Oral Histories: B

Railway Post Office Clerks

Louis V. Barner

Mr. Barner began his career with the Railway Mail Service in 1940. He ran on the New York and Pittsburgh line in 1941. After devoting time fighting for his country in World War II, Mr. Barner returned to the Railway Mail Service working out of Pittsburgh going west, and Philadelphia or New York City going east until his retirement.

Louis V. Barner (LB) Interview Transcript

INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me when and where you worked? LB: New York to Pittsburgh.

INTERVIEWER: When did you start?

LB: I went in as Railway Mail Service in ’40, I think, and I was on New York and Pitt as a substitute in ’41, and then I went into the service, and when I came back in ’45, it took me about three years to get back there, so it was probably around 1948. That is, as a regular.

INTERVIEWER: What jobs did you have on the train?

LB: Well for about the last ten years, I was serving Pittsburgh city going west and either Philadelphia or New York City coming east.

INTERVIEWER: And how many days would you spend on the train at once? LB: That was what we’d call a 6 and 8, it was on six days and off eight.

INTERVIEWER: Where would you stay between your shifts?

LB: Well, we had an organization at both ends, and they rented, in the early years it was Hotel Pennsylvania and then in the latter years it was the Hotel Martinique in New York. And in Pittsburgh they had a, it was a hotel in the beginning, I forget the name of it, but then they rented a floor above a store and they put flats and stuff there, in Pittsburgh.

INTERVIEWER: You worked sometimes during the night and slept during the day?

LB: Oh, most of the time it was during the day, yeah. Work during the night and yeah, most of the time you slept in the daytime and worked in the night.

INTERVIEWER: Was that very difficult? LB: No.

INTERVIEWER: Did you make any very good friends?

LB: Friends? Oh yeah, but I think most of them are pretty well gone, now. INTERVIEWER: Yeah, everyone worked very well together?

LB: Oh yes, yes.

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember getting tested often? Where you would have to pass an exam in order to keep working?

LB: Oh, the exams. Yeah, you had to take an exam about every six months, one way or another. INTERVIEWER: Were they very hard?

LB: Not really. INTERVIEWER: No?

LB: Well, when you first start, I mean everything’s new, but I mean, you have to take an exam, in the beginning you have to take an exam for state, like Pennsylvania was broken up in three ways, and then New Jersey was another one, and the peninsula was another one, New York or part of New York was another one, and then the rest of the time was all Pittsburgh, New York, or Philadelphia.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have a favorite part of the job? LB: No.

INTERVIEWER: Was there ever any dangerous situations that you ran into on a train?

LB: Well, we went off the track once and we were going in the yards in Altoona and we went off the tracks and the postal car was on a 45 degree angle. Other than that, that’s about it.

Joseph E. Beauchemin

Mr. Beauchemin, of Lexington, MA, entered the Railway Mail Service in 1950. He ran as a clerk and a foreman on lines from Boston to New York, Albany, Portland and Banger Maine, as well as Vermont, and later worked as a transfer clerk and a Post Office Mobile Service Analyst, until his career ended in 1980.

Joseph E. Beauchemin (JB) Interview Transcript

JB: From 1950 to 1980 I was with the Railway Mail. I worked on the Boston to New York, Boston to Albany, New York, Boston to Portland and Banger, Maine, and Boston to… I ran up to Vermont. I was also a transfer clerk for the Railway Mail, at South Station in Boston, Mass. I can remember one time we were working before we left, we used to work for like two hours before the train left to come back to Boston or something, and we were sorting mail, and they had somebody on deck at the railroad, at the station, with a machine gun for the whole day that we were there. I don’t know what they had in it, must’ve been something very important. And then I thought it was very different too that lots of times we’d stop at a station and try to get coffee or something, and if you didn’t get it fast, you’d be left at the station. And we’d throw the guy’s, the guy would have to get the next train to get to Boston to New York or whichever way it was going, to catch the train, you know. And that happened more than once, that they’d go out and get like, we had three cars that were mail cars on the Boston to New York, and there’d be about twenty guys or something, twenty, twenty-five men, so coffee for all of them would take a long time, you see. And then the whistle would blow for the train to go and they couldn’t make it back to the train. That just happened a lot. And then, oh I can remember the first day I ran on the beginning, it was such a thrill to be out there, that the foreman said to me, “Hey Jean, what are you on, a travel trip? You’re supposed to be working.” I was looking out the windows, of course, you know. And we always tried to get our mail done before we ever arrived somewhere, because every station we stopped at we’d pick up mail and then throw off mail, like say, Boston to New York. So I did that as a part-time sub like, and then I was a regular Boston to Albany. And then on this badge I’m talking about, the gold badge, I got some kind of a promotion and I was, I’d go and inspect to make sure they were doing what we wanted to do on all the trains, you know, that go out of Boston, and I’d go, they wouldn’t know I was coming out to watch ‘em, and I’d go out and make sure they followed the instructions that were given by the office, you know. So that’s what that was. And, we had a lot of different locations but they were very good to work with, and I worked as a payroll guy in the office, too, I did the payroll. And the payroll would come out to be checks, and because of, we used to get paid for studying and setting up the things that we did on the train, get ready for it at home, you know, we used to stamp all the labels so they knew who did that and who did what. Our names were on every bag.

INTERVIEWER: Can you talk about maybe your favorite part of the job, what you enjoyed doing most?

JB: What I enjoyed doing most about it? Was the fact that the guys that were working, we all worked together. If one guy would get his work done before the other one, the other guy would come over to help him get his done, and so forth. And then we had time, lay over in New York we could go visiting, in New York City or something, or Albany or someplace up in Maine. Oh I remember one story, with, I think it was Waitsfield, Vermont we ran a train up to, and we got there, and it’s where they change the train from there to go to Canada, and I got off the train and I went to have my lunch and sit on a bench not far from the train, and a big cat got on my lap, it looked like a monster cat, and I was eating lunch and I was petting him. And then when I went to get up he wouldn’t get up, wouldn’t get off my lap! They were blowing the whistle for me to get back and he’s digging his nails into me, if I move, you know, and he finally got off. But it was like a… Waitsfield l think it might have been, Waitsfield, Vermont. But that was the end of that trip, and then we’d turn around and come back. But they had things like that, on the train, you had to be careful about the soot from the engine because we were the second car back, and I remember now up in Waitsfield, I can’t think of the names now, the, we were going through a subway like on the train, and you had to catch and throw, you know catch the bag, going without stopping. And if you didn’t get it back fast enough you’d lose the bar, the bar would get hit in the building and take it right off, so you had to do it real fast, and I can remember going through down in Boston to New York, down to Mystic, Connecticut, you had to be very careful when you threw the bags off because we never stopped there. You threw the bags off you didn’t hit the people waiting to get on the train, the next train coming up, and sometimes it would roll and go in the water and they’d have to get a hook and go get it, and get the water out because either the guy threw it too early, or you got the signal too late or something, and we lost mail, not lost mail, they always retrieved it, it would float like, the bag, and they’d get a hook and bring it back in. And, we had to memorize everything, everything was memorized. We were given exams too, and if you didn’t pass the exam at 99%, perfect, they’d take you off the Railway Mail, so that was a pretty tough test. You had to know all the transportation plus the streets and where they went to in Manhattan. You had to study all of these at home, and that’s why we used to get extra money. We used to have a card and we used to practice until we memorized all this stuff so we could sort it on the train because you can’t study on the train, you had to do the work, you know.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have family at the time you were working for the RMS?

JB: I got married twice. The first time I got married… the second time, I’ve got a family and everything now, but the first one, I don’t think it was very long. The marriage didn’t last long. But… I probably say more about it, I was going by myself, so I was single in those days.

Walter Bell

Mr. Walter Bell joined the Railway Mail Service in 1953 as a substitute. He mostly worked in the northeast region, particularly in New York. Later, he became a regular on the New York, Geneva and Buffalo lines runs until 1966, when he took a position as general manager at the regional headquarters in Washington.

Walter Bell Interview Transcript

Walter Bell: My name is Walter Bell, Jr., and I was a substitute mail clerk on several many RPOs and then I became a regular clerk on two different RPO lines.

INTERVIEWER: What rail lines did you work on and which locations did you travel between?

Walter Bell: Let’s see. There were a lot of them. I worked on, let's see -- well, most of them were in New York but there was a line called the New York and Point Pleasant RPO, New York and Allentown RPO, the New York and [indiscernible] RPO, the New York and Branchville, New Jersey RPO, and the New York, Geneva and Buffalo RPO. They were all serving the state of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I also worked on the New York and Chicago East Division RPO which served New York State in the portion that we worked in the East Division. I worked on a Greenport in New York RPO, Montauk in New York RPO, the Port Jefferson in New York RPO which served Long Island. I worked as a regular. Those were -- I was substitute on those lines. And on the New York, Scranton, and Buffalo, New York, Scranton, Pennsylvania and Buffalo, I was a regular clerk, and that served New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. And I worked as a regular clerk on the New York and Chicago East Division which serves New York State. That was between the periods of 1953 to 1966.

INTERVIEWER: Why did you want to become a railway post office clerk? What got you interested in it?

Walter Bell: Well, initially I was in the post office as a temp at the regular post office and then they had a test that they held for railway mail clerk and that paid five cents more an hour. And so that was one reason. And then I wanted to have a chance to work on the trains and the railway post office is on the train and that was the only way you could do it.

INTERVIEWER: And what types of jobs did you have on the railcars?

Walter Bell: Well, I had all types of jobs. As a substitute I covered every job that was available on each of those lines, which included working the letter cases, working on the, what we call, the pouch cases where you threw the first class bill into the various pouches going to the destinations. I worked on the newspaper end where you worked special delivery of newspapers and distributed them into the sacks. And then I worked the door where you load and unloaded the mail coming into the cars at the stops, and also where you made nonstop mail deliveries and nonstop mail catches. The New York, Geneva, and Buffalo, which is one of the best lines that I enjoyed, they have 17 nonstop, mail exchanges on one run which at times the train was going 80 miles or more an hour. They were pretty exciting.

INTERVIEWER: And for any of the jobs that you just described, could you walk me through a typical day on the railcar starting from when you first went into work and then getting off of your shift?

Walter Bell: Well, we would start, like for example on the New York, Scranton, and Buffalo where I was a regular, I would start each morning -- I worked three days out of each week and then I had an extra week off after four weeks because of the length of the time that we had to put in. I would go to work every Thursday morning about 6 a.m. and we would have to report. The train didn’t leave until about, I think it was 7:30 or eight o’clock in the morning but that was advanced, what we call advanced time to be able to work the mail that they would supply to us in the terminal. The terminal was at Hoboken Terminal, New Jersey.  And while we were there, they would bring advanced mail to us to work before we left, and we would work that mail. We have to hang the car, put the pouches and booklets, the sacks in place and the pouches in places so that we could throw the mail into them, and we set it up so that we had a table to empty the pouches onto so we would have something to throw the pouches, the letter mail and the newspapers from. The table was a receptacle that we dumped the sacks onto. And when we finished that, we would go to the letter cases. It was a 30-foot car which is half the normal size of a railway mail car, and part of that car had the pouch and sack area, the other part had letter bins. We would distribute letters into the bins, and then, at the appropriate time, we tie them out and distribute them into the pouches and the sacks for delivery to the various stations that we served. We left the Hoboken, as I said, seven o’clock or eight o’clock in the morning, and we would serve places through New Jersey, Newark, Summit -- I can’t remember all their names, but various places throughout New Jersey until we got to East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania just across from the Jersey line, and then we stop there and then we go up through the Pocono Mountains, serving various places in the Pocono Mountains, Mountain Home, Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania which was a military stop and had a large military base there, and then we would come down the other side of the Poconos into Scranton, Pennsylvania where we -- that particular trip which was always our train 47 ended there, and then I had a layover, it was probably about 12 noon when we ended there and I had a layover until four o’clock in Scranton before I had to do the same thing coming back on train 44. We start about, I guess, five in the evening and we’d have to hang the pouches and the sacks at that car, the same car, and then we’d distribute the mail that Scranton gave us at the various areas around there and then, on our way back, we would stop at the various stops and pick up mail to be taken into New York. That layover was in Scranton, sometimes I had a hard time because being black, it was hard to find a place where they wanted us to stay, so I usually had to sleep in the car, in the railway mail car that was laid up in the yards for the four- or five-hour layover. We arrive back in Hoboken roughly about 11:30 or 12 o’clock at night and we offloaded the various mails that were going to New York and the surrounding areas having served Scranton and some of the same places, Mountain Home, Stroudsburg, and on the way back. And we had to provide distribution for registers and air mail and we made the appropriate pouches and exchanges. The transfer clerks who were stationed at Hoboken would come and we’d turn over the registered mail to them and then I would go home about 12, leave the station to go home, and then report back the next morning at about six o’clock to do the same thing all over again until Saturday.  I did it Thursday morning, Friday morning, and Saturday morning I worked each week, as I said.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Was there any one job that you liked doing more than the others?

Walter Bell: I think the most exciting job was the nonstop mail exchanges. I enjoyed doing that. It was kind of dangerous but it was also exciting. And there was one spot in New York State, I think it was Jacksonville, New York state was the name of the town, and there was an exchange where we had to throw the mail off just before you pass over a deep canyon, and if you didn’t throw it at the right time, the mail ended up down in the ravine in that deep canyon, and as I said, the train would usually be going about 80 miles an hour or so. That was exciting.

INTERVIEWER: Did you know anybody who dropped the mail into the canyon?

Walter Bell: I didn’t know anybody but I heard stories where it had happened. And then, of course, there were times when the mail would bounce into the equipment -- the mail exchange clerk hung the mail on the crane. If he left the equipment on the platform sometimes and they would bounce into that and it would just sever the pouch. But by large, it was a thrilling experience. As I said, there were 17 catches and throws on the New York, Geneva and Buffalo between New York and Buffalo each day. That was very exciting.

Then I enjoyed working the registered mail on one of my assignments on the New York to Chicago where we used to get tremendous amounts of registered mail from Canada on the 20th Century which was one of the most wonderful jobs in New York and Chicago, the 20th Century Limited, train 26 eastbound from Buffalo to New York, and so I used to work the register case on that particular train. And there were times I’d have over 5000 pieces to re-distribute, registered pieces to be distributed and each one of those had to be recorded hand by each number because it was the high priced priority mail. That was an exciting job also. I had to study schemes for the entire state of New York, the entire state of Pennsylvania, part of Ohio, all of Ontario, Canada, and New York City. That was a challenge, of course.

INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that you ever disliked about any of your jobs? Any complaints that you may have had no matter how big or small they were?

Walter Bell: Well, the complaint I had was really with the job itself, it was what happened at either end. For example, as I said, in Scranton, it was hard to find a place that would allow a black person to check into a short- term hotel for the four- or five-hour layover, and I had the same problem in a town called Allentown, Pennsylvania where I had a short layover there when I ran that line as a sub and so I spent most of the night stayed in the car.

But in the winter time, if you got a rail employee hooked up the cars to the steam while it was laying over, some of them wouldn’t do it, because we weren’t really supposed to stay in the car but I had no place else to stay, and most of the times, the rail employee would hook it up to the steam so I would have heat. Otherwise, I’d have to load myself up with mailbags and try to stay warm that way for the four- or five-hour layover. But that was the only complaint.

The other thing as a black substitute, there were times when some of the clerks would not want to tell you what the next part of your job was so you had to try to figure that out yourself. But there were many people on those lines that were tremendous people, nice people. And because of the level of intellect it involved the people on the railway mail, there were a lot of people that were -- many college graduates, because it was a higher level of postal employment so there were many college graduates, and I wasn’t one but I learned a tremendous amount from many of them particularly on the New York and Chicago. So much so that it allowed me to have an extraordinary postal career. After the Railway Mail terminated all the RPO cars in 1967 or so, I then got a job in the regional headquarters and was able to move through the various levels up to general manager in Washington which was quite an achievement. I was the first black one that ever had that job, general manager of transportation in one of the branches in Washington, D.C.


Walter Bell: Yes, it was quite an accomplishment because as I said, I learned a lot from the fellows on the line in New York to Chicago, and I was given the highest decoration the post office gives like a medal honor. I was given that by the post master general prior to my retirement in 1987 because myself as general manager, we were just six in the northeast region and another general manager [indiscernible] general manager of customer service is [indiscernible], we developed a program for the postal service to provide express mail service to the military all over the world and the military postal office, the APO, the FPOs throughout Europe and the Transpacific, and then we had to go to those places and train them in how to use it, and that was one of the reasons that I received that award, which was a high honor.

We visited Europe, as I said, Germany, Italy, France, and England, all the military installations there to initiate the express mail service for the military that was overseas, and we went to Japan, to Korea, to Okinawa which is part of Japan, and to the Philippines, and then Hawaii, of course, to the bases there. It was a major change for the military to have express mail because of the logistics involved but we were able to set it up, and it became an over $4 million a year revenue earner for the post office at that time. But then some things happened where they had to discontinue it. But that was exciting.

INTERVIEWER: I know earlier you said that you worked on the 30-foot cars. Did you work on any different type of car?

Walter Bell: Yes. The large cars are 60-foot and 70-foot cars, they were on the New York to Chicago East Divisions. The 20th Century train 25 and 26 of the New York and Chicago East Division, they use special 70-foot cars because that was a special train that they had for their customers that was essentially nonstop from New York to Chicago, but it did make stops for crew changes and servicing the engines and so forth, where we made mail exchanges at those places, Albany, Syracuse, Buffalo.

Then the other car was a 60-foot car and was a special RPO car because the [indiscernible] of the train was made out of stainless steel. It was an all stainless steel car trains that the New York Central had, the Empire State Express, that was train 51 and train 50. They ran from New York to Buffalo and returned. That was a special 60- foot car that had -- they usually had 10 to 15 railway mail clerks in each of those cars. Well, I’d say eight to 15 depending on the particular train. Train 14 which was one of the largest RPO trains in the country, it started in Chicago and it ended in Grand Central Station, New York. It was an all mail train that had three 60-foot cars on it, from the time it left Chicago to the time it arrived in New York, and they delivered the mail for New York City and Brooklyn, New York State, of course, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, on the way back from Buffalo having been started in Chicago where the West and Middle Division on train 14, they used to distribute Indiana, Illinois, and in some parts of Michigan and, of course, New York State, then we would get on in Buffalo and travel the rest of the way into New York City Grand Central Station, distributing New York State, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, as I said, and Pennsylvania.

INTERVIEWER: When you worked on the railways, do you remember what your starting salary was?

Walter Bell: I’m not sure. I started I think it was about $1.20 an hour, which was five cents more, I think it was about $1.20 which was five cents more than you got as a postal clerk. They I think was $1.15. That was back in ’47 when I was in the post office, and then in ’51, when I took the railway mail test and passed it and was accepted as a railway mail substitute in 1951, and I think it was about $1.25. And then eventually, we got raises up to -- I don’t remember what the hourly rate was when I was terminated. By then I was a regular anyway so we got paid on an annual salary.

INTERVIEWER: And, by the end of your career as a railway post office clerk, do you remember what your ending salary was?

Walter Bell: I think it was about $5400 to $6000 a year, something like that, plus expenses that we be incurred in our railway mail for paying the hotels and for meals, we were given per diem for that, but I think it was about

$5400 to $6000 a year.

INTERVIEWER: And do you believe that the pay was fair for the amount of work you had to do?

Walter Bell: Well, yes, I think so. Particularly considering that we didn’t work -- when I was a regular on the New York to Chicago East Division, I worked one week and was off one week. We got time off because of the extra duties we had to do at home. And so usually during those weeks we were off, many of the clerks had other jobs that they would go to to supplement their income. But the salary we received when compared with the postal stationary clerks, I think, was comparable and was fair.

When I retired, I was at a much higher level and so I was getting executive pay, believe it or not.

Yes. Well, I have a company that I started when I retired. When I retired in ’87, I moved to Florida and I got a job with Eastern Air Lines managing their mail contracts. And one time, Eastern was making something like $37 million a year flying the mail, and I managed those contracts for them. And when Eastern went out business, I then went into business doing the same thing for other airlines but doing it as a private company and contracting it out to them, and I still do that for one mail aviation transport company in Puerto Rico that handles the mail from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, and that contract is for M&M Aviation, and I manage that for them with the post office.

INTERVIEWER: What did you typically carry with you in your grip while you were on runs?

Walter Bell: Well, I had my work clothes, of course, and my various bill, documented, and books and things and manuals if I needed to refer to the various requirements for the states that I was distributing on that particular order. If I was going on the one where I had to work Pennsylvania mail, I had to carry the Pennsylvania scheme with me and the schedule for the other lines that we’d intersect with. And I’d also carry food that was like sandwiches and sodas and something to consume on the run because usually you didn’t have any time to get off and eat at the stations as you transit into the lines that you were working, and it was like sometimes eight to nine hours or more so we have to carry your food with you. And that was there. Along with, we had to have the keys to open the mail pouches with and either regular keys or rotary lock keys for the registered mail. And we also had to carry revolvers to be a detriment to anybody that wanted to maybe come in and take mail.

INTERVIEWER: What was the longest trip you ever worked?

Walter Bell:  Well, there was one trip on New York and Chicago, I don’t if it’s 14 or 52, which was a night train. They had a terrible snowstorm, and I think we were 20 hours or more from Buffalo to New York because of the snowstorm. And then I was on a train in New York to Chicago East Division train 51 where we had -- no, it might’ve been 95, the Empire State Express. Anyway, we had a flyer on the train in the tunnel going from Grand Central, we had to go in a tunnel on the 5th Avenue until you get up to around 125th Street, and as they came out of the tunnel, there was a fire at 125th Street. The fire engines came and I had to go to the hospital because I had smoke inhalation problems. At that time, I had bad asthma and I had to go to the hospital, and I ended up in a government hospital where I sat down for a couple of days or so, and then I was able to go back to work, but that was the only, I guess, traumatic experience I had. I’d been on trains where they hit cars, or trucks caused some derailments, course but it didn’t delay us as long as you might think. I think that happened twice. Upstate New York, they had several places where there was a major [indiscernible] near Syracuse, and I think we had an accident where the train ran into a car at that time. And then I’d been behind the trains that were derailed and we had to delay our train until they could create a derailment, but that wasn’t the longest. As I said, the snowstorm was the longest.

INTERVIEWER: While you were working as a railway post office clerk, did you have a family?

Walter Bell: Yes. I had -- let's see. All of my four children were born while I was employed by the Railway Mail Service as a railway mail clerk, and what used to happen when I became a regular or even when I was a substitute, when I wasn’t working, I was doing some of the duties that my wife would normally do because she was working at a regular job so I would do a lot of the laundry and a lot of the cooking for my kids, and I would take them back and forth to school. It was during lay off time that I had as a substitute and, of course, when I was regular during that entire week, I was doing housewife duties when I wasn’t -- I eventually had a chance and opportunity to get a job during the week that I was off. But when I didn’t have that job or when there was no work on that job because it was a part-time job then I would be doing housewife duties during the week that I was off.

INTERVIEWER: How did you cope with leaving your family behind on long trips?

