Oral Histories: P
Mr. Page, of Decatur, Georgia, entered the Railway Mail Service in 1948 after his military service in World War II. He subbed for six and a half years out of Atlanta, including: Atlanta-Valley-Jacksonville, Atlanta and Jacksonville, Atlanta and Savannah, Atlanta and Montgomery, Chattanooga and Atlanta, Charleston and Atlanta, Knoxville and Atlanta, and Cincinnati and Knoxville. He also made several Highway Post Office trips, on the Tennille and Dublin, Cuthberton and Tallahassee, Columbus and Andalusia, Porterdale and Macon, Savannah and Tennille, and Savannah and Cordale. Mr. Page made regular on the Atlanta and Jacksonville, and worked that line from 1955 to 1958, later working the Atlanta-Way-of-Jacksonville line until 1967.
Johnnie Page (JP) Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: What made you decide to work for the Railway Mail Service?
JP: Well, I was a farm boy down in Georgia, came out of the service in 1946, and my daddy had worked with the railroad back in the 30’s, got laid off and then come back during the war. And I went to Florida trying to get on with the railroad, and then course I was taking the Army Times and I saw the article printed in the Army Times, and I said that’s what I want to do. So I contacted the Veterans Administration, and there I went taking the exam and things like that, so that’s what I wanted to do.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me about an average day for you? Like when you would go to work, that sort of thing? JP: Well I came from down in Washington County, Georgia to Atlanta and I went to work in the Atlanta terminal, and they immediately transferred me to District 8 on the road, and I made a training trip Atlanta Valley-Jack to Valdosta, and then I think it was about a month after I came in or a little after, they put me on a one man run, Tennille and Dub, from Tennille, Georgia to Dublin. And I worked there for about 2 months, a little over for Mr. McClane, and then I came back and I subbed for District 8. Had to you know, put up exams and things, and I rode on several lines going south, you know, and worked myself on up and finally I got a Christmas assignment on Knox Car, Atlanta Cin and Knox, during the winter working Michigan letters going north and Florida letters coming south, I did that for two winters. Plus other details they want me to run on. Then they messed up a little bit when, taking a Christmas, got my wife down to her mother’s and was out about a few days, missed a few trips when they needed me, and I had to put up my exam again and I went back to work and I dedicated myself to the Mail Service completely. And from then on I went most anywhere they wanted me to go, I run on Cump and Tally, Cumper, Georgia, Tallahassee, Florida, I run on Columbus, Georgia down to Andalusia, Alabama, I run on Porterdale and Macon as just a substitute now, and Atlanta Val and Jack, Atlanta Way of Jack, Atlanta Savannah, and Atlanta to Albany, and I made a couple of extra trips out of my district, I want on Charlotte and Atlanta, Chat and Atlanta, let me see, I run on the HyPOs out of Tennille, Tennille Savannah HPO, Savannah and Cordele HPO, and let’s see if I run on another one somewhere, but I think that’s most of ‘em.
INTERVIEWER: Was the one man run a lot more difficult than working with a crew?
JP: Well, I got baptized pretty early the old saying was, ‘cause I didn’t, had put up the Georgia scheme and I was put on the Tennille and Dub, which was, that was my region down there, I knew the territory, and I had a very good training two man run to Valley Jack, both of ‘em really helped me out, you know, showed me the… everything about they could, you know, at the time that was allowed, you know, on that trip. So I learned quite a bit there, and I take that all in, I was very interested in it, and course I had a good I guess mind for geography of Georgia. So that little run was a, weren’t all that great, you know, weren’t all that long but it had quite a bit during the holiday season. So yes ma’am, it showed me what I had to do. So I was very interested in it and I got to running out of Savannah with good crews that could help me out a lot too, all the crews really worked with me.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have family at the time?
JP: I was unmarried when I came in, I was single when I came in, and I married in ’49, I came in October ’48, and I married in June of ’49. And my wife was very supportive.
INTERVIEWER: Was it hard if you would have to be away a Christmas, for instance, was that very difficult?
JP: It was for the family, yes ma’am but it, you know, I knew I had to make a living for the family ‘cause I knew I had to that too, you know. So, that was mighty too coming in, so I needed a job, so they knew it too. It was a little bit of a, you know, wishing I was home, but you know you had to work too.
INTERVIEWER: What would you say your favorite part of the job was?
JP: Well I’ll tell you, I’ve had some good runs, and I used to run on Atlanta Way of Jack 94 and 95, 94 coming out of Jacksonville, to me was probably the worst challenge, it was a two man run and you had to get your stuff ready for the Waycross, for the Waycross at Montgomery, and things like that too you know, so. If you, you really had to get on it and get yourself before you could make the, make the points to be in the… course the train really ran from Jacksonville to Waycross, I mean it just [whistle] ran right through there, you know. And that to me was the, you know it was my challenge, I’m going to beat you buddy, I said, like a boxing match, you know. I said you’re not going to beat me this time, I’m gonna win, so that’s the way I committed myself coming out of Jacksonville.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever run into any sort of dangerous situations?
JP: Well, on that same trip, I got regular on same that trip, I was regular too I mean, when I was doing that, you know, ran into Georgia several occasions, and I had a difficulty in Douglas, Georgia one night but it never mattered anything. But I thought it might. It was a Saturday night coming up and the train stopped at Douglas depot and we loaded mail. We had a rob box outside for people putting the mail in that we had to pick up and postmark, and it was collecting for the late mail after the post office had closed, so we could catch it and bring it on to Atlanta, you know, and make connections. And I had an African American substitute with me, and it was his job to rob that box. Of course you know we did have a, one of our sidearms at that time, you know when we was on the train, you know and everything, so. There was a crowd of whites there and they were pretty rowdy and I thought I might have some trouble there, racial trouble there. And of course I stood in the door and was pretty close to the box, maybe 40 feet or something like that, from the box you know. They wanted to do something but they saw there was a… too many people around. But they may have said some words, but it didn’t amount to no incident. I guess that’s about the only dangerous situation I saw.
