Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor train delay stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. OK, so we modified the postal workers’ unofficial motto a little. But in the 1950s, the change would have been appropriate because railway mail cars were still a big part of the U.S. postal system.
On July 12, 1953, Blade photographer Tom O’Reilly took this shot of a mail train that had just arrived at Central Union Station in Toledo. Each day 49 mail-carrying trains rolled in and out of Toledo; six of them originated here. The mail rail cars were owned by the railroads and rented to the post office.
Mail sorting started inside designated rooms in the train terminal. Mail was placed into pouches and distributed to trains, buses, and trucks for 150 towns in northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan.
Mail taken aboard Railway Post Offices, known as RPOs, was sorted according to various drop-off points. Some leather mail pouches were thrown off or kicked off at numerous locations along the train route. And railway mail service postal clerks also could use hooks to snag pouches that were hung along railroad tracks near smaller communities where the train did not stop. Some mail was transferred to other routes that connected to the Toledo line and was shipped to more distant points. Every RPO car had a letter box slot on the outside, so people could drop mail into it when the train stopped.
The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’s morning run went from Toledo to Cincinnati. Postal workers began their day aboard the train at 6:25 a.m. to start verifying that all of the pouches of first-class mail were accounted for on a daily tally sheet and to complete the sorting. The RPO left Union Station at about 10 a.m., and by 5 or 5:30 p.m. it arrived in Cincinnati. The postal workers would stay in Cincinnati until about 5 p.m. the next day when another B&O mail car would arrive, and they could board for the trip back to Toledo.
RPO workers worked six consecutive days, and then had eight days off. This eight-day layover was not just for rest. At least two days were spent studying new routes and stations and preparing labels for use on mail bags that they would handle while on the train. Long-term employees felt that it took about 10 years for a postal employee to be familiar with at least 10,000 U.S. post office locations.
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