Walter Bell: Well, what happened was -- the way it worked, for example, when I was a regular on the New York and Chicago East Division, I would work six days, I was off eight days. During the six days I was at work, I would go to work on one [indiscernible], I would go to work about two o’clock in the morning, let’s say, on a Monday morning, and from that time I went to work, I’d end up in Buffalo that same day, Monday, about three o’clock in the afternoon then I’d get a train, I’d work a train 26, this is 20th Century, coming back that night and be back in New York seven o’clock Tuesday morning, and I’d be home from about eight o’clock in the morning to about 11 or so that night when I had to leave to go back to work. So during the week that I was working I’d be home every other day during the day for a number of hours. During the week I was off, of course, I was home the whole day. So it wasn’t really -- in fact sometimes they would think I wasn’t really working because they’d concentrate on the eight days I would be home as opposed to the six days I was in and out, and because it was in and out during the time that they were sometimes sleeping and they’d see me when they go to school and come back and then I go to work that night, it was like sometimes I wasn’t working. I think it gave me more time with my family than I would have had I worked at a regular stationary unit.

INTERVIEWER: And so, I take it your family took it very well?

Walter Bell: Yes, my wife and the kids, of course, like I said, they liked it because their father was home with them more than most fathers so they liked it. What they didn’t like about it of course, we had to work holidays and so sometimes I was away from them on Christmas or Thanksgiving, stuff like that. But then it was made up by the time I would be off for the week off.

INTERVIEWER: What are some of your fondest memories of working on the railway?

Walter Bell: Well, the camaraderie. You worked with guys that were -- it was like family, and they exchanged a lot of their personal information with you and you would learn a lot from -- as I said, in New York to Chicago, they had teachers, many people were teachers during their week off, they were substitute teachers, many college grads, and so I learned a lot of things from those fellows. There were some that had businesses going, and one guy, IB Snider, who by the way, he’s still living. He retired down here in Florida, he’s in his 90s, he had a milk and butter- and-egg business that he had during his week off. And so the camaraderie between the fellows on the train was unbelievable. It was like family. They all watched out for each other and we would help each other without even asking when you needed help. It was a great experience for me in a human relationship point of view.

INTERVIEWER: And do you still keep in touch with any of the former clerks?

Walter Bell: Well, up until about three or four or five years ago, we used to have an annual reunion luncheon here in Florida in Fort Lauderdale, but as we got older and people started passing, that got away from us, and so I only now keep involved with the one I just mentioned. I talk to IB Snider, he’s in Sunrise, Florida. And then I have a friend of mine that worked while I was in the northeast region, a fellow named Jack Ruben, he’s up in Connecticut area there, Hartford. I keep in touch with him. And then the couple that I keep in touch with in exchanging Christmas cards, there’s a couple that I do that, but by and large, many of them had passed. I’m 82 myself and so a lot of my counterparts and colleagues have moved on.

INTERVIEWER: And do you, by chance, have IB Snider and Jack Ruben’s telephone numbers?

Walter Bell: Yes. I have to go into my file to find it for you because -- Jack also has an e-mail by the way. IB, I don’t know if he has an e-mail but I have Jack’s number, and if you want, I can call it into you after [indiscernible].

INTERVIEWER: Yes, that would be extremely helpful. A lot of times, the railway post office clerks know who’s still living and we’re trying to interview as many former clerks as possible, and we’ve been getting a lot of contact information from those who we did interview, so if you could look those up and then call me back.

Walter Bell:  I’ll do so.  I have some pictures you may be interested in, a picture of the Empire State Express which is a beautiful looking train. The New York Central Railroad was particularly proud of it being an all stainless steel, what they used to call the Silver Fleet, and they had a special railway postal car that they use on that train, I think it had a name even, and I think it was called the Cordell, but I have a picture of that. And I have the picture of the 20th Century railway post office car, so maybe I’ll send those to you too.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. That helps because we accept any pictures from post office clerks that have to do with their jobs. So if you would like to send those, please do. We will welcome them with open arms and add them to the collection.

Walter Bell: I’ll e-mail them to you because I have them on my computer. INTERVIEWER: Okay. Sounds good. Going on with the interview --

Walter Bell: In fact, that’s what I’ll do when I do those -- this afternoon, I will do that and I will also include IB Snider’s telephone number and Jack Ruben’s telephone number and his e-mail address.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Sounds good. Now, I know earlier you said that the post office issued you a revolver for the position and a set of keys if you’re working the pouches. Did they issue you anything else either for your safety or for your position?

Walter Bell: No. I think that was the only thing we had that was issued, the keys and the revolver. They provided us, of course, with the schedules and the scheme books, but as far as issuing equipment, no, we had to buy our own clothing that we used, our clothing and we were required to have shoes that had steel toes which we had to supply. So the only thing I think that I could recall that they issued to us in terms of equipment was the revolver and the keys and a badge. I’m sorry, also the badge.

And they also issued to us what we call travel commission which was a commission that gave us of the authority to travel on any of the railroads that we worked so that we could dead head back and forth to the stops that we had to get on, and I used that commission many times to research. For example, I’d get to Buffalo on Train 90 or Train 3 when I worked the New York to Chicago on Train 3, I’d get to Buffalo early in the morning, maybe six or seven in the morning, and I didn’t have to report back to work until about midnight on Train 26 at Buffalo so sometimes I would ride the train on my commission in the passenger cars from Buffalo to Cleveland and back so I would have more familiarity with the stations that they served and better to be able to do the mail. I do the same thing when riding from Buffalo to Detroit and back because we did work Michigan mail, and I learned some of the stops that the Buffalo and Detroit train served to better be able to distribute the mail. So I did a lot of that.

And I’ll send a picture of that commission also. I have one that was validated but it used to be something you showed a conductor and he would allow you to ride the train free if that commission covered that particular line, and I was covered most lines, Pennsylvania Railroad, New York Central Railroad because we intersected with them and some of the clerks had to use to those trains to get to work. I’ll send you a picture of that also.

INTERVIEWER: Okay, sounds good. And we spoke about this a little bit earlier, about were you ever put into a bad or dangerous situation while on the railway? If you could just kind of elaborate a little bit more on when you’re going through the tunnel and the train caught fire. I mean, what exactly happened?

Walter Bell: Well, I don’t think it was the railway mail car. It wasn’t the railway mail car. I think the New York Central had electric engines that used to carry the trains up the [indiscernible] because the New York City did not allow diesels or steam engines to come into the city, so they had to change from diesel power and steam power to electric power to take the trains into the station at Grand Central and to bring the train from Grand Central back up to Harmon which is near Croton, New York, where they would exchange back into diesel and steam. And so I think it was a diesel, the electric engine that caught fire or either it was a fire on the tracks in that tunnel and, of course, all the electricity was off and just dense smoke throughout the car. But the car itself was never -- the railway mail car was never on fire. But they eventually got the electricity going to pull us out of the tunnel, and as I said, it was full of smoke, and they pulled us up onto 125th Street where the ambulances and the fire engines were congregated and they took care of us from there. That was a scary situation, as I said, because I had asthma and I had a hard time breathing. It was very difficult and they gave me oxygen and took into the hospital from 125th Street.

INTERVIEWER: And were there any other times where you experienced something dangerous or bad?

Walter Bell: No. Just the excitement and the danger of the non-stop exchanges. It was a dangerous job because -- at one time, I made a catch on the New York, Geneva, and Buffalo, I made a catch, I think it was Van Etten, New York, a little small town, and the pouch got stuck in the catcher arm and I had to get help from one of the other railway mail clerks on the train to help pull the pouch out of that catcher arm, and we got it just in time to be able to make the next catch. Those stops from [indiscernible], Pennsylvania to Geneva, to Ithaca, New York, we made something like eight or nine non-stop exchanges and some are no more than a minute apart, and as I said, it was about 60 to 80 miles an hour when we did that, and so you had to be careful of your safety and also be careful of the danger of how the catch is made.  If you didn’t hold the catcher arm at the right level, it could knock that pouch back into you and knock you over, you could of course get caught in the arm. And so it was exciting and dangerous but I was fortunate to never have experienced anything other than having a pouch stuck in a catcher arm.

INTERVIEWER: And do you remember any stories of you hearing about other people experiencing dangerous situations?

Walter Bell: Well, I know that in the train, in the RPO car, the only facilities we had were a small commode and sink at one end of the car, and we had to use that to wash up before we changed our clothes to get off the car after having worked all night. And I remember one of the substitute guy named Benny Robinson, he was washing up and he was washing under his arm and he stuck his hand, and he raised his arms to do that and his hand got caught in the fan. And I wasn’t on the train when that happened but I heard about it, but that was about the only experience I could recall that I heard about.

INTERVIEWER: And earlier, I know you were talking about how in Scranton and Allentown, you did face some type of racial discrimination where you couldn’t stay in hotels overnight and you had to sleep in the car. Was there any other type of racial discrimination that you witnessed?

Walter Bell: Well, not that I witnessed but the whole premise of the Railway Mail Service was that it was an elite part of the postal service, and I say that in all honesty. It was a higher level of the postal service in general. And what happened was -- this is what I heard. I never worked in the south but I heard that in the railway mail had some terminals where they have stationary jobs, and because many of the southern clerks didn’t want the railway black people working in their stationary jobs, they would force them or make it possible for them to get road jobs which was on the train and that eliminated the possibility of them having to work in a stationary position with the black clerks at that time.

There weren’t a lot of black clerks in the Railway Mail Service. It was nowhere near the percentage of blacks in the railway mail as there were in the regular post office. For example, the New York to Chicago East Division, I think there were probably about 3000 to 5000 regular clerks and there was a less than a hundred black ones, probably less than 50. So what happened, as I said, I heard this from a couple of clerks and one clerk railway mail clerk on the New York to Chicago East Division, he was a regular there, his name was Adam [indiscernible]. He came from the south, and he said the reason he ended up on railway post offices rather than in the terminal or the stationary job was because many of the southerners in the stationary job didn’t want black people working with them so they somehow made it able for them to get on the trains which is really a break and it was a better job anyways, working on the trains and in the stationary units but that’s about the extent of those two.  It’s as though sleeping in the cars in [indiscernible], Allentown, Pennsylvania and Scranton, Pennsylvania. And most times the railway employees were cooperative and they would hook the car up to the steam, and when they did it was quite a challenge. And what I would do at other times, I would just get out of the railway postal car and get into the passenger car that would be laying over and they always hooked that up to the steam. But that was the biggest challenge, I guess, just racial-wise.

At the Buffalo Station, New York Central Station, it was at a Polish area but there was black family that had a hotel there and the black railway postal clerks used to stay there and have their meals there; they had a restaurant there also. But in Buffalo, we had the ability, if we had the time, to go downtown to the regular hotels and they would accept us with no problem.

INTERVIEWER: And did the other clerks treat you as an equal?

Walter Bell: Yes, particularly on the New York to Chicago. They were more than ideal. As I said, we were family. I never had a discriminatory problem or racial problem clerk to clerk. Never had it. Never had anybody call me any names or anything or say they didn’t want to work with me because of my race. They were very cooperative. And it was something that everybody had to do anyway because each one depended on the other to complete their requirements and so it was almost fait accompli that you wouldn’t have any discriminatory things going on because it could end up hurting you, the person that committed it because they knew that each one helped each other.

INTERVIEWER: It’s a very interesting topic I think because a lot of the other clerks that I have interviewed have said the same thing, and they said that just being on the train was different than working outside of the train, and it’s just kind of curious to see like what each individual clerk has to say about race on the train because everybody really says that there virtually wasn’t any.

Walter Bell: Yes, there wasn’t. And as I said, it would be self-defeating to do so because you each then had to depend on each other and so it would self-defeating to start any discriminatory things that would impact the crew because, as I said, the crew depended on each one helping each other.

Have you talked to a lot of black former railway mail clerks?

INTERVIEWER: I’ve talked to, I believe, only a couple. It’s a very, very small percentage of the people that I’ve interviewed.

Walter Bell: Well, that’s because there was a very low percentage of black employees in the Railway Mail Service. The test, it was a much harder test than the regular post office test, and so many blacks that took the post office test just accepted that and didn’t try to go further into the railway mail. Then many of them didn’t like the idea of being away from their families, I guess, probably, I don’t know.

INTERVIEWER: And you basically just answered my next question which was, did you know of anybody who did experience racial discrimination while on the train, and you were talking about those that were in the southern terminal.

Walter Bell: This guy, Adam [indiscernible], he had told me before he came on the New York to Chicago East Division, the reason he started in the railway mail post office in the south where he came from -- I think he came from Louisiana -- he said was because they didn’t want to work with him in the terminal so they pushed him out onto the train, and he liked it and he eventually transferred up to New York to Chicago.

INTERVIEWER: Were you a member of any type of outside organizations such as a union or club that was affiliated with the railway postal clerks?

Walter Bell: Yes. One time when I was a substitute on the New York to Chicago East Division, I was a junior steward in the Railway Mail Association. There was a fellow named Sid Shapiro who was highly active in the union on the Railway Mail Association which was the union for the Railway Mail postal clerks. At that time, it was a separate union activity from the regular post office union, and Sid Shapiro was highly active, and he recruited me into the union, Railway Mail Association, as a junior steward, but I eventually gravitated away from that, not because of any disassociation I wanted to have, just because of my movement in the railway mail precluded some of the things I needed to do, and eventually I ended up in management anyway, so that would’ve precluded me having being able to be in the union.

INTERVIEWER: And, when you were in the union, what types of activities did you guys do?

Walter Bell: Well, we would represent grievances some of the guys might have regarding the application of their hours or the work assignments they would get. Sometimes they would feel that their seniority wasn’t properly represented and, therefore, they should have a job that they bid for that they didn’t get and things like that.

Sometimes it was working conditions where they might be grieving the fact that the train that they worked didn’t have heat and that the post office didn’t seem to be doing anything to put pressure on the railway line to correct those issues, just things like that.

INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that you ever wanted to change about your position, and this can be something small to something that you really wish that they had changed?

Walter Bell: Well, one of the things that used to happen a lot, we’d have postal inspectors coming on the train, and they would go over our adherence to rules and regulations, and some of them would be carsick because [indiscernible] inspector coming on with a book and that book says you should do this and you should do that, but the reality of the situation requires you to do something more realistic that maybe wasn’t covered in the book and they would call you out on that and say, “Well, why are you doing this?” And sometimes they would write you up about that. And if you didn’t have a good enough reason as to why you were going beyond or around the regulations, then you could get what they call demerits, and those demerits could be detrimental to your -- we used to get automatic increases depending on our performance, and if you’ve got enough demerits, you didn’t get those increases.

INTERVIEWER: What do you miss the most about being a railway post office clerk?

Walter Bell: It was the best job I could conceivably have had, and I miss the camaraderie of my fellow clerks.  I miss the movement, the transportation. I think the fact that I was a railway mail clerk made it possible for me to be married so long because my wife didn’t have to put up with me for six days every other week, and so I think that helped to make it better for us. But I miss that. I miss the camaraderie, the movement of the transportation from one place to another. Some guys -- in fact, there were a couple of guys that had families on both ends of the line, surprisingly enough. It was easy to do because they could have a family in Buffalo, for example, and a family in New York, and one would not know anything about the other but of course that would require you to be able to plan your expenses the right way and stuff but there were a couple that did that.

INTERVIEWER: Is there anything else that you miss about being an RPO clerk?

Walter Bell: Well, as I said, I think it was mainly the camaraderie of the people, the wonderful guys that we met. And the fact that I could work a week and be off a week and get better pay than I could in a post office stationary unit, and the extra money I could make during the week off. I miss that until I got into regional headquarters and became part of management. Of course, that was a major decision because when I got into the regional office, it meant working every day, five days a week out of seven, and that was quite a departure. But the benefits of management began to take hold as I moved up and then I kind of forgot about some of the things that happened to me in the railway mail that was so beneficial.

INTERVIEWER: And then for the last question, is there any other information you would like to share with researchers about your experience or position with the railway post office?

Walter Bell: No. One would be -- what I’d like to leave as my last story would be what the railway mail imposed in to me or gave to me to give me a chance to become a part of management. I moved up into management when I got into the regional office, and as I said, at the hindsight, I never thought I would get to up to the point that I was a general manager in Washington. And each of those jobs I had, most of the jobs I had in the regional offices and then the headquarters offices were the first jobs that a black man ever had in that particular function.

I was the first -- they evolved eventually into a system of management called the transportation management offices and they had, I think, it was 15 or 17 of them throughout the country regional offices that managed the transportation part of the postal service, cars and trucks and rail units and air transportation units, and I opened the first transportation management office in that new procedure in New York, I was the first one to do that, and the first black one they ever had. And most of the management jobs I had from that point on, I was one of the first black air officers that was going to be responsible for the management of mail contracts with the various airlines in a given area. The air transportation officer was the one that represented the post office and I had one of those first jobs as the air officer and as a manager of the distribution branch, manager of the transportation planning unit. So it was a very wonderful thing for me to be able to do so and open the door for others to do so.

INTERVIEWER: Is there anything else that you would like to say?

Walter Bell: No.  I appreciate the chance to reminisce and to exchange some of the pictures and things that I’ll send to you. It was a service that was unbelievable that could happen for [indiscernible] the mail customer. There were people that knew our schedule, postal customers that knew our schedules that took advantage of the train schedules so that they could have same-day service. A person in Sayre, Pennsylvania that had a business that maybe wanted to exchange mail with people beyond Sayre on a New York, Geneva, Buffalo line between Sayre, Pennsylvania and Ithaca, if they timed it right, they could put mail on the train leaving Sayre that day that would be delivered to the box holders in places like Van Etten, New York, Jacksonville, New York, [indiscernible], New York, because the post offices would then get the mail that we would deliver nonstop and put them in the boxes for the customers so there’s nothing comparable to that today, that same-day service capability.

INTERVIEWER: All right. Well, if you don’t have anything to add, that concludes our interview.

Walter Bell: Well, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to expand on my experiences there. It was a wonderful experience and there’s no way I could probably put that down unless maybe I wrote a book or something. I appreciate the opportunity.

Donald Bliss

Mr. Bliss began his career with the Railway Mail Service as a substitute on the Chicago and Sioux City, Chicago, West Liberty and Omaha, and Chicago and Council Bluffs lines. Later in 1961, he was appointed a regular clerk on the Chicago and Council Bluffs line. After the elimination of his position in 1967, Mr. Bliss transferred to the Grand Rapids and Chicago Railway Post Office, and later the Pittsburgh and Chicago Railway Post Office.

Donald Bliss (DB) Interview Transcript

DB: I had met some fellas that worked in the Postal Service and with the Railway Mail Service, and it sounded like a good opportunity. And so I took the examination and passed and got on. And it was just a step above, or several steps above what I was doing beforehand, and it just, a good paying job, had benefits to it, and retirement, and it was just, it was more of a position than a job, and it was a fun job, I say fun. The people you worked with were all really good people to work with and the camaraderie, and you know we had our work cut out for us, and we had plenty to do and, if I would’ve, if the Railway Mail Service would have continued, 1967 when they started taking the trains off en mass, I went to the Post Office and I was never happy with the Post Office, at the Post Office because it was, you had no, when you worked in Railway Mail you had connections to get mail home, and you had the feeling that you were actually doing something. You know, that you were getting people’s mail home to them. Where the Post Office, it was just, a ho-hum place, just a place to go put in eight hours. So that’s, and you know the benefits, that’s the reason that I took the examination and got in there. And it was a really enjoyable job. There was a lot of work to it, a lot of studying, but you had the feeling that you were doing something worthwhile.

INTERVIEWER: What jobs did you have on the trains?

DB: Well, I had several different jobs because I changed, we would have what they called reorganizations every year or so, and you could bid on different jobs according to your seniority. And I did all sorts of jobs, letter clerk, pouch-racker, paper clerk, and worked all sorts of mail, registered mail, and just everything the Post Office had, you know, the Post Office had, we did on the road and we were just, we were a post office on wheels.

INTERVIEWER: You mentioned in your letter that you were a sub before you became a regular. Can you talk to me a little bit about the difference between being a sub and a regular?

DB: Well, what a substitute, when you started out and you got appointed to the Railway Mail, you went out, you were a substitute clerk. Which meant that you didn’t have any regular job, you were guaranteed no hours, but any time there was, a man was on vacation or called in sick or something you could be called out and you worked by the telephone and, or by the office would send you orders from the Chicago office to us to report to the depot, the train at a certain time to go to work and you would work, well depending on if there was a man on vacation, you took his job and you would work the amount of trips that he worked. Then you’d go home and then wait for another call to get called out again. Fortunately I was, when I went to work and was subbing, I didn’t have much home time. I was kept pretty busy, which I liked. And so then after two years I got appointed regular, which meant I had a regular job on a certain train and certain days that I would work. Like I, if I had, I bid of letter case one way across the road from Chicago to Omaha I’d work letter cases, or then I would bid a job coming back the other way from Omaha to Chicago and possibly work the pouch rack, which, this was the mail that came in and had to be sorted out and bundles and so forth and there was always mail that we had to work then, too. And so you’d have a job as a pouch-racker, and then you’d have jobs that were paper clerks so you worked newspapers. And then the letter cases, so you had all kinds of different jobs in there and each man, each man on the train was appointed, was assigned to a certain job. And that was his job. Now if I got overloaded with mail I would get help when somebody else would get done, or you know get caught up with their mail, then they’d step over and help the guy that had more mail. And you just would run and then of course you could do any job in the car as far as that goes. But you had your own assignment and then you had to carry heavier equipment for that assignment. So… INTERVIEWER: I’m also trying to get a kind of idea of what the typical day would be for someone working for the Railway Mail Service, like, you know, when you’d work up, when you’d go to the station, what would you wear, what would you eat, the kind of hours you worked… could you maybe describe that for a little bit for me?

DB: Okay, now, one job that I had, I went to work at, if I remember right in Chicago, on one train I’d go to work, I believe, it was 6:30 in the morning I believe. And we would not get to Omaha until 9:00 at night. Now we would work into Chicago at the depot, well the mail cars would be set into the Post Office track down there and then the mail, and the mail handlers from the post office would bring mail down to us. Well we would set there and work mail from, we’d go to work and we’d have to dress a car, we’d have to hang all the pouches, and the sacks, and everything, and then we wouldn’t leave Chicago until 11 o’clock in the morning and we would be working mail in the car from 6:30 until 11 o’clock and then leave to go to Omaha and we would get there at 9 o’clock in the evening. And, as far as eating, we’d, we would get lunches made in Chicago, or a lot of times when I was coming through Burlington, here, my wife would come down to the depot and bring a lunch down to me. And she always had enough food for several other people too, you know, and then would go, get out to Omaha the next day we would head back to Chicago and we’d get a lunch made out there, we had a little kind of a delicatessen we’d go and have sandwiches made, and get a lunch for going back, and as far as clothes, we just wore regular street clothes. We had no uniforms, no nothing, and we just wore, just regular street clothes. Now, it was a dirty job, so we had, we took work clothes with us and wore, you know, not regular work clothes to work we’d wear ‘em to the train and then we’d, when we got on the mail car we changed clothes and put on our regular work clothes because they would get dirty during the day because all the dust coming up through there, you know.

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember where you stay between shifts? Were there any places that you would stay regularly?

