Oral Histories: G

Railway Post Office Clerks

J.T. Gilley

Mr. Gilley joined the Railway Mail Service after finishing his military service. He was a regular on the Cincinnati-Chattanooga line, often traveling between Chattanooga and Bristol in Tennessee as a sub. After retiring in the 1970s, after almost 20 years of service, he stayed in touch with his fellow clerks, reuniting with them once a year along with their families.

J.T. Gilley’s Daughter Interview Transcript

Leoma Gilley: My name is Leoma Gilley and my father was a mail clerk. INTERVIEWER: What was your father's name?

Leoma Gilley: J.T. Gilley.

INTERVIEWER: Do you know what positions your father had?

Leoma Gilley: As far as what he was doing at that level, no. I know the kinds of jobs he did but I don't know what that was called. He did go into other aspects of the postal service in an office capacity, later on in personnel right before he retired.

INTERVIEWER: Do you know if he was considered a regular clerk or a substitute clerk? Leoma Gilley: Oh, he was definitely a regular.

INTERVIEWER: Regular? Okay. Do you know what lines he traveled on and in between which cities?

Leoma Gilley: The Cincinnati-Chattanooga I think and then he traveled between Chattanooga and Bristol primarily in Tennessee.

INTERVIEWER: Do you know of any other lines that he may have traveled on?

Leoma Gilley: That was the one he most frequently did. I don't know if he did others or not.

INTERVIEWER: Do you know why he wanted to become a Railway Post Office clerk? What made him want to try out for the job?

Leoma Gilley: No idea, he just wanted a job and that was one he had. He had done - I guess when he finished his military service and maybe he didn't like anything else. He had a background in secretarial school and had done a lot of typing and that sort of thing in the Army. So maybe he was looking for something different that's more physical.

INTERVIEWER: Do you know when he served as a Railway Post Office clerk, an approximate timeframe? Leoma Gilley: Certainly, from I would say 1950s until I'd say early ‘70s.

INTERVIEWER: Could you possibly describe the duties he had on the railcar?

Leoma Gilley: When he would pick me up after school, he would take me to the mail car at the train station which is now called the Chattanooga Choo Choo. He said putting up the case which was to put the names of each of the stations that they were sorting mail for into a large case on the end of the car. And I assume they had to be on a particular order, and then he would also put the mailbags up so that I guess they were parcels or whatever. And then he would talk about sorting the mail and also when they were, I guess, exchanging mail or maybe picking up mail with an arm that they would reach out. That was a metal arm that reached out the door and he talked about catching the mail off of these poles that were sticking out there. I can't imagine. And I also found that he had a pistol that he always carried and he said they had to protect the mail and that was their security that the mail would be safe. Yeah, that's what he told me about anyway.

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

Leoma Gilley: He was on a schedule of going out in the evening of one day and then he would come back. He would stay over and then come back the next night, then he would be home during that following day and then he would go out back up the next night. So it was through the night and he would be out four nights and he would be home for four nights. He may have worked longer at some point but that was the routine he was on.

INTERVIEWER: How did he feel with being away from home for so many nights at a time?

Leoma Gilley: Well, he used to stay at a hotel, I think, with a number of the other guys that were working with him in Bristol and he made some really good friends of people who lived in Bristol as well and were based there. We even went to visit them a few times and one of them made a footstool for me which we have to this day.  I think he enjoyed the camaraderie and it was sort of the special time when he was going to leave that he would pick me up from school and then we would pick mother up from her work and then we would go out usually to eat at the S&W Cafeteria. And then we would drop him at the train station and he would go to work and we’d go home. I always had to be quiet when he was home asleep on his day in and after he’d gotten in. But, yeah, I think he enjoyed the job and he enjoyed the people who he worked with a lot.

INTERVIEWER: You answered my next question which was the type of accommodations he had when he was away from home. Other than the hotel in Bristol, do you know if he stayed anywhere else?

Leoma Gilley: I think when they must have felt money was short, they sometimes just hung out I think somewhere in the station and slept on mail bags or something. It sounded pretty grim. If they either got in later maybe they didn't have room at the hotel or whatever, but he mentioned doing that a few times.

INTERVIEWER: How did your family cope with your father being away from home so often?

Leoma Gilley: We always saved up all the stuff he was supposed to do when he came home. My mother was working so she was fairly independent. Yeah, I think that we just looked on that as a special time that she and I had together. I'm an only child.  We would do special things, have special meals or go out and have a hamburger or something while dad was away and then it was always special when he came back because then we had meals at home and we’re together as a family and arguing over the banana pudding. In a way I think it sort of strengthened their marriage instead of working against it. They seemed to have more stresses when he was home all the time than they did when he was in and out.

INTERVIEWER: Was there anything you used to help your father with to prepare him for work?

Leoma Gilley: Well, as I said, he always would pick me up from school and take me up so I could watch him as he was getting everything ready because that way he could be a little bit later back to work because he had already done the things for his getting set up to go that night. The other thing I remember him doing was going through cards with the names of all the towns in the state because he had to know all of those and I suppose the surrounding states. He had tests on those periodically. So I remember these little tiny cards and he would be memorizing all the names of these places and that's actually where I got my name. One of the little towns in Tennessee is Leoma. So that's how I ended up getting named. He was working at that job before I was born, so that would be before 1950, actually.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever help pack his lunch?

Leoma Gilley: Oh, yes. Mother usually did that but, yeah, I'm the one who put the tomatoes on the sandwich instead of separately and he said it tasted like garbage. I had to learn how to do that properly. Yeah, mother always carefully packaged the tomatoes in aluminum foils separately from the rest of the sandwich and I didn't do that when I made them. He did not appreciate it.

INTERVIEWER: What types of things did you pack in his lunch?

Leoma Gilley: I think she gave him about the same thing she gave me which would have been a sandwich usually on white bread since that's what we had in those days and bologna, mayonnaise, mustard and then the tomatoes separately. Another of his favorites would be peanut butter, and mayonnaise and banana.

INTERVIEWER: Interesting.

Leoma Gilley: Those don't hold up real well in the heat but they were a family favorite. And I would say usually maybe some cookies or something and probably a piece of fruit and I expect he took coffee because I think he always had a thermos with him.

INTERVIEWER: What are some of the things that you and your family did to keep busy while your father was away from home?

Leoma Gilley: Well, because I was usually in school and mother worked, so if he was away then I had to either go up to my mother's office and hang up out there and drive them all crazy, or when I was very small I went to like a nursery school thing and then mother would have to come pick me up from my piano lesson or whatever. And then usually there was one restaurant, one of two places that we often went. One was to a place where they had curb service and you could get hamburgers and a milkshake. So we would sit in the car and eat hamburgers and milkshake and that was a real treat. But if we were going to be really extravagant, we went inside to a restaurant and had a proper meal because I think mother didn't feel like it was worth cooking for just her and me. We lived about half an hour out of town, so by the time we got home and I’d gotten through my piano lessons - piano practicing - it was about time to go to bed. Yeah, we were very active in church. So I think between those things, we kept pretty occupied. Mom was real busy with church things, so I think we tended to be at something there two or three nights a week. So if dad wasn't around, then we were quite busy.

INTERVIEWER: What type of job did your mom have?

Leoma Gilley: At that point she was a secretary with the Tennessee Valley Authority.

INTERVIEWER: What were some of the ways your father kept himself occupied on the train after his work was complete?

Leoma Gilley: Well, I'm sure he told stories because he was quite a storyteller, and he would have kept anybody entertained for hours. My mother also said he could sleep standing up so I expect he would take a nap. They all seemed to have quite good camaraderie.

