Oral Histories: H
Mr. Hagy joined the Railway Mail Service in 1944. His career with the RMS was only briefly interrupted in 1945 when he joined the Navy during World War II. Upon his return, Mr. Hagy worked for the Railway Mail Service until 1966. He ran on the Abingdon and West Jefferson, Washington and Bristol, Hagerstown and Roanoke, and Bluefield and Norton lines. Mr. Hagy also worked on the Highway Post Offices.
Gayle Hagy (GH) Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: So first, what made you decide to work for the Railway Mail Service?
GH: [laughs] It was a job! This was World War II, I was 17. I had turned 17, graduated from high school. And my brother-in-law worked for the local Post Office, and gave me the information for this. That’s how I become interested.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me a little bit about,what it was like for, like an average day, with the RMS? Like what sort of schedule you had, what hours you worked, what the conditions were like on the cars?
GH: The first trip I made was on a branch line, it was Abingdon and West Jefferson, which was my hometown. It was an all day job, a one man run. And it, well, it was very interesting because I was only 17. I had turned 17, and it was different, and I enjoyed it.
INTERVIEWER: Was it hard all by yourself?
GH: No, I worked with somebody else. This was my first trip. And I was with someone else. And, he said you wanna go tomorrow? And I said yeah, I would, and I did. I didn’t get any pay for it, but I went. And it was a long time before I made a run by myself. It was election day, 1944, I made a run by myself. Didn’t know which way it was going, but I made it over and made it back.
INTERVIEWER: Did you work with bigger crews later on different runs? Or did you mostly work the same run? GH: I worked first on that, then on Washington and Bristol, and they were usually, during the war they wanted people at home and not in places to sleep on the Washington, DC, so they broke them up. I ran into Monroe,
Virginia, for a long time there. And, I was on that and in Washington DC for a long time, well, not for a long time because I was in the Navy in 1945, so I only worked about eight months. I went to the Navy, then I came back and went to work for the Post Office.
INTERVIEWER: Did you just work for the Post Office when you came back or did you go to the RPO again?
GH: Yeah, I went to the RPO. ‘Til 1966 I worked the post, 1966 when they started cutting the service off. And I was the bottom man on the seniority list in 1966.
INTERVIEWER: Did you like working by yourself, or with a larger crew, better?
GH: It didn’t make that much difference. I enjoyed both of ‘em. I worked more with a large crew than I did by myself, but I enjoyed both of them. With a crew you were going into Washington, DC, and back to Bristol. So I enjoyed that too.
INTERVIEWER: So did you do anything, when you got to DC? Was it mostly just find a place to sleep, or would you go see anything?
GH: Yes. You did not have much time. Sometimes, according to what trains you’re on, a long time, and we, usually eat and went to bed in the YMCA. It was in Union Station. Second or third floor, I’m not sure which it was on, of Union Station. Sometimes you had some extra time, but not very often.
INTERVIEWER: What was your favorite part of the job? GH: Well, I don’t really know.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything you really didn’t like about it?
GH: Well, long hours, sometimes, and dirty work. It was mostly all steam engines so you had, you were, it was dirty, and that part I did not particularly care for. But it went with the job, so you had a job and you had to do it, so, it wasn’t the best part but you had to do it.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember ever running into any danger?
GH: No. I was in one wreck. In, it was on the Bluefield and Norton, and this was at Richlands, Virginia, they run us in on a side track for a freight train, but it just happened to be some cars on it. Didn’t hurt me, but I looked up and here come the water cooler, and down the aisle with ice falling out the top of it. You were on the floor, there wasn’t any place to go. I didn’t get hurt. One guy I was working with got hurt, but not bad, went to the hospital, had sutures, but I didn’t get hurt.
INTERVIEWER: Did that delay the train and the mail very long?
GH: Yeah, they had to take him to the hospital, so it was delayed, I’d say an hour or so, it was 19… the early ‘50s, so that was 60 years ago, so yeah, it did, probably an hour or so.
Mr. Hammond started his career with the Railway Mail Service in 1956, He ran on the Charlotte and Atlanta Railway Post Office until 1962.
Robert Henry Hammond Interview Transcript
Robert Hammond: My name is Robert Henry Hammond. I went to work for the Postal Transportation Service, Railway Mail Service in 1956, October 1956, I believe it was. I worked in the PTS Terminal in Atlanta, Georgia and then the transfer office there at the -- well, as a substitute in both transfer offices. And then I became a regular at the airmail facility and then I became a regular at home in Charlotte-Atlanta and let’s see it was on March of 1957. I was out there until July of 1962. I actually left the service and I came back, in, let’s see, it was like March of ‘64 and stayed up on the road as a sub until the following January and then went back in to the airmail facility. So I had about I guess a total of six years on the trains. I was on the Charlotte-Atlanta as a regular between ‘57 and ‘62.
INTERVIEWER: What rail lines did you work with and which locations did you travel between?
Robert Hammond: Charlotte and Atlanta was when I was regular on and that ran between Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia. We also overlapped with the north end to Salisbury, North Carolina, sometimes. That’s a southern railroad. As a substitute, I ran on that one as well as Nashville-Atlanta, going to Nashville and Hamilton-Atlanta going to Hamilton and Knoxville-Atlanta going to Knoxville, and Chattanooga-Atlanta going to Chattanooga. Most of those are southern. There’s one it was [indiscernible] I think.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And just to clarify that you did serve as an RPO clerk for approximately six years, you said from 1957 to about 1962, correct?
Robert Hammond: Yeah.
Robert Hammond: Yeah, and then also in -- yeah, in ‘64.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, yeah. Why did you want to become a Post Office clerk? Robert Hammond: Oh, I just needed a job, you know.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that appealed to you about the job? Robert Hammond: You mean, after I got on it?
INTERVIEWER: Just, you know, the reasons for picking the RPO.
Robert Hammond: Well, I think at the time that I went to work I was looking for a job and that one happened to be available and I passed the test and was appointed and then I found out more about it right, and, yes, I wanted to go on the train from the terminal position that I was inducted in or reported to you or whatever have ya, because that seemed a little bit more exciting or whatever, travel or what can you say?
INTERVIEWER: All right. What positions did you have on the railcars?
Robert Hammond: Well, you bid on various jobs and so you worked the various ones. I worked on pouch racks, I worked on paper racks, I worked on letters, I worked on registers at one time or another, so I guess the most time I probably spent on paper racks which is where you distributed newspapers and usually did the local, you know, the exchanges and one thing or another.
INTERVIEWER: All right.
Robert Hammond: You know what I’m talking about? INTERVIEWER: I do.
Robert Hammond: Okay.
INTERVIEWER: Could you describe a typical day on the railcar?
Robert Hammond: Okay. I take a shuttle down at 34. As an example, we went to work at 6:00 a.m. in advanced time in Atlanta. We had three hours of advanced time from six until nine, during which time we were receiving mails from incoming trains. Of course, the first thing we did when we got there is hang all the racks, the pouch racks and the paper racks and the letter clerks then run their headers into the cases and whatever have you and then we begin receiving mail and begin to distribute it. We usually left Atlanta at 9:00 a.m. and we had various stops up the road. I can tell you right now how many or how many exchanges. I could probably name them off still but I don’t know that you want to sit there and count. But let’s say we had I think five between Atlanta and Gainesville, the exchanges and one stop at Buford and then we had several stops like [indiscernible] and then Dacula and then we got into South Carolina and we went maybe five more to Greenville and about seven or eight to Spartanburg and three more to the North Carolina line and maybe eight to ten into Charlotte, okay. So, you know, it was a long day, very hot, the mail -- well, I say that depends on the time of the year, of course.