DB: Yes. We had a motel in Chicago, most of us stayed at Fort Durburn hotel which was an old hotel over there, and they had, they had, during the Depression years when jobs were hard the Railway Mail clerks, a lot of ‘em, most of ‘em stayed at the Fort Durburn and they’d give ‘em good rates, and they always gave us good rates up until the time we were, the trains were taken off and of course that hotel is gone now, but, and we’d, we stayed in cheaper hotels because we, well we got expense money, but were like, where I lived I had to have a motel at both Chicago and Omaha for a couple of nights and so, you know we couldn’t, we didn’t stay in any Holiday Inn’s [laughs] and we just stayed in just a place where we had clean rooms and clean sheets and so forth.

INTERVIEWER: Was it a lifestyle that was particular difficult to get used to? DB: Was it what?

INTERVIEWER: Like difficult to get used to, like that kind of lifestyle?

DB: Well, yes and no. You just, you know you were working all hours, you had a regular job, you had jobs where you’d work nights and work in days and some had, some you’d run, well like, when I went west out of Chicago it was a day job, and starting at 6:30 in the morning until 9 o’clock at night, and then coming back the next day, we would leave Omaha in the evening and, it’d be an all night run then to Chicago. We’d go to work at, 6 o’clock, 5, 6 o’clock in the evening in Omaha and we’d get to Chicago at 4 o’clock in the morning. Then we’d walk down to the hotel and go to bed or else maybe might have to wait around, maybe I ended my tour there because I would be working, well like, like four days and then off 8 days and I would work, oh, 8 days and be off 6, you know just different, different times like that, different schedules, and so we just, you just got used to it, you just, you know, and you worked every day of the year. If you were assigned, if your case run on a holiday, you were on the train you didn’t get the holiday off. And no matter what day it was. Christmas, all of ‘em. So, that made it kind of rough sometimes because you’d be gone Christmas time, but it was just part of the job and you just had to do it.

INTERVIEWER: Would you do anything special with the crew for a holiday like Christmas, or was it just pretty much business as usual?

DB: With the crews? No, no. No, we’d just all go our own way, we’d go out if we were out there on a holiday and well we’d get together and go eat together, you know, and like that and, oh we may, may go to a ball game if we’re in Chicago, we’d go up and have a, the day off and go up to the ballgames and yes, we would get together like that. And so we all worked together and everybody got along, along good. There was a real closeness to people, and you know, and still, after not, not being on the Railway Mail since 1967, every year we have a get-together with the guys that we worked, that worked together there, and we have a reunion every year. And have had, for thirty- seven years. This is something you don’t find in a factory job at home, you know, or whatever.

INTERVIEWER: Was there anything you didn’t like about the job?

DB: Not really. Not really. A lot of fellas didn’t like to study, but that was just part of the job, and what I mean by studying, was that you had to know how to get the mail home to every town in the state, and you had to take examinations where you had to go in and learn the state and how they got their mail and you’d go in, oh, probably twice a year, sometimes more often depending on the size of the state, and you’d have to go in and they would give you a hundred, hundred cards out of, with the towns on them, in that state, and you had to sort ‘em in a little, a little small letter case, just like a letter case in the Post Office, pigeon holes, and you had 8 minutes to do that.

And if you, if you missed more than, well when I first started if you missed more than 3 cards you flunked the examination. So you had to have a 97% efficiency. And, so, but no, there was really no aspect of that job that I didn’t like. Like I said, it was a position to me.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever run into any dangerous situations on the job?

DB: Not really dangerous situations, but I was never, never on a train that derailed, and never had any close calls. I was on trains where we had, where we hit cars and hit people and all but we were not directly involved. No, and the danger was never, never any danger crossed our minds, and even when we went to the door to, if we went had to go to the door and do local, which was, by throwing mail out the door or catching mail on the fly, you would go to the door and no matter how fast you were going, all you had was just a bar across the door between you and space. But, I never, I never considered that dangerous. They would today, but believe me… yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember transporting anything unusual?

DB: OH yes, yes. I remember, yes. We had a lot of, we’d have new money coming out of the Denver mint going to Chicago. We would have any kind of, and we had payroll for military bases, we just had all kinds of stuff like that, and it was just, just part of the job. You know, it was, we, we took it serious, but yet, you know, it wasn’t really concerned about anything happening. If something would happen or if something could have happened we would have been half-way prepared. We all, we kept the doors closed when we were going down the road, and normally kept the doors, well we had to have the doors open when we stopped at the station to pick up more mail, or dispatch, or get the mail out to the mail handlers outside. So, and then, we were wide open to the public but you know we, nobody’d ever come around the cars.

INTERVIEWER: I’m also looking for any stories you might have; if there was something particularly funny that ever happened, or you know your proudest moment, just any memories you have in particular.

DB: Well, about one of the, about the biggest thing that ever happened that I remember was in 1965 when the Mississippi River was flooded here, and I remember going to work on, and I don’t know why I remember this, but it was on a Tuesday evening when I went to work in Omaha, and we were to go and get in Chicago Wednesday morning at 4 o’clock. Well, when we got to Chicago finally, we left Tuesday night, and we didn’t get into Chicago until Thursday morning and we, there were some of us that were due to work at 6:30, I think it was around 6:30 in the morning, and it was 9 o’clock, I think it was around 9 o’clock when we got into Chicago on Thursday morning, and we had to go get something to eat and get a lunch packed and get back to leave by 11 o’clock to head back to, back to Omaha, and that was on Thursday morning and we didn’t get out there, out to Omaha then until Friday at, Friday, I think it was Friday around noon when we got there. And that was on continuous time from Tuesday night, Tuesday evening, until Friday, noon. And, but we had to do a lot of detouring. So, and that was one of the biggest things that I have, had happen, you know, I never, never knew of anything that was, that was ever really exciting, I was never on a derailment, I was never, I knew fellas on the train when they hit grain trucks and that, and they would get jarred around a little bit, but I was never in anything like that. I kinda had, kind of a, not dull life, but just, just stayed out of the way.

Aubrey Booth

Mr. Booth started his career with the Railway Post Office in 1962. His time with the RMS lasted until 1962 on the Washington and Bristol line and the Washington and Charlotte line.

Aubrey Booth (AB) Interview Transcript

AB: Oh, what made me decide to work for the Railway Mail Service? I was already a postal employee in Lynchburg, Virginia, and a vacancy came open and they posted it, you know, in the post office in Lynchburg. And I just decided I’d like to try something different and something new, and so I applied for it and got it.

INTERVIEWER: You started out as a substitute, then? AB: Yes, yes.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever have a hard time getting along with the regular clerks on the Railway Mail Service? AB: No, I did not.

INTERVIEWER: So was it, was it a job you liked much more than just working in the post office?

AB: Yes, it was. I was a clerk in the post office there in Lynchburg. And, yes, I liked it much better, because you had, the working conditions weren’t better, but you were more independent, you were left, you were independent and left with less supervision, and you could supervise yourself and you were left mostly, you had an assigned job and you could do that job, you know, as efficiently as you could and most people did a wonderful job working on the Railway Mail Service. And it had some other advantages, too. When I first went on, I worked 5 days and I was off 9. But I worked like 14 hours a day. 10, 12 hours a day. And then later on I got another job, a different assignment, where I worked 6 days and off 8. So, the time off was good, and we worked 48 minute hours, so you had some built up time you could use.

INTERVIEWER: You had mentioned the conditions on the train, could you just tell me a little about that?

AB: Well, in the wintertime, of course, it got pretty cold, and I’d see a lot of ice falling on the floor of the work trains that were the mail trains that we were on, the mail car, and but most of the cars we ran, this was in the early sixties, mid sixties, and most of these cars were like built before World War I, I mean II, World War II, between World War I and World War II, so a lot of them were old cars. Didn’t have much heat in ‘em and let me see.

INTERVIEWER: Was it difficult to maintain your balance if the cars got all icy? Was there any special way to deal with that?

AB: No, no. Well, the cars shook all the time they were running, and you just learned to stabilize yourself, but sometimes it got rough and some clerks lost their balance, they would be tossed, you know, tossed across the work room floor now, but, yeah it was shaky, shaky quite a bit sometimes, but you learned to keep your balance. INTERVIEWER: Was there anything about the job that you didn’t like in particular?

AB: Yes, just being away from home a lot. INTERVIEWER: Did you have family at the time?

AB: Yes, yes I sure did. Yeah I had two young sons at the time. And I missed that part. But of course the time off made up the difference for it so it wasn’t really that bad.

INTERVIEWER: Do you ever remember running into any danger? Train wrecks or anything like that?

AB: Yes, I didn’t, I seen some wrecks, but one thing that stuck in my mind was, let’s see, it was in Alexandria. We just left Washington, and the train… let’s see we hit a car. T-boned a car at a crossing and the supervisor and myself ran up there to see but the guy, he was dead, I looked out the window and I could see the tail-end of the car, and went across to the other window and looked up and saw the front-end of the car. He just t-boned it right in the middle. And, that was the only time I remember but I only served 4 years on the trains. But that’s the only time I can remember seeing any wrecks or having any… not any real danger, no.

INTERVIEWER: Do you have any other stories or memories, maybe something funny or unusual that happened ever?

AB: Well, sometimes the train couldn’t get over the mountains going on the way to Bristol, on past Roanoke, and let me see. One of the things I liked about it was the service that it gave people all up and down the line because we would throw mail off at a lot of different places, and of course we’d stop at the larger towns. And, when we went up to DC from Lynchburg, you could mail a letter here in Lynchburg at like 8 o’clock at night, and the train came through here at 9, which when I started working, and that mail could be delivered in New York City the next day. So they transferred it right down at Washington and it went on to New York, so you could have overnight service right to New York City. And, we had 2 clerks that worked New York City, the city mail itself, send ‘em right to the different stations, all of ‘em in New York City. So the service was just really a great service. Another thing that comes to mind is when we saw President Johnson one time down at the train station, Union Station, and, and sometimes I had some free time when I was in DC. I went up there to Congress and I met Robert Kennedy one day. And he says, “hello, how are you,” with that Boston accent, and shook his hand, shook his hand, didn’t talk to him, just passed him in the hallway. And, oh, another thing I was going to say about the train going from Washington- Bristol. It went on, that train went on to Memphis, Tennessee. And we, I think, I don’t know how often it was, maybe once every couple of weeks or once a month we would haul, we would haul new money from the Federal Reserve money, I don’t know which Federal Reserve, it was going to the Federal Reserve Bank in Memphis, from the printing office down in DC, and we had, it must’ve been 25-35 bags of new money. Of course it was all cash, and loaded, had it loaded right there on the train, they loaded in one end of the car. So there was no telling how much money we carried on the trains.

Donald Bresland

Mr. Bresland, of Springfield, Vermont, worked with the Railway Mail Service from 1950 until 1957. He ran on the St. Albans and Boston line. In addition, Mr. Bresland worked in the Highway Post Office Service, running from Burlington to Albany and Newport to Springfield.

Donald Bresland (DB) Interview Transcript

DB: I just got out of the service in 1946 and then I… there wasn’t too much around, and Railway Mail came up, and I went and took the exam and it, well I can say that the headquarters was in White Rivers and I lived in Bellis Falls and I went up and took the test and passed the test and then was appointed a substitute Railway Mail clerk.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have family that worked with the Post Office Department at all or were you the first one? DB: No, I was the first one.

INTERVIEWER: I would like to talk a little bit about your workplace—what size RPO car did you work on?

DB: Well I worked on what they called a Newport and Springfield, Newport, Vermont and, usually they’d head out of Springfield, Mass. and go to Newport, Vermont. Well, they had different trains, you had day trains, and night trains, and I guess they head out of Springfield Mass. on a night train and go to Newport, Vermont, stop all along the way, at stations all along the way, and stay overnight and get into Newport, Vermont in the morning and sleep all day, and head back down to Springfield, Mass. at night. And I worked on the Boston… St. Albans and Boston, and that was from Boston to Montreal. Used to head out of Boston and go all night there and get into Montreal in the morning and sleep all day and then go to work that night and head back to Boston again. And I was a substitute; I had to fill in for regular clerks that took off. Regular clerks that took off usually worked 6 days and had 8 days off but I had to work whenever they were off, most of the time it was every day or like that, or maybe get one or two days off a week but not very often. And I worked on what they call the Concord and Claremont RPOs, it was a small line, it was a one man job. You first get on there you didn’t know… where the next station was, anything like that. You had to be working all the time and watching out for the next stations and when you slowed down you’d know you were coming to the station. So a lot of those places there you didn’t stop, you had what they call a catch and a throw. You take a mail bag and throw one off, and raise the arm on the RPO and then catch the mail bag that the post office put up there and I worked on the St. Johnsbury and Lamoille County, and I worked from Burlington, Vermont to Albany, New York. And, let’s see… at that time there was, oh God there was, 1950s there was all kinds of trains running there, the odd numbers went one way and the even numbers went the other way. And, you didn’t, usually assigned to a week at a time on a job, didn’t know what job it was going to be or like that, they’d send you orders and you’d have to report for… what’s it called, 7-12 and 7-11, the odd numbers would be going one way and the even numbers would be going the other way, and 79 and 78… 79 would head up, and up to Newport and 78 would head out of Newport the next day, so… but we always had a great crew that worked together. I mean, nobody got caught up ahead of anybody else and when the crew was caught up the whole crew was caught up, you’d have to wait ‘til you could get to the next station to pick up more mail to work. And sometimes, what train you were, you headed out of Boston on the paper train that, the… just before you left the station the armed guards would pull up with money that you would have to carry from one station to the next station. You’d get to the first station and there’d be cops there with shot guns, sawed off shot guns and machine guns and like that and you’d put the money off and go to the next station and the same thing would be there, like that and you were equipped with a Smith and Weston snub-nosed 38 yourself, you always had to carry that with you. And let’s see, anything else?

INTERVIEWER: Um, I’ve just a few, like, specific questions, what size RPO car did you work on?

DB: Well, I can’t remember if they were 80 or 90 feet, there, and well they had 30 footers… I worked on all sizes. Some of them you’d have 7 or 8 men on, you’d have a full car, a full Railway Mail car, and other times you’d have just 2 men on and you’d have a 15 foot car or a 30 foot car.

INTERVIEWER: Was it a lifestyle that was particularly difficult to adjust to?

DB: Oh yeah, like I say, usually, you didn’t sleep in the best of places. A lot of times we’d… you’d get into Springfield, Mass. and you’d have a little layover for an hour, two hours, three hours, and you’d go in the station, there, and lay down on a bench and it happened to be in the middle of the night you had to put your Railway Mail badge on when you were laying down because if you didn’t, the cops would come along and whack you on the bottom of the feet, and tell you to get moving, they thought you were a bum or like that. You dressed in your work clothes, and all that, and by dressed up, I mean just a Railway Mail badge and like that. And, it was a hard life to get used to but once you got used to it, it was good and like I say the people that had regular jobs worked 6 days and had 8 days off, so that was good, they had a whole week off, and your hours were 48 minute hour because you had to do a lot of studying at home, and you’d have to have different states, you’d have to have every…you’d have little cards that you’d study on, and on the front of them would be the town and on the back of it, you’d turn it over and it would tell you which sectional center it went to and like that. You’d have to know all those, which… all of them towns, they had their own post offices but they were dispatched to sectional centers and they had which sectional center it was. And when you took a test you’d have to take… I can’t remember when the tests were… every three months or ever six months but you’d have to go to the head office and take a test, and they’d pick up 100 cards out of the whole state. You didn’t know what 100 cards it was, and you had to get a 97 or you’d have to take the test over again. And, like I say, some of them had, some of the states were so big that they were divided into A, B, and C and probably to come back was the same way. You really had to know everything, absolutely every little town and what they called “nixies” there too, they weren’t post offices but they were little towns that, you had to know which town that mail would go to, and I say it was a lot of studying to be done at home.

INTERVIEWER: You mentioned that you worked with some really good guys; did you have any really good friends in the RMS or stories about people you worked with?

DB: The guys I worked with? Oh they were all a great bunch of guys, I mean they were, like I say it was… each, they had regular crews on each train and you would fill in, and you worked on those trains all the time. Well not all the time, but once this week and once next week, but you always knew which crew you were going to work with. They were all a great bunch of guys. Everybody worked like the dickens, and like I say, nobody was sitting down and somebody else was working. Everybody was… the hands were going all the time and you just throw on mail, or like that.

INTERVIEWER: Did anything very unusual ever happen? Or were your runs always very routine?

DB: Oh no, like I say… you know, one time when, on what they call a 7-12 we were going to Northampton, Mass, and not to Northampton, Mass but outside of Northampton, Mass, and there was a cross in there, and the train hit a car trying to beat the train, and flipped over and went all over the sides of the mail car and all that flying glass came in and like that, you didn’t get cut or anything they had mesh screens inside and the glass was fine but you had to, you were delayed for quite a while until the police investigated the accident, held the train up for that much longer. A lot of places and well, in Westminster, Vermont on the trains we used to pick up chickens, baby chicks, they used to come over from Hubbard Farms in Walpole, New Hampshire, they’d put ‘em on and all the time from the time the chicks were put on till the time you get off the train that’s all you could hear was the little chicks chirping all the time, there. A whole bunch of boxes making a heck of a lot of noise, there. Like I say, everybody, they were all a great bunch of guys to work for, I never worked for, worked for the post office, but after that, after I worked there I transferred into the post office and there were a good bunch of guys there but like I say there were nothing like the guys that worked in the Railway Mail. They were a team, and it didn’t matter which Railway Mail you got on they were all the same. They knew what they had to do, and like that, so… INTERVIEWER: Did you have family at the time when you worked for the RMS?

DB: Yes, yes I did, I had a wife.

INTERVIEWER: Was it very hard for her, when you would leave?

DB: Yes, yes, yes like I say we lived in Bellis Falls and you’d go through there, like I say, different times of the day… which train you were on and a lot of times you didn’t know what time the train was coming and come down to the station and bring you lunch or at eleven o’clock at night or whatever time the train was going through, and you were away a lot. When you were a substitute you’d get home on a Friday night or a Saturday night and have to leave on a Sunday again. It didn’t give you a heck of a lot of time with your family, and a lot of times you were living in Bellis Falls and the trains didn’t start out of Bellis Falls you’d have to go from Bellis Falls to Springfield, Mass. or Boston or like that, or what they called dead-heading you had a railway pass, a railway free pass on the railway and you wouldn’t have to pay but you’d have to dead-head from Bellis Falls to wherever you were going, where the train started out of, where your job started out of and spend two or three hours of what they called dead-heading and that took up a lot of time, you had to get to work but trains were the only way to do it. Most of the time you’d probably lay down and stretch out and put your coat on one of the arms and sleep all the way. You had to catch up on your sleep.

James Briggs

Mr. James Briggs started as a RMS substitute clerk in May of 1947, and became a regular within a year. He worked out of the Bay Area in California, travelling throughout the east coast on his routes. On the train, he was often in charge of all newspapers, and felt great responsibility in delivering the news to people.

Jim Briggs Interview Transcript

Jim Briggs: Yes. My name is James Briggs, Jim Briggs, and I was a Railway postal clerk. INTERVIEWER: And were you a regular or a sub?

Jim Briggs: Well, when I started out, I started my postal career as a temporary substitute in May of 1947, and about a year later became a regular substitute. And so I ran out here on the West Coast in the San Francisco area, all over the various lines that ran out of San Francisco and Oakland, the valley lines, the coastlines, the Pacific Grove, HPO, just about everything that ran out of the Bay Area.

INTERVIEWER: And earlier you stated that you ran on the San Francisco and Oakland lines, what cities did you travel between?

Jim Briggs: When I was a substitute, I ran on the San Francisco and L.A. and those ran from Oakland down through the San Joaquin Valley, that would be Martinez, Tracy, Lathrup, Modesto, Fresno, Bakersfield, over the Tehachapi Mountains to Mojave and then to Lancaster, Palmdale into Los Angeles. The other line that ran out of San Francisco was the Coast Line. That was the San Francisco, San Jose and L.A. RPO. And the through run, The Lark ran from San Francisco, San Jose, down through Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Watsonville, Salinas, down the coast, San Luis Obispo on down to Santa Barbara, Ventura, and into Los Angeles. Also on the Coast Line, they had a short run that ran from San Francisco down through all of the peninsula cities, Burlingame, San Mateo, Santa Clara and down to San Jose. And you would go down and you would get off that train, maybe be there an hour and you would go back. They called that run the merry-go-round because you just went back and forth with three or four trips per day. All of that run down there at that time in 1948 was all prune orchards, apricot orchards and that now is, I’m sure you’ve heard of, the Silicon Valley. But at that time, that was all orchard land.  So there’s been quite a change.

The other lines that I ran on were out of Oakland was the San Francisco and Barstow RPO. That also ran down a valley which ran from Oakland, Richmond, down to Stockton, Riverbank, Modesto, Fresno, down through Bakersfield, also over the Tehachapi on the same line; the Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe shared the same route over the Tehachapi Mountains. But the Mojave, the Santa Fe line went straight across the Mojave Desert to Barstow.

The other line that I had run on was the early HPO, highway post office, that ran from San Francisco down to Pacific Grove, and that would go from San Francisco across the San Francisco Bay Bridge, stopped at Oakland, San Leandro, Hayward, and out to what is now Fremont but it was Centerville then, down to a few of those towns and to San Jose over the Santa Cruz Mountains to Santa Cruz down to Watsonville, down to Salinas, Fort Ord which was a very active military base at that time, Monterey, and down to Pacific Grove where they would layover for about an hour or two and then return.

So basically, those were the lines that I ran quite frequently for about two years. And at that time, all of the trains were pulled by steam engines. That was before they started using the diesel locomotives.

INTERVIEWER: And I know earlier you said that you served as a railway post office clerk, you started in May of 1947. How many years did you stay a railway post office clerk?

Jim Briggs: I stayed a railway post office clerk until actually it was 1964. I had been promoted to foreman in 1963, and at that time, I was on the Ogden and San Francisco West Division Line which is known as the Overland and that line ran from the Oakland Pier Mole where the trains terminated at that time to Sacramento over the Sierra and Nevada Mountains on to Lovelock, Nevada which was our terminal point. The train that I ran on at that time was Train 22, the slow mail train, that went over and returned from Lovelock on the fast City of San Francisco Train 101.

So actually, my time on the trains ended in 1964, actually, January the 24th. I had ended my run and was on the way home and stopped to be a good Samaritan in an accident and was hit by a car so I spent about five months in a hospital recuperating. So basically I was off the trains for about a year. So that ended my time actually on the trains. But after that time, I went into the Western regional office in San Francisco and was in the schemes and routing branch, working with schemes and schedules, putting out corrections to the -- so basically, I was technically working with the Railway Mail Service almost all of the time up to the time the trains were discontinued in 1967.

INTERVIEWER: What made you want to become a railway post office clerk?

Jim Briggs: Well, I had just recently got discharged from the army in 1947 and my grandparents lived in Winters, California on a ranch about three miles north, so on a Sunday morning, to get the Sunday paper, I drove into Winters to get the paper. While there, I met a close family friend who was a railway postal clerk who had run on the Coast Line, the San Francisco and San Jose, and he asked me what I was doing and I said I just got discharged from the army and was starting to think about either going to school or looking for a job as my discharge money was sort of getting in short supply. He had mentioned that they were looking, in the Railway Mail Service, for substitutes, being that during the war years, the clerks who were on the trains that didn’t get called up into the military had numerous and numerous hours and days of time, annual leave or vacation time. So he said he would give my name to the assignment clerk at that time, it was a Mr. McDonald in San Francisco. So I went home. I was living in Oakland at that time with my father and I never thought much about it, but about a week later, I had a call from Mr. McDonald and asked me if I would come over to San Francisco, he’d like to talk to me about being a substitute railway mail clerk.