INTERVIEWER: Did your father ever try to keep in touch with the family when he was on the road? Leoma Gilley: No.

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

Leoma Gilley: I think the times when he would take me down to the train and we would look at the engine and how the train hooked together and the wheels -- because I was just fascinated with how they would stay on the rails. They would move cars around and they would be hooking them and unhooking them while we were on the mail car and it would give us a jolt. I would think they're getting ready to take us off somewhere and I wasn't ready to go, and trying to walk on the tracks to see if I could stay balanced.  The train station in Chattanooga is a beautiful building and it's now been made into a restaurant. So any time we go by that particular place, I have very fond memories of him doing that, being there with me.

INTERVIEWER: Do you know if he was a part of any type of special organization, group or union that was associated with the Railway Post Office?

Leoma Gilley: Yes, he was and they had at least a social get-together. Every summer we went to the amusement park, Lake Winnepesaukah, and we'd always have the string of tickets that the kids could go and ride and the men would all stand around and tell stories. Everybody brought food. I think they just rented the whole place and everybody's family and kids could be there and do whatever they wanted to do. I think I have a photograph of him talking to some of his friends there while we were at one of those occasions. Then after he passed away, we went to one of the meetings. They invited mother and me to come because they were honoring him at that meeting and so a lot of the members came up and told us how much they had appreciated him which was very meaningful. INTERVIEWER: While your father was away, did you associate with any of the other clerks’ wives or families?

Leoma Gilley: No. We lived way out away from anywhere and anybody. I think there was one other person I think maybe that lived in the area that we sort of knew.  But I think that was more through church than it was because of what he did. No, I don't think we knew any of the other wives or families.

INTERVIEWER: When your father was in town and not home, did your family keep in touch with any of the clerks then? Like, did he ever bring anybody back with him?

Leoma Gilley: Not that I recall. He was a very private person and a very shy person on the whole. While he appeared to be very extroverted to tell stories, he used that as sort of a protection to keep people from getting too close to him, I think. So I think he regarded home as sort of his sanctuary where he was safe and it was very rare that he would ever invite anybody in. My mother would but he wouldn't.

INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that you did not like about your father's job such as him being away for long periods of time or just because you considered his job hazardous?

Leoma Gilley: I don’t think I really thought of it as being hazardous like probably I would now but I didn't know enough then. I think the thing that probably irked me the most was when I had to be very quiet because he was sleeping during the day because he’d been up all night, and the fact that with four days on and four days off, then the days that he was there shifted. So while it was a routine, it wasn't a routine in that you knew on Mondays he was going to be there or he wasn't going to be there. Some Mondays he would be and some Mondays he wouldn't. So it was quite challenging, I think, planning schedules to make sure that things got covered like I got picked up or whatever and that if we were going to do something, that we knew whether he was there or not. So I think those were probably the things that were most annoying about it.

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember your father telling you anything that he experienced that was dangerous or if he was ever put into a bad situation?

Leoma Gilley: No. He might have told my mother but he didn't tell me.

INTERVIEWER: Did he ever know of anybody who did experience a bad situation such as a wreck or a robbery? Leoma Gilley: No. Not that I knew of anyway.

INTERVIEWER: What was your father's attitude towards his position with the Railway Mail Service? Leoma Gilley: You mean how did he think of the job?


Leoma Gilley: He seemed to enjoy it and to be challenged by it. I think he liked what he was doing. I think once he got close -- within about 10 years of retirement, I think he decided he didn't like being away from home that much anymore.  I think that's why he moved more into the personnel side of things so that he had regular hours.  But you don't keep doing a job that long if you don't love it and I think he really enjoyed what he was doing.

INTERVIEWER: And did your father stay until the discontinuation of the Railway Mail Service?

Leoma Gilley: It was probably close to the end. I'm not sure exactly when they stopped doing it. Again, I was not particularly aware of the ending but I suspect that factored in to his decision as well.

INTERVIEWER: When your dad moved into his next position, what was his attitude towards that job compared to what he experienced with the railway mail system?

Leoma Gilley: I think he was a bit more conflicted. He really enjoyed working with people and helping. He particularly dealt with widows who needed to figure out their way through the system and how to get benefits and that sort of thing. He helped a lot of people with that and we had a number of people come up and tell us how much they had appreciated his assistance in that. But his boss in that position tended to take a lot of credit for stuff that he had done and I think he really resented that that the other guy was getting the promotions and the raises and all the nice stuff and dad was doing all the work and wasn't getting acknowledged for what he did. And I had never heard him complain about that when he was working on the train. But as soon as he moved into the office, that became a constant theme that really frustrated him and I think contributed to his going ahead and deciding to retire earlier than he might have done.

INTERVIEWER: For the last question, is there anything else that you would like to share with researchers about your father as a Railway Post Office clerk?

Leoma Gilley: Well, one story which I think is kind of nice. I alluded to it earlier with getting my name because I'm the only Leoma that I know. My parents were expecting me and didn't know if I was a boy or a girl because in those days, they didn't know. And they decided they needed a girl's name and so he was going through his cards and ran across the town of Leoma. So they decided to name me for the town. Well, some years later I went back and found the town and found somebody in the town who knew the history of the town. And there was a railway mail clerk who was working the route that that town was on which is just south of Nashville, and he had two towns with the same name. So he came to the people in the town and he said, “I'm getting the mail confused. Could you change the name of your town so that I can keep them straight?” And they said, “Well, that's fine. We don't mind but we don't have any names in mind.” And he said, “Well, would you name the town after my daughter? Her name is Leoma.” So they named the town after his daughter and then years later, my dad doing exactly the same job, named his daughter for the town which I thought was kind of a cool way to come full circle.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah. That's a very interesting coincidence.

Leoma Gilley: Yeah. The lady, she had written the history of the town and outlived four husbands and she was an interesting character herself. Yeah, that was kind of fun to meet her and to see that they really had not misspelled it. It really did have an M, not an N. Anyway --

INTERVIEWER: Is there any other story that you remember about your father telling you about his job as a Railway Post Office clerk?

Leoma Gilley: I haven't thought about a lot of those stories in a long time. So I can't think of anymore at the moment. But I did know his friend Red Bates made me this little turtle footstool and they used to talk about -- he lived in Bristol and dad lived in Chattanooga so how they connected, I don't know. But if he was a sample of the other guys doing that job they were a right fine lot because he was a good man too. I mean all the guys that I ever met that when they did have social occasions just seemed to be fine upstanding gentlemen which I'm sure that wasn't the case for everybody, but at least the ones I knew were. It's always a blessing, I think, when you can do a job that you enjoy and feel like you're contributing to make something different and to have an impact. I think he must have felt that.

Jerry Glasco

Mr. Jerry Glasco was a railway mail clerk for the Illinois Central and Chicago-Memphis lines. He subbed for almost three years before being made a regular. He worked on the trains from 1958 until 1967 when his line was closed, and was given a position at the post office. He loved his job, and truly enjoyed sorting letters on the train, despite earning less than $2 per hour when he first started.

Jerry Glasco Interview Transcript

INTERVIEWER: Could you please state your name and affiliation with the Railway Mail Service?

Jerry Glasco: Jerry Glasco. I was a railway mail clerk for the Illinois Central, Chicago to Memphis train lines. INTERVIEWER: Were you a regular or a sub?

Jerry Glasco: I started out as a sub. I subbed for about two, two and a half years and then I made regular after that.

INTERVIEWER: Earlier you mentioned the rail lines that you worked on; could you tell me some of the locations you traveled between?