INTERVIEWER: So then, mixed crews with African Americans and whites got along very well?
JP: Yes ma’am we had some very good, very good. There was no trouble with the crews, no ma’am. We respected African American clerk-in-charge and we did what he said to do. Yes ma’am there was never, had any problem on the road.
INTERVIEWER: Great. Do you have any other memories or stories, something particularly funny that happened, or something unusual, anything like that?
JP: You know, I heard a lot of stories being on the road… nothing big particular ever happened with the crew that I was in I don’t think. We always… there was some different stories told, you know. Like on the Cin and Knox coming up, when I was substituting on the Cin and Knox we had a new sub coming out of Cincinnati, I don’t know the name now, the train was coming south out of Cincinnati, coming to Atlanta, and at Corbin, Kentucky, they put all the registers in there and we had a register clerk to set up in the corner of the 60 foot mail car, and it was his job, you know, someone to, when you dumped up the pouches the first thing you did, you know, was get the next pouch and give him the registered mail. So the man that was dumping out the bags, you know, he told the substitute, give this to the register clerk up there, and he was sitting down and having his lunch. And he was just cuttin’ up, of course, he said, aw man, I don’t want that stuff, throw it out the door. And then the fella throwed it out the door! ‘Course he didn’t realize it. ‘Cause then the train started leaving and he looked down and he done said where’s the register you put down here son? He said you told me to throw it out, and I threw ‘em out! ‘Course the postal inspectors meet the whole train in Knoxville and scared the little boy so bad they tell me he resigned.
But it scared everybody else, too, don’t you think it didn’t. ‘Cause the mail people there, the baggage you know the people that looked at the back of the train saw it laying there and called the post master and give it to him. No mail was lost. But it sure did cause a lot of, no more of that kind of jazz going on in the train.
Patterson is a native of Chicago, Illinois. After returning from his service in World War II, joined the Railway Mail Service. He had several runs, including: Pittsburgh and Chicago, Washington and Chicago, Chicago and Omaha, Chicago West Liberty and Omaha, Chicago and Minneapolis, Chicago and Cincinnati, Chicago Fort Madison and Kansas City, and Cleveland and Chicago.
Alexander Patterson Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: Could you please state your name and affiliation with the Railway Mail Service?
Alexander Patterson: Well, Alexander Patterson Jr., and I was with the mail service -- oh, I’ve got to think now. It was over 20 years.
INTERVIEWER: What position did you have with the rail service?
Alexander Patterson: Position I was a mail clerk.
INTERVIEWER: What rail lines did you work and which locations did you travel between?
Alexander Patterson: Oh, I was a sub, see. I've been on many of them. I've been on the [indiscernible] the last one was the Pitts and Chicago. I ran -- this was when I was a sub. Back when I subbed, I ran just about as many as I could. So I do officially [sounds like]. I ran on the -- it’s been a long time, you see? This is Chicago and Minneapolis. I knew I should have caught them on tape because I had this --
INTERVIEWER: Just remember a couple of them, that's all right, you don’t have to remember all of them. Alexander Patterson: Okay, all right then, I ran on the Pitts and Chicago, Chicago to Pittsburgh, it was a 15-footer from Chicago. Well, I went from Chicago to Cleveland, I know but outside, I'm thinking it was -- Arizona went in there. That’s why I can’t remember, I guess. Well, we have -- I’ll think of it. It was a 15-footer from -- we went to Cleveland on it, Cleveland-Chicago. No, no, Cleveland not so much of that 15-footer I ran on, and my main line was Pittsburgh, Chicago to Pittsburgh. I ran on the -- when I was subbing, so many I can’t continue now.
Alexander Patterson: That can show you I’m getting old, right?
INTERVIEWER: Well, we can just move on to the next question and if you randomly remember other lines we can just go back, okay?
Alexander Patterson: Okay.
INTERVIEWER: How long did you serve as a Railway Post Office clerk? I know you said that it was approximately 20 years but do you remember the years that you ran?
Alexander Patterson: I ran from -- yeah, that’s I think -- I would say right off the top of my -- I will say at least -- now you are thinking -- I remember the ones that I ran on or [indiscernible]
INTERVIEWER: No, the dates.
Alexander Patterson: Oh, the dates?
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, from like 1950-something to 1960-something. Just --
Alexander Patterson: Oh, okay. From 1950 -- George [phonetic], how many years I’ve been out there?
Alexander Patterson: [Indiscernible]
George: From '58 to [indiscernible] that long ago.
Alexander Patterson: I went up there on -- well, let’s say at least 15 years, I believe longer but I can’t really remember. But I know it was in the -- it was most in the -- when did I go out there, '58?
George: [Indiscernible] like Michael was born [indiscernible].
Alexander Patterson: That’s probably '56, I went out there. When they closed it down, when was that, '87? Fifty eight -- I’ll have to check my -- I’ll say some 50 -- you know, I wish I had kept and saved it. Now, really I could tell you right off every one that I ran on, but right now I’m just -- well, we [indiscernible] -- I mean I'd say for at least about 15 years now. I'll put it at that or more.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, did you serve until they shutdown the railways?
Alexander Patterson: Right.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. So, it’s probably from -- you said 1956 to about 1966-67?
Alexander Patterson: Something like -- something in that order.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Why did you want to become a railway post office clerk?
