (R.P.O. line and dis) case, with individual boxes
or sacks for every town of any size. By first "straining" their


mail through the primary and secondary separations in order,
then sorting mails for the tiny hamlets into packages or sacks
for R.P.O. lines (or distributing offices) at the residue case,
the terminals accomplish an amazing amount of distribution
in a very short time. A terminal railway mail clerk sorts up
to ten thousand circulars, or other mail in proportion, daily.
If a terminal advances letters for particular R.P.O. routes,
there is often a case for each line in addition to general
primary cases; then packages addressed to some particular
suburban R.P.O. are at once diverted to the proper terminal
case whenever there is sufficient time between trains. Such
terminals usually pouch on most towns involved via all
available C.P. trains and star routes as well.

In nearly all terminals clerks work in three shifts: Totir
1 (late night or "graveyard" shift), Tour 2 (daytime), and
Tour 3 (evening), with night work paying 10 per cent extra.
There is usually a raised and railed (or enclosed) platform
for the clerk-in-charge's desk, dubbed the bidl peyi; a time
clock for recording arrival and departure of the clerks; a
desk with a well-filled "order book," and a clerks' mail case
to accommodate time slips and official mail, all located to-
gether. Out on the floor are wheeled canvas baskets, officially
listed as gurneys but always called "tubs," for conveying
mails from primary to secondary, residue, or other racks;
small hand trucks (or nulling trucks, derived from a manu-
facturer's name) for conveying bag mails; and large four-
wheelers with wagon tongues, in terminals without belts,
which require them to receive and dispatch bag mails to
and from the trains. Overhead there may be inconspicuous-
slits at the tops of certain walls, tiny "peepholes," looking
out from secret passageways used by postal inspectors to
detect the very rare postal clerk who is tempted to lift some-
thing; from the mail; but there is seldom need to use them.
Outside of the terminal workroom are locker, "swing"
(lunch), and wash rooms.

The largest railway mail distributing unit in the country
happens to be one of these terminals— the huge Penn Ter-
minal in the G.P.O. Building, New York, with over eleven


hundred clerks. It not only "advances" Florida and Texas
letter mails but also works ordinary bulk mails for most
New England states, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and
for other states— but noL for New York State (except Long
Island). Similarly, the Washington, D. C, Terminal works
bulk mails for Pennsylvania and nearly all Southern states
from Virginia on down, but not for the adjacent state of
Maryland; each terminal is arbitrarily assigned certain states
only. Important Eastern terminals advancing letters for
suburban R.P.O.s include those at Camden, Hoboken, and
\Veehawken, New Jersey; the Central and Erie terminals at
Jersey City, New Jersey; and the Reading Terminal in Phila-
delphia. Westward, the Chicago and Los Angeles terminals
and others do likewise.

The Philadelphia Terminal or "Dog-House," in the
G.P.O. Building opposite Thirtieth Street Station there, is
one of the most modern in the country, with its conveyor
belts and floor-level trap doors for dispatches direct to trauis;
no piling or trucking of mail by clerks and porters is neces-
sary. The great Chicago and Cleveland terminals are both
in the Main Post Office buildings; the Pittsburgh, I-os An-
geles, Atlanta, Boston, Portland (Maine), Detroit, and Omaha
terminals are other large ones. Metropolitan New York alone
has seven.

The first "Terminal R.P.O." was the old Jersey City (New
Jersey) Register Terminal, established in 1903 by Super-
intendent V. J. Bradley. A clerk from Courtland, Illinois,
named W. H. Riddell, was appointed a chief clerk about
1907, with the duty of organizing the Union and other rail-
way station terminals at Chicago, and a Union Terminal
R.P.O. later appeared at Omaha. However, regular termi-
nals first appeared throughout the country in 1913-14, as
explained later, and by late 1914 nearly one hundred ter-
minals had been hurriedly set up wherever there seemed to
be the slightest justification.

