Bryant Alden Long.

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

. (page 6 of 38)
Online LibraryBryant Alden LongMail by rail : the story of the Postal Transportation Service → online text (page 6 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Chicago, now a flourishing business.)

His scheme contains all the state's post offices, arranged by
counties, with the R.P.O. or other mail routes serving each;
and after intensive home practice the new clerk is ready to
pitch or throiu his exam (Note 11). The examiner furnishes
him cards for the test— minus the routes on the back by
which he checks himself at home— and a practice case (the
sweat box) which, like his own, looks like an egg crate set on
edge with its tiny pigeonholes. Many P.T.C.'s dread exams

•One of the best, "Lunching on the Santa Fe," is told by Professor Dennis
on page 110 of The Travelling Post Office. (Still in print; see Bibl.)


Indicating routes for Yonkers, New Rochelle, et cetera, in New York's
famous Westchester County. Post offices are listed in the first column, and
R.P.O.s or other mail supplies in the second. Reference letters after individual
offices refer to train numbers or other information in the second column;
many offices (like Purchase and Fort Slocum) are not on the railroad, so mail
is put off at station indicated for the inland town. If no letter follows an
office name, then all trains dispatch mail there. The asterisk (*) means an
R.P.O. junction or its dis (see Chapter 2, also Notes 1, 2); the triangle, or
delta (^) indicates a recently discontinued post office. "Stamford to N.Y.",
et cetera, indicates division of RJ*.0. line.



Fig. 1




Castle »

(Sta. New Ro-
Fort Slocum & .
(Ind. Br. New
Harrison b

Bos. Spgf. & N. Y.

Stamford, Conn, to New York,
a New Rochelle.

b Trs. 263, 266, 283, 292, 296, 362, 379.
c Trs. 263, 266, 283;, 292, 362.

- - - 292, 296, 362, 379/.

Tarr-V,mf.r,tc i d Trs. 263, 266, 283, 292, 296, 362, 379;

Larctimontc ^ rj,^^ 55 7j gg^ 263, 266, 283, 292. 296

Mamaroneck d 362, 374, 379.

New Rochelle « ' ^ Tr^^^_263. 266, 283, 292, 296, 362. 379.

Port Chester f \

Purchase e

Rye b



Chauncey »

■^Croton Lakeb . . . .


Granite Springs .



Yorkto^vn Heights


(Br. New York)

Brewster & N. Y.

a Tr. 101.

b Yorktown Heights.

•New York (New York Co.).
Brewster & N. Y.

Elmsford I N. Y. & Chi.

Nepera Park »

via M. M. from Tarrytown R. R. Sta.
Trs. 14;', 32r, 39t.

Bos., Spgf. & N. Y.

Mount Vernon via M. V. S.
Lv. 12 noon (;') ; arr. 45 min.

Chat. Sc N. Y.

Via M. V. S. from Mt. Vernon R.R. Sta.
Tr. 438;".

N. Y. & Chi.

New York to Peekskill.
Trs. 14, 26fc, 32, 38, SO/, S6, 103, 112.
154, 156, 161, 199, 207, 216, 235, 237.
a Yonkers (only supply).


Br.— Branch P.O.
Ind. — Independent.

j,r,t, et cetera, after train numbers —
Letters indicating frequency of service.
M.M. — Via mail messenger.

M.V.S. — Via motor-vehicle service.

Sta. — Postal station.

Tr.. Trs. — Train or Trains (Train Num-

(R.P.O. line abbreviations — See General


Fig. 2 (a)


New York


Westchester County

Bos, Spgf & N Y








Westchester County

Brewster & N Y |X
N Y & Chic


(Based on Scheme illustration in Fig. 1, showing two of the same post offices
and corresponding routes.) Fronts of cards are lettered a and c, and backs of
the same cards are lettered b and d respectively (printed or homemade). Routes
on cards are printed exactly like routes shown in large type in scheme, with all
detailed data omitted. The clerk must throw Larchmont, by memory, in his
"Bos. Spgf. & N.Y." pigeonhole only; he can throw the Elmsford card in either
the "Brewster & N.Y." or the "N.Y. &: Chic." box without being marked wrong
by the examiner, but he is advised to indicate the preferred route from his
standpoint by a check mark as shown, and hence should throw it to that box
only. Any post office at which two or more R.P.O. lines* connect mails is called
a junction and is marked (•) in the scheme and on back of card; and in gen-
eral, the cards for each post office must be correctly thrown to either a certain
R.P.O. line or to one of these junctions or dis (distributing) offices. Schedules,
crammed with complex symbols and data, must be used to determine preferred

