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returned to him canceled as a souvenir! The P.T.S., though
obviously eligible, has not been included in recent legisla-
tion authorizing a liberally paid retirement after twenty
years' service in "hazardous and arduous" government jobs.

Some retired clerks secure part-time employment, others
make for a quiet fishing retreat or chicken farm in the coun-
try—still chatting with old pals down at the depot, and some-
times continuing active in the N.P.T.A. and in retired clerks'
groups. Some of the latter are the National Retired N.P.T.A.
Clan (California); the Veteran R.P.C.s of New England, in


Boston; the Seattle Retired Clerks' Club; the Old Timers
Club, Syracuse, New York; the Twin City Retired Clerks*
Clan' in Minnesota; and others in San Francisco and Fort
Worth, Texas.

Some clerks have doubtless reached the century mark, but
the longest-lived clerks of whom we have records include
the late John W. Masury of the Boston & N.Y. (NYNH&H)
and Royal S. Dale of the Eland & Merrillan (CStPM&O-
C&NW) in Wisconsin, both of whom lived to be ninety-seven.
Mr. Masury was a world traveler during his twenty-nine-year
retirement and was an active guest in the Odd Fellows Home,
Worcester, Massachusetts, with his letter writing and Bible
reading, until his death at almost ninety-eight late in 1949;
Mr. Dale hailed from Romulus, New York, and was retired
twenty years. Close seconds at ninety-six were Charles H.
Hooton of the Wash. & Grafton (B&O), who just passed away,
and William J. Cook of LeRoy, New York, who ran just
four years on the N.Y. & Chic. (NYCent) before becoming a
Collector of Internal Revenue. Hooton was born in a log
cabin, had lunches with President Grant, and was active in
Baltimore N.P.T.A. affairs.

Oldest living ex-clerk at this writing is Joseph M. Kurtz,
ninety-seven, of the Mount St. Joseph Home, Kansas City,
Kansas, who ran on the old Leavenworth &: Miltonvale
(KCLeav&W) and is active and in good health. Feted at his
last birthday in a big celebration, he is a general favorite at
the home and active in the religious services and singing; he
reads and tells stories with gusto, and his clever humor is
proverbial. Right behind him at last report were Charles
J. Bohnstead of the old Mich. City, Monon & Indpls. (CI&L)
in Indiana, and Robert C. Whaling of the former Roch. &
Pittsburgh (BR&P-BR:0), who lives in Rochester, New York
—both aged ninety-four. A. F. Coller, off the St. Paul & Miles
City (NP), is ninety-three. Many other old-timers still keep
hale and hearty through interesting activities. At last report
these included former Chief Clerk A. T. Nichols, ninety-

•Branch of National N.P.T.A. Clan.


two, (who knew such diverse characters as Jesse James and
President Lincoln), of St. Joseph, Mo.; C. J. Cissna,
ninety-one, ex-Kan. City & ^Iemphis (StL-SF); and W. F.
Doolittle, ex-chief clerk, Boston, ninety-one. To conclude
our Honor Roll of old-timers still living, as far as we know,
we salute the following (nominated by our correspondents),
plus others mentioned later:

J. E. Reid, 89, Kansas City & Denver (UP)
James L. Stice, 88, P.T.S. author (see Chapter 16)
Charles M. Brown, 86, Cairo &: New Orleans (IC); lives

in Memphis, Tenn.
Felley M. Miller, 86, Omaha & Ogden (UP); active in

N.P.T.A., Council Bluffs, Iowa
Thomas B. Robertson, 86, St. Loais & Monett (StL-SF)
August Kraft, 85, St. Louis & Kansas City (MoPac)
Morgan Jenkins, 80, Pittsburgh ^ Kenova (B&O); active

in Huntington, West Virginia.

Some very distinguished long-lived clerks have now passed
on. Clarence E. Votaw of Fountain City, Indiana, lived to be
ninety-five (1949); he was a prominent former assistant super-
intendent and author, as described in Chapter 16. Andrew J.
Baer, reputedly of the PRR's N.Y. 8: Pitts., closely resembled
John Wilkes Booth and had a hair-raising escape from cap-
ture following his Civil War military career and Lincoln's
assassination; he helped save lives at the Johnsto-wn flood and
finally retired to live in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to the ripe
age of ninety-three. Richard G. Whiting, of Hyattsville,
Maryland, passed on at ninety-two after many years on the
N.Y. & Wash. (PRR); like Mr. Hooton, he was a friend of
President Grant, while his father Avas a close associate of
Grant's famed opponent, General Robert E. Lee, when a
Mexican War colonel! (Mr. Whiting lived in the home town
of the late Second Assistant P.M.G. Smith \V. Purdum, an
ex-clerk; likewise that of this writer and other clerks.)
William I. Woodruff, of the old Sioux City & O'Neill (CBS:Q)
in Nebraska, had a famous photographic memory and could
quote R.M.S. journals by the page; he lived to be ninety-one.