Alexander Patterson: Well, I just got out of the service; I had to get me a job. I had just gotten out of the service so I -- well, I started in the main post office then I transferred to the railroad service. So we’re looking at -- oh, my gosh. I was up -- after the [indiscernible] not off the top of my head. I would have stopped about 15 years, could be a little longer. So I -- you know, you put me in a bad -- if I had known this is going to part of the quiz, I could have had all the writings with me, in front of you.
INTERVIEWER: It's all right. Do you remember the types of jobs you had on the railcars?
Alexander Patterson: Oh, yes. Well, I did a little of everything. I was in registered mail, pouch rack [sounds like] which is the normal letters going to different places. I just about did -- I did just about everything that was assigned to me at that time and there were several positions that I had. Like some days I might have the pouch rack. Some zip I might have the big boxes that we call -- and the registered mail and -- let’s see, what else? Oh, and I would be on some trains, I would have to throw and check. That means I had to throw the mail off and check it about the same time. You throw and check. That’s what we called it.
And the registered mail, big boxes, letter mails, I thought that one day I wouldn’t have to see the letter mails and stuff out in one of the trains I ran on besides the fifth in Chicago. That was my main line but whenever I -- I would just gung ho, you know, in a sense come about [indiscernible] take attempt at a trial. I'm not brave, I just succeeded because I got -- I never got a low mark, you know. Like if I'd be off and then control [indiscernible], well come on, you know. That's how I progressed I guess pretty fast out then on the road because I just was a railroad [indiscernible] I guess if you want to call it.
I met some guys and you know, that I would help, you know, the best I could, you know. You see some new guys will come out even regular clerks and you know, if I’ll be there and ran on such and such a train and I know what I'd operate, I could show him and how to throw and check. That’s throwing mail off and checking about the same time.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. For any of the jobs that you did, could you describe a typical day on the railcar starting from when you first went into work, what you did throughout the day and then, you know, coming back?
Alexander Patterson: Right. Okay, well, we first would get our grip which is what would be a little suitcase now, so we would change into a regular mail -- the clothes we’re going to work in plus we have our other clothes that we would hang up but we -- when we get to the next station we were going to get off. And we, you know, we dress and -- well, we all -- we would take our mail, everybody would take turn and help take in some parts of the mail, you know, just to get setup. So once we get started, we’ll be right on our way. Everyone has to -- assignment.
Even if you didn’t -- wasn't assigned an assignment, well, we would pitch in and help each other. And we would hang the bags for mail -- letter mail that is and registered and then for the big boxes as we call them. And that's about what I can tell you everything that we did.
INTERVIEWER: All right. And out of the jobs that you worked, was there any one that you liked the best? Alexander Patterson: Oh, yeah, well, I could do them all but the best one that I would say was the pouch rack where you have to get all the mails and stuff. Your pouch was where you would do a lot of local mail and mail that you want to get home quick or mail that you were going to take into the terminal to pass it on to the next crew that was going to get home, going like from Cleveland -- from Chicago to Pittsburgh, okay. When you get to Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh crew going to New York, we have everything set up for them before then and the pouches and whatnot, so they didn’t have too much difficulty. It was time consuming.
So what we were doing is we work what we could up and then some of the mail that we couldn’t work up, we return it to the Pittsburgh Post Office and then would rework it. We would have [indiscernible] things going to Philadelphia and whatnot so we can get it home as quick as possible. That’s about all I came to see, you know. But I didn’t mind any of it. I could just not brag. I could just about work just about anything. After a year's time, I could just about know which way the mail was going, how it should be, including what types of sacks or [indiscernible] it should go in and I just enjoyed it.
INTERVIEWER: And was there anything that you ever disliked about any of the jobs that you did?
Alexander Patterson: No, I never refused any job. I liked them all because I wanted to learn. If you don’t get on and learn more in the job, you’ll be in trouble then because you don’t know when somebody is not going to come along, you know when they’re going to get sick or anything so I just volunteer to learn as much as I could as quick as I could.
INTERVIEWER: And what type of car did you work on?
Alexander Patterson: Well, I was on a 30-footer, 15-footer and when we double up. Well, that’s about it. A mail you had pouches to do you had big boxes to do, you had letters to do. And I just learned all I could and as quick as I could. So if anybody didn’t show up, I knew what to do.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, and now, you are the first person who has ever told me that they worked on a 15-footer car, so what types of like, what was on a 15-footer car that may not have been on the 30-footer?
Alexander Patterson: Well, one thing you had more room on a 30-footer. Fifteen-footer it was just about everything was right together. You had to work with the mail. If you get registered mail, you had to work that, you get quite a bit of mail and you had to take that in. The big boxes or whatever you had to take that mail on and try to -- you had to be kind of fast because it didn’t take long for you to get to where you were going.
I like the 15-footer but you had to do everything. And then you had a little time before you put it through another station. They’d give you -- pass mail along to you. You take it all the way into Cleveland. I enjoyed working on a 15-footer. You’re only on that by yourself, though, no help, and you have to do everything as quick as possible.
One day, I couldn’t get it all, but I was sent right into the Cleveland Post Office because I [indiscernible]. I never turned any job down if I was called. I did the best I could which I never got no complaints because I was doing something right and I enjoyed it.
INTERVIEWER: When you worked on the railways do you remember what your starting salary was?
Alexander Patterson: Oh, now you’re really -- it wasn’t too much I'll say. I don’t know what the -- but I do know it wasn’t too much but after a while it’s -- you go ride and it became more and more but starting off, it was so low I didn’t think I would ever progress in there. But once we started getting raises, I can’t complain because we wouldn’t have no raise but, however, I look at it this way; it was a job and my family needs it. But it wasn’t like today now I thought it was then. So we progressed but --
INTERVIEWER: And from what you do remember about the pay, do you think it was fair for the amount of work you had to do?
Alexander Patterson: Now that’s a very good question. Most people will say no it wasn’t but I -- my theory is I was making a living where my family could progress. It wasn’t bad but we need it. Okay?
