Charles Hutchcraft Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: Could you please state your name and affiliation with the Railway Mail Service?
Charles Hutchcraft: Okay, Chuck W. Hutchcraft and I was a distribution clerk on the Railway Mail Service on the train as well as the Highway Post Office.
INTERVIEWER: Which rail lines did you work on and which locations did you travel in?
Charles Hutchcraft: Well, they called it the C&A. Actually, the railroad was Gulf, Mobile and Ohio but they called it C&A as the destination Chicago to Alton that way which ended up in St. Louis, Missouri, Chicago to St. Louis but they did call it the C&A. But I also, back then they called sub. The first one out is sub from Chicago to Memphis in various lines. You had to do [indiscernible] the job you could get after the mail clerk, see. So you might be out there as a substitute for 14, 16 days at a time. You might be going to Chicago return trip in the -- maybe stop at 63rd Street and call your name and say would you like to ride on train 25 tonight? And, you know, even though you thought were going home. That’s the way it was.
INTERVIEWER: All right. How long did you serve as a Railway Post Office clerk?
Charles Hutchcraft: Probably about seven years, something like that because back then I was the youngest man out there. I’ll be 73 next month so how this train, how it flies, you know.
INTERVIEWER: And then what made you want to become a post office clerk?
Charles Hutchcraft: Well, number one was the job security and the retirement, and first I used to be a parts man and I could always remember numbers. You well know back then you had to memorize various states like you had no zip codes back then so you have to know, if you’re somebody you get a town like Mason, Illinois, you’d call that like [indiscernible] C&A Water or something like that, you know, a train line. So I actually now would enter it and sure enough I’d memorize every town and post office in California, Michigan, Missouri and not all but, you know, you had to be live on three examinations; at least three states you had to know how each one of those towns got their mail. And I know when I studied California, I know I had 46 separations in there, what we call scheme box, it was headers like the name of it is San Francisco or LA or whatever it is. You memorize every town in that particular state and then when you're due for a scheme examination, they would take 100 random post offices and maybe give you seven minutes to dispatch those cards into the box and you’re allowed I think make six misses and if you flunk that examination three times, you no longer have a job.
I was very fortunate I never did flunked one. I had to learn 16 towns everyday for those 1,400 post offices in that particular state. Some of those were big like California. If you had two sections what they called northern half A and south B, and that’s the way it was. A lot of good people lost their jobs because they were too smart, you know, I won’t study today, you know. But you had to study every day, like even to this day. I remember you’d always save your study scheme case in your room because you wouldn’t want to take time off if you’re going to pass the scheme. That’s why they called it a scheme.
So that was the life of a mail clerk for quite some time. If you [indiscernible] seniority list you know, but I made regular on the Highway Post Office. I ran that thing from Chicago to St. Louis and now on that it maybe -- maybe you’d like to start out on a Sunday which I did, it will be only two clerks on that and we’ll make the turnaround to Chicago, to Springfield and back to Chicago.
But to make this story even better, I used to live in Flora, Illinois and I’d ride to Effingham to catch a train, the passenger train. I did arrive as a passenger on [indiscernible], so to speak, and when I get to St. Louis, why, I’d catch my home train, I’d ride the [indiscernible] on it and then when I get to Springfield, I get off the passenger train and ride up into the mail car and then go to work as a mail clerk on the train. That’s where your life was when you were subbing out, you see. It was very interesting on my day.
INTERVIEWER: Which positions did you have on the railcars?
Charles Hutchcraft: Well, I was just a distribution clerk. I worked it all, pouch racks, paper case, letter case, the whole bit. And on the HPO, if you work the pouch rack southbound, well, you’d work the letter case northbound. And like I said, that’s just the way it was but you were -- once you were sent, nobody sat down. Anytime there’s anything to do with the mail, everybody working until everything was done because each crew, we were subbing out there while you’d run on every crew whether it be one, 25 or whatever the name of the train was and everybody tried to outdo everybody else. They’d say, well, wait a minute now, we worked more mail than you did. We’re stuck with a bad name on the mail train because we always tried to get the mail up and the old timers, they say, hey, I heard 25 went stuck X amount of feeder mail, you know, or something like this, bragging rights, you understand? But that was a good chapter in life I wouldn’t trade for nothing in the world because just to feel [indiscernible]. Like I say, I’ll be 73, 22nd of next month. But --
INTERVIEWER: And -- Okay?
Charles Hutchcraft: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: And then could you describe a typical day on the railcar for any one of the jobs that you worked on the railway?
