Jim Briggs Interview Transcript
Jim Briggs: Yes. My name is James Briggs, Jim Briggs, and I was a Railway postal clerk. INTERVIEWER: And were you a regular or a sub?
Jim Briggs: Well, when I started out, I started my postal career as a temporary substitute in May of 1947, and about a year later became a regular substitute. And so I ran out here on the West Coast in the San Francisco area, all over the various lines that ran out of San Francisco and Oakland, the valley lines, the coastlines, the Pacific Grove, HPO, just about everything that ran out of the Bay Area.
INTERVIEWER: And earlier you stated that you ran on the San Francisco and Oakland lines, what cities did you travel between?
Jim Briggs: When I was a substitute, I ran on the San Francisco and L.A. and those ran from Oakland down through the San Joaquin Valley, that would be Martinez, Tracy, Lathrup, Modesto, Fresno, Bakersfield, over the Tehachapi Mountains to Mojave and then to Lancaster, Palmdale into Los Angeles. The other line that ran out of San Francisco was the Coast Line. That was the San Francisco, San Jose and L.A. RPO. And the through run, The Lark ran from San Francisco, San Jose, down through Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Watsonville, Salinas, down the coast, San Luis Obispo on down to Santa Barbara, Ventura, and into Los Angeles. Also on the Coast Line, they had a short run that ran from San Francisco down through all of the peninsula cities, Burlingame, San Mateo, Santa Clara and down to San Jose. And you would go down and you would get off that train, maybe be there an hour and you would go back. They called that run the merry-go-round because you just went back and forth with three or four trips per day. All of that run down there at that time in 1948 was all prune orchards, apricot orchards and that now is, I’m sure you’ve heard of, the Silicon Valley. But at that time, that was all orchard land. So there’s been quite a change.
The other lines that I ran on were out of Oakland was the San Francisco and Barstow RPO. That also ran down a valley which ran from Oakland, Richmond, down to Stockton, Riverbank, Modesto, Fresno, down through Bakersfield, also over the Tehachapi on the same line; the Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe shared the same route over the Tehachapi Mountains. But the Mojave, the Santa Fe line went straight across the Mojave Desert to Barstow.
The other line that I had run on was the early HPO, highway post office, that ran from San Francisco down to Pacific Grove, and that would go from San Francisco across the San Francisco Bay Bridge, stopped at Oakland, San Leandro, Hayward, and out to what is now Fremont but it was Centerville then, down to a few of those towns and to San Jose over the Santa Cruz Mountains to Santa Cruz down to Watsonville, down to Salinas, Fort Ord which was a very active military base at that time, Monterey, and down to Pacific Grove where they would layover for about an hour or two and then return.
So basically, those were the lines that I ran quite frequently for about two years. And at that time, all of the trains were pulled by steam engines. That was before they started using the diesel locomotives.
INTERVIEWER: And I know earlier you said that you served as a railway post office clerk, you started in May of 1947. How many years did you stay a railway post office clerk?
Jim Briggs: I stayed a railway post office clerk until actually it was 1964. I had been promoted to foreman in 1963, and at that time, I was on the Ogden and San Francisco West Division Line which is known as the Overland and that line ran from the Oakland Pier Mole where the trains terminated at that time to Sacramento over the Sierra and Nevada Mountains on to Lovelock, Nevada which was our terminal point. The train that I ran on at that time was Train 22, the slow mail train, that went over and returned from Lovelock on the fast City of San Francisco Train 101.
So actually, my time on the trains ended in 1964, actually, January the 24th. I had ended my run and was on the way home and stopped to be a good Samaritan in an accident and was hit by a car so I spent about five months in a hospital recuperating. So basically I was off the trains for about a year. So that ended my time actually on the trains. But after that time, I went into the Western regional office in San Francisco and was in the schemes and routing branch, working with schemes and schedules, putting out corrections to the -- so basically, I was technically working with the Railway Mail Service almost all of the time up to the time the trains were discontinued in 1967.
INTERVIEWER: What made you want to become a railway post office clerk?
