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Railway Postal Clerks

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Railway Postal Clerks
Posted by JPS1 on Monday, April 12, 2021 10:31 PM
Were Railway Postal Clerks employees of the railroads or the U.S. Post Office?
 
Would they stay on the train from end point to end point, i.e., New York to Chicago, or would they switch out along the way? 
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Posted by 54light15 on Monday, April 12, 2021 10:41 PM

I would guess that they are railroad employees but have taken the post office exam. When I was in the navy, the ship's postal clerk was in the navy but had to take the post office exam so make of that what you will. Here's a story about him. I was walking by the ship's post office and he asked me for a cigarette. I said that I didn't smoke. He said, "Neither do I" and showed me a pile of cigarettes on the counter. He asked everyone that walked by for a smoke, just for amusement. Didn't have enough to do, obviously.

Another thing- When the ship would be tied up in, say, Barcelona occasionally American tourists came aboard to mail packages home. They paid the same rate as they would at home and whatever they sent was not subject to customs. I sent a box of Cuban cigars home that way with no problem at all. 

About switching out, I really don't know. 

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, April 12, 2021 11:01 PM

From what I've read, they were considered Federal employees, and I believe there were cards in RPOs, some of which survive in museum cars, noting that interference with them or their business was a Federal offense.

Here's an amusing page I hadn't seen before:

https://postalmuseum.si.edu/research-articles/the-railway-mail-service-a-day-in-the-life-of-a-railway-post-office-clerk/rpo

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Monday, April 12, 2021 11:12 PM

They were federal post office employees, and their job description in the RPO service required they carry a side arm, generally a .38

Sheldon

    

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Posted by MMLDelete on Monday, April 12, 2021 11:27 PM

My understanding is the same as Sheldon's. US Post Office employees.

I don't have any idea what their work routine was. But I'm guessing they worked several hours in one direction, were replaced, then worked the next RPO heading back to their home terminal. But that's just a guess, and I too would be interested in knowing how it worked.

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Posted by SD70Dude on Monday, April 12, 2021 11:40 PM

It was probably distance based, just like the train crew.

Greetings from Alberta

-an Articulate Malcontent

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Tuesday, April 13, 2021 12:02 AM

It was a very long disance for some  crews.  From what little i have. I had a great uncle who worked from Bristol, Va to Washington DC. usually on train # 42 and train #41 back.  It was different south of Bristol as the Memphis trains changed both RPO crews and mail cars at Chattanooga. The CHA - MEM RPO car had much smaller capacity.  RPO crews had to come on duty early at CHA to work in the mail cars.  That also included the locals than ran from CHA to MEM< BHM< ATL.  The train to New Orleans Changed RPO crews at Birminham.

As far as I can tell both SOU and the West point , L&N routes ATL - NOL was one crew district.

I cannot imagine what it was like during heavy mail times at Christmas with hours late trains on the routes.

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, April 13, 2021 8:24 AM
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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Tuesday, April 13, 2021 10:48 AM

Great video, a reminder of life before computers.

Sheldon

    

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Posted by northeaster on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 2:54 PM

About 15 years ago, I knew an old fellow, about 105 years old, who had worked for 50 years the mail car from Bangor, Maine to Portland, Maine and had memorized 500 Maine town names (pre zip code days) so that all his mail was sorted by the end of his run. I assume he worked the opposite train to return to Bangor. Very different world!

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 4:42 PM

northeaster
About 15 years ago, I knew an old fellow, about 105 years old, who had worked for 50 years the mail car from Bangor, Maine to Portland, Maine and had memorized 500 Maine town names (pre zip code days) so that all his mail was sorted by the end of his run. I assume he worked the opposite train to return to Bangor. Very different world!

Don't forget telephones - before the days of dials, let alone push buttons or tones.

My Grandfathers phone number when I was a kid - Severna Park 45.  When his phone system was upgraded to being a dial system and the Exchange Operator was done away with - his last 4 digits ended up being 4545. 

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 9:22 PM

BaltACD

 

 
northeaster
About 15 years ago, I knew an old fellow, about 105 years old, who had worked for 50 years the mail car from Bangor, Maine to Portland, Maine and had memorized 500 Maine town names (pre zip code days) so that all his mail was sorted by the end of his run. I assume he worked the opposite train to return to Bangor. Very different world!

 

Don't forget telephones - before the days of dials, let alone push buttons or tones.

My Grandfathers phone number when I was a kid - Severna Park 45.  When his phone system was upgraded to being a dial system and the Exchange Operator was done away with - his last 4 digits ended up being 4545. 

 

Severna Park - that's where I am from.

