DCSIMG

First Routes

President Roosevelt posts the first letter on the first HPO bus, assisted by Postmaster General Frank Walker.
President Roosevelt posts the first letter on the first HPO bus, assisted by Postmaster General Frank Walker.
President Roosevelt posts the first letter on the first HPO bus,
assisted by Postmaster General Frank Walker.

After months of planning, the first trip began on February 10, 1941, and covered 283 miles round trip. The route required two clerks, a clerk-in-charge and a driver who doubled as a mechanic. The route had 23 stops along the way. The bus was to adhere to a strict schedule of time. The clerks would begin their day every morning around 3:30. By the time the driver came in at 5am the bus was loaded with mail and he made his final check of the vehicle. The bus left at 5:33am and was to arrive at Harrisonburg by 11am. Then it would leave Harrisonburg at 4pm before returning to DC by 9:30pm so that the mail could be transferred to the trains before midnight. (See tables below) The initial cost of the White bus was $11,960.

Washington D.C. to Harrisonburg VA

City

Actual
Arrival
Time

Schedule
Departure
Time

Actual
Departure
Time

      

Running
Time

     

Washington (Leave)

5:33 AM

5:30 AM

14 minutes

Arlington

5:44 AM

5:44 AM

5:46 AM

9 minutes

East Falls Church

5:55 AM

5:56 AM

5:56 AM

1 minutes

Falls Church

5:57 AM

6:01 AM

5:58 AM

12 minutes

Fairfax

6:10 AM

6:21 AM

6:17 AM

37 minutes

Aldie

6:54 AM

7:03 AM

6:56 AM

11 minutes

Middleburg

7:07 AM

7:16 AM

7:18 AM

19 minutes

The Plains

7:37 AM

7:36 AM

7:39 AM

9 minutes

Marshall

7:48 AM

7:49 AM

7:51 AM

17 minutes

Markham

8:08 AM

8:01 AM

8:09 AM

 

Bell Meade

 

8:09 AM

 

 

 

Linden

 

8:16 AM

 

 

20  minutes

Front Royal

8:29 AM

8:33 AM

8:36 AM

5 minutes

Riverton

8:41 AM

8:40 AM

8:42 AM

9 minutes

Waterlick

8:51 AM

8:52 AM

8:52 AM

9 minutes

Strasburg

9:01 AM

9:06 AM

9:20 AM

9 minutes

Toms Brook

9:29 AM

9:20 AM

9:32 AM

3 minutes

Mauertown

9:35 AM

9:26 AM

9:36 AM

5 minutes

Woodstock

9:41 AM

9:37 AM

9:46 AM

8 minutes

Edinburg

9:54 AM

9:52 AM

9:56 AM

10 minutes

Mount Jackson

10:06 AM

10:09 AM

10:10 AM

11 minutes

New Market

10:21 AM

10:25 AM

10:26 AM

14 minutes

Lacey Springs

10:40 AM

10:40 AM

10:43 AM

6 minutes

Harrisonburg (Arrive)

10:49 AM

11:00 AM

 

Harrisonburg, Virginia to Washington D.C.

City

Actual
Arrival
Time

Schedule
Departure
Time

Actual
Depature
Time

      

Running
Time

     

Harrisonburg (Leave)

4:00 PM

4:00 PM

15 minutes

Lacey Springs

4:15 PM

4:20 PM

4:16 PM

13 minutes

New Market

4:29 PM

4:35 PM

4:36 PM

13 minutes

Mount Jackson

4:49 PM

4:51 PM

4:53 PM

11 minutes

Edinburg

5:04 PM

5:08 PM

5:08 PM

3 minutes

Woodstock

5:11 PM

5:23 PM

5:30 PM

6 minutes

Mauertown

5:36 PM

5:34 PM

5:37 PM

2 minutes

Toms Brook

5:39 PM

5:40 PM

5:42 PM

10 minutes

Strasburg

5:52 PM

5:54 PM

5:55 PM

Waterlick

6:08 PM

18 minutes

Riverton

6:13 PM

6:20 PM

6:14 PM

7 minutes

Front Royal

6:21 PM

6:27 PM

6:29 PM

14 minutes

Linden

6:43 PM

6:44 PM

6:43 PM

4 minutes

Belle Meade

6:47 PM

6:51 AM

6:47 PM

4 minutes

Markham

6:51 PM

6:59 PM

6:55 PM

16 minutes

Marshall

7:11 PM

7:11 PM

7:12 PM

10 minutes

The Plains

7:22 PM

7:24 PM

7:23 PM

19 minutes

Middleburg

7:42 PM

7:44 PM

7:46 PM

9 minutes

Aldie

7:55 PM

7:59 PM

7:56 PM

34 minutes

Fairfax

8:30 PM

8:39 PM

8:33 PM

15 minutes

Falls Church

8:48 PM

8:59 PM

8:49 PM

3 minutes

East Falls Church

8:52 PM

9:04 PM

8:54 PM

9  minutes

Arlington

9:03 PM

9:16 PM

9:08 PM

16 minutes

Washington (Arrive)

9:24 PM

9:30 PM

 
Two clerks sorting mail in HPO bus. The man on the left is sorting letters into the pigeon holes, while the man on the right is canceling envelopes.
Two clerks sorting mail in HPO bus. The man on the left is sorting letters into the pigeon holes, while the man on the right is canceling envelopes.
Two clerks sorting mail in HPO bus. The man on the left is sorting
letters into the pigeon holes, while the man on the right is
canceling envelopes.