So really and truly, I didn’t know much about what the Railway Mail Service was other than I knew that Charlie Elliot had been a railway postal clerk. So I went over and talked to him for about an hour, and believe it or not, in about that time, I was sworn in as a temporary railway postal clerk, and I was given a key, pistol, and some other supplies and was assigned to go out on a run the next day. So that is sort of how I got started basically. I thought it would just be a temporary stopover but as it turned out, it turned out to be my career with the Railway Mail Service and also the postal service for 38 years.

INTERVIEWER: What types of jobs did you work the most on the railcars?

Jim Briggs: The assignment that I worked mostly on was on the Train 22 which was the slow mail train that carried mostly all mail cars that had one passenger car basically for train crews deadheading to Roosevelt or to Sparks, Nevada. My assignment primarily was on the paper end of our car which was a 60-foot RPO car and I worked the papers, all of the newspapers. At that time, almost everybody that lived out of the Bay Area took the San Francisco Chronicle or the Wall Street Journal, and also there was some Asian newspapers, and that was very important distribution because those people that lived up in the High Sierras, small villages, small communities, they looked forward to the Chronicle, the Wall Street Journal, on a daily basis. If they didn’t get it, they were quite upset because they knew that that paper was due to come. They didn’t care much about if they didn’t get their utility bill but the paper was a very important item. So over a period of time, you almost knew the various people that you’d see those papers addressed to.

Also at that time, we were working a parcel post which was a lot of the parcel post at that time was from the mail- order houses such as Sears and Roebuck, Montgomery Ward. A lot of the people living in the remote areas up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and also into remote Nevada would order a lot of their clothing from the Sears, Montgomery Ward, and you would have a lot of those packages. And so it was sort of an interesting -- we used to have, at times, chicks in small containers that people in the spring of the year would order from the hatcheries, these small chickens to have, and they were something that you had to give extra care to and be sure that they were not piled over with heavy mail sacks over them. Usually, they are always at the top of the pile. Also at times, at the spring of the year, when we were at Roseville, get honeybees. It would come down from the orchard lands up around Orville and up in that country, almond [sounds like] country. So these bees would then be loaded and sent on to Ogden, Utah, where they would be sent out into Mountain States where they would be used for pollination.

INTERVIEWER: For any one of the jobs that you had on the railcars, could you describe a typical day for me starting from when you first got into the station until you were released from work?

Jim Briggs: Well, your assignment, each clerk had a different assignment of reporting time. My particular assignment when I ran on the Ogden and San Francisco Train 22, I would go to work in the afternoon about five o’clock and I would, first of all -- and this was at the Oakland Mole Pier which was a huge covered facility where all of the trains would come in and the passengers would get off and on to a ferry boat and about a 20-minute ride across the San Francisco to the ferry building and on to their destinations. That was also the way that mail came over from San Francisco onto the pier areas, in cages and [indiscernible] truck pulled by little jitneys. But my assignment was to come early and, first of all, you would stop in at the grip room where your grip would be stored and that grip contained usually your overalls and your shoes and things like that. You always carried little extra canned goods in case you got delayed, and you had to read your order book. That was one of the requirements to see if there was any orders that were issued that pertained to your run that night that should have to be implemented.

Then I would go out to the RPO car which was completely empty at that time. You would get in and you would change your clothes. The railroad company would supply bags and pouches and sacks that you would have to then hang the rack the pouches and the paper, and you went by a rack diagram. That was an official diagram that was each rack was set a certain way and then you would run your labels in each of the pouch labels and also the sack labels.  So that was sort of what I would do.  Then pretty soon there would be another clerk that would come, so all of the clerks came at a little bit different intervals of time. And by the time the clerk-in-charge would come over from San Francisco with the registered mail, the whole crew would be assembled and be starting their distribution requirements.

One other thing is that all of the pouch labels, sack labels, and facing slips that were used all had your name on it, your train number, your name and the date, and that also indicated your product or you might say the day that was quality control. If you made an error then at that time, there were merits and demerits. If you would have too many sack labels come back from your office showing errors, the office might say, maybe you’d better come take another examination. So it was something you were very, very proud of that your distribution showed that it was your product.

INTERVIEWER: And was there any one job that you liked doing the most on the railcars?

Jim Briggs: Yes. I think that I enjoyed the moving down the paper into the car.  It felt that you had more movement. Moving around, I always felt -- and also one of the things, I was a little bit on the short side and sometimes on a letter case all night long reaching up and down and so forth, you would get a little bit tired sometimes.  I felt that I enjoyed the paper end of the car.  But also, I enjoyed, when I was a registered clerk, where I was handling the registered mail and so forth and you had a little more time to sit down and do that type of work. So all of the assignments, you enjoyed doing them but I think there was some that you probably enjoyed a little bit more.

INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that you ever disliked about any of your jobs? Jim Briggs: Any of the jobs that I did? Well, I think --

INTERVIEWER: And this can be like a small complaint that you had that you just brushed off to the side, just big or small.

Jim Briggs: Well, I think that the -- when we were in a 60-foot RPO car or 30-foot, there were five or six, seven people all working and in close quarters, and I think that the camaraderie, very seldom in all the years that I ever ran, I ever heard any two clerks ever really have much of a disagreement on anything. Everything usually was handled in the car. I think that the pride that we all had and our knowledge of our distribution and knowing every town in the state of California or Nevada, we were very proud of our ability, postal laws and regulations and handling of registers, it was basically a rolling post office and the expertise that those men had -- perhaps I’m getting a little off here but the -- it was always at times humor. There was always sometimes somebody was playing a joke on somebody and everybody always usually took it in good humor, and there was always those times where at the end of the run, somebody might put a bunch of locks in somebody’s bag and they’ll -- it was all

-- I couldn’t really say that there was any bad disagreements or anything like that. I hope that that sort of answers the question. I’m not sure if I was on the right track on that or not.

INTERVIEWER: No. That’s perfectly fine. What type of railcar did you work on the most?

Jim Briggs: When I took the regular appointment on the Ogden and San Francisco, the Overland, the RPO cars were all 60-foot cars, they were all steel cars. And usually we had on the 60-foot cars, there was the letter end on that one end and then the paper end was at the other, and up towards the letter end towards the car was at the very end, there was a little washbasin and a lavatory, and also, we had a cooker which was sort of a well that you could put your coffee pot in there and you turned live steam and that kept the coffee hot or if you had a can of soup, you could hang it in there on a string and take care about getting ready for your lunch. But those were -- most of the cars that I ran on were 60-foot. But as a substitute, I ran on many of the short runs where they were 15-foot cars with usually two clerks, and a time or two, I ran on runs there was just one clerk. And then also 30- foot cars which were the cars used on the valley and the Barstow line, and the leather cases were up at one end and the pouches and racks were back at the other end of the car.

INTERVIEWER: When you worked on the railways, do you remember what your starting salary was?

Jim Briggs: Yes, I do. I kept a record of all of my pay over the years, and when I started out as a temporary sub 06/11/47, I think it was $1.41 per hour. And when I got to be a career sub, it was $1.44. So we weren’t making an awful lot at that particular time but you have to remember, there was a little bit different times then too.

INTERVIEWER: And when you ended your career as a railway post office clerk, do you remember what your ending salary was?

Jim Briggs: Well, when I ended actually as a railway postal clerk, my salary then, as I recall, if I could refer, was about $6585 a year at that time, and so that was in 1964. And then when I went into the regional office, then the pay scale, the advancements and a little bit higher promotions, a different –- so really, at the end of my career in 1983, I was a level 24 and I think that salary at that time was, if I can still refer -- it was quite a jump. I think it was close to $38,000 at that time. So that was quite a jump from when I started out with at 1947.

INTERVIEWER: And for the pay that you received, do you believe that it was fair for the amount of work you had to do?

Jim Briggs: Looking back at it, yes. I think that looking back at what conditions were in 1947, after getting out of the service, there wasn’t really that many jobs available and I never really considered it until I got married, and at that time, I was a regular clerk making a better salary. But looking back at all of it, raising a family, buying a home, I think that the one thing that you might say was that it was a steady income. It never faltered.  You never lost it by any particular change in the economy, so I think that you could pretty much count on what your salary was going to be and what you could do. So, no, I felt that looking back at it, sure, you thought you could’ve made maybe more but I think that in later years, what I did in the regional office was basically the experience that I had as a railway mail clerk, and I think that was a big, big plus in the assignments that I did in the regional office, all stemmed on my knowledge of schemes, schedules, and all of that type of information that we applied while we were railway mail clerks.

INTERVIEWER: Earlier I know you said that in your grip, you carried your overalls, shoes, and extra canned goods. Was there anything else that you carried with you?

Jim Briggs: Well, yes. Your kit box that you left at the grip room was usually a -- my particular one that I still have, donated to the Rail Museum, it was a tin box that would accommodate your clothing and some extra supplies or headers that you used for your assignment. For example, if you’re a letter clerk, stage clerk or whatever, you would have to have your own headers to run in, and you would carry those in your kit box. And when you left home, you had a smaller grip, and in that grip, you would have your revolver, your pistol, and also your labels, facing slips that you had to cut up and stamped at home with your road stamp, as we called it, we would change each time we would go out. You had to stamp up all these facing slips that went on the back of a letter that had your name, your train number, and also on the back of your pouch labels, sack labels. And then also you would have whatever your really needed for your trip. And also you don’t want to forget your lunch. So you always had your lunch, but that was in a smaller grip that you would pack if you came to work on public transportation or whatever. But the big box stayed down usually at the grip room at your outer terminal.

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember the longest trip you ever worked?

Jim Briggs:  Yes.  Probably the longest was not so much as working.  I had an experience in 1958.  We were going up on the Sierras on Train 22 and we had heard that they were having quite a blizzard up on the hill in Roseville but never thought much about it. And this was a trip that was just prior to Easter and the mail volume was quite heavy with all the Easter cards and so forth. And we got up to the top of the Sierras and we came to an abrupt stop, and not knowing why. A lot of times a train would stop en route for various reasons, to let a freight train go by or whatever. But shortly, there was a knock on the door and [indiscernible], “We’ve hit a snow slide outside of the tunnel and the fireman and the engineer are buried in the cab Can you help us? We think they’re both dead.”

So this crew, we went up into the diesel engine at that time and engines were still hammering away and the fire bells. We got up to the front end where the cab was and there was a firewall behind where the engineer and the fireman sat. We had no tools but we found one crowbar and the door of the cab went in. But what had happened is that when they hit the snow slide, the windshield of the diesel cab was knocked out and the cab was thick with snow, you couldn’t have packed it any tighter. So it took us quite a period of time to dig in enough to where we could see the fireman.  He had tried to get out of his seat and caught him going over so we finally got him loose but we never could hear or see the engineer on the right side; we assumed that he was dead. But later as we kept digging towards that direction, we saw his head, and as it turned out, he was not seriously hurt but the fireman was and we took him back to the RPO car. So I guess that was the longest run because we were up there for two or three days before we could finally get a train up to get to us.

So that was quite a long trip, but at that time, we had all the mail worked up, but we had to get out of the RPO car because it got too cold and when the fuel ran out of the diesel engine, there was no more heat in the car. So we went up to about the third storage car which was an old vintage car that still had a potbelly coal stove. So we got into this car and it happened to be a car that was carrying a consignment of railway express items to Truckee, California which turned out to be French bread, unsalted butter and asparagus. So we had quite a feast on asparagus by putting it in the coffee can and getting a fire going in the stove. So that turned out, I think, to be the longest run that I was ever on.

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember how many hours it took for you?

Jim Briggs: Not really, Caitlin.  It just seemed like an awful long time and I don’t really remember how many hours. I know that eventually it was a pretty good overtime. Our old crew got accommodations from the Southern Pacific for our efforts and also the postal service for our assistance in getting the engineer and the fireman out of the cab. Also, one of my co-workers, John Durst [phonetic], who at that time used to carry his camera with him all the time

-- and I have some outstanding pictures that he took, showing the cab and what the engineer had looked like in all of this snow, so that’s one of my treasures in my memorabilia that I have here at home.

INTERVIEWER: While you were working as a railway post office clerk, did you have a family?

Jim Briggs: Yes, I did. We had two daughters. My wife was a registered dietician, and when we first got married, she was a dietician at the local hospital, Eden Hospital, where our two daughters were born. We had our first daughter, Susanne, I believe it was in 1959, and two years later, Mary Lou came along. So we started our family. We lived up in the hills behind Hayward, California at that time, and then later, we moved to Castro Valley where we spent most of our time and the girls growing up and going to school and so forth.

INTERVIEWER: How did you cope with leaving your family behind on long trips?

Jim Briggs: Well, it got to be sort of a routine. I’d have to say that Joyce, my wife, a lot of times had to make decisions, that things would go wrong, things would stop up or overflow, and I have to say that she took a lot of things on her shoulders and coped with it. We had, at that time, some nice neighbors that knew that I ran on the trains and would give Joyce some help if she needed it. And then when I would return home from a trip, I would have a couple of days before the next trip, and in that time your trip accumulated depending on your particular assignment, about every 40 or 50 days, you’d get about ten days off in a row. So a lot of times, you would have a lot of time at home, and at that time, that’s when I would be able to do a lot of things around the house to help my wife, Joyce, and so forth and so on. But I do think that a lot of the Railway Mail Service wives were pretty good troopers to have to have a lot of things on their own while their husbands were gone.

INTERVIEWER: Did your wife like your job?

Jim Briggs: I think she did. I never recall ever complaining or saying, “I’d like to have you at home,” and so forth like that, but I think that she accepted what I did, I enjoyed what I did, and there were a lot of benefits to it. In the later part of my postal career when I was home, it was going to work every day, changed things a little bit but I think she accepted it. But there were some families that the clerks really had to bid for other assignments because of the family situations at home.

INTERVIEWER: What are some of your fondest memories of working on the railroad?

Jim Briggs: Well, I think some of the fondest memories were that the men that I worked with, the camaraderie that they had, working together under a lot of pressure, team work. There just was a lot of good, good men. One of the things, Caitlin, that when I started, I was rather young, just about 20 years old, I guess, and a lot of the older clerks, when I got to sort of thinking about it in later years, they took the examination in 1936 during the height of the Depression years, and to get called up as close, as fast as they did, they had to score really quite high on the civil service exam. And a lot of those men, if they would’ve had the opportunity to go on to college, they could’ve probably been in a lot of professional whatever, but they were very, very good men, very dedicated, and I think I got a lot of pleasure having an opportunity to work and to meet those men.

INTERVIEWER: Do you still keep in touch with any of the former clerks?

Jim Briggs: At this time, there is only a few, Caitlin, that are left, and it’s sad and it’s a lost breed.  And truthfully, we have a small group that meets every other month in Berkeley but that’s getting down to the point where there’s only three or four that are able to come. Most of us, including myself, have disabilities and we just can’t do the things that we could a few years ago.

One of the things that I felt is that the Railway Mail Service was a very, very important part of our postal system and having the ability to be part of it. So I took on myself to sort of collect and squirrel away as much memorabilia as I possibly could find of my own schemes and schedules and photographs, and things that I was able to pick up at the regional office when the Railway Mail Service was coming to an end, that were going to be thrown out into dumpsters. So at this time, I’ve been very pleased that I’d been able to help out restore a railway post office car that is now part of the Golden Gate Rail Museum at the Niles in California facility.

And as it happens that this railcar is UP 5901, and this car was on the City of San Francisco and it happened to be one that I made many trips back from Lovelock to Oakland on the City of San Francisco Train 101, and it also was the car that was snowbound on the City of San Francisco in 1952 where so many of the passengers had to be rescued during some severe blizzard conditions. So when the Railway Mail Service came to an end in 1967, this particular car was taken over by the Union Pacific and made into a work car, one of their work trains, but fortunately, they painted it a terrible, terrible color on the outside but they didn’t take out the letter cases or the rack so it’s pretty well intact so I have been able to, with another clerk, set up headers in the cases and we found some pouches and sacks to put in. So we’re trying to bring it back basically to what it was when it was running on the City of San Francisco, and they’ve gotten some grants to try to restore it, re-paint it. So I’m having a lot of enjoyment being able to donate a lot of my trip reports that show my name in this train to this car because I feel like all of the things that I’ve squirreled away, now have a place where I can get rid of them and I know that they’ll be looked at and perhaps seen in the future.

INTERVIEWER: Did the post office ever issue you anything either for your safety or for the position?

Jim Briggs: Not really that I can recall for safety or -- no, not really offhand, I can’t think of anything. Most of all we had was that when you were making catches when the train was moving at 70 miles an hour and you had to make a catch at a nonstop station, you had to have a pair of goggles to put on to protect your eyes but I don’t recall that they were ever issued, and if they were, I never received one. I usually had my own goggles and the -- no, not really, Caitlin, that I can think of.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever experience a dangerous or bad situation working on the railways?

Jim Briggs: The one experience that I guess was sort of frightening in the sense that this was on the estranged [sounds like] city of San Francisco and we were coming back into the Bay Area and we had just stopped at the Berkeley Station and put off mail, and our next stop would be Oakland 16th Street and then on to the Oakland Mole, and myself and John Durst who I was running with at that time, we were standing in the doorway because it was just a short distance from Berkeley onto 16th Street and we had some mail that we had to offload from the storage car, and we were just kind of standing the doorway, and all of sudden, there was a big -- the train started to rock and roll and a lot of things started flying back towards us from the outside, and also we got the smell of gasoline which was always something feared that if you ever hit a gasoline tanker on a crossing, that can be a pretty dangerous situation. And all of a sudden there was just a cloud of red dust that came flying back and it came in to where we were standing we were just covered with this red stuff.

When we finally were able to stop and the diesel engine was de-railed off a little bit and we had hit a semi-truck at a crossing, which is now the Emeryville area that was carrying a sort of paper sacks of some red insecticide or whatever. At that time, we were covered in the stuff and I know today, we would’ve probably been hosed off and cleaned up and they would’ve had people out there to be sure that we weren’t contaminated. But as I recall, we just shook ourselves off and when they finally got things cleared out in front of the train and we were able to continue on, we never thought much about it. I’m still here so I guess it didn’t affect us too much.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever hear of anybody who experienced anything dangerous on the railway?

Jim Briggs: One time I heard of a situation where the clerk was going to go to make a catch at a nonstop station and the catcher arm wasn’t securely in place so when he went to grab a hold of the catcher arm, it sort of slipped out and he came close to going out of the car, and I guess that was one of the most dangerous things that I had heard of and that was one thing that after that experience with that clerk, I always made sure that the catcher arm was in place and also faced the right direction.

The other thing that I recall now that you mention this, we used to, on the slow mail train, Train 22, stay in the Reno Station for quite a period of time being that they had to unload or offset some cars that would be put off at the Reno Station, and one of our clerks that was a Reno helper that got off at Reno and laid over there until Train 101 the following evening stayed on the car to talk to some of the clerks. And as the train started to leave, he hesitated a little bit but then decided he was going to get off and he sort of tumbled as he got off the train as it was moving pretty good, and his grip went one way and he went the other, and I was looking back and when he came to a stop from rolling, he was very, very close to the wheels. So I’ve always thought that he was a very lucky individual that he didn’t really get hurt.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever face or witness any type of racial discrimination as a railway post office clerk?

Jim Briggs: No, I never did. That was something that the clerks that were, I guess, African Americans were clerks that you truly enjoyed working with them. They were all very, very nice people, and some of the best clerks that I ever worked with were African American clerks. I’ve really never recalled any discrimination.

The only thing that I never really enjoyed was at Lovelock, Nevada where we got off the train, there was a small town, it was about 90 miles east of Reno and about 70 miles from [indiscernible] county seat, Pershing County, the county is larger than the state of Rhode Island. But that town, for whatever reason, there were two hotels and the hotels wouldn’t accept African American clerks. They could take their meals there but they wouldn’t give them a room so they had a place further down where they all stayed. And I know that was very disturbing to them and it was to me. I never thought it was right. I, in my life, never grew up with discrimination so that was one of the things that I never liked very well. But that was the only situation that I ever experienced was that at Lovelock and the housing there, the hotel.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever hear stories of anybody who did experience racial discrimination?

Jim Briggs: Not that I was ever aware of. Truthfully, I don’t know what those men tell. I’m sure they had their feelings and I know that probably among themselves, they would discuss it. But on the train, in a crew, I never, ever experienced it, not in any of the crews that I ran with. Truthfully, some of those fellows were good clerks. They were just good clerks, good people, and good friends.

INTERVIEWER: Were you a member of any type of outside organization such as a union or club that was affiliated with railway postal clerks?

Jim Briggs: Yes. Most of us all belong to the -- I can’t really recall the -- it had some affiliation with the CIA [phonetic] or whatever the unions were. We had no union rights but they were sort of a representation that you paid dues and they also had a hospitalization plan as I recall. And right off hand, Caitlin, I can’t really remember what it was called but it wasn’t something you had to do but you just felt that the legislation that they were able to provide would be of assistance to the Railway Mail Service and trying to get raises because we were all reliant on what administration was empowered at that time depending on raises or anything like that so they were sort of a lobbying organization too that would help to try to get more benefits for the Railway Mail Service.

INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that you ever wanted to change about your position as a railway post office clerk?

Jim Briggs: Not really. I can’t right offhand. Maybe later tonight, I can think of something, but I can’t really think of anything that I would think of to change. No, I really can’t come up with any one thing. I think it was a very professional group of people. Your pride and what you did, and -- no, I don’t think so, Caitlin.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. What do you miss the most about being a railway post office clerk?

Jim Briggs: Well, I guess the thing that I would say that I miss was the camaraderie, the friendship that we had working together under close confinement for long periods of hours, being able to co-exist, I guess, that it was just a -- you put in long, hard hours and you put in a lot of time but I can’t think of anything that I would consider changing, I guess.

INTERVIEWER: And for the last question, is there any other information you would like to share with researchers and the public about your position or experience with the railway post office? And this can be any sights that you saw, interesting things you found in the registered mail or just funny stories that you have.

Jim Briggs: Well, these funny stories, there were always things that went on in the mail car, the camaraderie and having fun and so forth. Some of the things I think I’d better take them to grave with me, I guess. I don’t know. Maybe later tonight, Caitlin, I can think of things that went on. We did pranks with one another. A lot of times, somebody would be in the washroom and somebody would take a broom and hit the ventilator there that would put soot down where they were standing or just things that were always in good nature, and so a lot of the times -- I think that those were things that -- some things I think I’ll just keep to myself.

INTERVIEWER: Are you sure you don’t want to tell them? You don’t want the stories to get lost in history.

Jim Briggs: Well, the stories that you think about -- one of the situations that -- whether I should say it or not, but on Train 22, at one time, we had a -- one of the clerks was of Polish descent and he had speech impediment, he sort of stuttered. And one of the clerks that happened to be in the pouch rack further up in the car had a tendency to tease and sometimes it would be a little bit too much. Well, he would have the tendency to sort of tease this fellow who was helping me on the paper end and I know Mike, the fellow, he told me said, “I know he’s making fun,” but he said, “I just take it.”

