Railway Post Offices and a Giveaway

Hi,  Winnie Griggs here. I was doing some research the other day on how long it would take a letter to reach Texas from the east coast. As usual, I stumbled on an interesting little tidbit of history that I wasn’t looking for that took me down a fun little rabbit trail.

Did you know that from 1862 until 1977 there existed Railway Post Offices (RPOs).  These were not just rail cars that carried the mail, but were actual rolling post offices.  Between stops, the mailbags, which had heretofore sat untouched during travel, sometimes for days at a time, were now opened and the contents sorted and processed as the train sped toward its destination.

Originally, the railroad cars that housed these rolling post offices, were converted baggage cars that were furnished with wooden furniture.  Soon, however, a Railway Mail Service employee named Charles Harrison designed a set of fixtures that were a vast improvement over those. It consisted of cast-iron hinged pieces that could be folded and unfolded as needed and set in a number of different configurations to hold racks, mail pouches and a sorting table based on needs for specific routes and volumes of mail. These fixtures could also be completely folded away to leave a wide open space, thus converting it to a general baggage car if needed.

Letters that were cancelled aboard one of these RPOs received a postmark that indicated the route’s endpoints, the train number and the designation R.P.O.  A railway mail route could range in length anywhere from a few miles to over 1,100 miles.

Railway mail clerks had to undergo strict training.  Each clerk was expected to know the post offices and rail junctions, as well as local delivery details for the larger cities served along their route.  They had to undergo periodic testing to keep them sharp.  This testing included gauging speed and accuracy in sorting mail on a moving train, and a score above 96% was expected.

At the height of their use, Railway Post Offices were installed on over 9,000 train routes covering more than 200,000 miles.  Some dedicated mail trains were known to carry over 300 tons of mail daily.

The railway post office network began to decline at the end of WWII.  The last railway post office traveled between New York and Washington D.C. and was discontinued on June 30, 1977.

I hope you enjoyed this little bit of post office and railroad history. And speaking of mail, do you have any mail-related stories to share – letters from exotic locations, favorite postcards, a pen pal story?  Please do share.

And because I’m so very excited about my upcoming June release, A Tailor-Made Husband, I’m going to give away one of my advance copies to one of the commentators on today’s post.

A TAILOR-MADE HUSBAND

From Bachelor Sheriff to Family Man 

Tired of pining for handsome sheriff Ward Gleason, seamstress Hazel Andrews plans to head East for a fresh start—until Ward finds an abandoned child. Hazel can’t turn down his request that she watch the little girl while he investigates a spate of crimes. But spending time with Ward is sending local gossips—and Hazel’s heart—into turmoil.

Nothing in Ward’s world is the same since he took charge of orphaned Meg…and that includes his growing feelings for Hazel. A fake engagement will allow them to care for the child together until Hazel moves away and finds someone more worthy. But with little Meg convinced she’s already found her forever family, can Ward and Hazel dare to make her dreams come true, along with their own?

 

Winnie Griggs
Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at www.facebook.com/WinnieGriggs.Author or email her at winnie@winniegriggs.com.
Updated: May 8, 2017 — 12:46 pm

42 Comments

  1. I was not aware of these RPOs. What an intriguing idea and very clever.

    1. Hi Debra. Glad I was able to teach you something today 🙂 Thanks for stopping by

  2. I had never heard of a RPO. Quite interesting.

    1. Hi Estella – Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for stopping by!

  3. I have never heard of the railroad post offices, Very interested. I had a pen pal from about 6th grade through high school. I had gotten his name out of a magazine in grade school, and actually got to meet up with him in north carolina during a family vacation. Makes me wonder what ever happened to him. I still love receiving and sending snail mail.

    1. Hi Geralyn. I’ve always thought it would be fun to have a pen pal, to be able to write to someone you’d never met and to learn about him/her from a strictly mental perspective without any of the physical aspects to color your perceptions. And it is so cool that you eventually had a chance to meet up with him!

  4. wow–how interesting. I never knew about these. My husband & I have visited a place in KS that was a stagecoach resting point/eating place and were able to see one of the old stagecoaches. I thought only the Pony Express carried the mail. The volume of mail on the trains is quite astounding. When I was in HS, a friend of mine from church was stationed in Viet Nam. He had one of his buddies to be my pen pal. Tho he was also from Louisiana, I was never able to meet him. I have a friend in S Louisiana who has carried the mail for a number of years. During the horrible flooding last year, her car was swept off into a ditch & was totalled. Thankfully, her life was spared but her insurance didn’t cover her vehicle loss. She was unable to get home for a couple of days, and then only by a pickup truck. She injured her knee climbing into the truck & recently had knee surgery. BTW, my paternal grandmother was a Gleason from Plain Dealing–one of the people in your new book.

