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Railway Postal Clerks

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Friday, April 23, 2021 6:32 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. 

 

Give the man a gold  star.  All a  person had to do was not connect the yellow wire to either the red or black terminals.  Cannot remember which for private lines.  For 2 party lines one house was connected to the red and other house to black.  That way only called house telephone would ring.

The central offices could ring about 4 or 5 phones using the 105 volt AC ringer signal.   Once electronic companies began selling their phones they would post on the boxes their REN  ( ringer equivalence number ).   A REN1 was the equivalent of a regular phone company 500 phone.  But many of the aftermarket phones had a REN of either 0 or 0.1.  Phone companies could not detect  those phone at that time.  So phone companies slowly sold their phones to subscribers. 

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Posted by NKP guy on Friday, April 23, 2021 7:18 PM

   How to get free long distance calls in 1966 without having a grandmother who previously worked for Ma Bell?  Here's how one college student (not me) accomplished it:

   From a Bell Telephone truck garage and a friendly repairman he had obtained the pay phone mechanism of three coils that each made a different sound when the appropriate coin fell on them.  Using a cigar box, he housed that mechanism.  He had discovered that operators could not actually see the coins being deposited; they could only count the different sounds (nickels, dimes, quarters) and total them up.  Therefore, the same three coins could be used over & over again to simulate the sound of many coins being deposited at the pay phone.  Result:  free long distance calls.  In 1966 a long distance call was 35 cents for the first three minutes or $2.86 today, and 10 cents or 82 cents today for each additional minute. Thus a 20 minute phone call to one's loved ones could cost $16.80 in today's money. Before taxes.  

   Today one can call everyone anywhere in the USA for free, no matter how long one talks.  Utterly amazing to this boomer

   Btw, ever watch an old movie (think Cary Grant in "An Affair to Remember") on TCM and think how the entire (bad) situation the chartacters find themselves in could have been avoided if only cell phones had been invented?

 

 

   

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Posted by Overmod on Saturday, April 24, 2021 2:20 PM

NKP guy
   From a Bell Telephone truck garage and a friendly repairman he had obtained the pay phone mechanism of three coils that each made a different sound when the appropriate coin fell on them.

And here I thought I was so damn clever using my Advent 201A (that I made portable to record the sounds of MP-54s in hi-fi, but that's another story) to record the dings from an actual phone that was 'temporarily out of service' and splice them into little endless-loop shells so they could be played back a la Mellotron.  In college I rigged up an 8-track shell (with a short little piece of tape "mastered" on my Sony HP-238) to give me selectable dings with a progressive button push and little lights to identify 'denominations' -- there was a better solution involving old radio-station cart machine mechanisms, too...

There was another system that used one DTMF pair repeated at a fixed interval to represent different coins: one for a nickel, two for a dime, five for a quarter if I remember correctly, and you could simulate this with a suitably-kludged tone dialer (although I never did).

But it literally never occurred to me to steal Bell System property to actually make the dings.  (Like there was some ethical difference between that and 'theft of services'!!)  And equally strangely I never went in for 'phreaking' with a blue box to synthesize the line-access codes.  I'm beginning to realize some of the ways I was raised and remember weird contradictions in how we behaved in those days...

One of the delightful little details in the movie "Real Genius" was their method of making free (well, relatively low-net-cost) calls on the lab pay phone...

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Posted by 54light15 on Saturday, April 24, 2021 5:05 PM

On the old black pay phones with the 3 coin slots on top, you could take a strip of paper you could get from cutting it from the cover of the phone book that all phone booths had. Slide it into the nickel slot and drop 2 pennies in it. It recognises them as nickels so you could make a call for 2 cents. I've done it back then. 

In the Navy at the end of the piers in Norfolk there was a shed with about 20 pay phones in them. They didn't have dials, you'd pick up the receiver and the operator would ask for the number, you'd tell her and then she would say how much money to put in. If you talked over the limit of that money, she would come on and tell you to drop in more. Several times I didn't do that so I would ask if I could pay later. She asked my name and I would make something up or give the name of someone I didn't like. I would say, Warrant Officer Roland Bagley (I hated that bas@@@@) Worked like a charm. 