One and all, such men have "fought the good fight, and
kept faith" with the great Railway Mail Service which they
knew. Well did they deserve a ripe old age of constructive
leisure to round out their days in this, the new and modern
age of the Postal Transportation Service.

Chapter 5


... Of Needham's old tin suitcase and his tin-can drinking cup;
He swore the boys who slit them just wasn't on the up . . .
Of sweet potato leavin's on the doorknob which were placed,
While through the train the big Chief Clerk so busily he paced;
He came upon said doorknob and he grasped it good and strong—
With a loud and angry bellow he announced something was wrong.

— Selected (from The R.P.O.)

The sorting of mail on trains makes a
deep impression on those to whom it has
not become just a part of the day's work,
and humorous, dramatic, and even tragic
happenings accentuate it. Perhaps a sub-
stitute's memorable "first trip" is often
the most interesting of such incidents to
the reader, and Clarence Votaw describes
his own hectic initial run in Jasper Hunnicutt thus:

I followed 11 other clerks, who climbed hastily into
the mail cars. Everyone but me knew exactly what to
do and did it with celerity. First, a dozen valises opened
and numerous books, schemes, schedules, and other arti-
cles were produced . . . Our journey to Pittsburgh began:
"Don't try to unlock the sacks of papers— only the
pouches are locked. You face up." Pouch clerks, taking
them by armfuls, threw the bundles with precision . . .
"Poor fellow, he's stuck!" sighed the clerk-in-charge, very
audibly . . .



A classic of such tales^ is told by E. M. Martindale, men-
tioned in the previous chapter, and long of the Chic. & Omaha
(C&NW). Watching the mail trains as a boy, he built a glam-
orous picture of himself seeing the world from the car door.
Appointed a substitute, he describes his first trip thus:

"My fust duty was to take into the car some tons of Kansas
paper mail. ... I had less than five minutes; but I did it
somehow, though every nerve was quivering and my breath
seemed gone forever. Just as I finished: 'Here, feller,' said a
superior clerk, 'face this mail up in station order.' I didn't
know the order of stations; but believing that hesitancy
would be punished as mutiny, I tackled those huge stalls . . .
A lurch of the car threw me off my feet and an enormous
sack pinned me down. I was rescued by the superior clerk,
thoroughly disgusted:— 'Guess embroidery work would suit
you better!' But he turned in and helped; for we were ap-
proaching Mount Pleasant and there were still scores of sacks
to be sorted. (This was on the CB&Q's Chic. & Council Bluffs.)

"These preliminaries finished, I was ushered back into the
second car, where my patriotism was put to the test of drag-
ging mail to the opposite end, lifting it to the tables, 'setting
it up' piece by piece for the convenience of the swiftly throw-
ing distributor. Before we reached Ottumwa, the glamour
and glory of my dreams had departed, in company with the
spotlessness of my shirt sleeves and bosom. I was dizzy and
faint; the cars were dark with smoke and dust, and the whole
scene inside seemed an endless tangle of pouches, sacks, and
pigeon holes, these presided over by perspiring demons whose
flying hands kept the air alive with packages and bundles,
the while mumbling a jargon, concerning routes and connec-
tions, which was all Fiji to me. Other demons rushed up and
down the aisles, dragging behind them bags which anon they
hurled from the train and snatched others as though by
magic from the winds without.

"The noise was deafening, myriad switches crashed alarm-
ingly beneath the wheels, trains on other tracks suddenly and

^See Chapter 12 for some hectic first trips on fast electric suburban R.P.O.s.


ominously rushed past, throwing me into a state of panic.
Then the roll of the train, rounding sharp curves, taxed my
strength and nerve, and levied toll upon the breakfast which
I had eaten in such repose and anticipation.

"The next hours dragged, naturally, but at length we ap-
proached Murray, and having begged the boon of a moment's
time, I drew myself together, opened a door, and prepared to
receive the homage of a conqueror. I couldn't see a soull—
Yes, there was a boy, my brother, and he cheered me loyally.
And over in the 'News' office door my father gave a sort of
military salute, and the ovation was at an end. I had tears
and was prepared to shed them, but I didn't; I just sank
down in utter weakness on a detested sack.

