Oral Histories: M
Mr. Darrell Mack was a railway mail clerk on the Chicago and Council Bluffs RPO, also known as the CB&Q Railroad. Before becoming a regular clerk, Mr. Mack subbed on several lines, travelling between Iowa, California, Nebraska, Kansas and Milwaukee. Once a regular, he mostly stayed on the Rock Island Line, running from Chicago to Omaha. Mr. Mack was a clerk for 14 years, until the service ended. His career choice was inspired by his father, who was a RMS clerk as well.
Darrell Mack Interview Transcript
Darrell Mack: My name is Darrell Mack and I worked on the Chicago and Council Bluffs RPO which was the CB&Q Railroad.
INTERVIEWER: Were you a regular or a sub?
Darrell Mack: I was both sub and then I made regular and then for part time I was in the Postal Inspection Service then came back to the Railway Post Office.
INTERVIEWER: I know earlier you said that you worked for the Chicago-Council Bluffs line. Did you work on any other rail line?
Darrell Mack: When I was a sub I worked on -- you want the names of them? INTERVIEWER: Yes, please.
Darrell Mack: I worked on the Chicago, West Liberty and Omaha which was the Rock Island Line. I worked on the Chicago, Marion and Omaha which was the Milwaukee Railroad and I worked on the Chicago and Omaha which was the Northwestern Railroad. I worked on the line in Chicago to Kansas City which was the Burlington Railroad, CB&Q and I worked on the Santa Fe Railroad which was the Chicago-Fort Madison and Kansas City RPO. I was on every one that crossed Iowa, except the most northern one which was the Illinois Central; I never ran on it.
INTERVIEWER: What are some of the cities that you traveled to?
Darrell Mack: Primarily, Chicago to Omaha. That was my primary work for most of my career, and secondly was then to Kansas City so Chicago to Kansas City and Chicago to Omaha were my primary areas of work.
INTERVIEWER: How long did you serve as a Railway Post Office clerk? Darrell Mack: Fourteen years.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember what years those were? Darrell Mack: It was ‘54 to ‘68.
INTERVIEWER: What made you want to become a Railway Post Office clerk?
Darrell Mack: My father was a Railway Post Office clerk and at the age of eight, I got on with my dad at the -- in those days, it was called a doodlebug and that was just a one-unit. It was the engine and the RPO and a few passengers. And that seemed like it was an exciting career for me and as I got older, I made a few more trips with him on the so-called doodlebug which was really fun and I thought that was really neat to do.
I studied engineering at Iowa State University but I think underlying all that, I really wanted to be a Railway Post Office clerk. And when the opportunity came, when I was in school at that time, all the jobs were going to veterans and at that time, I was obviously a nonveteran and I was the first nonveteran hired after World War II. I became a veteran though later on.
INTERVIEWER: What types of jobs did you have on the railcars?
Darrell Mack: About everything. We called it a pouch rack; that’s where you dump up the bags as they come in and then distribute that to the various RPOs. And I also worked letter case for several years. I had the Iowa letter case which is almost the whole side of one RPO and it was divided into three sections and that was a pretty big job to work, the state of Iowa. And then also for a while I had the paper case and then I worked registers and I think I was clerk [sounds like] back where I think I studied -- I believe at one time I figure I took exams for 12 different states.
INTERVIEWER: That’s a lot of states.
Darrell Mack: Yeah. Well, actually, I figured out how many post offices that was at one time but it was a bunch. Going out west when you get into Idaho and Wyoming, even Nebraska, South Dakota, not a lot of post offices in those states but Illinois and then Michigan, Wisconsin, those are more densely populated so it took longer to learn those. I also learned Chicago city and that’s quite an undertaking too to learn all the streets in Chicago city.
INTERVIEWER: For any one of the jobs that you had, could you walk me through a typical day on the railcars starting from when you first went into work?
Darrell Mack: Well, I guess the most interesting I had that I enjoyed the most was when I mentioned I worked the Iowa letter case. When we first go in the morning, we would all -- they call it dress the rack, that’s to hang all the pouches, and we would do that as a team. We’d be about a 10-man team all together and we get that all hung or dressed as we say. And then as soon as the letters start coming, I’d start working Ohio or start working Iowa and break it down. You had to break it down as you cross the state. Obviously, the first towns you came to that was the first ones you worked obviously.
And then as we got into Iowa, start distributing that to the different RPOs and then I did the local across Iowa to throw the mail out and then catch the nonstop mail as we crossed the state of Iowa. Then we get to Omaha and then I’d have a day layover there and then going back, I worked the registered mail, Wisconsin, state of Wisconsin and in what they called mixed states, was just the small town would give you a bundle that it was literally the whole United States and you had to separate it down to the different directions of course; one the way you were going and then we have what we call go back which we’d give that to the next train that we would meet that was heading the opposite direction. And I enjoyed that.
And then when we got to Chicago, we had to tie up all the bags for the different RPOs and break them down to the different stations in Chicago. We had the Northwestern Station and the South Street Station, different stations and then I ran into Union Station which was the CB&Q Railroad, the GM&O Railroad, Pennsylvania Railroad and the Milwaukee Railroad and then the others were broken down to the various RPOs that ran out of that particular station. And I got into Chicago at 4:15 in the morning and we would have worked all of Chicago City and had it broken down to the different substations in Chicago. And we arrived at 4:15 at Union Station which is almost downtown Chicago. And every piece of mail we had for 66 substations in Chicago, they were all delivered that morning so I don’t think they can do that anymore.
INTERVIEWER: When you became a regular, what kind of a schedule did you have?
Darrell Mack: I worked four days on and then had six days off and that just kept going like that, four on and six off, four on and six off. And our day was broken down at every six hours and I don’t know who came up with this kind of a figure but for every six hours and 25 minutes out on the railroad, we were paid for eight hours and that other hour and 35 minutes was time that was allotted for preparation you had to do at home to get some of your labels and supplies ready. Also, that was compensated for your study time to learn the different post offices in those states.
So early on in your career, you would spend more time than you were actually allotted but later on in your career when you were taking those same exams for the second and third time all it took was a little brushing up. So the tail end of your career, that six hours and 25 minutes was really liberal. I suppose over the course of a career it would probably -- somebody figured that probably balanced out. I’m still amazed at how someone came up with six hours and 25 minutes but, anyway, that was the rule.
INTERVIEWER: Was there any one job that you liked doing more than the others on the railcar?
Darrell Mack: I guess the job I liked the most was, well, I liked the work in Iowa. It was fun and also since I live in Iowa, it was interesting to find every little crossroad in Iowa and of course early on in the career, we worked before there was any such thing as a zip code. Zip code gives you -- well, it tells you what area of the state it’s in but you had to memorize - in those day - where the towns where and what rail line went through there. So I guess I liked the work in Iowa. That was a favorite job of mine and I did enjoy doing the -- they called it the local, to throw the mail off at the nonstop town; I enjoyed that a lot. I didn’t enjoy it so much in the wintertime as I did in the summertime, sticking your head out the door in the wintertime and the snow flying, not a lot of fun but still it was part of the job.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that you ever disliked about any of your positions even if it was just a small complaint that you brushed off to the side?
Darrell Mack: No. There was -- on Thursday nights, we had the train 8 on Thursday nights. Well, we had the train 8 every night but on Thursday nights, all the little towns across Iowa have what they called single wraps and they were about a little larger than a pencil, I guess. They were just three or four pages. I think they’ve all been discontinued now but you would dump up one of those and my god, they were going to people that had moved away years ago and it took forever to sort those out. It seemed like we didn’t have enough time to get that done but -- here again, I think the neatest thing about the Railway Post Office was that we had a so-called job description that the -- so I got done with my job, I would help another clerk and if he got done with his job, he would help me and so it was really a team effort so it was all the mail belonged to all of us so I enjoyed that part of the esprit de corps, if you will.
INTERVIEWER: What type of railcar did you work on the most? Darrell Mack: Sixty-footer.
INTERVIEWER: Did you work on any other type of railcar even when you were working as a sub?
Darrell Mack: I did work on a 30-footer which is only about three men in a 30-footer. Most of my time was in a 60-foot car.
INTERVIEWER: When you started working on the railways, do you remember what your starting salary was?
Darrell Mack: $1.71 and 1/2 per hour. It wouldn’t go far now, would it?
INTERVIEWER: When you ended your career on the railway, do you remember what the ending salary was? Darrell Mack: It was just about 10 times. It was $17 an hour and oddly enough maybe that’s your next question, but when I started stamps were $0.03 for a first class letter and when I retired they were $0.30 for a first class letter, so everything multiplied by about 10, my salary and also the cost of postage.
INTERVIEWER: So was that your salary in 1968? Darrell Mack: Yes, uh-huh, $17 an hour.
INTERVIEWER: Do you believe that the pay was fair for the amount of work that you had to do?
Darrell Mack: Yeah, I think it was fair. I think we had to have more knowledge I think than maybe we were given credit for, and a lot of the older fellows were college graduates that had started back in the ‘30s. In the Depression you couldn’t find a job so we had a lot of fellows that were well-educated and very intelligent and I suppose realistically, I probably think that the pay probably should have been higher for that kind of work. We did have a tremendous amount of things to memorize and I’ve always wondered, people say well, you must have been really smart but I don’t know about the smart of it, but you did have to have a good memory so I don’t know if those two go hand in hand or not but I’ve never considered myself really smart. Anyway, you did have to have a good memory.
INTERVIEWER: What did you typically carry with you in your grip while you were on runs?
Darrell Mack: All my work clothes. We had street clothes and we went back and forth. Of course I lived in middle of Iowa, so I had a deadhead to Chicago to get my run but even the guys who lived in Chicago, they would come to work in street clothes and you change to your work clothes which is mostly blue jeans and a denim shirt primarily. And then also in there, I would have all my labels for the week that I was on the road and I carried a revolver and that’s about it.
A lot of times I would take my study cards with me so that when I would be laying over either end of the road, in the motel or in a hotel or whatever, I would be able to study my cards during my layover time so that way I didn’t have to spend that kind of time at home. I did it while I was away from home. I had ring knives and, yeah, just change of clothes. That’s about it. It was pretty heavy.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember what the longest trip you ever worked was?
Darrell Mack: The longest one was train 7 out of Chicago. We were trying to figure that up the other day. I think from start to finish I believe it was about 16 hours from start to finish and it was a long way. We had joke you could read the morning paper and the evening paper and shave twice and we had all kinds of things about that train. And oddly enough, I don’t know, some commission said it was not a humane train to work that many hours and the flipside of that was you had to have about 25 years’ seniority to even get that job on that particular train simply because working those long hours gave you several days off. So their cycle was four days on and seven days off, four on and seven off, and then four days and nine off. I never had enough seniority to get that particular job but my dad had that job and he just loved it because you put in four real lengthy days and then you had a whole week off. Well, the neighbors wondered what kind of work you did that you could be home so much.
INTERVIEWER: While you were working as an RPO clerk, did you have a family?
Darrell Mack: No. I was single all the time I was on the RPO. It’s sort of a tough job for a married man. A lot of fellows would come out there and work maybe six months and I don’t know if they got homesick or missed their wife or what but we had a lot of fellows who would come out for six months and then either quit or go into the local post office. It was a job that was not for everybody. We weeded them out.
INTERVIEWER: How old were you when you first went into the Railway Post Office? Darrell Mack: I was 21, I believe.
INTERVIEWER: So you got married in your late 30s then.
Darrell Mack: I didn’t get married till I was 34. I was going back and forth between Chicago and Omaha so I really didn’t have time for romance.
INTERVIEWER: What are some of your fondest memories of working on the railroad?
Darrell Mack: My fondest memories - if I had to pick out one thing, my fondest - I guess it’d be the people I worked with, the camaraderie and the fellowship of the people you worked with.
INTERVIEWER: Do you still keep in touch with any of the former clerks?
Darrell Mack: Yes. I’m 75 and I’m about the youngest in our group that worked on the RPO and we get together once a year, have a little reunion and we’re down to about 10 or 12 fellows. That’s about all that we have that we get together anymore. And one of our fellows does a newsletter every other month and send out to us. Some of our fellows are in the nursing home and of course, you know, we lose one or two every year now so it’s not -- my wife always says, “How is it you talk about -- tell the same old stories.” Every year we get together, you tell the same old stories and talk about the same fellows that have passed on but since the RPOs are gone we don’t generate any new stories anymore. But it’s good to get together with friends and share memories.
INTERVIEWER: Did the post office ever issue you anything either for your safety or for the position you worked? Darrell Mack: Oh, the only thing I can think about maybe in safety was when you do the nonstop local. They issued us goggles to cover your eyes to do the nonstop local. All the labels we had and they called them facing slips, you put that on the back of every bundle you tied out, it had your name and the line you worked on so if there was an error in there they knew who made that error and then you’d get a slip back from the office that you had a missed one. Have you interviewed anybody that told you about the merit system?
INTERVIEWER: A few of the clerks have mentioned it but you can explain it again.