Charles Hutchcraft: Well, number one, we have what they call advance time, for instance like Chicago, you might have to go in there, every job had a job description. I don’t know if you -- some people have to come early and we call it dress the rack. In other words, you have to hang the sacks, the pouches in the racks, have to get everything hung so when the rest of the crew come in, there might be just two of you to hang the little pouches and sacks, you know.
And then you might have six more or seven more people coming in who’s ready to go to work. But what we would do, you’d do the pouch rack man, why the mail bags would come in from other trains in Chicago and head out that’s why there’d be [indiscernible] Chicago with a 25-X or Fort Madison or something like that. You say, wait a minute, the guy inside the door receiving the mail from the other trains -- you say, wait a minute, I got 24 more sacks of mail coming in here and instead of coming in the train, why, it passed him, the pouch rack man, it had what they called the LAT. And at that time everything was locked up [indiscernible] and they’d dumped the pouch and you sort it out on the pouch rack table and if it’s directed -- you know, every letter in that package was going to St. Louis, Missouri or then you might what they call a facing slip and identify what was in that letter package.
You could tell if it said Arkansas, it’d have a facing slip, Arkansas, which we were working southbound, or Texas. Or then you’d throw the Arkansas package to the Arkansas clerk, it would have a letter case that said Arkansas only, you know. The other guy would have Texas only. The other clerk, he would be working Illinois for that particular package would have Illinois on what’s called the facing slip, you know, to identify what was in that package and determine whether you know as clerks whatever state they might be working. They had to go through that separated for the large cities, small cities. It wouldn’t matter, you know.
And then after that, they’d [indiscernible] in the case and then come tie-out time, they have to tie it out and tie the package for St. Louis and throw it to the pouch rack man, you’d throw it in the St. Louis pouch. In the meantime, the travel period, what they called a local, that was where they had a catcher arm on the side of the mail train and you might be running 60 or 70 miles an hour. And as a rule, the pouch rack man was a guy that has this on his assignment - he had to put the goggles on, tie out a town -- the pouch for a small town that we wouldn’t be stopping at and he would -- the conductor of the train would blow the whistle and we’d have what they called landmarks. While you’re running, you’d say, well, you’d see an elevator out there or shipping of the tracks especially at night and you’d go to that door, the pouch rack man or local man, whatever you call him. But then he’d go and throw the pouch off and [indiscernible] catching arm out there and catch the pouch for that little town.
And so then, in fact, there’s another thing, your name was on every label, every facing slip, and if there was an error in the dispatch either way, catching the train or pouch of mail, the dispatcher, he was on the hot seat because you made a mistake. And so therefore, you made very few errors out there because, number one, the clerks on another train going to Arkansas, they’d like to say, hey, those people from Illinois really messed this one up, you know, they dispatched this to the wrong section or whatever, you know. But yeah, it’s remarkable.
And another nice thing about this, too, if he was running northbound, well, you know, you had one southbound as well and we knew exactly where the other train was at. And if there was a letter or a parcel, whatever the case might be, but it’s going the wrong way, we would make a pouch and leave that to the next nearest train station or town and it would automatically send that other train to stop while it was going in the right direction. So therefore, they wasn’t no delay of that piece of mail. It was a good thing back then because we had a lot of pride back then. We didn’t like to -- when you spoke of being a mail clerk, you got to take a lot of pride in that. And so that’s the way things were set up.
[Indiscernible] old timers who had to leave and get all the mail tied up before we get to whatever our destination was; I’d see two old timers sat down and take a scheme book. The scheme book managed to tell you how each town got their mail. They’d be arguing about how to get this letter home 45 minutes [indiscernible] if you’re going to start out like this. You know, that’s what kind of pride they had. I always found that pretty remarkable, you know.
I still remember even though when I get excessed and they took the mail off the train, why, most of these guys went to a stationary unit and in my case then, I got excessed off the Highway Postal which I say they called HPO, you know. In fact, they had an article in PBS station up here in Mattoon, Illinois and I didn’t get to be there for that but they had an article on the TV -- I mean in the newspaper as well and I didn’t get to participate in that because I wasn’t around that particular time, you know.
But I called them back up because in the article, they mentioned about the HPO where they kind of hit the sore spot with me you understand. And so anyhow, later on, why, I had an ex-RPO clerk, I saw him the other day and he said they were going to start having meetings of the RPO clerks in Mount Vernon, Illinois so I look forward to that.
So outside that, yeah, you just put it like this, maybe I shouldn’t record this -- I got to tell you, you got to have real humor, you know. I remember the first time that I ran on the IC, I was running [indiscernible] for the clerk in- charge and that would be case number one and I got there and the headers, the letter cases, it was worn off [indiscernible] so it was that duty assignment for that -- the regular man that worked that job would be a clerk in- charge, we’d just call it a supervisor in the stationary unit. They were called clerks in-charge.
