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lect mail from station mailboxes before departure of train
and sort it— at some stations it's done in a little case inside
the mailbox door. Letters are usually taken direct to the
proper train, but sometimes to the transfer office, for cancella-
tion. Transfer clerks must take special case examinations
from standpoint schemes; and while on duty, must carry a
notebook and pencil at all times to record statistical data for
transfer to their report sheets. The Register Transfer Office,
Kansas City, Missouri (for registers) is the only one of its kind.

Transfer clerks are much maligned because of their sup-
posed "soft snap" of a job. "My father doesn't have to work;
he's a transfer clerk at Union Station!" They are pictured as
sitting around with nothing to do except meet occasional
trains: but we have already shown the unjustness of any such
concept of their duties. Transfer clerks must busily dash
across tracks to record data of four or five trains all arriving
at once; messy "bad-order" parcels must be written up in
trij)Hcate on complex forms, through storage cars carefully
locked or sealed, car-floor diagrams drawn up and supervised,
sorting done in the small part-time terminals often housed in
the transfer office, and what not.

In one case transfer clerks were instrumental in appre-
hending a mail thief stealing from numerous pouches,
resulting in great benefit to the reputation and financial


Standing of the Postal Service. In another, a new one-man
transfer office was established at the suggestion of clerks them-
selves, resulting in savings equivalent to three transfer clerks'
salaries in view of the "padded" railroaders' mail-count re-
ports thus unmasked. William Koelln, one of our leading
P.T.S. historians and authorities, was a transfer clerk at
Penn Station T.O., New York; so was the late Lillian V.
Woods, the only female transfer clerk in the Service, capable
and efficient. Yes, transfer clerks earn their salt!

Supervising the whole P.T.S. setup is the Assistant Execu-
tive Director, Bureau of Transportation at Washington-
better known by his long-time popular title (until 1946)
of "General Superintendent, R.M.S." He, and sometimes the
Assistant P.M.G. (Transportation) himself, is nearly always
a former P.T.C. who has worked his -way up through the
ranks. At this writing, capable and respected ex-clerk George
Miller holds the office, which places him in charge of most
mail transportation and all distribution of transit mails (ex-
cept international mail transportation). In a handsome office
at the new Post Office Department Building in Washington,
he holds forth at a big flat-topped desk, surrounded by green-
upholstered chairs and by famous paintings or photos of great
mail trains and planes. Interested visitors— or clerks— are
warmly Avelcomed to the offices. Fifteen big loose-leaf books,
giving details of current operations in each division, lie on
a table in one room for instant reference; while a long row
of file cabinets contains an individual folder for each R.P.O.
or H.P.O. line. A library of schemes of all forty-eight states,
books on the Service (such few as there are), and much related
material is on hand. Just down the hall is the office of
"Charley" Dietz, sympathetic head personnel man. whose
glad-hand of help to any clerk with a real grievance is pro-
verbial everywhere. The offices are designated as the Bureau
of Transportation.

Outside, the south side of the building contains a circular
sculptured frieze featuring notable dates in our postal his-
tory, including "RAILWAY MAIL SERVICE, 1862." It
overlooks the great Mall which is only two blocks north of


the PRR-RFRrP tracks carrying five great trunk-line R.P.O.s
to the Souih; and trolleys which later carry P.T.S. "C.P."
service pass the front entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue.^

The country is apportioned among fifteen divisions, each
with its own general superintendent. ^ Assistant general super-
intendents and a faithful staff of office-assigned railway mail
clerks are assigned to the various "sections" at each head-
quarters. Each division is composed of several districts, with
headquarters at key cities, which directly supervise from one
to a dozen R.P.O. lines and terminals each. A district super-
intendent ("chief clerk" until 1946) heads each district, with
a few office clerks and others to help him (including an assist-
ant district superintendent). P.T.S. offices are located in large
post-office buildings but are, of course, independent.

The division general superintendents have great authori-
ty; they not only supervise the operation of the P.T.S. and
clerks assigned to their divisions, but also prepare the general
schemes and instructions which all first- and second-class post
offices are required to follow in sorting their own mails. The
district superintendent must carry out all the multitudinous
duties of direct supervision of each of his lines and the clerks
thereon, including the reporting of all observed cases of
"insubordination, inefficiency, and lax morality" among
clerks. Division and district superintendents are promoted
exclusively from the ranks, although clerks allege that some

>The Wash. X: Suburban CP. (CTCo) to Cabin John. Md.

•Numbered and located as follows: 1— P.O. Bldg., Boston 9 (N. Ens^l. States);
2-G.P.O. Bldg., New York 1 (N. Y., north N. J.); 3-City P.O. Bg., Washington
25 (Md-DC-Va-NC-WVa); 4-Fed. Annex, Atlanta 4 (Ala-Fla-Ga-SC-Tenn-
PR); 5-P.O. Annex, Cincinnati 35 (Ohio-Ind-Ky); 6-Main P.O. Bg., Chicago
7 (Ill-la); 7-P.O. Eg., St. Louis 3 (Mo-Kans); 8-P.O. Bg., San Francisco 1
(Calif-Ariz-Nev-Utah); 9-P.O. Bldg., Cleveland 1 f^firh.; Cleveland. Ohio;
N. Y. Cent, main line area); 10-P.O. Bg., St. Paul 1 (Minn-ND-SD Wise..
N.P. of Mich.); II-P.O. Eg., Fort Worth 1 (Tex-Okla-NMex); 12-Fed. Ofc. Eg.,
New Orleans 6 (La-Ark-Miss and Memphis, Tenn); 13— P.O. Eg., Seattle 11
(Wash-Ore-Ida-Ala.ska); 14-P.O. Eg., Omaha 1 (Neb-Colo-^Vyo); 15-Fed.
B?., Pittslnirgh 19 (Pa-Del, .south NJ, E. Shore Md-Va, PRR main line area).
Address ''Div. Genl. Supt... P.T.S."

Important District offices are located at Philadelphia 4, Pa. (309a G.P.O.
Bg.); Detroit 33, Mich. (329 Roosev. Park Annex); Los Angeles 52, Calif. (226
Term. P.O. Annex); Denver 1, Colo. (410 P.O. Bldg.) and at many other points.


"pull" is usually needed. Clarence E. Votaw describes in
humorous fashion a typical day of a district superintendent
in his book: "Seventy letters to answer . . . Transfer clerk
wants man to fill run in fifteen minutes . . . Four clerks want
their study scope revised . . . Extra clerks wanted to work
ninety-five sacks of "stuck" train mail, at once . . . Clerk-in-
charge running too late to return on his proper train; what
to do?" and so on. Daily visitors include: "An old patron
of a tiny post office insisting on two daily deliveries from the
R.P.O.; a superintendent of mails on a big newspaper, with
new problems; a 'distinguished visitor' who turns out to be
a magazine salesman; a railway superintendent desiring a
conference on mail handling; a patron whose mail arrived
late, to bau'l him out; a messenger from the general super-
intendent, who wants a list of all stations on all lines . . ."
and so on. His is no bed of roses!

In normal times mails are distributed in transit not only
on land but on the high seas as well— by the Seapost service,
in United States and foreign vessels. This colorful service is
closely linked with the P.T.S., which has itself operated or
reorganized the Seapost on three different occasions and
which supplies most of its personnel. But, alas, space require-
ments forbid discussion (Note 10).

And our general survey of America's vast railway mail net-
work remains incomplete without mention of the unusual
private "R.R.M.," or "railroad mail," system, by which rail-
roads carry their own company mails over their own connect-
ing lines— completely apart from the United States mails and
the R.P.O. facilities. It is our only sizable arrangement for
handling of mails outside of the government's monopoly on
letter carrying provided by the strict Private Express Statutes.

Only a few other exceptions (other transport-company
mails, special-messenger facilities, employee distribution of
bills, and so on) are thereby permitted to the Post Office De-
partment's exclusive right to transport "letters for others by
regular trips at stated intervals over all post routes." The
statutes do permit the carrying of "railway letters" for the
public by conductors (if regulation postage is affixed), just as


is done on a large scale in England and elsewhere; but the
practice has never become popular here, probably because of
the excellent R.P.O. facilities.

The companies* own "railroad mail" is usually handled in
large-sized brown envelopes franked with the letters "R.R.S."
or "R.R.B." (railroad service; business) in the corner; it is
sorted in private station mail rooms and in small cases (with
large boxes) in baggage cars. In small quantities, it is usually
carried by the conductor. But for the general public our vast
R.P.O. system— which in areas like the Chicago and Duluth
regions and North Dakota includes a network of main and
branch lines unequalled anywhere— provides the finest and
most extensive facilities in the world for speedy transit-sorting
and delivery of our ordinary mails.