Darrell Mack: It’s very interesting. You would get merits for passing an exam. We had PL&R, postal laws and regulations, and so you could build up points, so to speak, or merit points, I guess that’d be the proper term. You build up merit points by taking good exams, getting good grades and passing all the postal laws and regulations. And then on the other hand, any mistakes you made, you would get demerits. So suppose you had a piece of mail that you sent wrong, you might get five demerits and if you would fail an exam, you might get as many as 20 demerits if you failed it. And the rule back in those days if you had 100 demerits, you would get a letter from the superintendent as to “please give cause as to why you should not be removed from the postal service.” To my knowledge I never knew anybody that got a letter like that but -- and they sort of had the hammer on you if you were really -- I guess in my career I never met any screw ups like that but I guess they did have the hammer that if they had to remove somebody from the service that just was not performing that they could do it. So that was an interesting concept they had and it was a good system.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever experience a dangerous or a bad situation while on the railway?
Darrell Mack: No, I can’t say I did. One of the trains I worked on in the day ahead of me, it left the track and we had a couple of fellows that took a disability retirement. But as far as myself, no, I was never hurt in my career. My dad had a broken wrist one time doing that nonstop local but, personally, I never had any kind of an injury at all in my career.
INTERVIEWER: Even outside of the train, like were you ever on a train where they hit a car trying to cross the track?
Darrell Mack: Yeah. I’ve been on a train that hit a road grader and it mashed up the diesel so bad that they had to get another diesel. Also, I was on a train that hit a car with a young girl trying to beat the train across the track and threw her out of the car. I think she subsequently died. And we’ve hit numerous animals, you know, cows that got on the track or deer or whatever so we’ve hit numerous animals, but what comes to mind is just the road grader we hit and then the car with the young girl who was trying to beat the train across the track.
INTERVIEWER: Were there ever any fires on the train?
Darrell Mack: Not on the train, no. We never had any. That was a rule that they really enforced. That was sort of a no-brainer I guess, you know, with all the mail around them. Early on in the career we tied all the packages out with twines; later on that was rubber band. A fire would have been a disaster in an RPO car so that was a rule that was strongly enforced obviously. We had a lot of the older guys, they chewed tobacco and that was sort of a messy thing in the RPO.
INTERVIEWER: I know that you’re talking about the train in front of you that went off the tracks. Did you hear any other stories of other clerks who did experience a dangerous or bad situation? And this could have even been before you even got onto the railway mail system.
Darrell Mack: No. I guess, you know, like way back in the early 1900s and all that, I guess they had one, I think. They always had a joke, you know, back in those days, it was a wooden car. The older guys always told us that early on that the RPO, they had iron men in the wooden cars and in my generation, they had wooden men in the iron cars. But I guess there were even robberies back in the early 1900s and even in the 1920s, I guess. But, no, I don’t have any knowledge of anything even before my time. It sounds good but I guess I’m too young.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever face or witness any type of racial discrimination as a Railway Post Office clerk? Darrell Mack: Yes, I did. I love my job and as I would travel I would stop at the terminals like Atlanta and I’d visit the railroad station and I’d stick my head in the door and introduced myself and, you know, just sort of say hi to the guys and we had a common bond there. And I was in Nashville and the RPO was between Nashville and Atlanta and this would have been in the 1950s and all the guys in the crew were white, except there was one colored fellow - I guess now it’s proper to say Afro-American; in my time it was colored or Negro. And their boss invited me into the car and introduced me to everybody but the colored man and I thought that was sort of sad that he would introduce me to everybody but the colored man in the car.
But on my line, when I first started we didn’t have but about one or two fellows early on and they were very good workers and I never saw any case of any kind of discrimination at all in my RPO.
INTERVIEWER: Did you hear of any of the other clerks who did experience racial discrimination or witnessed it? Darrell Mack: Well, later on when we had some of the new -- do you like colored or Afro or what do you want me to say?
INTERVIEWER: Whatever you’re more comfortable with.
Darrell Mack: Well, I’m comfortable with colored I guess or Negro. Later on when we had the younger guys coming in and that would have been in the ‘60s, we had some younger colored boys coming in and they were real sensitive to anything that looked like discrimination and they had experienced it where they were from, so yeah, I had heard of it first hand, but we treated them, you know, they were just one of the crew. We had one fellow that came out and he went into the railway, he wanted to work the letter case which was the prime job really instead of dumping up those pouches and work in papers sort of a dirty case and he came to work and he just wanted to work the letter case. He didn’t want to get dirty, had on a white shirt and everything all nice and neat. Boss told him that his job was to work on the pouch rack, dumping up the bags. Well, we got to Burlington which was, I don't know, only a couple of hundred miles out from Chicago and he got off and quit right there.
Well, anyway -- and that wasn’t discrimination. We had colored boys that couldn’t handle the job and we had some white fellows that couldn’t handle the job either so it was just based on how you could perform, not your ethnic background at all. I never saw any on my time.
INTERVIEWER: Were you ever a member of any type of outside organizations such as a union or club that was affiliated with the railway postal clerks?
Darrell Mack: Yeah, we had -- it was a union, but you know, government, you’re not allowed to strike anyway so it was more like just a -- I guess they called it an association, the railway mail clerks association. And we had another we called line committee, and the line committee would work with the offices to set up the jobs and the running cycles and they wanted just enough crew to handle the job. Yeah, I belonged to that group.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that you ever wanted to change about your position?
Darrell Mack: No. I was very happy in my career so, no, nothing would come to mind that I would change. No. It was just really a good job and surely that’s what you’re hearing from most of your interviews. I think if you didn’t like it, it was not a place to be because it was hard work. I have a farm now and a big garden and sometimes it’s hard work too. It’s the same situation: if you don’t like it, you shouldn’t be there so I guess that’s the way I would say that. I wouldn’t change it. I’d go back in a minute.
INTERVIEWER: What do you miss the most about being a Railway Post Office clerk?
Darrell Mack: Well, here again, I guess it was a lot of it was, like I mentioned earlier, the camaraderie, the people you worked with, just a great bunch of people. And it was, I think, a great sense of accomplishment like that Iowa case, I had every piece of mail I handled that day would be delivered the very next morning all across the whole state of Iowa. So I guess pride in your work and sense of accomplishment and the camaraderie of the people I worked with. I guess those are the things that I really miss.
And when I went -- see, I finished up my career in the post office and actually, I can just about honestly say none of those things existed. We did not have the camaraderie. You did not have that sense of accomplishment, you had no pride in your work and the people you worked with didn’t seem to have any pride in their work either. So I don’t know if it’s just an old man talking or what but -- and I was not old when I went in the post office. That’s what I miss the most, the camaraderie and the sense of accomplishment.
INTERVIEWER: Is there any other information that you would like to share with researchers about your experience or position with the Railway Post Office? This can be anything such as interesting things that you saw while on the railway or funny stories, the pranks that you used to play on one another.
Darrell Mack: Pranks that we used to play, well, for one, one of the things that sometimes if a fellow I’m working and was a new man in the crew, sometimes they would load his grip up with a bunch of extra locks so that when he went back and forth from the station to the hotel, he’d have an extra load to carry. He wouldn’t know he had it till he got to the hotel with all these locks in there. That was sort of a prank we played.
We had one fellow who’s quite a comedian that people would bring like boiled eggs to work and had it for their lunch and he would bring a raw egg and exchange the raw egg for one of those boiled eggs. And also sometimes he would glue a piece of money to the working table there and somebody tried to pick it up and it was glued to the table. Yeah, it wasn’t all work. We had a little play time too.
My wife just called my attention, we had two guys that, oh, they sort of act like they got into it and they did occasionally actually get into it and there’s one day that they both had blanks in their guns and they called each other names and they were at the opposite ends of the car and they acted like they shot their weapons at each other, you know, with blanks and everybody in between of course was ducking and ran for cover. Only the two of them knew that they had that made up.
All those things would have been probably -- those demerits I mentioned earlier, that horseplay that would have been horseplay that probably got you a few demerits because they frowned on that kind of stuff. But after you worked 12 and 14 hours, I guess you need to let off a little steam sometimes but at the end of the road, there was always, you know, always have lunch and usually a cold beer. And a lot of guys played poker. I never was much of a poker player so I never got too involved with the card playing but anyway, that’s about --
Sally Mack: About the flooding of the Mississippi [inaudible] train.
Darrell Mack: Yeah, that’s what I enjoyed. I enjoyed the detours. That was a lot of fun. Sometimes we cross the Mississippi down here. If it has been out of its banks then we had to take detours and sometimes the track would be just completely washed out and bridges were washed out and we’d take detours. So that was fun. I always enjoyed the detours. Obviously, you wouldn’t get the mail that you were supposed to get so there wasn’t as much work to do and you see a little different country. I enjoyed the detours. That’s about all I can think of interesting stories or pranks or whatever but --
INTERVIEWER: Did you see any sights that you really enjoyed?
Darrell Mack: Sights that I enjoyed, well, I’m sort of a railroad buff. Even yet today I enjoy the trains and I always kept track what diesel was pulling off. But, you know, crossing Iowa, if not -- I hate to say that but it’s not really a scenic thing like this time of year, you know. You cross Iowa and you see corn on one side and soy bean on the other side of the road, so I always figured the guys out there that went from Denver to Utah across the Rockies and all that, I figured they must have some pretty spectacular scenery although -- but you don’t have a whole lot of time. There’s not a whole lot of time to see where you are. You know more of where you are by the track or how many bridges you crossed or how many curves you went around, and so it really wasn’t a sightseeing type of job. We used to do that too, like if we were heading westbound and another train was coming eastbound, we knew approximately where up and down the track we would meet them. If everybody was on time, we’d meet at the same place in passing and so a lot of times, we would get a big glass of ice water or something and they’d be looking at us to wave and we’d be looking at them to wave and somebody throw a bunch of ice water at you. In July and August that felt pretty good actually.
But as far as the scenery and interesting, I enjoyed working on the different RPOs. That was a lot of fun meeting different fellows and seeing a little different scenery. And matter of fact when I heard the trains were coming off, I went into Chicago. I mean I’m a die hard RPO guy and I said I’ll work on the Santa Fe to Pennsylvania to New York Central or Milwaukee, I didn’t care where I went, I just wanted to stay on the RPO.
But there in 1968, it just about all went down. In fact, I couldn’t believe some of the trains that were going down because it’d been such a backbone of the RPO service then. Anyway, they’re all gone now and we have zip codes and optical scanners and all that kind of stuff and the mail moves slower than it ever did.
Sally Mack: [Inaudible]
Darrell Mack: Yeah. We have one fellow that is still working in Chicago. He’s the last one that is still actively working. Last time I saw, retired from wherever and he’s got a little over 60 years now I believe with the post office. In fact they tried to give him a 60-year pin and they didn’t even know what to give him. They do have a 50- year pin that’s got a diamond in it but he’s actually still working in Chicago. And for the life of me, I can’t figure why. I mean, he must be working for just a couple of bucks an hour based on what his pension would be after all these years. But anyway, he loves his job.
INTERVIEWER: Well, if you stayed with it for 60 years, I think you have to like your job.
Darrell Mack: Yeah. Well, like I say, he was on the RPO but now he’s a technician and he keeps all these bar coders and optical scanners and all that high tech machinery. He keeps it going. He was lucky when he went -- when they did away with the RPOs. He fell back. He had the training for technical work like that so he just loves his work - people, machines. Machines go on. In fact, he told me in Chicago a couple of years ago they canceled a million pieces per day and now with the email and everything and the volume down to about 500,000 a day that some of the machines, they don’t keep running all the time now because mail volume is so low. I guess that’s one of the reasons they want to raise the rates that the mail volume is down. I don’t know how that would will out.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything interesting that you saw in the mail, just something that was just completely random, something that we may not ship through the mail today?
Darrell Mack: That went through the mail? Well, like in the registered mail, a lot of times we would have somebody’s ashes, you know, have an urn that went through the mail, registered. I guess the one thing I thought was interesting, we used to get whole bag of money out of Denver. It would be paper money that was not usable anymore and they would cut it all in half and then send half of it to D.C. and then after that arrive safely then they’d send the other half to D.C. so a lot of times I’d have multimillion dollars worth of money but it would just be cut in half.
And it had a lot of coins. With the mint being there, we have a lot of coins that would go through the mail. But that’s about all I recall that was of any real interest at all. I’d have coins so heavy sometimes I could hardly lift them. But that’s about -- I’m sure if I would think about it or was able to recall that far back, I’m sure there were probably some more interesting things.
That’s something I enjoyed about it. The work was never really dull because each day was different. Even though you went through the same towns, days of the week made a difference as to what kind of mail you received and what you had to distribute. And some of our connecting trains didn’t operate on Sundays so we had to work it through the different so-called standpoint and that was interesting.
When you first start out, you don’t have enough seniority. Everything was seniority and you would get a job just like you had a lot of seniority and you bid every job that was out there and you might be cleared down to your 20th choice maybe but you would bid them, your preference for what job you would like to have. And about every two years, something would change, the train schedule would change or something would cause it to just throw all the jobs open for bid, so then everybody would bid again and you might have a totally different job. Somebody might take the job that you had.
Even after I became regular and had regular days off and a regular running cycle, by the time I was home for five or six days, I was always ready to go back to work. I like running in and out of Chicago. I go to a ball game frequently, go out and see the Chicago Cubs or the White Sox and the museums. So I really enjoyed it. I hated to see it go.
Once I left that RPO and went in the local post office, oh my God, what’s happened to me now. I gave it a lot of thought to quitting and I didn’t. My dad, it worked out just right for my dad. He had his time in, it was 1968 and he had over 30 years in and he just went ahead and retired until he had -- all his whole career it was on the RPO but it didn’t work out that way for me.