Jim Briggs: Well, I had just recently got discharged from the army in 1947 and my grandparents lived in Winters, California on a ranch about three miles north, so on a Sunday morning, to get the Sunday paper, I drove into Winters to get the paper. While there, I met a close family friend who was a railway postal clerk who had run on the Coast Line, the San Francisco and San Jose, and he asked me what I was doing and I said I just got discharged from the army and was starting to think about either going to school or looking for a job as my discharge money was sort of getting in short supply. He had mentioned that they were looking, in the Railway Mail Service, for substitutes, being that during the war years, the clerks who were on the trains that didn’t get called up into the military had numerous and numerous hours and days of time, annual leave or vacation time. So he said he would give my name to the assignment clerk at that time, it was a Mr. McDonald in San Francisco. So I went home. I was living in Oakland at that time with my father and I never thought much about it, but about a week later, I had a call from Mr. McDonald and asked me if I would come over to San Francisco, he’d like to talk to me about being a substitute railway mail clerk.
So really and truly, I didn’t know much about what the Railway Mail Service was other than I knew that Charlie Elliot had been a railway postal clerk. So I went over and talked to him for about an hour, and believe it or not, in about that time, I was sworn in as a temporary railway postal clerk, and I was given a key, pistol, and some other supplies and was assigned to go out on a run the next day. So that is sort of how I got started basically. I thought it would just be a temporary stopover but as it turned out, it turned out to be my career with the Railway Mail Service and also the postal service for 38 years.
INTERVIEWER: What types of jobs did you work the most on the railcars?
Jim Briggs: The assignment that I worked mostly on was on the Train 22 which was the slow mail train that carried mostly all mail cars that had one passenger car basically for train crews deadheading to Roosevelt or to Sparks, Nevada. My assignment primarily was on the paper end of our car which was a 60-foot RPO car and I worked the papers, all of the newspapers. At that time, almost everybody that lived out of the Bay Area took the San Francisco Chronicle or the Wall Street Journal, and also there was some Asian newspapers, and that was very important distribution because those people that lived up in the High Sierras, small villages, small communities, they looked forward to the Chronicle, the Wall Street Journal, on a daily basis. If they didn’t get it, they were quite upset because they knew that that paper was due to come. They didn’t care much about if they didn’t get their utility bill but the paper was a very important item. So over a period of time, you almost knew the various people that you’d see those papers addressed to.
Also at that time, we were working a parcel post which was a lot of the parcel post at that time was from the mail- order houses such as Sears and Roebuck, Montgomery Ward. A lot of the people living in the remote areas up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and also into remote Nevada would order a lot of their clothing from the Sears, Montgomery Ward, and you would have a lot of those packages. And so it was sort of an interesting -- we used to have, at times, chicks in small containers that people in the spring of the year would order from the hatcheries, these small chickens to have, and they were something that you had to give extra care to and be sure that they were not piled over with heavy mail sacks over them. Usually, they are always at the top of the pile. Also at times, at the spring of the year, when we were at Roseville, get honeybees. It would come down from the orchard lands up around Orville and up in that country, almond [sounds like] country. So these bees would then be loaded and sent on to Ogden, Utah, where they would be sent out into Mountain States where they would be used for pollination.
INTERVIEWER: For any one of the jobs that you had on the railcars, could you describe a typical day for me starting from when you first got into the station until you were released from work?
Jim Briggs: Well, your assignment, each clerk had a different assignment of reporting time. My particular assignment when I ran on the Ogden and San Francisco Train 22, I would go to work in the afternoon about five o’clock and I would, first of all -- and this was at the Oakland Mole Pier which was a huge covered facility where all of the trains would come in and the passengers would get off and on to a ferry boat and about a 20-minute ride across the San Francisco to the ferry building and on to their destinations. That was also the way that mail came over from San Francisco onto the pier areas, in cages and [indiscernible] truck pulled by little jitneys. But my assignment was to come early and, first of all, you would stop in at the grip room where your grip would be stored and that grip contained usually your overalls and your shoes and things like that. You always carried little extra canned goods in case you got delayed, and you had to read your order book. That was one of the requirements to see if there was any orders that were issued that pertained to your run that night that should have to be implemented.