It turned out there was -- we used to have to take some of our mail into the storage car, we just had no room down at the paper end to store it, and for some reason, Mike couldn’t get the door open. It sort of infuriated him and made him mad, and he went up through the car and got the axe off the wall behind the washbasin and came back through the car with his axe up in his hand, he went right by the fellow who was doing the teasing, and he turned white and everybody else in the car didn’t understand what was going on except me. So when he got there, he hit the back of the door and got it open. But after that, nobody ever teased him after that, so that was kind of a lesson in not teasing too much.

INTERVIEWER: And is there anything else that you would like to say?

Jim Briggs: No. I guess, Caitlin, at this point in my life, I’m rather on the young side at this point, 82 pushing 83, that I wouldn’t change anything that I did. Making that choice to go over to San Francisco and see what this job might be, and over the years, where it gave me the background to do what I was able to do in the regional office, was all stemmed on my having all the scheme knowledge, how to put out the corrections to schedules and to make schemes. I got involved in making schemes for the San Francisco airport for routing of mail. I ended my postal career in the western regional headquarters and I was a coordinator for the routing of the international military mail into the Pacific. I had a lot of responsibility. But it all basically all stemmed on having my railway mail background of schemes and schedules, learning the postal laws and regulations, that I think provided me the ability to go as far as I did in the regional office. So I think the Railway Mail Service is something that I treasured very, very much.

And I know about 1949, they changed the name of Railway Mail Service to, I think, it was the Postal Transportation Service, that at that time would encompass clerks who worked at their mail fields and terminal. But for us who ran on the trains, we were always Railway Mail Service clerks. We were not Postal Transportation clerks. So I still have my original badge that says, Railway Mail Service, and I’m very, very proud of having the career that I did have. I don’t think at this point I would’ve changed it for anything.

INTERVIEWER: All right. Well, if there isn’t anything else that you would like to say, that will conclude our interview.

Jim Briggs: Okay. Well, that’s about it. I can’t think of anything more. I will later tonight, I’m sure, probably a few things I wish I hadn’t said. But it was a very enjoyable career. I feel that the things that I have accumulated here at home, memorabilia, that there’s going to be a time where this is all going to be history.

One of the things that I really enjoyed, last year they had an open house with this mail car -- actually a couple of years ago, it was the 40th Anniversary, I believe, of the ending of the Railway Mail Service, so the Golden Gate Rail Museum invited several of us clerks to come down to be docents. So we -- after setting up letter cases, I set up a little letter case of states that had all of the states in the United States, basically like we had worked on the train. Well, as people came through and we would try to explain what we did and how we did it and how we made the catches and how we protected the mail, so forth and so on, while these little youngsters would come through, I would ask them, “Would you like to be a railway mail clerk and work some letters?” At times, they were a little hesitant but pretty soon, we had a lot of letters laid out on the ledge there, states [sounds like] that people had donated, and pretty soon these youngsters would get in, putting Texas into Texas, Maryland, and you could see that they were having a lot of enjoyment. So I think there’s a lot of history that I hope that this car in the future would be able to provide some kind of a museum to keep the history of the Railway Mail Service still intact, and I’m having a lot of fun trying to help them as much as I can.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Well, I would really like to thank you for sitting down and talking with us. And we do have your press release form in the mail, so if you could just sign that and then return it whenever you get it, that would be great. And right now, we are trying to get started a newsletter about the Railway Mail Service and it’s going to go out to all of the former clerks and their families that we still keep in contact with.

Jim Briggs: That’s wonderful.

INTERVIEWER: Yes. I’m supposed to be getting that set up sometime next week so just be on the lookout for it. I don’t know when it’s going to be sent out but we’re hoping to have them [indiscernible].

Jim Briggs: If I may ask, with this interview being recorded -- how will that be encompassed in the Smithsonian Institute? Is it something that people -- I don’t quite understand how it would be used. Is it something that is on a tape?

INTERVIEWER: Well, the recordings are digital and what’s going to happen with them is, online, the National Postal Museum has an online exhibit about the Railway Mail Service, and it gives researchers information and the history of the Railway Mail as a part of the United States postal service history, and one of the sections on that exhibit has to do with oral histories, and they can sit down and listen to the different stories that former postal clerks had and just listen to their experiences with their career.

Jim Briggs: I see. Well, I hope that it does help people, researchers, in the future because I do think that it would be nice if you were able to sit down and interview a Pony Express rider to know all of their experiences because they carried the mail across the country. I think this -- hopefully, the Railway Mail Service will be remembered in years to come as a very important part of our movement of mail across the country.


Jim Briggs: Well, hey, it’s been a pleasure being able to talk to you. I have no idea what the heck I said but I hope it was okay. It was a very enjoyable occupation. Like I said, I don’t think I would’ve changed the experience and also the people that I had the privilege to work with. They were a special breed and I don’t think that the postal service will ever have that type of employee. I don’t think that -- I'm not saying that they’re not good employees or good workers but I don’t think they’ll ever have that pride and the knowledge that we had. So I better leave it at that.

Allen Brown

Mr. Brown joined the Railway Mail Service in 1949. He began as a substitute on lines from Chicago to Cincinnati until 1952, when he obtained a regular appointment. As a regular clerk, he ran on the Detroit and Cincinnati line until he was surplused in 1967 to the Cincinnati and Chattanooga.

Allen Brown Interview Transcript

Allen Brown: Well, my name is Allen J. Brown and I was a clerk on the Railway Mail Service from, I don’t know if you want this, 1949 until they took the trains away from us in 1967, I think it was, okay.

INTERVIEWER: What rail lines did you work with and which locations did you travel between?

Allen Brown: Well, when I first went in the mail service, I was appointed in Detroit, Michigan because at that time that the register -- well, Michigan was depleted and they got permission to take candidates from Ohio register and so I went in the mail service in Detroit, Michigan and I was up there for four months. While there, I made an instruction trip on the New York Central Railroad on the western division of what they called Buffalo and Chicago. And then right up the end when I finally got my transfer back to Cincinnati I had a little hold down on the Saginaw, they called it the Pere Marquette but it really belonged to C&O Railroad between Bay City, Michigan and Detroit. INTERVIEWER: How long did you serve as a Railway Post Office clerk?

Allen Brown: Well, like I said, I went in as a substitute railway mail clerk in Detroit, Michigan and I was appointed a regular as a railway mail clerk here in Cincinnati in 1952 and I was a railway mail clerk right up till they took our trains away. But at the end, the last year as a railway clerk I ran on the southern railroad between Cincinnati and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

INTERVIEWER: What made you want to become a Railway Post Office clerk?

Allen Brown: What made me -- well, I think I had an uncle who was a clerk-in-charge, that’s what we called him on the train, that was a clerk-in-charge on the C&O Railroad that ran out of Cincinnati up to Hinton, West Virginia and I believe that more or less inspired me to take a job like that because I thought that was great.

INTERVIEWER: Which position did you have on the railcars?

Allen Brown: Well, I don’t know how familiar -- whether you know when you got appointed on the 12th line like I was on the Detroit and Cincinnati, well, then periodically we would have a bit different jobs. We had what they called reorganization and you could get -- most of us would always bid the job you had at the time because you didn’t want to change your study assignments all the time. So most of mine was spent on, well, for the first part, when I was appointed regular in 1952 I think it was.

I got called back in the Marines during the Korean War so I lost about a year and a half from the mail service while I was back in the regular service again. But then when I did, I got appointed onto the night line of the Detroit and Cincinnati and my main job I had on there -- we had two cars in them days. We had a 60-foot mail car and a 30- foot mail car. The 30-foot car, we worked Detroit City going north and that was one of my assignments. I studied and worked the City of Detroit.  Coming south I would be in the big car where I was a registered clerk coming south, and my assignment was the state of West Virginia and then of course mixed states and that which didn’t amount to a whole lot but West Virginia was my primary job coming south and the registries.  And then I held on to that.

Well, finally, I was able to bid as we called it the day train which was a different cycle.  The night train, I was on that work six days and be off seven, I worked six days and be off nine. But when I went to the day train, I worked six and went off six and six and six, that’s all it was. But of course it was faster. The train moved faster, we weren’t on the road quite as long although the same amount of miles and everything else but it was a faster train. And again, I had what we called the pouch [sounds like] track in which I had to study Michigan, Ohio and Indiana and that was going north. I was the pouch track clerk coming south.

I had almost the same thing that I had on the night line. I worked the registered case in West Virginia but in addition, I had to work the State of Indiana. That was practically all I’d done up until then they started cutting us back so bad and then I got sort of crossed over to the Cincinnati and Chattanooga with the southern railroad and on that for a year or so. I would work the state of Georgia going south and coming north, I had another pouch track coming north. In that I had to work Michigan and, well, I didn’t know anything about Kentucky or Tennessee very well because I never had studied them, but my knowledge of Michigan and Ohio, that helped me a lot for that last year. By that time they were already diverting mail mostly to the planes and things like that so it didn’t really matter in the things very much. Now you got me almost up to date.

Of course, when they took the trains off, by then in my case I was assigned to the stationary unit in Cincinnati. Then I went into the annex down here on Dalton St. in Cincinnati. I stayed in there for about four or five years and then finally I bid -- I won the job at the Fountain Square station here in Cincinnati and I stayed there about four or five years and then there was a station here at Cincinnati called Sayler Park in which a vacancy opened up and I was able to bid it and get it and that’s where I was at up until I retired. I retired on February 29th, so I had to wait four years on time for a retirement party in 1980.

INTERVIEWER: All right. For any of the positions that you just told me, could you describe a typical day on the railcar?

Allen Brown: I don’t think I ever was involved in any particular problem or anything like that. You mean like an accident involved or something --

INTERVIEWER: No, no, no, not an accident but could you describe a typical day? Just walk me through going in from the morning or going in at night and got off.

Allen Brown: All right, I understand you. Of course naturally when you go to work then you’d have to change your clothes because you never knew for sure whether you were going -- especially when you head out of Cincinnati where there were so many RPOs going to so many different directions, you never were exactly sure you were going to get the same car again that night that you came in on that morning but nine out of 10 times you would but nevertheless -- and then you would change clothes and go to your assigned position, letter cases or the pouch track you were going to work and what they called the addresser car, you would hang the pouches and everything like that and run the labels in on it or if you were going to work like I did going north on the night line, we would run our headers in for the city of Detroit and then we’d be ready to go within as the mail handlers and that would start bringing the mail to the mail car for us.

And this was on what they called the advanced -- even though the train -- I’m going to say just for talking, the train left at 11 o’clock at night. Well, sometimes we would go to work a couple of hours early, we have this advanced time where we’d get a good running start on our work before the train ever left the depot and things like that because after we started going then you had to run from station to station to station before more mail was going through you and things like that.

And then after, in our case on the Detroit and Cincinnati, after we left Toledo as soon as we got -- because we had nothing to do in the State of Michigan because it was only a few miles between the depots in Toledo before we went into Michigan. We made no station stops in Michigan until we got to Detroit so after we got our mail worked up out of Toledo then we would start tying out what we called tying up the car and closing out the pouches and sacking them, getting them ready to unload when we once got to the depot in Detroit.

Going back the other way it was almost the very same thing. Actually, you would go and get ready, set your case up or help dress your car or whatever you had to do and then start working the mails when the mail handlers start bringing it to us.

INTERVIEWER: Did you like your position? Was there anything that you disliked about your position?

Allen Brown: Oh, no. I got very sorry the day they took the trains away from us. Let’s see, I guess from I’d say ‘49 to ‘67, I was always on the road and then to go into a stationary unit. It’s such a completely different life. I mean I thought so anyway because -- I don’t know. You never really got done in like a Cincinnati post office because it was too big and things like that, it wasn’t nearly as nice as being on the road in those days, nowhere near it.

I know here in Cincinnati we have a rather nice restaurant that sits where you overlook the river. In order to get to it, you got to go across a set of railroad tracks and the ones that are railroad tracks was at those days the Chicago and Cincinnati on the New York Central and many, many, many, many times I went up and down on them tracks and I kind of miss that. Of course, I don’t think today anymore I couldn’t make it from here to Batesville or anywhere like that, staying in a moving mail car because of my age and things like that. Yes, the railway mail was great.

INTERVIEWER: You’ve already answered my next question which is what type of car did you work on. You said the 60-foot cars as well as the 30-foot cars.

Allen Brown: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: When you worked on the railway, do you remember what your starting salary was?

Allen Brown: No. I mean, I have every piece of paper downstairs that I received and showing when you upgrade from one grade to the next grade and so on which I could show but sitting here and talking to you and that’s downstairs in a strong box, no, I couldn’t tell you offhand right now.  You need to get these grades that you wind up as you progress through the years and you got in the service and that but it wasn’t a case of how good you were or anything like that. It was just more or less automatic grade increases that you got unless you ran -- and sometimes as a substitute or not a substitute but as a clerk. But as a senior clerk, as you got little seniority, once in a while the regular clerk-in-charge or whatever you want to call him, we called him the clerk-in-charge, would be off and then whoever the senior clerk was would have to run as the clerk in charge. And I even have some of my trip reports downstairs yet from the day that I had a run as a clerk in charge. I mean they’re all downstairs.

INTERVIEWER: That’s okay. Do you by chance remember what your ending salary was as a railway postal clerk? Allen Brown: No, there again, I could show but not where sitting right now, no.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Just basically from what you can remember, although you don’t know exactly how much you made, do you think that what you did get paid was fair for the position that you occupied?

Allen Brown: At the time, yeah, I thought it was -- you know, being a person like I was without really formal education. In fact, I didn’t even finish high school before World War II started. Once again, I got gobbled up in that but for my education and things like that, I was very happy with what I was getting as a railway mail clerk.  And then on the trains we used to get what they called per diem.

We would get paid so many units of per diem for the amount of time we were gone from home. And then say something happened that the train would come in later than your scheduled time, if you were late enough then you would get an extra item and things like that. That was supposed to be to help defer your hotel room on the other end and your food on the other end and things like that. You didn’t get rich off of it but it took a little of the pressure off of trying to come up with the money for what you need and things like that. Those were the good old days.

INTERVIEWER: And what did you typically carry with you in your grip while you were on trip?

Allen Brown: Well, mostly it would just be a change of clothes because when you get on the other end -- and then in your road grip you would carry your headers that you would put in the letter boxes on the train so whether you were going to work as -- you need to have a receipt [sounds like] because like I told you earlier, you didn’t know for sure you’re going to get the same car so you couldn’t label a car very well and you had to carry your own headers then you would work your mail then you’d need the header and things like that. Then you would have your shoes and other stuff that you would use like a knife and your ring knife and some stars and all junk like that.

Naturally, you would have your letter slips and labels if your job requires you to have labels like labeling the pouch tracks and things like that. And maybe some food, take something like that but that’s about all because we all had a closet in all these mail cars where you could hang in the wintertime your heavy coats and stuff like that. But the main thing was you just took a change of clothes that when you got to the other end you could wash up a little bit and then get out of the stuff you had been wearing all night up there or all day up through the other end of the line. That’s about all.

INTERVIEWER: What was the longest trip that you worked?

Allen Brown: Well, I think the longest, Detroit and Cincinnati was 257 miles from Cincinnati to Detroit and then that was about the longest one. I think when I subbed on the Chicago, Richmond and Cincinnati which was part of the Pennsylvania Railroad in them days, they both ended up in Chicago but one went into the Michigan central depot and the Pennsylvania train went into the Union station up there and they went total different ways to the state of Indiana and not in the -- but I don’t remember. I think it was a little over 300 miles but the last year that I worked when I was running southern down to Chattanooga that was about the longest one. I think that was around 350 to 360 miles from Cincinnati down to there. That was a nice road too.

INTERVIEWER: How many days did it take for you to get from Chattanooga to Cincinnati?

Allen Brown: No, it was just matter of hours. We’d go to work -- I was on the day train when I was on the southern and we went to work - I’m guessing some of the stuff now - about seven or eight o’clock in the morning. And then we would get in to Chattanooga around 4:30 or five o’clock at night. Those trains used move at a pretty good clip in them days. Once in a while you’d had to go in the hole or something like that. We’re afraid it’d break down in front of you and something like you had to wait, but that was very seldom, very seldom you’d do that.

But going to Detroit on the day train, we’d leave Cincinnati here around nine or so in the morning and we’d be up there about 3:30 or four o’clock in the afternoon. On the day train we moved pretty quickly. They didn’t have as much express or anything like that. Like night line now they'd have express on there besides the mail and things like that that would slow us up a little bit but not much.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have a family while working as an RPO clerk?

Allen Brown: Oh, yes. My oldest daughter, the one we lost, she was born in '47 and of course I went into mail service in '49. And of course the other two were born after I had been in the mail service. In fact, I came home one day - I was on the night line - and then there was a note on my backdoor that my wife was at the hospital and our baby boy was born.

INTERVIEWER: How did you cope with leaving your family behind on these trips?

Allen Brown: Oh, that was no problem.  Most of them -- I had a calendar all the time and I was able to mark it up in advance, when I’d be home and when I would be on the road. My daughters and my son might have something to do it and my wife, they would plot like a pajama party and things like that, that they would know when I was gone and that they had the run of the house. Of course, my wife has always been able to drive and things like that and haul these kids around. I don’t think they missed me a whole lot.

They always took me to work and come down and got me when we came in. Even in those days you could call on the phone and find out if the trains are running late or whether it was on time or things like that so she would know to be there when I got there to meet me and bring me home. Down around the Cincinnati Union depot, parking was quite at a premium down there and most of what’s there was for the regular railroad employees, not so much for railway mail clerks or anything like that.

INTERVIEWER: That basically answered my next question for you which was how did your family cope while you’re away on these trips.

Allen Brown: My wife's biggest problem wasn't so when I was away.  It's when I was home, when I was on the night line in particular and I had to sleep at daytime and tried to -- in those days remember they were early days of the ‘50s and that way we all didn’t have air-conditioning in those days and trying to keep the kids halfway quiet while Dad was up here trying to sleep. That was a busy setting but otherwise, it worked out real nice. I mean we were able to cope pretty well because like I was saying, those cycles that we ran, being home either seven days or nine days at a crack before I had to leave again, we accomplished most everything we wanted to do in the days I was home all the time. There were a lot of other clerks, they had part time jobs, they moonlighted at different things like that, but I never did. I guess I was just too lazy. I liked my time off.

Of course, we had to prepare our slips and our labels and stuff like that for the next trip and keep your schemes and schedules up to date. We used to get what they called the general orders every week and then after the schedule is made you had to cut them cut them out and paste them into your schemes or schedules or whatever you had to keep about. But that was all figured in on your pay. I might be wrong on this, but I think they figured six and a half hours is a day’s work even though the run ran a lot longer than that but some of that time they figured that you were doing your homework and not like preparing slips and labels and keeping your schemes and schedules all up to date and things like that and study.

Of course, you know there was a lot of studying involved. Like you take the state of Michigan, had about 1100 to 1200 cards that you had to learn all of them post offices and how they got their mail. Ohio was broke down into two sections, the north and south section which had 800 or 900 cards in them. Well, they all had to be studied and you had to take -- well, the job, last job I had on train, I had five but I used to have two sections the Detroit -- no, let me think. No, there were three sections, the Detroit City and then the state of West Virginia and the state of Indiana but after you stayed on your same case, when you start repeating the exams well then it became easy. It's just when you change to a different job on the train that you got to start studying all over again. Well, that's the only time it really took a lot of your time in learning them.

And we were given so many days before you had to go to the exam room down at the exam office down in the annex down here in Cincinnati. Then you had to make an appointment to go and then you'd go in there and they’d set up a case and they’d give you these cards and then you could put your own headers in. They’d give you the cards, would draw marks, fire a steam or something on the back and then you had a case in all there and then you had so much time in order to do it. And then the examiner would come in and check all the cards and try to find how many you had wrong in that and stuff like that. But that’s about all. I sure like to be doing that.

INTERVIEWER: What are some of your fondest memories of working on the railway?

Allen Brown: Well, just the fact of being on it, I guess. You had these same men just about all the time on the train except in my case where I ran that 6769, I’d had two different crews. One week I’d be with one crew and the next week I’d be with a different crew. And then, the lessons and the stories and heroic things they would talk about. I don’t know how to really explain it but it was just a good job. I mean, it wasn’t no boresome [sounds like] job. You didn’t know what’s going to happen next.

Of course, you’d have your pretty thrills now and then when all of a sudden the train would be in some emergency or something like that. You could feel the cars coming through a halt real quick and things like that and then you wonder what the hell is happening now. And then sometimes we had ended up like we had hit something like an automobile or a truck or something like that, but other times -- you just didn’t know, from one end of the run to the other end of the run how everything was going to go. I was very fortunate. I never was involved in any kind of an accident.

Once in a while, there would be something that would happen ahead or something like that then we had to detour and you’d have to wait and sit and wait for the engineers to get what they called the pilot to take them to the detour and things like that. Well, that made you so much later [indiscernible] you were going but in the meantime, like you got everything done, you’d either run to the door and look out and try to see where you're at or what the scenery was around till you'd be on strange tracks, some place you’d never been before but other than that, you did run up and down the same tracks all the time.

INTERVIEWER: Do you keep in touch with any of the former clerks?

Allen Brown: Well, not anymore. They’re just like me now, ma'am. They’re all in their -- well, in my case I’m 80, actually I’m 86, but a lot of the old -- I got -- I’m sitting in my bedroom here right now and on the wall in here, I got a picture that was taken inside of what they called the Chicago and Cincinnati RPO on the day train, we were coming south. There’s one, two, three, four, five, six, seven men on there. Of the seven, I’m positive five of them are no longer with us anymore. It’s a nice picture, all with our crummy old work clothes on. But I was about -- this had to be in '49 I guess. I was just a youngster in them days. I wish I was that skinny now.

But anyway, I don’t know how to really answer your question anymore about that. I mean it was a great life and I was very happy to have been a railway mail clerk and I could take my uncle I guess for inspiration that he gave me to be a railway mail clerk. I have a nice book and you’re probably aware of it called Mail by Rail.  Really, I got it from a friend of mine who was also very interested in railroad and he ended up as a railway mail clerk up until -- he passed away, but he had taken us around to various trains. He’s got postmarks from various lines that used to run around out of Cincinnati here. It’s a very nice book. It’s very nice. But anyway -- now, can I help you with anything else?

INTERVIEWER: We still have a few more questions. We are almost done. We’re about two-thirds of the way done.

Allen Brown: Okay.

INTERVIEWER: Did the post office ever issue you anything, either for your safety or for the position?

Allen Brown: Not for -- well, if you’re the local clerk they would issue a set of goggles that you could wear so that you wouldn’t get cinders in your eyes when they still had steam engines and things like that. Of course, you know, in my particular case, but most of the time I was always a registered clerk. I kind of enjoyed working registered mail and the registered clerk was always required to carry a revolver, which I had most all the time that I was in the mail service.

I mean working on the train I was in anyway but other than that, no, the cinder guards, wear those goggles. Every once in a while they had an inspection trip and somebody from the office would come out and you had to dig around in your suitcase to find your goggles when you go to do the local that you had them on so they wouldn’t write you up for not wearing goggles and things like that. But I did enjoy doing local. You know what I mean by doing local? When we exchange mail on the fly, in Cincinnati, that started out at Cincinnati here, the first one we've done was Sayler Park which is just part of Cincinnati yet and we’ve done local all the way up to almost St.