Chapter 4


It's "Hang up those pouches" or "Pull down that rack,"

It's "Tie out these boxes" or "Hand me a sack."

It's "Sandy, get busy, don't go to sleep yet,

Here, sack up these empties before you forget."

It's "Hustle up, Sandy, what makes you so slow?" . . .

The shacki takes the blame, on a full R.P.O.

— Earl L. Newton

In many varied ways, young "hopefuls"
over the country first hear of the P.T.S.
and dream of being a clerk on the trains.
Perhaps they've watched one at work on
the local at the depot, seen the flying ex-
press make its "catch," read about the
Service or heard of it from employed
friends or kin or from Civil Service
announcements. Many, however, are first attracted by the
lurid "Travel Free for Uncle Sam" ads of the private
civil service schools (non-go\ernment connected); and there
are quite a few "Franklin grads" and "I.C.S. men" in the
P.T.S. , though definitely a minority. Advertisements no
longer show a clerk in natty uniform leisurely leaning out
the car door to greet his girl; but they do emphasize the
travel, layoff, and salary (not the lack of sight-seeing opportu-
nities and the arduous dtities, conditions, and home recpiire-
ments!). One is reminded of the uninformed friend in
Votaw's Jasper Hunnicutt who told an applicant, "The R.M.S.
would suit you. It is such nice clean Avork (!), sorting letters
as you fly along and tossing out bags as you go. There is really
no labor about it!"

*All-around "sub."



The young examinee must make a sworn application on
a long form secured from the nearest office of the Civil Service
Commission, which recruits nearly all government employees
through non-political competitive examinations. He does
not need to take a civil-service course, though some are help-
ful; he can practice up on the sample questions in the exam
announcement. But he must meet stringent physical require-
ments: a minimum height and weight, freedom from all dis-
abling disease or defects, and an aptitude for "arduous
exertion," all confirmed by two medical examinations. Final-
ly he receives his official-looking "IMPORTANT ADMIS-
SION CARD," announcing the exact time and place of the
next exam for Substitute Postal Transportation Clerk; he
must paste an identification photo thereon. At the examina-
tion, which is held at intervals of several years at about six
hundred cities, the applicant sees the examiner solemnly open
and distribute the sealed examination papers, which include
a General Test (on mental alertness, geography, arithmetic,
and so on) in multiple-choice form, and three Mail Tests on
following instructions, sorting, and routing. The latter is
done by studying sets of imaginary post-oflice names, route
symbols, train numbers, and related data, and by checking off
the routes on a long list.

Few applicants are able to "finish everything" in any part
of the stringent four-hour test (not realizing that this is sel-
dom expected). Passing is 70 per cent, but our examinee is
in a fortunate minority if his grade is high enough to insure
appointment— usually about 90 per cent. In this case he is
finally notified of his grade on a form outlining the strenuous
duties of the position and the system of "registers" of eligibles
by state of residence. Occasionally a few clerks are accepted
by transfer from other government units under very exacting
requirements, the P.T.S. enjoying so high a reputation that
senior clerks with ideal hours in a post office Avill sacrifice
their pay and comforts for a chance to become a lowly railway
mail "sub" under the most trying conditions.

After a wait of months or years, possibly broken by a little
temporary government employment, a P.T.S. vacancy may


occur. The Commission reports the three highest names on
the appropriate state register to the proper division officials,
who will select one or more names as needed and mail out
inquiries to "advise if you will accept" a vacancy— with the
cautious notation: "This is not an ofier of appointment." But,
barring irregularities, our ne-^v man is eventually given his
final physical, his oath of office. Black Book (Book of Instruc-
tions condensed from Postal Laws & Regulations, hence, The
PL&R) a scheme of his first study-assigned state (with map),
and a Schedule of Mail Routes (timetables of all R.P.O.
trains and- other routes in the division). He may also receive
a mail key and revolver. The new substitute's starting salary
is now $1.41 i/C per hour.

Most substitutes are first assigned regularly to some termi-
nal, P.T.S., on a straight five-day week when mails are normal
(classed either as "acting additional" or "vice"— in place of—
clerks on leave). In some cases a self-confident new "clerk"
has entered a terminal the first day, asking:

"And ^vhere is my desk, sir?"

