Darryl Stustny Interview Transcript
INTERVIEWER: Could you please state your name and your affiliation with the Railway Mail Service?
Darryl Stustny: Darryl Stustny, and I'm retired from the Mail Service.
INTERVIEWER: Did you work as a substitute or a regular?
Darryl Stustny: I subbed for several years then I was a regular near the end.
INTERVIEWER: What rail lines did you work on and which locations did you travel between?
Darryl Stustny: As a regular on the Omaha and on the Burlington and Omaha and Denver, and I subbed on several -- on the U.P. and the Rock Island. And I also served in two terminals, in Council Bluffs and in Omaha.
INTERVIEWER: How long did you serve as a Railway Post Office clerk?
Darryl Stustny: At least 20 years.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember when you started?
Darryl Stustny: Oh, I started at the post office in 1950 and I retired in '84, and then I had three years military so I get credited with 37 years.
INTERVIEWER: Did you stay with the Railway Post Office until its closing?
Darryl Stustny: Yes. Oh, no, no. The railway, we got to the railway, put the railroad off and then they put me in the terminal.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, and then being a Railway Post Office clerk until 1967?
Darryl Stustny: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. What made you want to become a Railway Post Office clerk?
Darryl Stustny: Well, when I come out of the service, there were no jobs around. And my dad was a railway mail clerk and I had a couple of uncles who were mail clerks. So that was just -- I took the mail clerk exam and passed it and took the job. That was in September, 1950. It was a good job at that time.
INTERVIEWER: What positions did you have while on the rail cars?
Darryl Stustny: I was just a clerk.
INTERVIEWER: And any type of job, like what types of jobs did you have?
Darryl Stustny: Oh, I did the paper and pouch racks. I pouched all the mail, worked the paper case.
INTERVIEWER: Could you describe a typical day on the rail car starting from when you first went in to work?
Darryl Stustny: Yes, usually we left Omaha on the Burlington by one o'clock and then we would go to work around midnight. We had an hour to load the train and then we left home, we start working. And we had a 30-foot car and there were I think five clerks working the letters and two of us working the pouch rack and the paper case.
When we get done with that we'd help -- everybody helped everybody. We worked, like if there was a paper out, then the pouch rack we'd go and help work letters. So everybody helped everybody, a good bunch of people.
INTERVIEWER: And was there any one job that you liked to do more than the others?
Darryl Stustny: I liked the pouch rack.
INTERVIEWER: And was there anything that you ever disliked about your position as a Railway Mail clerk? And this can be just like some small complaint that you just brushed off to the side or a serious complaint.
Darryl Stustny: Yes. Well, the only complaint I had is I was a non-smoker and that small car gets filled up with smoke from guys smoking. They did all the smoking, two or three of them did. That’s the only complaint I had.
INTERVIEWER: You pretty much answered my next question, which was what type of rail car did you work on? You said that you worked on the 30-foot cars?
Darryl Stustny: Yes, I worked mostly on 30-foot, yeah.
Darryl Stustny: When I was subbing I worked on both 30-foot and 60-foot cars.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever work on the 15-foot cars?
Darryl Stustny: No.
INTERVIEWER: When you worked on the railways, do you remember what your starting salary was?
Darryl Stustny: When I started at the post office, I was $1.28 an hour.
INTERVIEWER: By the time you ended as a Railway Post Office clerk, do you remember what your ending salary was?
Darryl Stustny: No, I don't remember exactly. I think it was $13 or $14.
INTERVIEWER: When you were working specifically as a Railway Post Office clerk do you think that the pay was fair for the amount of work that you had to do?
Darryl Stustny: Yes, it was because we all worked hard and we all got along real good. Mostly clerks were all from - excuse me - small towns or farms. They were all -- got along real good, worked hard, hard workers. I think we all enjoined our work.
INTERVIEWER: What did you typically carry with you in your grip while you were on runs?
Darryl Stustny: Well, I carried my lunch and my change of clothes and we all carried guns. As soon as we put the gun in the car -- we'd put our guns on. That was in my grip and I mean my change of clothes and my lunch and coffee.
INTERVIEWER: What was the longest trip you ever worked?
