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
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?