"Right here," the clerk-in-charge wall usually reply, escort-
ing him to some big parcel-dumping platform where per-
spiring men are violently shaking mail out of huge sacks!
The disillusioned neophyte then has to "dump up" parcels
the rest of the day for the convenience of the others.

"A doQfSfone baboon could do this work!" has been the
sentiments of more than one sub after weeks of such back-
breaking labor requiring almost no thinking. Most terminal
clerks are helpful and sympathetic; but there have been ex-
ceptions, as witness the plaint of one newcomer:

. . . They guided me through a maze of racks, trucks,
mail sacks, and chutes ... It was a strange and alien
world ... no friends about and few smiles ... A job:
"Here's something you can do. Anybody, even a grade-
school boy can do it." It was working circulars in a
secondary case . . . But what a welcome! They looked me
over like I was some strange species of animal ... By my
side was a young sub who was as quiet as I. We discovered
one another . . . We "picked to pieces" the Mail Service



in our room after a hard clay's work . . . There was no
explanation as to why a certain job is performed . . .
Kindlier relations ... a pat on the shoulder, and a friend-
ly smile would be life-savers to a new sub . . .

From 1946 to 1950 a new official, the counselor-instructor,
was assigned to each division to see that new subs got a friend-
lier sort of welcome as well as organized instruction in job
fundamentals, often including classroom talks, demonstra-
tions, and instruction trips; this program is now operated by
other officials. The new man must secure a rubber stamp
showing his name, date, line or terminal, and train or tour
number (with necessary type and inkpad). Plain straight-line
stamps are furnished free on request after considerable delay,
but most clerks prefer to buy theirs from postal or rubber-
stamp supply houses, who design them to order in myriad
styles. Clerks have used them since well before 1890 for
stamping slips and labels (in lieu of postmarking) and occa-
sional records or pieces of mail (that foimd without contents
or consisting of fluff —soh, easily damaged packets). Some
early and current styles are shown herewith (operating lines
are listed in Appendix I:

Balto & Cln. R P

Tr. 43"~ Kay 30 Sth


Prederlclc B. Hoffinan

Soon the sub is acclimated and wearing his long key chain
like a veteran, fearful only that it might be mistaken for a
zoot-suiter's watch chain. He learns to "tie out" packages of


letters or circulars with the quick, special, hard knot— on
back of the bundle, to leave addresses unobstructed, and with
short letters tied both ways and long ones sticking out below,
tied singly. He gradually catches an unspoken spirit of quiet

His strenuous work may include, if there is a shortage of
mail handlers, heaving whole piles of sack mail up onto
outgoing trucks or separating incoming sack mail, and at
heavy-mail periods twelve- to eighteen-hours stints and
more are common. Al Humpleby, now of the N.Y. &: Wash.
(PRR), reports having had thirty-six hours* continuous
duty in two North Jersey terminals years ago, except for inter-
terminal commuting; then the "sub shortage" that caused this
changed to a surplus, and he received only one day's work for
a month. Assigned that day to the Wilkes-Barre (Pennsyl-
vania) T.O., where no mail was distributed, he received a
check for nine dollars for the month (including allowances
and held-back pay)— plus ten demerits, levied despite protests,
for not checking any mail-distribution errors that month!

Other new subs are assigned direct to the trains, filling in
for various trips irregularly; and the "first trip" is usually a
nightmare (see next chapter). A bewildered new man is often
assigned to stack incoming bag mail in the bins, much per-
plexed by the absence of any signs or other indications of
which is which— a sympathetic paper smoke (newspaper clerk)
may enlighten him. After dumping up the paper man's mail
and helping at the pouch table the whole trip, he's very sure
he has handled every one of the 1,600,000 pouches and
14,000,000 sacks in the Postal Service.

Stories about new subs' inexperience make laughable
reading. There are many versions of the tale in which the
newcomer is told to stack numerous important bags of mail
in a storage car or bin "with the labels out" (for quick perusal
from the aisle); the sub reports to his chief with a whole
pocketful of labels, necessitating opening and examining
every pouch. Another classic: A sub is given a row of labels
in proper order and asked to "put them in" a row of pouches
to be locked out; not knowing about label holders, the young


innocent drops them inside each pouch, locks the unlabeled
pouches, and usually has them all in a heap just as the first
throw-off point is reached! Then there was the sub instructed
to "take down" a row of overhead boxes of mail, being given
an empty pouch for the first box's contents as an example.
Of course he puts the mails from every box into the one pouch,
necessitating a frenzied reworking of the contents: Subs have
sometimes made up a "junction box" for letters for all points
which are R.P.O. junctions, just as they are required to do
with junction cards on their examination practice case.

Harassed substitutes are sent from one clerk to another, in
search of a sack stretcher, case scraper, or similar weird arti-
cle, or are put to work counting locks when they've nothing
else to do. But such jokes can backfire. When Boundary Line
& Glenwood (MStP&SSteM) clerks used to run through to
St. Paul, Minn., on Train 110, the second clerk would set a
green sub to sandpapering the rust off locks as they ran into
Minneapolis and St. Paul, giving the observant transfer clerks
at both places a good laugh. But one day the district super-
intendent greeted the train on arrival and asked the sub what
he was doing. Answered, he remarked, "Do a good job of it,"
and walked in for a quiet word with the clerk-in-charge. There
were precious few locks sandpapered on that line after that.

One gag was to require a new sub to get off the train at
each stop to announce its arrival in loud tones. W. F. Kilman
tells how, on a MoPac train stopping at Poplar Bluff,
Arkansas, he dutifully leaped to the crowded platform to cry
TRAIN 7 HAS NOW ARRIVED." On the same trip he
learned that all sacks were to be "thoroughly washed and
sacked twenty to the bundle with each layer sprinkled with
talcum" before arrival at Little Rock. Fortunately for him,
the basin and talcum could not be located.

Hazing new clerks has declined considerably following
such tricks as that once played on the Rock Island Sc Kansas
City (Rock Island) years ago, when a sub, awed at the huge
piles of working mail, asked what would happen if it was not
sorted in time. An old clerk cracked, "Oh, if we have a few


left at the Mississippi, we just heave 'em overboard"— and a
few mornings later, when the sub went stuck on an "East
States" sack, he did just that! It was rescued by a fisherman,
and the old clerk guarded his joking after that. (When the
writer- asked the same question as a sub, the old "head clerk"
just straightened up and announced with set jaw, "Young
inan, this crew never goes stuck!")

On the old Davenport & Kansas City (CM&StP), in the days
of "sack time" when clerks could sleep on duty, a clerk-in-
charge asked a sub to awaken him at Dawn (a small Missouri
town) to finish his reports— and, of course, was not awakened
until daylight, at the very end of the run. Jokes about subs
and others distributing mail "nice and evenly" among all
sacks in a rack, withcfut regard to destination, date back to
the pre— R.M.S. "route agent" days; in the 1850s, W. H.
"Hoss" Eddy (CB&Q agent, Chicago-Burlington) boasted of
"the fairest distribution of mail ever made. As it came into
the car I piled it all on a big table; when the engine whistled
for a station, I looked ... to see how big the town was, and
poked into a mailbag what I thought was the town's share
and put it off."

F. C. Gardiner tells of a soft-spoken Dixie sub trying to
snitch a ride to New York on his commission, accompanying
some Northern clerks on official travel to Jersey City, who
was abruptly rejected by the conductor when he couldn't
growl "Jarsey!" on displaying his pass, as they did. And
Thomas Chittick tells of a sub on the run just mentioned in
our sandpapering incident, who was assigned as a mail weigh-
er there back in 1904 and not required to assist with distri-
bution, although he did. When they reached the Boundary
Line one trip badly "stuck" the Canadian clerks who took
over at that point to run on to Winnipeg were greeted by
the crow of a rooster in the baggage car and the sub's joking
remark, "There he goes again— I couldn't sleep all night on
account of him." The Canucks, feeling much imposed upon,
reported the incident; and the regular clerk had a lot of

•Professor Dennis, here.


explaining to do. Also there are other tales of a sub out-
smarting a regular/

In his first few months of service the sub must correct his
schedules, scheme, and Black Book to date; study them at
length; and take one examination each on the last two. The
scheme or case exam consists of memorizing all post offices,
and their routes, in a given state or section thereof by means
of miniature practice cards representing letters (there are also
"city" exams— see Chapter 10). Unless he is a rare genius at
memorizing, the sub must buy (or write) a set of from three
hundred to eleven hundred separate cards for the state in
question; they are the size of business cards. Practically all
printed P.T.S. cards, and many cases and supplies, are fur-
nished by a widely known specialized printing house in Am-
sterdam, New York, established by former railway mail clerks.
(Another ex-clerk established a large postal-supply house in

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