Jerry Glasco: Chicago and Memphis, of course Chicago and Carbondale, Carbondale being about halfway in between those two. Carbondale to St. Louis was the main ones that I traveled on. I made very few other runs. INTERVIEWER: How long did you serve as a Railway Post Office clerk?

Jerry Glasco: From March 29, 1958 until the fall of ‘67. I’m not exactly sure of the date that I went into the post office.

INTERVIEWER: Why did you want to become a Railway Post Office clerk?

Jerry Glasco: Well, in the beginning, it’s just -- one of the fellows who came into the business that I worked at said, you know, we’re giving a test for this. This is a lifetime job. As long as the United States flies the flag, you have a job with the post office. It sounded like a good deal. It was considerably more money than what I was making at that time and it sounded like a good advancement for me.

INTERVIEWER: What were you doing before? Jerry Glasco: Food store, grocery store.

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

Jerry Glasco: I sorted mail, sorted letters for different states. We sorted newspapers, did the nonstop local on the trains. I filled all the positions at one time or another except the supervisor position because I was a substitute.

INTERVIEWER: For any one of the jobs that you worked, could you describe a typical day on the railcars, starting from when you first went in until you got off at the end of the road?

Jerry Glasco: On my main run which was Chicago to Carbondale, we started in the afternoon about 5:30, got on, worked the mail all the way down to the state until we got to Carbondale which was around two o’clock in the morning and then I laid over in Carbondale for about 20 hours, and I got back on another train and worked all the way back to Chicago doing exactly the same thing, working different state mail, doing nonstop local on some of the jobs and just different things.

INTERVIEWER: What was your schedule like?

Jerry Glasco: My regular schedule was a six, two, four, and nine. I worked six days on, two days off, four days on, and nine days off.

INTERVIEWER: Was there any one position that you liked working the most on the railcars?

Jerry Glasco: Well, I don’t think I had any one that I liked better than the others. When I was subbing I liked the Chicago to Memphis run because we had a 20-hour layover in Memphis before we started back and it gave us time to relax and enjoy some of the sights around Memphis and whatnot.

INTERVIEWER: What about any of the jobs on the actual cars, did you like one job more?

Jerry Glasco: Well, you know what; I liked sorting the letters more than anything else. You had to study to know the states and know where the mail went and that was an accomplishment that I made and enjoyed doing that. INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that you ever disliked about any of the lines you ran on or the jobs that you held, anything from a small complaint that you just brushed off to a major complaint?

Jerry Glasco: Well, no, not really. Of course, the hours were long sometimes and it was dirty. The steam engines had not been out of existence for that long and the dust on the railway tracks was terrible. We didn’t have air conditioning, had a room with the doors with open and the temperature of course was hot. We never were really cold. We always had the steam from the train so that wasn’t a problem. But I don’t think I ever disliked any part of it. I really enjoyed the job.

INTERVIEWER: What type of railcar did you work on?

Jerry Glasco: I worked on the 60-foot railcar. The entire car was postal service. I guess when I was subbing I probably worked on one of the 30-footers which was half mail car and half baggage car but most of my running was on the full-size car where we had the letter cases, pouches for the first class mail, sacks for newspapers and whatnot in storage.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever run on one of the 15-foot cars? Jerry Glasco: No, ma’am. No.

INTERVIEWER: When you worked on the railways, do you remember what you’re starting salary was? Jerry Glasco: I started $1.99 an hour.

INTERVIEWER: What about your ending salary for the railroad?

Jerry Glasco: I don’t really remember that. I know it went up, you know, progressed quite a bit but I don’t remember exactly.

INTERVIEWER: From what you do remember about the pay, do you believe that it was fair for the amount of work that you had to do?

Jerry Glasco: Oh, yes, I do. We worked a six-hour-and-25-minute day on actually on the train and that was considered eight hours because we had a lot of work that we did at home before we went to work to prepare our labels and facing slips. Any schemes we had to keep up had to be kept up daily and things like that. So, yes, I think it was very fair.

INTERVIEWER: I know that you said that you got into the post office because it was paying significantly more than your previous job. Do you remember how big of a difference it was?

Jerry Glasco: A $1.25 to $1.99 per hour.

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

Jerry Glasco: I carried my work clothes, schemes, schedules, snack, my revolver. That would pretty well cover it. I guess I carried six schemes and schedules with me that I kept up because I had six different states of mail that I worked one way or the other.

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

Jerry Glasco: Well, the longest regular trip would have been the Chicago to Memphis run. We started around 5:00 in the morning and got in to Memphis at 5:00 in the afternoon but there were times of course when there were delays. I don’t remember the exact -- I remember getting a certificate of appreciation for we didn’t get into Chicago from the Memphis run until it was time to go back to work the next morning, so that would have probably been about 17 hours or something like that.

INTERVIEWER: That’s a long time to work.

Jerry Glasco: Yes. But it was enjoyable and, of course, we always had enough work to keep us busy. But everyone worked together and we got caught up, we could sit and talk for five or 10 minutes or so before we got to the next stop and you didn’t have to stand on your feet constantly. We got some breaks in there.

INTERVIEWER: While you were working as a Railway Post Office clerk, did you have a family? Jerry Glasco: Yes.

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

Jerry Glasco: Well, it was just -- that was the job. That was what you had to do. By living in Carbondale or around Carbondale, on my Chicago to Memphis runs, my wife would meet the train and bring me clean clothes and bring me another lunch and whatnot. So actually, I saw her everyday but it was maybe for five minutes at a time or less. Then when the boys came along it was just with my layoffs we had plenty of time to do a lot of things. I spent a lot of time with them on my nine-day layoff and being home every other day for 20 hours was -- I wasn’t away that much on that particular run.

INTERVIEWER: How did your family take your position?

Jerry Glasco: They did well. They enjoyed the stories that we told and things and my wife would ride the train to Memphis. Before we had the children she would ride the train from Carbondale to Memphis and we’d have that time to spend together down there. Then, of course, she rode back to Carbondale. They accepted it very well. INTERVIEWER: What were some of the things that they did while you were away?

Jerry Glasco: Everything that a family did. I mean the boys played ball and there were school activities and whatnot. Just what a regular family would do.

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

Jerry Glasco: The people I worked with; of course, we all became very good friends and the time we spent together was close because we were all compacted in the car. Any particular events, I don’t really remember anything in particular but every run seemed to be enjoyable even at Christmastime when the mail would be so heavy. Still, we had enough help to get things done and enjoy our work.

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

Jerry Glasco: A few of them, there aren’t very many of us left. In our area I think there’s about eight or nine that we’d get together once a year for lunch and there are a couple who live here in Carbondale that we don’t visit but we see each other periodically.

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

Jerry Glasco: They supply the goggles and things that we needed when we were doing the local nonstop dispatches. They supplied anything that we needed to do the job well. As far as safety shoes or something like that we provided those ourselves. It wasn’t something the post office provided.

INTERVIEWER: What type of supplies did they provide so that way you guys could do the job well?

Jerry Glasco: Whatever we needed. There wasn’t a whole lot of things that you didn’t -- you needed a knife to cut the packages open, which was a ring knife type thing. They supplied that. They supplied any of the materials that you needed to put on the pouches or packages of mail to identify them, register supplies, anything that was needed they supplied it. We didn’t have to go out and buy anything on our own.

INTERVIEWER:  Were there ever times where you experienced a dangerous or bad situation on the railway? Jerry Glasco: No, I can’t remember one. We never -- I was fortunate enough. We never had a wreck while I was on the trains. We’ve been stopped because there were wrecks ahead of us but I never had a bad experience like that. No one trying to steal the money or anything, it was pretty regular.