Anne, Donovan, Deweyville and Aroma Park in Illinois and we had a lot of locals in those days and that was good. That was fun. You'd have to see, know where you're at and try to remember to get to the door in time to make the exchange.

I kind of miss all that kind of things. That would get me actually -- before they actually took the trains off. By the time they took the Detroit and Cincinnati off there was only three locals. There was the Columbus, Wallowa [indiscernible] up in Ohio that was all that was left. One time they had numerous locals that were done on that but it’s all things of the past.

INTERVIEWER: Just out of curiosity, could you just explain a little bit more about the local clerks? I mean how were they different from the registered mail clerks?

Allen Brown: Well, really the local clerk, normally he had other jobs. Mostly, it would be like somebody that would be working the pouch track where he had access to the windows that he could see out because most of your local clerks, we learned to take landmarks so we even know about when you had to go to the door to get ready to make the exchange, where the station we're coming up on. There might be a lake or there might be a church up on the side or you could be -- you’d go to a switching that you were coming near the point where you had to get to the door and things like that.

In my case, on the register in West Virginia, I was right by the door in the front. It was like a wing that came out there and I was right there where I could look out most of the time out the door to get an idea where we’re at. Then to keep the pouch track man from having to come up and stop what he was doing, I was right there where I could do it for him and then soon I’d make the exchange and take the pouch we just caught off the hook and then throw it back the aisle to him and then he would open it right away and sort the mail that was in it. That was about it.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. All right, you’ve already answered my next question which was if you ever saw times of danger on the railways and you said that you didn’t. But did you ever hear of anybody else experiencing any type of dangerous situation on either your line or perhaps another line?

Allen Brown: Well, that short time, that year that I ran on the southern there was -- wasn’t involved in our train. It was the night train. We had two; we had day train and night train going to Chattanooga. One was coming through a tunnel down in -- by the time I got on the southern, there was only about three or four tunnels left that we had to go through.

Most of them were -- they called it daylight that they had to take the top off of it because the railroad start running piggybacks with these high cars on them and they had to open these tunnels up to make them higher so they get the train through. The day train, now I was on there, the night train came through there and something got mixed up because there was a switch engine that was on the same track and they had that mail car in Cincinnati, we could only see it once in a while. It really got banged up pretty big and there was a clerk in there that got banged up pretty good, too, but as far as I was concerned, no.

I never was involved in anything or I’d never -- I heard the men talk about they were coming out of -- I don't know if you know [indiscernible] Ohio that they ran the south. In those days the journal boxes where the wheels are at, well, one caught fire and they got the mail car on fire and was able to stop the train in time and get the carts off and get what mail they could out of the car. Later on, about a few days later, I went down to the train station down here and seen this mail car and it still had -- it happened in the middle of winter and they still had the mail that was frozen into the cases where the fire department of course had tried to fill it with water to put the fire out of the mail car and all the mail just froze right in the boxes and things like that. But that happened on the car that I was not involved in. I just heard about it and went down to take a look at it, something like that. But for myself, nothing, I’m very fortunate.

INTERVIEWER: That’s good. Did you ever face or witness any type of racial discrimination while you’re a post office clerk?

Allen Brown: Oh, no. All the clerks that we had, how am I going to say this, African American, I guess that’s the proper way now, but anyway they were all pretty congenial men and they all were good workers. I mean, you know, like a guy used to say, every tub had his own bottom in the mail car. You had your case, your assignment, your mail to work and you had to work; otherwise, the clerk in charge would have to show that male not worked on his report or something like that, but no we never had -- I can’t say we ever had any hard feelings like that.

In fact, when I was still on the night line on the Detroit-Cincinnati, my supervisor -- later on they called them -- we used to call them chief clerks or clerk-in-charge or anything like that. Well, the one that I had on the 30-foot car going north was colored man because everybody lived in Toledo and you couldn’t know a better guy. I mean he was smart and good in doing his mail and everything else. No, I can’t say I ever had any kind of problems like that, not on the road.

INTERVIEWER: Now, did you know of anybody who may have experienced racial discrimination? Allen Brown: No, not on the road, no.

INTERVIEWER: Were you a member of any type of outside organizations such as unions or clubs that were affiliated with the railway postal clerks?

Allen Brown: No. I never did join the Railway Mail Association. I belong to NARP [phonetic] now but that’s something altogether different but at the time they had this union or the Railway Mail Association but I had never had anything -- I had kind of a bad experience in the civilian workforce union. That’s one of the reasons I was glad to go in the post office because I didn’t really want to be involved in unions if I could help from it.

INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that you ever wanted to change about your position?

Allen Brown: No. Maybe make one of our connecting train runway or something like that so we miss it and make the mail easier and calling out. But, no, that was all part of the job. I mean everything was just fine. You know, when we go to work down the sub in Cincinnati, you’d come in to front door and you walk by, you get to the gate to get down to the track level and things like that. You’d look up at the incoming schedule board and see what the schedules of the arriving trains were and especially like the trains from Knoxville or Chattanooga or wherever they were coming from, to see if they were running on time or if they’re running late. If they were running late well, you’re hoping you’d get out of town before they got in town then you’d miss that mail, send somebody else to get the work and then -- but, no, that was all just part of it.

INTERVIEWER: What do you miss most about being a Railway Post Office clerk?

Allen Brown: Well, what do I miss most? Well, now, anymore I don’t think I miss anything. I mean, well, like most of the men I knew and the fun we used to have together and everything else, a large portion of them are gone now. They've all passed away or moved out of town or I just never see them anymore. So I just try to remember the old days and be happy with what I can remember but, no, I don’t think I really miss anything.

INTERVIEWER: For the last question, is there any other information that you would like to make accessible to researchers about your experience or position with the RPO such as anything interesting or any funny stories? Allen Brown: No, I don’t think so. I guess my fond memories that I have when I was a railway mail clerk. In those days that was the real job. We thought we were doing some good moving mail from one spot to the other and working them routes and making the connections and having it ready to go whenever we pulled into a depot or something like that. It’s just it’s all history now, everything. When they started putting things on rubber, first of all [indiscernible] HPOs and stuff like that and then airlines came along and took everything away from us and things like that and they started putting everything in the air. Well, you could see the handwriting on the wall and they started putting in state -- how do you get to run along I-75 in portions of Ohio and then you could see that sooner or later that was going to be the end of us, things like that but that’s about all.

Ralph Buddin

Mr. Ralph Buddin, of Rock Hill, South Carolina, was a regular clerk for the RMS. He would travel from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Atlanta, Georgia and Washington DC. He joined the Railway Mail Service after serving in World War II, during which he worked on the Army’s mail system.

Ralph Buddin Family Interview Transcript

INTERVIEWER: Could you please state your names and how you are affiliated with the Railway Post Office clerks?

Carolyn Buddin: This is Carolyn Buddin and my father, Ralph Buddin, is a former Railway Post Office clerk.

Catherine Williams: And this is Catherine Buddin Williams and my father was Ralph Buddin also. INTERVIEWER: What types of positions did your father have on the railcars?

Catherine Williams: This is Catherine. He was a clerk and he sorted mail. INTERVIEWER: Do you know if he was a regular or a sub?

Carolyn Buddin: Regular.

Catherine Williams: Yes, he was a regular.

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember the lines that he traveled on and in between which cities?

Carolyn Buddin: Yes. This is Carolyn. We grew up in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He would come up to Charlotte, North Carolina and pick up the train there. He would travel between Charlotte and Atlanta and also between Charlotte and Washington, D.C.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. And that also answers my next question which is what area did you live in while he was an RPO clerk? Did you live anywhere other than Rock Hill, North Carolina while he was an RPO clerk?

Carolyn Buddin: No. And it’s actually Rock Hill, South Carolina. That’s okay, we’re right on the border. No, we didn’t.

INTERVIEWER: Do you know why he wanted to become a Railway Post Office clerk, what inspired him to do so? Catherine Williams: This is Catherine. Carolyn, see if you agree with this, when our father served in World War II he worked with the Army mail system. And when he returned home after the War he was in business with his brother but then decided that he wanted to do something different and that’s how he became a railway postal clerk, because he had worked with the mail in the Army during World War II.

Carolyn Buddin: This is Carolyn, I think he really also liked to travel. I don’t know if that was something he was specifically looking for but --

Catherine Williams: And this is Catherine, he was not married and his mother had died so he had no family ties that would keep him in Rock Hill, so he was free to travel and the schedule suited him. He didn’t have any strings that would tie him down at that point.

INTERVIEWER: I know you mentioned earlier that he sorted mail; do you know any more details about his specific duties on the railcar?

Carolyn Buddin: This is Carolyn. Catherine, keep me honest, I know that he sorted mail. I know that it was in a way a high pressure job because you had the time between the cities to get it all sorted. Do you remember, Catherine, those little white cards he had that were about the size of a business card?

Catherine Williams: But I think those -- this is Catherine. I think those were for Rock Hill. Those were the street names, once he became supervisor delivery.

Carolyn Buddin: Oh, never mind. All right, okay.

Catherine Williams: This is Catherine, what was that question, Carolyn? Carolyn Buddin: Anything more specific on --

Catherine Williams: Okay, this is Catherine. I remember when I was probably upper elementary age, so maybe 10 or 12, I discovered a gun --

Carolyn Buddin: Yes.

Catherine Williams: A gun up on a shelf in daddy’s closet and I was appalled because our father was not a hunter, was very mild-mannered man. And I did not go to him, I went to our mother and said, did you know there is a gun on daddy’s closet? And she said that that was from his time when he worked mail on the train that they had to carry a gun and I was shocked --

Carolyn Buddin: Me too.

Catherine Williams: -- because I could not imagine why they would have to do that. Would someone try to rob them on the train and why would you do that, was it a dangerous job that our father had had at some point? So I know that he had to carry a gun.

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember what the longest time he was away from home was?

Catherine Williams: Oh wow. I don’t remember that. This is Catherine. I do remember that his schedule was such that he worked for several days and then he would have several days home, he was off. When I was a small child I remember the schedule because it was important but I don’t remember it now.

Carolyn Buddin: No, I have no concept of that. I would say never even a week, right, would you think? Catherine Williams: A week gone or --?

Carolyn Buddin: A week gone.

Catherine Williams: No, I don’t think so. I think it was more like four days gone and three days off, something like that.

Carolyn Buddin: Within four or three, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: During his four days gone, would he ever come back to the house to visit for a few hours or was it he was gone the entire four days?

Carolyn Buddin: This is Carolyn, he was gone. He’s on the train in another city.

INTERVIEWER: How did your father cope with being away from home for so many days at a time?

Catherine Williams: This is Catherine. I think that it was difficult for him once his children were born. He did not marry until later in life. He was 41, I think, when they got married. So he was a late in life father and we were close together in age and I think he really missed us when he was gone. What do you think, Carolyn? Did he ever mention anything about that?

Carolyn Buddin: Well, this is Carolyn, I will say -- we’re talking about the period 1960s by the way – Catherine Williams: And this would be the early ‘60s also.

Carolyn Buddin: Yeah because I was born in 1960, so. Catherine Williams: Okay.

Carolyn Buddin: You remember he still had the house, he still owned the house that he grew up in and it’s also in Rock Hill and I think, you know, when you’re traveling the sleep schedule was pretty mixed up and so he would come home and if we were I guess too loud or something, he would go down to this house, his family house where he grew up and sleep.

Catherine Williams: Yes, I remember that also that when he came home, at first he really wasn’t home with us because we were small and three little girls were probably loud and he would go to the house and he would sleep. There was no telephone connection there because he really didn’t live there, he lived with our mother and us, so he would go down there and if anything happened there was no way to get in touch with him. We have to get in the car and go over there. Our sister Alice who was not able to be here remembers one time when he was going to be gone on the train and it was going to be her birthday and this would be a fairly early birthday, I would say six or under, so he left her his birthday present in the bathroom so she would find it as soon as she got up. He had gotten her a birthstone ring. He thought ahead about the fact I’m going to miss an important day for a little girl and I want to make sure she knows I’m thinking about her, so he left her a birthday present. Anything else, Carolyn?

Carolyn Buddin: No. That’s it in terms of being away and coping with that.

Catherine Williams: It was difficult for our mother. I know that it was very difficult because she was a stay-at-home mother and there were three little children and I know that when we started school he requested a transfer to the local post office so that he could be home more often. I know he mentioned to me as an older child that it had been hard on our mother.

Carolyn Buddin: You mean when you started school?

Catherine Williams: I don’t remember that it was when I started school. I think it was by the time all three of us may had been in school that he felt like it was hard. I know that during our years in elementary school he requested a transfer so that he could be home more.

INTERVIEWER: While he was away, do you know what type of accommodations he had during his layovers? Carolyn Buddin: This is Carolyn. I know a little bit.  I know when he would go to Washington, D.C., they would come in at Union Station and at that time he said there was a YMCA on the second floor; second floor meaning the second floor of that little main hall that has -- this tall enough to light the Washington Monument down so he would say there, that Y. I guess if you had business or things to do across the street at the main post office, that’s just across the street. I don’t know where he stayed other times.

Catherine Williams: And I don’t remember him ever talking about that either, but we do know the Union Station Y. INTERVIEWER: We kind of discussed this earlier. You said that when your father was away it was really difficult for your mother because she did have three girls to raise. Did she ever complain or say anything to you and how else did your family cope with him being away from home so often?

Catherine Williams: This is Catherine. Because we were so small, I don’t remember mama complaining at that time. After that time when he was home, I remember as we were growing up later, she mentioned about how difficult it had been for her. I know that, you know, it was before the time of car seats, she talked about that she would hire the neighbor boy who lived a few doors down to cut the grass and she would pay him to go walk to a nearby restaurant and every now and then as a treat for a takeout food, he would go get the takeout food and bring it home to us at the house because she had three little children and could not do that.

Carolyn Buddin: And I think at first, when we were very young, like I may have been at the most two, she didn’t have a car because daddy had to take the car to drive to Charlotte to get on a train.

Catherine Williams: So she was pretty much almost like a prisoner in our small home with three little children, no transportation at that point while he was out of town.

INTERVIEWER: How did you guys feel about him being away from home so often?

Catherine Williams: You know, this is Catherine, because he did that from before the time I was born, I grew up thinking that’s the way it was. I don’t really remember it not being that way and I think our mother worked hard to provide a lot of consistency for us. I missed daddy when he was gone. I do remember wishing that he did not have to go down to his family home to get some sleep because we had not had him home for several days and then this was just more time that he was gone. I remember that. Carolyn, do you remember anything else?

Carolyn Buddin: Yes. This is Carolyn. You know, I must have watched my whole childhood in the daze or something -- I don’t specifically remember thinking daddy’s here, daddy’s not here or whatever. I do certainly know he worked for the post office on the railway. I liked it because he brought me candy back.

Catherine Williams: Oh, yeah. He would bring pecan rolls from Atlanta –

Carolyn Buddin: -- pecan rolls from Atlanta. I don’t think you all liked them as much as I did so I’d have them all to myself. That was probably the most important thing.

INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that you three used to do to help your father prepare for work?

Catherine Williams: I can’t think of anything on the mail train. I remember that when he was a supervisor of mails and delivery in the Rock Hill Post Office we did, but I can’t think of anything when he did the mail on the train.

Carolyn Buddin: No. This is Carolyn. Daddy didn’t actually talk about work very much, even through his whole career, never talked about work too much. So, no we didn’t do -- yeah, nothing special there.

Catherine Williams: Except Mom.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever help to pack his lunch with your mom?

Catherine Williams: I don’t remember that on the train. We would do that here in Rock Hill for the main post office but I don’t remember that for the train.

Carolyn Buddin: I know that he would -- you see, my memory is all about food. There was a Greek restaurant here in Charlotte that he mentioned one time to me that he used to eat out at, it was called Caffino’s, I think it was just like what he would’ve called a greasy spoon, but I don’t know that he took a lunch. If he did, it would be bread and Vienna sausage –

Catherine Williams: That’s what we call them.

Carolyn Buddin: Yeah, to the rest of the world it’s Vienna sausage but we called it Vienna. You know what that is, Caitlin?

INTERVIEWER: Yes, little canned sausages.

Catherine Williams: Yes. Our daddy was a bachelor for a very long time and he fended for himself so pork and beans and Vienna sausage.

INTERVIEWER: What were some of the things you did while your father was away from home to keep yourselves busy?

Carolyn Buddin: This is Carolyn - school. Just school and school and school and in the summers, we read, read, read.

Catherine Williams: And I remember, we had -- our mother had taught second grade before she married daddy and so we had all the sorts of things that teacher’s children would have at home. I don’t remember, sometimes -- I think I do remember writing daddy notes sometimes. Yes, I would write, if daddy would come home in the middle of the night, I remember writing him a note and leaving it on the kitchen table for him although I don’t remember what it was about. I can remember leaving out report cards for him to see.

Carolyn Buddin: This is Carolyn. I don’t know, sometimes I don't know if we grew up in the same house. All I wanted was my candy. I don’t think I wrote him any notes, I don’t remember. I don’t remember anything but my candy.

Catherine Williams: I did not remember that till now. Yes, I do remember writing him notes and leaving them on the kitchen table so he could read it as soon as he got home.

INTERVIEWER: What were some of the things that your mother did to keep herself occupied while he was not there?

Catherine Williams: This is Catherine. I think she had her hands full with three little girls. Once we were older she did have a car to drive and take us places but I think she was pretty much full time busy taking care of three little girls.

Carolyn Buddin: I think mom is a little bit of a clean freak too so she cleaned ahead. I know she had to clean a lot, just with having three children but I know she cleaned a lot and occasionally she would have somebody like Ada or Asalie come in and –

Catherine Williams: So these were maids.

Carolyn Buddin: Yeah, and come in and help her a little bit while she could go to the grocery store or something like that.

Catherine Williams: This was also in the days - this is Catherine - before some of the things that we take for granted, so she had a washing machine because there were only cloth diapers available, so she had a washing machine but she didn’t have a drier and so she was washing a whole lot of clothes because for many years she had somebody in diapers or sometimes two children in diapers. So laundry I know took a lot of time in the early years. That’s it, house work.

INTERVIEWER: Do you know if your father had any down time at all after his work was complete? And if so, how did he keep himself occupied on the train during down times?

Carolyn Buddin: This is Carolyn. I don’t know if he had down time on the train. I know he would have time when he went in the cities he was in because, you know, like in Atlanta he knew -- this was before they rebuilt it but at that time he would go to the area of underground Atlanta and then that underground Atlanta went through a period of big decline and it was very seedy and then they rebuilt it. And then also, one time we vacationed in Atlanta and remember daddy took us to some tall building and he knew the doorman. So even though it was on a weekend, the doorman let us in and we could go way, way up high and look out the window.

Catherine Williams: And I remember - this is Catherine - I remember him taking us -- it was obvious that he had been at places in Atlanta like Stone Mountain perhaps and the Cyclorama. I also remember in Washington that he was very comfortable going out by himself and going to see sights that he thought would be interesting, so I remember that he had been places in Washington like the Washington Monument and other typical tourist sights. Carolyn Buddin: Yeah, but in terms of actually on the car –

Catherine Williams: I don’t remember anything.

Carolyn Buddin: I don’t remember him talk, say he did or didn’t have down time. I do remember him saying that you had to get that mail sorted and it was always a challenge between the cities.

INTERVIEWER: Did he ever tell you other sites he saw that particularly interested him?

Carolyn Buddin: This is Carolyn. You know, not specifically. I’m sure he was big history buff; particularly in Washington, he would have probably gone to all the different places up there. Daddy just loved to watch people. Oh man, he could just sit and watch people, you know.

Catherine Williams: I agree. But I don’t remember anything else specific. Oh, I do remember now. He sent us or either brought us a postcard of that original Smithsonian building and so I think that he must have visited the Smithsonian at some point.

Carolyn Buddin: And I do not remember that, okay.

INTERVIEWER: Was there any way that the family would keep in touch while he was away? Did he ever call? Did he send letters or postcards?

Catherine Williams: I think, Carolyn, I don’t know what you remember, I do not remember daddy ever calling. I’m not even sure if mama knew how to get in touch with him when he was gone. And of course, this was back in the days when long distance was prohibitively expensive. I do remember, once we were older, getting postcards specifically from Washington. I don’t know if I remember any postcards from Atlanta and he did not write letters either, so no. My memory is that he was almost completely out of touch during those days that he was gone.

Carolyn Buddin: Yeah. This is Carolyn. I don’t specifically remember him contacting us. I think that would be consistent. He was not the great communicator there plus I think when this was going on, you’re right; I don’t know where mama would have called him if she needed him. And then he may have called us sometimes, I just don’t know.

Catherine Williams: And part of that also - this is Catherine - may have had to do with our mother’s personality. She also was older when she married, she was 31. She had lived on her own, paid all her bills. She was very capable and independent so she certainly was able to handle everything while he was out of town. It may have been difficult to do with three little children but she’s very independent and capable of handling any sort of emergency that could have come up while he was gone.

INTERVIEWER: What are some of your fondest memories of your father as a Railway Post Office clerk?

Catherine Williams: This is Catherine. I think that what I really remember is he really enjoyed that job. I thought he enjoyed the men he worked with. I think he liked to travel. So my sense always was this was something that had it not been a matter of my mother really got to the point where she needed him at home that he would have continued to have done it and I think thoroughly enjoyed it.

Carolyn Buddin: Yeah, I think he really loved it too. Of course, my favorite memory is the candy but other than that Catherine Williams: She does have beautiful teeth by the way.

Carolyn Buddin: This is all about the candy. I know he used to leave sometimes like really what to us in the middle of the night like at two o’clock in the morning or something?

Catherine Williams: Yes. But I also liked knowing I’m going to go to bed tonight - this is Catherine - and when I wake up, daddy will be here. Now, I can’t wake him up, I can’t bother him but daddy will be home when I wake up. Carolyn Buddin: That’s right. You couldn’t go bother him after he got home. That’s right, he was sleeping.

INTERVIEWER: Was your father a part of any type of special organization, group or union associated with the Railway Post Office clerks?

Carolyn Buddin: This is Carolyn. He was never a union member of anything. He did, after he switched to the Rock Hill Post Office, over time they occasionally had reunions, the railway postal clerks had reunions in Atlanta – Catherine Williams: I remember that.

Carolyn Buddin: -- and he would go. It wasn’t every year, by any stretch of the imagination. It was maybe every five years at most, I went with him one time. They would meet and talk and I think obviously over the years there were less and less people who were able to attend.

Catherine Williams: This is Catherine. Our father was not a big joiner. He was not a real social person so the fact that he made an effort to go to these reunions in Atlanta I think is an indication of how important those relationships were to him because I don’t ever remember him going to a high school reunion and we live in the town where he was born and grew up.

Carolyn Buddin: I was going to say he never went to a family reunion either.

Catherine Williams: Dad was not big on family reunions so for him to make the effort to go all the way to Atlanta to those reunions was really a big deal for him and I think indicates how much he enjoyed those men.

INTERVIEWER: While your father was away, did your family ever associate with any of the other clerks’ wives or families?

Catherine Williams: Not that I recall. I don’t think so.

Carolyn Buddin: Yeah, I don’t think so. And I think - this is Carolyn - it was really more because they didn’t have children in school with us and maybe they didn’t go to the same church or something like that so, you know, you naturally weren’t where they were.