That’s number one man. That was their job to make sure that you had headers where you could put into the letter case in case the town you put in [indiscernible] and I’ll never forget that trip in Memphis. I was just starting out and I had that head case and believe it or not, I didn’t sit down till I -- from Chicago all the way to Memphis. I’ll never forget that. And of course when we got to the end of the run, we’d always say, well, [indiscernible] to go out and eat, you know. Well, they told me that I’ll never forget and said okay, I’ll be with you. Guess what? I hit that bed and I never eat. Never eat no supper, I was so tired. So I’ll never forget that as long as I live. [Indiscernible] INTERVIEWER: All right.
Charles Hutchcraft: But again, it was a rough life because we would be out there and you’d stay in the hotels. For every six hours and 25 minutes, you got what they called a per diem, you know, to help pay for your hotels and what have you. And, yes, you’re right, I’ve stayed in some pretty bad hotels because I used to light up my cigar just to flame the roaches, you know, and I’d never [indiscernible] be there very long, you know, and neither [indiscernible] but the main thing is that it’s very convenient from that train station. Plus, the fact that if there was a convention going on in that city at the time, they knew when you was coming in and you weren’t always sure to get a room. But, yeah, it’s quite an experience but it was a rough life.
It really was because we always carried -- in most cases what they called a register clerk that’s when you, on the HPO, I used to handle a lot of money going to the capitol of Illinois, Springfield. And we’d all wear a gun. You had to go to gun training and so therefore, us guys would have what they called the LA chain on our keys, you know. And they could always identify a mail clerk when you’re walking down to the train station or whatever. You knew who you were talking with and it -- like for instance, I’ll never forget another time and this was my first run on my own line, when I got to St. Louis with one of these guys, it was like 7 o’clock in the morning. So we went to this bar probably along with them, you know, and they had a restaurant as well in there. So I told them we’ll eat breakfast, you know. And we go in there, and guess what, these guys ordered two beers over easy, you know, and way back I didn’t even drink. So I never drink when I was starting on the road. It used to be with food and I’d sip a few suds, you know. And of course I got it all out of the way now because I don’t drink now, you see. Things like that, you know, you always remembered a lot of things.
Everybody worked as a whole. That was the main thing. I’ll never forget I did have a China man come out there and believe it or not, as a rule, like I said, advance time, we, like I say, [indiscernible] rush and get the stage set, so to speak, for the show to begin. And as soon we would pull out of the station, normally we would sit down and take a lunch break. I’ll never forget one time we had a China man on there, he was back there eating with chopsticks. With that train running, I’ll never forget how the hell did you do that? Needless to say, he didn’t last very long because he just -- them pouches of mail, it was really -- they had a boy who told me one time when I went to the stationary unit, he said, all you RPO clerks [indiscernible]. I said, well, I tell you my friend, if you lifted your weight and put it over your head when you stacked that mail in the train storage area on the HPO, you really had to stack ‘em well. So you did a lot of lifting.
It was a rough job because I don’t know -- I was on -- I was sick, I had a -- when I first went in there and they put me back out there, said you got to be on light duty when they let you go to work. Well, guess what, I never told my clerk in-charge I was on light duty. Yes, you're right, I was right in the door, checking on the heavy pouches and I was lifting that stuff up and throwing them and I could probably got in trouble but you use two pounds, say, more light duty I can’t do this. And all through my life I’ve always said I’m not going to be on light duty if it kills me.
INTERVIEWER: Now, I know that you said that you stayed in some really crappy hotels while you’re on the trips. Was there anything else that you kind of disliked about your position?
Charles Hutchcraft: Well, I’ll tell you what, not really. Just the idea that I know because I had -- like I said I rode that train from Effingham to St. Louis and get off to go to work. But then when I first had to head out of Springfield, that’s why I was running from right next to it because a lot of times I’d stay up in Springfield at a boarding house. And I know I would go there, and there’s one sight I’ll never forget it, especially I didn’t have a very good night sleep. When you see that train coming down the track with the head light gleaming, you say, wait a minute, I think I’d get to work. But at that time, it’s job security but there are a lot of things that stuck [indiscernible] somebody how much mail you’re going to have on that trip or what have you.