INTERVIEWER: Did the train ever hit cars that were trying to --? Jerry Glasco: No, not while I was on them. No.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever hear of anybody who did experience a dangerous or bad situation like any stories of people who got into train accidents?

Jerry Glasco: No, I don’t remember anything like that. I don’t remember any accidents that involved any of our people getting hurt or anything.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever face or witness any type of racial discrimination as a Railway Post Office clerk? Jerry Glasco: No, and we had all classed and all kinds of people working out there. No, there was no discrimination that I ever saw.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever hear of anybody who did experience racial discrimination on the railcars? Jerry Glasco: No.

INTERVIEWER: Why do you think that there wasn’t any type of discrimination?

Jerry Glasco:  Well, I don’t know.  The era that we were going through there wasn’t, that wasn’t a big thing, and the post office was just very fair. I mean, if you could do the job and there was an opening for you, then you got it. INTERVIEWER: Okay. Were you a member of any type of outside organization such as a union or club that was affiliated with the railway postal clerks?

Jerry Glasco: No.

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

Jerry Glasco: Air conditioning would have been nice in the summertime but other than that - no. The working conditions were as good as what we could expect for the job that we were doing.

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

Jerry Glasco: The time spent with fellow workers and knowing that we were doing a job that no one else could do as well as what we were doing. The Railway Mail Service could deliver a package or a letter from one town to the next town in less than five minutes and that’s a service that you don’t see any more.

INTERVIEWER: Is there anything else that you miss about that position?

Jerry Glasco: Having the extra time, working the long hours and then having the time off. That was one of the best benefits.

INTERVIEWER: Then 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 could be anything from a funny story to some of the interesting things that you saw?

Jerry Glasco: No, I don’t really have anything like that to share. It was pretty much a regular day by day job and nothing spectacular. While I was still subbing, I guess one of the outstanding things was that I ended up working 32 days in a row to Memphis and back from Chicago to Memphis and I was filling in for indefinite positions while the guys were all sick, or for some reason or another. That’s probably the most memorable thing that I have.

INTERVIEWER: Was there anything interesting that you saw in the registered mail?

Jerry Glasco: No, we never knew what was in it. Before I went on the railway mail, I worked at the Midway Airport there in Chicago during my trainings and I was in the registered section and the Hope Diamond came through our registered section while I was there many, many years ago.

INTERVIEWER: Wow! What were some of the interesting sights that you saw while on the train or on layovers from your job?

Jerry Glasco: The Cotton Carnival in Memphis was always interesting, if you happen to be down there at the right time for those. You didn’t see much outside unless you were doing the nonstop local. You were pretty well in the car and doing your work. I can’t think of anything else. It was all interesting.

INTERVIEWER: What about some of the sights that you saw while you were exploring Memphis?

Jerry Glasco: It wasn’t that way. Memphis was altogether a different place from what it is now.  You could walk the streets at midnight and not be concerned about anything, being bothered or anything else. It was a super nice town to be in. I never saw any demonstrations or any fights or anything like that.

INTERVIEWER: Is there anything else that you remember about your position that you would like to say? Jerry Glasco: No, that’s pretty well it. That’s been a long time ago and I don’t remember anything specific.

Joseph Gomez

Mr. Gomez, of Prospect, Connecticut, began his Railway Mail Service career 1953, he running on the Pittsfield and Stanford, Winsted and Bridgefield, Boston and Waterbury, Boston and New York, Portland and New York, Boston, Springfield and Washington, and Boston and Washington lines. He worked registered mail on all of these lines, and was a foreman on the Boston and New York run.

Joseph Gomez Interview Transcript

Joseph Gomez: I’m Joseph Gomez, and I was a railway mail clerk on -- I finished up on the Portland, New York and Boston, New York RPOs but I worked many other RPOs as a substitute too.

INTERVIEWER: Which rail lines did you work on the most and which locations did you travel between?

Joseph Gomez: I’ve travelled everywhere from Washington, D.C. to Portland, Maine, and I started out as a substitute, and as a substitute, I worked on the Boston, Spring, and New York, and the Pittsfield and Stamford RPO, the Stamford and New York RPO, the Winstead and Bridgeport RPO, the Boston-Waterbury RPO, and the Spring line which is the Spring and New York RPO. And when I made regular, I made regular on Boston and New York, and then transferred to the Portland and New York, and then bounced back to Boston and Washington RPO which was the last run I made.

INTERVIEWER: And how long did you serve as a railway post office clerk? Joseph Gomez: As a post office clerk, 12-1/2 years on the road.

INTERVIEWER: And do you by chance remember which years? Joseph Gomez: I started in 1953.

INTERVIEWER: Why did you want to become a post office clerk?

Joseph Gomez: I had an uncle that was a railway mail clerk and he described all the high points of the life. He didn’t dwell very long on the bad part. He told a lot only the good spots, but I had a wish that I was going to become a mail clerk, but in the meantime, my kid brother and I went and took a ride out west and we worked on a ranch out up in the Blue River in Colorado, and when we came back, the draft board was calling him and I made up my mind to join the Railway Mail Service, so that’s how I came to be a mail clerk.

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

Joseph Gomez: I did everything. I sorted pouches on the pouch table, I worked in the letter cases, and worked in the city distribution on letter cases and state distribution, and also I worked in the paper table, and I made throws and catches, and acted as a foreman also. So I did it all.

INTERVIEWER: And for any of the jobs that you just told me, could you walk me through a typical day on the railcar starting from when you went into work?

Joseph Gomez: Okay. If I was in the state of Maine at five o’clock at night, we would report to the mail car at track 17 in Grand Central and we would start working all Maine and Eastern New Hampshire mail and the Eastern Massachusetts mail as it came in, and they waited until nine o’clock. It was called the State Of Maine Train so it was a very important train to Northern New England. And so we would take the mail in until 9 p.m., and that’s when all of the daily newspapers descended on us which at that time were The New York Times, The New York Herald Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, The Journal of Commerce, the New York News, The New York Mirror, and The Journal American. They all published at that time so we took all those mails in and then we were off and running, and we would leave a few minutes after nine with the doors full of mail, and we would try to work it all off before we made our first stop in New Haven. And then, at that point, we would pick up more mail and we would off load mail that was going up to Springfield or Vermont in that area and to other trains. And then we ran through New London and Providence and Worcester and Lowell and Haverhill, and Dover, New Hampshire, and Portsmouth, and then we would start making throws and catches up in Biddeford, Maine and Old Orchard Beach, and then we’d stop to Portland and we’d drop off mail for about seven different trains that were leaving at that time.

INTERVIEWER: And out of any of the jobs that you worked, was there one that you liked the most?

Joseph Gomez: I like the state of Maine. It was another time and another place in another era. I was a young man in an old man’s job at that time. I was one of the youngest people on the road for a lot of the time. So we used to work long nights and then we would stay during the day at a place -- one of the place I stayed was at the Morton House, was an old-fashioned home up on the Western Promenade, a very dignified old home but we would go in the side door and go downstairs, and in the basement, they had a bed already made and a dresser, and we would take a shower there and sleep and leave a dollar on top of the bureau when we left, and I never met anybody that lived in the house or anything, but it was a very dignified, old-fashioned way to live and I enjoyed it so much.

INTERVIEWER: And which job did you like the most on the railcars?

Joseph Gomez: The pouch table was a very busy job because you had to get the mail out for the next stop and we worked very fast. And then we had a slogan, “Nobody’s up until you’re all up.” It was a good time that way because we all worked together very much.