Catherine Williams: That’s what I’m thinking. This is Catherine.

Carolyn Buddin: Yeah, I think that’s because, like you said Catherine, our parents were older when they got married so anybody that daddy worked with that was in his same age group would have kids five, 10 years ahead of us.

INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that your family did not like about your father’s job such as him being away for long periods of time or just hazards that he faced while on the job?

Catherine Williams: As a small child, I don’t remember anything challenge -- I missed daddy when he was gone but I’m kind of like Carolyn in that it just wasn’t ever really different for us when we were small. It had always been that way.

Carolyn Buddin: Yeah. This is Carolyn. I think, now this is actually a memory I do have and this is a little vague, I think when you stopped being a railway clerk and was at home all the time, I think it was a little bit hard to adjust to.

Catherine Williams: That he’s there all the time. Carolyn Buddin: He’s there all the time.

Catherine Williams: Before he had not been. Carolyn Buddin: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: What about your mother? What was her reaction to his job? Did she like it? Did she not like it?

Catherine Williams: This is Catherine. I think that before children were born, because she had been independent and single for so long I think it didn’t bother her at all that he was gone as much as he was. I think that it became increasingly difficult with each successive birth but as Carolyn just mentioned I think that once he made that switch, which she encouraged, once he made the switch and was no longer working mail on the train, I think that was stressful in its own way for her because as a single parent much of time, she had set the routines and everything flowed a certain way but now there was another adult in the picture and it was difficult I think sometimes for her to adjust to, even though that was her preference, that he not work mail on the train anymore and be at home.

Carolyn Buddin: This is Carolyn. I don’t know when the railway postal clerk service was discontinued but I think he stopped before it was discontinued but I don’t think there were a lot of years left after he stopped, so I think he would have had to stop at some point anyway because it got to a point where you weren’t working mail on the train as often or in the same way.

INTERVIEWER: Did your father experience any type of dangerous or bad situation while on the railcars? Catherine Williams: This is Catherine. I don’t remember him ever mentioning anything about that. What about the heat though, Carolyn?

Carolyn Buddin: I was just thinking that. It was hot on the cars and they didn’t have a window I think. And I had to tell you, this is the time when people smoked and there were no smoking bans and probably didn’t even know that it was harmful so I can only imagine what that must have been like.

Catherine Williams: Did he tell you that they would work in their undershirts, they’d take off their shirts and work? Carolyn Buddin: They did and I can’t put my hands on it but he has a picture of, you know, inside the railway car with people working the mail and most of them are in undershirts.

INTERVIEWER: Did he ever tell any stories of people that he heard who experienced a dangerous situation? Catherine Williams: I do remember - this is Catherine - that my mother said or either -- I don’t remember if daddy said this to me directly, but he never had to use his gun. I was assured that daddy had never had to use the gun on the train.

Carolyn Buddin: Well, I don’t know if they would’ve told the truth.

Catherine Williams: That’s true too, as small children, they might not have told us.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever hear of anybody experiencing like accidents by hitting cars or the train was derailed? Catherine Williams: No, not that I recall, this is Catherine. Carolyn is shaking her head, no?

Carolyn Buddin: No. I don’t know that he would’ve told us or not, but personally I always wondered how the heck you manage to get hit by a train but that’s a whole other story.

INTERVIEWER: What was your father’s attitude towards the positions he occupied with the Railway Mail Service? Was there something that he particularly loved or was there anything that he just disliked?

Catherine Williams: This is Catherine and I don’t remember him mentioning anything that he disliked.

Carolyn Buddin: No. I think he loved, loved, loved the travel and I think, and I’m just imagining, that one of the things that was probably good for him is that he did go back to the same places but he didn’t live there and he probably had -- and when he was there he didn’t have strings, so he could go where he wanted and looked at what he wanted to and he would have been at some place that had history related to it.

INTERVIEWER: I know that you two mentioned that he did not work until the discontinuation of the Railway Mail Service, but if he had stayed in until the discontinuation, what do you think his attitude would have been about that?

Carolyn Buddin: This is Carolyn.  I think his attitude would have been it’s not the same.  And even I think in the span of time that he was there, I think it changed and I think he would’ve said it’s not the same. I’m guessing, you know, that over time he may have felt that maybe the people he was working with weren’t as interested in quality. I don’t know.

Catherine Williams: This is Catherine. And I agree he was very conscious of quality and doing a job well and efficiently. And my impression was that he thought, at least when he was working on the train when we were young, that he thought it was an efficient system and that the men he worked with were interested in doing a good job. I’m certain that our father did. He was also somewhat of a stoic about change. I think he saw our hometown change so much over his lifetime and whenever I talk to him about change, he would have an attitude of change is inevitable and it’s going to happen and -- yes, as you said, Carolyn, things are not the same.

Carolyn Buddin: I bet either way, even if he had worked until it had been discontinued or even when he left, I’m sure he was sad.

Catherine Williams: He also worked until the federal mandatory retirement age. He was 70 when he retired and he was in good health and if he could have continued to work for the post office after age 70 he would have. If he had not left the railway position, I think he would continue working until it was discontinued.

Carolyn Buddin: Yeah, until it wasn’t there anymore.

INTERVIEWER: Now you say that he loved his position with the Railway Mail Service. What was his attitude towards the position that he held in the Rock Hill Post Office?

Catherine Williams: Now, Carolyn, what do you think?

Carolyn Buddin: Well, you know, I think that he liked working for the post office. I think he felt it was - this sounds too overstated - an honorable job. I do think that he did have a little bit of the attitude of, you know, you’re not living to work, you’re working to live and –

Catherine Williams: There are other people that -- explain that are you talking of the people he worked with in the post office?

Carolyn Buddin: Yeah. As much as he loved it, I think he felt, well, this is a job and this is a paycheck coming in. Catherine Williams: Right. In other words it wasn’t his life.

Carolyn Buddin: Yeah. I mean, he worked for the post office at Rock for 35 years and I do think he liked it. I guess he was emotionally attached, I just don’t think he -- I think he kept the perspective that it was a job.

Catherine Williams: This is Catherine. My impression is that he sometimes, as the supervisor of mails and delivery, felt like not everybody was as concerned about doing the job right and well as he was and I don’t remember him ever complaining about people that he worked with on the train but -- and I don’t even remember specific names of people. He would just sometimes mention at the local post office that there were some issues with people trying to cut corners and not working the whole time they were supposed to be working.

Carolyn Buddin: I think occasionally, and this was probably before you had a camera filming you wherever you go, so they didn’t have cameras at the windows. I’m pretty sure I remember him talking about, you know, them suspecting someone was stealing -- a clerk was stealing -- somebody who worked at the window was stealing and him having to take notes and different things.

Catherine Williams: So overall we think he did continue to enjoy working for the post office but it was such a different position from working mail on the train.

Carolyn Buddin: I just remembered this - this is Carolyn - you could not take a paper clip from the office and bring it home. You are stealing if you did. You could not bring a pen home that said, United States Postal Service, nothing. That was stealing. And if that was the rule our father was a big stickler for no, no, no, we do not do that.

INTERVIEWER: Which position do you think he was happier with, working on the railway or working in the local post office?

Carolyn Buddin: I’m going to say working on the railway. This is Carolyn. Yeah, I think it was a tradeoff for him. I think he liked the job better working on the railway but he didn’t get to see us as much, so I think later when he got to see us more, I don’t think the job was as fun.

Catherine Williams: This is Catherine. I agree. I think that because he took that job when he was single and had it for so many years before he got married, he really did enjoy it and I think he never regretted leaving. I think he was very happy to have made the change that he could be home with us more. But I would bet that he would say if you compare jobs that he enjoyed the railway position more.

Carolyn Buddin: But also thinking -- Catherine, tell me if -- I hope I’m not, I don’t think I’m making this up.  When he worked downtown at the post office, you know, that was just a time of great change I think in the postal service and many other companies.  I think I remember there was just a lot of union-related sentiment running around and daddy was never a member of a union and we kind of lived in a part of the country where that’s not or hasn’t been at that time a prevalent thing. Do you remember --?

Catherine Williams: I remember that. And I do remember also that there appeared to be some sort of unrest at some point and of course daddy was looked on as part of the management and there would be complaints against the management and they might not be directed towards our father but I think it was distressing to daddy sometimes for there to be an us versus them mentality. I remember one time he had to get dressed in his suit and go somewhere, maybe to Charlotte, to help address some complaints that the clerks have had in the local post office. So yeah, it was a time of unrest and sometimes that was difficult for him.  He didn’t like that kind of conflict.

INTERVIEWER: Then for the last question, is there anything else that you two would like to share with researchers about your father as a Railway Post Office clerk, funny stories, just interesting facts that you learned through him?

Catherine Williams: Carolyn, I think we said everything that Alice wanted to make sure we cover. It’s everything that I can remember, is there anything else daddy talked to you about?

Carolyn Buddin: Well, I think -- now, this is Carolyn, I think that daddy is 99 percent of the reason that we’re all very interested in history and I don’t mean like world history which is very interesting, but I mean local history and U.S. history.  I mean, I think, you could see that in the way he spent some of his off hours when he was on the road. I do have -- I’m going to say it anyway but this is when he was already working at the post office downtown. Remember he would take us down there like on Saturday or Sunday, he had to go down there and check on something and we’d be in the lobby. I can’t remember if you did this but I went over to look at the wanted posters Catherine Williams: Yes, I did.

Carolyn Buddin: -- because I was pretty I could see one of those people and I needed to memorize their face and names and what they had done.

Catherine Williams: Now, I forgot one thing that Alice said and I do remember him doing this, daddy liked to take us places by himself. It gave our mother a little break, so it was not unusual for him to take all three of us and we would go somewhere. And I remember him taking us to downtown Charlotte once when we were little girls to the train station. And I remember him talking to people there at the train station that he clearly knew and I remember wondering, how does daddy know these people, and it was because he had been getting on the train for so many years and going out. And I remember him telling us that he wanted us to see where he had gotten on the train to go work mail.

Carolyn Buddin: This is Carolyn, just a couple more things, I went through a period when I collected stamps and it was so cool that daddy could just bring them home right from work and I have some really interesting stamps.

Catherine, every time to this day, every single time I hear a train I think of daddy.

Catherine Williams: And that is true. I live near a train track and it’s far enough down the road that our house doesn’t rumble, but every time I hear a train in the middle of the night, I will think about daddy and any time a train goes over a trestle, I'll feel like near our house where we grew up, I think about daddy. And any time -- you don’t see cabooses anymore but I remember daddy talking about the caboose on the train and being in the caboose and as little girls we would watch every train that we happen to see to look for the caboose to see if there was anybody in the window that we could wave at. Yeah, they would wave. You don’t see cabooses anymore – Carolyn Buddin: Well, the engineer, the conductor waves at you still today –

Catherine Williams: If you’re looking. So even though we’re in our 50s now, almost 50, Carolyn, any time we see a train or hear a train whistle, we think of our daddy.

Carolyn Buddin: And you know, I was thinking about this sometime ago, I have moved around a little bit, I’m not by any means a great world traveler, I’ve lived in different places in the southeastern United States, I have never lived in a place where I didn’t hear a train. Isn’t that interesting that you don’t think of the railways as being a huge factor in people’s lives but every single place I’ve lived, I’ve been able to hear a train. And right now, there’s a train out here in the evenings on the north road and –

Catherine Williams: So in downtown Charlotte.

Carolyn Buddin: Oh, downtown Charlotte, yeah, I can see them from where I work. I’m talking about wherever I had an apartment or in my house now, I mean, I always have been able to hear a train - interesting.

INTERVIEWER: Is there anything else that you would like to say about your father? Catherine Williams: I can’t think of anything that relates to the railway. No.

Robert Burkman

Mr. Robert Burkman was a regular clerk on the Burlington Railroad in Chicago, and Council Bluff’s RPO in Iowa for 10 years. He occasionally worked as a sub on different lines, traveling from Kansas City to Santa Fe.

Robert Burkman Interview Transcript

INTERVIEWER: Could you please state your name and position you occupied with the Railway Mail Service? Robert Burkman: Robert Burkman, that’s B-U-R-K-M-A-N. I was a railway postal clerk on the Burlington Railroad Chicago and Council Bluff’s RPO for 10 years.

INTERVIEWER: And were you a sub or a regular? Robert Burkman: Regular.

INTERVIEWER: And I know earlier you said that you were from the Chicago-Council Bluff Line. Were there any other rail lines that you worked on?

Robert Burkman: Only as a substitute. When you’re -- when you hire out as a sub, oh I think I probably worked almost a year as a sub and you’re liable to go anywhere then. I made a trip or two to Kansas City on the Santa Fe, Chicago, Santa Fe. And I had -- I made a trip or so on the Rock Island. That’s what they call the Chicago West [indiscernible] RPO. Other than that, my time was all spent on the Burlington Railroads, Chicago-Council Bluffs. INTERVIEWER: And what are some of the locations you traveled between and some of the stops that you made? Robert Burkman: Well, of course, Chicago, you know, it’s [indiscernible] the goes right Illinois all the says terminals and they call [indiscernible] the railroads got a point Burlington, Iowa, then your Mount Pleasant, Fairfield, Ottumwa, Albia, Sheraton, Osceola, Preston, Red Oak, then Council Bluffs then onto Omaha.

INTERVIEWER: And I know you said that you served as a railway post office clerk for 10 years. Do you remember which years those were?

Robert Burkman: I served on the RPO 1947 to 57, RPO.

INTERVIEWER: And what made you want to become a railway post office clerk?

Robert Burkman: Well, I -- when I left the military, army, when I got out of service, I had a 10 percent, I had a disability, 10 percent disability. And I took exams for post office here for the postmaster, to work in the post office and I also took exam for rail route. And with my letter and preference, disabled letter and preference, I think we were awarded 10 points. So the exams that I took I got I had a grade from 102 to 106. So that was no problem but to get in the local post office, you had -- it had to be political, you got to have some political pull. Not so with the railway mail. That was a -- and I had a neighbor that was in this railway mail and he knew I had taken the exam.

He was a good friend of the district superintendent in Chicago and he told him about me and he says, “Well, send him in.” So he sent me a travel commission and told me where to -- how to get there. So I get on the train in the Burlington Railroad goes right under the post office in Chicago where it’s -- where it docks.  And they said, “You just go to the sixth floor of the building,” and I’m a -- I am an Iowa farm boy and I’ve never been to Chicago. And -- but I find my way to the office and they treated me great. In fact, before I left, they said, “Oh, where are you staying?”  I said, “Well, there are four different hotels.  I can find that.”  And they said, “Well, it’s right down LaSalle Street here. So and before I got out, they said, “Well, we have a run for you tonight, right across the street from the -- it was on the Rock Island to Davenport in Maine.” And they said, “It’s right across the street, you can’t miss it.” So that was my initiation into the railway mail service.  Of course, like you see, you know nothing.  And but that’s the advantage of the railway mail service was the dedicated workers.  They weren’t there just for the pay or just to for -- the end of the run. They’re there to deliver the mail and to serve people. So that was my initial trip. And you just -- they just really took care of me. They were a lot of educated fellows in the mail service then because in 1936, they had a big examination time and a lot of college graduates had taken the exam and were going to work in the mail service. So it was sort of surprising how many of the fellows have a college degree. You [indiscernible] they’re much different from where I worked as a now I worked as a -- I worked about a year of manual labor at the Naval Air Station here before I went into Mail service.

INTERVIEWER: And what kind of jobs did you have on the rail car?

Robert Burkman: Well, you do everything. I mean when I finished up or when I started I guess? INTERVIEWER: When you first started like what types of jobs did you work on the mail car?

Robert Burkman: Well, I’ve always got -- there’s always plenty of just manual labor, just dumping the mail up. So the other guys -- so the guys that know what they’re doing can sort it. And there’s always this funny that [indiscernible] to like if you want to work Chicago. If you had nothing going east, you could work Chicago.

Anybody could work in Chicago City, they called us just by the zip codes and it wasn’t zip codes then it was just numbers. Like Chicago had about all about 50 different - all the stations had a number. And you could get up to a letter case and just put that zone I think they called a zone the mail. And sort that mail without knowing any distribution at all. Of course then later, later when you got to learn distribution and I -- the last three, four years I worked Chicago City going to east. And there wasn’t an address in Chicago that I didn’t know what station it went to. So I remember there’s always something that you can do just manual, I’d say manual labor just like dumping that newspapers or dumping pouches for the other guys to get their mail, sort it out so they could work it. Okay? INTERVIEWER: All right. And then when you became a regular, was there one job that you worked the most?

Robert Burkman: When you get regular, you get an assignment and it’s just you -- and that was kind of a bad deal, it wasn’t a bad deal. Firstly, you would take the lesser desirable jobs. And what I was assigned was a run from Chicago to Aurora which is 38 miles and back twice a day. And you work about a week on and a week off. That entailed going to the post office to the register room at Chicago about -- I don’t know -- 4:30 in the morning to get the registered mail and go down to your car and you rock the old car and load it up [indiscernible]. I really was as a helper on that.

But anyway I had to get the registered mail for the clerk in charge. And I don’t know what time I left Chicago but made some local stops, local stations before we have to -- before we head out to Aurora. All it took probably was one or two hours to get to Aurora with all the stops. And that was early morning. And then turned right around from this -- the clerk in charge went on to Streator, Illinois. So you get out of the car at Aurora and got in another car to go back to Chicago and back in Chicago by yourself, by myself. And then do the same thing right there and load up and go back to Aurora -- you get back to Aurora about although before noon, then you had -- then you sleep a little bit in the car and wait for the other guy to come back from Streator. He go on downstream they come back about oh four, five o’clock in the afternoon and he and him go back to Chicago for your day’s work.

It wasn’t a regular job. Nobody liked that job. So I didn’t stay any longer than I have to. Three or four months until something opened up on the main line and I got out on the main line.

INTERVIEWER: And then that kind of answered my next question, which is could you describe a typical day on the rail car.

Robert Burkman: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: For -- okay, go ahead.

Robert Burkman: Our big train was 19 which left Chicago at 11 o’clock in the morning. Yes, and we go to work at least two hours before the train leaves, you go to work at least two hours before. You get the car all in shape, get the racks all hung them and cables labeled -- cable case all labeled up. And everything in order and then you start taking the mail in. And it sounds kind of crazy but I always thought Wyoming -- we [indiscernible] while we work -- of course worked at Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming. But Wyoming case, I always liked the Wyoming case.

There was only -- it’s only a little over 300 offices in Wyoming. But when you sound -- that doesn’t sound like you get much mail but when everybody from the East Coast did the pouch and do the mail, pouch it in Wyoming, it was mail -- a lot of mail. And you start a letter case and you take out about a dozen of the biggest towns and it’s Cheyenne, it’s Fort Orin, Casper, Rawlins, Rock Springs, Torrington. He takes those pounds out of the Wyoming.

And you have much left. So that was a good distribution.

And that note, to load the the car up you have to sort all the mail so you don’t have -- didn’t have to work on that Wyoming right away but I usually did. Of course you had all day but they didn’t get to Omaha until 9 o’clock at night. But that’s -- oh, see we had probably seven or eight fellows working in that car. Just in the one car.  So it was a -- you had to sort the mail. And of course, you take some through mail too. And sometimes registered mail, you’d have a bunch of registered mail which you have to take pretty good care of. Somebody signed for it and the insurance and you watch where it’s at, take care of it all the time.

INTERVIEWER: Out of all of the jobs that you worked, was there any one that you liked doing the most?

Robert Burkman: Well, yes, I think I liked working this Wyoming mail or working Chicago City case. You talked about which goes in or you see make up all the banks or mail order houses, and there was always some contest mail going. And I don’t know -- stuff like that it would change, some stuff would change. Not the mail orders.

I like to tell the story that I could -- living here I’ll be 300 miles south of Chicago. I could order of a pair of jeans. I need some new jeans and I get to write it, put the orders in Montgomery Ward and take it up to the post office here by eight o’clock tonight and it would go -- they process it and get on the train our Train 8 which gets into Chicago about five o’clock the next morning. They would work that letter out and it would be in the pouch for Montgomery Ward. That pouch would go out to -- right to this company there in Chicago. They would fill that order tomorrow and before eight o’clock this is Wednesday, before eight o’clock Friday morning, those jeans would be on my front porch. Then about less than 36 hours, they would fill the order and that they would come back and I can [indiscernible]. I got to get that good a service. That’s pretty hard to do. That’s something I’d always kind of amazed me how quick that case gets that stuff back.

INTERVIEWER: And was there any job that you disliked or was there anything that you ever disliked about any of the positions that you worked and this can be just a small complaint that you may have brushed off to the side? Robert Burkman: That’s kind of hard. Not really, not really, no. Not really. It was a good job. Yes. Yes. I don’t know, I don’t know. I can’t really pinpoint something and say I disliked about it.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. And what type of railcar did you work on?

Robert Burkman: Well, iron -- they were steel cars. All-steel. Although somewhere around a little after 1950, when they got -- we got some brand new mail cars, they were streamlined like the Zephyrs, all stainless steel. We got a couple of those. I’d say the car was 85 feet long and 60 foot of space to work mail and 25 foot of storage space. If we had something, it had a refrigerator in it and a hot plate. The old cars -- the railroad people would have an ice box thing the railroad keeper put ice in before we left. So he had a place to keep something cold. But this new one had a better lining and of course it didn’t have the refrig -- we never had air conditioning of any kind in our RPO car. It had plenty of heat but the heat was steam heat from the engines but the not the -- no air conditioning.

INTERVIEWER: When you worked on the railways, do you remember what your starting salary was?

Robert Burkman: Yes, sure. I think it was $2,350 a year which is about $1 and a nickel an hour. But every year, you get a raise, $0.05 an hour, $100 a year raise. About $0.05 an hour.

INTERVIEWER: And was this an increase compared to what you were doing before you started the Railway Mail Service?

Robert Burkman: Well, I worked -- I was thinking down at the Air Station the base pay was $0.86 an hour, manual labor. The Naval Air Station just 20 miles east of here, some of us went down there. When I first came home from the service, just -- I didn’t want to -- I didn’t have any idea what we wanted to do so we took -- did that.

INTERVIEWER: And do you remember what your ending salary was for the railways?

Robert Burkman: Well, if I tell you I’ve been retired 33 years last April 15, 1977, I retired so that’s 33 years ago. It was about $19,000. But that was a level -- that’s a level 16 which is pretty -- a clerk is a four or a five. I was a supervisor.

INTERVIEWER: And what you remember about getting paid. Do you believe it was fair for the amount of work that you had to do?

Robert Burkman: Yes, I think so. I always thought so, yes.

INTERVIEWER: What did you typically carry with you in your grip while you’re on run?

Robert Burkman: We had a gun. Revolver, that’s sort of a thing the wife and the kids check with me. Gun, badge, your travel commission and your keys, you had to have a keychain. It was about two foot long, I guess and that’s I mean you put on your belt. An LA key which opens all the regular pouches. And then you had a registered key which was a long, longer key that opened the registered locks. Those register locks were big, solid brass and had a little window -- it had a number on the outside of it, of course. And there was a little window in it and every time you opened it, it would change the number in that window. So you lock up some registered mail and you bill it to somebody with the outside number and the number in the hole.  And then they have to account for it and then you had to balance your register every time. And then keep those records, had to keep those records at home too. So I forgot how long but I suppose for two or three years. At the end of each run you had to make sure you balanced all of your registers. Had somebody’s signature for all the registers that you had signed for. So yes, that was it. Keys, badge, travel commission and your gun, yes.