INTERVIEWER: Is there anything else that you would like to add to the interview?
Darrell Mack: No, I think you’ve covered pretty good. You asked me about everything I could think to relate about the RPO. It’s been a fun interview. It’s always fun to talk about the RPO.
I guess once again, I’ll just reiterate that the camaraderie and the people you worked with. Since I was the first nonveteran out there, all the fellows I worked with were veterans and really a bunch of dedicated guys. They’ve been to places that I had only read about: Iwo Jima, Monte Cassino and all across Germany and France. And I don’t know, I guess I really looked up to those fellows because they had really been there. I felt like I was sort of a fuzzy cheek kid but it was my pleasure to work with them.
Mr. Maurer, of Columbus, Georgia, worked with the Railway Mail Service starting in the early 1960’s for seven or eight years. He ran out of Atlanta, on the Nashville and Atlanta line, and the Charleston and Atlanta line.
William Maurer Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: Could you please state your name and the position you held with the Railway Mail Service?
William Maurer: I was a part-time, substitute clerk. I was not a full-time regular.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And what rail lines did you work on and which locations did you tend to travel between?
William Maurer: As a substitute clerk, I traveled from Nash-Atlanta which was from Atlanta to Nashville and back. I traveled the Charlotte-Atlanta which was to Charlotte, North Carolina and back, made a run to Birmingham on Atlanta-Birmingham, made several runs on Knox-Cart-Atlanta which was Atlanta to Cartersville, Georgia to Knoxville, Tennessee and back. My main runs were Nash-Atlanta and Charlotte-Atlanta.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And how long did you serve as a railway post office clerk?
William Maurer: I’m going to say approximately four-and-a-half years.
INTERVIEWER: And do you know the years?
William Maurer: I’d have to think about that. I was thinking about that the other day after I talked to you. Probably, I’m going to say from maybe ’64 to ’66 or in that area there. I don’t remember the exact dates.
INTERVIEWER: And what made you want to become a railway post office clerk?
William Maurer: I’ll tell you the truth, I was working at Atlanta as an assistant manager in a chain store, and when I was staying out there I used to commute back and forth to Columbus on weekends. I was staying at a rooming house and the man who was living there, who ran it whose name was Clark Bagby who was an official in the Atlanta Post Office, and he said, “Bill, have you ever thought about working for the post office?” And I said, “Not really.” He said, “Why don’t you take the test and see what you think?” So I eventually took the test and passed it, and in addition, when we were talking, he said, “I think you’d like to work on the mail trains.” It sounded interesting to me so after I took the test and passed it and gave notice to my employers at the five-and-dime store I was working, they put me on the road so that’s how I became a railway mail clerk, and I found it a very interesting work so I wanted to stay on it really.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And which positions did you have while on the railcars?
William Maurer: I guess I worked -- well, as opposed to -- of course when you’re a part-time clerk, you’ll do all the various positions because you’re very flexible and you’re not set in one position so I’ve done everything from work parcel post to handle registered mail and to be just a regular clerk at what I call stitching mail, working mail in the mail case. So I had probably done everything while I was in the mail service that has to be done in the mail car.
INTERVIEWER: And as a sub, could you describe a typical day for you on the railcar?
William Maurer: Okay. I’d probably either assume that I’m going to work in Atlanta either running Nash-Atlanta or Charlotte-Atlanta. We would go in, and I especially remember in the summer it was very hot and, of course, the mail cars being metal, the room was like an oven. We’d go in maybe an hour before leaving, set up, start working the mail, start working the parcel post, and then when the train left, we were on -- our mail cars were on passenger train. They were on for each trains, we would work the mail and en route to -- if we were going to Charlotte, we would work the mail en route in places such as Greenville, South Carolina, Spartanburg, South Carolina. At times on the way in the smaller towns, we would throw the mail off and catch it, and as we did that, when we brought the mail in that we caught while the train was moving from the small towns, we would go ahead and work that mail immediately to its destination because we were working mail into carrier routes as far as Washington, D.C. and sometimes New York City, depending.
So we would do this all the way up the line until we got to Charlotte, North Carolina, and when we got there, we would, of course, exit the train, go downtown, eat breakfast because we would do this in the evening and it would be an all-night run. We’d go downtown, eat breakfast, and then go into our dormitories and sleep until time to get up and report for duty again that afternoon or evening.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And did you ever dislike any of the positions or jobs that you worked for the railway post office?
William Maurer: No, I did not. I found the work very challenging, interesting, very hard physically a lot of the times, but in fact, had they not decided to do away with the Railway Mail Service, I would love to have stayed on and retired doing that type of work.
INTERVIEWER: And then, what type of car did you work on?
William Maurer: Well, the cars I worked on were full lengths. It was a whole-length mail car. Some of the mail cars to the smaller runs probably were what they call a half a car, in other words, it was just a small setup, but we had a full setup with cases, sack racks, just about everything in places where you could stack your mail sacks and your parcel post sacks, so it was a full length, and I would say it was maybe a 60-foot car. I’m not sure how long they were but standard length train car.
INTERVIEWER: And when you worked on the railways, do you by chance remember what your starting salary was?
William Maurer: I think back then it was like $2 and -- I thought it was great pay because I wasn’t making that per hour when I was in civilian life. I think it was like maybe $2.15 an hour.
INTERVIEWER: And then towards the end of your career on the railway mail cars, do you remember what your ending salary was?
William Maurer: I don’t really remember. That was before they actually reorganized and unionized, and I think there was just a yearly increase, maybe it was $3 an hour. I’m just making a guess.
INTERVIEWER: And then, you said that it was great pay from what you can remember. And then, could you just state some of the reasons why you thought the pay was fair?
William Maurer: Well, because I’d worked in civilian life and what happened in civilian life as an assistant manager, I would be paid based on a 40-hour week, and sometimes I was putting in 60 to 80 hours a week. Because you’re management, you were not paid by the hour. And I thought to myself, in fact when I inquired about the pay in the postal service, I asked myself, “Is this an hourly rate, no matter how many hours you work?” And they said, “Yes, it is.” And I said, “Well, sounds pretty good to me.” So, overall, probably money-wise, I came out better than I did in my civilian job.
INTERVIEWER: And what did you typically carry with you in your grip while you’re on run?
Normally, the supplies I carried were, of course, I had a 0.38-caliber pistol, I had my Railway Mail Service badge, I had my stamps where I could change dates and stuff so when I was handling the registered mail, I could change my hand stamp to reflect the dates and so forth and so on and the train number so that when you handled registered mail or hand stamped a piece of mail, the people knew who was handling it, okay?
INTERVIEWER: And is that it?
William Maurer: Yes, I think that’s it. Normally, the pistol, the hand stamp, and the date changing things that went into it, and the badge which you had to wear. The pistol and the badge, so that was basically the basic things you carried on there.
I mean you had a change of clothes, of course, that you carry because you’re pretty dirty when you got through the run and you change clothes before you get off the train.
INTERVIEWER: All right. And what was the longest run you ever worked?
William Maurer: That was probably -- there was a run, it was in the Charlotte-Atlanta, the Atlanta-Charlotte. When you were a registered clerk, the regular train crew got off at Charlotte, North Carolina, but if you were working the registered mail in that particular run, you ran up to Salisbury, North Carolina, which was overlapping with the crew that replaced our crew, and the reason for that was that in that extra -- and I don’t know, it might’ve been an extra 40- or 45-minute run, you had to assign all your registered articles of mail over to the mail clerk that was taking over the responsibility for the registered mail on the new crew so you overlapped, and you made the run and it was probably an hour longer than the normal run. I’m trying to remember in my mind how long it was that we’ve ran. It seems like counting the time that you reported for work in Atlanta which is about an hour before the train left, six, seven, eight, it might’ve been maybe an eight-hour or nine-hour run counting the overlap time probably.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And then while you were working on the railways as a clerk, did you have a family?
William Maurer: Yes, I did. In fact, I would come home on my off days. When we were working, you would get time off to come home. Well, they would give you some time off, they’d give you a break maybe two or three days and then you might work seven or eight days, it just depended. And then I would come back to Columbus because my home was here and my family was here.
INTERVIEWER: And how did you cope with leaving your family behind on long trips?
William Maurer: I guess when you’re younger like that, you’re so busy and you’re so tired when you’re out working, you’re just working and tired, sleeping -- it worked out fairly well because our lay off -- I was never gone probably more than four or five days at the most, and because coming out of a military family, I know if you’re in the military, you could be going a lot longer than that so I’ve kind of adjusted to it and worked it out, and of course eventually when I was at excessed from the Railway Mail Service, I was able to come back to Columbus on a permanent basis.
INTERVIEWER: And then how did your family cope while you were away on trips?
William Maurer: I think they did quite well. We had no problems. We do it to make a living and so it just had to be a part of it at that time. It’s a sacrifice we made.
INTERVIEWER: And then what are some of your fondest memories of working on the railways?
William Maurer: I think the comradeship of the people I worked with, the fact that it was a challenge, and that there was always something different on every trip that might happen. We never knew what might happen. I know one time that I was -- now, you might ask me that question later on but I’ll tell you that later on, I guess, if there’s anything different.
The one memory I had which I’m not very fond of but I can laugh at it now in retrospect was when I was on red run, we used to handle the payrolls going into the mills, South Carolina coming out of the Federal Reserve in Atlanta, and we had a big pouch we’d kick off at the various towns, in the smaller towns we wouldn’t stop and because we kicked it off while the train was running. So one town, and I believe it was Gastonia, North Carolina going through and before we got to the town, I had to get the mail sack in the door where the symbol was a mill’s payroll and the train lurched and it fell out the door before I got to the town. So when I got to the town, there was nothing to kick out the door, and I had to tell my supervisor, I said, “The payroll of the sacks slid out the door,” and he was a little bit perturbed and used some language that I won’t repeat on this tape. And so when we got to Charlotte and got in town, we went and had our breakfast and went to the dormitory and I went to sleep, and somebody woke me up and said, “The post inspector wants to talk to you on the phone.” So they asked me what happened and I told them, and they said, “Well, when you get back to Atlanta, we’ll have to talk to you and see what happened.” What had happened is that later on I found that it took them quite a few hours backtracking to find out where the mail sacks had slid off in the underbrush before they could find it. So that wasn’t a fond one but that was an unusual memory. I thought they might fire me but they didn’t. They just, whatever, they just reprimanded me verbally and let it go.
INTERVIEWER: Well, at least they found it.
William Maurer: They found it. It took them about half a day because there was a lot of honeysuckle around beside the tracks up in that part of the country, and if you know anything about honeysuckle, it’s kind of springy, and if something should fall into it, then it’ll spring back over it and it’ll cover it, and apparently that’s what happened with the mail pouch, and it took them a while to find it, backtracking through the railway system there to the train tracks. That’s not a fond memory but that’s one that really stood out in my mind.
But the fond memories were the comradeship and working with the people, and they were a great bunch of guys. It was just a whole different kind of people. We were told before that we had, I think, six percent of the mail employees in the country and that we actually worked over ten percent of the mail, so we carried our load of responsibility, I guess, in that respect.
INTERVIEWER: And do you still keep in touch with any of the former clerks?
William Maurer: No. When I came back to the stationary unit, there was a -- I don’t think there was even a newsletter that came out but there might’ve been initially, but some of the foreman and the people had I worked for through the years, as they passed on, I would hear about it or read about it, and the only time I really met another person who was in the Railway Mail Services was when I was working in Albany many years later as a manager of employer and labor relations, and I saw one of the fellows down there working with supervisors that I had been with the Railway Mail Service and we exchanged some stories about the old days back then.
INTERVIEWER: And you said before that the post office gave you a 0.38-caliber pistol. Was there anything else that the post office gave you for the position or for your safety?
William Maurer: No, they didn’t.
INTERVIEWER: And were you ever put into a dangerous situation while on the railway?
William Maurer: No. Really, all the runs I ever made were more or less routine runs. Nothing unusual happened to me except what I previously stated. There was nothing -- it was pretty routine. It was general passenger train runs and, of course, we were part of the passenger train, so nothing happened.
INTERVIEWER: And then did you ever hear stories of anybody else experiencing anything dangerous or if they were put into a bad situation?
William Maurer: No, I never did. I never heard any talk of anything like that. Not in our day and time. INTERVIEWER: Okay. But were there other stories that you did hear that were before your time?
William Maurer: I think I asked somebody one time why we were required to carry pistols, and they said they had heard years ago that there were some robberies on mail trains some years in the past where people had robbed them at gunpoint so I don’t know how true that was but maybe there was some truth in it, I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: And, did you ever face or witness any type of racial discrimination while you were a railway post office clerk?
William Maurer: No, no. In fact, I think on the Nash-Atlanta run or on the Charlotte-Atlanta run, we had black clerks along with white clerks and there was no problem with that. In fact, one of the men I talked to was one of the black employees from South Georgia. We were talking one day and he said that his family had quite a bit of land down there and a beautiful home. I said, “It sounds pretty good.” I said, “I wish I had one.” We were joking about it, and I said, “Your father must be a very rich man.” He said, “No. As a matter of fact,” he said, “when my family, back before slavery was abolished, we’re from that part of the country,” and he said when slavery was abolished, the man who had owned them had deeded a good portion of land to his family, to his great-grandfather at that time. I said, “Well, that explains how you got all the land then.” He laughed about it and said, “That’s right.” And in fact, I think he had gone to college because there were several foremen out there who had college education, but because back in the ‘30s when they had started or whenever the Railway Mail Service or the postal service was one of the better paying jobs in the country at that time so they just stayed with it.