Then I would go out to the RPO car which was completely empty at that time. You would get in and you would change your clothes. The railroad company would supply bags and pouches and sacks that you would have to then hang the rack the pouches and the paper, and you went by a rack diagram. That was an official diagram that was each rack was set a certain way and then you would run your labels in each of the pouch labels and also the sack labels. So that was sort of what I would do. Then pretty soon there would be another clerk that would come, so all of the clerks came at a little bit different intervals of time. And by the time the clerk-in-charge would come over from San Francisco with the registered mail, the whole crew would be assembled and be starting their distribution requirements.
One other thing is that all of the pouch labels, sack labels, and facing slips that were used all had your name on it, your train number, your name and the date, and that also indicated your product or you might say the day that was quality control. If you made an error then at that time, there were merits and demerits. If you would have too many sack labels come back from your office showing errors, the office might say, maybe you’d better come take another examination. So it was something you were very, very proud of that your distribution showed that it was your product.
INTERVIEWER: And was there any one job that you liked doing the most on the railcars?
Jim Briggs: Yes. I think that I enjoyed the moving down the paper into the car. It felt that you had more movement. Moving around, I always felt -- and also one of the things, I was a little bit on the short side and sometimes on a letter case all night long reaching up and down and so forth, you would get a little bit tired sometimes. I felt that I enjoyed the paper end of the car. But also, I enjoyed, when I was a registered clerk, where I was handling the registered mail and so forth and you had a little more time to sit down and do that type of work. So all of the assignments, you enjoyed doing them but I think there was some that you probably enjoyed a little bit more.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that you ever disliked about any of your jobs? Jim Briggs: Any of the jobs that I did? Well, I think --
INTERVIEWER: And this can be like a small complaint that you had that you just brushed off to the side, just big or small.
Jim Briggs: Well, I think that the -- when we were in a 60-foot RPO car or 30-foot, there were five or six, seven people all working and in close quarters, and I think that the camaraderie, very seldom in all the years that I ever ran, I ever heard any two clerks ever really have much of a disagreement on anything. Everything usually was handled in the car. I think that the pride that we all had and our knowledge of our distribution and knowing every town in the state of California or Nevada, we were very proud of our ability, postal laws and regulations and handling of registers, it was basically a rolling post office and the expertise that those men had -- perhaps I’m getting a little off here but the -- it was always at times humor. There was always sometimes somebody was playing a joke on somebody and everybody always usually took it in good humor, and there was always those times where at the end of the run, somebody might put a bunch of locks in somebody’s bag and they’ll -- it was all
-- I couldn’t really say that there was any bad disagreements or anything like that. I hope that that sort of answers the question. I’m not sure if I was on the right track on that or not.
INTERVIEWER: No. That’s perfectly fine. What type of railcar did you work on the most?
Jim Briggs: When I took the regular appointment on the Ogden and San Francisco, the Overland, the RPO cars were all 60-foot cars, they were all steel cars. And usually we had on the 60-foot cars, there was the letter end on that one end and then the paper end was at the other, and up towards the letter end towards the car was at the very end, there was a little washbasin and a lavatory, and also, we had a cooker which was sort of a well that you could put your coffee pot in there and you turned live steam and that kept the coffee hot or if you had a can of soup, you could hang it in there on a string and take care about getting ready for your lunch. But those were -- most of the cars that I ran on were 60-foot. But as a substitute, I ran on many of the short runs where they were 15-foot cars with usually two clerks, and a time or two, I ran on runs there was just one clerk. And then also 30- foot cars which were the cars used on the valley and the Barstow line, and the leather cases were up at one end and the pouches and racks were back at the other end of the car.
INTERVIEWER: When you worked on the railways, do you remember what your starting salary was?
Jim Briggs: Yes, I do. I kept a record of all of my pay over the years, and when I started out as a temporary sub 06/11/47, I think it was $1.41 per hour. And when I got to be a career sub, it was $1.44. So we weren’t making an awful lot at that particular time but you have to remember, there was a little bit different times then too.
INTERVIEWER: And when you ended your career as a railway post office clerk, do you remember what your ending salary was?
Jim Briggs: Well, when I ended actually as a railway postal clerk, my salary then, as I recall, if I could refer, was about $6585 a year at that time, and so that was in 1964. And then when I went into the regional office, then the pay scale, the advancements and a little bit higher promotions, a different –- so really, at the end of my career in 1983, I was a level 24 and I think that salary at that time was, if I can still refer -- it was quite a jump. I think it was close to $38,000 at that time. So that was quite a jump from when I started out with at 1947.