I remember when the phone exchange started with two letters. In Severna Park MI7-6586 was out phone number. 

Sheldon

    

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Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 10:51 PM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL
I remember when the phone exchange started with two letters.

That were the start of a word.

My telephone was LOWELL-7-3809.  My grandparents in Kingston, PA had BUTLER-7-6945.

I was told there was lots of fun in suburban Philadelphia where CYNWYD was used and people thought it was spelled as spoken to them...

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Posted by MMLDelete on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 11:32 PM

For some reason, I still remember the phone # we had in Dallas when I was 9. DA7-5973. Probably I remember because it was the first phone number I ever knew.

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Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, April 15, 2021 7:39 AM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL
 
BaltACD 
northeaster
About 15 years ago, I knew an old fellow, about 105 years old, who had worked for 50 years the mail car from Bangor, Maine to Portland, Maine and had memorized 500 Maine town names (pre zip code days) so that all his mail was sorted by the end of his run. I assume he worked the opposite train to return to Bangor. Very different world! 

Don't forget telephones - before the days of dials, let alone push buttons or tones.

My Grandfathers phone number when I was a kid - Severna Park 45.  When his phone system was upgraded to being a dial system and the Exchange Operator was done away with - his last 4 digits ended up being 4545.  

Severna Park - that's where I am from.

I remember when the phone exchange started with two letters. In Severna Park MI7-6586 was out phone number. 

Sheldon

As I recall - Severna Park wasn't upgraded to dial phones until the late 1950's, much later than the rest of the Baltimore area - at least the areas I was familiar with.

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Thursday, April 15, 2021 7:57 AM

I was born in 1957, graduated Severna Park High class of 75. Lived in that part of AA County most of my childhood.

It was still pretty rural into the early 70's, not so much now. I have been in Harford Co for the last 26 years.

Sheldon

    

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, April 15, 2021 9:27 AM

BaltACD
As I recall - Severna Park wasn't upgraded to dial phones until the late 1950's...

We were just the opposite in Englewood, which received the first direct-dial long-distance installation (circa 1949).  Now when Bell introduced touch-tone it was marketed as an extra-cost luxury rather than cost saving (much as alternators were in cars) and I was frugal and then hidebound enough to keep dial service on my company line until very late.  Finally Bell contacted my father about switching, and I agreed to switch if they would give me the 'sled' of equipment for the 3809 line.  It was an enormous thing!

I was in college then so not long after 1975...

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Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, April 15, 2021 10:55 AM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL
I was born in 1957, graduated Severna Park High class of 75. Lived in that part of AA County most of my childhood.

It was still pretty rural into the early 70's, not so much now. I have been in Harford Co for the last 26 years.

Sheldon

At Severna Park HS my Uncle was the Principal for many years.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, April 15, 2021 11:26 AM

Overmod

 

 
ATLANTIC CENTRAL
I remember when the phone exchange started with two letters.

 

That were the start of a word.

 

My telephone was LOWELL-7-3809.  My grandparents in Kingston, PA had BUTLER-7-6945.

I was told there was lots of fun in suburban Philadelphia where CYNWYD was used and people thought it was spelled as spoken to them...

 

When I was really little,  my parents had a two party line with just a two letter prefix (WH)+4 digits.  Then it became WH8, then MO8 then 668, remaining the same until they passed.

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Posted by Paul of Covington on Thursday, April 15, 2021 9:51 PM

   How many of you young whippersnappers remember picking up the phone, hearing the operator say "number please", and telling her the number?

_____________ 

  "A stranger's just a friend you ain't met yet." --- Dave Gardner

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Friday, April 16, 2021 12:44 AM

Paul of Covington

   How many of you young whippersnappers remember picking up the phone, hearing the operator say "number please", and telling her the number?

 

 
Yes I do. Our First number was 985-W.  The letter was the ring code for a party line.  After Korean war finally enough copper wire for private line   1396 .  Our town was late converting to dial but for the life of me cannot remember the number.  But it was 7 digits even though the city was small.
 
About touch tone.  Worked for ATT a while.  Some of you may remember that dial tone had to change to allow touch tone to work! I found out the phone company actually wanted everyone to use Touch because it was faster  so not as many of the incoming registers were needed.   You  should have heard the screaming when I told our PSC that.   BTW my   dial phone still works.
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Posted by Overmod on Friday, April 16, 2021 3:00 AM

blue streak 1
Some of you may remember that dial tone had to change to allow touch tone to work!

I remember how overjoyed I was to find that you could dial without actually using the dial, by quickly tapping the hook switch in the pattern of the dial interrupts.  We had the usual college problem with roommates not paying for the (then very expensive) long-distance calls they made, so I was delighted to be able to install a dial lock but still be able to make calls.