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, April 26, 2021 9:06 AM

If I had done either of your capers, I wuld really regret it today, and certainly would nut boast of it.  Yes, there are things I did when  i was young that i am ashamed of today, but if I wished to discuss technology, I'd use anonmous souls.

Was the crime of trying to pass a counterfit $25 bill any more seious than the capers you posted above?  And you are, of course, not the only one.  I did object to apublished story inovling theft of edible-drinkable (and delicious and cooling on a hot day) freight.

 

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Posted by NKP guy on Monday, April 26, 2021 11:27 AM

Dave, I have to say, I resemble that remark.  (wink)

  If you look again at my post, I pointed out I wasn't the person who did this.  In fact, the thief lived down the hall in my dorm.  

 You raise a great issue, though.  First, in principle, the theft of a long-distance phone call worth $2.25 is no different from any other kind of petty theft.  It's no different from using a counterfeit $20.  By the way, that $2.25 phone call in 1966 would cost $16.80 today...close to the $20 Mr. Floyd lost his life over.

 Now, in my post I wasn't boasting, so much as I was recounting.  At the time, I found the situation hilarious, even though I knew it was theft. After some 50 years I no longer find it hilarious, but I don't see it as a big deal, either.  It's a sin I'm sure the Ancient of Days has forgiven a long time ago, even if he hasn't forgotten it.  

  

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, April 26, 2021 11:41 AM

Bless you for your reply and I apologize.

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Posted by NKP guy on Monday, April 26, 2021 11:57 AM

No apology needed.  Your presence in these forums is a mitzvah to us all.

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, April 26, 2021 12:29 PM

I said this morning -- although it didn't post -- that it was amusing that having built the device, I never once actually used it to make a toll call 'for free'.  (And that included testing to be sure it worked on a suite phone as well as a regular 'pay phone' line!)

Having said that, there is the same sort of cachet attached to making free payphone calls that there is to speeding.  Both are nominal crimes, both clearly contrary to applicable law and morality, but often engaged in and sometimes a bit glorified.  In a sense this is because the individual 'exploits' are so small, and often nominally victimless as things turned out.  But of course that's little excuse in fully moral argument...

Something I learned 60 years ago is also applicable.  When I was a sophomore in AP chemistry, I was probably far from alone in investigating certain chemical syntheses and experiments, such as filling lab drawers with Bunsen gas through the sockets for the overhead glassware supports and lighting it through the socket hole, to produce 'drawer experiment' critical-mixture surprise, or bubbling gas through soapy water to produce 'Hindenburgs'.  One thing I thought was clever was that if you filled a beaker with a mixture of carbon tet and alcohol, stuck in a paper towel, and lit it, you had a nifty and cheap gas weapon.  Fun to describe it to your lab neighbors, too...

...until one who thought he was brighter than he actually was decided to build one and test it out in the open lab.  My first inkling of this was when I turned around and saw sheets of translucent gas pouring up from a beaker with a flaming towel sitting in it.  Best I could do was to hold my breath and go back to the rear corner of the lab to turn the exhaust fan on, and dump the beaker in the sink -- strange the culprit couldn't be bothered to do that before running away.  To this day it's a wonder nobody else in class in that rather large, multiple-story building wasn't injured or worse.  

It took a hurricane to teach Langmuir this lesson.  Interestingly, both of us learned it about the same.

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Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Tuesday, April 27, 2021 8:52 PM

NKP guy
Dave, I have to say, I resemble that remark.  (wink)

  If you look again at my post, I pointed out I wasn't the person who did this.  In fact, the thief lived down the hall in my dorm.  

 You raise a great issue, though.  First, in principle, the theft of a long-distance phone call worth $2.25 is no different from any other kind of petty theft.  It's no different from using a counterfeit $20.  By the way, that $2.25 phone call in 1966 would cost $16.80 today...close to the $20 Mr. Floyd lost his life over.

 Now, in my post I wasn't boasting, so much as I was recounting.  At the time, I found the situation hilarious, even though I knew it was theft. After some 50 years I no longer find it hilarious, but I don't see it as a big deal, either.  It's a sin I'm sure the Ancient of Days has forgiven a long time ago, even if he hasn't forgotten it.  