INTERVIEWER: That’s an interesting story.
William Maurer: Yes. I found out we had one man who was a graduate and he wasn’t even a foreman. He was a graduate of Georgia Tech, and when he retired, and he retired years later, I often wondered why he didn’t go into private business. I don’t know. Like I said, back when a lot of the older people, even though the ones that had college or university, I guess they found government service to be a better-paying job in the Depression or maybe right after the war, I don’t know, but there were several that had it.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Did you ever hear of anybody who experienced racial discrimination while on the railcars, and this could’ve been during your time or possibly before?
William Maurer: No, not really. Because -- I don’t know. I think it’s just like when I first went in to Railway Mail Service, on my first trip out, I asked the foreman, I said, “How long will I have to qualify before you all decide that you’re going to keep me? Will it be a one-year probationary period or six months?” He said, “Son, I’ll tell you something. If you’re here in two weeks, after you worked with us for two weeks, you’ll know we want to keep you. We’ll know within two weeks if you’re going to stay out here.” So they were pretty strict. They were pretty demanding in qualifying if whether you would stay out there or not. I guess that’s the way the evaluated you.
So I didn’t think that was too long a period for me to prove myself so I did the best I could, and apparently I passed the test because I stayed out there. So that pertained to everybody regardless of race, color, or creed. I think they just looked at the way you worked and how you handled instructions and so forth and so on.
INTERVIEWER: And were you ever a member of any type of outside organizations such as a union or a club that was affiliated with the railway postal clerks?
William Maurer: No, I was not.
INTERVIEWER: And was there anything that you ever wanted to change about your position or job with the railway?
William Maurer: No, I don’t think so. I think because, as I said, I was a part-time flex [sounds like] or whatever they called them back then. No, because I handled so many different jobs it was just interesting. It was not like a regular clerk who would bid on a specific job and this was the same thing that he did on every run. My job as a replacement for anybody was that I did any number of jobs, and I find it very interesting and very challenging.
INTERVIEWER: And what is the thing that you miss the most about being a railway post office clerk?
William Maurer: Well, number one -- well, the most I guess is just the comradeship and the way we work together as a team, and the way we watched out for each other and helped each other. I guess you could say the comradeship that was involved in being a railway mail clerk.
INTERVIEWER: And is there anything else that you miss about the job?
William Maurer: I think I miss the challenge of the job. Because when I went back into a stationary unit -- in fact, I can say this with kind of a tongue-in-cheek, when I went back into a unit, I was told when I went back into Atlanta after being excessed, I actually had people come up to me when I was working on mail cases or working mail saying, “Slow down, you’re working too fast.” And I thought that was -- I couldn’t believe it. I said, “What?” They said, “You don’t have to work that fast.” I said, “But I’m used to doing that out there because we were racing the clock between towns and between dispatches on the train.” It was just a whole different psychology out there.
INTERVIEWER: And then for the last question, is there any other information or stories that you would like to let researchers know about your experience or position with the railway post office?
William Maurer: Well I guess one story that comes to mind, we were making the Nashville run from Atlanta-Nash- Atlanta, and we used to go up into Tennessee and then dip down into Alabama for a short spell before we went into Nashville. Well, there was a place up there that we went through the mountains that were pretty rugged looking, so one day as we were going up the mountain slowly, there was nothing but immense forests and woodlands out there as far as you could see, I saw some wood smoke coming up out in the distance, and I asked one of the clerks who was from the Tennessee side, because on your mail trains your crews are composed of the clerks from the states more or less that you ran from, so we had people from Tennessee as well as from Georgia on our crew, and I asked the one from Tennessee, I said, “I see some smoke out there. What is that?” He said, “That’s a still.” I said, “What?” I said, “Couldn’t that be so obvious that the federal people, the state people could go in?” He says, “They don’t go in there.” I said, “Why?” He said, “The country’s too rough.” He said, “That’s a moonshine still.” And I thought, my lord, there in broad daylight, everybody that’s from Tennessee knows what it is and I’m wondering why the police are not, the federal people are not checking it out. And that’s just what he said. He said, “Son, they don’t normally go in there it’s pretty wild country.” So that’s what I was told. Interesting story, isn’t it?
INTERVIEWER: Yes, that is an interesting story.
William Maurer: There is one more I should say I guess and then that’ll be the end of my stories.
William Maurer: We were on the Charlotte-Atlanta run, I think it was, and like I said, we usually went on an hour or so ahead of time and start working the mail before the train left, and so -- and we did sometimes, I guess, [indiscernible] was a small bottle of something I didn’t drink and most of them didn’t but there was one particular fellow from West Georgia, I can’t remember at that time, maybe Bremen, Georgia somewhere, and he had a small pint bottle up in the corner of his case where he was sticking the mail. And they didn’t drink it obviously but I’m sure he took a swig. Anyhow, the inspectors came on as they would sometimes, they were checking us out post inspectors, and I asked one of the fellows kind of quietly, I said, “Isn’t that fellow worried about that inspector seeing that bottle up there?” And this man was giving me a nod, “Well, he’s not worried about it.” And I said, “Why not?” He said, “Because that inspector is his brother.” As I said, “What?” And so I thought that was -- and I think about it all these years back, the way it was said and I thought geez. Because the post inspectors were usually pretty thorough and pretty rough-looking but that’s what was said so I just kept on my work and it stuck in my mind, and that’s why I’m telling you it.
William Maurer: Now, I will say one other thing, and I can say it now because we’re gone. Sometimes you have disagreements on the train, okay? And the one foreman I had, they called him -- his name, I think, Bill Britt -- I'll never forget his name, and back when I was still a young man, I would say he was in his 50s but he was in fact in great physical shape. He looked like a wrestler. And they called him “der bulldog.” And you know “der” is German but they called him “der” bulldog. So, one time we had a slight altercation on the train, it was Charlotte-Atlanta run, and there were two young men tousling or fighting or they got into an argument over something. And Mr. Britt just went in there and physically separated both of them. And the thing about it was, out there we had a saying, we took care of our own. In other words, if there was fight on the train, if there’s something they didn’t ran over there and write it up like in a stationary unit when something happens, you’d be written up, what they call written up, and it would be reported. Out there, if we had disagreements, I don’t care if you had a fight on the train, it was taken care of within that mail car by the foreman and by the people involved and that was it and it was over with, which I thought was great. It was just like a family out there.
Mr. McDermott, of Princeton, Indiana, started as a substitute for the Railway Mail Service in 1940, only to be drafted into the Army in 1941. After the war, Mr. McDermott returned to the Railway Mail Service, running on the Cincinnati and St. Louis line for several years, and then the Chicago and Evansville line. He worked on the Highway Post Offices as well, between Evansville and Indianapolis.
Walter McDermott (WM) Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: What made you decide to work for the Railway Mail Service?
WM: Jobs were kinda scarce back when I, when I was looking for work, and back in the middle of the Depression, and so it was paying pretty good compared to what the local rate was, a lot of school teachers and it was paying a little more than it could for teaching school. Of course, I wasn’t a school teacher but quite a few school teachers took the exam because they get payed more that they could teaching school.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me about your schedule?
WM: We, it was riding the train, and you’d go to work and do some advance work the mail had to be declared in whatever city or town you were starting a run, and then we’d usually go to work, or were scheduled to go to work about an hour or two hours before the train left the terminal. And we… from whichever run you were assigned to. Yes, we would stay overnight. We got into Chicago at 5:30 in the morning, or it was scheduled to. So we would have about 10 hours to eat and rest before we were scheduled to go back to Evansville. So, the time we unloaded the car and got a light breakfast and go to the YMCA and get a small room to sleep a few hours, then get up and have some supper and go back to work, and leave Chicago at 10 o’clock that night. We would make three round trips from Evansville to Chicago, and that would take 6 days and then we were off, we were off a week. We were off a week, and because we had put in several hours and three round trips. A lot times the train would run late, and… it was not a set amount of time, it was so many things that entered into a train running on time or, you know, you couldn’t depend on it. Of course I was on several different runs. I was assigned to a one man run from Indianapolis to Springfield, Ohio. One man run from Bedford to Terre Haute, Indiana, and one I was for a while on the Norton to Louisville, just a one clerk unit on a passenger train. And, it was an awful lot of studying to do, we were paid an hour and a half a day to, for study purposes, and we had to memorize the train schedules, and we had to memorize the cities and the towns that we, in the states that we worked, we had to work every town and post office in Indiana, and Illinois, and it was a lot of studying to do in our time off. And we had to take exams on the states that we were memorizing.
INTERVIEWER: Were the one man runs very difficult to do all by yourself?
WM: Well, no because on those short runs they would stop at every town and take passengers on, or let ‘em off, so it was, it was not too difficult, we’d sort the mail for each town, and take on mail and dispatch mail. Then on the longer runs we had non-stop stations and we’d have a catcher arm, and we would raise and catch the pouch, going 60 or 70 miles an hour, and we’d also dispatch the pouch to the town that we were going through. So it was, it was, a lot of things to learn and do on a railway postal clerk job.
INTERVIEWER: What was your favorite part of the job?
WM: Well my favorite part of the job was getting mail delivered on time. We had a reputation for getting mail a lot quicker than they do today. It was personal satisfaction, and the pay was very good compared to other jobs.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything you did not like about?
WM: Well, it was dirty. Dusty, bad weather, real hot weather or real bad weather there was all kinds of problems staying warm or trying to stay cool. And the bags that we had to dump were dusty and there was crud on your lungs, but it was a… sometimes there was a train wreck or we’d hit somebody, the train would hit a car or something and we’re delayed for indefinite time, some 5 hours. Well, yes, it was, long hours away from home. Oh I don’t know, it’s hard to describe it all, but of course it was civil service, and it had good fringe benefits. Insurance and it was very interesting. You had to memorize so many things. On one run I took from Evansville to Chicago I had to memorize every street in Chicago. Of course we would work Chicago city mail out to the end result, and we’d pouch all the major banks directly, and all the major mail order houses, Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, Spiegel's, and we would have that mail delivered that day. So we had a great reputation for getting the mail home the next day. We had train connections all the way from Miami. We would have what amounted to a lot of mail. We would make 50 pouches on the city of Chicago, and we had mail all the way from Miami. The train was set up on a schedule to, from Miami to Jacksonville, it would be on a connecting train from Jacksonville to Nashville, and a connecting train from Nashville to Chicago. And it was always on a passenger train, never on a freight train, and so it was long hours at times and a lot of, a lot of memory.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever run into any danger? Any train wrecks or anything like that?
WM: Oh yes, there was always a possibility of that, and at times we would have to, we would have a derailment or an accident, and that was a lot of things that could happen and did happen occasionally, and we got to take our own lunch of course, brown bag. We would make coffee on the mail car and would have a lot of, we had, on the night train, we’d have 2 60 foot mail cars, 10 men in a car, so we had a crew of 20 men on the night run from Evansville to Chicago. 10 men in each car. And, so we were kind of a family like, up there. Working together to put, half of ‘em headed out of the Chicago end and half of ‘em headed out the Evansville end. And our two trains would meet up around Dansville, Illinois–one going south and one going north. So, it was a very interesting job. It was tiresome, our long hours, but we, once it got all started out, my goodness in the middle, 1860’s, it started out, taking the place of the Pony Express.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have any stories from the Railway Mail Service?
WM: Yes, there was all funny things and sad things but one time we stopped at Vincennes, going north, and there was a restaurant close by, half a block from there, and one of the fellas would jump off and go get us a sandwich or a Coca-Cola or something like that. And one time he didn’t get waited on right away and the train pulled out and left him standing there. There was always a kind of camaraderie. We had fellas that lived all along the line, I lived in Princeton, that was about 30 miles off of there, lived in Terre Haute and Dansville, Illinois, intermediate places, and they’d have to dead head from one end to the beginning point. … My son, we lived in Princeton which was about 30 miles outside of Evansville, and my son, he was about 6, 7 years old, and I didn’t know he was in the back seat. He had hid back there and wanted to go with me. So I got to Evansville and there he was. So I just let him stand up in a mail bag that was hung in the mail, overhanging the pouches and throw mail into ‘em. So I had him stand in there to be out of the way. He wanted to go with daddy. That was always funny story. My wife was, I had to call her, and she met the train and took the boy home [laughs]. All kinds of little personal things that happened. But it was hard, long hours, and a lot of memory and a lot of studying in your time off.
Mr. Meredith entered the Railway Mail Service in 1958 after working on the Highway Post Offices from Bristol to Pikeville, Kentucky and Welch, West Virginia, and at the Washington, DC terminal. He joined the Railway Post Office running from Washington to Bristol for several years, and later on the Washington and Charlotte, and Washington and Grafton until the late 1960’s.
Douglas Meredith (DM) Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: What made you decide to work for the RMS?
DM: Well when I got out of the service, I was in the service during the Korean conflict, and when I got out of the service in 1958 jobs were pretty scarce so I took… them closing the postal exam while I was in the service I could have it reopened to take the exam. So I took the one for the Railway Postal Service and the one for the post office, and they called me first to the Railway Mail Service, so I took that.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me a little bit about the conditions on the train?