INTERVIEWER: And what did you typically carry with you in your grip while you were on trips?
Alexander Patterson: What would I take? Oh, mostly we would take canned foods. You know, you're either getting lunch where you go but not supper but going on the road, we could carry cans, not quite a bit of canned goods so it wouldn’t spoil but I really enjoyed it. But that’s not the most I can say on that but sometimes at some places you could jump off the train and get some food but you’re taking a chance because if that train pulls out then you’re left there. But I would take food from home first and what I get on the road, it will help me till we got to the next stop and then I would eat the regular stuff. But most guys carried canned foods, something that wouldn’t spoil right away.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And what else did you carry with you in your grip?
Alexander Patterson: We had change of clothes and whatnot and -- let’s see, change of clothes. We carried a revolver, a gun at that time. It was just something I guess for protection and I carried my clothes in there, you know, change of clothes until we can get back home.
INTERVIEWER: What was the longest trip you worked?
Alexander Patterson: The longest one, let’s see, Minneapolis, no. I made several -- I got to think now which one was the longest. Some of the shifts we had a turnaround. That’s what I'm having to see because when you had a turnaround, you'd go so far and you get off and come back towards Chicago. But I’m trying to think which one is the longest. I guess -- now that’s a good question, which one was that? I just want to -- I can’t remember, I think the trip from Chicago, either that or -- let’s see. I would say -- now you’re really -- which was the longest trip? I’d say -- there’s only a -- that’s a very good question, what was the longest one at one time? I would say -- oh, let me see. I really can’t say now but I know it was one trip, yeah, Marion, I think it was. I believe it was one of those just on the Marion, it was east to west. Let me see, east to west, north to south there had to be an east to west trip. So I’ll just say the lake -- no, let's see. I’m trying to think of the one go to New York. I would say that right off Marion. Marion -- I’ll think again. Most of them, probably almost the same. Well, I’ll say -- not the Marion, the -- is it Marion or --? I can’t really say it because most of them are probably in the same category. Well, I’ll just say it seems to me the thing call in Pittsburgh. That with Pittsburgh. I’ll say those two.
INTERVIEWER: St. Paul to Pittsburgh?
Alexander Patterson: In Pennsylvania.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And do you remember how many hours that took?
Alexander Patterson: Oh, that’s another good -- because -- if I ran on the 50, of course it was on the fast train, we could --
INTERVIEWER: It could just be a rough estimate. It does not have to be exact.
Alexander Patterson: Oh, I would say it’s just the -- the quickest or the slowest? I would say the Pennsylvania was because we made two stops on that from Chicago to Pittsburgh and on the [indiscernible], let me see -- Chicago to Marion and Omaha, that was a pretty long -- you can tell I don’t --
INTERVIEWER: We can move on to the next question and then if all of a sudden you do, we can always go back, okay?
Alexander Patterson: Okay.
INTERVIEWER: While you were working as a Railway Post Office clerk, did you have a family?
Alexander Patterson: Yes. Yes, I did.
INTERVIEWER: How did you cope with leaving your family behind on long trips?
Alexander Patterson: Oh, well, after the -- we did -- everyone got used to it. They know what day I have to go and when I’ll be back so we adjusted to it very well, I would say.
INTERVIEWER: How did your family cope while you were away?
Alexander Patterson: Well, as though their mother would tell them and say, well, you probably got to go. We got to eat so we all have to hold up together as if he was here with us and now we never had no problems with his travel. But the time when it's time to go, everybody will be [indiscernible]. Well, we got to eat. I guess I got to work somewhere so they adjusted to it very well.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And what are some of your fondest memories of working on the railroad route?
Alexander Patterson: Oh, let me see. I got to see different places that I might not have gotten to see if I wasn’t on the road. That’s the only thing I can see, you know, after once adjusting myself to the road and knowing when I had to leave and when I had -- and when I would be back, sometimes we'd have to turn right back around, you know, come home for -- especially if the train was late and we had to be back on the train at a certain time. Now that’s kind of -- because you’re sleeping but other than that, yeah, we adjusted really well to it.
INTERVIEWER: Do you still keep in touch with any of the former clerks?
Alexander Patterson: Oh, yes. Ted and I, I keep up with him and he keeps up with me and I had another one I was keeping up with but he passed. So it’s just really me and Ted really keeps up with each other.
INTERVIEWER: Earlier, you said that the post office issued you a revolver. Did the post office issue you anything else for the job or for your safety?
Alexander Patterson: No, not that I can recall but that’s mostly with that revolver. I guess if you are to run into a problem of someone trying to rob the train, that’s one reason, plus if you’re working in registered mail, you needed that revolver because you never know who might step on the train. But, no, I really didn’t have no problem like that but because at that time many people knew that a postal clerk was officially carrying a gun just to protect the mail. That’s wild, wild, west but it wasn’t that. It was just to protect the mail and the registered mail and other mail, things going through, that was being sent through the post office, through such and such a phrase. Other than that, I really -- I have to tell you when you think about it, nothing like that but you’ll never really would know. Anything can happen because I’m --
INTERVIEWER: Were you ever in a dangerous or a bad situation while on the railway?
Alexander Patterson: One time and that was the first day I went out on that 15-footer. You know, you got turn and stop, you just stop and then people would -- I didn’t really have no -- but some things wasn’t right but after I leave the [indiscernible] station I have to get everybody, especially when I was going on that 15-footer because the way the train went and right after we -- I got used to it and I could see -- there’s always no clarity and you see but you’ll never know they know you have a gun but you don’t know who else would have a gun. But other than that, that’s the only thing that would bother a person especially if you’re on that by yourself because on those 15- footers, you’re on there by yourself and you never know, say, if the train will stop and [indiscernible] time what might happen. You throw it all out in there. And that’s the only thing but other than that, I had no problems.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever hear of anybody experiencing anything dangerous on your line or on a different line? Alexander Patterson: On my line -- what was the last line?