But no, as a whole, the scheme examination is -- that was the bad part for this. You know, back then, we had bumping rights, we’d have the Reorganization Act. You might study a whole state and all of a sudden they’re going to have a reorganization and you better start a whole new state. You might have been studying Missouri, next thing you know you got bumped and you had to [indiscernible] the young guy, you know, so then you’d have to start studying Texas. That was a bad thing because after I retired, I become a business agent for the Illinois’ Postal Workers Union for 37 years and that was one thing -- matter of fact is I’ll be in a national convention in Detroit next month but the fact being the bumping rights used to [audio glitch] all the time. And now the seniority will prevail I’m sure of that. Let’s hope so.
INTERVIEWER: Was there a particular type of car that you worked on the most as a railway postal clerk? Charles Hutchcraft: Sixty-foot. Most of mine were all 60-foot RPOs. They did have some 30-foot but they were terrible, they just -- not enough room, you know, storage and still maneuver. So the 60 RPO in fact had more clerks on it because you had to make up some pouch racks as well as the newspaper rack. The 60-foot RPO that was the best one.
INTERVIEWER: Alright. And when you were working on the railroad, were -- do you remember what your starting salary was?
Charles Hutchcraft: Let’s see. I think when I first started out, it was $1.50 -- two something [indiscernible] we were level six out there. And level six -- I retired as level five so when I got excessed over the train we had a salary protection for I think it was three years but then the bad thing about that was we couldn’t get a job until up to 180 days. I remember that I went in to the stationary unit, I would go to work an hour early and this guy, I could say he’d come an hour later after I came in and he’ll leave an hour early and that’s why you become involved in the union. This is not going to work, but that’s what it was. [Indiscernible] that’s some of the difficult times I’d say.
But you live -- you learn to live with those things in life, you know, so you can’t -- you can finish it. So you can’t cross the finish line unless you keep to the grindstone or you’re going to finish last in every category.
INTERVIEWER: And then towards the end of your career on the railways, do you remember what your ending salary happened to be?
Charles Hutchcraft: Well, I really don’t. It was not too good but, I mean, come a long way as far as that goes because we had a -- I can’t -- I really can’t say how much it was but I’d say a lot better than work as a parts man like I was in the garage or just a plain laborer just like right now, the state of Illinois is -- minimum wage is 8.25, I think, this coming week. It was a much better job. The main thing, you know, when you were a regular out there, you worked six days on and be off eight days. That’s the beautiful part about the job that all this time when you were off you were studying or you were stamping up your name on facing slips or the label that went in every sack of mail, pouch of mail, you know, so it wasn’t free time. But that was part of that, six on, eight off. Now I know on the Highway Post Office, I’d work five and nine because I might give 14 relief trips, I’d be off 14 trips, because [indiscernible] such a long day.
INTERVIEWER: What did you typically carry with you in your grip while you were on trips?
Charles Hutchcraft: Okay, first of all, like I said, your grip is, normally you’d have one and it’s pretty durable because, say, if you would throw it up to the train you got a lot of scratches on it but you’d always pack your gun, your thumb stud, your ring knife and any kind of labels that you had on your particular case. There’s a pouch, you’d have all the labels run out so you got any -- going to write up information and naturally your clothes. And then you’d always have your scheme book so if you did get in an argument with an old timer you’d have to duck and make your case and prove it to him. But anything like that you had to have of course your gun, you’d have a particular case you was on. Everybody didn’t carry a gun, you know. The clerk in charge [indiscernible] but I know this, I’ll never forget. I was -- when I was subbing out there I got on the old train 7 one night and somebody got sick.
So I’ll never forget this, the guy’s name was Bradshaw. He said, hey, have Chuck there work that registered case. They called it reg case. I didn’t call it reg case but it was money you had going in the pouch rack there. So don’t you to know I never had worked that job before. But I worked at, guess what, at the time that guy was off, I had to work it. And I never did forgive that guy for that, you know. And I gave a testimony, when he retired he was operating, naturally I didn’t tell him I had a nice few stories like that for him. I’d say Warren, I said, thanks a hell lot, my friend. You made me a reg man, I was [indiscernible], you know, stuff like this. But we had a lot of fun.
INTERVIEWER: And what was the longest trip you ever worked? Charles Hutchcraft: Chicago to Memphis.
INTERVIEWER: And then do you remember how long that took you to get from Chicago to Memphis?
Charles Hutchcraft: I forget now but it was -- hard to keep -- forgetting the whole line, but it was a long, long -- it was a long day into the night deal. After six hours and 45 minutes when you got your per diem so you were, hey, at least I might get to sleep at a hotel room which I can’t wait to get to that bed. The bad thing about that, that train would continue on to New Orleans or whatever and when that train made a return trip. I’ll never forget this either. It’s been hard to get in the mail car because that mail was stacked all the way up to, I mean it was jammed up with mail sacks. And I may see you have so much running time you got to get as much mail worked out because the next town, you may have a letter from Anne Sue in there, you know, so we always bust ourselves trying to get all that stuff for the next town which is impossible like I said to you awhile ago, that’s why you have the return train, you know, you’d always dispatch it back in case you didn’t, you know -- but that was the longest trip -- the longest trip. I know – good thing I was a young man, I had little hair in my eyes on my head.