"A new field of endeavor aAvaited me, however. By ukase
of the clerk-in-charge I was to try the catcher, a performance
which in my nervous state I mentally compared with powder
making or bronco-breaking. I urged my inexperience and
said I was ill, but to no purpose. 'Got to learn— as well now
as any time,' he replied. 'Get ready. When she whistles, spot
the crane. Just before you reach it, throw out your pouch
hard, and raise the catcher; the rest'll come to you.'

"I glanced ahead, unable to spot any crane, only switch
targets, telegraph poles, and semaphores in spindling abun-
d^-ice, but I knew it must be there somewhere so decided to
raise the catcher in good time and wait for the 'rest to come
to me.' It came— even sooner than I expected, and with such
violence that the catcher was torn from my grasp, wrenched
from its socket, and disappeared entirely, leaving me dumb
and paralyzed. I had caught a semaphore post instead of the
mail pouch. Grasping the situation instantly from the crash,
fellow clerks yelled, 'throw it out,' meaning the outgoing
pouch which I held stupidly in one hand. I quickly obeyed,
and another tremendous crash and clatter followed its exit.
A glance back showed that my pouch had crashed through
the station's bay window. In mute horror, I thought the clerk-
in-charge would revile me and report me and I should be
ignominiously discharged and held for damages by the com-
pany. Imagine my surprise when I saw him double over a


pouch rack, howling with amusement, while the other clerks
made pandemonium with merriment.

"It was several days before they could look at me without
whooping, and much longer before I could be induced to
touch one of those pesky catchers."

Experiences like this could be duplicated many times;
but, tough as they seemed, they were not so soul-racking as
those of lone substitutes taking over one-man runs for the
first time. Not only aching muscles and frayed nerves are
the lot of this kind of novice; he works under a tense, lone-
some helplessness not experienced by the beginner accom-
panying experienced clerks. The writer^ well remembers
his first one-man run, where he worked under such tension
that he carried lighted lamps the whole trip, so as to utilize
the few moments lost traversing dark bridges or tunnels.

Russel Danniel thus describes his first trip on the old
Momence & Terre Haute (C&EI):

"It was awful! I could handle the local mail all right, but
when the other began to pile up I didn't know what to do
with it. I imagined that if I missent a letter— the 'pen' for
me. So when I got down to Terre Haute I 'massed' the
whole pile on the post office. I soon received a note from the
clerks there, asking why in blazes I didn't at least take out
the Chicago city mail. When I got back to my room that
evening, I wrote to my chief clerk, for God's sake, to send
someone who could handle that run."

More than one disillusioned sub has attempted to quit at
once, although most are persuaded to remain by a bit of
kindly official remonstrance and conniving. But one young
man simply went back home the next day, after having some
cards printed to forestall embarrassing questions, thus:

Q._What are you doing here?

A.— I have quit the mail service.

Q.— Don't you like it?


Q.— Was the work hard?


•Professor Dennia.


Q.— What was it?

A.— Lifting and unlocking two hundred pouches, shaking
out contents, arranging same, removing pouches, locking
same, carrying same away, jumping and stomping on mail
matter, rearranging sacks, then going over same work, con-
tinuing same seventeen hours without rest, with trains flying
around curves and slinging you against everything that is not
slung against you.

The clerks' sense of humor runs largely to practical jokes.
When a dignified middle-aged new sub showed up for duty
on a St. Paul Sc Williston (GN) train, the second clerk coached
him in just what to say to the clerk-in-charge, who arrived
later. The head man arrived, and the distinguished-looking
stranger was introduced to him as the new division superin-
tendent, just appointed at St. Paul, whom the clerks had
never met. The "superintendent" made an impressive inspec-
tion, with the C.-in-C. deferentially answering his questions,
and continued his investigative, official demeanor throughout
the trip— at the end of which he revealed his identityl

From several exchanges of tricks by two Chicago & Omaha
(C&NW) clerks, whom we shall call Turner and Jones, the
following prank is taken. There are no women clerks in
postal cars, but there are in post offices. On a certain trip
Turner received a note on the back of a Vermilion, Illinois,
facing slip, inquiring, "Why in h don't you spell Ver-
milion right?" and the slip was stamped "Postmaster, Vermil-
ion." The angry Turner, on his next delivery to that office,
made a profane rejoinder on his facing slip to the effect that
no blinkety-blankety postmaster was telling him how to spell.
A few days later he got an order to report to his chief clerk
in Chicago. There he was handed a facing slip with the
epithets he had called the Vermilion postmaster. "Did you
write that?" asked the chief.

"Yes, sir; he got funny with me and I "

"But," interposed the chief, "the postmaster at Vermilion
is a woman."

Turner was stunned, but only for a minute, "Oh, I know.


It's another trick of that blinkety-blankety Jones. I'll get
even with him."

Railway mail clerks have seldom been required to wear full
uniform clothing. At times a blouse was required, and for
several years a special cap and always a badge. During the
period that both badge and cap were required this incident
occurred on the former Chadron & Lander (C&NW), later
Chadron & Caspar. It was a local and used to stop out at a
small lake on the prairie, where the crew went swimming
if there were no women passengers. One day the engineer
sneaked back and started the train, causing all to make a mad
rush to get aboard. It was but a short run to the next station,
so the mail clerk locked out his pouch instead of putting on
his trousers. Imagine his surprise when, instead of the usual
agent, the agent's wife came to throw in his pouch. Horrified
and insulted, she reported the trouserless clerk. When he
got the correspondence he defended himself in a strong letter
to the office, asserting that he was wearing his cap and badge,
which was all the uniform prescribed by regulations. Tech-
nically right, he got off with an admonition always to wear
his pants at stations.

Charles Hatch, of the St. Louis, Eldon & Kansas City
(Rock I.), relates an incident in which the main actor was
William Davenport, retired secretary of the 7th Division,
R.M.A. He was on the St. Louis & Little Rock (MoPac), a
few miles from St. Louis, when the train came to a stop. A
hyena had broken out from its crate and was standing in the
door of the baggage car, uncertain when to leap out. The
crew, fearing the animal might injure people in the city,
had stopped outside to ponder the problem. Davenport went
forward and, seeing the beast, drew his revolver. But the
hyena didn't look very tough, so he bolstered his gun and,
picking up a chunk of coal from the right of way, made a
strike on the nose of the astonished animal. Dazed, it slunk
back toward its cage and the car door ^vas closed. The train
proceeded on to St. Louis, where the beast was crated. A
clerk certainly gets in on the "goings-on" in railroading.

The writer (B.A.L.) was on duty in a N. Y. & Wash. (PRR)


Storage car when a half-grown alligator, destined as a pet for
someone, crawled out of its crate and explored several stalls
of mail. With some difficulty and cautious handling, he was
coaxed back into his crate and the plank secured thereon.

F. C. Gardner, Ret., of the Washington and Bristol R.P.O.
(Southern) tells of a towerman at a crossing on the Toledo &
St. Louis (Wabash) who was ordered to observe Train 4 from
the ground one day and report. On that day Train 4 had
picked up a shipment of baby chicks mailed at St. Louis in
very hot weather; many had died and were "overripe." The
third clerk, ordered to open the boxes and count and throw
out the "ripe" ones, did so— flinging 137 of them out the door
at once. One can imagine the dispatcher's consternation
when he received this report: "I was on the ground to observe
Train 4 as ordered and the *!$.*!34&:%!! postal clerk dumped
a carload of rotten chicks on me!" Grown chickens, too have
caused consternation— as when one clerk volunteered to help
an expressman catch an escaped hen, only to find an inspector
in the car demanding the cause of his absence when he re-
turned after a merry chase around the depot.

As for other animal tales: A monkey escaped from a bag-
gage car into one R.P.O., amused the crew awhile, then
smashed the C.-in-C.'s watch! A "religious" dos: at North
Germantown, New York, would regularly catch the pouch
thrown from N. Y. 8: Chic. (NYCent) trains— except on Sun-
days. Other clever pets— dogs, deer, and what not— regularly
meet various R.P.O.s today. Puppies and mice are enclosed
by jokesters in fake pouches for other R.P.O. trains.

When a Philadelphia transfer clerk opened a "restless" sack
from New Haven, a huge black cat jumped out and high-
tailed it northward. And the Newark Air Mail Field's cat
once got pouched— and flown— to Pittsburgh. Likewise, the
Spokane, Washington Terminal's pet kitten jumped in a sack,
was dispatched three hundred miles, and safely returned after
a frantic telegram; and another kitten jumped out of a pouch
opened on a New England R.P.O. F. C. Gardiner tells of a
tenderhearted Wash. &: Charlotte (Sou) clerk whose mother
cat had kittens he had to dispose of— so he hid them in a box


under his car's case ledge, knowing the car went on through
to Atlanta. But his co-worker, a prankster, sought out the
Charl. Sc Atlanta clerks privately and recovered the kittens;
he took them back to Washington on the early train he ran
on northbound and let them out in their yard to greet their
owner laterl

Tales of "catching on the fly" are legion. A. D. Bunger,
of the Oelwein k Kan. City (CGW), had a series of failures to
catch at Peru, Barney, and Lorimer, Iowa. Although the
headlight daily revealed each pouch handing in its place, he'd
swing out his hook and catch nothing— the pouch would be
nowhere, not even on the ground. His correspondence on
the matter piled up, but when an inspector visited, the catch
was normal. Next trip it happened again at Peru and Barney,
but at Lorimer the train stopped for passengers and the
station agent threw in the Lorimer pouch and the Peru and
Barney pouches also. The fireman had brought up the other
two, explaining that he'd found them on the end of his rake,
which he'd left protruding across the end of the tender. The
rake had acted as a catcher, holding each pouch for miles.

One clerk used to depend partly on a white horse in a
certain field as a landmark for one catch— and missed it when
the horse was moved to another lot. When Bert Bemis, now
a well-known writer, was a clerk on the Omaha R: Denver
(CBScQ) he made a nearly fatal exchange near Lincoln, Ne-
braska. His key chain became entangled with the cords of a
pile of sacks he was dumping out and they pulled him out
to hang in space from the safety rod until pulled in by other
clerks. One clerk on another run caught a small trunk off a
truck instead of the intended pouch.

When a Texarkana & Port Arthur (KCS) train once
stopped in Leesville, Louisiana, a young lad jumped up and
hung onto the catcher arm, seeking to "bum" a ride that way.
When the clerk opened the door to make the catch at the
next town he saw the boy in the nick of time, for it would
have been fatal if the prongs of the oncoming crane had hit
him. Dragging the frightened youngster inside, the clerk
undoubtedly saved his life.


A classic catching story tells about a substitute who missed
the first catch, which made his station list one behind, and
he later put off each local pouch one station ahead and was
reported by thirty-two postmasters for missending their mail.
And legend has it that on reaching the terminal of the run
he had up his catcher arm, since he thought one more town
was due to be caught.

Several authentic cases have been found like that of Fred
Harmon on the Duluth Sc Thief River Falls (MStP k SSteM).
He forgot to change his catcher to face the direction in which
the train was moving. Thinking fast, he decided to pull up
the catcher in reverse, which, while not hooking in the pouch,
did knock it down from the crane. The demerits for a fail-
ure in catching were less than those for being reported as
leaving the pouch hanging on the crane. But Harmon's
pouch momentarily whipped around the reversed hook and
paused on the small end loop long enough for him to reach
out and grab it, saving himself from any failure or demerits;
then he changed his catcher.

Some accidents and a few deaths have occurred in making
catches. Defective arms or cranes sometimes bring injury.
Sometimes a spot designated for delivery is not kept clear,
and L. E. Clerk reports a whole row of cream cans bowled
over like tenpins on an icy platform. Pouches have been
sucked under the wheels of the car. Working hard on an all-
night run recently, Otis M. Cropp, of the Chic, k Council
Bluffs (CBRrQ), lost his footing in the door making a catch at
Wyanet, Illinois, at seventy mph— and lost his life. The year
before, a clerk fell from a Pitts. & St. Lou. (PRR) car the
same way. Clerk Taylor of the former Detroit &: Mansfield
(PRR) tried to catchTiro, Ohio, with a loose catcher and was
pulled out the door to grasp the grab irons for dear life.
Signboards and a busy highway interfered with the non-stop
deliveries on this line, too, often scattering newspapers to the
four winds. (See Chap. 1 re 1950 fatality.)

A clerk who'd leisurely wait until the last minute to lock
out and throw off his pouches was cured of that habit when
the crew substituted a defective strapless one in his row of


"locals"! One confident district superintendent, demonstrat-
ing "proper catching" procedure, caught a steel bridge and
floored himself. Other clerks have thrown off currency-
pouches which burst, scattering bills everywhere (at Dunlap,
Iowa, and from Cobre, Nevada, to Valley Pass); similarly,
letters were scattered along the B&O from Brentwood to
Hyattsville, Maryland, when a N.Y., Bait. & Wash, local clerk
did the same. J. L. Buckmaster tells of a nervous sub who
bit the stem off three three dollar pipes making the first catch
on his first three trips. James L. Stice (Chapter 16) missed
all cranes on the left-hand side of a single-track run while
faithfully watching the right side, as when on double rail.

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