INTERVIEWER: Or on a different line.
Alexander Patterson: Or on the front line. No, I never ran into a situation like that. I don’t know. I’ve heard some of the guys did but I never had no -- just that one on that 15-footer. That’s the only time I had any problems.
Other than that, I had no problems.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Did you ever face or witness any type of racial discrimination while you were a Railway Post Office clerk?
Alexander Patterson: Yes and no because sometimes you figure that if you [indiscernible] mail or registered mail and somebody else get on that and say, well, I can’t do that, well, I can’t do it. I really didn’t have too big a problem. Just like I said, the only problem I really had was when I was on that 15-footer. Other than that, I had no qualms with anyone.
INTERVIEWER: Did you know of anybody who did experience racial discrimination while on the railcars? Alexander Patterson: I’ve heard some guys said it but I never was on one of those things when that happened. I can’t say it didn't but I never ran into no problems like that.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And would you care to tell us what you did hear?
Alexander Patterson: Would I care about that -- say that again.
INTERVIEWER: Could you just tell us what you did hear?
Alexander Patterson: Oh, when I was on that 15-footer, is that what you’re saying?
Alexander Patterson: Oh, some people came down and they want to know why I was on there and I shouldn’t be on that train and if I come back on it again there’s no -- and such, and such a thing but I didn’t let it bother me.
Everywhere, doing that same thing, off and on, someone would say something. But I really didn’t have too much, other than that particular -- especially the first night because they were used to seeing -- it is like [indiscernible]. They never saw it like I did. They did not. Something like [indiscernible] somebody is coming through there with the mail alone. I just checked it off. I was called a few names but I guess that’s right. Other than that, you know, that’s the only problem I had and I didn't let it bother me. [Indiscernible] other than that, that’s the job. That's one incident but really I had problems in there. But after the next trip, the next time I came to that, no problem. Other than that, that’s really only incident I had.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Were you a member of any types of outside organizations such as a union or club that was affiliated with the railway postal clerks?
Alexander Patterson: No.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that you ever wanted to change about your position with the Railway Post Office?
Alexander Patterson: Yeah, I wish I was out there [indiscernible] but other than that, it was a living. I always looked at it this way. Whatever happens, happens, but as long as I could put food on the table for my family that’s the only thing that matters.
INTERVIEWER: What do you miss the most about being a Railway Post Office clerk?
Alexander Patterson: Oh, well, I missed that throwing and checking three or five times and checking them at the same time. You know what I mean? Other than that, I enjoyed the railroad. I'll put it that way. There were no problems.
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 Railway Post Office? This can be anything like an interesting fact or funny story that you would like to share?
Alexander Patterson: Oh, well, the only thing I would like to share is I had a -- I'm going to go back to history. I had a job. My family I wouldn’t say didn’t get hungry, but we survived. Other than that, when the railroad was closed, but that was my -- having something my kids could eat or my family needs and --
INTERVIEWER: Now, was there like anything interesting that you saw on any of your trips that you would like to tell?
Alexander Patterson: No. Is there anything that I saw off the train or on the train?
Alexander Patterson: No, I don’t think so because anyway, at that time anyway you go there was always somebody swearing up and down in one way or the other. I really didn’t have no qualms but, because I'll put it this way, I had gotten out of the service and I was happy that I had a job. That’s --
Alexander Patterson: When the [indiscernible] seeing at that time. Other than that, I was really satisfied.
INTERVIEWER: All right. Well, if that’s all that you have to say about your position with the Railway Mail Service that concludes our interview. So --
Alexander Patterson: That concludes -- well, I don’t know maybe -- are you grading me on this?
Alexander Patterson: I enjoyed this, being on the road because I was making a living so much [indiscernible] and we owe to that. That's about all I could say, you know. But I miss some of the guys, you know, joking around. I miss some of these fellows who were there. That’s the only thing I really -- because I always been a person like -- I always see that everybody is the same. And then as best as I could, I put it that way. But other than that, I can’t complain.
Mr. Patton is a World War II veteran, and began his Railway Mail Service career after the war. He had a total of 10 years of service on the road, and he ran on several lines, including: New York and Washington, Washington and Chicago, Columbus and Chicago, Chicago and Cincinnati, Chicago and Louisville, Chicago and Evansville, Chicago and Minneapolis, Chicago West Liberty and Omaha, Chicago and Omaha, Chicago and Council Bluffs, Pittsburgh and Chicago, New York and Chicago, and Chicago Fort Madison and Kansas City. He was a regular on the Chicago and Pittsburgh line.
Charles Patton (CP) Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: What made you decide to work for the Railway Mail Service?
CP: Well I had three opportunities for a job when I got out of the service. I could either go back to the GPO, Government Printing Office, stay in service, or take a new job, which was the Railway Mail Service.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me about your schedule on the trains? CP: Yeah I was on about 20 different railway lines out of Chicago.
INTERVIEWER: So it changed a lot, then?
CP: Right. You see, I was on, as a substitute I was on different lines. As a permanent I ran from Chicago to Pittsburgh, that’s what I was on after they downsized.
INTERVIEWER: Was it a lifestyle that was particularly difficult to get used to?
CP: No, best job in the world.
INTERVIEWER: Did you get along well with all the crews that you worked with?
INTERVIEWER: Did you get tested often? Did you have to study for exams in your off time?
CP: We got tested for schemes and firearms, often.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything you didn’t’ like about the Railway Mail Service?
CP: When they curtailed the Railway Mail Service, I was one of the first ones to go, that’s why I’m still here, you follow me? I was only out there 10 years. And I would’ve been out there today.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever run into any dangerous situations?