The mail cars had no air-conditioning and, you run with four doors open usually in the summertime. Originally, when I went out there, there were no gates or anything. Later on they put gates in the doorways to keep mail from falling out because we had a limited amount of space and it was quite common to stack mail at the door.
Very little of it ever fell out by the way, but there were some and so at some point and I’m talking about not on our line necessarily but throughout the system. Eventually, they put gates, it came down and you could stack against those. Help me out. What else do you want to know?
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Did you like any of the positions you occupied or did you dislike any of them, and if so, why or why not?
Robert Hammond: Well, I guess to a certain extent you endured all of it but you enjoyed a lot of it, too, okay. There was a certain camaraderie and a certain team type of situation where you help one another out to get work up in between stations which didn’t happen too much on our line because we were what you call a trunk line. We were catching mail all the way from California going north and all the way from the Maine coming south. We had a lot of mail but on some of the smaller lines I get caught up quite frequently and we would get caught up if we, let’s say missed a major connection somewhere because of a late train or whatever have you. But, yeah, there was a certain camaraderie, there was a certain amount of foolishness which was carried on as well. You know, having a real joke on one another or whatever have you. But, at any rate, help me out here. What else you want to know? INTERVIEWER: What type of car did you work on?
Robert Hammond: Sixty-foot. I have worked on 30s as well but 60-foot most of the time. INTERVIEWER: Okay. And when you worked on the railways, what was your starting salary?
Robert Hammond: Oh, gracious. I do know my starting salary in the PTS which was a regular I mean, like 39-10 a year but I think when I went on the road it was like 42-something, $4,200-some a year. Of course, this was in 1957 when I went on the road, I think. Yeah, that’s right.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. So for the railway you don’t remember what your salary was? Robert Hammond: That’s what I’m saying, about 4,200, somewhere along there, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: All right.
Robert Hammond: Somewhere in that neighborhood, yeah. INTERVIEWER: Okay. Do you remember your ending salary?
Robert Hammond: I’m going to guess and say probably 62 or something like that, somewhere along in there. INTERVIEWER: Okay. For the positions that you occupied, do you think that this pay was fair?
Robert Hammond: For that time, yes. For, you know, the date and time, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. What did you typically carry with you in your grip while you were on trips?
Robert Hammond: Oh, just an extra change of clothes plus I had labels, maybe a pair work gloves or thumbstalls. Do you know what that is?
INTERVIEWER: I do not.
Robert Hammond: Okay. It’s just a little cover of your fingers so that you could peal letters off easily. INTERVIEWER: Oh, okay.
Robert Hammond: A ring knife, you know, to cut twine with and labels would be two different kinds. There’d be labels for letters which are like pieces of paper that you put on top of a letter package, and labels for sacks which are, you know, go into the holder. Right now, I can’t think of anything else. If I happened to be running in-charge which I did sometimes, I might have the post mark and things like that. I had a gun, you know, revolver.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. What was the longest trip you ever worked?
Robert Hammond: I guess the longest was one where we had a train breakdown and we stayed in Buford, Georgia all day long and then we were hauled back to Inman Yard and then we jumped on a deadhead all the way to Charlotte and caught the train coming back so that we never really, really, really stopped. We were working all the time but, yeah. So it was like, maybe, what, 24 to 28 hours something like that. But I wouldn’t really call it a trip. Normally a trip would be, let’s see, some of them would run from, say, nine o’clock at night to eight the next morning and then eight the next night to six or so the next morning or something like that. I mean, that -- some of them that I ran on but --
Robert Hammond: There are a lot of lines that had much longer trips than ours because we were just going on a shorter distance, you know. Okay?
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Did you have a family while working as an RPO clerk? Robert Hammond: Yes, a wife and a baby.
INTERVIEWER: How did you cope with leaving your family behind on this trip?
Robert Hammond: Well, we weren’t really gone that long. I mean we were gone a day and a night and then back the next day and then another day and a night, back the next day and then get four days off. So it was like a four and four or at one time I think they changed it to a six and six that you had three trips and then six days off, so. Actually, you got a whole lot more time at home probably than the average person.
INTERVIEWER: All right. How did your family cope while you were away on the trip?
Robert Hammond: Oh, very well. My wife is very resilient anyway. That was never a problem.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. What are some of your fondest memories of working on the railways?
Robert Hammond: Well, if I can remember that long, you know, like I said, I did enjoy the team spirit or camaraderie. I had a lot of friends I developed out there and I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a great place to see the world. I mean for the most parts you were busy. But, yeah, there were some interesting things that happened along the way.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Do you keep in touch with any of the former clerks? If so, what are their names and if you have their contact information we would be more than happy to receive that as well?
Robert Hammond: No, I don’t. Almost everyone that I worked with out there is dead today. I imagine there might be one or two but I don’t know who they are even. I’d get up until the late ‘80s I went -- I continued in the Postal Service and I was posted to the D.C. area at that time and I kind of lost touch with anybody here in the Atlanta area. But I was one of the younger clerks ever to be on that line, I guess. I went out there when I was like 22 years old. Most of them were World War II people or beyond, so I don’t really know if they’re still living.
INTERVIEWER: All right.
Robert Hammond: I did run into one young man, Johnnie Page, and you probably have him on your list and he’s still around, I know that. I was up at the meeting that we had or the reception that you had at the Smithsonian and I had a word with him later out at the airport, the Atlanta airport. And so I was glad to see him and I do keep in touch with him now, even as far as I go by email. So I won’t say that I don’t know anybody. I didn’t run with him. He was on a division that ran out of Atlanta into Florida.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Did the post office ever issue you anything either for your safety or for the position you occupied?
Robert Hammond: We had a revolver and we had -- I guess other than that a pair of gloves, right. I don’t even know if they -- no, they didn’t give you those. You had to buy them, buy them in. But the revolver was to protect the mail not to protect yourself.
INTERVIEWER: Why to protect the mail and not yourself?
Robert Hammond: Well, because I think the last freight train robbery was somewhere in about 1939 or somewhere along there but that was the purpose of the revolver was to protect the mail.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Were there ever times of danger while on the railway? If so, please explain.
Robert Hammond: Yeah, I got caught at a catcher crane one day at Suwanee, Georgia coming southbound. So on 37 we were running probably a little bit too fast. If I had to guess, I’d say he was clocking close to 75 or 80 or more and the train was somewhat rocking and when he lifted the catcher arm it caught the crane. You understand?
Okay. So in other words, it caught the pole and dragged it up side the train and of course you just tore it all loose in the ground and the metal pole and everything just disintegrated more or less. It completely strained the catcher arm. And, yeah, that’s a dangerous situation but I wasn’t hurt and it all happened so fast I didn’t even hardly know it.
I was also on a fire [indiscernible] 34 going north in the middle of winter. The train crew had -- or I mean, the ground crew, you know that services the trains in the Atlanta terminal station there, they had taken blow torches and tried to unfreeze our pipes which they did but they started a smoldering fire in the boards underneath the car. The fire burst through the floor at Chicopee, Georgia which is right south of Gainesville. And we pulled the emergency cord, stopped the train, got off, managed to save some like 17 pouches for New York City, something like that, the rest of them was all burned up. In fact, there was significant amount of coin and money that was burned up because it was at that time located in the middle of the car as registers to be put off at Camilla, Georgia. It was a molten melted mass from what I understand from the inspectors when they talked to us about the fire later.
Of course, they wanted to know why we didn’t rescue it but we couldn’t. The car was on fire; we managed to save what we did because it was on one end and we opened the end of the car, to cut it loose from the train. I guess there was some danger there.
I remember one time we hit a combine up in Converse, South Carolina that was full of peaches. When we did, the engineer pulled the emergency cord and was trying to keep anybody from -- anytime the emergency goes on, you have a significant chance of derailing and so there’s a certain amount of danger there. I think I was working the pouch rack that day and I just got down slower and hung on to the tables above me. Whereas most of them got up on the safety bar but where I was I couldn’t get down that easily. Okay?
INTERVIEWER: All right. Did you ever hear of anybody else experiencing anything dangerous on your line or on any other line?
Robert Hammond: Well, I guess I don’t remember right now, but I’m sure that other people have similar tales but I just don’t remember any of it right now.
INTERVIEWER: Not a problem. All right. Did you face or witness any type of racial discrimination while you were a post office clerk? If so, please explain.
Robert Hammond: I don’t think it was significant. I think that when I first went out there that there was still somewhat of a caste system with respect to who washed up first but that really didn’t last very long because I went out there in ‘56 and I would say that by 1960 most of that had disappeared.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Do you know of anybody who experienced racial discrimination while on the cars? If so -- Robert Hammond: Well, I’m sure that the black members felt it, okay. Although I’ve never heard any of them complain about it and I had a very good friend, one that I worked with for many years and thereafter who became quite successful in the postal service. His attitude, I think, was pretty much that those were the times and you learn to live with them and things got better. But that’s just my own assessment of things I’ve heard him say. But I don’t know if that’s how he felt. That’s what he said to me, you know. I’m white, okay. He might talk to me in a different way than he would talk to a fellow black person. I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: All right. Were you a member of any type of outside organizations such as unions or clubs that were affiliated with RPO clerks?
Robert Hammond: Yeah, we had an association and right now I can’t tell you the name of it. I’m 75 years old, okay. I don’t have significant dementia but I have slight dementia, okay. I want to say it was the National Association of Postal Transportation Clerks. I’m thinking that’s what it was. At one time it had been the National Association of Railway Mail Clerks. I believe that’s how it was.
INTERVIEWER: All right. Were you featured in any publications for the organization or group?
Robert Hammond: No, I don’t think so. There might have been a blurb in the newspapers at the time our mail car burned up but that’s all I can think of at this time.
INTERVIEWER: All right. Was there anything that you wanted to change about your position? If so, what was it and why?
Robert Hammond: No, I don’t think so.
INTERVIEWER: What do you miss most about being a Railway Post Office clerk?
Robert Hammond: Well, it’s almost too long ago to remember. I had a pretty good career after which so when it was buried and I did a lot of things with the post office and so I don’t really dwell on the fact that that disappeared by virtue of just the times changing, you know, what it amounts to.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Then, for the last question, is there any other information you would like to make accessible to researchers about your experience with the RPO such as anything interesting or funny stories that you would like to tell?
Robert Hammond: No, I don’t really know of any. You know, I think that in and of its day that it was a very successful and a very efficient way to handle the mail and progress overcame it in terms of air travel is much faster and you just -- the sheer volume that came about made it difficult and impossible to continue that method of distributing and moving the mail. So progress overcame it, I guess, would be what you’d have to say.
Mr. Harmon started subbing for the Railway Mail Service in 1945, on the Cincinnati and Nashville, Cincinnati and Chattanooga, and Cincinnati and Knoxville lines. He worked for seven years, and then was appointed to a regular from Cincinnati to Cleveland. He worked that run until 1968.
Alfred Harmon Interview Transcript
Alfred Harmon: My name is Alfred E. Harmon. I used to run on the Railway Mail Service in, let’s see, in 1945, I was in the military service from December the 7th and until December of -- December 7th I enlisted in the United States Air Corps and I earned four Bronze stars while in the European theater of operations, namely England, Germany, France, and the Battle of the Bulge and South America. I was discharged from the Air Corps in September 1945. In that same month, I started with the Railway Mail Service as a non-certified substitute clerk running round trips from Cincinnati to Nashville, Cincinnati to Chattanooga, Cincinnati to Knoxville for seven years. That was from ’45 until ’52. After that, I was able to take a civil service exam and attained a grade of 89.9 and was appointed as a full-time clerk on the Railway Mail Post Office running from Cincinnati to Cleveland until the demise of the Railway Mail Service in the year 1968. After that, I worked at the Cincinnati Post Office in downtown at the Fountain Square Station as a window clerk, trusting me with $25,000 to serve the general public their postal needs until I retired in 1980.
INTERVIEWER: You’ve already answered the rail lines you worked on. Alfred Harmon: Did I tell you how many I worked on?
INTERVIEWER: You did. You said that you ran from Cincinnati to Chattanooga. Alfred Harmon: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Cincinnati to Knoxville. Alfred Harmon: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: Cincinnati to Cleveland. Alfred Harmon: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: And I know there was one more that you said but I did not write it down. Alfred Harmon: Well, it was Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville that’s in Tennessee. INTERVIEWER: Okay.
Alfred Harmon: I also, when the trains started to disintegrate or they started taking the Railway Mail Service off of the trains, I used to have to go, I went to St. Louis. From Cincinnati to St. Louis, I was on the Railway Mail until that was the end of it and also Cincinnati to Chicago, I ran, and let’s see, St. Louis and Chicago and Cleveland. I guess that’s about the extent of my railway mail service.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And how many years were you an RPO clerk?
Alfred Harmon: From 1945 until they took all the trains off. That was in 1968. INTERVIEWER: Okay, why did you want to work on the railway?
Alfred Harmon: Well, when I was discharged from the Air Corps in 19 -- well, let’s see what -- yes, 1945, my Dad, who was a railway mail clerk, he was a supervisor on the Cincinnati to Chattanooga train and he was a supervisor in the mail car and he told me and also my twin brother, he says, “I think you’d like my job. Since you have been out of the military, why don’t you try to put in an application to be a railway mail clerk?” And he says I’m sure I would like it, which I did very, very much.
INTERVIEWER: And what position did you have on the rail cars?
Alfred Harmon: Well, it’s just I worked the paper case for a while then I worked the letter case and I’d also worked the -- I was the register man. I took care of the register, which involved quite a bit of money, but it was one of those things that on the mail train years ago, well, when I was the first one in there, I’d have to wear a gun because of the way back when, they used to rob the mail train. That’s why I had to carry ammunition with me.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Could you describe a typical day on the rail car?
Alfred Harmon: Well, it was, I’ll tell you, it was -- you worked pretty hard on the mail car and that constant swaying of the train going 60, 70, 75, 80-mile an hour and you had to brace yourself because the rails were not real smooth anything but you’d be going around the curve or something like that and you’d have to hold on to the railing so you keep your balance. Cause it was quite something that, well, it was something that I didn’t enjoy going through.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And did you like all of the positions you worked?
Alfred Harmon: Yes, I did. I enjoyed every time I went out on a run, whether it was -- well, when I was subbing, yes, but on my regular run from Cincinnati to Cleveland, I had a regular job where I knew what I was going to be doing, going north and coming back south.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And did you dislike any of your positions?
Alfred Harmon: Well, I didn’t like the paper case too much because it was a lot of working, a lot of work, hard work working the paper case and you’d have to load and unload your mail car, which was kind of hard to do, but I got through it okay.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. What type of car did you work on? Alfred Harmon: What type of car?
Alfred Harmon: Just a railway mail car.