INTERVIEWER: And for the pay that you received, do you believe that it was fair for the amount of work you had to do?
Jim Briggs: Looking back at it, yes. I think that looking back at what conditions were in 1947, after getting out of the service, there wasn’t really that many jobs available and I never really considered it until I got married, and at that time, I was a regular clerk making a better salary. But looking back at all of it, raising a family, buying a home, I think that the one thing that you might say was that it was a steady income. It never faltered. You never lost it by any particular change in the economy, so I think that you could pretty much count on what your salary was going to be and what you could do. So, no, I felt that looking back at it, sure, you thought you could’ve made maybe more but I think that in later years, what I did in the regional office was basically the experience that I had as a railway mail clerk, and I think that was a big, big plus in the assignments that I did in the regional office, all stemmed on my knowledge of schemes, schedules, and all of that type of information that we applied while we were railway mail clerks.
INTERVIEWER: Earlier I know you said that in your grip, you carried your overalls, shoes, and extra canned goods. Was there anything else that you carried with you?
Jim Briggs: Well, yes. Your kit box that you left at the grip room was usually a -- my particular one that I still have, donated to the Rail Museum, it was a tin box that would accommodate your clothing and some extra supplies or headers that you used for your assignment. For example, if you’re a letter clerk, stage clerk or whatever, you would have to have your own headers to run in, and you would carry those in your kit box. And when you left home, you had a smaller grip, and in that grip, you would have your revolver, your pistol, and also your labels, facing slips that you had to cut up and stamped at home with your road stamp, as we called it, we would change each time we would go out. You had to stamp up all these facing slips that went on the back of a letter that had your name, your train number, and also on the back of your pouch labels, sack labels. And then also you would have whatever your really needed for your trip. And also you don’t want to forget your lunch. So you always had your lunch, but that was in a smaller grip that you would pack if you came to work on public transportation or whatever. But the big box stayed down usually at the grip room at your outer terminal.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember the longest trip you ever worked?
Jim Briggs: Yes. Probably the longest was not so much as working. I had an experience in 1958. We were going up on the Sierras on Train 22 and we had heard that they were having quite a blizzard up on the hill in Roseville but never thought much about it. And this was a trip that was just prior to Easter and the mail volume was quite heavy with all the Easter cards and so forth. And we got up to the top of the Sierras and we came to an abrupt stop, and not knowing why. A lot of times a train would stop en route for various reasons, to let a freight train go by or whatever. But shortly, there was a knock on the door and [indiscernible], “We’ve hit a snow slide outside of the tunnel and the fireman and the engineer are buried in the cab Can you help us? We think they’re both dead.”
So this crew, we went up into the diesel engine at that time and engines were still hammering away and the fire bells. We got up to the front end where the cab was and there was a firewall behind where the engineer and the fireman sat. We had no tools but we found one crowbar and the door of the cab went in. But what had happened is that when they hit the snow slide, the windshield of the diesel cab was knocked out and the cab was thick with snow, you couldn’t have packed it any tighter. So it took us quite a period of time to dig in enough to where we could see the fireman. He had tried to get out of his seat and caught him going over so we finally got him loose but we never could hear or see the engineer on the right side; we assumed that he was dead. But later as we kept digging towards that direction, we saw his head, and as it turned out, he was not seriously hurt but the fireman was and we took him back to the RPO car. So I guess that was the longest run because we were up there for two or three days before we could finally get a train up to get to us.
So that was quite a long trip, but at that time, we had all the mail worked up, but we had to get out of the RPO car because it got too cold and when the fuel ran out of the diesel engine, there was no more heat in the car. So we went up to about the third storage car which was an old vintage car that still had a potbelly coal stove. So we got into this car and it happened to be a car that was carrying a consignment of railway express items to Truckee, California which turned out to be French bread, unsalted butter and asparagus. So we had quite a feast on asparagus by putting it in the coffee can and getting a fire going in the stove. So that turned out, I think, to be the longest run that I was ever on.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember how many hours it took for you?