INTERVIEWER: While you were working as a Railway Post Office clerk, did you have a family?
Charles Hutchcraft: Yes, I did. I had two children. Christina Lynn I was talking about and Chuck Jr., right? And believe it or not --
INTERVIEWER: And --
Charles Hutchcraft: Excuse me just a minute.
Charles Hutchcraft: Go ahead.
Charles Hutchcraft: Because I was about to tell you [indiscernible] side of the life that I won’t do that. INTERVIEWER: Oh, well you know what, I do have a question at the very end that asks for any other information or any funny stories or interesting stories that you’d like to share, so just remember that and then we’ll get to it at the end of the interview. Okay?
Charles Hutchcraft: All right.
INTERVIEWER: How did you cope with leaving your family behind on long trips?
Charles Hutchcraft: Well, number one, you always hated it because time lost with family you’re never getting it back and that’s one thing you have to endure. You have to go to the bank and that was a case [indiscernible]. That eight days off would go so fast that you couldn’t leave but then maybe for instance you can have something to do at home or your family had something going on. At that time, I was with the children [indiscernible] and things like this, you wasn’t there. It could be [indiscernible] that was really hard, believe me. You know your son was having a ball game or something like that so you couldn’t be there. So that was the sad part of going back to work, leaving home.
INTERVIEWER: And how did your family cope while you were away on long trips?
Charles Hutchcraft: On long trips, well, like I say to you, I was [indiscernible] telephone and that all had their jobs to do [indiscernible] do that and of course the [indiscernible] not as much now but both parents working. [Indiscernible] the wife had to be the husband and the wife while you were gone. [Indiscernible]
INTERVIEWER: And what are some of your fondest memories of working on the railroad?
Charles Hutchcraft: Well, the fondest memories, like I said, is when you get out there, you’d meet so many people. See, we used to -- I guess I’ll explain how it relates to this. But as far as the mail service, it’s just that the way everybody worked is a team. You know, seriously out there, I mean, you get that point in all those factory styles, working hard teams and all this. We were actually a team out there and I only saw one big argument out there. I’ll never forget that.
Like I said, outside of that, it was a joy to get on there, like I said, everybody pitched and worked hard. And so, like I said to you, everything, it was a delight to do this but the main thing like you had what they called a railway pass like I’ll have it for -- I’d have at that particular time and I make better, I have a Chicago head out, you know, where you drive your trains [indiscernible] meet a lot of people and friends [indiscernible] to a scheme why -- and should have [indiscernible] with somebody says I’ll give you a study scheme so you could make sure you come back on the pass.
But no, the highlight of it all was [indiscernible] RPO and had a good name back then. I was only in one wreck, I mean HPO one night. [Indiscernible] always say, hang on boys, you know. And I’ll never forget the part that was raining and the clerk in- charge [indiscernible] that night. Sure enough there’s a door in between the working section of the HPO and the driver. You see the HPO, I mean the railroads honed in the HPO as well and the folks [indiscernible]. But I’ll never forget you said, hold on one time, one night and the clerk in-charge, he is so hard that you will come and that guy ended up down in the floor [indiscernible] with the HPO. And I know the [indiscernible] in front of my house and they’re asking me about the incident. He said by the way, how come that you didn’t fall? You know, I said, my friend, and I said, after 35 years -- he was younger, you know, and out there you had to stand for the [indiscernible] some kind of -- even when I went back in to the stationary unit, I couldn’t [indiscernible] standing still. I have to be moving, you know, just to [indiscernible] a habit you got into you know. But there’s a need to -- you heard all that. I’ll never forget that.
The highlight of it all, like I said, if you’re good at your job you had a good name all the way from the assignment clerk in the main office in Chicago and they will never tell you personally [indiscernible] so you did everything required to make this star -- the bright star shine the best you could all your life.
INTERVIEWER: All right. Do you keep in touch with any of the former clerks?
Charles Hutchcraft: One that’s left, I have one friend that -- friend’s here in Illinois that I do see quite frequently because he has this -- we worked at Carmel [indiscernible]. I think other guys are [indiscernible] beer chaser and he worked the mail like I do. I just [indiscernible]. We do stay in touch like that. Like I say, there’s not that many of us out here, you know.