For each preliminary trip, the Post Office Department would create a first-day cover, or special collector’s envelope, and a new cancelation stamp. The Department sent out notices to philatelic societies to drum up excitement. Advance notices appeared in the Postal Bulletin, which was a regularly-mailed update on postal policies sent to postmasters across the country and stamp columnists. The biggest advertisement came from President Roosevelt himself. On February 6th, 1941, the Associated Press Wire shared the news that “… the new bus will call at the Capitol today to receive first trip letters…”(1) The bus went to the Capitol where Virginia senators mailed letters to the Harrisonburg mayor and postmaster to congratulate them for bringing honor to the town and state. The bus then went to the White House where FDR had important business to conduct. He was an avid collector, having 1.2 million stamps in his collection when he died.(2) Since having a hole in his collection was not an option, Roosevelt deposited an envelope on the bus for the cancellation of “Trip 1.” He then had a letter, signed by Miss M.A. LeHand, who was Roosevelt’s private secretary, forwarded on to Harrisonburg so he could have the canceled “Trip 2” stamp for his collection. The White House also had a second set of envelopes similarly marked for King George VI of England, whose private collection was the largest at the time. Roosevelt’s envelope did not travel alone. It was estimated that on the initial trip the HPO carried 52,139 first day covers from DC and 51,516 from Harrisonburg. The bus also received 6,869 pieces of mail en route south from DC to Harrisonburg and 3,787 pieces back north from Harrisonburg to D.C.(3)

Highway Post Office bus #1 in Strasburg, Virginia, February 10, 1941.
Highway Post Office bus #1 in Strasburg, Virginia, February 10, 1941.
Highway Post Office bus #1 in Strasburg, Virginia, February 10, 1941.

Manning the first trip were clerks Clyde C Peters, Claude M. Dellinger, Lovell H. Grove, and Orville R. Liskey, Henry Naylor was the driver and mechanic. The clerks were transferred from Railroad Post Offices. Peters of Harrisonburg was a veteran railway mail clerk, who served on the Washington to Lexington train #11. He was promoted to the clerk-in-charge of the HPO route. Naylor had entered the service on April 29, 1918 as a driver mechanic with the Motor Vehicle Division. When the HPO came into being, he was transferred as a driver and work with HPO buses till he retired in December 1953.(4)

Unnamed driver of a HPO bus.
Unnamed driver of a HPO bus.
Unnamed driver of a HPO bus.

According to the trip reports, Peters and Liskey arrived as scheduled at 3:30am to begin loading the bus. Dellinger and Grove came in at 4:30am and Naylor arrived at 5am. The bus rolled out of the garage to a small but enthusiastic crowd of postal employees 30 minutes later. Many officials and all the members of the committee followed the bus on it first trip all the way to Harrisonburg, and witnessed enthusiastic reactions along the way. When the bus pulled into its first stop in Arlington, Virginia, a small gathering of postal employees were there but it was short-lived as the bus pulled out a minute later. The next few stops also had small gatherings, but Fairfax boasted a crowd of 500 people, and the driver stopped long enough for spectators to inspect the bus. The rest of the stops had fewer spectators, so the bus was able to stay on schedule. Front Royal made a big production, including a police escort into town where a large crowd of children, the local college band, and roughly 450 spectators were waiting at the post office. At Waterlick, 650 school children were allowed to tour the bus, creating a 20 minute layover. The same thing happened at Toms Brooks, but the children were not allowed to tour the bus due to time constraints. The bus reached Woodstock, the county seat of Shenandoah County, at 9:41am. The mayor and local postmaster asked the bus to stop at the courthouse and not the post office. Two thousand witnesses, mostly children, were there to welcome the bus as well as the Massanuttee Military Academy band. Five minutes later the bus rolled out of town. Finally at 10:49am, the HPO pulled into Harrisonburg, Virginia completing the first leg of its journey. Smith W. Purdum, Second Assistant Postmaster General, was one of the officials that followed the bus on its first route. He sent a telegram to PMG Walker that said “HPO bus arrived Harrisonburg, Virginia one minute ahead of schedule. Large numbers of persons turned out at practically all stops. Tremendous and enthusiastic crowd greeted the arrival of the HPO at Harrisonburg.”(5) Purdum also gave a radio address that was broadcast on the Harrisonburg Station WSVA later that afternoon. He stated that the “Highway Post Office Department may well become an integral part of our vast postal system in the United States once this type of motorized service successfully passes the experimental stage.” (6)  He went on to state that the HPO would not compete with the already established railroad but work with them in a combined effort to provide citizens with the best mail service. The return trip contained much less fanfare, the bus left Harrisonburg at 4:00pm and got back into D.C. at 9:30pm. The mail was unloaded and taken to the train depots to be distributed. The personnel on the bus went home and returned at 3:30am the next morning.