Jim Briggs: Not really, Caitlin. It just seemed like an awful long time and I don’t really remember how many hours. I know that eventually it was a pretty good overtime. Our old crew got accommodations from the Southern Pacific for our efforts and also the postal service for our assistance in getting the engineer and the fireman out of the cab. Also, one of my co-workers, John Durst [phonetic], who at that time used to carry his camera with him all the time
-- and I have some outstanding pictures that he took, showing the cab and what the engineer had looked like in all of this snow, so that’s one of my treasures in my memorabilia that I have here at home.
INTERVIEWER: While you were working as a railway post office clerk, did you have a family?
Jim Briggs: Yes, I did. We had two daughters. My wife was a registered dietician, and when we first got married, she was a dietician at the local hospital, Eden Hospital, where our two daughters were born. We had our first daughter, Susanne, I believe it was in 1959, and two years later, Mary Lou came along. So we started our family. We lived up in the hills behind Hayward, California at that time, and then later, we moved to Castro Valley where we spent most of our time and the girls growing up and going to school and so forth.
INTERVIEWER: How did you cope with leaving your family behind on long trips?
Jim Briggs: Well, it got to be sort of a routine. I’d have to say that Joyce, my wife, a lot of times had to make decisions, that things would go wrong, things would stop up or overflow, and I have to say that she took a lot of things on her shoulders and coped with it. We had, at that time, some nice neighbors that knew that I ran on the trains and would give Joyce some help if she needed it. And then when I would return home from a trip, I would have a couple of days before the next trip, and in that time your trip accumulated depending on your particular assignment, about every 40 or 50 days, you’d get about ten days off in a row. So a lot of times, you would have a lot of time at home, and at that time, that’s when I would be able to do a lot of things around the house to help my wife, Joyce, and so forth and so on. But I do think that a lot of the Railway Mail Service wives were pretty good troopers to have to have a lot of things on their own while their husbands were gone.
INTERVIEWER: Did your wife like your job?
Jim Briggs: I think she did. I never recall ever complaining or saying, “I’d like to have you at home,” and so forth like that, but I think that she accepted what I did, I enjoyed what I did, and there were a lot of benefits to it. In the later part of my postal career when I was home, it was going to work every day, changed things a little bit but I think she accepted it. But there were some families that the clerks really had to bid for other assignments because of the family situations at home.
INTERVIEWER: What are some of your fondest memories of working on the railroad?
Jim Briggs: Well, I think some of the fondest memories were that the men that I worked with, the camaraderie that they had, working together under a lot of pressure, team work. There just was a lot of good, good men. One of the things, Caitlin, that when I started, I was rather young, just about 20 years old, I guess, and a lot of the older clerks, when I got to sort of thinking about it in later years, they took the examination in 1936 during the height of the Depression years, and to get called up as close, as fast as they did, they had to score really quite high on the civil service exam. And a lot of those men, if they would’ve had the opportunity to go on to college, they could’ve probably been in a lot of professional whatever, but they were very, very good men, very dedicated, and I think I got a lot of pleasure having an opportunity to work and to meet those men.
INTERVIEWER: Do you still keep in touch with any of the former clerks?
Jim Briggs: At this time, there is only a few, Caitlin, that are left, and it’s sad and it’s a lost breed. And truthfully, we have a small group that meets every other month in Berkeley but that’s getting down to the point where there’s only three or four that are able to come. Most of us, including myself, have disabilities and we just can’t do the things that we could a few years ago.
One of the things that I felt is that the Railway Mail Service was a very, very important part of our postal system and having the ability to be part of it. So I took on myself to sort of collect and squirrel away as much memorabilia as I possibly could find of my own schemes and schedules and photographs, and things that I was able to pick up at the regional office when the Railway Mail Service was coming to an end, that were going to be thrown out into dumpsters. So at this time, I’ve been very pleased that I’d been able to help out restore a railway post office car that is now part of the Golden Gate Rail Museum at the Niles in California facility.