INTERVIEWER: Now, earlier, I know that you mentioned that the post office issued you a gun and then they also issued the clerks who ran the registered mail a gun. Did the post office ever issue any of the clerks anything else for their safety or for the position?
Charles Hutchcraft: No, as a rule, of course the schemes and all that kind of paper would come free of charge but as a rule, you had to buy your thumb stud, your ring knife, or anything like this. But no, the Post Office didn’t furnish a whole lot. You see the nice thing about it was, when you have that mail train, you might look like a postal inspector. But see, [indiscernible] homeless bum because you put your cap on and your working clothes, you know, and sure enough once we had a few guys out there, when they get off that train, they really looked like a postal inspector. But no, it was -- they never did supply you too much business material.
INTERVIEWER: Were you ever in a dangerous situation while on the railway?
Charles Hutchcraft: Like I said, anytime you're on a local standing in that doorway and you're running 60, 70 miles an hour in the middle of the night, you know, that was kind of always dangerous. A lot of people got hurt, killed or some would think. That’s the reason to this day we informed the union did, the ABA, what they call Accident Benefit Association, they called it the ABA because we couldn’t get insurance because they say anybody that crazy standing in the door and running that fast and throwing a piece of mail off, [indiscernible] and trying to catch another had to be out of their head, you know.
So like I say, I’m paying my dues right now because it was called Accident Benefit Association and we started like that. That was the scary part. Actually, on the HPO because I always thought we have an awful lot of crooks in this thing, in this mail car. And I know when that HPO, you could always -- learn -- the drivers who were driving it. But on the train, you were at the mercy of the conductor -- the engineer because we’d always run parallel to the highway, you know, an interstate or what have you. And you could always -- the baddest [indiscernible] of your heart was you could always see where you were going to hit a car that’s trying to beat across the track and we’ll be delayed as a rule. It was the fatality, you know, and that was a bad thing about that.
I mean, you wouldn’t be scared but, yeah, he was -- yeah, you were getting that per diem but sure your heart went out in some place or somebody will always say whenever a car can out run a train but then a few people do it and they still do it to this day. That was really a bad part of the thing, you know, you took somebody’s life. I’ve always worried that we would have one heck of a train wreck and all those crooks and what’s in that mail car would -- I mean, flying like bullets because, you know, impacts and a volume like you wouldn’t believe and it can get a lot of people hurt in that kind of condition.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever hear of anybody getting hurt or being put into a dangerous situation like that?
Charles Hutchcraft: No, not really. I really don’t remember anybody getting in the line I was on. One time, we did have a guy who might have had a beer before he came to work well naturally they put him off the train before we even left the station. But that was about the only time I ever remember anybody getting on the train, well, you can tell he had been drinking and of course that wasn’t tolerated. But that’s only one issue that I remember. And the clerk in charge said, well, you better get [indiscernible] or you can’t make this trip.
We all had each other’s back, you know. Like I didn’t believe it either how [indiscernible] he knew that this scheme backward and forward that you never know what happend. It’s like you say what did happen when he had to leave his house and family, you know, so there’s always two sides to this story, I’m just saying, Caitlin, that’s the way it is.
INTERVIEWER: Right. Did you face or witness any type of racial discrimination while you were a post office clerk or Railway Post Office clerk?
Charles Hutchcraft: I’ll tell you what. Now, I’ll tell you from seniority, on the HPO one night, I’ll never forget it. I was clerk in-charge and I remember that two black fellas -- well, friends of mine and I was working in another case, maybe in the pouch rack. So all of a sudden they were talking and about down south when -- they wouldn’t have other [indiscernible] well, they just kept going on, you know. Even though I was the boss, so to speak, you know what I did? I quit workin on the mail for my letter case, opened the door, had a stool and sat down and rode with the driver up in the cab.
And you know what? It probably wasn’t four to five minutes, everything gets [indiscernible]. He said, hey, Chuck, man, we’re sorry. He said, you were talking [indiscernible] and you don’t like him back here again. They knew that I could raise hell like that, but after that, I said, look, cut that out, you know. Get the hell working the mail or something like that, I did it because they were working with him. But I didn’t. I just went ahead. What they did that day was wrong but to this day, when I get back Chicago or else I gave them a ride to his home for he had 15 kids, I think. Matter of fact, he made more money as we stayed as a substitute than he would make as a regular clerk. He made more money.
But the other guy, he was a heck of a guy and overall, actually, that’s the only incident I’ve ever had, we were to be in racial incident. I know when I worked in the Chicago Post Office, I used to work in the main Chicago Post Office before I went out on the train, but I know I had a black supervisor and I know he’d always say I don’t want to go home because I live in a hotel for about a year before I made the railroad, you know, RPO. But he used to say -- I’d say, Mr. Davis, I’m not going back home next weekend or whatever. He never did turn me down about needing me to go home.