(That was when there was still just one telephone mandated for each line and supposedly dire consequences would ensue if you made any changes to the premise wiring, let alone added your own extension phone.  That alone seems like a whole other world now...

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Friday, April 16, 2021 12:06 PM

Paul of Covington

   How many of you young whippersnappers remember picking up the phone, hearing the operator say "number please", and telling her the number?

 

I'm not young anymore and I do remember that.  It was just prior to area codes and Dad had to dial the operator to call relatives in Hammond Indiana.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by blue streak 1 on Friday, April 16, 2021 3:17 PM

Overmod.  There was a quick way to add extensions that the telephone company could not detect.  Curious ?

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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, April 16, 2021 4:50 PM

blue streak 1
Overmod.  There was a quick way to add extensions that the telephone company could not detect.  Curious ?

And then the phone company stopped supplying phones and you had to go out and buy your own.

RIP Western Electric

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, April 16, 2021 5:05 PM

blue streak 1

Overmod.  There was a quick way to add extensions that the telephone company could not detect.  Curious ?

Mais oui, certainement -- did you think I would say no? Smile 

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Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Saturday, April 17, 2021 10:55 PM

You had to disconect the non rented phone's ringer from the line. The Central Office could measure the number of ringers on the line. 

 

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Posted by Gramp on Sunday, April 18, 2021 9:39 AM

Our "number" was Woodland WO5-5125 when I was a kid. My grandmother was a telephone pioneer, with Ma Bell as an operator. In retirement she had free long distance from her phone. There are days what with telemarketers and being hogtied to smart phones that I could go back to earlier times. 

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, April 18, 2021 10:33 PM

Electroliner 1935
You had to disconect the non rented phone's ringer from the line. The Central Office could measure the number of ringers on the line. 

There used to be something more associated with this -- I think involving capacitance that 'resonated' the ringer or some other associated inductance, perhaps at the AC frequency of the ring signal?  Before I learned about practical electronics we had someone 'operate' on the two suite phones in my sophomore-year college room, which involved removing the ringers and hooking them up in some way not associated with the position of the actual handsets.  I'd have thought this involved a black-box-like method of avoiding tolls, but I had one of the accounts and was certainly paying long-distance charges that year...

A roommate then discovered not only that you could wire up 'ringerless' extensions using ordinary two-prong plugs and outlets, but also that it didn't matter which way was 'up' (this was the era before mandatory polarized plugs.  As part of the final "People Magazine Ten Best College Rooms" prospective room, pity that was never published, we had Tap-A-Lines wired around most of what remained of the furniture to simplify conversation, a kind of early version of the 'cordless phone experience'...

One of the funniest moments came at some point that year, when the roommate had an extensive cable of interconnections running between his room and mine to access the Strowger switch I had running many of the 'smart-home' features like curtains and lighting control ... another story.  I was fast asleep in my raised bed when I heard knocking on the door -- when I went to answer it, there stood the Bell repairman in full regalia, saying there was something wrong with the phone.  I turned around, and the first thing I saw was the two phone carcasses with various wires and components sticking out, and the second thing several 'extensions' plugged into Tap-A-Lines ... I thought we'd lose our phone service and be in debt to Ma Bell for decades over this!  

Reasoning quickly, I figured Arthur had to be the source of the 'issue', so I let the repairman in and said "I think I can fix the actual problem pretty quickly" and reached up and tore down the line out of his suite.  The repairman put his meters on and said 'Yep - that did it' ... and then turned his attention to the ringers.  He was silent for a few minutes, and then said what I defectively remember as 'You know, if you put a capacitor between here' ... pointing to a particular spot in the wangled mess ...'and here' ... pointing to another, 'you'd get better results'.  (He might, in fact, have said to wire a Zener in exactly the spot to avoid some of the charges!)  I knew then we were going to live, and that Bell service was not a faceless monopoly...

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Posted by wjstix on Friday, April 23, 2021 4:13 PM

Back to the RPOs...my dad's first job with the US Post Office when he started in 1943 was going from the downtown Minneapolis main post office to pick up mail coming in on mail trains at the nearby Great Northern and Milwaukee Road depots. In the 1980s we bowled together on a team in the Minneapolis Post Office bowling league with a teammate who was a retired RPO clerk.

BTW part of the reason my dad, who pretty soon after starting working for the Post Office became a Letter Carrier, never became a supervisor was that when the mail was taken off of the rails, all the RPO clerks were assigned to regular postal jobs. Because of their high pay scale, usually the only job they could be assigned to would be as a supervisor at a station (post office), even though they usually knew nothing about how a regular station worked.

Stix

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