INTERVIEWER: And was there anything that you ever disliked about any of the jobs or the positions? And this can be anything from a major complaint to a small tedious thing that you kind of brushed off.

Joseph Gomez: All the tedious things that we brushed off was, I mentioned, we were on track 17 in Grand Central and they used to bring the cars in in the summer time and they’d be baked from the sun, and it was metal cars, and we would be in the car, just get in the car, you’d start sweating right away because it was so hot, and you couldn’t turn the fans on in the car because all they would do is blow dust around, and so we preferred to work without it.

And it was dreadful down at 17 because the conveyor belts were all around you and they were trapping dust and the heat from the conveyors too so the temperature would frequently go well over 100° down there, and then we always loved to get a breath of fresh air when we went out through the tunnel out on 125th Street. That was the most complaint I had. And weather was a factor, you know? No doubt about it.  And of course, the inconveniences of like train wrecks and what not.

INTERVIEWER: And what type of car did you typically work on?

Joseph Gomez: I worked on a 60-foot mail car. Most of them were marked with the New Haven railroad designation on them. They all ran from the 3200, 3600 series, and they were 60 feet and they had pouch racks all ready to drop down and you had to put up the stanchions which were the tables. And then you, what you call, dress the car. You put your labels in and the sacks in and the pouches in, and the clerks who are sorting the letters, they would put their manila headers in the permanent pigeonholes and then we would prepare to start sorting mail.

INTERVIEWER: And when you worked on the railways, do you remember what your starting and ending salaries were?

Joseph Gomez: Oh, gosh. I’m going to guess. I think it was $1.495 when I started. When I got through as a clerk, I can’t tell you what the salary was then because I stayed in the mail service, I stayed in the post office and then I went up to the supervisory ranks, to management. So I can’t give you a figure when I got through.

INTERVIEWER: But what you do remember, do you believe that the pay was fair for the amount of work that you had to do?

Joseph Gomez: I think so, sure. We were blessed. We had what we call a 48-minute hour which meant they would pay us one hour’s pay for every 48 minutes we work. The reason why they did that is because we had to study a lot of schemes on our days off. We had to memorize many states and cities in order to keep our employment.

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

Joseph Gomez: Okay. On my grip on the road, I carried my work pants and shirt and maybe a sandwich or two on the first day we went out because we’d go on for six days probably, and the revolver and a belt, and I would have my badge and key with me, and I would have a railroad-type hat to put on my head for the dust, and I usually wore some steel-toed shoes because you always dropped the things on your feet working in close quarters. So you had that, and usually I took a sweatshirt because a lot of the times, we would lose the heat in the mail cars in the old days.

INTERVIEWER: What was the longest trip you ever worked?

Joseph Gomez: Boston to Washington was the longest. That was near the end. That was train 176, 177. That was the last RPO that ran in the United States.

INTERVIEWER: And do you remember how long that took?

Joseph Gomez: Well, it wasn’t as long as the Port-New York, because at the Port-New York, we used to work a lot of time in what you call advanced time. Like I said, from five until nine o’clock at night before we even left the station. I’d say all in all, the Port-New York was longer because that arrived in Portland, Maine at five minutes to eight the following morning after leaving at nine o’clock at night so that would be the longest, yes.

INTERVIEWER: And while you were an RPO clerk, did you have a family?

Joseph Gomez: Yes. It was tough because you go away every other week, and I had three little children, too. INTERVIEWER: And how did you cope with leaving your family behind on long trips?

Joseph Gomez: That was not fun because we had to rely a lot on the rest of the family because it was a difficult thing but we made do, and the weeks that we were off, we were off together all the time.  We always did things -- I worked another job too because trying to support a family, you had to do that, but I was always with children too.

INTERVIEWER: And how did your family cope while you were away on long trips?

Joseph Gomez: Well, I used to do the shopping and I left all of the groceries for them the day that we left, and we were a one-car family at that time so it was do with what you had and things were different then. It was a simpler existence. If you needed a quart of milk, you walked down the street and go to the nearest store and get a quart of milk. But other than that, most of the groceries were already purchased.

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

Joseph Gomez: My friends, absolutely. They were the fondest memories. I worked better part of ten to 12 years with most of the same people, and I got to know them so well. I had friends from New Haven and New York and all points, and we were very close because we basically worked together, we ate our meals together, we slept in the same place in the Hotel Martinique and the Railway Mail Club and we slept in the same room, and so we were together for six solid days and nights. We knew each other maybe better than our wives did. It was a very close family. We had our little spats but not many.

INTERVIEWER: And do you still keep in touch with any of the former clerks? Joseph Gomez: One or two. Most of them are dead.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Did the post office ever issue you anything either for your safety or for the positions you worked?

Joseph Gomez: Yes, a pair of goggles for when I made the throw and the catches.  I used to put a pair of goggles on and looked through a shield when I was approaching the area where I had to make the throws and the catches. They gave us that for safety but you needed it badly because the cinders used to come up and hit you in the face. INTERVIEWER: And was there anything else that they ever issued you for your job?

Joseph Gomez: Yes. We’d have station slips that we had to put on the mail, and it had your name on it and you would stamp your name on all the slips so any mail that you sent out had your name on it, so if there was anything wrong, they would come back to you with it. So we had a lot of responsibility for doing things correctly.

INTERVIEWER: And were you ever in a dangerous situation or a bad situation while on the railway?

Joseph Gomez: Yes. I was in a train accident in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, and I was in a hospital in Stanton Island for six months at a marine hospital.

INTERVIEWER: And do you remember what happened?

Joseph Gomez: Yes. The train broke apart and we were thrown forward because the brakes automatically went out and I was thrown forward, and I hit a metal case and turned sideways injuring my face and then my back.

INTERVIEWER: And do you know why the train broke apart?

Joseph Gomez: Yes. It was just worn parts, I guess. Negligence on the part of the railroad. We were doing about 70 miles an hour at that time so that wasn’t good.

INTERVIEWER: And was there any other time when you were in danger or in a bad situation?

Joseph Gomez: Yes. We hit a car in a summer one night and we killed five kids coming from the University of Rhode Island. They were trying to beat the train to the crossing and we ran over them.

INTERVIEWER: And then, did you ever hear of anybody experiencing anything dangerous or put in a bad situation either on your line or perhaps a different line?

Joseph Gomez: Well, my friend, Brooks Hall, was held up when he was working a one-man job in Chatham in New York RPO. One night, it was a Saturday night, he was alone and the door was open and they stopped at a little stop outside New York City and three men jumped in the car and they had sawed-off shotguns and they wanted the Yonkers pouch, and they handcuffed Brooks to the metal rail there and Brooks didn’t have time to tell them anything so they grabbed the sack with the name “Yonkers” and they jumped out and all it was was a sack of newspapers for Yonkers.  They grabbed the wrong thing and they got arrested and they all did a lot of hard time for it, but we used to kid Brooks, “Why didn’t you shoot it out with them?” He said, “There were three sawed-off shotguns sticking me in the face, I wasn’t about to shoot it out with anybody.” But he was good guy and he operated correctly the way he had to.

INTERVIEWER: And then, was there anything else that you ever heard of?

Joseph Gomez: We used to have a lot of fun there but sometimes we would take a little target practice going in the summer nights, we’d shoot the guns out at Old Orchard Beach. There was nobody there at that time so we were just -- to clean out our revolvers, we would shoot them out there. Oh, yes, there was an adventure sometimes when we were in a restaurant and some drunken guy would come in in the middle of the night and start things but we never got involved. It was a rough life because we worked long hours and away from home, so a lot of things could happen, but we try to stay away from those things.

INTERVIEWER: And, did you ever face or witness any type of racial discrimination while you were a railway post office clerk?