DM: Well it was, we had, we got a lot of time off, I mean, because we, we worked a 48 minute hour. We had to study and put up state examinations, you know in our own time. So we worked a 48 minute hour and then I worked, the run that I was on, I worked before the started cutting ‘em off, was from Washington DC to Bristol, Virginia, Tennessee. And I would go to work in Washington at 6 o’clock in the afternoon. The train left at 12, midnight, and we got to Bristol the next morning at 10 o’clock. Then I would turn right around, I’d leave at 7 that night, and get back to Washington at 6 the next morning. And I would do that three trips, you know three weeks. Well first off I would do that, I would work 6 and then I was off 5 days. And then I worked 2 trips, and then I was off 7 days. And every fourth set of runs that I was supposed to go out, I had earned enough time that I was off of the run so I was off 21 days in a row.
INTERVIEWER: So was it very difficult to get used to having to sleep during the day and that sort of thing? And the schedule?
DM: Well, yeah, we had a, there in Washington DC we had at the old Union Station, there used to be a YMCA upstairs there, and that’s where we’d stay, and also the railroad people stayed up there too. And then in Bristol we had a room in a hotel down there that ones running at different times shared, so we slept there. But that’s all you did when you were up there for that week was just work and eat and sleep.
INTERVIEWER: Would you have any extra time to get together with the crew or did everyone pretty much go their own way?
DM: Well, most of the time we would usually eat breakfast together, and everybody would go, clean up and go to bed.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have family at the time you were working for the Railway Mail Service? DM: Yes, yes I did.
INTERVIEWER: Was it hard for them to have you be away for so long?
DM: Well, it was… I guess it was hard on my wife and the kids for a while, but we kind of got used to it because I had a lot of time off together, then.
INTERVIEWER: What would you say your favorite part of the job was?
DM: Well I liked the time off. And kind of the excitement of it too, I mean, you know it was a little different, you know, you were on the train moving, you know, and always, always a little something different, you know.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything you really didn’t like about it?
DM: No, I really liked it. I mean that was one job that I really liked. Of course I liked the post office, I went in the post office and I spent about 38 and a half years with the postal service, counting my military time, so. But I’ve always enjoyed working for the post office.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever run into any danger on your runs?
DM: Well, no, not really, I mean every now and then somebody would, the train would go into emergency and we had a lot of, several mountains that we went between Bristol, between Washington and Bristol, and it was scary sometimes you were going down one of those and the emergency came on. Of course when the train went into emergency it had to stop. And the train men had to get out and walk up and down the line, see if anything was wrong. That was a little scary, that happened sometimes when I was on there.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have any stories, from your time with the Railway Mail Service, maybe something funny or unusual happen, a big mistake you saw someone make at one point, anything like that?
DM: Well, no, I guess, well, you always got some funny stories. Anyway, I guess about one time we were coming out of Washington, DC and were coming into Lynchburg, and they have a cross over there, the N&W would go south toward Bristol and then the Southern would go straight on to Charlotte. They had a wreck on one of the trains coming north, wrecked right there at that crossover. And we sat there for 23 hours, we were on the train sitting there 23 hours until they could get it, you know, get the tracks just cleared so we could get through. And we were running beside a train one time, a freight train, and it derailed, but the cars went over the other side, they didn’t come over into our side.
The Railway Mail Service was a family tradition for Mr. Miller; both his father and uncle were mail clerks. Mr. Miller got his own start with the Railway Mail Service in 1948, on a one to two man run on the Pittsburgh to Kenova, West Virginia, until it was cancelled in 1953. From 1953 to 1968, he ran on the line from Pittsburgh to New York.
Donald Miller (DM) Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: What made you decide to work for the Railway Mail Service?
DM: My dad and my uncle both worked for ‘em, and they worked so many days and then they were off so many days. And I thought it was a pretty good job.
INTERVIEWER: Did they have good things to say about the job?
DM: Oh yeah, they liked it, they both retired on that. It’s been a long time ago that was going on.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me a little bit about your schedule, the hours that you would work on the train?
DM: We’d either go to Chicago, Pittsburgh to Chicago, or Pittsburgh to New York. And one time I went down from Pittsburgh to Parkersburg, West Virginia, and that was on a little local line. And there’d be sometimes, you know probably 8, 12 people on a mail train.
INTERVIEWER: Was the local line, was that still a large crew or was that a one man run?
DM: Well, I was on a one man run, two man run rather, and most of it was going to New York and Chicago, they probably had about 6, probably about 6 guys on it. You’d work so many days and then you’d be off so many days, and that’s the part I liked about it.
INTERVIEWER: Uh huh. Was it a lifestyle that was difficult to get used to?
DM: No, no, we had, in Chicago and New York both we had places, they weren’t very nice places to stay but they were cheap [laughs] and they were close to the railroad station, too. It was a good job, a fun job. The guys, we got along all good, it was really nice.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me a little bit about the examinations?
DM: Yes, you had to put up different things for what your job, whatever job you bid. You had to know, like in New York, in New York and Chicago you had to know the streets and the town, you’d be working the mail and be throwing it out to those streets. And, or, if you’re working different towns, you’d have to know where the towns were. You got an exam, you had to make 95 percent, or you flunked. So, you really studied hard.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything you didn’t like about the job?
DM: Really, no. I liked my job. I’ve always liked every job I’ve had!
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Did you ever run into any dangerous situations?
DM: No. Well I better tell you that, every guy in the mail train carried a gun, a revolver, and it was, what was it… but everybody had a revolver and you carried your revolver when you were in the mail train. And you’d take it with you and go up to, we had clubs where we stayed at in New York and Chicago, and you’d take your gun there, and you’d kinda keep it, sleep under your pillow [laughs]. You’d be sleeping during the day, so.
Following in footsteps of his father, Mr. Mitterer decided to become a mail clerk and joined the Railway Mail Service. He worked on the Atlantic Coastline Railroad from 1948 to 1967, generally running between Washington and Florence, South Carolina.
Otho Mitterer (OM) Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: What made you decide to work for the Railway Mail Service?
OM: What made me decide? My father was a Railway Mail clerk. And I was certainly disappointed when it was discontinued. Yeah, my father was a Railway Mail clerk for 45 years.
INTERVIEWER: Wow. Did he ever take you down to see the trains when you were younger?
OM: Oh yeah, yeah. We used to go down and see the trains.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me about your schedule?
OM: Well, I used to go from Washington, DC to Florence, South Carolina. And I would go down one day, come back the next day, and then have a day off and then go down one day and come back the next day, and have seven days off. So we put in a lot of hours the days we worked. And then I had a run, a short run out of Richmond to Washington, that I would start out on Monday and work through Saturday. And then the next week I would be off except Friday, I would have to work extra Friday night.
INTERVIEWER: Was it a lifestyle that was very difficult for you to get used to?
OM: No, it wasn’t hard to get used to. You know, you kind of looked forward to all that time off. But, you know, you did put in long hours. And they allowed you time for, for preparing your supplies for the trip and study time for studying for examinations. So I think we had to work 48 minutes to make an hour after all the allowances they allowed us.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever have time to get together with the crews when you would get to one end of a run?
OM: Yeah we would all stay in the Railroad YMCA at the end of the run. When I first started we could stay at the YMCA in Florence, South Carolina for 35 cents, and we could stay at one in Washington for 50 cents. And then they air conditioned the one in Washington and it went up 65 cents. That was a long time ago. Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: What was your favorite part of the job?
OM: Well, I enjoyed the fellowship with the other clerks, and I just enjoyed working, and you know, traveling. And we had time, we kind of socialized on the train, doing that work, we were going from one station to another, we might run out of mail but we would pick up some more at the next station.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything you really didn’t like about it?
OM: No, I liked everything about it [laughs]. In fact, I’m standing here looking at a little model Railway Mail car.
INTERVIEWER: Do you ever remember running into any danger?
OM: Not really, you know the trains would have a wreck every now and then, they would hit a car or truck or something crossing the tracks, but never any real danger to us.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have any stories from the Railway Mail Service, anything that was very funny or unusual that happened?
OM: Right off hand I can’t think of anything. I can’t think of anything right now, but if I sat and thought about it I’d probably think of something.
Mr. Moberg, of James Creek, Pennsylvania, began to work for the Post Office before his military service, on a local line on the Huntingdon & Broadtop Railroad, from 1948 until 1949. Upon discharge, he returned to the Railway Mail Service, picking up his former run, as well as the Altoona and Williamsport line. He was surplused in 1967.
Paul Moberg Interview Transcript
Paul Moberg: My name is Paul Allan Moberg. I was an employee of the Postal Service. I worked on the railway trains, postal trains, and I worked at the federal postage envelopes in Williamsburg for 10 years. I also had, for about five years, I drove a Highway Post Office bus out of Altoona after the trains were taken off or cut down so I was the operator of the bus we ran from Altoona to Williamsport.
INTERVIEWER: And what rail lines did you work on and which locations did you travel between?
Paul Moberg: I worked on the Pennsylvania Railroad. We ran from New York to Pittsburgh. We made three round trips a week and then we were off the following week. And then when I first went in to the Mail Service as a substitute, I ran on the Pennsylvania Railroad different places from Harrisburg. Most of the time, it was from Harrisburg to Buffalo, Harrisburg to Washington D.C. I made a couple of trips on a railroad from Harrisburg to Allentown. I think that was the Redding Railroad.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And how long did you serve as a Railway Post Office clerk?
Paul Moberg: I retired I think 30-some years, 32 years, something like that. That’s all the jobs that I had in the mail service.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Do you know how long you were on the railway specifically?
Paul Moberg: On the railway system?
Paul Moberg: Really, I started out when I was a sophomore in high school over Christmas time. I helped on the Huntingdon and Broad Top Railroad for a week before Christmas and I worked the following two Christmases up out of Altoona Pennsylvania Railroad up from Altoona to Williamsport for a week. And that was it, that part of it.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And what made you want to become a Railway Post Office clerk?
Paul Moberg: Well, I guess it was because my father was a postal clerk too and it was a job that once you got started, it wasn’t -- you didn’t have to worry too much about being laid off if times are bad. So I wasn’t sorry. I sort of enjoyed it. It had its problems at times too but I guess that’s in any job.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Which positions did you have while on the rail cars?
Paul Moberg: I was a clerk. I did different jobs. Sometimes, you worked the letter case. Other times, you worked on the newspapers and parcels that were sent in the postal service at that time. And then like I said, I was a bus driver for five years. My work in Altoona, when the mail was taken off the railroads, I worked in the Altoona Post Office for I think five to 10 years and my job there was mostly was letter case, sorting letters.
INTERVIEWER: All right. Just going back to the previous question real quick, do you know which years you worked on the railway mail system?
Paul Moberg: I have it written down here. I don’t know. I can’t figure out my own writing anymore. I would say I spent maybe 10, 15 years in the railway mail clerk.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And could you describe a typical day that you spent on the rail cars?
Paul Moberg: As I can remember, the different trains you ran on of course ran different hours. But usually, you’re supposed to report to work maybe an hour or an hour and a half before the train leaves the station. We used to go to the railroad station and they had a room where we kept our suitcases that we used when we were on the road. And you go run your run and then of course, when you go to the other end, you got off, unloaded the car, and you got your suitcase and we went to a room there in the railroad station where you’re kept until you go back the other way.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And did you ever dislike any of the positions or jobs that you worked on the railway?
Paul Moberg: Disliked?
INTERVIEWER: Yes. And it could just be like little things here and there that you didn’t really like.
Paul Moberg: Well, I don’t know. I was on a couple of runs where there was an accident in the railroad and they bypassed it and we had to go around another route and that was sort of fun because once you cleaned up the mail that was in your car, we didn’t have any, we got cleared until you got to the end of the line so most of us either sit and read or tried to sleep or something like that. Some trains were more busy than other trains but all in all, I sort of enjoyed it, working with the other guys. There was always some guy on the crew to keep things going, so I enjoyed it.
INTERVIEWER: And was there a particular type of rail car that you worked on the most?
Paul Moberg: Well, most of them were the standard mail car. They were, what, 60 feet long or something like that. I worked on the Huntingdon and Broad Top as a substitute off and on. That was always, that was right up through the valley where I lived so that was nice or exciting to me. I knew some of the postmasters who come to the train and got the mail and it was different.
INTERVIEWER: And when you worked on the railways, do you remember what your starting salary was?
Paul Moberg: No, I don’t remember. I don’t remember exactly what the figure was but I never worried about money. I always thought that I would always have a job even maybe it wasn’t the most money a person could make but it was there to do. You didn’t have to worry about being laid off, unless you did something wrong.
INTERVIEWER: Right. And just from what you can remember about what you did get paid, do you think that the pay was fair for the amount of work that you did?
Paul Moberg: I think it was. Most of the people you knew, when they got the job, they stayed with it. They didn’t talk about, “Gee, I wish I had another job,” or “I hate this job,” or anything like that. You didn’t hear too much of that.
INTERVIEWER: Uh-hmm. And what did you typically carry with you in your grip while you were on run?
Paul Moberg: Well, if you needed supplies like the tags we put in the mail pouches, mail bags. You had to stamp your name and the date on the back of those. You carried those and then you had your knife to cut the bundles of letters apart, enough clothes to last you for a week. You sort of carried, whether it was cold weather or warm weather, you carried what you needed.
INTERVIEWER: Anything else that you can remember?