INTERVIEWER: Was there any particular length that you worked on more?
Alfred Harmon: No. In my railway mail service, it was just strictly a railway mail car and you’d have maybe six or eight people, clerks, on that train and each one of them had a certain job to do and as a sub, when I first went in to the railway mail service, I didn’t know exactly what I would be doing but the supervisors, as soon as I stepped into the mail car, they’d say, well, you have to do the paper case or you’ll have to do the registry case or just a regular letter case or take care of the pouch rack. It was all different jobs that they could put you on.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. When you first started working as a clerk, do you remember what your starting salary was? Alfred Harmon: Oh, man. That’s hard to answer. I think, I don’t know whether it was, oh, I don’t know. I can’t -- I can hardly remember whether it was $1.25 hour or $2 an hour or whatever it was. They kept you and they kept track of how long you were on the train and what time I had to be there and what time I got off. So it added up and I don’t know how much. I may have made pretty good money back in those days. I was making pretty good money.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. What did you typically carry with you in your grip while you were on runs?
Alfred Harmon: Well, in my grip, a lot of times, I’d take a sandwich with me and I always carry my gun with ammunition in there and I’d have my badge on. I’d have to wear a badge to show I was working for the Railway Mail Service and, well, maybe a change of underwear or maybe a change of shirt or something like that because I’d always have to go to a hotel at the end of the road or end of the run and spend the night and then get up and catch a train going south, the next train going south as a railway mail clerk.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And do you remember what the longest trip you ever worked was?
Alfred Harmon: Well, I guess the longest trip, well, I don’t know whether it was from Cincinnati to St. Louis or Cincinnati to Knoxville. I think that -- well, I guess I used to run from Cincinnati to Knoxville, it seemed like a long trip to me. I guess I would say that would be the longest.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. How long did it take for you to get to Knoxville?
Alfred Harmon: Well, it leaves here around, say, five o’clock in the afternoon and maybe you would get in Knoxville at 2:30 in the morning.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Did you have a family while working as a clerk?
Alfred Harmon: Yes. I had -- well, my wife and I, we tried for seven years to have a child but we couldn’t so we adopted my daughter, Kathy. We adopted her, I think in 1959 and then two years later, we had our son. That happened so many times. If you adopt one of your children, next thing you’ll have, next thing happens, you’ll have one of your own children, which was my son. My daughter Kathy was adopted and we got her, she was born February the 5th and we got her as an adopted child five days later, February the 8th. They brought her to my home, my wife and my home, and that was her first child. And then two years later, we had my son, David.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And how did you cope with leaving your family behind on the trips?
Alfred Harmon: Well, for me, it was something I had to do because I had to make a living for my wife and paying off a home and paying off an automobile and things like that. I had to do something so that’s what I chose, to be a railway mail clerk, and I enjoyed every bit of it. I made fairly decent money and I was happy with what I had.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And how did your family cope while you were away?
Alfred Harmon: Well, as far as I know, my wife took good care of my two kids and took care of the house and things like that. By the way, she was a registered nurse also but when we had the children, she stopped nursing to be home with our two children. So, I knew everything was in good hands with her as my wife, and as a registered nurse, she took good care of my home and also my family and herself.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And what are some of your fondest memories of working on the railways?
Alfred Harmon: Well, a couple of times, I’d be on the railway mail car and all of a sudden, you’d hear the air brakes go on. We’re going about 60 or 70 mile-an-hour and all of a sudden, you would have to reach up and grab the railing and hang on just in case the railway mail car went off the tracks and overturns, at least you could maybe save your life that way. But one time, from Cleveland to Cincinnati, we were coming down. I don’t know how far, but we were going quite a spell, quite a good speed, and all of a sudden, the air brakes went on. You reach up above your head and grab the railings, rails, to hang on there, and it so happened we finally came to a stop but what happened, the engine broke away from the rest of the train. And the mail car usually always follows or always hooked up next to the engine. So one of the clerks, we opened the back door to look out and see what’s going on. There was no engine. But it didn’t take very long for them to back up and hook us back up to the engine again. That’s one of the experiences that I had.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Do you still keep in touch with any of the former railway clerks?
Alfred Harmon: Well, I’ll tell you, there’s about only one guy that I still know that I used to run with. All the other ones have passed away. There are not too many of them left.
INTERVIEWER: Did the Post Office ever issue you anything for your safety or for the position?
Alfred Harmon: Oh, yes, they gave me a commendation for being a window clerk at the Fountain Square Station. I got a commendation for that for being a good window clerk and taking care of the public and treating the people the way I should, which I did, and well, like I read to you, it was -- oh, well, let’s see. Yes, I served the general public their postal needs until I retired in 1980. They trusted me with $25,000 to serve the general public their postal needs and I got a nice commendation about how I took care of the money and was audited about every three months and once or twice, I came up a little short but not too much so that worked out all right.
INTERVIEWER: And earlier, you said the Post Office issued you a revolver. Did they ever give you anything else? Alfred Harmon: No, there’s just, when I first went into the Railway Mail Service I had to go down to the office and they would give me a badge and a revolver with bullets and a book on how to take care, keep the revolver nice and clean, and have it inspected about once every two months. I have to go down there, be sure that I’ve cleaned the barrels, and then things like that and so I always passed with good marks.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Were you ever in a dangerous situation while on the railway?
Alfred Harmon: Oh, not really. I can’t think -- the only thing I told you about the engine became detached from the train and we came to an abrupt stop. The air brakes went on and we had to grab the rails to hold on and so that if something would happen to the railway mail car, turn over or something, it would be able to get us out of there.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And did you ever hear of anybody experiencing a dangerous situation either on your line or perhaps another line?
Alfred Harmon: No, not to my knowledge, Caitlyn. I don’t think I remember anybody had any real dangerous deal that I know of.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And did you face or witness any type of racial discrimination while you were a post office clerk on the railway?
Alfred Harmon: Well, one -- now, my twin brother who was on the train one time, I think it was going from -- he also ran from Cincinnati to Cleveland and Cleveland to Cincinnati and I think he had a little confrontation with one of the colored boys as a railway mail clerk. I think he threatened to shoot my twin brother because something about one of them wanted the door open or wanted the window open and the other one didn’t and they just had a little argument but I think it cooled down without any real serious coincidence.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Were you a member of any outside organization, such as a union or club that was affiliated with the railway postal clerks?
Alfred Harmon: No, not really. I just I was in the rail. I was with the Railway Mail Service. My name and address is all in there about and then I’m a member of the NARFE, which is the National Association of Retired Federal Employees. I get a magazine every year or every month, I get a magazine about different postal or retired people from the government.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Was there anything you ever wanted to change about your position on the railway?
Alfred Harmon: No, no, I don’t think so. I just, I was just happy that I was a railway mail clerk and I enjoyed all the years that I put in with it and I had some good days and good times and some bad times, but that comes with everything.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. What do you miss most about being a railway post office clerk?
Alfred Harmon: Well, this is 2010 now and that was back in 1980, well, if I had to do it over again, I’d be glad to go through what I did with the Railway Mail Service. I was happy with the job. I was able to raise my family and didn’t have to want for anything hardly and I’ve had had a very, very pleasant and eventful life as a railway mail clerk.
INTERVIEWER: And for the last question, is there any other information you would like to make accessible to researchers, such as interesting or funny stories?