CP: Not too often. We hit a truck down near Greencastle, Indiana one time; we came off the tracks one time. Not any catastrophes.
INTERVIEWER: So no injuries, then?
INTERVIEWER: Then, do you have any stories or memories from the rail service?
CP: A lot of em.
INTERVIEWER: Any that you’d like to share?
CP: I have a lot of ‘em, you have to ask questions on that [laughs].
INTERVIEWER: Okay, do you remember anything funny, like maybe the funniest thing that happened?
CP: One of the funny things that happened, we put a Coke bottle in between the railway cars and the engine, and it stayed there ‘til we got to Chicago, I can prove that [laughs].
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever transport anything unusual?
CP: Nothing unusual, we transported chickens, and you know, stuff like that. Chickens, you know different breeds, from Virginia to Chicago, different things like that.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have maybe a proudest moment for the Railway Mail Service?
CP: Proudest moment? Just being out there. Now, one of the proudest moments, the Broadway, I worked on the Broadway, and it made 2 runs in 79 miles in four hours and twelve minutes from Chicago to Crestline, Ohio. That was fast.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever work the nonstop on the fly mail, did you ever see any problems?
CP: I did, I did a lot of that.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Did you see anyone ever make a mistake with an exchange?
CP: I did a lot of that. A lot of times we couldn’t even get the door open, because the door would be frozen between the stops. And normally we would put some salt, you know, between the doors, so we could open them. Sometimes we couldn’t get it open.
INTERVIEWER: So you couldn’t even catch the mail?
CP: We used latches and so forth, because we had to open the door, didn’t make any difference about the snow or wind. We opened ‘em.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever see anyone lose a pouch of mail, or throw it under the train?
CP: We did that a lot of times, you throw it out and the wind blew it, it’d go right under the train. We cut up some mail, some, you know, not much.
INTERVIEWER: Any other memories in particular, anything else funny or unusual that happened?
CP: Not off hand, you know, as I think, you know. We have a dog buried down in, I have a picture of that, down in, dog used to meet the train down in Crestline, Ohio, and I have a picture of the monument, they made a monument at the spot. You know what you could do, you could incorporate a lot of different things concerning the postal service and make a slick book. And make some money off of it, for the postal service. I have, I bought another book concerning the postal service. There’s a lot of prints out there. And another thing about the postal service that happens at the end of, you may be familiar with this, at the end of January, concerning the Pony Express. Coming from Holbrook, Arizona to Scottsdale. And what they do is pass the pouches along, until they get to Scottsdale and then they put, put your letter right in the mainstream, to where it’s going. Now that’s exciting. Are you familiar with that?
INTERVIEWER: I didn’t know that they still did it every once in a while…
CP: It’s a reenactment, okay, and this year I think was the 51st year that they have been doing that.
Mr. Peters, was a substitute on Railway Post Office and Highway Post Office lines, from 1960 to 1971. His main runs were out of Pittsburgh to New York, Chicago, Washington, and St. Louis, and he turned down a regular appointment because he made more money as a substitute.
Donald Peters (DP) Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: What made you decide to work for the Railway Mail Service?
DP: I was out of work and needed a job. I got into the Post Office and then I got interested in the Railway Mail Service by talking to other people and I just, I got into it.
INTERVIEWER: Did you start as a substitute, then?
DP: Yeah. I was a substitute for years. I turned down the opportunity for regular because I thought I’d make more money being a sub.
INTERVIEWER: Were the hours and the schedule very difficult as a substitute?
DP: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I’d sit down to Thanksgiving dinner and get a phone call to go to work. Any holiday.
INTERVIEWER: And did the regulars ever give you a hard time since you were a substitute, or did everyone get along pretty well?
DP: Well, at the beginning it was a little rough but you eventually fell in with the crowd.
INTERVIEWER: Was it a lifestyle that was particularly difficult for you to get used to?
DP: Um, not really, no. Not a big deal, but yeah, it was a little difficult.
INTERVIEWER: What about, can you tell me about the conditions on the trains?
DP: Uh, they weren’t very good [laughs]. A lot of times we lost heat on the trains. And it was hot in the summer time and those fans would be above you and I’d get sick from those stupid fans.
INTERVIEWER: Did you get tested very often?
DP: How do you mean… oh tested, you mean scheme wise? Oh yeah. I think it was once every 6 months we had to take an examination.
INTERVIEWER: So did you spend a lot of time studying in your off time?
DP: I didn’t have much trouble with that.
DP: Came easy to me, really.
INTERVIEWER: What was your favorite part of the job?
DP: My favorite part? I don’t have an answer to that. I enjoyed the work, it was much better than working inside the post office. I couldn’t handle that very well. It felt to you like you were accomplishing something. That’s probably what I liked the most. It was a task, you know, you had to finish a certain thing before you got to a certain station.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything you really did not like about it, then?
DP: No, I liked most of it.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever run into any sort of danger on a run?
DP: No. Not really.
Jack Poling first took the civil service exam in 1954 to work for the Railway Mail Service. He started out his career at the National Airport in Washington, DC, but soon transferred to Cincinnati, where he subbed and eventually became a regular. Mr. Poling went from Cincinnati to Cleveland, Chicago, and Nashville until 1969 when his line was discontinued.
Jack Poling (JP) Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: What made you decide to work for the Railway Mail Service?
JP: Well, I’ll tell you, I was, at that time I was working for the railroad as a, as a fireman on the old steam engines and I come by and, when the train was parked, was in the station and I saw them guys sorting mail, and I’d come by and ask the guy, found out later that it was Clarence Wilking from Marietta who was the clerk-in-charge and ask him, how do you get a job like that? And he said well, they have examinations every, civil service exams every now and then, and if you pass the test and make a good score they’ll usually call you before too long. So I did, I found out, I went to the Post Office and they was having a civil service exam for clerks out on the road, and I took it and, it wasn’t very long, maybe two weeks, two or three weeks later I got called to come to work.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember what years you worked for the Railway Mail Service?