I also had a day of guilt when shortly (in 65) after moving into my first house, I wired an extension bootleg phone (with ringer disabled) into our basement. My wife objected saying that this sent the WRONG message to our children. I agreed and that phone was put in storage. Later when we moved into our 2nd house in '78, I had the Bell installer wire it for phones in each room. He advised me that by paying for a leased phone in each room and then, after a month, return those I didn't need and for the cost of an extenion for a month, a room would be wired for a significantly lower cost than just wiring an extension jack. I think he got points for selling extra extension phones. Of course, after the Judge Green split up of the AT&T monopoly, Every changed. I've got some stories of working with the telephone companies in Illinois and the time I filed a complaint with the Illinois Commerce Commision on them. But pm me if you are interested.

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Posted by NittanyLion on Thursday, May 6, 2021 12:43 PM

NKP guy

   Today one can call everyone anywhere in the USA for free, no matter how long one talks.  Utterly amazing to this boomer

I was born in 1982 and it still takes some time for me to remember that I can largely call anyone, arbitrarily, for $0.

We were the only household in my family that lived in the 586 exchange of our area code.  The rest of our family (and most of my friends) lived in 352.  586 could call 352 without penalty, but 586 was long distance to 352 numbers.  The logic of this, of course, is nonexistent.  Therefore, it was established that a code be implemented.  If our phone rang once and then stopped, that was my mom's parents.  Two was her older brother.  Three was her younger brother.  My friends were not assigned a code, but would merely say their name and immediately hang up.  We would then return the call to the party that wished to speak to us.

I'm not sure when the phone company discontinued this, but it was still in place when dad came home one Saturday afternoon with cell phones for mom, my brother, himself, and I in 2002.

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Posted by pennaneal on Tuesday, May 11, 2021 6:56 AM

Rail Post Office (RPO's) workers were employees of the U.S.P.S., not the railways. They were trained and salaried as any other clerks, only they boarded their train, usually toward midnight, and 'clerked' the mail en route. I worked with a guy that did Pittsburgh to St. Louis through Cincinatti. The trains effectively did what the big semis do today delivering mail to the bigger offices. It was a very effective set up. AND FASTER! 

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Tuesday, May 11, 2021 10:09 AM

When I worked a summer job at Chicago's Main PO in 1970, sorting of first class mail was beginning to be mechanized.  Since RPO and HYPO clerks sorted mail by hand, you can see that those operations were reaching the end of the line.  Sorting machine operators were a grade higher than other clerks, giving an incentive to master that operation.  The machine sorting was much quicker than by hand.

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 Tuesday, May 11, 2021 10:17 PM

Wonder with tech now what it is that a sorting machine could be sized and built to fit and be installed in a RPO?

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 10:02 AM

Mail sorting has advanced a bit since 1970.  Optical character readers are part of the sorting process now and it may be impossible to get the machinery to fit in the tight cross-section of an RPO.

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 Overmod on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 12:46 PM

Modern OCRs can be very thin -- think scanners with the heads stationary and document feed controlled, or modern camera-based systems with anamorphic lensing.

You could easily fit 10-12 lanes of reasonably high-speed sorting into a typical RPO compartment... the issue then being (as CSS can probably state from experience) where the sorted outfeed gets directed.  The traditional arrangement had pigeonholes at right angles to the axis of the car, whereas mechanical sort would want to keep as much on-axis as possible -- I expect with the mail going directly into labeled sacks and 'unreadable' items promptly diverted for proper attention, perhaps first with hand scan before careful scrutiny... I'd expect some way to generate and attach a machine-readable label to each such piece.

I'd be much more concerned with the sorter mechanics on rough track than with effective OCR and address-information extraction...

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 3:20 PM

Overmod
Modern OCRs can be very thin -- think scanners with the heads stationary and document feed controlled, or modern camera-based systems with anamorphic lensing.