Pusher-type Mack bus was used in California, but due to its inability to drive long distances without exerting a lot of energy, it was removed from production.
Pusher-type Mack bus was used in California, but due to its inability to drive long distances without exerting a lot of energy, it was removed from production.
Pusher-type Mack bus was used in California, but due to its inability
to drive long distances without exerting a lot of energy, it was removed
from production.

The second route began on August 4th, 1941. This route was a 300 mile, round trip between San Francisco and Pacific Grove California. The route was assigned to Highway Post Office vehicle #2. The bus was a Mack vehicle designed with the engine in the rear of the vehicle. This rear-engine designed proved to be very ineffective in the hilly terrain. Like today’s public transportation buses, it was designed for short burst of power and short trips. The hills caused the bus to exert more energy, making gas mileage extremely low as well as causing difficult upkeep. The bus remained in service till 1955 but was transferred to Indianapolis, Indiana as a substitute bus when the International Harvester operating that route was taken out of commission. Later the Mac bus went to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania and was finally transferred back to Indianapolis where it was later sold in 1955 to a garage for $150.(7)

Experimental International Harvester tractor- trailer, was removed due to jack- knifing and difficult communication.
Experimental International Harvester tractor- trailer, was removed due to jack- knifing and difficult communication.
Experimental International Harvester tractor- trailer, was removed due
to jack- knifing and difficult communication.
HPO #3 International Harvester with crew.
HPO #3 International Harvester with crew.
HPO #3 International Harvester with crew.

The third, and final, experimental bus operated the route between Peru and Indianapolis, Indiana. This route was 151.8 miles each way. The vehicle used on this trip was an International Harvester tractor-trailer that proved ill-equipped to the task. The driver was in the cab of the truck and the clerks in the trailer of the separated semi. According to a memo, the vehicle was rejected for giving clerks an unacceptable rough ride, and for the inability of clerk and drivers to communicate with one another. There was no way the clerks could know of any sudden stops or impending accidents. The vehicle continued to be prone to jack-knifing even after the braking system was “improved.” Because of these issues, this truck lasted only a few months in service. It ended up serving as a substitute for buses undergoing maintenance. It was sold in 1943 for $1126.76.(8)

When war broke out, the HPO service continued on the three routes that were already established but no money or personnel would be wasted on new routes and the HPO service was put on hold for the duration of the war. Although on a temporary hold, the HPO service did prove to inspire military personnel. According to a memo from the Department of Defense, military personnel inspected the bus as models for converting buses into transport units.(9)The military was able to take common buses and transform them into mass transports for troops.

____________________

  • 1) Bruns, James H. The First Highway Post Office: Introduction of Highway Post Office Service Washington D.C./ Harrisonburg, Virginia. Mobile Post Office Society, 1985
  • 2) Delivering Hope: FDR & Stamps of the Great Depression. Washington DC: Smithsonian National Postal Museum, 2009.
  • 3) Post Office Department of United States. [Memo of HPO First Day Transactions]. Washington D.C., National Archives, Record Group 28, Box 1, Entry UD- 56: Records of HPO 1940-1967. 1941.
  • 4) Maness, Mary. E-mail interview by author. July 23, 2015.
  • 5) [HPO Arrival Telegraph]. Smith W. Purdum. Washington DC, National Archives, Record Group 28. Entry 130: Records Relating to Establishment of HPO: Waco- Washington D.C., Box 34. February 10, 1941.
  • 6) Address of Honorable Smith W. Purdum Second Assistant Postmaster General at Inaugural Exercises of the Highway Post Offices Harrisongburg Virginia February 10 1941. National Archives, Record Group 28. Entry 130: Records Relating to Establishment of HPO: Waco- Washington D.C., Box 34
  • 7) Post Office Department of the United States. [Highway Post Office Vehicle Record for No. 2]. Washington D.C. National Archives, Record Group 20, Box 1, Entry 437: Record of HPO Vehicles 1941- 1956 Vehicles 1- 113.
  • 8) Post Office Department of the United States. [Highway Post Office Vehicle Record for No. 3]. Washington D.C. National Archives, Record Group 20, Box 1, Entry 437: Record of HPO Vehicles 1941- 1956 Vehicles 1- 113.
  • 9) [Depart of Defense Memo]. Washington DC, National Archives, Record Group 28, Box 1, Entry UD- 56: Records of HPO 1940-1967. 1942.