“A lot of times we couldn’t even get the doors open, because the door would be frozen between stops. And normally we would put some salt, you know, between the doors, so we could open them. Sometimes we couldn’t get it open.” —Charles Patton of Hillsboro, Alabama
There were certain hazards that Railway Post Office clerks had no control over. Inclement weather could strike at any moment and cause washed-out or snow-covered tracks. Flooded tracks could stop the mail for days at a time, resulting in delays in areas otherwise unaffected by the problem. Because mail on any given train could be en route to anywhere in the country, not just a stop on that line, bad weather caused mail delays everywhere.
In 1899, an immense snow storm throughout New York state caused mails from the South and West to be greatly delayed. Further delays were a problem as desire to deliver the mail as swiftly as possible led to mixing mail bags. Days after the snow had stopped, trains entering Buffalo were still two or three hours late. Regardless of these problems, mail leaving the area was still dispatched successfully and on time.(1)
Even in times when the weather wasn’t stopping the train, RPO clerks still had to endure some pretty uncomfortable conditions. While the cars were supposed to be heated in the winter through steam pipes, these frequently did not work. Oftentimes the temperature in the car directly reflected the temperature outside. This meant freezing cold in the winter and stifling heat in the summer.
“It was awful hot in the summertime, cause again, we didn’t have air and after the car would be sitting there in the sun all day, that metal car, it was pretty hot.” —Edward West of Soddy Daisy, Tennessee
Listen to former clerks talk about their experiences with extreme weather in the Railway Post Office: