Oral Histories: V

Railway Post Office Clerks

Albert Veirs

Mr. Albert Veirs joined the Railway Mail Service in 1951. He worked out of Chicago, running to Sioux City and Algona as a sub, and moving on to Washington-Chicago line as regular.

Albert Veirs Interview Transcript

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

Albert Veirs: Albert K. Veirs. Well, I was a regular; wound up a regular. Start from the beginning or regular or sub or what?

INTERVIEWER: Were you a sub at one point?

Albert Veirs:  Yes, that's how I entered.  I started in like out in Iowa, took my test in Waterloo, Ohio and I passed the test. I went to Chicago and worked December the 2nd, 1951 - I started.  And I worked in the Chicago Post Office three days. I got hold of teller; I said I want to get out on the road. How do I get on the road? He says well, you go to the office down there and on the board, you can put your name down and get out. So I went that day. The next day I was out on the road and went from Chicago to Algona on the Sioux City Line. I got out in Algona and I wish I’d had my long johns, it was so cold, December 2nd. So, I liked it so well; I had four runs out of Chicago where I worked out of.

Well, before then, you had rights from Iowa only. So I just had one station and that was a Chicago Grand Central to work out of Sioux City and Algona. So I worked there for about a year like that, then they changed the rights and said you could work anywhere in the United States. So I got four stations out of Chicago subbing. It was the Grand Central and the Union and Dearborn and the South, and I worked off all of them but the South station. I worked about four years subbing like that. I finally wound up on the Washington-Chicago as a regular then. And when I made regular, about four or five months, I got married then. I had then run out to Desiree [phonetic] here. Worked about nine months, went from here to Pittsburgh and back for about nine months, then I made regular shortly after that and I got married.

INTERVIEWER: You mentioned earlier the rail lines that you worked on. Could you please restate those?

Albert Veirs: Well, I had them listed there if you had my -- thing that I sent you and there's about 10 of them, I think, I had listed. But there are three of them that went through here. The B&O is the Washington-Chicago west and east division; it went to Washington, D.C. And then there's a Chicago-Wheeling. It was B&O, it went through here and that’s a double line through here, to Chicago, to D.C. and West Virginia. The single line went from Detroit to Cincinnati, and it was B&O. These are the only three that I know of in the United States that has a junction like this, had 60-foot mail cars to them.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. How long did you serve as a Railway Post Office clerk?

Albert Veirs: As I made regular or sub? I started November 1951, I come off October the 6th in 1967 when county ZIP code come in 1965, I think, took us off the railroad. Did you know that?


Albert Veirs: Well, we used stamps; there wasn’t ZIP codes or nothing. That's what took us off, was ZIP code.

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

Albert Veirs: Oh, well, when I was working in Iowa, I only made $100 dollars a month working for a farmer and then it was paying a $1.29 when I come in to service. After that, it went to $1.39, and then $1.41, it just kept going up. So, I was wanting more money really in working. A $100 a month, that's room and board for the month though. You get your board out of that.

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

Albert Veirs: Well, when you're sub, you worked for anybody you went out for. If he had registered mail to work, you worked registered; if he worked on the pouches, you had pouches; if he worked on the paper, you're doing the paper and all that. You worked for the fellow [indiscernible]. Maybe one fellow took care of the locals so I had locals to do. My first run from Chicago to Algona, the guy says, “You want to pull a lever and do some local?”  I said, yeah, I'll do it. So, I've done real good at it. I was good at anything they put me at. On this Washington- Chicago, once in a while from D.C. to Chicago, we’d haul a lot of courtesy mail and bags for other post office out or other cities out of Chicago and so forth. We'd carry a well-riding guy [sounds like] we didn’t have to take care of the mail but we had bundles, pouches full of money and so forth. Did you know that?


Albert Veirs: You did?


Albert Veirs: Oh, okay. Well, we had that every now and then. When I made regular, I'd work four days and off five, and four days off seven. So, I worked 12 days a month. So that didn't give me much money for a living, but I made it.

INTERVIEWER: For any of the jobs that you had on the railcar, could you describe a typical day for me starting from when you went into work until you got off of work?

