• The REAL Mail Car question

  • Tell us where you were and what you saw!
Tell us where you were and what you saw!

Moderator: David Benton

  by NJTRailfan
When I mean a "REAL" Mail Car I mean the ones operated by railroads with fully staffed USPS and railroad employees. Not the ones Amtrak operated awhile back. You may think I'm doing a series of these but here goes. Did amtrak or the past railroads ever operated with more then one Railroad Post Office Car on any train wether it's the stainless steel stream lined or the heavy weight ones complete (or not) with postal and railroad employees on board sorting mail alogn with performing the normal duties of the time period?

  by Gilbert B Norman
From friendly car dealer's showroom--

Amktrak has never operated a Railway Post Office (RPO) car in which mail is sorted while en route. However, Penn Central/Conrail did operate NY-Wash #3-4 for their account into the Amtrak era. I believe such lasted into 1977.

Once again, y'all be good for Otto; he will be giving me a complete report card when my computer recovers (hopefully it won't be a Tony Soprano melodrama - will he be in ICU for the entire season?).

I guess I should reiterate it is my computer that is in critcial; not me. But I don't wish to "abuse a privilege" up here at the car dealer.

  by John_Perkowski
First, save what Mr Norman described, the USPS was not in the Railway Mail business. Its predecessor, the US Post Office Department, through its Railway Mail Service (RMS) ran the RPOs.

We need to differentiate here. The RMS had responsibility for two types of mail moved by rail:

STORAGE MAIL is mail sealed in cars, moved from point A to point B for further working at a terminal post office.

WORKING MAIL consisted of Railway Post Office (RPO) cars with RMS crews, who received and sorted mail enroute, both for post offices "down the line" as well as establishing bag mail for additional routing and processing at terminals.

The peak of working mail actually was before WWII. While the remnant traffic was substantial, it was killed largely at one fell swoop in October 1967. This led to the great passenger train die-off of 1968.

I have access to UP (macro) and SP (somewhat micro) consist data in the 1950s. I will see what they say and post back.

If anyone wants to drill into this subject, there is a yahoo group specializing in RPO history: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/RailwayPO/

John Perkowski
  by bill haithcoat
If memory serves me correctly, in the pre-Amtrak era there was usually just one "real" (RPO--Railway Post Office) car per train. But there could be many, many many storage mail cars of various types.

One problem with this type of thing, the public timetables were of no help. They gave no info whatsoever about mail cars. Sometimes they gave info about baggage cars, but never about mail cars.

A typical train, streamlined or not, might have 2 or 3 mail cars, a baggage car and a dormitory, or sometimes a bagg-dormitory combined. I would suggest you look at old train pictures in books and you should see how varied it was. Generally, the slower and less streamlined a train was, the more mail cars.

I should probably have not used the term "typical train"-===there probably really was no such thing.

Some trains might have 12 or so mail cars, maybe a couple of coaches, a diner, one sleeper. So many possibilties.

Some trains kept totally clear of mial cars, such as the NY to Florida and CHi to Florida streamliners, .

  by shlustig
Yes, some trains did have more than 1 working RPO, especially around the end of the year.

The late night NYC Cleveland / Cincinnati train had 2 working cars and sometimes a 3rd. This may have been due to the very heavy volume of business mail for the various State offices and courts in Columbus. It was not unusual to see people bringing mail to the RPO door before the train departed CUT, and that mail would be delivered to the courts or State offices in the morning.
  by bill haithcoat
The point made about more RPO's at the end of the year spells one thing in particular---CHRISTMAS GIFTS AND CARDS. Remembering that so much mail was put on the trains back then, it would only make sense. I did not think of that earlier.

Trains which were heavy with mail would quite frequently run late around the holidays....just like your local postman often ran late back then, well before so much electronic transmission e-mail, etc.

  by JimBoylan
The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy's 75th year history of its "Fast Mail" train to Omaha, Neb. mentions how one night after Thanksgiving, 1942 it left Chicago, Ill. with 87 cars of mail! The story doesn't mention how many sections or how much was storage mail for the armed forces in the Pacific. It does mention that the clerks would also sort the contents of sacks dragged from adjacent storage cars.

  by NJTRailfan
Mr Boylan, 87 Cars!?! WOW! Were all of these the working RPO Cars or mostly storage cars?

I know there were trains dedicated soely to mail and railroad/mail employees rather then passenger. How many cars long were these trains? How many of these cars were the real RPOs?

  by John_Perkowski
Looking at two consists from the 1950s, the Coast Mail (LA-SF) and the Imperial (LA-Chicago) both had at times 25+ M&E cars, while having more than one working RPO.

In fact, the Imperial had as many as four cars working, with each having a different major station it got cut in/dropped off at...

Now, here's my question: Where are we going with this thread? Amtrak will never have working RPOs. They are utterly obsolete. Storage mail, certainly, if Amtrak can get its timeliness house in order...

John Perkowski
  by Noel Weaver
In the summer of 1957 the New Haven Railroad had a number of trains
that carried more than one RPO: 56 GCT-Spfld had 2, 99 Spfld-GCT had 2, 179 Bos-Penn Sta. had 2, 180 Penn Sta.-Bos. had 3, 186 had 2 out of
Penn Sta. 1 for Bos and 1 for Spfld, and 187 had 2 Bos-Penn Sta.
There were a lot of other trains on the NHRR with a full RPO and a number
of other trains with a combo baggage/RPO in which case a 15 foot section
was for the RPO.
Most of the above trains had RPO cars right up to the very end of the New
Haven Railroad on 12-31-68 and some of the Penn Sta. trains still ran for
a while under Penn Central. The RPO's out of GCT were gone within the
first two or three days of Penn Central operation.
Noel Weaver
  by Jerry N3AA
In the early 1940s, my father was part of the Railway Mail Service, which later became the Postal Transportation Service (PTS).

I remember riding along while my Mom drove him down to the track level in Atlanta's Union Station so he could board the L&N train for Nashville. The train left in the late afternoon or early evening (I don't remember exactly), and he and other clerks rode the mail car and sorted mail all night enroute.

The locomotive was a steam giant (to me--I was about four or five years old at the time) and made lots of noise! I think I remember being invited into the cab for a short visit. I don't remember seeing more than one mail car, but it was very long ago, I was a little kid, and, of course, I wasn't surveying the train for car count!

Mail was dropped at way stations by throwing the canvas mail bags off the train. Mail was picked up with a rod and hook affair--the mail bags were hung from "davits" (my term) trackside. This way, mail service was provided to small towns at which the train did not actually stop.

They arrived in Nashville the following morning, slept during the day, and made the return trip that next night. He did the roundtrip twice a week.

I still remember the practice boxes and cards my Dad had in our attic to achieve and maintain proficiency. He was no longer in the Railway Mail Service by the mid-1940s.
  by henry6
CLASSIC TRAINS lates issue has a lot about RPO's and mail trains.

  by John_Perkowski

The day of the working mail car is past. It is just too manpower intensive, until sorting machines get miniaturized to 6' x 80' (interior less manpower space for a full sized streamliner era car.

Accordingly, this thread is going to Mr Benton's Rail Travel and Trip Reports Forum.

Nothing has been or will be killed or edited, the thread just needs a more appropriate home. If we can find a way to discuss the business of mail movement (gee, haven't we been there before), then that thread will be open to input and feedback :)