JP: Yeah, that was in 19, let’s see 1954 is when I took the exam, and then I had to go to Washington DC and I spent, I spent my probation period up in DC, and it was, I sorted mail up in the airmail field, in Washington, DC. It was National Airport. And I worked there for a while and then I put in to get out on the road and they sent me, and I asked for Cincinnati, and there was, they was needing Railway Mail clerks in Cincinnati, and so they sent me to Cincinnati. And, I, that’s how I came to be running out of Cincinnati. I didn’t want to run out of Washington ‘cause I’d been there before and I didn’t like Washington.
INTERVIEWER: Where did you run to out of Cincinnati?
JP: Well, when you first go you’re a substitute. You go wherever they send you. And I had, what they do, they give you a pass, what they call a railway pass, and this has got all these different… they give you… the one that I had, it was, he asked, at that time I was not married and the run clerk asked me, if, whose name was Boubenzer, he wanted to know if I would go, if I would be available to go anywhere, and I said yeah, I said, I don’t mind going. So he gave me, he gave me a pass with every, every railroad this side of Mississippi River. It musta had 20 railroads on it where I could go anytime. All I had to do was present my pass. Most of ‘em only had, maybe five or ten, but this one had, the whole back of it was full of, of trains that I could ride.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever have a regular run or did you sub for…
JP: Yeah, I got, I was on, some of the guys complained because I got to be a regular so quick, but at that time they was, our line, which was out of Cincinnati, they had different head-outs. You know you have a head-out out of Cleveland, and some head-outs out of Columbus, some out of Cincinnati. Different places had a different head-out. My head-out was Cincinnati, and so I got to go quite a few places. I went, I know I got to go to Cleveland, go to go to Chicago, got to go to, I think I was on the Nashville for a while, L&N, Louisville and Nashville.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me about the conditions in the mail car?
JP: [laughs] Well, they was just a car that was converted… it was a regular passenger car, train, and then they refurbished it, and put cases in there, and it was just a regular passenger car. And then they converted it into a mail car. And, you had cases in there, they had a case on each side in the front, and then in the back of the car would be the, were the parcel post. Any packages and boxes would be put on the train, on the car.
INTERVIEWER: What sort of jobs did you have on the train, would you work pouch rack…
JP: Well, you sort of, you had bid on jobs, once you got seniority, once you got seniority then you put in for what was open, and whatever you like, and I put in for, to work, you had to know the first thing you had to pass an examination, and you had to know at least one state, because then they didn’t have zip codes like they do now. You had to, if you picked up a piece of Dart, Ohio, you had to know that it goes to Marietta and if you picked up a piece of Rome, Ohio you had to know it goes to Cleveland, so, the only way you could do it is learn it! And, at one time I knew, I never was good at remembering until I got that job, and then I realized I had to remember whether I wanted to or not if I wanted my job, so I knew, I ended up knowing Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana. And in that there was about, I’d say 4 to 5,000 different towns, and then every six months you had to go down and take an examination, and you had to make 95 on your, if you made only 94 you had to take the exam over again, but you had to make at least 95. And every six months you had to have an examination with your revolver, you had to go down and shoot and practice with your revolver. You know, you carried a revolver around on the road for, I carried mine all the time I was there because I was a, when I ended up I was a register clerk. And the register clerks kept their revolvers until they left the line, which was in ’69. And they cut the road off out of Cincinnati.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever have any robberies with the registered mail?
JP: No, no. I’ll tell you something funny about being a, robbing the train. A, one of the postal inspectors come out on the line and he was asking you about being robbed and he asked, he had, I had our mail worked up and we were just sitting around and he wanted to know, he said, what would happen if somebody jumped up on the train, on the car, and said he was gonna rob the car, the post, the mail in the post office car. And nobody answered, I said, I would, honestly, what I’d do, I’d say whatever you want, take it. And he said that’s exactly what, he said you don’t risk your life for the mail. He said you, he said you don’t endanger your life, you say well…
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember any other sorts of danger? Were you ever in any train wrecks?
JP: Well I was on a couple that where we derailed, but not in a wreck. Some of the guys did, our line, some of the guys on our line, on Chillicothe, they had a rainstorm and the track, it flooded the track and gave way, and they were, they had a wreck and some of the guys were hurt, and the government paid them. In fact, there was one of the guys, he said he was, he was up on the ledge where you put your mail on the ledge and he was up there sitting, and when the train stopped real quick and he said he went flying, rolled around on the floor of the car and somebody said, he said he rolled over about four times, and they gave him four hundred dollars for, for his injury. Well, he wasn’t really injured but he was sore, you know, from hitting the floor and rolling, and somebody said, you musta got, he said he, he rolled over and said he got one hundred dollars a roll.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever do nonstop exchanges? Did you ever see anyone have any trouble?
JP: No, and another thing. Anybody that was out there, that’s where they wanted to be. Once you got out on the road you would never want to be back in the stationary outfit. If you was to go out and spend a week on the road, you would never go back in. It was just something about being out that I really, everybody enjoyed it. But you know out on the road, six hours and twenty minutes made you a day. You got paid for eight hours after you worked six hours and twenty minutes. And they did that because you had to study your, to put off the mail you had to study your state and know it real well. And then you also had schedules and things that you had to keep up. That was your job to keep up the schedule that they gave you out of your district, and ours was Cincinnati, and then you had to, they gave you that extra time for that, for studying. And then you had to get your equipment ready. You had to post mark all your, your slips that you put on your mail, wherever it was going you put a slip on there and then you had a postmark, just like stationary post office has a postmark, you had a little post, it was a little handheld postal stamp with the date and your line and everything on there, and you had to do that, everyday you had to get your papers and slides and everything ready everyday.