Albert Veirs: Well, deadheaded in from here, we had to pass and I caught the Capital in the morning. My picture is in that place at the depot here. I left here at three and get in there about 8 o'clock and I'd have a little time to eat your breakfast. Then, I go to work about 9:30 or 10:00, something like that - I can't remember.  And the train pulled out about 10:00 or 11:00 and then we made our trip to Pittsburgh. We all went to Pittsburgh, and then at Pittsburgh there’s other fellas who’d get on and take them to Washington D.C. And then when they come back, we'd have about five hours of sleep.  We had a place in Pittsburgh where we had our own place to sleep and caught the train back to Chicago, and then for the next trip we’d layover in a motel. So, one night is all we'd have to stay for four days.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Was there any one position that you liked doing the best?

Albert Veirs: Yeah. I kind of liked the Washington-Chicago better than all the rest. It was up for bid and you took anything that you could get, so I took the Washington-Chicago. I liked the Sioux City, I liked the Algona, I run from Chicago to Louisville, Chicago to Indianapolis and Missouri [sounds like]. I had to run one time from Milwaukee to Madison; it was just 15-foot car. One guy didn't show up, he missed, he overslept, so I had to run myself, had to do local and everything. Boy, I was busy, I tell you.

INTERVIEWER: Was there any one job on the railcar that you like doing more than the others? Albert Veirs: No, I can't say that because I really enjoyed my mail service.

INTERVIEWER: And was there anything that you ever disliked about any of the positions that you occupied? And this can be something from a small complaint that you've just kind of looked over, a major complaint?

Albert Veirs: You're so busy you had no complaints, hardly at all. When you're in the mail car, you're going to go and you take mail on, you put off this. By the way, when they had the Highway Post Office, we collected two of them. We had one from South Bend to Indianapolis, that was in [indiscernible]. Then we had one in Ohio here with North Baltimore and one from Toledo to Chicago. You're taking up mail at every one of these places you stop and you were busy all the time. Anything else?

INTERVIEWER: Not for that question. That was good. What type of car did you normally work on?

Albert Veirs: Well, 60-foot mostly, them is the big cars. Small cars, you only get -- I traveled on them more than I did the short one. The short one is from Chicago to Louisville and from Indianapolis to Chicago. Indianapolis was a short one. Sometimes I’d turn around on Chicago, Massillon and Marion, Ohio, I had to work South Dakota mail where I was laid off there for about four or five hours before I caught the train back to Chicago. So they give you work at these days if you had to get off or return for clerk work when you're subbing, see? So you're busy most of your time. You’d go down -- and if you did have time, you've got to study your cards to work. Like every six months, you would have a test on any state you put up, and you got to pass it 95 percent. That's missing five towns only, then you'd have gun practice twice a year, I think it is. Either in Chicago or Pittsburgh I had to take gun practice. You had to wear your gun badge every time.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. I know earlier you said what your starting salary was. Do you remember what your ending salary was when you're out working on the railways?

Albert Veirs: Oh, I don't know. I know it wasn’t more when I quit. I wasn’t getting too much. I made a level six probably. To begin with, you had to make three years before you get one grade when you started. Now, after I quit, they made other grades after this. I don't know. They went pretty fast after -- one to eight years you were a full regular then and it took you just one to eight years to make a regular. Me, I had to go 20 or 25 years before I made that. Every three years you made a grade. If only I got to be five and made regular, I had enough then to make six. I stayed that until I got off the road and got off the road, I worked one year as that, and then they lowered me to lower level five. I worked 19 years as level five. I got my 35 years in retirement.

INTERVIEWER: Now, from what you do remember about your pay while you were working as a Railway Post Office clerk, do you believe that the pay was fair for the amount of work that you had to do?

Albert Veirs: I can't remember what my pay was when I wound up. It was good and it made my good retirement anyway. Right now I get $2,034 dollars a month, I think.

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

Albert Veirs: Well, I just carried my work clothes I worked with and regular clothes when you're lined up to go to the motel or something. And then you carried your books and maps and cards and you had to pack a lunch on the road, too. You have time out about 10-15 minutes to eat lunch and back to work again. So that’s all I’d carried in my grip.

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

Albert Veirs: Oh, longest trip I ever worked? I think it was the Algona when I went out there. The first one I ever had. They had a place to stay for overnight. A lady puts you up for -- that’s the only one I got all the time I worked on the railroad. She put you up for the money. You stayed and went back to work.

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember how long it took you for that trip?

Albert Veirs: Oh, 12 or 13 or 14 hours, anyway. We had to sleep overnight and come back the next day. It was a night and day train, too.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. And while you were working as a Railway Post Office clerk, did you have a family?