'Important offices reached by only one R.P.O. but served by other leading air-
mail or closed-pouch routes may sometimes be arbitrarily schemed as junctions,
and thus designated.

as much as the poor clerk (in Carl Lucas's verses in the Go-
Back Pouch) whom Satan turns a-^vay, saying:

. . . "You go to the gates with gold agleam
And learn new things from Heaven's scheme."
The poor gink turned a ghastly shade.
And reeling, this reply he made:
"If another scheme I've got to learn
I'd rather stay right here and burn!"


Grades are determined from secret symbols on the exami-
ner's card backs, and passing is 97 per cent; higher grades
bring the clerk up to fifty merits on his record. Clerks must
average sixteen cards per minute, and most of them are two
or three times that fast and make at least 99 per cent; because
of "case errors," 100-percenters or pats are not too common.
All R.P.O.s supplying each junction office must also be
named from memory at this time. (See Chapter 10 for infor-
mation on outstanding examination records and on memor-
izing systems.)

After two beginners' tests of comparatively few simple
questions on the Black Book, clerks must take annual exams
involving knowledge of exactly 284 complex questions and
answers from the same volume; some single answers have
twelve to fifteen parts! A few sample questions and answers
will be most revealing:

Q. What are the conditions governing the acceptance of
special-permit matter without stamps affixed?

A. A small number of pieces of metered first-class matter
may be accepted by postal-transportation clerks or transfer
clerks direct from a permit holder, who has been authorized
to mail such matter in R.P.O. trains, but only upon the pre-
sentation by the permit holder of a statement on a form pre-
pared by him showing his name, his meter permit number,
that the pieces offered at the train conform to the conditions
governing the acceptance of metered mail, and that the num-
ber of pieces, or value of the impressions thereon, will be
endorsed on the regular statement of mails, Form 3602-A,
furnished the postmaster in accordance with regulations.

(Some are much longer. But just listen to this one:)

Q. What insects, fowl, and live animals may be accepted
for mailing?

A. Honeybees, day-old ducks, day-old geese, day-old guinea
fowl, day-old turkeys, day-old chicks, and harmless live animals
having no offensive odor and not likely to become offensive
in transit, which do not require food or water in transit. All


must be properly crated; the day-old fowl can be sent only
to points to which they may be delivered within seventy-two
hours from time of hatching, and animals only within a
reasonable distance.

Another annual exam is that on space regulations (under
which the railroads are paid for carrying mail)— also a com-
plex set of queries, but totaling only forty-five. Passing is 85
per cent in both examinations, but merits are awarded only
for one hundred per cent grades.

After one year a substitute's probation is up. His clerk-in-
charge will grade him, subject to checking by officials, on
some twenty-three points of ability and behavior dealing with
his eyesight, memory, speed, industry, neatness, carefulness,
obedience, personal habits, sole attention to the Service, and
so on. If all is well, his appointment now becomes perma-
nent. Although quite proficient by now, recognition of his
ability is sometimes begrudged by old-timers, as in the case of
one sub who wrote that after finishing his own work he
"tied out the C.-in-C.'s letter case and helped the second man
rack out his papers— yet the C.-in-C. reported we went stuck
due to 'inexperienced substitute'!"

Gradually our new man nears the head of his state substi-
tute seniority list and, if in a terminal, begins to get a pre-
ferred tour and a Saturday-Sunday layoff. The top man is
called the king sub. As vacancies occur, senior subs are gradu-
ally appointed "regular" to lines of their choice at from
$2,870 to $3,870 a year, depending on their length-of-service
grade; but in a terminal the highest automatic salary is
$3,670 (Note 12).

The newly appointed "regular" may be assigned to any
imaginable type of R.P.O. It might be a local mixed train
in the mountains of Washington State, like the Oroville &
Wenatchee (GN), crawling up to the border of British Colum-
bia ... or a pair of all-night trunk-line trains, like N.Y. & Sala-
manca (Erie) Trains 5 & 10," where they kid him about being
on "the Woolworth train" ... or temporarily, a busy inter-

^Service just now on Trains 5 and 8.


State local, like the "Ma & Pa"— the York & Baltimore (Md&
PaRR), a scenic rural run, usually reserved for senior clerks.
Usually the new "regular" must return to undesirable hours.

