Oral Histories: D

Railway Post Office Clerks

Travis Daniel

Travis Daniel was a substitute clerk for the Railway Mail Service in his home state beginning in 1948 until 1952.

Travis Daniel (TD) Interview Transcript

INTERVIEWER: What made you decide work for the Railway Mail Service?

TD: Two things. My mother was a postmaster, and I read an interesting article in the Saturday Evening Post in fact, while I was still in college. I thought it would make… advantage, because …there wasn’t work… anywhere else…. I liked that kind of work…

INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me a little bit about your schedule?

TD: Well, when you work the Railway Mail Service, when you start out… you worked whenever they want you to work and mine was all riding trains, but some of ‘em had what they call fixed assignments, locations, transfer offices, depots or sometimes at a regular parcel post terminal. Sometimes they were long, sometimes they weren’t.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever run into any danger?

TD: Riding the train, crossing with vehicles and trucks and things, there’s always some danger. The train and before you know…

INTERVIEWER: Were you ever injured? TD: No.

INTERVIEWER: Do you have any particular memories that stick out from your time with the Railway Mail Service? TD: I’ll give you one. It’s unusual; you know there was also what they called one man runs, if you’ve done any research. I had one assignment out in west Texas, going to two towns… the trains made up of course of the engine and combination baggage and mail car, and the passenger car was all one long car… half a dozen little stations… every day. You were way out, 22 offices, and the engine broke down, dropped … off the wheels… out there for a long time, in the countryside, there was a farmer and his son. Drove out the car, and drove 2 or 3 passengers, got out there where we were, he didn’t know why we were sitting out in the middle of nowhere. We told him, and he said I believe I could help you fix that. They went back to their place and got some jacks and more things, and started back out there with the engine crew and fixed the engine out there. We cranked up and went on down to the end of the run. We had to turn around and come back that day. We were late to begin with. We made it into the train yard just as the… going back down…. So we made it to the yard… bring it in to the yard where they could unload it.

DAUGHTER: But you got everything delivered, huh daddy?

TD: Yeah, we got it all out there. That’s just one little thing. On that same particular run… that was a mixed train… a little of everything, one particular day they were coming back from a little town and stopped. I wondered why they stopped and they came up and said, well we’ve got three cars of cows for a cattle farm, so I had already set up. [He said], the mail clerk’s supposed to help us do this, always has. You know, you don’t want to make ‘em mad, so you do it… just go ahead and help him, right or wrong. You’re not supposed to leave the mail car. I locked it up, not that we’d find anybody out in the middle of 500 acres.

INTERVIEWER: Was it a job that you liked very much. TD: Oh yeah, I enjoyed it… all gone…

Ira Daniels

Mr. Daniels ran on what he called the “Chattanooga Choo-choo,” from Bristol to Chattanooga during his time with the Railway Mail Service.

Ira Daniels (ID) Interview Transcript

ID: [I ran from Bristol to Chattanooga], they called in the Bris & Chat, and we’d start there and of course there was en route distribution, you know, we would go through all the little towns and where we didn’t stop we would, you probably know all this how Railway Mail Service operates, and we would, it was about 220 miles a trip. Our big stop was in Knoxville. I was in a train wreck one time [laughs] and it was in Lenoir City, Tennessee, about 25 or 30 miles out of Knoxville. And it turned over and mail was everywhere. But, nobody was hurt real bad. It was just life on the road, we, you know we had a letter end and a paper and parcel end of the car, and…

INTERVIEWER: Was it hard to get used to, that kind of lifestyle?

ID: Yeah, it was technical at first, you had to learn all the, you had to put up what they call examinations, you know, and learn all the post offices in the state if you were working like we were. Of course, we ran in Tennessee, everybody had to be up on Tennessee, you know, and we worked Virginia, three sections, North Carolina was in three sections, some states were Mississippi, Georgia, and Kentucky. We had to know all them routes, you know, it was a lot of studying to do because of all the connections we made and the mail that we worked. And, starting out it was just [laughs], you think “well I can’t ever do this”… pigeon holes everywhere, and everything etc. etc. And it was a unique type of job, but everybody was dedicated and you know, it was the best mail service that’s ever been known, I think, you know. You could pick up mail at one town and be at the next town in a matter of minutes. And of course it’s en route distribution, and there’ll never be no mail service like it again because of the quickness of it. INTERVIEWER: I was just wondering a little bit about the train wreck you mentioned, after the train flipped, what happened to the mail, I know you said it got everywhere, but did you have to pick it back up and then get back on the road?

ID: Oh lord, you shoulda seen it. It took us hours and hours to pick all the mail back up, all the letters picked up, and after they got the mail car uprighted, you know, we were there for most of the day. It happened about around probably 10 o’clock at night or something, 9 or 10, and we was there ‘til the next afternoon. It was a mess to clean up.

INTERVIEWER: Did you end up delivering it all then, after the wreck?

ID: Yeah, we finally, the afternoon train picked us up and we went on to Bristol, but it was harrowing. But those trains went pretty fast. Fortunately we weren’t going that fast then, we were just leaving the station. We were picking up speed, of course. But, it was a different kind of life, I’ll tell you. I think about it a lot now days, it’s been years, but it was, there’s still a few of us left. ‘Cause the trains were cut off I think in, I think around ’66, I think it was. See, they cut the passenger trains off and left us nowhere to go, except we had to go into the Post Office. Like I went into Johnson City, Tennessee, and that’s where I ended up.

INTERVIEWER: What was your favorite thing about working for the RMS?

ID: Well, it was the time off, I guess. It was, I made two trips a week, two round trips a week, and it was only gone a little over 24 hours. You’d go down and you’d sleep in Chattanooga and you’d come back. You’d do that twice, mine was Tuesdays and Thursdays usually, and the rest of the time you was off because that constituted a 40 hour period. And you got per diem pay for travel, and we were a grade or two higher because we had to do extra work to do those examinations of the state routes. So, I loved the time off, I mean, and it was a good job. It was, it just didn’t seem a lot like work at times, it was just, you know, traveling. Well, and of course, we ran on what they call Highway Post Offices too, I guess you’re aware of that.


ID: I ran on several of them when I was a substitute. Now when you’re a substitute, you know, you’re a substitute to be called out anytime. A lot of times you’re notified ahead of time because the guy’s taking off, they’re regular people, taking off. And I ran on from one from Knoxville to Nashville, and Nashville to Owensboro, Kentucky, and that’s the two, they called ‘em HyPOs, Highway Post Offices, and that was an adventure. You had to maintain your balance plus work mail. Some of ‘em roads were very curvy. And, but that was an experience.