Albert Veirs: We just have what they called a regular clerk-in-charge. They called it a clerk-in-charge we had to report to. He either make you wear a gun or wouldn’t -- but most of them says you got to wear a gun and your badge.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. But did you have a family while you were working on the railway?

Albert Veirs: No, I didn't get a family until I've gotten married to my wife here in 1955. And I lived in Chicago in an apartment then, had some other fellows off the Chicago and Port Huron and Port Huron and Chicago and one that's in Pittsburgh and one that's for Chicago. I had two from Indiana. I had an apartment on the north side of Chicago I kept a lot of them. They didn't have to get motels or anything.


Albert Veirs: Then when I got married, I had to stop all that.

INTERVIEWER: How did you cope with leaving your family behind on long trips? Albert Veirs: How I treat my family even when going to the mail service?

INTERVIEWER: Well, how did you cope with leaving your family behind on long trips?

Albert Veirs: Well, you just had to make out, that's all I know. I was only gone four days and I was off five. But I didn't do that until I gotten married. When I subbed, I was working about everyday. One day, I caught a guy out of Chicago that didn’t -- he got hit in the suburb somehow where they head, and I was dead heading home for a day.  I went to the mail car to see how he was doing and he said he got hit. So he took me from Chicago to Indianapolis working that day. I had my grip and my own clothes is all I had. So I worked for him. So I got by that way. When I subbed, a guy subbed almost everyday, Sundays and everything. I guess I'm such a good clerk; they called on me every time I wanted. I loved the work.

INTERVIEWER: How did your wife handle you being away for several days at a time?

Albert Veirs: She didn't like it, never did like it. She don't like for me to talk this way if she's in here. I'm all by myself. She keeps out.

INTERVIEWER: But what did she do while you were away?

Albert Veirs: Oh, I have a home here and I have a garden and everything. I'm busy all the time. If not that, I had to go get groceries in the meantime and so forth to keep our family. You keep yourself busy.

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

Albert Veirs: I just loved it so much, I hate to get off. I hate for that ZIP coding. I'd work there full-time if I got the mail service, but that ZIP code just made it feel bad. Then I had to get off from work because these other people in the post office. We used level six and work one year as a level five there, a five. That kind of made you mad, you know? I got along with them but --

INTERVIEWER: But why did you love working on the railway so much?

Albert Veirs: Well, I thought it paid real good and I loved to travel. I loved to study; you got to study for it to work on it. I just loved it, going places. Once in a while I got off to get the box out like Garrett, Indiana, they have a depot box, you had to get off and get that, come back and take a stamp, and make sure they're stamped. That was the job.

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

Albert Veirs: I did for a while. Now, I don't know if they're living [indiscernible]. I think he went to Arizona, and some goes to Florida and passed away. There aren’t many of them living now. I had one at north -- it was about 15 miles from here. He was still living then. Now, I don't know many are gone anymore.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Did the post office ever issue you anything for your safety or for the job? Albert Veirs: I don't know. Washington D.C. is the only thing I hear from you folks.


Albert Veirs: That’s not much.

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

Albert Veirs: No, this post office up here don't. You mean in local post office or the post office I was with?

INTERVIEWER: The Railway Post Office.

Albert Veirs: Well, I just had worked out of Chicago and there's just one and that was on the 10th floor and they was managed from Atlanta, Georgia.


Albert Veirs: And this one office here down the hall in Chicago - all four stations.

INTERVIEWER: I know that some of the other clerks that I interviewed, they said that the Railway Post Office issued them a revolver when they were working on the registered mail?

Albert Veirs: What about registered mail?

INTERVIEWER: The post office would issue a revolver to the clerks who did the -- Albert Veirs: We got ours from the company.


Albert Veirs: You would be in Chicago where I worked out of. Yeah, a revolver but I had to send it back when I retired. I don't have the revolver. I just kept the badge only.

INTERVIEWER: Did the company ever give you guys anything else for the job?

Albert Veirs: Well, just the badge and revolver.  You had to buy your own work clothes and shoes.  You had to wear a steel plate in your toes. If you don't you'd have a damaged toe by them bags coming in or so forth. They're heavy. They had mail or iron or anything in them. You had to wear a steel plate shoe.

INTERVIEWER: Were you ever in a dangerous or bad situation while working on the railway?

