Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Railway Post Office (RPO) or The Mail Car

Early on, the postal service decided that with the bad roads that existed transferring mail between cities by horse drawn wagon was just to slow so by 1850 they started using the railroad to carry the mail.  Mail cars came in two types; baggage cars devoted to carrying bags of sorted mail and the Railway Post Office cars - RPO.  The RPO cars were railroad owned but unstaffed and assigned to mail service with all doors locked by a postal Department employee.

The Railway Post Office - RPO was equipped to handle most back-end postal processing functions.  The mail was sorted, cancelled and bagged for the post offices along it’s route.  There was even a mail slot on the mail car for people who wanted to save time not going through their local post office instead they could walk down to the station, find the mail car and post their letter.  In a time when there was twice a day mail delivery this could be a time saver.  The railroad made money from hauling the mail and it made the difference between a marginal rail line that was about to be dropped and one that continue to provide service on that rail line because the mail contract subsidized the freight and passenger service.  When roads got better and trucks and commercial buses were more efficient in delivering the mail the post office started dropping railroad mail contracts.  In 1956 the postal service dropped the two night trains to Cape Charles.   In 1958 with the removal of passenger service from Delmar to Cape Charles the last mail train was removed.  The mail service did continue from Delmar to Philadelphia. In 1965 both scheduled passenger and mail service from Delmar to Philadelphia was stopped.

The Philadelphia to Cape Charles mail delivery train was train number 455 it would leave Philadelphia at 12:20 AM arrive Delmar 4:40 Am and arrive in Cape Charles at 7:30 Am when it return to Philadelphia it became train number 454. Train 455 and 454 were also passenger service trains.

The photographs are from the Norman J. Elzey collection at the Nabb Research Center Salisbury University.  Norman James Elzey born August 1, 1893 was the son of Harvey Penn Elzey and Mary Tubbs Elzey from the Jersey Road section of Wicomico County.  His wife was Margie Pauline Baker from the St Martin Worcester County area.  She was sister to Mrs George White of Delmar, Delaware.  Previously she had married James Porter Townsend Jr.  They had only been married a short time when he died on November 1, 1919 of Spanish Influenza while stationed in Philadelphia with the Army. Margie and James had one daughter Margaret Virginia Townsend.  Norman Elzey would raise her.  She would marry William Mitchell Day from Wicomico County.  Norman and Margie would have two sons; Norman Joseph Elzey and Robert Edward Elzey.  Norman James Elzey would serve in World War One with Company I and in the Mexican border war of 1910 to 1919.   He joined the railway mail service and in he retired in 1957 after 43 years of service. He died April of 1978.

August 1950 waiting for train #455 in Delmar going to Norfolk

The two train people E. L Poulson Flagman (center) might well be Ernest Lee Poulson (1890-1972) and J. F. Long Conductor (on right) might be John Frank Long. Norman Elzey is the one in light clothing

Norman Elzey sorting mail, He was the Clerk-In-Charge and as such he was required to carry a regulation pistol while on duty because of mail theft.  As we can recall in all the old westerns when the train was robbed they always robbed the mail car.

At the door of the mail train  two men stand behind the barrier and the mail catcher hook

With the train often operating at 50 mph or more, a postal clerk would have a pouch of mail ready to be dispatched as the train passed the station. In a co-ordinated movement, the catcher arm was swung out to catch the hanging mail pouch while the clerk stood in the open doorway. As the inbound pouch slammed into the catcher arm, the clerk kicked the outbound mail pouch out of the car, making certain to kick it far enough that it was not sucked back under the train. An employee of the local post office would retrieve the pouch and deliver it to the post office. As you can see from their dress it was not clean desk job work. 

Inside RPO train 455, smoking was allowed but it was not clean work

 Below on the Ferry

On board The "Elisha Lee" Ferry in 1948 going to Norfolk. Norman Elzey (on left) and the ferry boat oiler Rippon who could be Charley Belvin Rippon (1922-2000) from Cheriton, Va., notice mail room in back of them.  

Philadelphia, PA and Norfolk, VA RPO  July 1, 1950
Listed By Seniority No and  Name
1 Howard S Clark
2 Arthur R. Reed
3 Toy T. Neves
4 Norman J Elzey
5 John T. Shannon
6 Oscar T. Roberts
7 Newton Tushoph
8 Martin K. Grier
9 James J. Morano
10 Levin R. Lowe
11 Burton R. Raughley
1 Joseph V. Michael
2 Walton Letherbury
3 Harry M. King
4 Clarence J. Stoneback
5 Earl F. Townsend
6 Claude J. Dashiell
7 John Urban Jr
8 Robert Brennan
9 William D. Spangler
10 Samuel W. Nock
11 James S. McAllister
12 Herman R.  Fleetwood
13 Charles A. Copple
14 Jefferson Trader
15 Hugh L. Owens
16 Albert Brownlee
17 Roland R. Hamilton
18 Henry R. Strzalkowski
19 Charles A. McCarraher
20 William W. Reed Jr
21 Frank O. Delong
22 James e. Raughley
23 Martin Baitman
24 Paul W. Windsor
25 Raymond J. Amato
26 Robert F. Hoch
27 G. Mitchell Boulden
28 Edward Hearn
29 Samuel W. Conway
30 Stephen b. Hopkins
31 George S. Corazza
32 Ernest H. Wahl
33 John J. Walling
34 William E. Farwell

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