Alfred Harmon: No, I don’t think I’d know of anything, Caitlyn, at all. I’m just, I’m happy with what I went through and I have a picture of my twin brother and I, we were both, before we went into the military. By the way, he went in the military on December the 7th and I went in on December the 21st. But before then, we were both musicians in an all-twin orchestra which composed seven sets of twins in New York City. And we joined that all- twin orchestra and we just toured all over. We toured up Canada. We toured to Cleveland. We toured Miami, Florida, Jacksonville, Florida, and Boston, Massachusetts until the war came in December the 7th and that’s what broke that up.
Mr. Harvey started working for the Post Office, but soon put in for a Railway Mail Service. He subbed out of Washington, DC, and later got a regular appointment running from Washington to Florence, South Carolina.
Richard Harvey (RH) Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: What made you decide to work for the RMS?
RH: Well I just was with the Post Office and they, they needed clerks for the railroad. And I put in for it. I thought I’d always liked it, and I did.
INTERVIEWER: Did you make more money with the RMS?
RH: Well, yes, you made more money, yeah. That was important [laughs]. Yeah, we were, we were a level higher. In other words, the clerks in the Post Office were level fours and we were level fives, and then we got paid 48 minutes equal an hour, in which every 48 minutes we worked on the train we got paid for an hour because we had to study so much for all the states and schemes that we had to put up.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me a little bit about like an average day for you?
RH: I had one run, that I went to work at 8 o’clock at night in Washington and I got off work the next day at 12 in Florence, South Carolina. This was as a substitute. See, I subbed for, oh, I guess six years. And I ran everything. I ran every which way and everywhere. They would call me by phone from Washington to report to a certain train at a time. But when I went regular, I worked from eight o’clock at night, like I’d got to work at 8 in Washington, DC, and I’d get off at, the next day at 12 something in Florence, South Carolina, and then I would catch a train that evening, at I believe it was 6:30-7 o’clock coming back to Washington, and we’d get back to Washington around 7 o’clock in the morning. And then, I’d go back the same day at 8 o’clock again. I made three trips, then I was off. That was three trips, actually, three trips, I forget the value, but they were both 17 hours of work going down and about 11 coming back, so I think each trip was about 28 hours.
INTERVIEWER: When you were a sub, did the regulars give you a hard time about anything or did you get along? RH: I loved it. If they were still running, I’d still be there [laughs]. And I’m 81 years old. No, I loved it, I always told people that it was like throwing a rabbit in a briar patch. That’s where I belonged [laughs]. I loved every bit of it. Most everybody did. We had a few that didn’t, but most everybody loved it. It was, like we used to say it was the Marine Corps of the Post Office. We were all proud to be there.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever run into any danger?
RH: No ma’am, I never even thought about. I never was in a train wreck or anything. The only thing that I, one time I went down on this train, it got to Florence at 12 o’clock, and the crew that got on said they were from Florida, Jacksonville, Florida. And the crew that got on went down the road about 75 miles and the car jumped the track. And part of it went over the highway side of the railroad track, and one set of the wheels, the car went over the highway the other stayed on the track, but didn’t nobody get hurt or nothing. And then the other time I was in, we were sitting in the station in Alexandria, Virginia, going towards Washington, and the train run into the back end of us. But it didn’t hurt nobody. We had a clerk, he knocked all of us down, but we had one clerk just choke and he says, don’t call no doctor just call my lawyer [laughs]. Didn’t nobody get hurt or nothing, just shook us around a little bit. Just the train, there was another train coming in, I guess it didn’t break fast enough, and run into the back of us.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember any other stories, any other unusual or funny things that happened?
RH: Oh I had a whole mess of funny things, oh yes a whole lot of funny things happened. A whole mess of them. Oh lord have mercy. We just all worked together and had a wonderful time. I still go meet one of these guys he gives me the… two of them I meet the second Tuesday of the month for breakfast. We’ve been off, I got cut off in 1968, so that’s what 32, 40 years ago, that I got cut off. See I came back to Richmond and ended up as post master, where I lived in Goochland. I ended up here as post master. I was post master for 12 years. And retired here. I’ve been retired 20 years.
Mr. Healey, of South Yarmouth, Massachusetts, began his Railway Mail Service at a temporary emergency position after competing with fellow World War II veterans in acquiring a job. He became a regular clerk in 1949, and worked on the Boston and Albany line until 1967.
Bill Healey (BH) Interview Transcript
BH: In like 1946 jobs were few because of everybody getting out of the service, right? And I was fortunate enough to have a friend who put me on a temporary emergency, and that’s the way I started. 1949 I made regular and et cetera, et cetera, okay? Did you have any family that was involved in the Post Office? The answer is that I had an uncle who was a mail carrier. Describe your work place. It was dirty, it was hot in the summer, sometimes very cold in the winter. Alright, what size RPO did you work, apartment or full? I worked on 30 footers, I worked on 60 footers. Mostly on 60 footers. 30 footers were taken off in about the 1950s or 60s. They eliminated ‘em. What did you typically wear? I love that one. We didn’t wear tuxedos [laughs]. No, we wore work clothes, it was a dirty job. You changed your clothes when you go on the train, and you changed them when you got off, okay. Do you mind discussing your pay with us? Well in 1946 my pay was 99 cents an hour, okay? And it went up from there, you know. But that was the starting pay. I can give you hour and dates here if you want them, I’d have to look it up, okay? Next one, do you have any special tools? Well we supplied our own knives for cutting the twine bundles, and we supplied our own headers, which was to tell you where the mail went, and we also supplied our own study cards. We had to buy them ourselves. But we studied different states for examinations. Alright? How many hours did you work on average? Average was anywhere from 9 to 10 hours, you know, if everything was on time. Alright? Alright, where are we here... How many consecutive days did you work? Well, if you were a substitute in the summer where I was, you’d work anywheres from 28 to 29 days a month. In the winter, you were lucky if you worked two weeks at all. If you might not work for 2 weeks without anything. Alright? You got that? Next one, where did you stay between shifts. Well, that’s another one. We used to have an apartment that we all stayed in, and finally we had to move out of there, we went to a small hotel and they actually sometimes some guys would stay at the Railway Y, right at the station. Alright? What lifestyle was particularly difficult to get used to? Well, let’s put it this way. You had to be the right type of person. If you weren’t the right type of person you wouldn’t last too long out there, you know. You had to, you know, like the job, like the things that are all about it. Were you in the union? Well actually, when I was in there was no union, they were called an association then, they weren’t unions as you have ‘em today at the Post Office, the carriers and the other ones. We just had an association. So. Did your family… your wife. Well my wife, like any woman, she didn’t like you away from home at night. But she knew that before we got married, so it made it a little easier, like that was my job. If your wife or children might have any stories, no, they have no stories. Did you have any real good friends? Yes, I did have a lot of good friends.
Unfortunately they’re all deceased. You know, when you go back to 1949 on the trains there’s not too many guys left. Alright. How often did you get tested? Every two years, but you never got repeat for 3 years. You had to bring with you a black book, your gun, a scheme book, they all had to be up to date. Do you understand any of that?
What was your favorite part of the job? Very easy, days off [laughs]. Alright. What was your least… part of the job? Well, working on extremely hot days. You’d go to work, maybe it was 3 hours before the train left and you’d be in the middle of the heat from 2 o’clock in the afternoon to 5 at night. It was pretty warm. Did you ever get injured while on the job? Well, one time I got slightly injured one night when they were connecting cars, I got bumped onto the floor. But there was nothing serious. I know two of us, two people got killed out there. What’s the most unusual thing you ever transported? That’s a tough one, you know. Hard to say with the mail, we just… a lot of money, we had, a lot of money. And, do you have any stories from the RMS? Oh yes, but I can’t tell you them [laughs]. Alright? What was the funniest thing that ever happened to you? Well, roughly, you know, in the course of those years a lot, but I remember one time a kid showed up, he was from Boston terminal, which is a big Post Office, and we were short of help so you called up there and they sent someone down. He showed up with a white shirt on, you know dress white shirt, and I says this isn’t going to last. He didn’t. He got off the first stop, quit, so. Did you or any coworkers ever make a major mistake? I don’t understand that question, what’s a major mistake? INTERVIEWER: Well we were just…
BH: Getting on the wrong train or something?