Paul Moberg: No, not offhand. Probably when we hang up, I can think of thousands of things.
INTERVIEWER: That’s usually how it goes, right? And what was the longest trip you worked? Paul Moberg: From New York to Pittsburgh, that was the longest runs I ever had.
INTERVIEWER: And how long did that generally take you to travel between the two cities?
Paul Moberg: Oh, gee, I don’t know. It was quite a ride. I can’t think of how many hours we spent on the train. Probably about eight or 10 hours, I don’t know for sure.
INTERVIEWER: And while you were an RPO clerk, did you have a family?
Paul Moberg: Yes, yes, I had my family, my wife and the kids that came along. It probably wasn’t the best life for a wife but we got along real good.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And how did you cope with leaving your family behind on these trips?
Paul Moberg: You didn’t want to go -- I wouldn’t say you hated to go or anything, but after being home for a week and used to being there when it comes time to leave and you know you’re not coming back for another week, it made you think a little bit but it was a job. It was a good job.
INTERVIEWER: And how did your family cope while you were away on these trips?
Paul Moberg: I guess all right. I never run in anything when I come home that was bad or anything like that.
INTERVIEWER: And what are some of your fondest memories of working on the railroad?
Paul Moberg: Fondest memories?
Paul Moberg: I don’t know, the thing like it was a job but it wasn’t the same every trip. Every trip was a little different than the other one. I don’t know. I didn’t worry about any wrecks or anything like that. You’d assume you know everything was safe so --
INTERVIEWER: Do you still keep in touch with any of the former clerks?
Paul Moberg: I have two clerks that live in Huntingdon. I run into them once every while. We talk a little bit. Otherwise, most of the guys you worked with, they’re scattered all over the state of Pennsylvania.
INTERVIEWER: Did the Post Office ever issue you anything either for your safety or for the position? Paul Moberg: No, I don’t think so. Every man was for and by himself.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Because I know that some other clerks mentioned that they were issued a revolver from the Post Office to carry with them so --
Paul Moberg: Yes. I had, well when I was substituting I think all subs. Well, now I don’t remember. But I know anytime we were responsible for registered mail, you carried a gun. And I had a job or two I was the register clerk and I had -- they issued the revolver.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And were there ever times of danger while on the railway?
Paul Moberg: No, not really. There were very few railroad accidents. Sometimes they’d have to reroute you on another route. You just shift from one rail going to west and one going to east, you know. They put you on side tracks and stuff like that.
INTERVIEWER: And did you ever hear of anybody experiencing a dangerous situation either on your line or perhaps on a different line?
Paul Moberg: No. I think the most dangerous job on a railway mail car was that the guys that had to stack up the pouches in the mail sacks in the doorway and when you come to a station, the train didn’t stop. You just pushed it out the door and they had a shoot-like thing that’d catch them. But I’ve heard stories where one of the pouches maybe would fall off, the suction in the air or something, it would roll underneath the train and the train wheels would cut the bag open. I’ve heard that story but I never was on a train when it happened.
INTERVIEWER: Right. And did you ever face or witness any type of racial discrimination while you were a post office clerk or the Railway Post Office clerk?
Paul Moberg: No. I always thought it was -- well, I worked beside colored folks, different jobs, but the camaraderie was good, I always thought, for the whole crew. There wasn’t too much yelling at each other or anything like that. Most of the clerks got along real well with everybody that’s on the crew.
INTERVIEWER: And did you ever know or hear of anybody who did experience racial discrimination while on the rail cars?
Paul Moberg: Offhand, I can’t think of any that I remember of. I just want to say I think the camaraderie between the crews, whether they were white or black, seemed to get along alright, I thought.
INTERVIEWER: And were you a member of any type of outside organization, such as a union or a club, affiliated with railway postal clerks?
Paul Moberg: No. No, I was never with anything like that.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And was there anything that you ever wanted to change about your position as a Railway Post Office clerk?
Paul Moberg: No. I was always pretty well satisfied with my job.
INTERVIEWER: What do you miss the most about that position?
Paul Moberg: I don’t know. You sort of miss meeting a new guy coming along with the crew, you know, the camaraderie. Usually, you hooked up with one or two guys on a crew. You’d go and eat after you got off the train. And then when we went to the -- we had -- they had places you could sleep at each end of the road and you can sit there and read papers or magazines or whatever you want to put your time in or you go to sleep, you go to bed. I don’t know. You became friendlier to certain guys. But as a whole, I think the crews always got along pretty well. You had contentions once in a while but never got bad or anything like that.
INTERVIEWER: Uh-hmm. All right, and then for 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? And this can be any interesting tidbit, funny stories, or colorful anecdotes that you would like to share.
Paul Moberg: Oh, I can’t think offhand. Oh, I can’t think of anything right now.
INTERVIEWER: All right, well, this concludes the end of our interview and thank you so much for sitting down and talking with me.
Mr. Moore began his career with the Railway Mail Service in 1957. He started at the terminal in Washington, DC, eventually moving to the Grafton and Cincinnati, Cincinnati and Nashville, and Grafton and Athens lines until 1966, when he transferred to the Grafton Post Office.
Daniel Moore (DM) Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: What made you decide to work for the Railway Mail Service?
DM: I just wanted to work for the government and I thought it would be interesting. Of course I started out at Washington, DC, believe it or not. I took the postal test and I said I would go anywhere in the United States to go to work. So they took me up on it and this is my home, Grafton, West Virginia, and so I put down I would go to Washington, DC and go to work. And I was just there a few days and I was talking to another gentleman, he told me all about the Railway Postal Service, and I thought, that sounds very interesting. I’ll put in for that. So, sure enough I got it. Best part of my postal career was the Railway Postal Service.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me a little bit about your schedule on the trains, your hours and that sort of thing?
DM: Okay, I usually worked, of course naturally you started off as a part time flexible, and then when I made full time, I usually worked 6 days on 6 days off. And I worked the trains 1 and 4, these would be B&O runs, and I worked from Grafton to Cincinnati, I worked 11 and 12 and 23 and 24. I’m sorry, 23 and 30. Then I was surplused when they started cutting the railway postal service, I worked down from Cincinnati to Nashville for about 3 months.
INTERVIEWER: Was it a lifestyle that was difficult to get used to?
DM: What’s difficult I suppose was the standing up working mail. You sorta had to hook your feet under the ledge at the letter cases to sorta, you sorta swayed as you worked the mail.
INTERVIEWER: What would you say your favorite part of the job was?
DM: I just found it interesting at that time, of course now with the airplanes it’s different, but how fast the mail would, if I worked in trains out of Grafton, going to Cincinnati, the crew coming in from Washington was bringing the mail in that was mail during 5 o’clock in the evening, and we used to get that delivered the next day in Cincinnati. And at that time, you know that seemed really fast delivery. Of course now with the airplanes, that’s a whole different story. I always that was interesting, that someone could mail a letter in Washington, DC like this afternoon and have it delivered the next morning in Cincinnati.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything you really didn’t like about it?
DM: Didn’t like about it? No, it was the best part of my career, I had 38 years, and I loved the Railway Postal Service.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever run into any sort of danger during a run, any train wrecks?
DM: I never was involved in any wrecks. We had a lot of detours because of, high water, floods and all that.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have any stories or particular memories that stick out, maybe something funny that happened, something unusual that happened?
DM: Let me explain the very first trip I went out. The first pouch I dumped up, I was going on train 1, and we received… of course, train 1 was going west. So we received a bag back from train 4 that was going east, and I dumped it up, and of course there was mail, and out came this old pair of boots. Like high top shoes. I mean they were wore out. I started looking for a box where they came out of. And guys were standing back laughing, now, this is my first trip. And they’re all laughing at me and I thought what in the world’s so funny, somebody’s lost a pair of shoes, I can’t find the wrapper! So I said, what am I to do with these? They said, throw ‘em in that bag right there. Well, it was for another RPO going back the opposite way the next day. And I said, well what’s going on?
And they said, that pair of boots has been going up and down the road, somebody’s shoes that wore out, so basically they were going up and down the road here for 2 or 3 months, and we’d just keep sending ‘em back and forth. So, I suppose I was out there another 2 or 3 months before they finally disappeared, I guess somebody throwed them away. The guys liked to play different kinds of jokes like that, all of them, good sports about it. It was just, we became very close out there. We were together for about 6 days and nights, and you just became like a big family.
Mr. Harold Morgan joined the Railway Mail Service, following in the footsteps of his father-in-law who was a RPO clerk. Mr. Morgan subbed for 14 years, travelling mainly on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroads. As a sub, he was able to work every position on the mail car, from being in charge to sorting letters.
Harold Morgan Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: Could you please state your name and the positions you occupied with the Railway Mail Service?
Harold Morgan: Harold Morgan, substitute.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. What rail lines did you work on and which locations did you travel between?
Harold Morgan: I worked on so many of them, I don't remember. Up around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, all the little tiny one-man runs that run out of there; on the Pittsburgh and Kanawha that ran from Pittsburgh and Kanawha, West Virginia and I worked on Highway Post Office out of Charleston, West Virginia, one to Beckley, West Virginia, one to Bluefield, West Virginia; another one way up north to Buckhannon or some place. All the trains worked on out of Cincinnati and mostly Chesapeake and Ohio railroad.
INTERVIEWER: How long did you serve as a Railway Post Office clerk?
Harold Morgan: I was a substitute for 14 years - 14 to 15 years.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember what years those were?
Harold Morgan: No, I don't.
INTERVIEWER: What made you want to become a Railway Post Office clerk?
Harold Morgan: My father-in-law was a Railway Post Office clerk out of Huntington, West Virginia on the Huntington and Logan. I worked on that one, too.
INTERVIEWER: Which positions did you occupy while on the railcars?
Harold Morgan: Substitute.
INTERVIEWER: What types of jobs did you work?
Harold Morgan: Whoever was off I worked their job.
INTERVIEWER: Could you be a little bit more specific? Just give me a couple of examples?
Harold Morgan: Well, they had a clerk-in-charge and they had a register clerk, and clerk's had sorted letters and clerk's had sorted packages and boxes and newspapers. And I worked all of their jobs depending on who you're working for or you're subbing for.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. For any of the jobs that you worked, could you describe a typical day on the railcar starting from when you first went into the rail station and then getting off?
Harold Morgan: Well, you went to work before the train left the station. Say, on the Washington and Cincinnati, the train that run from Cincinnati, Ohio to Washington D.C., we went to work a couple or three hours before the train left Cincinnati because you got mail from the terminal and you worked that up and everything pretty much as you could. When you started up a road, every small town or every large town anyway you stopped, you put mail out to them that you sorted out and you received mail from them that the people in that town had mailed.
The train crew and the post office crew broke at Hinton, West Virginia on the C&O railroad. That was the breaking point for both of them and it was one of those things on the railroad where it was different from working in a terminal. Everybody was a little bit proud of their work. If you didn't get all your work done, if you didn't get all the mail worked up, they said you were stuck. That was the name that they gave it. So, everybody done all they could not to go stuck on the mail to get all the mail worked up, and many a day I've got on the train and have lunch with me and ate the lunch when I got off at the end of the run. Didn't have time to eat lunch because you had to mail the work and you didn't want to go stuck. It was just a -- I don't know. You were looked down on if a crew didn't get their mail worked all the time. That was true on all trains.
INTERVIEWER: Then at the end of your run, what did you do?
Harold Morgan: Well, at the end of your run, you went to bed. I went to bed and went to sleep, caught the train coming back the next day.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Was there any one job that you liked doing the most?
Harold Morgan: No. I enjoyed all of them.
INTERVIEWER: For any of your jobs, was there anything that you ever disliked? This could be just from some small complaint that you pushed to the back of your mind or to something big that you just did not like doing?
Harold Morgan: Well, I didn't like -- there was a train that ran from Huntington, West Virginia to Parkersburg, West Virginia, a one-man run and there was a hatchery up around Ravenswood, West Virginia, up in there some place. I don't remember just where. Anyway, in the summertime, you got crates of baby chickens and a lot of times there were several baby chickens that were dead in there. And in this cardboard box which is about 2 1/2 by 2 1/2, it had holes punched in it for ventilation but you may get 25 or 30 of them. If you had two or three dead chickens in them in the summertime, it was very good. That was the worst thing that I can think of offhand, having to handle those in the summertime when some of them had died in there.
INTERVIEWER: What type of railcar did you tend to work on the most?
Harold Morgan: You mean between a one-man run and a regular several crew run?
INTERVIEWER: Usually when I ask this question, a lot of the other clerks reply with the length of the car that they worked on.
Harold Morgan: Well, if it was a long run, it was a standard railway car. I don't know what the length of it was. The one-man runs, they were just about a 15-foot long section of the car that the baggage was in the other part of the car that you didn't have anything to do with that. The mail car part was about 15-foot long on all the through runs and everything it was a full mail car. I don't know what the lengths of those were.
INTERVIEWER: I believe it was 60 feet.
Harold Morgan: Could be.
INTERVIEWER: When you started working on the railways, do you by chance remember what your starting salary was?
Harold Morgan: I remember what the salary was when I started in the postal service. I was working as an apprentice tentative machinist. I was a machinist apprentice at these main repair shops for the C&O railroad in Huntington, West Virginia. Because a lot of the people had left and gone in to service, after a certain length of time they promoted apprentice boys to tentative machinist so they can work them overtime. You couldn't work an apprentice boy over time. I was making it seemed to me like $1.45 an hour working as a machinist for the railroad. On the railroad, all the different crews, all of different trades made the same amount whether they were machinists, electricians, pipe-fitters, it didn't make a difference. They all made the same amount of money.