Albert Veirs: No. There's one train that I was going to Chicago and it was coming towards Pittsburgh and it had a derail at Pickard in Indiana. The rails gave away on account of spring weather and they got hurt, some of them, got hurt in one end and struck the icebox and so forth and damaged the head. Some of them hit the racks, some went to the ceiling and so forth. But that's about it, I guess.

INTERVIEWER: Were you on that train?

Albert Veirs: I was on the train going the other way towards Chicago and that’s coming towards Pittsburgh.

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

Albert Veirs: No, never did. No. I guess that's mostly secret held, aint it?

INTERVIEWER: Did you face or witness any type of racial discrimination while you were working on the railway? Albert Veirs: No, I never have. Never was in trouble.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. And did you ever know or hear of anybody who did experience some sort of racial discrimination?

Albert Veirs: No. It was all good. We got along with colored and Mexicans or anything. We was all good.

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

Albert Veirs: We had our own club when we went golfing. Some of them they missed me because I had to work but we do have an outlet. It finally stopped after we got older. We met in New Castle, Ellwood City - that's about halfway on McLean towards the east end and the west end sometimes. Are you going to have a reunion again?

INTERVIEWER: I don't know. I could ask my boss to see if we are. I know that we don't have anything planned right now.

Albert Veirs: I think you generally have it in August. That would be next month, wouldn’t it?

INTERVIEWER: Yeah. I don't know. We don't have one planned right now but I can definitely ask. Albert Veirs: I missed the last one. I was planning on going but I missed it.

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

Albert Veirs: No, none that I know of. I was always a pretty good person. As far as I know everybody liked me.


Albert Veirs: I even had to make up labels for the pouches and paper racks and so forth. That was my duty.

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

Albert Veirs: Oh, gosh. I don't know. I just thought that I'd like to travel and meet other fellers. I did meet a lot of fellers when I subbed there and had that place in Chicago. I met people off that Port Huron and the Bluff, [indiscernible], the Sioux City. One guy out of Pittsburgh, he was -- He got on the Pitts and he subbed and after he got to Chicago he got in the factory, found a place to work and didn't get no sleep and still went back to the trains and worked.

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? This can be anything from a funny story to a memory that just came to you.

Albert Veirs: I don't know. I heard a feller when I wound up in Chicago, there was a lady who tried to get into the mail service and she went from Chicago to Saint Louis. And when she got back, our train comes in about the same time, and they were unloading and this unloader says, “That girl doesn’t want to go on trains anymore.” She quit and I asked her, she replied -- so this guy says, “Well, it’s in the winter times. She had to go to go to the toilet and says the wind blowed up her, up her and got her a cold.” So, I guess she never did reply for work anymore. She told other women how it was in the winter time. That's the only thing, I got a kick out of that.

INTERVIEWER: Was there anything else that you wanted to say? What was the most interesting thing that you saw on the railcars?

Albert Veirs: Gosh, we had bees, we had turkeys, we had chickens, of course [indiscernible] went one to Chicago and delivered, and about anything you wanted to have and they throw in but all big animals, they wouldn't haul them. But like pheasants around here, one time they was sick, they had a motel up here.  They had to stack them in the aisles in order to make them sleep over night.  But that was years ago, they had pheasants here in the motels for sale, but we don't even have a motel anymore. It used to be a railroad mail to -- here you had junction and a place you could board but they've done away with it. Right now the only place they got respect for train watchers, they got a park for them. They can bring their campers and they have a shelter house and all that so it don't cost you anything to come.  I have visitors watching 79 trains now.  We have three parks in town.  In 2008, we had over 2000 bicycles come through this town and they took care of them. That's about all the news I know. The reason they come here from rural Texas is they have -- they got a [indiscernible], and Cedar Point a fun place and then out by Kent State, they have a fish aquarium or something. And down by Dayton they got Neil Armstrong thing and the Wright Brothers, so Ohio, there's a lot of people. Dewey Brown must have spent 15 months here at Holgate. And there's a lot of famous -- Bob Hope and I don't know. Annie Get Your Gun and there's just a lot of people that are famous. When I was in service, I had Jimmy Stewart and I saw him. I worked in the War Room as an intelligent person. I went to school in Salt Lake City when I was in World War II for four weeks, had to draw maps for the navigator bombardier, and the guy shoots off the bombs.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Is there anything else that you would like to say about your position with the Railway Post Office?

Albert Veirs: Oh, I got along good with everybody I know of.