INTERVIEWER: Well we were just looking for any stories, I know I heard a lot of issues when you would do on the fly mail, of bags that wouldn’t make it to the catcher, or go under the train tracks or something like that.
BH: Well, the catcher sometimes, I seen catchers where they missed, yes. That wouldn’t be a major mistake, but it happened quite a bit, that’s why they stopped doing it. What was your proudest moment in the RMS? Well, I got a couple of safety awards, for suggestions and things like that make you a little happy, you know.
Mr. Hoffman went to work for the Railway Mail Service in 1948, serving as a substitute for 17 years. His first run was on the Fort Worth and El Paso, and during his time as a substitute ran on every line in the 11th division of Texas. Mr. Hoffman bid on a regular job, the Fort Worth and Galveston, which was a very coveted run, and received the position, remaining until the line was discontinued.
James Hoffman (JH) Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: What made you decide to work for the Railway Mail Service?
JH: I was fresh out of the military, I had a job, but I saw the advertisement in the paper and thought well, I’d give it a try, and I ended up second in my class. When they had the examination, you know, for the job.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me a little bit about the conditions on the train?
JH: [laughs] In the summer they were hot and dirty, and in the winter they were cold and dirty. Very seldom did the steam lines work that were supposed heat the Railway Mail car. The rest of the train was fine it seemed like, but boy that mail car was either hot, well of course they weren’t air conditioned, but in the winter they were cold. INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me a maybe a little bit about your schedule?
JH: I subbed for 16 years, on every line in the 11th division. And then I had a chance to go regular on the Fort Worth and Galveston. It was a choice run on the Texas Chief, trains 15 and 16 between Fort Worth and Galveston. And after subbing over there a couple of times I realized that that was a choice job, so I put in for it. 16 years later I get a call from the superintendent, on the 11th division, and there’s an opening on the Fort Worth and Galveston, and did I still want it? So I said, yeah! And I had a whole bunch of clerks that were mad at me. They had been in the service a whole lot longer than I had, but they had never, ever put in for the Fort Worth and Galveston. Especially trains 15 and 16. They were not happy for a while over that one [laughs]. Well, I kept telling them, it’s your fault, you could have got it if you put in for it. Well yeah, but why did you put in for it? [laughs] It was a daylight run, most of the time, between Fort Worth and Galveston. One of those streamline trains that didn’t stop very often.
Had about 32 catchers on the line, and thing always ran about 80 miles an hour.
INTERVIEWER: When you were first starting out as a sub, did any of the regulars give you a hard time? Or did you get along with everyone?
JH: No, everyone was good. My very first trip, I was a brand new sub and I crawled in the mail car and I looked up at the clerk in charge and introduced myself, and told him, this is my first time in one of these things, what do you want me to do? And he told me, and I did it. And at the end of the run we got back to Fort Worth, it was on the Fort Worth and El Paso, and we got back to Fort Worth and he says, sub I think you’ll make it, you did a pretty good job.
INTERVIEWER: Was it a lifestyle that was difficult to get used to?
JH: Oh yeah, yeah. Until I went regular, 99.9% of the time it was night runs, go to work at 8pm and you didn’t get to the other end of the line ‘til 9:30 or 10am, and coming back it was the same way. So that was kinda hard to adjust to, but I learned to make do.
INTERVIEWER: So you worked on holidays too?
JH: I was pretty lucky what I did when I was subbing, yeah. I worked every Christmas and New Years and every other holiday when I was subbing, ‘cause the regulars wanted off all the time. But after I went regular we had a regular schedule that we operated on, and I’d run every one week on a Sunday Monday and the next week I’d run a Saturday Sunday. And the rest of the time it was, you know, you’d run one day and you’d make a two day run and the you was off a day on another run. And it was real good in that respect. I liked that.
INTERVIEWER: What would you say your favorite thing about it was?
JH: The camaraderie with the crews. I never, ever had a clerk in charge get mad at me over something I did wrong. And I did some wrongs, I got demerits like everyone else did. But I never had a clerk in charge get mad at me.
Except maybe one time. We were making a run on the Amarillo and Fort Worth and I’d been in the mail service about four months. We had a brand new sub. He hadn’t been in the mail car. And we pulled out of Fort Worth, heading for Amarillo, we had a box of baby chicks for a little town called Rome, where the train does stop. So I put them in the door opposite to where Rome was, and told the sub well we’ll put those off at Dewey, because the southbound train will pick them up, and it stops at Dewey, it’s the local, and he says okay. So we told him what to look for, for a landmark because he had to make a catcher there, and the clerk in charge and I, just a three man crew, the clerk in charge and I told him what landmarks to look for and after a while he says, I see the red barn.
Okay, now you throw yours off and then you’ll catch the bag. Okay. I went back to work. I heard a bang bang when he caught the bag of mail. And I went back there to get it. And I noticed over there near the door, the box of baby chicks wasn’t there. I went over to the other door where he just caught the bag of mail and looked out, and all I saw was feathers. He had kicked the box of 25 baby chicks out the door. I doubt if any of them survived. All I saw was yellow feathers [laughs]. I went back to the clerk in charge and I says, you’re not going to like this. What, as I handed him the mail from the bag. The baby chicks are no more. What do you mean?! He kicked them off when he threw the bag of mail off. I thought you told him to take them to Rome! I says, I did! You should have been back there supervising him [laughs]. I think those were the only harsh words I ever heard in the 27 years I served [laughs]. When I, when they pulled the trains off I went to the transfer, the transfer clerk’s office and worked at two depots in Forth Worth for a number of years before I went to the [superintendent’s office]… as a railway specialist and you write up the bills of lading for the railroads, how much mail you carried and all such as that so they could get paid for it. But it was real interesting, I liked the work. And I didn’t particularly enjoy the nonstop catchers, because in the summertime you’d look through that little windshield they had for you to look through and you still got lots of cinders and dirt all over you. Especially in the days of the steam engines, because they put out a lot of smoke and cinders. But it was a good job. I guess my best experience was on the Fort Worth and Galveston one day, we were through, we had the mail all worked and we were ready to run into Houston to unload. One person was going into Galveston, and we hit the little town of Orchard. And I was sitting on a stool in the door because I had already cleaned up and was getting ready, and I looked out the door and we hit the switch there, at Orchard, and I noticed a sheriff’s car parked alongside the highway where the track ran right alongside it, for about 40 miles of straight, level track. I didn’t think anything about it, but I knew we were running late, because we left Fort Worth about an hour and forty minutes late. And we back into the depot at Houston and we’re unloading the mail at Houston, and we hear a big argument going on out there on the platform. So the two of us that got off at Houston that evening, we crawled out of the mail car and there’s a deputy sheriff from Harris County. And he has a ticket for speeding, and he’s trying to serve it on the train crew. It seems that the sheriff’s car out there in Orchard, which was in Fort Bend County, had been getting complaints from the people. The railroad ran right through the middle of town. They’d been getting complaints from people that the train was going too fast through their town. They had a speed limit sign there, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen them, it’s like a V for Victory sign and it says 55, 80. That meant 55 for freights and 80 for passenger trains. Well we listened to the conversation, and the conductor’s asking this deputy sheriff, the deputy sheriff at Fort Bend had wired the sheriff in Harris County. We hear the conductor asking the deputy sheriff, well how fast were we going? And the deputy sheriff says, well from this telegram from the Fort Bend County sheriff’s department says you were doing 115 miles and hour. And the speed limit was only 80. When we went to the hotel the sheriff, and the conductor, and the engineer were arguing over who was going to get this ticket. He tried to give it to the conductor, and the conductor says, points to the engineer, says, well he’s driving the damn train! And the engineer says, well I’m driving it, but he’s in charge! And that’s true, the conductor’s in charge. He’s in charge of the train. Well we went to the hotel. We never did find out who got the ticket! [laughs] But a hundred, 115 miles an hour in an 80 mile speed limit. I knew we were going fast. Well, I said we left Fort Worth an hour and forty minutes late? We got to Houston twenty five minutes late. So they were running pretty fast [laughs]. That’s the funniest thing I think ever happened to me.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Did you ever run into any sort of danger?