And as it happens that this railcar is UP 5901, and this car was on the City of San Francisco and it happened to be one that I made many trips back from Lovelock to Oakland on the City of San Francisco Train 101, and it also was the car that was snowbound on the City of San Francisco in 1952 where so many of the passengers had to be rescued during some severe blizzard conditions. So when the Railway Mail Service came to an end in 1967, this particular car was taken over by the Union Pacific and made into a work car, one of their work trains, but fortunately, they painted it a terrible, terrible color on the outside but they didn’t take out the letter cases or the rack so it’s pretty well intact so I have been able to, with another clerk, set up headers in the cases and we found some pouches and sacks to put in. So we’re trying to bring it back basically to what it was when it was running on the City of San Francisco, and they’ve gotten some grants to try to restore it, re-paint it. So I’m having a lot of enjoyment being able to donate a lot of my trip reports that show my name in this train to this car because I feel like all of the things that I’ve squirreled away, now have a place where I can get rid of them and I know that they’ll be looked at and perhaps seen in the future.
INTERVIEWER: Did the post office ever issue you anything either for your safety or for the position?
Jim Briggs: Not really that I can recall for safety or -- no, not really offhand, I can’t think of anything. Most of all we had was that when you were making catches when the train was moving at 70 miles an hour and you had to make a catch at a nonstop station, you had to have a pair of goggles to put on to protect your eyes but I don’t recall that they were ever issued, and if they were, I never received one. I usually had my own goggles and the -- no, not really, Caitlin, that I can think of.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever experience a dangerous or bad situation working on the railways?
Jim Briggs: The one experience that I guess was sort of frightening in the sense that this was on the estranged [sounds like] city of San Francisco and we were coming back into the Bay Area and we had just stopped at the Berkeley Station and put off mail, and our next stop would be Oakland 16th Street and then on to the Oakland Mole, and myself and John Durst who I was running with at that time, we were standing in the doorway because it was just a short distance from Berkeley onto 16th Street and we had some mail that we had to offload from the storage car, and we were just kind of standing the doorway, and all of sudden, there was a big -- the train started to rock and roll and a lot of things started flying back towards us from the outside, and also we got the smell of gasoline which was always something feared that if you ever hit a gasoline tanker on a crossing, that can be a pretty dangerous situation. And all of a sudden there was just a cloud of red dust that came flying back and it came in to where we were standing we were just covered with this red stuff.
When we finally were able to stop and the diesel engine was de-railed off a little bit and we had hit a semi-truck at a crossing, which is now the Emeryville area that was carrying a sort of paper sacks of some red insecticide or whatever. At that time, we were covered in the stuff and I know today, we would’ve probably been hosed off and cleaned up and they would’ve had people out there to be sure that we weren’t contaminated. But as I recall, we just shook ourselves off and when they finally got things cleared out in front of the train and we were able to continue on, we never thought much about it. I’m still here so I guess it didn’t affect us too much.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever hear of anybody who experienced anything dangerous on the railway?
Jim Briggs: One time I heard of a situation where the clerk was going to go to make a catch at a nonstop station and the catcher arm wasn’t securely in place so when he went to grab a hold of the catcher arm, it sort of slipped out and he came close to going out of the car, and I guess that was one of the most dangerous things that I had heard of and that was one thing that after that experience with that clerk, I always made sure that the catcher arm was in place and also faced the right direction.
The other thing that I recall now that you mention this, we used to, on the slow mail train, Train 22, stay in the Reno Station for quite a period of time being that they had to unload or offset some cars that would be put off at the Reno Station, and one of our clerks that was a Reno helper that got off at Reno and laid over there until Train 101 the following evening stayed on the car to talk to some of the clerks. And as the train started to leave, he hesitated a little bit but then decided he was going to get off and he sort of tumbled as he got off the train as it was moving pretty good, and his grip went one way and he went the other, and I was looking back and when he came to a stop from rolling, he was very, very close to the wheels. So I’ve always thought that he was a very lucky individual that he didn’t really get hurt.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever face or witness any type of racial discrimination as a railway post office clerk?
Jim Briggs: No, I never did. That was something that the clerks that were, I guess, African Americans were clerks that you truly enjoyed working with them. They were all very, very nice people, and some of the best clerks that I ever worked with were African American clerks. I’ve really never recalled any discrimination.
