Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Run-Through Question, RPO/Baggage Cars

1015 views
16 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    July, 2013
  • From: Northern New Jersey
  • 83 posts
Run-Through Question, RPO/Baggage Cars
Posted by Daywhitemtns on Friday, May 10, 2019 4:48 PM

Walthers Proto Heavyweight passenger car, 920 series, includes 70' RPO/Baggage car models. Cars decorated for Santa Fe and Southern Pacific are included in this group. My question is did such cars ever run-through to the northeastern area of our country or were they mainly confined to their homeroad routes and direct connections? I have seen photos of foreign road express baggage cars in various New England terminals (Boston, Portland) but wonder how widespread or common such practices were. 

 

  • Member since
    August, 2003
  • From: Collinwood, Ohio, USA
  • 8,157 posts
Posted by gmpullman on Friday, May 10, 2019 6:07 PM

Basing my observations mostly on vintage films I've seen and also on some first-hand train watching in the late 1960s and through the '70s, I have frequently seen baggage and express cars from "foreign" roads in eastern terminals and vice-versa.

Railway Post Office cars not so much, well, I don't recall ever seeing an RPO "off road", unless it was part of a multi-road, scheduled train, say PRR from Washington D.C. on to the New Haven through to Boston, for instance.

Often baggage and express cars were loaded with bulk mail or periodicals and were handled to through destinations without unloading and transfering to other cars.

Good Luck, Ed

  • Member since
    July, 2013
  • From: Northern New Jersey
  • 83 posts
Posted by Daywhitemtns on Friday, May 10, 2019 9:16 PM

Ed, thanks very much for your reply. Now that you mention it, although I have seen foreign road express and baggage cars, I don't recall either ever having seen offline RPO equipment, except as in the case you described.

Mike

  • Member since
    October, 2018
  • 15 posts
Posted by Amtrak 42 on Friday, May 10, 2019 10:59 PM

Some were run on through trains, and in the 60's and 70'S, trains were mixed and you could find ATSF cars as far as Maine. And of course in Amtrak's rainbow era, they were scrambled throughout the system.

  • Member since
    February, 2002
  • From: Mpls/St.Paul
  • 11,102 posts
Posted by wjstix on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 10:05 AM

RPO cars were supplied by the railroad to serve the mail contract that the railroad received from the federal government. The postal clerks sorting mail on the RPO only worked on the RPOs of that route / railroad, and so the RPO cars were kept on that railroad.

However, as noted, baggage cars (sometimes labelled "STORAGE MAIL") could be loaded with sacked mail and/or express and transferred from one railroad to another.

For example Great Northern held the mail contract between St.Paul MN and Seattle WA, but the Milwaukee Road had the contract from St.Paul to Chicago. It was not all that unusual to see one or two Milwaukee mail storage cars on GN's Fast Mail or later the Western Star (which carried the mail after the Fast Mail train was discontinued in 1960) or to see GN storage mail / express cars on the Milwaukee Road's St.Paul - Chicago mail train. But not RPOs, the only RPOs would be from the 'home road'.

Stix
  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • From: Omaha, NE
  • 9,494 posts
Posted by dehusman on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 10:54 AM

What Stix said.

Remember an RPO is basically a "post office".  Its where the mail is processed and sorted.  It has people working in it.  You don't need to move the "post office", complete with postal clerks, across the country, all you need to move is the mail itself.  The RPO's stay on the home road to sort  and process mail on the home road and the mail itself is sent in baggage and express cars (sorted) across country in unmanned cars.

Dave H. Painted side goes up. My website : wnbranch.com

  • Member since
    June, 2007
  • From: Northern Virginia
  • 6,674 posts
Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 11:56 AM

While I don't know what happened with other Railroads, the D&RGW had a mail contract cancelled on one train in the mid-1960's so RPO cars were no longer used or needed on that train.

But that opens a larger question; did the USPS cancel other mail contracts with railroads and when did that happen on a wide spread basis.  I would think if RPO cars are not seen on passenger trains, it would be due to cancelation of mail contracts.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • From: Omaha, NE
  • 9,494 posts
Posted by dehusman on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 12:16 PM

Search engines are a wonderful thing.

https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/mail-by-rail.pdf

Dave H. Painted side goes up. My website : wnbranch.com

  • Member since
    February, 2002
  • From: Mpls/St.Paul
  • 11,102 posts
Posted by wjstix on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 2:30 PM

Cancellation of virtually all mail contracts in the 1960's is what lead to Amtrak being formed. Although the railroads did provide a service to the USPO (it was the Post Office then), mail contracts were in effect a subsidy to the railroads. By the 1960's many passenger trains were only making a profit (or at least breaking even) solely due to the mail contract money. When that went away, the trains began losing money big-time, and the railroads told the government they either had to allow the railroads to drop passenger train service pretty much in it's entirety, or take it over themselves so the railroads didn't all go bankrupt.

Stix
  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • From: Omaha, NE
  • 9,494 posts
Posted by dehusman on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 10:33 AM

The dirty little secret is that railroads have always lost money on passenger service.  I have read articles in trade publications from the early 1900's that discuss how passenger service wasn't really profitable when they considered all the costs, and that was when the railroads had a virtual monopoly on long distance travel, before autos and before airlines.