Anyway, I think it was $1.47 or $1.48. When I started in the postal service, left the railroad and started in the postal service, I think I made two or three cents more per hour.
INTERVIEWER: When you were working as a sub and what you do remember about your pay, do you believe that it was fair for the amount of work that you had to do?
Harold Morgan: Well, at the time, yes. It was comparable with everything else, I guess. That isn’t two or three days ago, kiddo.
INTERVIEWER: What did you typically carry with you in your grip while you were on trips?
Harold Morgan: Well, you usually carried some clean clothes and lunch, and you always carried your schedules, your books that you studied, and a lot of times you carried cards that had a post office on the front of it and at the back of it, it's about the size of a business card and has the name of the post office on the front of it and on the back of it, it had what railroad or Highway Post Office or whatever served that post office. You had to know that because if you got a letter, you had to know how to route it so it would get to that destination. So you carried some cards in your grip sometimes, and I always carried two or three states. They were small books about half- inch thick probably, by about four, by about seven or eight and it was a book in a post office in a state. Like the state of Ohio had a book, state of West Virginia had a book, state of Pennsylvania had a book and every post office in there also had where the mail went to; what train or whatever that served that city. That's what you had to take tests on all the time. You always carried them in your book, in your grip. That's about all that I remember.
INTERVIEWER: What was the longest trip you ever worked?
Harold Morgan: Well, on the road, 48 minutes equals an hour and the other 12 minutes, they gave you for studying, studying the mail so you knew where to send it. All of them, you couldn't work eight hours and get off because you may be out in the middle of nowhere. So they had designated places where the train crew broke and where the post office crew broke. If you went to work in Cincinnati, Hinton, West Virginia was as far as you went. That's where the crew broke. That's where the railway crew broke and another crew got on there, and went on into Washington, D.C. So they were pretty much all the same, all the large lines. The one-man runs, they were shorter because they just went out to, say, Pittsburgh and went out to all the little towns around Pittsburgh but they didn't go very far. They served the small post offices mainly. But all the through runs - what they call the through runs - they were all about the same length.
INTERVIEWER: How many hours would a typical long run be for you?
Harold Morgan: Well, from the time you went to work ahead of time to get the mail car ready to work and the work in the mail car before the train left the station and by the time you got to Hinton, West Virginia, I don't know, probably eight or nine hours.
INTERVIEWER: Then for the short-run?
Harold Morgan: It differed. Each one of them was a little bit different depending on how many post offices they served. I don't even remember, most of them, you go out and back in the same day.
INTERVIEWER: While you were working as a railway post office clerk, did you have a family?
Harold Morgan: Yes, I had a wife and three children, three boys.
INTERVIEWER: How did you cope with leaving your family behind on long trips?
Harold Morgan: Well, I was only gone overnight and then when you got back in town, it's home again.
Harold Morgan: You weren’t gone for a week at a time.
INTERVIEWER: So I take it your family did very well while you were gone, for the time that you were gone? Harold Morgan: Well, except when I was in the Pittsburgh terminal, then my family was in Huntington, West
Virginia or Kanawha, West Virginia, and I had to stay in Pittsburgh because working in a terminal, you worked eight hours everyday and you didn't get to go home except once a month.
INTERVIEWER: How did your family cope while you were in the Pittsburgh terminal?
Harold Morgan: Well, it was a little hard financially. I rented a room from a nice elderly couple up in Mount Washington, Pennsylvania across the river up on top of the hill. And I had so much money I kept out to pay my rent and to eat on. Like I say, every month I get a pass on the train to come home. When I came home, whatever money I had for meals for those two or three days I was home, I brought that home with me. That was how tight money was.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. What are some of your fondest memories of working on the railroad?
Harold Morgan: Oh, I don't know. There are a lot of memories of the people that you worked with. I don't know, just general memories, a bunch of nice fellows. Some of them were kind of slackers that they always had to have help getting their work done but most of the time they were a bunch of hardworking people.
INTERVIEWER: Did the post office ever issue you anything either for your safety or for the jobs that you worked?
Harold Morgan: Yeah, everybody had to carry a snub nose .38.
INTERVIEWER: Were there ever times when you were in a dangerous or a bad situation while working?
Harold Morgan: No.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever hear of anybody experiencing anything dangerous or bad either on your line or on a different line?
Harold Morgan: No, not that I can remember.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever face or witness any type of racial discrimination while you were working as a railway post office clerk?
Harold Morgan: Yeah. There was a colored fellow that worked on the Pittsburgh and Kanawha. It was a B&O railroad run and when he ran into Kanawha, West Virginia, there was a law on the books that colored people couldn't stay in town overnight, and he had to go to Huntington, West Virginia to stay. I didn't realize that till he told me. He was a heck of a nice fellow. That's the only one that I can remember.
INTERVIEWER: Do you by chance remember of anybody outside of your line who did experience racial discrimination?
Harold Morgan: No.
INTERVIEWER: Were you a member of any type of outside organization such a union or club that was affiliated with the railway postal clerks?
Harold Morgan: No. Nope.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that you ever wanted to change about your position? Harold Morgan: No. No, I don't guess so.
INTERVIEWER: What do you miss the most about being a Railway Post Office clerk?
Harold Morgan: Well, the camaraderie among the crew and going up to West Virginia up through the mountains up there, the New River Gorge, there's some really beautiful scenery up through there. But you didn't get time to look at that very much, except maybe out the window when you’re working mail or something or you'd stop at small town on along the way and pick up mail, put off mail - you get a chance to look at the scenery once in a while, but that's about it.
INTERVIEWER: For the last question, is there any other information that you would like to make accessible to researchers about your experience or position with the RPO? This can be anything from something that you saw that was absolutely bizarre in registered mail or just any funny stories or interesting facts?
Harold Morgan: Well, one of the interesting things, on the C&O railroad, I guess somewhere in Virginia, we used to get cured hams. I don't know how they cured them but they were hard as a rock and when you dump a sack of parcels out with newspapers and parcels and everything that had one of those hams in there, it hit the table, the wooden table that you dumped the mail out on so you can sort it. It hit that table like a big rock. Well, I think you could’ve pounded nails with them. Always thought that was kind of odd. I don't know how they cured them.
INTERVIEWER: Are there any other stories that you would like to share?
Harold Morgan: Well, I don't know whether it was a result of this or not, but we have inspectors that ride the trains with us to check on what we were doing and everything. Out of Washington, D.C., we would get bags of new money going to St. Louis or some other place. Sometime, we’d have a whole mail car or a baggage car full of mail that way - full of new bills. Got talking to a postal inspector one time and he was talking about people trying to steal mail for one thing or another. I was talking about it and said, you know, if you're going to steal mail, the thing to do would be to steal that so you could get out of the country and go to some country that didn't have extradition treaty with the United States. I said that car -- just happen to have a car back there, that day it was full of brand new mail from the Treasury Department or printer. I said that mail back there, if you get going down along New River Gorge and you could start dumping out sacks of that along the way and you had somebody to come along and pick it up, you'd have several million dollars maybe and you give them half of it to get it and to get you out of the country to another country. It wasn't a month after that that they started flying that. They didn’t put it on trains anymore. So I don't know whether that inspector had anything to do with that or not. I know it was kind of odd.
INTERVIEWER: No, that is interesting.
Harold Morgan: One other thing. I ran registry clerk quite frequently. You handled all the registered mail. Anything that's valuable, people registered it. I get on a train at Hinton one morning and whatever was over in the baggage car, you had to sign a receipt for from the clerk that was coming to Washington, D.C. On registered mail, there was a receipt trail for it everywhere it went. So whoever sent it knew that it reached the destination and they had a paper trail to show who signed for it, who handled it and everything. Anyway, he said you got a cargo over the baggage car. He said there are a couple of people over there with it. You didn't have time to do anything; we just signed his receipts and get ready to hit down the road. Going down the road, you got mail down halfway where it’s gotten and I thought, I wonder what that is over there that had two people over there with it. So I went over there and there were two fellows over there with shotguns and they were sitting next to a great big pallet, a wood pallet with tarpaulin over it. I asked him, I said, what is that? He said, “That's gold.” I said gold? Where is that going? He said, “Fort Knox, Kentucky.” So when we got into Cincinnati, the transfer clerk who handles registered mail between one train and another or the train or the post office -- anyway, he signed for all the registered mail. He signed for it and they had a forklift come up and pick that up and take it over to the Cinn- Knox which is a train going from Cincinnati to Knoxville and put it on that. I often wonder how much that was worth.
INTERVIEWER: Probably a lot.
Harold Morgan: About two or three bucks, I imagine.
Mr. Edward Mulrenan became a RPO clerk in 1947, and remained in the service until it was discontinued. Although he was a regular clerk, he chose to switch his routes every few years and thus live and travel throughout the northeast region of the country, as well as Canada. When the Railway Mail Service ended in 1970, Mr. Mulrenan took a position in the Bridgeport Post Office in Connecticut, where he worked for 22 years.
Edward Mulrenan, III Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: Could you please state your name and how you were affiliated with the Railway Post Office clerk?
Edward Mulrenan, III: Okay. My name is Edward Jay Mulrenan III. My father, Edward Jay Mulrenan, Jr. was an employee of the Railway Mail from 1947 to about 1969, 1970. He was my dad.
INTERVIEWER: What positions or jobs did the clerk have?
Edward Mulrenan, III: He basically was a sorter of mail. They would get on the mail trains in New York City and they would run on the various postal runs from New York City to -- he ultimately was on Boston, Massachusetts run then he was on Washington D.C. run and then the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania run and the Buffalo, New York run. It went up for bid. It was like a route and he would bid on a route. He would spend several years there. Occasionally, he liked to travel, so he would bid on another route. He also went up from Montreal, Canada as well.
Basically what they did is there were sacks of mail for the town side. For instance, when they went from New York City to Pittsburgh, they would stop in like Philadelphia, in Allentown, in Harrisburg, in Johnstown, in Altoona and Pittsburgh, and they would sort the mail for the various towns on the route. They worked the mail in the moving railcar. They were like a sorting clerk.
INTERVIEWER: You basically answered my next question as well which was, do you know what lines he traveled on and in between which cities? What areas did you live in while your father was an RPO clerk? Edward Mulrenan, III: For the first five years, we lived in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on Hope Street. I lived with my grandparents until my second sister was born. I had an older sister, myself, and we outgrew the house. In 1959, we bought a house in Stafford, Connecticut, and we lived in Stafford, Connecticut. My mom still lives there today. I was born in 1953 so he was a railway clerk from 1947 to about 1969 or 1970. They did away with the railway mail cars.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember why he wanted to become an RPO clerk?
Edward Mulrenan, III: He really enjoyed the work. He said it was a very good crew of people that he worked with. He said everyone was very hardworking and if you didn't do your job, they got rid of you. He really liked to travel. He got to travel and attend sporting events in Pittsburgh, PA, or Buffalo or Montreal. He really likes the work. He said it was a lot of long hours. He would get on the train and he would basically work until the mail was done. Sometimes, he would work 10 or 15 hours at a time and, generally, you'd stop for bathroom breaks or when you came to a station, you would sack like, say, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania mail in a sack and you would drop that off at the railroad station and a clerk from the Harrisburg Post Office will pick up the mail and you will go on to the next stop. Then when you got to Pittsburgh, PA, you would have all the mails sorted because a large city like Pittsburgh has different stations. They have a downtown station and north end station. You would sort all the mail to the individual post office where each carrier was located.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. That answers my next question which was to basically describe in better detail the duties that he had. What was the longest time your father was away from home?
Edward Mulrenan, III: Usually, three to four days are usually the maximum. He would get on a train -- no, I'm going to use the Pittsburgh one as an example. He would get on the train in New York and they would take the train out to Pittsburgh and they would stop in Pittsburgh and they had, kind of like it was a YMCA dormitory, it was called an RPO club. It was basically a dormitory where you could change your clothes, get a shower and sleep if you wanted to. Some people went out and had a few drinks. My dad used to like to go to sporting events in the various cities and he would sleep and then he would come back from Pittsburgh back into New York City and he would commute back and forth. He would take his car or else my mom would drive him when one of the cars was in the auto repair to the Bridgeport Railroad station and RPO clerks had a pass where they could travel the railroad for free - apparently, the postal service paid for it - and he would get on the train in Bridgeport, go into Grand Central at Penn station in New York and get on the mail trains and then work from there.
INTERVIEWER: How did your father cope with being away from home for many days at a time?
Edward Mulrenan, III: He didn't seem to mind. He didn't go out and drink. A lot of fellows went out drinking and partying, but he kind of slept, he -- would go to sporting events and he coped pretty well as far as being away from home. I was so used to it. Growing up, it was just he was gone for days at a time and that was kind of commonplace.
INTERVIEWER: I know that you said that he stayed at the YMCA dormitory.
Edward Mulrenan, III: Yeah, it was called an RPO club. It was similar to a YMCA. It was a building and a dormitory. I'm not sure who paid for it, whether it was the postal service or the railway clerks but it was kind of like a dormitory type. It was similar to the YMCA but it was in all the major cities - Buffalo and Pittsburgh and Washington - and it's where the railway clerks would congregate at the end of their shift.