JH: Oh, in my course of time on the Fort Worth and Galveston, I think we hit five or six cars that were trying to cross, you know, in front of the train. We hit five or six cars. And once when I was subbing on the Newton and Forth Worth, Newton, Kansas to Fort Worth, we were coming out of Oklahoma City and we had several bags, several pouches of mail for the federal depository in Dallas, and they told us this was an, old bills that were going to Dallas to be destroyed. And we had 8 or 10 bags of them. Just before the train left Oklahoma City, a guy in a suit got on the train, identified himself to the clerk in charge, and when he got off the clerk in charge told me, he says, we’re expecting a robbery at Pauls Valley, they’re expecting a robbery at Pauls Valley, Oklahoma tonight, with those eight registered bags we got back there. Keep your gun handy. We pulled into Pauls Valley, and I started to walk back towards the door, and the clerk in charge comes with me, he says just open the door a crack and see how many people are out there. Now this is like three o’clock in the morning. And I opened the door a crack and I said well there’s a baggage cart out there with one man on it. Transfer the Pauls Valley mail as fast as you can. And then shut and lock the door. So we did. Shut and locked the door, came into Fort Worth, we still had them eight bags of bills that were going to be destroyed [laughs]. Where they got their information, they didn’t tell us. They just said they’re expecting a robbery at Pauls Valley. But it didn’t happen [laughs].
Mr. Hurley joined the Railway Mail Service in 1948. He worked on the Bristol and Chattanooga line, and the Norfolk Southern Railroad. Another line Mr. Hurley serviced was a local, one man run between Bristol and Knoxville. He retired from the RMS in 1967.
Charles Hurley Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: Question number one, could you please state your name and the positions you held with the Railway Mail Service.
Charles F. Hurley: Charles F. Hurley. I was with the Railway Mail Service and a clerk railway clerk.
INTERVIEWER: What rail lines did you work on and which locations did you travel between?
Charles F. Hurley: Okay, on the southern and the northwestern. I ran from Bristol, Virginia to Chattanooga most of the time. It was single one in it, local run that would run from Bristol to Knoxville and back.
INTERVIEWER: How long did you serve as a Railway Post Office clerk.
Charles F. Hurley: I’d say from 1948 -- they cut the trains off at -- 63 years, wait a minute, about ’65.
INTERVIEWER: What made you want to become a post office clerk?
Charles F. Hurley: Well I don’t know, I just got out of the service and out of job and a friend of mine was a clerk, so he talked to me and I decided to go take the test, which I did. They sent me to Nashville to the terminal first and then I got transferred back up to Bristol and then stayed there about two years and then transferred me back to Nashville again for another year or two and back to Bristol. I retired off of there of course at Bristol, and then they sent me inside to a regular post office after that.
INTERVIEWER: Which positions did you have on the rail cars?
Charles F. Hurley: I was just a clerk. Back then if a foreman had to be off, the senior clerk had to take his position. So that was it.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, could you describe a typical day on the rail car.
Charles F. Hurley: Yes, I can. On the bigger cars which are 60-foot cars, we were like dogs. My wife said we looked like hog when I come home. My clothes were so dirty but we had to, you know, you had to be quick to do all the stuff often and each one has had a job of our own. In my position, I worked Tennessee one way and Virginia back the next way and then sometimes it’d be North Carolina and Alabama. We would work and put the mail off. Some of the trains stopped to take the mail on. Some trains, we put a catcher arm on the side which mostly was at the local office and has to throw that lid off and we’d throw their mail off and we’d catch theirs with the catcher arm. Then there were times in the bigger ones, we had to go into another car. The storage car that has storage mail and part of the mail for us to work and dumped back up and do stuff with it would be in that car, so we have to throw in between the cars. That’s about a typical trip.
INTERVIEWER: Did you dislike any of the positions you held? Charles F. Hurley: No.
INTERVIEWER: All right, what type of car did you work on the most?
Charles F. Hurley: I worked on about 30-foot cars smaller and one a 15 and 30, about 30 and I went out most of the time at one o’clock in the morning, got to Chattanooga about seven o’clock that same morning. We would go over to the hotel and sleep and eat our meals and then go back to work about five o’clock and then leave Chattanooga and go back. We get back in Bristol about 1:30 in the morning. That was my favorite one anyway.
INTERVIEWER: When you worked on the railway, do you by chance remember what your starting salary was, or a roundabout guess?
Charles F. Hurley: I’m not sure. Maybe my wife will help me on that. Evelyn, do you remember what my starting salary was when I first started?
Charles F. Hurley: No. She says she didn’t.
INTERVIEWER: No. Do you by chance remember what you’re ending salary was? Charles F. Hurley: You mean when I retired?
INTERVIEWER: When they took the rail cars away.
Charles F. Hurley: You know, it’s been so long I can’t remember.
INTERVIEWER: That’s okay.
Charles F. Hurley: Let me ask her to give that again, okay?
Charles F. Hurley: Do you remember when I am post office what my salary at that when I ended on the road? Evelyn: No.
Charles F. Hurley: No, she can’t remember either.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, from what you do remember though, do you think that what you did get paid that it was a fair amount for the amount of work that you had to do?
Charles F. Hurley: Well, it’s unfair. There were times that we thought it should be more and then of course back -- let me backtrack a little bit. When I said that we have to go to the hotel to spend the -- I do remember this, each day that they gave us for expenses was $6 a day that include eating and sleeping and everything - $6 which wasn’t much.
INTERVIEWER: What did you typically carry with you in your grip while you were on trip?
Charles F. Hurley: I would carry, you know, plainclothes. We usually changed before we got off the car in Chattanooga before we went to the hotel and everything. Then, of course, our [indiscernible] articles and stuff and, of course, we had the one we carry just for the road which would be our headers for -- I’m trying to think. We had these places to separate the mails so we had headers, we’d change each time when we went up and down the road into a different whatever at be working. We’d carry that and we had a book that we keep just in case we need to call or have to be in charge to put the time down and we have a post mark we had to carry and had a .38 pistol.
Female Voice: One bullet. Charles F. Hurley: What? Female Voice: One bullet. Charles F. Hurley: One bullet. Female Voice: Bullet.
Charles F. Hurley: What? Female Voice: And bullets, yeah. INTERVIEWER: One bullet.
Charles F. Hurley: One bullet she says. I believe -- as far as I can remember. INTERVIEWER: Do you remember the longest trip you ever worked?