Another thing I’ll tell you this real fast and I wish that you won’t say nothing about the racial experience that I would even it’s Christmastime, these RPO clerks sometimes would [indiscernible] post office, had workload, you know, advance time and didn’t want to go [indiscernible] if you were off that week. But I know [indiscernible], I would be a show off with him [indiscernible] we’d go in and we worked like he’s on the train and boy, that [indiscernible].
But I sure wish [indiscernible] this kind of people in here but I thought race riot right then. Those guys have been smart [indiscernible] throwing that mail and hell, there were supervisors up there and he was, we’ll take a break. Oh, hell, I’ll tell you, it was quite an experience. Always being show-offs, you know, because we could really throw that mail. We really did, but as far as the racial -- I really never had any of that. Just that time in the HPO that night and [indiscernible] made our relationship a lot closer what it ever was because I didn’t say nothing. I just went to sit down, they knew why I did. And there’s no point in rebuilding two big guys, you know. That’s the best way to handle those things.
INTERVIEWER: And did you ever hear about anybody who did experience some type of racial discrimination while on the railcars?
Charles Hutchcraft: No, I never did. I really didn’t. I’m sure it -- well, I won’t say [indiscernible] that’s a question. No.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Were you a member of any type of outside organization such as a union or a club that was affiliated with the Railway Postal clerks?
Charles Hutchcraft: Well, see, I became involved in the union, actually, we had a Reorganization Act in 1970 or ‘71 but then out in the stationary unit, you can’t [indiscernible] but as far as that. What they called a PTS or something like that, I was always on their side but I’ve been more so since I got off the road and involved in the hearing because you see, it’s been 40-some years that I’ve been involved with the union. And 30-some years, I have been a business clerk [indiscernible] I always liked to help people and I would travel around from one post office to the other to see if there’s any violation of contract and make sure they were going to be happy. So I miss that too.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And we’re almost -- I only have a couple of more questions. Was there anything that you ever wanted to change about your position as a Railway Postal clerk?
Charles Hutchcraft: Well, I was going to say longer layoffs, right? No, I didn’t -- like I said, even to this day, you had a lot of people with you and your name is on the label and I always thought there was no point having your name on that particular label because you had helpers throwing that mail the same as you. And as a rule if you do something wrong, boy, I tell you, you went back and dug that piece of mail out to make sure you got the right thing. But that’s the only thing. I thought that something like that had no meaning whatsoever because now they [indiscernible], you know.
Normal things like that should have been [indiscernible] when your layoff, you say, well, yes, [indiscernible] but that’s not the case because you have a lot of homework for that kind of stuff. It’s not going to be writing a report to you, yes, I’ve been doing a good job this week and you were standing right there beside them. Why did you report it? You know somebody who’s doing their job.
But as far as the -- some of the facilities on the trains, we did have many personnel, it was really dirty, you know. It was just a dirty job. You just lined up behind the engine. Now, I got to tell you this, though. I know you said for the funny so you put this [indiscernible] on the line [indiscernible]. Starting out on Sunday night, Chicago, I don’t know if you’d had breakfast. I just finished mine but we were headed southbound and my clerk in-charge, his name is Bill, Bill Lattenberry [sounds like]. We called him Bob Bill because he always [indiscernible] railroad, you know. He’d walk with his hands straight up and I’ll never forget the first trips in HPO. This [indiscernible] diesel tins come up to the floor board a lot of times and remind that floor board [indiscernible] another story.
But anyhow, he got so sick that he turned around and he got sick all over me. And this is our first trip you understand. He was going to Chicago, I was way down in Southern Illinois, and you only normally would take two or three change of clothes because you know what your running cycle is going to be. And there I was, I think [indiscernible] I’ll never forget that. He got so sick. He did -- I’d say, “Damn, Bill, at least you could have done is took my cloths home and washed them out. I had a hell of a trip that night. I tell you right now. But again I’ve got to tell you this, I know I’m jumping the gun here but I want to do it while I’m thinking of it.
One time I was the only clerk on this HPO and I was coming out of Chicago. And as I said to you, we always carried a lot of money. Well, believe it or not, we got out, just left Chicago, we went out there probably all 15 hours and that bus goes down on us. Would you believe this? I had because I -- it’s my responsibility, I had to notify the office and I get somebody I cared to take all that money off that bus. Here’s [indiscernible] remarkable the story. We were going to get this HPO back to Chicago. Believe it or not, I’ll never forget this, this guy is driving this old [indiscernible] and I say the motorist sat right in the middle of that big old bus. Well, I’m only about 5’8”.