Darryl Stustny: Omaha to Denver. We'd go to work here one o'clock at night then we'd get back here at one o'clock, and we had the next day or the day off. Then we'd go back to work at one o'clock and back in Omaha at one o'clock then we had three days off. That I liked.
INTERVIEWER: When you left at one o'clock in the morning, did you get back to Omaha at one o'clock in the morning?
Darryl Stustny: Yes, 1:00, 1:15, right around that time.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever sleep or was it just a straight 24-hour shift?
Darryl Stustny: When we get to Denver we all got rooms and we slept for -- oh, then we can went through -- we slept 'til -- we didn’t go back to work in Denver until about six o'clock at night.
INTERVIEWER: And when you were a Railway Post Office clerk did you have a family?
Darryl Stustny: Yes, I did.
INTERVIEWER: And how did you cope with leaving your family behind on the long trips?
Darryl Stustny: Well, I was married. My first wife, she had two little girls when I married her and then we had a boy. And I think that my time schedule like really caused my divorce because I wasn’t home enough to really be around. I'd be gone for a day and then home a day and then gone for another day. She didn’t like that. So then I remarried and I get along fine with my second wife here. We've been married 46 years now.
INTERVIEWER: That kind of answers my next question which was how did your family cope with while you're away on long trips?
Darryl Stustny: They did not do well, not too well. They didn’t -- she didn’t like it but the kids are always glad to see me. She didn’t like it.
INTERVIEWER: What are some of your fondest memories of working on the railway?
Darryl Stustny: Well, it's with the people I worked with. They were all good people, were hard workers and helped each other along. They were good friends. We just made good friends, most of them. Well, there's a few bad apples but the majority of the guys were good guys. They were all from little towns or from the farm, all hard workers.
INTERVIEWER: Is there anything else that’s a part of your fondest memories?
Darryl Stustny: Well, you know, I liked the job. There’s no one thing really.
INTERVIEWER: Do you still keep in touch with any other former clerks?
Darryl Stustny: Most of them are dead. There's been very few. My brother, he subbed like when they took -- he still subbed. He subbed for, I don't know, more than anybody else. And then he went to city carrier and he retired at 44 years. And then my other brother, he wasn’t a railway mail clerk but he got hurt in a post office truck, got hurt. They’re still living, both of them.
Darryl Stustny: Yes. I made a book one time with every little town in Nebraska, a book and a map. When I retired I gave that book to a lady that was a Nebraska clerk in the post office. And one day she told me that she had donated that to the Smithsonian Institution. So I don't know. I don't even remember what happened to the map but the book, it should be around there somewhere.
The book, it was, well, a little ledger book with all the little towns. There was one little town that got the mail through other towns. And I had all listed alphabetically and -- yes, you'd be surprised at all the little -- there must've been 900 of them at one time. I made that book up and I gave it to her and she’s passed away now. She told me she gave it to the Smithsonian Institute so I don't know whether she did. I don't know what happened to the map or -- I don't know, so.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, I'll have to ask my boss about that. She knows what's in the collection better than I do.
Darryl Stustny: Oh, but my name's inside the book. I put "Property of Darryl Stustny" and so maybe you can find that.
INTERVIEWER: All right. Did the post office ever issue you anything for your safety or for the position? I know earlier you mentioned a gun, but was there anything else?
Darryl Stustny: No, it was just a gun. We all carried guns but that’s all. On a mail car we had to throw mail off and we'd catch mail, other end, but we had a safety guard on the mail car. On the catch arm there’d be a safety bar, you could fall out of the car, either hold on to the car and catch you right. We never had any accidents, everybody was very careful.
INTERVIEWER: Were there ever times where you were in danger or put into a bad situation while on the railway?
Darryl Stustny: Well, we got these several wrecks. We killed a couple of people. And one time we had a bread truck and the gasoline sprayed all over our car. It caught on fire but we had metal cars, all the doors were locked, the windows, so it didn’t bother us inside. It just blew away but like that’s the only time we ever had any problems.
One time we were on the sideline and a freight train hit our tail, we did get all the way off of the side rail and hit our caboose but it didn’t hurt anything else.
Then we hit a car out of Lincoln, Nebraska and killed a man, but they're never any problem to us.
INTERVIEWER: Well, that’s very fortunate.
Darryl Stustny: Yes, we were lucky but we never had any problem, really.
