Mail on the Fly

How can you save time on a train route? Don’t stop!

Railway Post Office trains used a system of cranes at small town rail stations to exchange mail without stopping.

The mail bag would hang from the crane by the station platform. As a train approached a station, a clerk riding in the open door of the mail car prepared a large, metal catching arm. Then, with one fluid movement, the clerk would use the catching arm to snatch the bag of letters to be mailed and at almost the same time, boot out any bag of mail to be delivered.

Experienced clerks spoke with deep pride in their ability to make the mail switch at night with nothing but the curves and feel of the track to warn them of an upcoming station and a catch and delivery.

A video from October 1, 1903, shows a train passing through town and collecting a mailbag hanging from a crane. At the same time, a postal clerk from the train throws out a bag with mail collected for the town.