    1. Hi LaBetha. How cool that you got to see an old stagecoach, I’ll bet it was fascinating! And I remember that south Louisiana flood well, I had several family members who were impacted.

  5. Thank you for sharing your interesting post, Winnie. A few years ago, I ran across a book, “Address of the Stars” type book. I bought the book and started writing letters to different people in the book. I collected several autographs and had a great time doing so.

    1. Hi Melanie. You’re quite welcome. And what fun (and enterprising too!) to collect autographs in that way.

  6. Fascinating slice of history!

    1. Hi Cheryl, glad you enjoyed the post.

  7. I saw this in today’s obits about Winston Churchill Rice: “Winston began elementary school in Oil City and often regaled his children, grandchildren and great-grandchild with tales of adventures while walking to school down the KCS railroad tracks (uphill in both directions according to his version). One of his early heroines was “pistol packin” Mona Duvall, the post-mistress for those living around Caddo Lake to whom she delivered mail in an outboard motorboat.” – See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/shreveporttimes/obituary.aspx?n=winston-churchill-rice&pid=185321015#sthash.OTtfGUxw.dpuf

    1. Thanks for the link – interesting story!

  8. What a cool part of history I didn’t know anything about. Thanks for sharing. So did you use this in any of your stories?

    1. Hi Jolene. Since I just stumbled on this recently I haven’t used it in a book yet. But it did spark an idea for a future story… 🙂

  9. Yes I did. Union Pacific railways has one here next to a city park Engine and some of the cars along with the rolling post office car. Its a outdoor museum.

    1. Sounds like something I’d like to explore. Where is this?

      1. North Platte Nebraska. Western part of the state.

        1. Thanks! Maybe I’ll make it there some day…

  10. I did not realize it ran until 1977… amazing!

    1. I found that surprising as well. Although the number of routes covered diminished steadily starting in the 1940s

  11. I had no idea that RPO’s existed. Very interesting. You learn something new everyday. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Kara, you are quite welcome. I am always surprised by the unexpected bits of history I stumble on when I’m doing research

  12. Wow, now that is fascinating. My husband works for Federal Express and it just goes to show the letters and packages had to go through,although a lot slower,even back then. That sounds like it would have been a fascinating job to work at back then.Orphans in books always grab my heart-strings! I can’t wait to read A TAILOR-MADE HUSBAND, it really sounds great! Thank you for the giveaway chance.

    1. Hi Deanne. Thanks for your interest in A Tailor-Made Husband. This one truly is special to me since I lived with these characters and their story for several years before I was able to actually write it.

  13. Hi Winnie, what a great post! I learned a lot today. When I was about ten, I had a pen pal in Minnesota. A farmer’s daughter. Me, an LA suburbanite She had an RFD address, not a street, and I didn’t get it at all LOL.

    1. Hi Tanya – glad I could teach you something 🙂 LOL on the RFD. At one time growing up we had one of those addresses as well.

  14. HI Winnie! 😀 I had a Facebook friend turned real life from Hungary and I have other friends as well from other locales. I love foreign friends! 😀

    1. Hi Sabrina. And yes, I suppose social media has taken the place of pen pals, connecting us with folks from all over the world.

  15. The only tales of interesting mail was from my Aunt who lived in Florida at the time and would send us packages every so often. Theses packages became known as “care packages “. One time she sent us taffy apples ? supposedly and we couldn’t figure out what they until she called asking if we had received them. You were never sure what was from her.

    I love fun bits of history! Thanks Winnie.
    jennydtipton at gmail dot com

    1. Hi Jennifer. Sounds like your aunt was an interesting character. 🙂

      1. She was!

  16. My favorite pen pal story isn’t my own, but one I heard. A girl from the US became pen pals (via email) with a boy from France. She would write it in French, him in English and they would correct each other’s emails. They remained friends after high school and eventually got married. I thought it was a sweet story.

    1. Oh what a great story. I can see a book in there somewhere…

  17. Very interesting post. I haven’t ever heard of the RPOs. I can see where this would be an efficient way of delivering the mail.
    I would love to win a copy of your book. The LIH line is one of my favorites.

    1. Hi Susan. Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for stopping by.

  18. Interesting article.
    I once asked the post office clerk for a “penny postcard” which is what they used to be called. He looked confused until I told him exactly what I wanted.

    1. LOL. There just isn’t much you can still get for a penny is there?

  19. I just love learning new things! That employee was an innovator. And can you imagine sorting mail while the train was in motion? Gads!

    Thank you, Winnie for another tidbit about railroad history. I’m printing this to put with a post you did a few years ago about chapel cars 🙂

  20. Oh Nancy, how sweet that you remember my chapel car post. Hmmm, I wonder if I can find a way to combine these two in a book…

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