The only thing that I never really enjoyed was at Lovelock, Nevada where we got off the train, there was a small town, it was about 90 miles east of Reno and about 70 miles from [indiscernible] county seat, Pershing County, the county is larger than the state of Rhode Island. But that town, for whatever reason, there were two hotels and the hotels wouldn’t accept African American clerks. They could take their meals there but they wouldn’t give them a room so they had a place further down where they all stayed. And I know that was very disturbing to them and it was to me. I never thought it was right. I, in my life, never grew up with discrimination so that was one of the things that I never liked very well. But that was the only situation that I ever experienced was that at Lovelock and the housing there, the hotel.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever hear stories of anybody who did experience racial discrimination?
Jim Briggs: Not that I was ever aware of. Truthfully, I don’t know what those men tell. I’m sure they had their feelings and I know that probably among themselves, they would discuss it. But on the train, in a crew, I never, ever experienced it, not in any of the crews that I ran with. Truthfully, some of those fellows were good clerks. They were just good clerks, good people, and good friends.
INTERVIEWER: Were you a member of any type of outside organization such as a union or club that was affiliated with railway postal clerks?
Jim Briggs: Yes. Most of us all belong to the -- I can’t really recall the -- it had some affiliation with the CIA [phonetic] or whatever the unions were. We had no union rights but they were sort of a representation that you paid dues and they also had a hospitalization plan as I recall. And right off hand, Caitlin, I can’t really remember what it was called but it wasn’t something you had to do but you just felt that the legislation that they were able to provide would be of assistance to the Railway Mail Service and trying to get raises because we were all reliant on what administration was empowered at that time depending on raises or anything like that so they were sort of a lobbying organization too that would help to try to get more benefits for the Railway Mail Service.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that you ever wanted to change about your position as a railway post office clerk?
Jim Briggs: Not really. I can’t right offhand. Maybe later tonight, I can think of something, but I can’t really think of anything that I would think of to change. No, I really can’t come up with any one thing. I think it was a very professional group of people. Your pride and what you did, and -- no, I don’t think so, Caitlin.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. What do you miss the most about being a railway post office clerk?
Jim Briggs: Well, I guess the thing that I would say that I miss was the camaraderie, the friendship that we had working together under close confinement for long periods of hours, being able to co-exist, I guess, that it was just a -- you put in long, hard hours and you put in a lot of time but I can’t think of anything that I would consider changing, I guess.
INTERVIEWER: And for the last question, is there any other information you would like to share with researchers and the public about your position or experience with the railway post office? And this can be any sights that you saw, interesting things you found in the registered mail or just funny stories that you have.
Jim Briggs: Well, these funny stories, there were always things that went on in the mail car, the camaraderie and having fun and so forth. Some of the things I think I’d better take them to grave with me, I guess. I don’t know. Maybe later tonight, Caitlin, I can think of things that went on. We did pranks with one another. A lot of times, somebody would be in the washroom and somebody would take a broom and hit the ventilator there that would put soot down where they were standing or just things that were always in good nature, and so a lot of the times -- I think that those were things that -- some things I think I’ll just keep to myself.
INTERVIEWER: Are you sure you don’t want to tell them? You don’t want the stories to get lost in history.
Jim Briggs: Well, the stories that you think about -- one of the situations that -- whether I should say it or not, but on Train 22, at one time, we had a -- one of the clerks was of Polish descent and he had speech impediment, he sort of stuttered. And one of the clerks that happened to be in the pouch rack further up in the car had a tendency to tease and sometimes it would be a little bit too much. Well, he would have the tendency to sort of tease this fellow who was helping me on the paper end and I know Mike, the fellow, he told me said, “I know he’s making fun,” but he said, “I just take it.”
It turned out there was -- we used to have to take some of our mail into the storage car, we just had no room down at the paper end to store it, and for some reason, Mike couldn’t get the door open. It sort of infuriated him and made him mad, and he went up through the car and got the axe off the wall behind the washbasin and came back through the car with his axe up in his hand, he went right by the fellow who was doing the teasing, and he turned white and everybody else in the car didn’t understand what was going on except me. So when he got there, he hit the back of the door and got it open. But after that, nobody ever teased him after that, so that was kind of a lesson in not teasing too much.
INTERVIEWER: And is there anything else that you would like to say?