Dave H. Painted side goes up. My website : wnbranch.com

  • Member since
    November, 2018
  • From: Just another small town in Ohio
  • 168 posts
Posted by Erie1951 on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 11:34 AM

It wasn't unusal to see baggage cars from all over being handled by different roads in head end consists. If a company wanted to get something shipped in a hurry, it could lease a baggage car. For that matter, a group could lease a sleeping car, too, for an event or when traveling to a city on the other side of the country. 

Russ

Modeling the early '50s Erie in Paterson, NJ.  Here's the link to my railroad postcard collection: https://railroadpostcards.blogspot.com/

  • Member since
    February, 2002
  • From: Mpls/St.Paul
  • 11,102 posts
Posted by wjstix on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 4:12 PM

Pullman owned/operated sleepers could go virtually anywhere. You could get on a sleeper on a train operated by one railroad, and stay in the same car while it was changed to trains of one or more other railroads before arriving at your destination.

For example, 100 years ago, you could get on a Pullman car in Minneapolis and ride in the same car all the way to Los Angeles. To do that now, you'd have to get on the train in St.Paul (no Minneapolis station now) and go to Chicago, stay overnight, and then take another train to L.A., or take the Empire Builder to Portland Oregon and then take another train down the west coast to L.A.

Stix
  • Member since
    October, 2001
  • From: OH
  • 16,797 posts
Posted by BRAKIE on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 6:02 PM

riogrande5761
But that opens a larger question; did the USPS cancel other mail contracts with railroads and when did that happen on a wide spread bas

By the score as trucking lines underbidded the railroads.. By the mid 60s truckers was hauling the majority of the mail.

BTW.The lost of mail contacts hasten the demise of many already unprofitable passengr trains.

Larry

SSRy

Conductor

“Shut one’s eyes tight or open one’s arms wide, either way, one’s a fool.” Flemeth-the witch of the Wilds.
  • Member since
    June, 2007
  • From: Northern Virginia
  • 6,674 posts
Posted by riogrande5761 on Thursday, May 16, 2019 7:51 PM

Right. Now that Athearn has finally announced the San Francisco Zephyr (SFZ) version of their SDP40F I've been hunting down pointless arrow passenger cars to model the SFZ.

I road the SFZ twice in the mid 1970s and always wanted to model that train.

During my searched I have found RPO mail/baggage cars and wondered if Amtrak needed mail cars by that time.  Ive watched a bunch if run-bys of the SFZ and didn't see any RPOs or mail type cars.  

I've no plans use add any mail type cars to my model version.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

  • Member since
    August, 2003
  • From: Collinwood, Ohio, USA
  • 8,157 posts
Posted by gmpullman on Friday, May 17, 2019 12:05 AM

riogrande5761
During my searched I have found RPO mail/baggage cars and wondered if Amtrak needed mail cars by that time.

Amtrak had, of course, begun operations in May of 1971. They had no contracts for sorting mail en-route but did carry sorted (storage) and bulk mail until October, 2004.

The last RPOs were operated by Penn Central and for a short period by Conrail between Washington D.C. and New York City. The last run of this mail train was on June 30, 1977. I remember seeing it in the early hours in 1972 fly through Newark, Delaware, and it carried two RPOs that night, with a baggage car between them to hold the "to be worked" mail.

 RPO_NY-Wash, 1977 by Edmund, on Flickr

I like to collect interesting R.P.O. cancellations. Some tell a story about train routes in a bygone era.

 NY_Worlds-fair-RPO by Edmund, on Flickr

 Empire State Express_12-07-1941 by Edmund, on Flickr

A date which will live in NYC history.

Regards, Ed

  • Member since
    February, 2002
  • From: Mpls/St.Paul
  • 11,102 posts
Posted by wjstix on Friday, May 17, 2019 12:30 PM

The big year for the Post Office dropping mail routes was 1968. My dad was a letter carrier in Minneapolis then. He had just reached 25 years of service, which was normally about the amount of experience you needed to be promoted to a supervisor or postmaster position. However, when the mail contracts ended, all those RPO mail clerks (who were post office employees, not railroaders) were assigned to regular post offices, generally as supervisors because that most closely matched their pay grade. That meant that for quite a few years there were few if any promotions, and my dad ended up retiring as a carrier...well, it also meant that for some time, many post offices were being run by guys who had never worked in a post office or delivered mail themselves.

Stix
  • Member since
    October, 2001
  • From: OH
  • 16,797 posts
Posted by BRAKIE on Friday, May 17, 2019 6:20 PM

Ed,Trains Magazine had a small(one page?) article  on the last RPO to gleam the rails.. IIRC it was in a '77 issue.

I had 30 years of Trains Magazine at one time but,these too was lost in the great '07 Bucyrus  flood.

 

Larry

SSRy

Conductor

“Shut one’s eyes tight or open one’s arms wide, either way, one’s a fool.” Flemeth-the witch of the Wilds.

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Users Online

There are no community member online

Search the Community

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Model Railroader Newsletter See all
Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter and get model railroad news in your inbox!