Joseph Gomez: Witnessed it? No, because I was very close to a lot of black fellows on the train. But one good buddy of mine, Hamilton Jenkins, told me a story about when he transferred up from down south and he told me that in this Birmingham, Alabama terminal, even if it was a federal building, they had drinking fountains for the black and the whites, and I couldn’t believe that at that day and age that they still had that, but he told me that it was true, and I guess it was. I just said, “Geez, Ham, at this day and age, it’s stupid the things they’re still doing down there.” But that’s the only incidence of racial discrimination I heard because we had a very close crew and we had two black fellows right in our crew.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. And then your answer kind of leads into the next question, did you hear of anybody else who experienced or witnessed racial discrimination?

Joseph Gomez: People used to use names at times. My name is Gomez, it’s a Spanish name, and people used to tease me and called me Gumez at times or something like that. Sometimes it’d get you irritated, making fun about your name. And somebody called me Gonzales and somebody called me Lopez and stuff like that, but I never took any of it too seriously. They were making fun of me but not maliciously. We knew better than that.

INTERVIEWER: Were you a member of any type of outside organizations such as a union or club? Joseph Gomez: Yes. I was in a Railway Mail Association, and I believed in it very strongly at that time. INTERVIEWER: And then, what did you guys do in the Railway Mail Association.

Joseph Gomez: If we saw an injustice occurring, we would have one of our chapter officers go to the superintendent and tell them that this is not the correct procedure or something like that. You shouldn’t be making somebody do this or that, and sometimes it’d get corrected and sometimes they just push it aside. INTERVIEWER: Could you give me an example of something that you guys thought --

Joseph Gomez: Well, it happened before my time but it was what they called the Quackenbush case. There was a fellow that was very active in the union and they tried to railroad him out of the service. This was when they were trying to bust the union at one time long before my birth but he was the guy that was active in the union and they tried to hook up some kind of charges on him and he had about 50 to 100 witnesses that says he never did that, and ultimately, the post office department, as it was known then, had to ultimately restore him to his position.

But he was kind of a hero to all of the mail clerks.

INTERVIEWER: And were you ever featured in any type of publication for the Railway Mail Association? Joseph Gomez: While I was a member of the organization?


Joseph Gomez: No. I did various things afterwards though that featured me, yes.

INTERVIEWER: And was there anything that you ever wanted to change about your position or any of the jobs that you had?

Joseph Gomez: I only wish that they had the foresight to keep the mail cars on, because at one time, you could mail a letter for Farmington, Maine in Grand Central at five minutes to nine at night and have it delivered up there in Farmington, Maine the next morning at ten o’clock, and you can’t do that today. They just never have been able to equal it so it’s just unfortunate. It’s progress in reverse.

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

Joseph Gomez: Well, other than the people, I miss the roar, the sound of the train and when it’s rocking back and forth when you’re sorting mail and the urgency that was involved, and the spirit of togetherness that you had that you’re never worried about your own self because they would help you or you would help them.  And the crew was the main thing, the crew. And the bosses were great. Some were knuckleheads but some of them were great. INTERVIEWER: And then 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 railway post office?

Joseph Gomez: Everybody had a nickname, and though there was -- I'm trying to think of someone who was -- I can’t think of it offhand, but there was some Tony’s. There were two [indiscernible] Tony the Cop, Tony the Comb, and it was just those names were examples. And our bosses had names too, and we even made up songs about them. One fellow was a hard-driving boss and his name was Joe Henry, and so when he left us, he was going to go on the nightline which is the big line, and so we made a song of, “Joe Henry, Joe Henry, to the nightline must go.

To the nightline where they’ll curse him so. If the ocean was mail and Joe Henry was a duck, he’d swim to the bottom and never come up.” We’d sing that to him. So we’d serenade him. I would think the best loved of all the bosses on the road was Johnny Walker. He was so well known by all the crews and loved by everybody that they used to sing about him. They’d sing, “Walker, Walker, Walker, walking all the time. Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, always feeling fine. Pulling pouches, never still, always working and always will, ask the boys and they’ll all say Johnny Walker, you’re okay.” And we’d sing it all together to him and we loved him and he loved us too.

INTERVIEWER: And then, anything else that you would like to share? Any funny stories that you may have had? Joseph Gomez: We had a fellow that drank a little too much one night and it was Christmas Eve and he thought he’d be able to get on board the train but we had a tough boss at that time, so he had told him he had to go ride in the coaches. So we sang a parody to Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer which was, “One night Christmas Eve, Herby, the boss came to say, Sammy, with your nose so bright, you will ride the plush tonight.”  In other words, he will ride up front and not get paid for it. So, it was funny things like that we used to do.

INTERVIEWER: And then, anything else that you would like to share about your personal experience?

Joseph Gomez: No.  I had 12 wonderful years, almost 13, on the road and I wouldn’t share them or anything.  I look around now and I like to share experiences with somebody but there are very few people around to share them with. I just think of myself as probably like a dinosaur. I’m a member of an age that’s gone by and I think the world is better for us having been in it but I’m thankful to the Smithsonian, and you too, Kaitlin, because you’re trying to bring things back to life that a time that was and never will be again.

Robert Gordon

Mr. Gordon joined the Railway Mail Service in 1948 on a run from Atlanta to Charlotte. From 1952 until 1966, he worked on the Charlotte and Atlanta, and continued with the Washington and Charlotte until 1968.

Robert Gordon Interview Transcript

Robert Gordon: My name is Robert Gordon, Robert J. Gordon.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. And also, could you please give the title of your positions with the Railway Mail Service? Robert Gordon: I was a clerk on the train. I run between Charlotte and Atlanta and Charlotte and Washington and they cut the trains off in – cut my job off in 1967 and I went into the Rock Hill Post Office as a clerk and then went up the administration in the Rock Hill Post Office and went on up to Elkin, North Carolina Postmaster for about five years, four years. And I retired in 1977.

Did you want to know anything else?  And I ran on all the trains from Charlotte to Washington and from Charlotte to Atlanta. I started at first, in 1948, September of ’48 and I went into the terminal up at Atlanta, Georgia. That was when they thought you had the seniority count and so I had to go in and to substitute and I stayed in there about three or four months and they had an opening in Atlanta Air Mail Air Field and so I went out there and stayed about three years and the opening come on the train which I liked better and so I went up and it was on Train 34 and 37 by working and made the exchanges from Atlanta to Greenville. And then I worked states on up from there and come back and worked at Atlanta City from Charlotte to Atlanta and I stayed on there a good while.

And then I went to -- let’s see, in 1966, I believe it was, I transferred from Charlotte and Atlanta to Charlotte and Washington. I worked New Jersey State going south and Georgia going -- I mean Georgia going south and New Jersey going north. We went out on the train at six o’clock in the afternoon and got to Washington at 5:30 and we went back to work at 11 o’clock at that same morning and work about one o’clock to work. That’s about one o’clock it arrived in Charlotte and I worked over there. I worked at Georgia coming south and I worked New Jersey going north. We only had about four hours time in Washington sleeping back on the train. And I worked a good while on train 30, 35. I worked Atlanta City going in to Atlanta for about three or four years. And let’s see-- INTERVIEWER: What rail lines did you work and which locations did you travel between the most?

Robert Gordon: The rail lines I worked with, there was the Charlotte and Atlanta and Washington and Charlotte. That’s the only trains, I mean the two stations. And I worked around from Charlotte, out of Charlotte. I was headed out of Charlotte and I was in Charlotte to Atlanta and back to Charlotte. And I worked in Charlotte to Washington and back from Washington to Charlotte. That’s the only train I run on, that southern line.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. How long did you serve as a Railway Post Office clerk? Robert Gordon: From 1951 to 1967.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. And why did you want to become a Post Office clerk?