You could easily fit 10-12 lanes of reasonably high-speed sorting into a typical RPO compartment... the issue then being (as CSS can probably state from experience) where the sorted outfeed gets directed.  The traditional arrangement had pigeonholes at right angles to the axis of the car, whereas mechanical sort would want to keep as much on-axis as possible -- I expect with the mail going directly into labeled sacks and 'unreadable' items promptly diverted for proper attention, perhaps first with hand scan before careful scrutiny... I'd expect some way to generate and attach a machine-readable label to each such piece.

I'd be much more concerned with the sorter mechanics on rough track than with effective OCR and address-information extraction...

Despite the facts that mail has been off the railroads for over half a century.

USPS got it's version of EHH and mail sorting equipment is being scrapped 'to improve' the service.  Of course mail clerks are also being eliminated and having overtime eliminated for the remaining clerks in the name of 'efficiency'.

Having trackable items sit in the same Postal facility for weeks is a more accurate demonstration of how USPS has been wrecked in the name of efficiency. 

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 3:47 PM

Glad you put the motive of efficiency in quotations since it was directly  related to a banned topic on here. 

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Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 5:20 PM

BaltACD
Despite the facts that mail has been off the railroads for over half a century.

And will never, ever return -- even in resumption of the 1977 service where there is still a place for it at achievable scale...

I don't think there is anything massively political in the USPS being directed toward process efficiency and savings; in fact I think they were doing reasonably well until things associated with the pandemic tripped them up.  There have been periods in the past that gave me much more concern -- anyone remember the wacky abbreviation concerns we were supposed to use mandatorily to make their then-primitive OCR work?

The concerns over automated sorting in the railroad context go beyond just the speed of OCR and its amount of rejects per hour.  But I suspect many of the complicated concerns are already addressed with fixed sorting -- for example, the equipment that straightens mail dumped out of a sack, aligns it correctly facing the scan, etc. as well as handles the various sort outfeeds.  I see no reason that could not be fit into the space available in a railborne vehicle, although perhaps articulated at some length, the time saving for certain classes of mail being perhaps as quick as much quicker bulk transport to and from a central sorting facility (a la the FedEx model).

I'd like to see this become more efficient than delivery and pickup from a specialized center like Harrison (IIRC the thing that finished off bulk sort on the trains) but I don't think it would be.

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 7:17 PM

Overmod
 
BaltACD
Despite the facts that mail has been off the railroads for over half a century. 

And will never, ever return -- even in resumption of the 1977 service where there is still a place for it at achievable scale... 

I don't think there is anything massively political in the USPS being directed toward process efficiency and savings; in fact I think they were doing reasonably well until things associated with the pandemic tripped them up.  There have been periods in the past that gave me much more concern -- anyone remember the wacky abbreviation concerns we were supposed to use mandatorily to make their then-primitive OCR work?

The concerns over automated sorting in the railroad context go beyond just the speed of OCR and its amount of rejects per hour.  But I suspect many of the complicated concerns are already addressed with fixed sorting -- for example, the equipment that straightens mail dumped out of a sack, aligns it correctly facing the scan, etc. as well as handles the various sort outfeeds.  I see no reason that could not be fit into the space available in a railborne vehicle, although perhaps articulated at some length, the time saving for certain classes of mail being perhaps as quick as much quicker bulk transport to and from a central sorting facility (a la the FedEx model).

I'd like to see this become more efficient than delivery and pickup from a specialized center like Harrison (IIRC the thing that finished off bulk sort on the trains) but I don't think it would be.

The profitability of USPS is political when the politicans have decreed that USPS must guarantee the pensions of employees that have yet to be concieved let alone hired into the employment of USPS.

We are not seeing improved efficiency and profitability of USPS - we are seeing destruction of a service guaranteed in the Constitution.

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Posted by tdmidget on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 9:12 PM

daveklepper

If I had done either of your capers, I wuld really regret it today, and certainly would nut boast of it.  Yes, there are things I did when  i was young that i am ashamed of today, but if I wished to discuss technology, I'd use anonmous souls.

Was the crime of trying to pass a counterfit $25 bill any more seious than the capers you posted above?  And you are, of course, not the only one.  I did object to apublished story inovling theft of edible-drinkable (and delicious and cooling on a hot day) freight.