Jim Briggs: No. I guess, Caitlin, at this point in my life, I’m rather on the young side at this point, 82 pushing 83, that I wouldn’t change anything that I did. Making that choice to go over to San Francisco and see what this job might be, and over the years, where it gave me the background to do what I was able to do in the regional office, was all stemmed on my having all the scheme knowledge, how to put out the corrections to schedules and to make schemes. I got involved in making schemes for the San Francisco airport for routing of mail. I ended my postal career in the western regional headquarters and I was a coordinator for the routing of the international military mail into the Pacific. I had a lot of responsibility. But it all basically all stemmed on having my railway mail background of schemes and schedules, learning the postal laws and regulations, that I think provided me the ability to go as far as I did in the regional office. So I think the Railway Mail Service is something that I treasured very, very much.
And I know about 1949, they changed the name of Railway Mail Service to, I think, it was the Postal Transportation Service, that at that time would encompass clerks who worked at their mail fields and terminal. But for us who ran on the trains, we were always Railway Mail Service clerks. We were not Postal Transportation clerks. So I still have my original badge that says, Railway Mail Service, and I’m very, very proud of having the career that I did have. I don’t think at this point I would’ve changed it for anything.
INTERVIEWER: All right. Well, if there isn’t anything else that you would like to say, that will conclude our interview.
Jim Briggs: Okay. Well, that’s about it. I can’t think of anything more. I will later tonight, I’m sure, probably a few things I wish I hadn’t said. But it was a very enjoyable career. I feel that the things that I have accumulated here at home, memorabilia, that there’s going to be a time where this is all going to be history.
One of the things that I really enjoyed, last year they had an open house with this mail car -- actually a couple of years ago, it was the 40th Anniversary, I believe, of the ending of the Railway Mail Service, so the Golden Gate Rail Museum invited several of us clerks to come down to be docents. So we -- after setting up letter cases, I set up a little letter case of states that had all of the states in the United States, basically like we had worked on the train. Well, as people came through and we would try to explain what we did and how we did it and how we made the catches and how we protected the mail, so forth and so on, while these little youngsters would come through, I would ask them, “Would you like to be a railway mail clerk and work some letters?” At times, they were a little hesitant but pretty soon, we had a lot of letters laid out on the ledge there, states [sounds like] that people had donated, and pretty soon these youngsters would get in, putting Texas into Texas, Maryland, and you could see that they were having a lot of enjoyment. So I think there’s a lot of history that I hope that this car in the future would be able to provide some kind of a museum to keep the history of the Railway Mail Service still intact, and I’m having a lot of fun trying to help them as much as I can.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Well, I would really like to thank you for sitting down and talking with us. And we do have your press release form in the mail, so if you could just sign that and then return it whenever you get it, that would be great. And right now, we are trying to get started a newsletter about the Railway Mail Service and it’s going to go out to all of the former clerks and their families that we still keep in contact with.
Jim Briggs: That’s wonderful.
INTERVIEWER: Yes. I’m supposed to be getting that set up sometime next week so just be on the lookout for it. I don’t know when it’s going to be sent out but we’re hoping to have them [indiscernible].
Jim Briggs: If I may ask, with this interview being recorded -- how will that be encompassed in the Smithsonian Institute? Is it something that people -- I don’t quite understand how it would be used. Is it something that is on a tape?
INTERVIEWER: Well, the recordings are digital and what’s going to happen with them is, online, the National Postal Museum has an online exhibit about the Railway Mail Service, and it gives researchers information and the history of the Railway Mail as a part of the United States postal service history, and one of the sections on that exhibit has to do with oral histories, and they can sit down and listen to the different stories that former postal clerks had and just listen to their experiences with their career.
Jim Briggs: I see. Well, I hope that it does help people, researchers, in the future because I do think that it would be nice if you were able to sit down and interview a Pony Express rider to know all of their experiences because they carried the mail across the country. I think this -- hopefully, the Railway Mail Service will be remembered in years to come as a very important part of our movement of mail across the country.
INTERVIEWER: Me too.
Jim Briggs: Well, hey, it’s been a pleasure being able to talk to you. I have no idea what the heck I said but I hope it was okay. It was a very enjoyable occupation. Like I said, I don’t think I would’ve changed the experience and also the people that I had the privilege to work with. They were a special breed and I don’t think that the postal service will ever have that type of employee. I don’t think that -- I'm not saying that they’re not good employees or good workers but I don’t think they’ll ever have that pride and the knowledge that we had. So I better leave it at that.