He knows, at least, that he'll not get one of the few remain-
ing small, rural branch-line runs with ideal hours and not
much to do. They are fast disappearing into oblivion, as has
(for example), the sleepy little abandoned Tuckerton & Phila.
(TucktnRR-PRR) in New Jersey. Its lone train stopped at
each crossroad to flag the autos, and if the clerk missed a
catch, it would back up for him I On the old Bowie & Popes
Creek (PRR) in southern Maryland, whose daily mixed trains
became so slow that all mail service was pulled off, one
clerk was due to get on daily at Bel Alton— but often didn't.
The other clerk would shut the door on him, knowing he
could easily run ahead and catch the train at the next station
(the irritated short-stop clerk eventually refused to do it, and
this train had to back up too!). But some branch lines are
still found in most states— in New York, for example, the
NYC-West Shore's 104-mile Kingston & Oneonta or "K.&O."
Some, like the Franklin & Cornelia (TalFlsRR,N.C.-Ga.),
are now freight lines only— the R.P.O. is sandwiched between
express and box cars. In sharp contrast are many feverishly
busy suburban runs (see Chapter 12).

Assignment to one of the heavier one-man runs is an inter-
esting possibility for a new regular clerk, but it is an unusu-
ally responsible job and sometimes a tough one. The lone
worker is clerk-in-charge, red man, letter clerk, paper man,
and pouch clerk, all rolled into one. Perhaps the all-time
record for holding down such a run goes to Roy "Kit"
Carson, an authority on Arizona lore, who went on the Santa
Fe's Ashfork & Phoenix there in 1912 and just retired from it
—a relative of his famous namesake of 1863, he personally
coaxed the government into creating the Carson National
Monument. E. M. Martindale (later an examiner at Des
Moines, and now, at eighty-one, in retirement there) tells of
his old one-man run, the Newton k Rockwell City (NewtSc
NW), in Iowa, which lasted just about four years (1905—09);
long abandoned, large trees now grow in the right of way.


The best one-man runs are those within one state (usually
requiring exams on no other state) and with good hours and
layoff. The hours often permit a clerk to be home each night
—a privilege impossible on the long lines— even though layoffs
may be confined to only every fourth or sixth week. On a
typical run the clerk first calls for his registered mail; then
he consults the "order book" of latest district regulations, and
reports to the car with his usual work clothes and supplies.
Changing clothes, he records the reds in his manifold-bill
book, checks his arriving pouches, and hangs his small pouch-
and-paper rack.

If his mail has been well made up, and most mail is, the
clerk should have a good trip. Mail for the first town or two
is, or should have been, made up direct as "holdouts" (as is
the mail for any large towns); and the remaining working
mail is largely in line-division packages marked No. 1, No. 2,
and so on. (One village postmaster labeled his No. 1-2-3 sepa-
rations for an eastbound R.P.O. as "East," "Further East,"

and "Way the h on East!") Only the No. 1 and unmarked

packages require immediate attention, and by the first throw-
off whistle that town's mail will be ready for dispatch and,
normally, all the No. 1 mail worked up. Soon all the original
mail is distributed, and only the light incoming local mail
needs attention thenceforth. The clerk then has things fairly
easy— especially, of course, on the lightest branch lines, which
are held down by older clerks rich in seniority. But there will
be some days when local newspaper printings or week-end ac-
cumulations mean really heavy trips, and very fast work may
be required if the next-to-last stop is a heavy office, since all
mail must be worked and locked out at the terminus. Before
leaving, the clerk rehangs his rack and "labels up" for the re-
turn trip, also making out his trip report (giving data such as
statistics of mails worked); then he takes his reds to the post

A clerk on one such side line used to fill out his trip report
before beginning work (since the mail was always about the
same), and mail it in afterwards. One day he forgot, and
mailed it before beginning the run. Alarmed, he then real-


ized it would reach the office before his run was over. The
alert clerk quickly wired for annual leave for the following
trip, adding, "And please return sample trip report I pre-
pared for sub who is to run for me." It worked! Years ago
\V. F. Kilman was due for a one-man run in Bald Knob &
Memphis (MoPac) Train 204, in Arkansas, after very little
sleep. Oversleeping, he was roused by phone and reached the
station just before his train pulled out, still but half awake-
then he discovered, horrified, that he had made his mad dash
through the streets of Bald Knob minus both his pants and
attached key! Now the first stop was rapidly approaching,
and he could not even unlock his pouches of mail; he frantic-
ally wired postmasters along the line (at his expense) to lend
him a key, but to no avail. Helpless, he could only take in
more mail at each stop and work none of it; and, finishing at
Memphis, he had to skip his meals and work his mail up in
Memphis post office until 2 A.M. next morning. His wife
had rushed him the key by then— but he was docked a day's
pay anyhow!