Charles F. Hurley: Yes, I do. They would send us on a small trip just to Knoxville on a short trip and I’m supposed to catch the next one back to Bristol. In the meantime, I was in the transfer office in Knoxville and we’ve heard that the train had a wreck. So they put me in a van and took me down to the wreck site. The cars were turned over and the clerks that was in there then you heard they were standing outside and of course all the mail went upside down. We had to do something with that mail. We couldn’t leave it there, so we had to take all the mail and pick up all we could and get it all out and drag it across the field. There was a waiting truck to take it to Knoxville on that truck. After that was all over for a while, I forgot how many hours it was, but anyway they said, somebody got to ride this when they upright the train. Somebody, got ride this empty car to Knoxville. Of course, I volunteered and it took all day long just to go to Knoxville which wasn’t very far, but every time another train come along [indiscernible] on the side rail and wait for them to go by. So it was a quite a trip and when I got the Knoxville I had to take a bus home.
INTERVIEWER: While you were a Railway Post Office clerk, did you have a family? Charles F. Hurley: Yes, I did. The family that I’ve got now, of course, they were small. INTERVIEWER: How did you cope with leaving your family behind on trips?
Charles F. Hurley: You know sometimes I didn’t -- they got so used to it. For instance, my oldest daughter, I didn’t even get to spend Christmas with her for about six years because they had me a car schedule to go out on Christmas Eve on the trip which they got used to in away, but we got always had Santa Clause before I left.
INTERVIEWER: How did your family cope while you were away on trips?
Charles F. Hurley: Very well. My wife worked also but we had a girl who’d come in and stay with us to keep the children. Yes, we’re used to it. My wife, I come in one night, I got to tell you this. My wife came in one night and I was trying to crawl on the bed without her hearing me. It was about two o’clock in the morning and I said, my gosh, what is that? She had a poker in the bed with her. Her and the woman thought she heard something in the basement. I said well you wouldn’t use it. Anyway, that’s some of the funny things that happened.
INTERVIEWER: What are some of your fondest memories of working on the railway?
Charles F. Hurley: I tell you, I loved that job. I really did. When they cut the trains off, I thought my world had ended. Now I enjoyed the post office all right but nothing like I did that. I really liked that. We worked much harder even then but within the post office but everybody liked it. I think you’ll find that out, [indiscernible] tell the same tale.
INTERVIEWER: Do you still keep in touch with any of the former clerks?
Charles F. Hurley: The only one left up here where I live, this end of the line. There is only one I think left.
INTERVIEWER: You said earlier that the post office did issue you a revolver or a pistol. Did they have ever issued you anything else for your position?
Charles F. Hurley: The instruction book, you know, like rules and so forth. Not really, we furnished traveling clothes and everything.
INTERVIEWER: Were there ever times where you were in danger while working on the railway? Charles F. Hurley: Well, some we thought but it never happened anyway, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: You did mention that there was a train wreck involving one of the mail cars. Other than that train wreck, did you ever hear of anybody experiencing any other dangerous situation either on your line or on another line?
Charles F. Hurley: Well, it’s hard to remember. Yeah, I’m just thinking. The other danger I think is we have to put mail off at night when it’s cold and it’s dark, and you couldn’t see where you’re at. That’s when you catch it [indiscernible] off and catch it with the catcher arm. Throwing that off sometimes was pretty, you know, I think dangerous. One time as a clerk, a new clerk, you timed yourself between the stations because you didn’t know exactly where you were at. We’d time it and then we can go back to the door and get ready to do it and we’d have maybe a sighting when we got there, that know we’re close, so anyway those things are sometimes pretty dangerous. We had a new one caught a big iron bridge, went across and it straightened that arm out. But as far as I know -- I don’t think I remember.
INTERVIEWER: Did that new clerk ever got hurt? Charles F. Hurley: No, he didn’t.
INTERVIEWER: Now, did you ever face or witness any type of racial discrimination while you were a post office clerk.
Charles F. Hurley: No, I never - never.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever hear of anybody whoever experienced racial discrimination or witnessed it while on the rail cars?
Charles F. Hurley: No, not really and we had several black clerks too. And we always got along good, never, never discriminate. We just treat them as equals.
INTERVIEWER: Were you ever a member of any type of outside organization such as a union or club that was affiliated with the postal clerk.
Charles F. Hurley: Yes, we had a union, Railway Mail Service -- they changed the name of it one time. That was our union.
INTERVIEWER: What did you do in the union?
Charles F. Hurley: Not really anything, more or less they had representatives between us and Congress or whenever they tried to get legislation passed and stuff like that.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of legislation where they trying to get passed?
Charles F. Hurley: Well, maybe the raises or I know when they tried to start cutting the trains off, we were trying to keep them on. We tried that, especially stuff like that and a lot of time it had to do with, you know, hospitalizations, insurance and stuff, you know, things like that.
INTERVIEWER: Were you ever featured in any type of publication for the union? Charles F. Hurley: No.
INTERVIEWER: Was there ever anything that you wished that you could change about your position with the railway?
Charles F. Hurley: No, I wish I was back on there. I loved that job.
INTERVIEWER: What do you miss the most about being an RPO clerk?
Charles F. Hurley: Well, I don’t know. I just say I liked that job so well. I think everybody that worked on it did. We worked like dogs but we were good. I don’t know. I don’t know how to describe it. See, I always had a different crew coming up the road after we got to Chattanooga that we went going down. You’d have a crew from Chattanooga coming back up the road, plus the ones from Bristol going down. We all worked together.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, and then for the last question, is there any other information that you would like researchers to know about your experience or the position with the Railway Post Office?
Charles F. Hurley: There’s one.
Charles F. Hurley: We have one clerk. I didn’t work with him very much but he drank a lot. Of course most of the time, he was sober. But one time in Chattanooga before we came back, he really got intoxicated but he went to the hotel to go to sleep and went in at 12 o’clock, but we had left a call for 1:30, so he only had an hour and a half sleep. I thought that was funny. He went home; it was like he was going to sleep all day but we got to sleep an hour and a half.
INTERVIEWER: I bet he was really tired when he woke up. Charles F. Hurley: I guess he was.
INTERVIEWER: All right, anything, any other comments that you would like to make about your position, good, bad?
Charles F. Hurley: Not really, except that one of the good things is everybody that worked, and there’s not many of us left but we were all good friends and remain good friends. Of course, our families got to know them too.
Anyway, they were good neighbors and good friends.
INTERVIEWER: Did you guys socialize a lot when you guys were not working? Charles F. Hurley: Yeah, back then we did.
INTERVIEWER: What are some of the things that you used to go do?
Charles F. Hurley: Well, seemed like around Christmas and stuff, we’d get together and we’d go out eat together once in a while with our families and so forth. That’s about it really because everybody was so busy otherwise. Another thing I might be able to tell you, during the winter sometimes the heat on those cars, there was no heat at all; we’d nearly freeze. But anyway, during the wintertime, one time had snow here that I found out before I got here, called my wife before we left town and told her that I was going to stop at the grocery store and go straight home, I’m not going out for a week and that’s probably true. We had about 10 or 12 inches of snow and when we got to Bristol, I looked and couldn’t even see my car and I had a little Volkswagen. It was completely covered over and I had to try find it and scrape it off, just things like that happened.
Mr. Hutchcraft, of Stewardson, Illinois, is one of the younger veterans of the Railway Mail Service. He first took a job on the Railway Post Office that ran from Chicago to St. Louis. Later, he worked on the Highway Post Office from Chicago to Springfield.
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?