The Highway Post Office

Post War

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Boys take time away from fishing to mail a letter via a HPO bus.

After the end of the war, the Post Office started to create new HPO routes, order new buses, and create new standards of service. Standardizing bus design and service would save money and improve efficiency. The first thing they did was standardize the requirements for new routes. These requirements included length of roads, hill grades, and bridge weight capacity. Again officials looked to see if adding a HPO route saved money over existing Star Route contract routes. Bus appearance and operation were also standardized. Buses needed standardized parts for easier maintenance. If the route didn’t have a White bus, then other companies were asked to create replicas. “The coach shall be of the type commonly known as transit, or integral, with the entrance door ahead of the front axle. It shall be of sturdy and rugged construction throughout and shall have embodied all the latest safety features in the construction and shall be of balanced design and built for modern passenger carrying service.” The buses all had to look alike, inside and out. “Colors used may be synthetic lacquer or enamel, but are to match colors listed below, and are to be placed as follows: White or Aluminum-over roof, front and rear end and sides down to belt panel. Red-Belt. Blue-Girder and Panels below the belt. Striping- 3/8’ wide Gold Leaf Strip.” The specification went into such minute details that even the number of shower curtain rings were included in the manuals, which was seven.

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Students from St. Joseph Mission Indian School attend the inauguralceremonies for Sioux Falls & Philip HPO in Chamberlain, South Dakota,January 11, 1954.

First Day services were also standardized. It was mandatory the first day of operation be wholly restricted to handling “first-trip” covers and dedication ceremonies. The cachets and cancellation were required to use black ink and the focus of the first day was to promote the route and the service. It was decided that first-day services would be ceremonial in nature. Many routes and the small town had ceremonies similar to the first DC-Harrisonburg route of 1941. Newspapers across the country showed how their town celebrated the new service, from small parades to ribbon cutting ceremonies. Having a route stop in your town meant that you were part of the new wave of technology. In 1949, there were 42 new routes and by the 1950’s there were 208 routes nationwide. All these routes were running twice daily every day but Sunday.

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Bob Williams, son of Cortland, VA postmaster B.A. Williams, standing in the doorway of first day HPO Danville to Suffolk, cir. 1955.

Once the routes were running smoothly, the HPOs were a reliable delivery service as well an opportunity for a reliable job. Dwight Brennfoerder was a substitute clerk for the Omaha Post Office in 1964. His father worked for the post office for 30 years, and Dwight saw this as an opportunity to save money for college. Since he was on call 24/7, it was that perfect job for him at the time. “I only substituted for regulars who were off for vacation, illness or otherwise, so never had much of a routine. Based out of Omaha but would go as far west as Denver, or as far east as Chicago, or south to Kansas City.”(1) Dwight served on both the RPO and the HPO, and like many of the clerks who worked on both routes, like the railroad much better but understood the importance of both jobs. The buses were a lot tighter and unlike the mundane clickety-clack of the rails the highway buses were not smooth so “you had to spread your legs, grab some mail and start chucking it into the pigeon holes.”(2) Dwight recalls being given the easiest job on the bus because he did not know the route like the other men. HPO substitute Charles Dahle, who worked on the Minneapolis & Sioux City HPO routes, remembers that:

“The regulars to be helpful and quite willing to share hints to improve my job skills. Of course, there were many jokes made about subs but I never knew it to be other than humorous in nature. When I would be on a new line, there were always things that a sub had to figure out. Different crews had different workflow patterns - within limits.”(3)

At the end of the day, it was about delivering the mail and making sure the buses had the man power they needed to get the job done. One thing Dwight remembers vividly are the procedures put in play to protect the clerks and the mail especially registered (4)mail. On the trains, “there was always one person on board who had official "control" of the mail in case there was any registered mail on board.  I always had to carry a gun in case I needed to accompany registered mail to any point.”5) These same rules were true for the HPO buses. Charles recalled:

“In 1961 or 62 a robbery occurred, in Boston, I believe, which resulted in all Mobile Unit mail clerks being assigned and trained on handguns. I always was assigned one when I was on the road. At first, only the clerk handling "local duty," that is, being in the door to load and unload mail, and the clerk who worked registered mail had to wear the revolver. Later we were all required to wear our revolvers when on duty in the car.”(6)

The robbery that Charles was referring to was the Plymouth Mail Robbery that occurred on August 14, 1962. The thieves stole over $1.5 million dollars from a mail truck. More information about the Plymouth Mail Robbery can be found in the museum’s “Behind the Badge” exhibit.

Naylor, the driver of the first Highway Post Office bus, paved the way for how the routes should be driven. When he retired in 1953, the district superintendent sent him a congratulatory letter saying “you established a record that, in my opinion, never will be equaled by another operator.” (7) The letter goes on to say that during his tenure of fourteen years, Naylor drove roughly 500,000 miles without a serious accident and was always on time except for circumstances out of his control. He was the driver that all drivers should aspire to be. His granddaughter remembers that he was the smoothest driver even when he was not working.(8)

  • 1) Brennfoerder, Dwight. "Dwight Brennfoerder HPO Interview." Telephone interview by author. July 23, 2015.
  • 2) Ibid, Brennfoerder
  • 3) Dahle, Charles. "Charles Dahle HPO Interview." E-mail interview by author. July 27, 2015.
  • 4) Mr. Dahle’s quote refers to the Railroad Post Offices but when questioned he stated that the work environment on the Highway Post Office was similar.
  • 5) Brennfoerder, Dwight. "Dwight Brennfoerder HPO Interview." Telephone interview by author. July 23, 2015.
  • 6) Dahle, Charles. "Charles Dahle HPO Interview." E-mail interview by author. July 27, 2015.
  • 7) [Postal Transportation Service Letter from District Superintendent]. Letter provided by granddaughter of Henry Naylor. Written 1953.
  • 8) Maness, Mary. E-mail interview by author. July 23, 2015.