INTERVIEWER: Was there anything else that you used to carry with you?

Robert Burkman: Well, you have to have change of clothes and schemes and schedules. And all your edit -- we prepare the labels at home for all the pouches and sacks that you were -- whatever your case was, if you had a paper case, then you’d have a whole bunch of labels for newspapers but if you had a pouch rack then you have the labels for pouches for all whatever you’re going for the Chicago City or Wyoming or whatever. And you prepare them at home, you have to stamp them on the back with your name, the date and your organization, Chicago Council [indiscernible] 319 or whatever it was. And later had the stamps to do that. That was -- you have to [indiscernible] you always had your headers, if you had a letter case and you had headers to put in the rack in the cases to sort your letters. Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember what the longest trip you ever worked was?

Robert Burkman:  Well, it’s 500 miles from Chicago to Omaha.  And that’s I guess throughout I did all the time. And that’s something if you’re out on Denver Zephyr was one and 10. It only took a little over eight hours to make the trip, to make that 500-mile trip and you were scheduled -- the whole year you were scheduled 91 trips a year.

If you had been in railway mail, you worked six hours and 25 minutes on the trains for an eight-hour shift and then you were allowed time to study, prepare your labels and do all your homework like sorting, taking care of your labels at home and take care of your registers and everything. So those trains were all relieved, things were all laid out. So you had so many trips. Now if you want to -- I remember seven and six, which is a local train, you only made 50 trips a year. So the longest trip I guess that’s the 500-mile trip. And that’s why the number seven left Chicago 11 o’clock, took that about 15 hours, you see. I mean, yes, 15, 16 hours I guess to Omaha or the Denver Zephyr on an eight half the time. But that’s low-cost train stopped at everything.

INTERVIEWER: And then while you were working as a railway post office clerk, did you have a family?

Robert Burkman: Oh, yes. They would meet the train if the train stopped in Albia, they would all meet the train every time, bring me a sandwich or a drink or something and if that was daylight hours. Yes.

INTERVIEWER: And how did you cope with leaving your family behind on [indiscernible].

Robert Burkman: Well, you thought that was a -- that was a bad part of it I guess. Being gone from home, I suppose. But you’re gone for six days and then home for maybe probably six days. So you can kind of make up. I missed some things. So kids did in school that you couldn’t take off for all of them but I know I missed some family life that way.

INTERVIEWER: And what was your family’s attitude towards your position with the railway?

Robert Burkman: Well, I guess they accepted it. I never had any problem, never any trouble. They didn’t give me any trouble. Yes. I know I missed things but still, I would be home, we could take trips and that when I was off. So  I don’t know. It worked out.

INTERVIEWER: What are some of the things that you did to keep them so busy while you were away? Robert Burkman: Well, you didn’t have to. You mean when I was on the road?


Robert Burkman: Well, I went to a couple of ballgames in Chicago, either Wrigley Field or on the South, at Kaminski Park. A time or so I went to the Ak-Sar-Ben Race Track in Omaha. But we didn’t have too much time to kill. But you’re going to -- you’re tired you’re going to sleep. Get all -- get rest most of the time. Yes. Because you’re scheduled back, a lot of times you’re scheduled back in eight hours. Well, that just gives you time to get some rest and clean up and head back.

INTERVIEWER: And while you were on the road, what are some of the things that your family did to keep themselves occupied. I know that you mentioned that your kids were in school. What did your wife do?

Robert Burkman: Well, took care of the kids or took care of the yard and I don’t know. The kids had paper routes, she had to take care of that. I don’t know. You know, that’s a good question. What did -- what did you do to take care of this past time when I was gone, when I was on the road and trains?

Catherine Anne Burkman: Well, I had brought kids. Robert Burkman: Yes, she says with a flying kiss.

Catherine Anne Burkman: Took care of the kids. Robert Burkman: Took care of the kids, yes. Yes.

Catherine Anne Burkman: And ironing and washing and ironing.

Robert Burkman: And washing and ironing. Back then they’ve done more washing than ironing and stuff than they do today.

INTERVIEWER: What are some of your fondest memories of working on the railroad?

Robert Burkman: Well, I would say that the caliber of the help, caliber of the men that you worked with. It was exceptional, I would say. And oh, I’m seeing things too I guess. That’s kind of a trick question too but I guess. What you had this being with the fellows. Yes, greatly.

INTERVIEWER: Do you still keep in touch with any of the former clerks?

Robert Burkman: I’d be but I just about outlived them all. Because I was -- when I went in I was 25 and I always remember 24 or 25. And then somebody said, “How old are you?” I’d say, I’d tell them, “Oh, my God,” they grab the bars and I would just that age. Anyway, in fact, you asked that question. There’s one fellow I see here once in a while. But we do have a mail clerk’s reunion, get together. The first Saturday of May of each year. And there were eight or 10 of us this last year. We got together down in Burlington. So that’s just for one day. And we do get to keep contact that way a little bit. Okay?

INTERVIEWER: Did the post office ever issue you anything either for your safety or for the position you worked? Robert Burkman: What now?

INTERVIEWER: Did the post office ever provide you with any type of supplies for your position with the railway?

Robert Burkman: The post office itself, well, once they furnished [indiscernible]. Oh, yes, I didn’t have to -- other than my clothes, we always had some work shoes. And you take change your work -- I had work clothes. And we had a closet in the RPO car. You take your better clothes off and hang them up in the closet and put your grubbies [sounds like] on, your jeans and your some old work shoes because it was a dirty job. Those mail bags were thrown everywhere and you had to pick them up and dump them. You know what I mean, you had to get physical contact with them. And it was sort of a dirty job in that sense of the word. Unless you only did -- only handled letters.  Some of the guys said, “How can you get tired handling letters when they only weigh half an ounce?” Well, you handle half a million letters and you -- you’re tired. Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Did you every experience a dangerous or a bad situation while on the railway?

Robert Burkman: Not as far as like a train wreck or something you’re saying. No. No, I guess -- something I always remember one morning, well, on the short line run out to well, it’s out at La Grange, Illinois. Of course, I went in I got the register, it’s at 4:30 or so in the morning. But anyway, we get out to La Grange. And here a fellow meets the train. And you look out and here’s a guy standing over off to the right of the firearm or long rifle or shotgun or what and over here is another guy, the other placing it over by the railroad station was right across the post office. We had something pretty valuable that morning. And we had a lot of protection to make sure that the clerk, that’s the postal clerk came from the post office in order to get the mail. And they knew what was coming. We didn’t know -- we had no idea what we were hauling what we had. But they did. And they were afraid we were going to be robbed. But nothing happened.  But it was kind of scary to see these three or four guys out there with long rifles or shotguns, whatever they were to accept the mail that you just put off. No, as far as wrecks, no. Never, never did.

INTERVIEWER: Did you hear of any of the other clerks who did experience something bad or dangerous on the railcars?

Robert Burkman: Well, yes. I know there was a derailing once and but the car didn’t turn over. And no one was hurt, no one, no one. No one ever, not that I know of there. Although I’ve heard the stories but that’ll be for buying time one of those guys fell out of the car. And he was doing local mail or what but he fell out of the car and was killed. But I never knew him and I just heard about it. I didn’t -- I wasn’t there.


Robert Burkman: I worked from 1947 to ’57 on a railway mail; 1957 to ’67, I went to a highway post office because it went right through town here and I have more time at home. And I went from Des Moines to Moberly, Missouri on this highway post office. And that was from ‘47 -- ’57 to ’67.  And then in ’67 they took all the mobiles to LaSalle. And that’s when I had to go to the Des Moines office so I worked in the Des Moines office from ’67 to ’77. So I had RPO 10 years, highway post office 10 years, Des Moines Post Office 10 years.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever face or witness any type of racial discrimination as a railway post office clerk? Robert Burkman: Never. We had two or three colored fellows. And we had -- our organization was 150, 160 employees. And we had maybe three, maybe four colored fellows but no problem. Not there, no.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever hear of anybody who did witness or experienced racial discrimination?

Robert Burkman: Well, I know Chicago well. When I came -- when I went to Des Moines to the post office, first that I -- there was about 20 or 25 of us went in Des Moines office at the same time. We all had 20 years or better service and we all were supervisors and of rating and there’s a lot of fellows in Des Moines were looking to get promotions who had maybe five, seven, eight, 10 years of service. So we sent them all back. So we were not the most welcome. And you have to take -- of course they assigned that the least desirable job, which was on the dock, they’d worked the dock and about half of those were colored fellows. And you had to be careful what you did. I’ll put it that way. Simple little things that they would take offense at and I don’t know, they always said, “Well, we’re better than so-and-so because we come to work at least.” They came down to the -- they came to the post office to work, help move some mail and the rest of them were sitting at home just drawing their -- getting welfare.

But, anyway, that was the, I guess the, as far as discrimination, that’s the, I guess, the experience that I had I guess. Just working with some of those guys. I had to be so careful. I know it came around the first -- handing our six months thinking together. They always had an employee of the month. And they gave them I think they get $100 or something but and honored somebody them [indiscernible]. Well, they’ve sent me down some papers from the head office to and they signed so that -- for this fellow to be to get his award. He was a colored guy that I wouldn’t give anything to. So I’ve told them I would not sign anything like that. I just locked on it. And but so we did have another colored guy that I substitute this with the guy’s name in and he was alright. But this one that they wanted to give it to, I wouldn’t be any part of it. And anyway, I guess that’s -- maybe that’s one reason they [indiscernible]. I didn’t go with all the things they put out. But the -- I guess that’s just one incident that I remember.

INTERVIEWER: All right. Were you any member of any type of outside organization such as a union and or club that was affiliated with the railway postal clerks?

Robert Burkman: I don’t think so. No. No. No, we didn’t have a union I don’t think. Nothing. No. INTERVIEWER: And was there anything that you ever wanted to change about your position as a railway post office clerk?

Robert Burkman: No. Let’s just put it that way, no. I can’t, right off-hand, I can’t say it is -- can’t think of anything that I would just drastically like to see change or I would like to have seen changed. No.

INTERVIEWER: What do you miss the most about being on the railways?

Robert Burkman: What do I miss the most? It’s been so long ago that I don’t know. Oh, like I said before it’s the camaraderie with the crews. It was an exceptional bunch to work with and for because they weren’t working -- they weren’t looking just for the pay or for the end of this day, they were there to move the mail, to serve the people.

INTERVIEWER: And for the last question, is there any other information that you would like to share with researchers about your experience or position with the Railway Post Office and this can be anything from an interesting tidbit or a funny story that you might have?

Robert Burkman: I need to think about that, don’t I? I do have something here that I would send if you want. It’s a CD of mail clerks. Would you want that?

INTERVIEWER: What is on it?

Robert Burkman: Well, it’s just mail and says “Mail in Motion” I think it says on it. He’s a mail clerk. It’s funny he got his orders from the when he first went in, what he had to do with his exams and he’s taken the well, we had -- we follow PL&R Post Laws and Regulations, you had to do that every year.  They said it was 50 questions.  This thing says 60 questions. Just basic Postal Laws and Regulations that you had to take a little test on every year. And it tells about the RPO clerk and whole thing.

INTERVIEWER: We may already have that but I will ask my boss and see if she would like it. Robert Burkman: Okay.

INTERVIEWER: And if she does, I will give you a call back.

Robert Burkman: Okay. You’re -- where are you at? You’re out at East of Illinois University, are you? INTERVIEWER: Oh, no. We are with the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in D.C.

Robert Burkman: Oh, okay, okay. Well, I’m sure Don, Don, Don. INTERVIEWER: Bliss?

Robert Burkman: I’m trying to think of this fellow’s name. INTERVIEWER: Oh, is it Don Bliss?

Robert Burkman: Don Bliss, yes. INTERVIEWER: Okay.

Robert Burkman: Yes, yes, yes. In fact, we had our little meeting down with Don last, well, that first day of May. That first Saturday of May. Yes. Yes. Okay. Yes, Don’s quite -- he’s an organizer. You know what I mean. He keeps the -- he pays a little letter he puts out at the Iowa, he calls it the Iowa-Illinois News. You guys get that? INTERVIEWER: I don’t know exactly what’s that.

Robert Burkman: Well, he’s sort of having trouble, he’s sort of having trouble now getting information because hey, pretty few and far between. But he’s one of the younger guys. He’s only -- he’s probably only 70 years old or so. Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Well, is there -- do you have any funny stories? Like do you guys ever played pranks on one another?

Robert Burkman: You know, we did that. But to think of something right off-hand, it’s just. Of course I wasn’t there but I heard there’s one guy, they were kind of cases. Well, they got into an argument. It really got hot and heavy. And they had some -- they got their guns out and they had some blank shells, they were shooting at one another in the car with shooting blanks. That must have been scary. I’ll think of a dozen things when we actually hang up.

INTERVIEWER: Do you -- was there anything bizarre that you ever saw go through the mail?

Robert Burkman: That’s another -- I had this one fellow that -- he always wore his clothes too big. And we always ribbed him about that he said, “Well, they cost the same for this size or for that size so why not get the bigger ones?” That was kind of -- he was an excellent clerk. I mean he didn’t worry about what his clothes looked like. Oh, yes, we had this fellow. Every night, well, when we had -- he usually had the time up for leave, sit down and have a -- have our dinner or lunch, whatever we had with us. And this fellow he always had a -- his wife fixed his lunch of course -- his lunch he’d always had a hard boiled egg. He put it -- lay it out by his -- when he sat on the desk, he’s on the bench where we sit on the case, letter case and he put it out and then go get a glass of water or cup of water to have with his whatever he had. And that was sort of every day. Well somebody takes that they took the -- they put a fresh egg there and put the cup when he left it, his boiled egg and put a fresh egg there and he comes back and sit down , he picked it up to break it and went all over the -- He wasn’t very happy about that. Oh, I know another case. This we had a guy that he drinks ever all the time and the clerk in charge trying to keep him from drinking on that. And so they know he had a bottle. He was hitting the bottle when he’d go back to the closet and hid the bottle. So the boss couldn’t find it. He kept trying to figure out where he had that bottle. I found out he was -- he put it in the boss’ coat pocket. So the boss would never looked there. He’d go back to the closet and he’d get the drink out of the bottle in our boss’, the clerk in charge’s coat pocket. Just silly stuff.

INTERVIEWER: Were there any interesting sights that you remember seeing but you may not if you did not have this position?

Robert Burkman: Interesting sights. Let me see. It was always a good deal when you cross the river, cross the Mississippi River, go to the door, stand and look out. All the boats and things down there, if you had the chance, if you could, run and see what’s in the river. I guess.

And, well, in the first years, I worked, we had floods. And well, the mainline Burlington here was flooded out so we went -- they ran our train on the -- over at the northwest line and we left Omaha and we got maybe 75, 100 miles out of -- up the road and the track was out in front of us. And then I guess the track went out behind us so we sat one place for I think about 30 hours we were there just in one -- in the -- just sat there and out in the country. I don’t know what we did for something to eat. That’s something there.  Probably somebody got something -- we got something to eat but then and that was a -- on Train 8, our big train, there were 26 employees left Chicago, left Omaha about five o’clock at night, they get back -- they get in Chicago about five the next morning. And left -- they left Omaha, they went -- go across the river to Council Bluffs were we got a lot of mail from the Union Pacific Train. But the -- that was always something. That many manned in the car. There were two full 60-foot cars and a 30- foot car, 150-foot of distribution space; 150-foot long on a 10-foot wide, whatever.

INTERVIEWER: And is there anything else that you would like to add to the interview about your experience with Railway Post Office?

Robert Burkman: Well, I guess I can’t think of anything right off. I can say it was a good job. A very -- it was a noble job, I think. Yes.

Robert Butler

Mr. Butler, of Falling Waters, West Virginia, was a substitute on a number of railway lines, including the Baltimore and Cumberland, Baltimore and York, Washington and Grafton, Washington and Cincinnati, Baltimore and Washington, Philadelphia and Washington, and Washington and Chicago Railway. In 1951, he was assigned a regular position on the New York and Washington line, and made his last trip in December, 1963. He also worked with the Highway Post Offices (HPO), running on the Baltimore, Annapolis and Washington HPO, as well as the Washington and Lancaster HPO. Mr. Butler later retired in 1985.

Robert Butler (RB) Interview Transcript

RB: Well, I was working around a steel mill, and I sorta grew up in the Depression and my father always had a job, he was in the Railway Mail Service, Post Office, and I was concerned about, oh gee whiz why don’t I get a job, and you always have it you know, you don’t have to worry about strikes, getting laid off and everything. I think that’s one reason I went in it.

INTERVIEWER: What sort of jobs did you have on the train?

RB: When you’re substituting you just about work everything, registers and distribution, and the problem is you don’t know a heck of a lot, and once you make regular it’s much better. You pass different tests for different schemes like you know all about Maryland, and New York City. It becomes much more relaxing and you enjoy it, really.

INTERVIEWER: What kind of schedule did you have?

RB: Well, when I became regular, you might work 6 days, off 8. Or it might be 6 days, off 6. Or it might be 2 weeks, off a week. That’s as a regular. As a substitute, you’d work whenever they’d call you, you know. Sometimes you were very, very busy and sometimes you weren’t. But you usually made more money as a substitute than a regular. And in those days they didn’t pay overtime, you got straight time, and going in the Railway Mail Service if I really remember right, I started out $1.39 an hour, that was 1948 and I think I was working for Coppers Company in the steel mill as a laborer and I believe they were paying me $5 an hour. Maybe it wasn’t that much but it seems like they were paying me more and paid overtime. So, I took a reduction in salary to go in the Railway Mail Service but I enjoyed it, for the most part.

INTERVIEWER: Was it a lifestyle that was difficult to get used to?

RB: No, when I made regular I would run up to New York City, Washington to New York City, and my wife would give me about five dollars for the round trip. Out of the five dollars each trip I’d save enough money to go to the, see the Yankees play, or once in a while I’d go to a matinee on Wednesday on Broadway and see Andy Griffith or those, you know, different shows. And I kinda liked it, tell you the truth, and then I had a week off. Most of the time I had a job my week off, we were trying to pay off or house, or I would play with the kids you know, and I’d have a good time. I enjoyed it for the most part. I had one job one time I didn’t enjoy; it was too, it was too much for you. You went up to New York, you slept four hours, you came back, you slept four hours, you went back to New York, you know. I didn’t like that a bit, it was too much physically on me. Thank goodness that didn’t last long. It could be heavy work, I mean, when I was subbing I would run to Pittsburgh, Washington and Pittsburgh, Washington and Grafton. In the summertime, you’d go into one of those cars in Washington and they’d be sitting there in the sun all day, and you’d go in there and it would be hot, hot as a blast furnace, and you’d lose, when you were a sub you’d usually get a job like a donkey, you know, you’d lift things and do heavy work. You’d lose, I could lose 10 pounds going to Pittsburgh in a week, you know, problem. Most of it may be water, you know but you could see my, at the end of the week my face would be, I’d be a little skinnier.

INTERVIEWER: And the other men you were working with, everyone got along and worked together?

RB: Oh yeah, we got along pretty good, we were on a New York and Washington, they’re all pretty easy to get along with and they were all interested in what they were doing. They were very proud that they knew this, that and the other thing. They knew how to, some of the worked North Carolina and they knew how to get this letter home, you know, and they’d argue the best way to get it home you know… so they were, they were very good natured and we had African Americans and white guys, you know, we didn’t have no trouble, and one of my bosses was African American, Leon Dade, and he gave me my first merit thing, little reward you get for working pretty good, you know, so we got along fine.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever run into any dangerous situations?

RB: Dangerous situations? Well, we were running out to Grafton and there’s a lot of coal trains out there in West Virginia and back home we felt a bump this one time and open up the door where we had the catcher arm, you know you catch the… and that was gone, sliced off just like a piece of butter, and then going to Baltimore one evening the sides, the train sides swiped us but never got hurt or anything. And ah, I’d tell you some other stories but I’d hope you wouldn’t write them up. But I’ll tell you anyway. So, running up to New York we would work like heck to get all our work done. And if you got your work done – and they’d work like dogs to get this work done – then they could play cards for about five minutes. So, this is a great incentive you know. And one fella had a brother selling boxes in New York and he sold about a million dollars worth of boxes a year; I think he sold most of them at parties. So the registered man would bring a case of whiskey up every trip from Washington to New York for his brother, for his parties. So the night we had the accident, some of the fellas said their nerves were shot, and they were making this all up you know, and they needed a drink. So, I forget the fella’s name, he was a Jewish fella and smart as a whip, and he said “all right I’ll break one bottle out but no more than that.” But he broke out more than one bottle. And we found out one guy, he couldn’t drink at all, he just about sniffed the cork and he was on the floor knocked out. And, we went back into Baltimore station and the inspector came and stuck his head in and he said, “anybody hurt?” The chief said, “no, nobody’s hurt.” “How about that man on the floor?” “No, he’s not hurt, he’s just resting.” “Is the mail alright?” And the chief said, “Yah, the mail is okay.” So the inspector said, “Well that’s all I want to know; I don’t want to know anything else because if I know something else I’ll be writing for the rest of the year explaining this so, good luck to ya and good bye.” So, that was a pretty good one. But, I enjoyed it, it was, most of the guys were, well I’d say all of them, some were college graduates left over from the first World War, you know, and at that time some of the African Americans even though they were college graduates, they just couldn’t get a break, you know, so they’d go in the Railway Mail Service or the post office and we had a pretty good time. Yeah, we enjoyed it, I’ll tell you.

INTERVIEWER: Any other stories you have to share, or memories?

RB: Oh, let’s see, let’s see [laughs]. One fella, I don’t think I saw this but they told me this one fella was like a weight lifter, strong man, you know, and in fact I don’t know if you ever saw in the ads years and years ago but about some little nerd on the beach, and this big muscle man kicks sand on him or something you know, and took his girl, he says “gee I wish I was like that guy.” Well that guy was on the trains with us, he, or his friend was on the train with us, and he told us how to get muscles and everything, you know, live better, healthier, and so forth. So anyway, this guy’s on the train and he got talking about one thing or another and this muscle man says “Well, go ahead, I’ll lay down on the floor here and you get up on that ledge and jump on my chest!” The guy said “no, I don’t want to…” “No, you’re not going to hurt me.” So he jumps on his chest, sure he breaks his ribs, yeah. So then what are we going to do? So the chief wrote up the man got jostled and his ribs got caught in some metal or something, and that settled that, you know. I remember this one poor fella, he had a fit or something, epileptic fit they call it or something, and the policeman came, and they were going to take him out, you know, and the poor fella begged me, he said “oh no, please, please, I feel alright now, I’ll be alright, only happens once in every great while.” They were going to take him to the hospital or someplace, you know, so we all talked to the policeman and they let him continue to work. Because he was afraid he’d get let go, you know, he’d get let go, so. Yeah, yeah. We all carried guns, you know, I don’t think I ever shot the darn thing, never practiced with it, but we were, this one fella told me, he was working in the other car, we had three cars sometimes, and two fellas pulled their guns out, they were mad at each other [laughs]. Thank goodness they didn’t start shooting, you know, but I think it was mostly bravado, you know, nothing about it. It was a great old time.