Robert Gordon: Well, at the time, it was the money. It was paying better here in Rock Hill. But I loved my job. I liked it on the trains. I probably stayed until I was 70 years old if they hadn’t cut it, start eliminating them. And so I talked to the postmaster here in Rock Hill and he had a couple of vacancies so he let me come in to the Rock Hill Post Office. We were all looking for jobs back when they started cutting them all. And then I worked there for about, like I said, from ’67 ‘til about ’70, I believe it was, and then I went to, like I said, I went up to Elkin Post Office postmaster and stayed there until ’77 and I retired in ’77.

INTERVIEWER: All right. Which positions did you have on the rail cars?

Robert Gordon: Oh, I was just a clerk. You see, all we did was to stick mail. We just had one man who was in charge of trains and the rest of them were just clerks. They worked all night coming south. They worked -- I worked on North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi and Louisiana. And coming north, we worked up in North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina. I worked South Carolina some. I worked just a little bit about everything.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. And could you please describe a typical day on the rail car?

Robert Gordon: Well, back from Atlanta to Charlotte, we got on the train at seven o’clock. It was still in the rail yard and we left there about eight o’clock when I worked South Carolina, the state of South Carolina, like at Charlotte and Augusta and Augusta to [indiscernible]. It was all the trains and you had to know every train and what time it got into the city and what port, star routes we called them, went out the city so you could make it as quick as possible to get the mail there as quick as possible.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Did you like your position? Did you dislike anything about your position?

Robert Gordon: Oh, I liked it. We had a bunch and everybody had their own job to do, even the clerk-in-charge, we called him, he had -- sometimes, it was harder than your job, you know what I mean, and all he did was keep the books, keep the records. And like I said, I liked my job. I worked South Carolina coming north and I worked Atlanta City coming south on trains 37 and 48. Those were the two trains I run mostly on. And then I then worked on the trains 34 and -- I worked different trains, you know what I mean. You just liked the job. One likes your job better than the other, you just transferred. When the job becomes open, you’d bid on it. If you were the senior man, you got it. It wasn’t nothing political. You just worked like -- they just had seniority kind of in most all of it.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. What type of car did you work on? Robert Gordon: Just a regular. You mean a car?

INTERVIEWER: Uh-hmm. Just describe --

Robert Gordon: It’s a mail car. It was just a typical mail car and it had racks in it, the pouches, and it had cases in there, what you called cases to sort your mail, and it had what you called a rack to dump up the mail and then [indiscernible] pouches where they had to go. And I did have a man on the end of the car where he works parcel post and he dumped it up in sorted the big parcels up in the back of the train. And everybody was somewhere, men working on what they called a pouch rack. They picked up the pouches and dumped them and sorted the mail where it’s supposed to go. And everybody, except the ones that worked on the pouch racks, would be working sorting mail in the little boxes they just put the letters in.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. When you worked on the railways, do you remember what your starting salary was? Robert Gordon: Not much. It was very little. It was about, I’d say, maybe $3,500 a year.

INTERVIEWER: And towards the end of being on the railway, do you remember what your ending salary was? Robert Gordon: Oh, it was I think around $9,000.

INTERVIEWER: And for the position you occupied, do you feel as if the pay was fair? Robert Gordon: Say that again.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think that the pay was fair for the amount of work that you did?

Robert Gordon: Oh, no, it was little. A bunch of us, I was with a bunch, we went to Washington and we had to beg for money. We paraded the Senate and the Congress to authorize our salary and we go there about once every two or three years and try and get more money and then some were very receptive and some of them weren’t so -- but the pay wasn’t bad. At that time, it was better than an average salary, I’d say. Base pay was based on the years and then that’s a lot sometimes. You get a raise from [indiscernible] he wasn’t called the postmaster, the man who was in charge of the railway system. But I’d say, what you did, you got a little allowance. When you went to Atlanta from Charlotte, you spent a day in Atlanta and they allowed you $10 I believe for food and [indiscernible] input for that day. And then on the weekends, if you had a layover, you go down on Saturday nights. You can go back to the train back on Monday and then you had what you called a layover. I think you got about 15 and something -- I can’t remember exactly how much it was. But we could get by. Back then, you could buy, get -- it wasn’t a first-class hotel but you could get one for and spend a day and a half for about a dollar half. You leave there and get there at five o’clock in the morning and you get a room about eight after they cleared them out and then you got up at three and went back to work at seven that night. INTERVIEWER: All right. What did you typically carry with you in your grip while you were on trips?

Robert Gordon: Well, you had what you called headers, you know. You put them -- once you worked, you had headers made up for that. You make them up yourself.  And you had your dress clothes and you had your gun and you had labels stuck in the boxes. And mostly and a lot of times, you would come inside and you’d have your lunch to eat, you know.

INTERVIEWER: and what did you typically eat for lunch while you’re on the train?

Robert Gordon: It was a sandwich most of the time, maybe a -- my wife, she used to make me different types oherwise you get tired of eating the same thing. And she’d mix me a ham sandwich sometimes and a chicken salad sandwich, something like that. It was just a regular little sandwich, you know, and then you have it and you take your drink. We had a little box which you put your drinks into the cooler to keep them cold. And you had to take them, when you would have a certain time, you drink or you had to keep your mail and put it in a safe and you try and get in for the next run or something. A lot of times, you just had to eat on the -- you take a bite and stick a letter and sometimes, you get a lot of mail. Sometimes, you wouldn’t get as much in short periods from one day to the next sometimes.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. What was the longest trip you worked?

Robert Gordon: Well, the longest trip I worked was from Washington D.C. We went to work at 11 o’clock in the morning and we worked ‘til about 1:30 the next day in Charlotte.

INTERVIEWER: And that’s 1:30 p.m. in Charlotte?

Robert Gordon: Yes, that would be about 1:30 so I think that’s pretty close to right. INTERVIEWER: Okay. And did you have a family while working as an RPO clerk?

Robert Gordon: Did I have anybody in the family? No. Just me. INTERVIEWER: Just you? You weren’t married at the time?

Robert Gordon: Oh, yes, I was married. I thought you meant was there anybody else in the family that worked with the Railway Postal Service.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, no, no. While you were working, did you have a family?

Robert Gordon: Oh yes. I had my son and two of my daughters and then when I went into the Rock Hill Post Office, I had another daughter.

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

Robert Gordon: Well, they -- oh, I’ll go out one day and come back the next. I was never away more than 24 hours at a time except on certain weekends. I had to go down on a Saturday night and come back on Monday night and that was the longest time I was away from my wife and children.

INTERVIEWER: How did your family cope while you were away?

Robert Gordon: Well, my wife worked in an office for a sum and we got a maid come in and stay with the children while we were working. And they’ve done real good. We seem to get along all right. It worked pretty good. It [indiscernible] as much as we’d like but it worked out, I’ll say. [Indiscernible] on Charlotte and Washington, I had off every other week. I worked a week and off a week. And I’d go out on six o’clock on Monday night and get to Washington at 5:30 in the morning, go back to work at 11 o’clock that same morning. You only had about three or four hours sleep and you’d got to work from after that until 1:30 and you went home until six o’clock the next day. So I was home a good bit of the time.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. And what are some of your fondest memories of working on the railways?