INTERVIEWER: Did you hear of anybody who did experience something dangerous or put into a bad situation on perhaps your line or on a different line?
Darryl Stustny: Well, one night I was subbing and this railroad inching in the yard backed up -- he was backing up or pulling up the railway mail car and he went too fast, hit the -- taking us and hit the back stopper and several clerks got hurt. They called me up and went out, had to take the [indiscernible] on a run. The truth is the guys who were hurt had to be taken out. There were two guys, they were bleeding pretty good. The foreman, he stayed with us but I think he was kind of dazed. We didn’t let him work, he sat down and we did all the work. But that’s the only time we were -- I don't know, I wasn’t in the car when it got hit but there just shortly after.
INTERVIEWER: Wow. Did you ever hear any other stories of people getting hurt or trains getting robbed? This can be while you were a Railway Post Office clerk or something that occurred before you became a clerk?
Darryl Stustny: No, those are -- nobody ever hurt anybody, having to pull a gun or anything and I never heard of anybody else got hurt. The two guys that got hurt, they passed away. There aren't many of us left.
Darryl Stustny: I'm 82 and my brother will be 81 tomorrow.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, wow.
Darryl Stustny: So we’re about the only ones that...
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever face or witness any type of racial discrimination while you were working on the railway?
Darryl Stustny: No, not once. We had very few -- we had two of Mexican descent but never, ever -- they were all -
- wait, I think we had one colored person. Now everybody got along swell, nobody ever -- no, nothing at all. When I was in mail services, the older guys were guys that, you know, suffered through the Depression. Then the younger guys were all World War II veterans, so everybody got along fine, no trouble whatsoever.
INTERVIEWER: Did you hear stories of anybody who did experience some sort of racial discrimination?
Darryl Stustny: No, none whatsoever.
INTERVIEWER: Were you a member of any type of outside organization such as a union or a club that was affiliated with the Railway Postal clerks?
Darryl Stustny: Just the union.
INTERVIEWER: What types of things did you do with the union?
Darryl Stustny: Well, I didn’t do too much because I had another business going in my spare time. My mother had a bar and restaurant so I worked there a lot. And I started a floor cleaning business and worked that on my days off. So I didn’t have much to do with the union, go to parties once in a while.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that you ever wanted to change about your position?
Darryl Stustny: No.
INTERVIEWER: What do you miss the most about being a Railway Post Office clerk?
Darryl Stustny: Oh, just the people I worked with. Very few of them are alive and the ones that are I think have moved out of town. There aren’t too many here in Omaha. All the rest are -- most of them I knew are all passed away.
INTERVIEWER: For the last question, is there any other information or story that you would like to share with researchers about your experience or position with the Railway Post Office?
Darryl Stustny: Well, one thing is when we hit that car coming out of Lincoln, Nebraska, so the highway patrol's there and they come to the car and asked for help to push the car off the track. So we went to push the car off the track and I was on the driver's side. The door flew open and the man fell right at my feet. He was dead. That was kind of scary. But he got hit -- we hit him right on broadside and we were probably going about 60 miles an hour coming out of Lincoln. That was about the only thing. Can't think of anything else.
Oh, one time we were coming out of Denver and I had to put the mail off at Yuma, Colorado. The train took off before I got all the mail off so I yelled at the foreman. I didn’t get all the mail off so he pulled the emergency cord and stopped the train and flattened all the wheels on our railway mail car so they took it out of commission in McCook, Nebraska and we rode the baggage car back to Omaha. But that was about it.
INTERVIEWER: Were there any funny stories, funny events like certain sights that you just absolutely love to see?
Darryl Stustny: No, no, no. I think it was -- just everybody been working, got their jobs done and then we got off the train and went for breakfast and went to bed. I think they woke us up, we went back to work.
INTERVIEWER: And then any last words?
Darryl Stustny: Any what?
INTERVIEWER: Last words that you would like to say?
Darryl Stustny: No. I enjoyed my job. And I think most Railway Mail clerks did enjoy their jobs because everybody was hardworking, everybody's easy to get along with. And even the foremen, the foremen were working foremen although in these terminals, they weren’t allowed to work. So they knew all the jobs and it was a pretty good place to work. The only thing I didn’t like in there was all the smoke. I’d open the doors and let the smoke out.