 

 

Pretty sure that a "counterfeit" 25 dollar bill is not a crime, at least a federal crime. Since there is not and never has been a $25.00 bill, you can't counterfeit one.

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Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 10:12 PM

BaltACD
We are not seeing improved efficiency and profitability of USPS - we are seeing destruction of a service guaranteed in the Constitution.

It could be argued that, just as telephone long-distance has been reduced to a free commodity, the exclusive value of the first-class letter franchise is fast eroding to the point it could be outsourced... with the terms and conditions on equal access that apply to first-class mail.   The Government's interest is assuring that all citizens have equal access to mail -- it could be argued that the Government cell-phone subsidy program is an extension of that right into voice communication, and only a tiny step from there into tethering to give e-mail and PDF transfer to legacy devices.

That doesn't help the human issues of the pension amounts, funded or unfunded.  But the Government has some experience now with solving the problems when entities too big to fail need to deal with their pension concerns...

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Posted by zugmann on Thursday, May 13, 2021 6:55 AM

Overmod
I don't think there is anything massively political in the USPS being directed toward process efficiency and savings

 

...really? I mean, c'mon.  Between the pension mandates and all the changes and cuts that happened right before a very big event in November - you don't see anything political?  Not even a little?

 The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, May 13, 2021 7:50 AM

zugmann

 

 
Overmod
I don't think there is anything massively political in the USPS being directed toward process efficiency and savings

 

 

...really? I mean, c'mon.  Between the pension mandates and all the changes and cuts that happened right before a very big event in November - you don't see anything political?  Not even a little?

 

His comment smacks of either naivete or an absurd form of revisionist history. Option three is preferable: a Pangloss optimism. 

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, May 13, 2021 10:07 AM

zugmann
 
Overmod
I don't think there is anything massively political in the USPS being directed toward process efficiency and savings

...really? I mean, c'mon.  Between the pension mandates and all the changes and cuts that happened right before a very big event in November - you don't see anything political?  Not even a little?

I was talking about the technical efficiency of sorting and handling.  You political types can theorize all you want to; I'm only concerned with getting the mail through better.

Of course USPS is rife with petty politics and gamed indicators of performance; so is Amtrak.  But there's still a difference between objective efficiency and political expediency -- I dislike trying to discuss the latter on forums like these.

The "privatization" argument isn't wholly serious: it simply points out that the guaranteed first-class franchise isn't the great profit cash cow it was in years past, and making first-class privatization contingent on universal service might be an effective poison pill for our usual PSR sort of expedient capitalists interested in selective cream-skimming of markets increasingly less creamy at the cost involved.

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Posted by Backus on Friday, May 14, 2021 3:30 PM

My 88 year old friend started out on the mail trains in the 1950's.  He was a substitute, usually working on the Great Northern out of St. Paul but also worked on the NP and the Milwaukee Road  He worked trains to Chicago, Winnipeg, Williston, ND, and a number of other places.  His first trip actually took him through his home town of Bemidji, MN on the run to International Falls, MN.  He stayed on the mails trains until they ended in the late 1960's.

His trips were out and back so he would overnight and then return the next day.  As a federal employee he did carry a pistol which was issued to him at the beginning of each run.  He still has his original RPO badge and has told me lots of really great stories.  

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Friday, May 14, 2021 5:35 PM

Just talked to a postal carrier.  Informed me that the distribution center serving our local post office is getting the mail truck to our PO earlier enabling deliveries to come to home earlier.  Have noticed that my local deliveries have gone from a 1330 time to a 1210 delivery consistenly the last couple weeks.

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Posted by York1 on Saturday, May 15, 2021 11:15 AM

After ordering quite a bit online, I've noticed that location can affect shipping times for the USPS.

I live in the middle of the country.  Orders from the west coast (California), southeast U.S. (Georgia, Florida), and central part of the U.S. (Texas, Colorado, Missouri) normally get to me in three or four days.

On the other hand, orders from the Great Lakes region and the northeast U.S. take the longest.

Right now, I am waiting on an order of wire from Chicago.  The tracking shows it has been sitting in the McHenry, IL., post office sorting facility for six days.  That's about normal on my orders from Illinois, Ohio, New York, and New Jersey.

York1 John       

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