INTERVIEWER: And do you know what other type of accommodations he may have had?
Edward Mulrenan, III: I'm not really sure. I believe that it was pretty much the RPO club and sometimes the YMCA itself in the city. It was usually one or the other. I don't believe they stayed at hotels or anything.
INTERVIEWER: How did your family cope with him being away from home so often?
Edward Mulrenan, III: Well, my mom usually stayed home. He worked six days on and eight days off, so he would work for like six days, he'll be pretty much gone and would be home for a week. So he was home every other week, so, you know, he wasn’t like gone for weeks at a time. He's gone for a few days here and sometimes he'll come home for a day and then go back in the middle of the week, but it was usually three or four days at the maximum. My mom did pretty well with three children, my oldest sister, myself and my younger sister. She managed pretty well. She usually didn't work when he was working. She was registered later as a private duty nurse at St. Vincent's Hospital, so sometimes she would work when he was home because there was always someone home with the kids.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that you used to do with your father to help him prepare for work?
Edward Mulrenan, III: He would have to take a test once a year. They would have an examination and he would have a case, let's say, for example, Pittsburgh, he would have to know where every street in Pittsburgh went - to the suburbs and the different stations. Sometimes, I would help him study for that. It was almost like flash cards; it was memory. He would have to know every street in Pittsburgh and which station in the city it went to. It was a pretty hard test. You had to get a 90 or better. So, occasionally, he would have like a practice case home with him and he would sort and I would help him do his test, ask him certain streets and he would sort the mail to the case. He had like a practice case which would show similar to the case that he had on the mail train.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything else that you used to do to help him with his work while at home? Edward Mulrenan, III: No, that was pretty much it, just helping with the tests. He talked a lot about the work. He really, really liked it and he socialized with the people. When he wasn't working, we socialized with their families and whatever and we would see them on the weekends and when he wasn't working. Most of his friends were from the RPO people.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever helped to pack his lunch for him while he was away?
Edward Mulrenan, III: Yeah, my mom and I would help him. We'd give him a sandwich for the first day and maybe a thermos of coffee or thermos of hot chocolate because the railway trains, the air- conditioning wasn't terrific and the heat wasn't terrific. He said the best train as far as comfort was the one that went up to Canada. He said that was the nicest. So sometimes, my mom and my sisters and I would pack him like an extra thermos of hot chocolate or coffee.
INTERVIEWER: What are some of the things you did while your father was away?
Edward Mulrenan, III: Well, basically, we were in school and we kind of helped my mom around the house as much as possible. She got along pretty good with my dad. There were really no problems there. He was away from home and we were kind of used to it. We did a lot of family activities together. We'd go visit my grandparents on my mom's side occasionally on the weekends when my dad was gone.
INTERVIEWER: What were some of the ways he kept himself occupied on the train after his work was complete?
Edward Mulrenan, III: Well, a lot of times they would go to the RPO club and he would take a shower and take a nap. He really liked sporting events and he would go to like the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team or he would go -- then when he was in Montreal, he'd go up to the mall. He did a lot of sightseeing when he was there because he was right in downtown Pittsburgh or downtown Buffalo or downtown Montreal. So he said there was a lot of exploring to do. If you were any kind of a tourist, you had a free trip up there. So you would have sometimes a full day off to see the sights in Pittsburgh and check out the local restaurants. He said some of the people went out and drank a lot but he wasn't a heavy drinker for alcohol. So he did a lot of sightseeing, a lot of sporting events and the baseball team in Washington, D.C. was the Senators at the time. So he went to some sporting events and he had minor league baseball in Buffalo. He would either see the sights or go to sporting events and such.
INTERVIEWER: Did he ever tell you what types of sights that he thought were the best?
Edward Mulrenan, III: I think he liked the Montreal run the best. He said that that was the nicest. He said Buffalo is a really cold place in the winter. He said that was a really, really cold, cold place. But he said the crews got along well. They basically had to get along with people because you're in a fairly close small railcar with like half a dozen fellows, so if there was any personality conflict, you had to work it out between you. He generally got along. It was a very close-knit group because he worked with the same group of people for years and years.
INTERVIEWER: While your father was away, how did your family keep in touch with him?
Edward Mulrenan, III: He would occasionally call from the place where he arrived because on the trains, there really was no communication. When he got into Pittsburgh or Buffalo or wherever, he would occasionally call to keep in touch with my family.
INTERVIEWER: What are some of your fondest memories of your father as an RPO clerk?
Edward Mulrenan, III: He really enjoyed his work. Helping him study for the test and he would describe the cities and sporting events he went to. I never became a New York area sports fan until he got off the mail train. I was always a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. He would bring home a Pittsburgh paper and he always would talk endlessly about the cities that he visited and the sights that he saw and the people that he worked with. So he was really enthusiastic about the job. He started 1946 and worked until 1992 and I think the highlight of his postal career was definitely his RPO days. He liked that job the best by far.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember if he was a part of any type of special organization, group or union that was associated with the Railway Post Office?
Edward Mulrenan, III: Yeah. He was affiliated with the union. Occasionally, they would have meetings that he would attend to. And also, they would have in the summer months, reunions and picnics of the RPO employees. They would have like one in Pennsylvania, one in New York, New Jersey, one in New England. He would attend those and would see people he had worked with on the various fronts because even when he left the railway, he went from, say, Buffalo to Pittsburgh, he would keep in touch with many of the coworkers that he worked on the Buffalo run. They were a pretty close-knit group and they generally socialized with the summer picnics and reunions, and he really enjoyed those. He saw a lot of those folks on the weekend. In his weeks off, we would often -- like he had friends in Long Island, he'd go down to the Port Jefferson Ferry in Bridgeport and take the ferry without his car and a friend would pick him up and they'd spend the weekend. My mom and my dad would go over there and spend the weekend with the RPO clerk and his wife. He said they were pretty close so they socialized quite a bit. And he really enjoyed the work; he enjoyed the travel. It was a challenging job. You had to work hard. It wasn't a regular eight-hour day because sometimes, you work 10 or 15 hours but he loved it.
INTERVIEWER: Did your father worked as a sub or a regular clerk?
Edward Mulrenan, III: He started out as a sub and after so many -- you would cover certain runs. Like a sub, you could be on the Buffalo run one week and the Pittsburgh run the next but after a few years, the routes would come up for bid and he would bid on a New York to Buffalo run or New York to Pittsburgh run. So after a few years, he became a regular. Once you're a regular, you went by seniority. Once you were there five or 10 years or whatever, you had seniority and you got first priority on the runs to the various cities.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. While your father was away, did you ever associate with any of the other clerks' families?
Edward Mulrenan, III: Usually, when my dad was home, they would come over on the weekends. Occasionally, my mom would socialize with some of the wives of the RPO clerks. She would go over their house for dinner and they'd go out shopping. She socialized sometimes with the families and, occasionally, the families would come over to our house and we would socialize with their families as well.
INTERVIEWER: I know that you said that your mom would sometimes go shopping or out to lunch with the other clerks' wives. Now, as family units, was there anything special that you guys did while on the weekends with the other clerks' families?
Edward Mulrenan, III: Sometimes, they would come over for dinner or they would bring slides like when they went on a vacation. One fellow went to Italy every year and they would bring the slides and the pictures of their trip. Their parents I think were from Italy, so they would bring back the pictures and they would have a lot of the slide shows and a lot of travel information and such.
INTERVIEWER: My next question is, when your father was in town, did your family keep in touch with the other clerks that he worked with?
Edward Mulrenan, III: Yes. Sometimes, they would come over like if they had a free weekend or so, they would come over for dinner. Sometimes they would go out to like the Oakdale Theater in Connecticut that kind of has like traveling shows and musicals and they would occasionally go to Oakdale and as couples mainly.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that you did not like about your father's job?
Edward Mulrenan, III: Sometimes, when he came home, he would sleep for most of the day. He was sometimes a little bushed from being on the road. I think that's really the only negative part. He'd come home and be asleep for like 10 hours or so.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know if your father experienced anything dangerous or if he was ever put into a bad situation?
Edward Mulrenan, III: Well, quite often, the Federal Reserve Bank would put money -- that's how currency was transported from the bank in New York to the Federal Reserve Bank to the various cities. So I know he did carry a gun; he had a .32 caliber revolver. And they were -- had to lock the mail tags and they had very valuable stuff; sometimes, millions of dollars were on those trains. Well, fortunately no one tried to rob them.
The only real danger they had was when he went up to Montreal. Montreal had a terrorist group called the Parti Québécois. It was a separatist group and they kidnapped the Quebec province's provincial minister for the post office and the telegraph in Montreal and they killed him; his name was Pierre Laporte. They also bombed a collection box and killed a letter carrier in Montreal, Canada area. He said when they got up to the border, they would search the train tracks and they were worried about robberies and bombings at that time in the 1960s in Quebec. That was really the only danger that they had.
Occasionally, they had bad weather, flooding or snowstorms. They had occasional weather hazards with the train, but I think the only real danger he was in was when they went up to Montreal when they had trouble, when they killed the Canadian letter carrier and they bombed the collection box and killed him and they kidnapped and murdered Pierre Laporte, the Quebec post office and transportation minister. That was probably the only danger that he really experienced.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know if any of his fellow coworkers experienced anything dangerous?
Edward Mulrenan, III: Not that I know of, no.
INTERVIEWER: Could you explain in a little bit in more detail what exactly your father liked towards the positions he occupied with the RMS?
Edward Mulrenan, III: Basically, he liked the independent work. You had the work in front of you and you did the work till it was done. Plus, he got to travel and he really liked the railroads. He was always comfortable working even on a moving train, regardless of the weather conditions. It was very rewarding work for him. He knew every street and every carrier in, say, Pittsburgh, PA where all the mail went to different stations. He really enjoyed his work.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know if he ever disliked anything about his positions, anything that he ever complained about even just small things?
Edward Mulrenan, III: Sometimes, the cars were not properly heated in the winter and sometimes they were really, really warm in the summer. Occasionally, you can end up with a malfunctioning air- conditioning, a malfunctioning heater. He said sometimes it could get a little difficult in certain extremes weather like very hot humid summers or very cold winters.
INTERVIEWER: After the discontinuation of the Railway Mail Service, what did your father end up doing?
Edward Mulrenan, III: He ended up in the Bridgeport, Connecticut Post Office and they basically were given a chance to bid on various areas. Most of them picked post offices near their home. My dad end up in the Bridgeport Post Office and he worked in the front window in the business boxing section of the Bridgeport Post Office from 1969, '70 until he retired in 1992.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember what his attitude was towards his new position?
Edward Mulrenan, III: He wasn't too happy working in the Bridgeport Post Office. He said the workers were not as hard workers. He said they had a lot of malingerers, people who kind of went through the motions, and he said people who worked like some of the people at the Bridgeport Post Office would have been gotten rid off at the RPO. It's a much higher standard of work. He says that a lot of the workers were not as dedicated, not as hardworking as the RPO people. There was a big difference in morale and the work ethic in the Bridgeport Post Office. He wasn't very happy when they took the trains off.
INTERVIEWER: Then for the last question, is there anything else that you would like to let the researchers know about your affiliation with the Railway Post Office clerks or about the clerks themselves? This can be anything such as funny stories that you remember, any type of experience that he told you about.
Edward Mulrenan, III: I'm trying to think. Basically, he really liked the camaraderie of the people he worked with. He was very good friends with everyone and they were very similar background, blue- collar people and hardworking. He says there was really no racial animosity. He said they had blacks and Hispanics and Asians and he says everyone got along. He says that's something he didn’t have at the Bridgeport Post Office. He said there was a lot more camaraderie. He said there were no racial tensions or anything. It was a very close-knit unit, and he says that wasn't really the case in the Bridgeport Post. He said the blacks kind of hung around with the blacks, and Hispanics hung around with Hispanics, and the whites with the whites. And he said, “You didn't have that on the RPO.” He said there was kind of certain racial harmony and he was in the 40s, in the 50s and in the 60s, and he says they had none of the racial segregation problems that he ran into when he went in the Bridgeport Post Office.
INTERVIEWER: Did he have any funny stories that he told you?
Edward Mulrenan, III: Not that I can recall right now. Someone always had a radio and he said they would play cards and listen to the sporting events. He said it was a jovial group. It was a pretty easygoing group of guys and everyone kind of got along. That was pretty much it.
INTERVIEWER: What was the best city that he liked to travel to?
Edward Mulrenan, III: Yeah, he liked to travel. He didn't mind working. He says work is work; you got to support your family. But I think he liked the fact that everyone put in the same effort. Everyone either got along or you aired your differences. There were really no major personality clashes. He said it was a very close-knit group. He said it was very rewarding work. I think it was the happiest of his career when he worked on the RPO. He really regretted that they did away with them.
INTERVIEWER: What was his most favorite city?
Edward Mulrenan, III: I think Montreal. That was his number one by far. He said it was a beautiful city, clean city. He said all the malls are underground. Even when he went in there in the winter, he said it was beautiful. He liked Washington. There was a lot to see in Washington. There are a lot of museums and whatever. He said Pittsburgh and Buffalo were nice. He was in and out of Boston. He says you got to see the sights in between working.
INTERVIEWER: All right, is there anything else that you would like to add?
Edward Mulrenan, III: No, that's about it.