That’s what you got that extra time for.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have any other stories or memories from the Railway Mail Service? Maybe something funny that happened or your proudest moment?
JP: Well, yeah, I tell you one good thing, funny thing, there was one of the men that got me started in the post office was a clerk in charge named, let’s see he was from Marietta, Ohio, Clarence Wilking was his name, and he was a big man, he was a big man but a very wonderful man, and then he had great big hands and he used to, when he’d pick his mail up he would pick a great big handful of mail and then he would sort the mail of course, and I figured out if a guy got a chance when the train would lurch a little I was going to bump him, and so he would drop all that mail. And so one day I got over close to him, and the train lurched a little and I banged into him and threw the mail all over the floor. And he started to get after me, and he said, I believe you did that on purpose! Well, I did! But I didn’t let him know it. I told him… but anyway. Ya there was a lot of funny things. But once you get, like I say, once you get started on the road you never wanted to leave. That was the best job I ever had in my life. And I’ve been in the government, I worked in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for four years, where they make money, where they print money. I worked there for four years and I quit, I didn’t… the reason I quit was Eisenhower at that time was president, and he was, he cut down on the government, anything in the government that he could, and so he laid off all of the apprentice printers, which I was, I wanted to be a printer, and he laid ‘em off and so I decided to quit. And I quit there in ’54 and then in ’64 then I took the examination for the mail car. Railway Postal Service. Yeah. Now, I am 89 years old. Most of the guys that was out there are older now because we’ve been off for what, since ’69. When our line was cut off. Some of the lines stayed on, they had a line out of Washington, DC to Chicago that stayed on until the ‘70s, early 70’s.
Mr. Price is a native of Wichita, Kansas. His work with the Railway Post Office began at the Wichita Station. He was assigned to the Newton and Amarillo run as a sub in 1956, and made regular on that same line in 1958. He stayed on the Newton and Amarillo until it was discontinued in 1967.
George Price (GP) Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: What made you decide to work for the Railway Mail Service?
GP: Well, I wanted a civil service job mostly, when I first started, and they put me in a terminal out here in Wichita, Kansas, and I decided that I didn’t like being cooped up in the building and this come open, gained a, you know, I was level 4 and went to level 5 on the trains. And I really liked it until they took the trains off and that was the best part of my mail service, I thought.
INTERVIEWER: Was it a lifestyle that was difficult to get used to?
GP: No, cause I was always kind of wanderlust anyway. And that suited me fine.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have family at the time?
GP: Oh yes, yes. Three children and a wife.
INTERVIEWER: Was it hard for them when you were away?
GP: Well, ordinarily I was home, I just went one, well I generally went one day and back the next. And sometimes I even made it back in the same day. And she had a, she was taking care of the kids good, they was both, they was up in school pretty well. I didn’t think it was… maybe she did, but I didn’t think it was too difficult for her.
INTERVIEWER: Did you start as a substitute?
GP: When I substituted? It was here on the trains, too.
INTERVIEWER: Was it more difficult than being a regular?
GP: Well, I kinda liked it because you got in a lot of hours. Kinda took a cut in pay when I went regular, then.
INTERVIEWER: What was your favorite part of the job?
GP: Well, it was good pay, and I had quite a lot of free time after I got to be regular.
INTERVIEWER: Did you get along well with the crews that you worked with?
GP: Oh yes, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything you did not like about it?
GP: Well, probably the most was when I had to layover and I went down on a Saturday and didn’t come back ‘til Monday, a layover down in Amarillo, Texas. Away from the family.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever run into any danger?
GP: Well we was in a train wreck one time. Nobody was hurt, I think I was the worst one hurt, I put the rack up on one side, didn’t get a latch well enough, come down and hit me in the head, but glad thing it didn’t hit me anywhere else or it probably’d hurt me.
INTERVIEWER: I’m looking at what you sent us before, and you mentioned a tornado?
GP: Yeah, we was going out of Woodward, Oklahoma, southwest and we looked down the track and there a tornado was coming right straight at us. But, the track, we veered off south some and it missed us, the train. They said they’d never had a tornado hit a moving train and they didn’t even slow down, they just kept on going. But it hit Woodward, Oklahoma and tore it up pretty bad. We were fortunate that it didn’t hit us.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have any other stories or memories, maybe something funny or unusual that happened?
GP: We had nonstop dispatches, you know, and I throwed a package, or a sack of mail out of papers early in the morning, and it went in the Ninnescah River, which is the river between us and between Wichita and Wellington. And that was about as, I guess about as funny as anything. I mean, it wasn’t, it was kinda bad too, but and one time I, at Freedom, I believe it was, Oklahoma why I throw the pouch out, a first class pouch out, and it went through the window of the station. And lucky it didn’t hurt the guys, the operator in the station. That’s about the, I don’t know if you’d call that funny, but it was an accident that happened.
GP: But it bounced, and just bounced up off of the drive, and went right through the, went right through the window. But it missed the guy that was the operator, the station operator. And one time I throwed off a sack of mail, thing just kept on rolling and there was a guy out there waiting on it and he thought he’d outrun it, I guess. He run towards the outhouse at a station and that bag just followed him right on in. You know, and well, we of course, we went right on by the station, I didn’t see what happened after that, but the next time we went along there the outhouse was turned over. So [laughs]. But I don’t know what happened to the guy that run in ahead of it. Never heard anything about it, anyway. But it’s just one of them things that happened. I throwed it off at the right place, but it just kept on rolling after, a sack of papers.