On another occasion the same clerk was accosted at a way
station by a patched-up hillbilly who had just heard that men
were needed in the postal service— and would Kilman put
him to work? Kilman, badly "stuck," would have welcomed
even such help as that, but of course could not accept the
offer. But, wanting a little fun, he quizzed the applicant on
his church affiliations, temperate habits, and so on, and re-
ceived most reassuring answers. "Then come to the station
at this exact time tomorrow, and I'll hire you," finished
Kilman. Since the run was long enough to require two-day
trips, of couse it was the blissfully innocent clerk running
opposite Kilman who was insistently waylaid!

The exasperating annoyances and difficulties confronting
the new clerk would soon make him resign were it not for
the compensations. After working all night on a quick turn
around run, he may get only four or five hours' sleep before
he has to report for the return trip— perhaps involving hours
of strenuous advance work on a heavy paper rack, in a torrid
non-air-conditioned car with unopenable windows. Twine


lint and sack dust fill the air, blackening skin and clothing
and torturing those with colds or sinus troubles. Starting a
week of duty, he usually has to work all night after being up
all day, then try to sleep in daylight amid myriad noises.
Hands get red and raw from tying, locking out, and piling
mail for hours— especially if there's a rackful of nice brand
new pouches with their stiff, unlockable straps. He learns
his mail one way by scheme, only to find it routed differently
in practice at times; must accept all mail brought to the doors
after leaving time, if train has not left; and must strugrale
with oversize greeting cards that won't fit his case, and with
insufficient heat or light when utilities go haywire.

Clerks are granted only fifteen days' annual and ten days'
sick leave at the best, and road clerks get even less (about ten
and seven respectively) in actual days, due to layoff credits.
Clerks must sort papers and circs which publishers seem to
deligrht in having; bulk-mailed with alternate addresses turned
backward or upside down, or with excess paste sticking them
all together. Dispatch deadlines must be met just when ex-
cess mails come flooding in; delays and diversions require
complex rerouting of mail. They must contend with contra-
dictions in schemes— half of Maryland is schemed differently
(in minor details) in 3rd and 15th Division schemes. Late
running may require even a turn-around to "work back" with
no sleep at all. Looking forward to a layoff, a clerk often finds
himself too exhausted to do more than sit around for two or
three days; then he may have to make new case headers or
draw up a whole list of labels to order, study an exam or
answer P.T.S. mail, or get called by the sub-chaser (officer
detailing substitutes and extra men) for an extra trip— all in
addition to his usual home requirements!

"It's enough to make a preacher cuss," the average clerk
exclaims; and truly, the general run of language in an R.P.O.
car is not exactly mild, although there are a few clerks who
never use profanity. It is a wonder, indeed, that the average
clerk retains his proverbial courtesy to the public and his
usual gentlemanly consideration for other clerks, especially
newer ones. By kindly acts and hearty good humor many a


clerk wins the esteem of all his fellows— oft expressed, to be
sure, in the form of the good-natured insults so typical of
R.P.O. repartee. But when a tired clerk in a lurching, torrid
car is set to sticking hundreds of long letters in a short-holed
case (covering all his headers), and is then brusquely trans-
ferred to an overflo\ving paper rack to dump up and throw
off huge sacks of tiny country papers or squealers (one called
Comjort was formerly abhorred) mixed like jackstraws, then
tie out the balky full sacks (often wedged in the back row
behind the other sacks), bruising his knuckles and maybe find-
ing his sack has no tie string— better hold your ears!

Fearsome is the scene when bad weather has "grounded"
the planes at one or more of the area's airports and huge
stacks of air mail are turned over to the faithful old R.P.O.s
which run in the fiercest weather. Most of the flood of
pouches are addressed to distant airfields, but that makes no
difference; all must be opened and distributed at once and
all other sorting suspended. Mail is stacked in every spot,
clear to the roof, perhaps; and someone cries in mock
delight, "Oh, look at the pretty colors!" as the bales of red-
white-and-blue letters are dumped up. The wind-mail must
be worked to air outlets as well as by scheme. Pests who
formerly riled clerks but are gTadually disappearing include
the rhymester who addresses mail in verse and the "wise-
cracking" addresser who makes Wyandotte, Michigan, read

"Y & •," or Lineville into " ville," or who addresses

letters to celebrities with "clever" symbols and drawings
(and minus words). Distribution is badly slowed by such
cranks, and the fact that such mail is usually delivered is a
tribute to P.T.S. ingenuity but no excuse for the mailer. (A
letter with nothing but "O.O." on it was promptly delivered
to O. O. Mclntyre, New York.)