Since then there has been a steady reduction of over 30
per cent in the number of terminals, with much of the mail
assigned thereto being restored to the R.P.O. lines, until the


last few years. The number was down to eighty-eight by 1915,
and to seventy-one by 1942— and of these, nearly twenty were
(and are) small part-time units in transfer oflTices, without any
employees and seldom a postmark of their own. Historic term-
inals which have folded up in the meantime include the old
Grand Central Terminal R.P.O., New York; the Broad Street
and Sears Terminals, Philadelphia; the Columbus (Ohio)
Register Terminal; the La Salle and other railway-station
terminals at Chicago; and those at Long Island City, Toledo,
San Francisco, and Sacramento. Our newest terminals are
those at Jamaica, N. Y.; Indianapolis; Toledo (just re-estab-
lished); Greensboro, North Carolina (previously existing,
however, as a part-time T.C. -manned unit as in the Indian-
apolis case); and Los Angeles (Sears Terminal, 1949)— both
the latter necessitated by mail-order expansions. There were
about fifty of these full-sized units when they became
terminals, P.T.S., on November 1, 1949. Two new terminals
are planned (at New Haven and at a northern New Jersey

Most substitutes begin their careers in the terminals,
and some decide to stay. Mimeographed "bid sheets," listing
assignments, and periodic "reorganizations," as on the lines,
offer all a choice of jobs according to seniority. Men who
tire of "the road," with its strenuous and irregular away-from-
home duties, often transfer to a lower-paid terminal job,
especially if nearing retirement. Occasionally a clerk, unable
to perform exacting road duties, is thus transferred arbi-
trarily. But more often a terminal clerk literally lives for the
day when his seniority will permit him to succumb to the
lure of the trains and transfer to them.

Colorful and humorous sidelights of terminal life are hard
to dig out. But from the Los Angeles Terminal— whose out-
side U.P. parcel-separating table is called the "pneumonia-
platform"— clear to the Washington, D. C, Terminal, where
the boys voted to present roller skates to the clerk-in-charge,
"with which to cover the terminal in a hurry" (after a nice
speech he gave them to his son!), one can unearth a few tales
and tidbits. At Penn Terminal, New York, Arthur Carucci


tells how a young lieutenant tumbled into the terminal
on an incoming belt, mixed with pouches from the LIRR
trains; he couldn't find the train-platform exit, chose
the belt as a last resort! At the same terminal one super-
visor would ask each new clerk his educational qualifications;
then bellow, "Well, you lawyers, dump the parcel sacks; the
college grads push the tubs around; you teachers lock out the
full sacks . . ." and on on.

At another Eastern terminal, old "Tony" was the butt
of all jokes. One day a few fun-loving co-workers, who were
(unkno^vn to Tony) in league Avith his principal tormentors,
offered to help Tony to get even with the latter.

"At lunch hour, get inside this big No. 1 sack and let us
lock it up," they proposed, "and we'll label it and put it on
those guys' parcel table with their other working mail. Then
when they come back to work and unlock the sack, you jump
oiu and scare them!"

The naive old chap agreed, and sure enough was locked
in the sack and placed on the right ^vorktable. But when
his tormentors returned and one started to unlock the sack,
the other cried out:

"Hey!— watch that label— it's a direct sack for ChicaG:o.
And we've only got ten minutes to make Train 43 with it!"
And poor old Tony was quickly trucked to the elevator and
down to the train platform, despite his ragings, before they
let him out.

W^ishington Terminal is famed for its daily "Florida War
Cry" on some occasions, announcing completion of distri-
bution on the Florida letter case, its only regular first-class
mail assignment. Long led by veteran ex-navy clerk Frank
Fccles, it was designed to call a mail handler to truck away
the locked-out pouches, but sounds more like a combined
fire siren and Hopi battle veil !

The historic old San Francisco Terminal could perhaps
tell the grandest stories of all, prior to its discontinuance, as
noted above. The Go-Back Pouch tells how it was one of the
very first terminals, located directly over the water of the
bay between the ferry slips. Wide cracks and holes in the floor


inevitably invited the installation of fishing lines while clerks
were at work at the letter cases directly overhead. Sometimes,
dining a feverish tie-out to make connections, a clerk would
vainly eye his line jerking with a couple of fish on its hooks
and nearly getting loose! Crab nets were also hung on the end
of the ferry slip and brought in many rich hauls— except when
the ferry captain discovered them first with his searchlight.
Another poor old clerk in this terminal would plod on board
the ferry to go home, not knowing that pranksters had tied
the end of a ball of twine to his coattail— to watch it unwind
and trail liim clear over the pier and halfway across San
Francisco Bay! The faithful old distributor never objected;
devoted to his work to the very last, his heart gave out one
day as he leaned against his case, his last package of letters
in his hand.