Anyhow, we took that bus and I laid on my stomach and got a hold of [indiscernible] on that big old bus and we go back to enter the interstate and we really have some busy traffic and I [indiscernible] I knew just about how much RPM to get that thing up to shift gears. Well, he was right up there and shifting gears and I was back there controlling the engine speed of the RPO -- I mean rpm, you know. I always thought we got into the main office.
How the hell did you ever get that thing in [indiscernible]? I’ll never forget that, you know. That was kind of funny with me. We had fun.
INTERVIEWER: All right. And what is the one thing -- Charles Hutchcraft: Then I feel young again, you know.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, I can believe it. What is the one thing that you missed the most about being a Railway Post Office clerk?
Charles Hutchcraft: I sure as hell saw some good looking ladies out there, absolutely. I had an awful lot of fun out there because like I said you would – I’m a jukebox fan and I got all these songs, Highway 29 is playing right now as we speak, and this guy is on the road and I don’t know if you’ve heard of that song or not. But it’s Highway 29 and that always made me think of that and the RPO because he was out there on Highway 29 and he’s going to be away from his home. They were in the back side of your mind. You know there’s this good looking waitress or so and so and so that you met. And it was kind of a -- I don’t know don’t get a bad opinion of me [indiscernible] but just like I said, you’re young and, the heat sometimes [indiscernible] turn up, so to speak, you know. But it was a lot of fun.
I missed all the people out there because I did meet a lot of people. A lot of people. They gave you as well, they recognize, you know, when you weren’t there they’d always ask where you was at, I don’t know what you -- I guess the nice thing about being alive is people caring [indiscernible] problems. People always saying, you know, what the hell happened? And my wife, she was 55 and I had a hospital bed in my home for about nine months and she got down to 61 pounds. And so I mean you owe a lot to life. But I did.
My whole life is [indiscernible] if I knew you better by just this interview so I’m going to tell you that anytime that I shot -- when I went to a steam room and I would make a bull’s eye not missing it, not one error, you know what I would do? I’d treat myself to the best I knew how. I’d always reward myself. I really would and like I say, there were good things back those days. So like I said, I’m a -- well, my twin sister, she says -- my name is Charles and she’s Charlene and they call her Charlie. She says, “Charles, how do you keep going like you do?” I said, hey, it’s just this way, baby. I said, you know, you’ve got to enjoy your life. You can’t sit on that easy chair and wait [indiscernible] six months to finish that [indiscernible] so far. And that’s not my cup of tea. I just -- I like to be among people.
Anytime I have to be so busy in my life that I could only have to shave half of my face, hey, I’m in trouble. You know that? I believe in really getting out there and being a part of somebody’s life. I always say, I always like to think that if I haven’t -- become a chapter in somebody’s life or do something interesting in the day time I had bad day. That’s what I’ve always been. So I guess I ramble too much here, sorry.
INTERVIEWER: That’s okay. We are towards the end of the interview now with the last question, is there any other information that you would like to make accessible to researchers about your experience or position with the Railway Post Office such as any interesting stories?
Charles Hutchcraft: If I told you some of the stories -- the doctor, the guy is still living [indiscernible] with the contract on my head because there’s a lot of funny things I tell you. Okay, I will tell you this now. I know -- I’ll never forget [indiscernible] name. He’s a big guy and he’s like to sing, we walked into this bar. Of course, we’ve been there a few times and he says [indiscernible] he said, hey, we don’t allow singing on that stage. I tell you. Well, the first thing you know, he’d be up there singing. Well, we had -- I have it so, you know what would happen. We’d walk to the -- right down in [indiscernible] Street, downtown Chicago. We always [indiscernible] because it was pretty back then than it is now. You know, we’re getting a hotel room, we had to get to the RPO car and we’d get in to sleep on the sacks and the pouches and when we wake up, we’d have pouch racks, we’d have what we call trash. We’d have that whole train register [indiscernible] the boy said, you guys got here damn early. We said damn if we [indiscernible] stay all night. That was a [indiscernible]. We were young enough and we’d party and still did a nice job. And, yeah, we’ve had a lot of things like that like I said. And we still talk about it. The fact is this guy, he retired -- he didn’t retire, he quit the mail service and become a policeman. We still talk about them nights that we used to have like that. Like I said, I just had so many good times and so many stories I’d never tell in an interview because some are pretty damn bad, Caitlin, I’ll tell you that, you know. You’d have to censure this thing sure as hell, you know?