The clerk must know that the foreigner using native spell-
ing who addresses a letter to Zizazo or Jajago, or to "Oukcet,
Noumchire," intends it to go to Chicago or to Hooksett,
New Hampshire, respectively— and that the cultured Boston-
ian who sends mail back home to "J. P." or "NUF," Massa-
chusetts, means Jamaica Plains or Newton Upper Falls. Mis-


takenly thinking they are helping the postal clerks, many
firms as well as other mailers often reverse the address on
their mail to show the city and state in top line (perhaps in
large letters), to the confusion of the clerk, who is trained
to scan only the last lines, constantly. All states seem to have
at least one pair of identically named communities, al-
though under postal regulations only one can be an inde-
pendent post office. Ardmore, Brookline, Oakmont, and
Overbrook, Pennsylvania, are suburbs of both Philadelphia
and Pittsburgh! Clerks must contend with much mail im-
properly addressed to such points, as well as mail for towns
where the post office and railroad station have different names
(sometimes it's unavoidable— the railroad has named its sta-
tion for an off-line post office; then the station gets a post
office later!). And clerks must know, for example, that mail
for South Norfolk, Virginia, can be included with Norfolk,
but that South Boston, Virginia, is hundreds of miles away
from Boston, Virginia. Illegible scrawls are a headache too,
not to mention letters for no-post-office points.

Clerks are frequently called to sort letters under an un-
familiar set of headers (perhaps largely obsolete) which they
cannot or dare not rearrange, or may be required to work
them on a table with no headers at all. Train sickness and
foot weariness beset the new clerk; as a shack, he is sent
"jackassing" from one job to another, with no time to finish
any one of them. Porters pour incoming mail in two or three
doors at once, twice as fast as clerks can pile it. Tough-
rimmed hardhead (repaired) pouches, hung and unhung with
greatest difficulty, hound clerks on lines out of Washington
especially. When setting up pouch tables, their underslung
hooks are a nuisance (a hooked one flies off as soon as the
second one is hooked on), while if overslung hooks are substi-
tuted, it is almost impossible to detach them, as they fly back
into place similarly. And when a tied parcel is pushed down
into a sack, its strings catch annoyingly on the rack-hooks.

Letter-packages, even though addressed plainly to a con-
necting R.P.O., often cannot be dispatched in the pouch for
that line at all; the particular train may not serve the local


offices contained, or it may not be the proper section of the
line, or the package may consist of mixed mail turned over by
an incoming train of that line to ours without re-labeling,
or of mail due to be advanced by special dispatches! Special-
delivery parcels come pouring into the car, especially around
holidays, and half of them are too big to be squeezed
into the closely jammed sacks, the way they are hung. Big
blocks or large bundles of newspapers cause the same trouble;
the rack must be half taken apart to get the packages in,
unless the harassed clerk gives up and sorts his parcels and
blocks in piles on the floor ! Especially in terminals, sacks of
parcels "fill up all wrong," and big ones won't fit in unless
the whole contents is rearranged; the clerk dares not do too
much of this, either, or he'll be accused of wasting time
bricklaying. Connections vary, even between days of the week.

Rain, cinders, or snow may come beating in the car venti-
lators persistently, until a sack is rigged up beneath them as
a canopy. Doors on old cars are sometimes the obsolete type
with ordinary handles, and, as the clerk who piles mail there-
in discovers to his great annoyance, they always open inward.
Even with standard sliding doors, mail must often be moved
and replied when trains come into a station on the "wrong
side." Perishable meats and cheeses in parcels will decay, giv-
ing off a frightful aroma— as will deceased baby chicks.

Antiquated equipment can work havoc; in a recent holiday
season, clerks on one North Dakota run worked in cars with-
our water, heat, or lights. One car had an old Baker heater
which was finally lit, but it succeeded in "making smoked
hams" of the crew while they all worked by candlelight.

Online LibraryBryant Alden LongMail by rail : the story of the Postal Transportation Service → online text (page 6 of 38)