There are lesser incidents galore: The district superin-
tendent at one ne-^v terminal who tried out its spiral chute in
small-boy fashion; the wags ^vho string "circ" cases witii twine
running behind the mail in each vertical row in such a way
that a sly tug from behind sends two hours' work flying into
the aisle; the unorthodox and inconvenient places in which
mail locks can be attached, in letter cases or on paper sacks,
to the great annoyance of anyone trying to sort mail or to tie
out sacks. (Locks are always plentiful; they are used in such
huge quantities in some terminals that they are literally
sho\eled out of tubs like coal.)

Terminal men are definitely "railway mail clerks" and are
usually proud of it. Steeped in the traditions of the iron
road, they refer to the daily time record (showing amoimt
of mail worked) as the "trip report"; each day's work is a
"run," which is "exchanged" (using road-service forms) or
"defaulted" just as on the trains, and there is often a race
agninst time to dispatch to some outgoing R.P.O. Highly
train-conscious, they must separate direct sacks and sort
residue mails out to definite R.P.O. trains; and they must
take examinations from the same schemes as road clerks do.

Some very strict sets of Terminals Rules and Regulations
have been issued in past years; some have included rules


forbidding clerks to wash up, change clothes, or even
approach the time clock before closing signal, or to so much
as step inside the terminal to speak to a clerk wh( n off duty.
Hon'ever, the more humane terminal heads have endeavored
to have such rules relaxed as much as possible in recent years;
until the privilege was unfortunately withdrawn, officials
even allowed clothes changing and eating lunch on duty for
a considerable recent period, permitting a true eight-hour day.

Terminal cases and racks are permanently labeled with
printed headers according to official diagrams, mostly al-
phabetically. (Header holders provide storage space for extra
strip labels. Although the practice is frowned upon, most
headers become helpfully annotated with the names of small
dis offices which are included in certain separations, for dis-
patch from a larger post office). Low tables or moving belts
with high rims are used for dumping up the parcels and papers
to be sorted or "thro^vn off," and small bags of locks are
hung at one end (or on the rack) (Note 9). Clerks must turn
in a "count" of mails worked (represented by the slips and
labels ttirned in) ^vhich is at least up to the daily average
requirements of the terminal— and they are supposed to
dutifully discard any angels or spurious extra labels found
enclosed inside the sacks by sympathetic clerks at the point
of origin. Since a "skin" sack containing only a couple of maga-
zines counts just as much as a huge "balloon" sack crammed
with tiny hard-to-'work papers {squealers) or samples, some
laughable scrambles for the more desirable sacks often occur.
Some "balloon" sacks, strangely enough, seem to remain
around for the next tour!

And we must not forget the transfer clerks— postal trans-
portation clerks assigned to the important duty of supervis-
ing connecting mails between trains, among many other re-
sponsibilities. They are stationed at about two hundred
transfer offices at important railway stations or junction
points all over the country; and large cities may have several.
The office is usually in some nondescript, smoke-begrimed
alcove of the depot, containing a desk for the clerk-in-charge,
tables, files, and usually order books and an official-mail case


for road clerks. In one corner is a box of the long strip-
metal "seals" used to close storage car doors. Transfer clerks
must meet all incoming trains and see off all outgoing ones,
in all kinds of weather, often scrambling across a dozen tracks
from train to train at considerable risk; and must keep a
detailed statistical record of the mails carried and other facts
regarding each. They must keep informed as to mail dis-
patciies and authorizations on all outbound trains, be famil-
iar with all hours of arrival and departure, issue complex
requests for additional space, notify the office of schedule
changes, furnish substitutes for emergency runs, take sup-
plies out to R.P.O. trains, and must often distribute connec-
tion mails between trains or for offices on C.P. or star routes
by means of a small case and rack. They are required to col-

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