Robert Gordon: Oh, I don’t know. You had a bunch of crew that worked together and we enjoyed it a little. We go to, you know, we had some friends. It was real good. We worked together [indiscernible] and two or three of my friends, they worked on the railway, we would go down to the beach and [indiscernible]. I got a man with [indiscernible] and I finished it, me and my friends finished it up. [Indiscernible] and they’d go [indiscernible].

We had a good relationship with the rest of the crew.

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

Robert Gordon: I did but just about one or two [indiscernible] but just about all the rest of them are dead so that eliminated that.

INTERVIEWER: Did the Post Office ever issue you anything for either your safety or for the position? Robert Gordon: Issue you? What do you mean?

INTERVIEWER: Did the Post Office ever give you anything for --

Robert Gordon: They gave me a -- I have, I got a couple of hundred dollars each time for superior performances better than -- they did give them out every once and a while to some and I got two.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. And other than a revolver, did they ever issue you anything other than -- Robert Gordon: A badge.

INTERVIEWER: A badge? Okay.

Robert Gordon: And that’s all I can think of. Oh, they did give us a pass to ride the trains. We did get that. And we could use that anytime we wanted to. We could get on the train and ride for free.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Were there ever times of danger while on the railway?

Robert Gordon: Well, when you were making exchanges from one, well, you know, [indiscernible] you throw all the pouch and catch one [indiscernible] catch one [indiscernible] you got to be awful careful about that or sometimes, the thing wasn’t put on all right and it flies back at you and you have to be awful about getting hit. But other than that, I don’t think there was any danger. We never was in a, we never was in a train wreck. And they had some train wrecks and we had to go around but I never was in one of those.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Did you ever hear of anybody experiencing anything dangerous on your line or on any other line?

Robert Gordon: No, I didn’t. No, I didn’t hear anything about that because, like I said, I never was on a train wreck. They had some, not mail cars, but freight cars and stuff had wrecks and we had to bypass ‘em and go around another way sometimes. We would have to go to Columbia back around and get past the wreckage. Sometimes, we’d be 10, 12 hours late getting into either Charlotte or Atlanta. But we had bypassed the train wreck and you had to go on a different route and all that. It took a little while sometimes. Sometimes, I mean it only took a couple of hours late and then you get in. It was like that, not all the time, once in a while. I think about three times is all in all the time I was there.

INTERVIEWER: All right. Did you face or witness any type of racial discrimination while you were a clerk? Robert Gordon: No. No, we all worked together. There were some who [indiscernible] like the whites. Some were better [indiscernible] the whole car [indiscernible] you know what I mean. They were all, had their assignment to do and some of them were better liked, us, and some were better than others, you know what I mean. And [indiscernible] I didn’t see no racial discrimination. We all [indiscernible] together.

Robert Gordon: But no, that’s one thing I’ve never seen while I was working in the Mail Service.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. And did you know of anybody who experienced any type of racial discrimination while on the rail cars?

Robert Gordon: No, I never -- I think everybody had their job to do and you didn’t have time to look around. You’d do the [indiscernible] and there were a lot of times I’d help if I got caught up with the mail, I’d help white or black and it’s always the same way. I mean everybody worked together on the mail cars. I never [indiscernible]. I had good experience with everybody.

INTERVIEWER: Well, that’s good to hear. All right. Were you a member of any type of outside organization, such as a unions or clubs, that were affiliated with the railway postal clerks?

Robert Gordon: No. I sure wasn’t.

INTERVIEWER: And was there anything that you wanted to change about your position?

Robert Gordon: No. Everything there, I liked my job on the train. I liked it better than I did in the stationary. It was more -- everybody worked together and in the Post Office, it’s a little different, and you get up above and it’s a lot different. So I enjoyed my job as a postal clerk and like I said, [indiscernible] trains because everybody had their own job to do and everybody worked together. If you got caught up, you’d help somebody else get their mail caught up.

INTERVIEWER: And what do you miss the most about being a Railway Post Office clerk?

Robert Gordon: Well, I guess the people you worked with, you know what I mean. A lot of them, we were good friends of each other and I think the whole crew done that, just came and work together and I enjoyed it.

INTERVIEWER: And for the last question, is there any other information you would like to make accessible to researchers, any interesting or funny stories that you would like to share?

Robert Gordon: No, I can’t remember any. When you get 77, your mind don’t, well, I’ll be 88 the 2nd of July. But my mind is slipping just a little bit. Not much, just a little bit. And I enjoyed my postal work. Like I said, I would have loved to stay on as long as I could but when they cut the trains off, I had to find me a stationary place. I could have went to Charlotte and worked in Charlotte but I was lucky that the postmaster in Rock Hill here where I lived, he -- I worked up there a couple of Christmases when my time was off and I worked in the Rock Hill Post Office just to help them out and he kind of liked my work so he told me he’d put me in there. And like I said, I stayed there and he went on up to be assistant postmaster general, one of them.  But like I said, I just enjoyed the service on the postal rail. You feel like you’re doing and accomplishing something when you’ve mailed a letter in Atlanta at five o’clock in the afternoon and it would get to Washington in time to be delivered the next day. And a lot of it, you’d have it a lot faster in the Mail Service then than you have now. Of course, it’s more expensive. They couldn’t afford to keep going because everything got higher and they couldn’t afford it, I understand. But that’s about the best of it. I can’t think of anything else.

Edward Graham

Mr. Graham, of Bluefield, Virginia, became a substitute with the Railway Mail Service in 1949. He ran on the following lines as a substitute: Columbus and Norfolk, Bluefield and Norton, Hagerstown and Roanoke, and Washington and Bristol. He became a regular in 1962, and bid on a register run from Columbus to Norfolk, a position he held until 1968. Mr. Graham also had experience with the Highway Post Offices, running from Roanoke to Winchester, Greensboro, and Harrisonburg.

Edward Graham (EG) Interview Transcript

INTERVIEWER: What made you decide to work for the RMS?

EG: I went with them in ’48, … and then I transferred back to the Post Office in probably ’49 or ’50. And then went back into the Railway Mail Service. I’m thinking ’58, but I’m not sure.

INTERVIEWER: What jobs did you do on the trains?

EG: Well most of the time I was a register clerk. Of course, I worked states, too. I had North Carolina and Virginia and West Virginia.

INTERVIEWER: What sort of schedule did you have?

EG: Well, at first I was a temporary, or a substitute. I didn’t know where I was going to be [laughs]. And then I got, oh about 5 years before the trains came off the line there, I went regular and then I was running, oh about 6 days on, and 5 days off, so I actually, I had a good job there for a while.

INTERVIEWER: Was it much more difficult to be a substitute than a regular?

EG: Well, you got moved around a lot. It was okay but it was, I went anywhere from, well I, one time I was out for a whole month before I got back home to see the family. So it was one of those situations where you went where the job was.

INTERVIEWER: Was it a lifestyle that was hard for you to get used to?

EG: No, not really. You’re out on the road, of course… when I got to be regular I was on and off. It took me about a day or two to get reorganized again because, I don’t know, you, those long hours just got to you, took you about two days to understand where life was going again. And of course, the examinations took up a lot of time, too. You had to pass examinations all the time.

INTERVIEWER: Was it very hard for your family?

EG: I don’t think so. They got along very well with me. INTERVIEWER: What was your favorite part of the job?

EG: I guess the idea of moving mail. It was one of those situations where you’d try to get rid of all the mail that needs to go off at the next stop. You didn’t like to carry mail by… I don’t know they had some kind of honor there to try to keep the mail moving.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever have any dangerous situations?

EG: No, you never thought about a train wreck or anything like that. I never was in one. A couple boys that substituted with me, one of them was in a train wreck and was pretty well banged up, but, so you just never thought that you’d have a train wreck.