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October 7, 2009 > Letters from a Train

Letters from a Train

By Meenu Gupta

Back in mid-19th century until the mid-20th century, the United States Postal Service's Railway Mail Service (RMS) carried the vast majority of letters and packages mailed in the United States. On Saturday, October 3, you have the unique opportunity to travel back in time. The United States Post Office, The Golden Gate Railroad Museum and Niles Canyon Railway honored retired Railway Mail Service Clerks - Jim Briggs, Howard White, Bernard Schalhorne, Bill Sullivan, Phil Chan, Bill Jackson, Dan Edmonds, Elson Nash. They are in ages 75 to 87. The event celebrated the 60th anniversary of the inauguration of mail service on the famous Oakland to Chicago 'City of San Francisco' stream liner.

The event was held at the Niles Canyon Railway Depot in the Historic Niles District of Fremont aboard the last remaining Railway Post Office (RPO) car from the train, Union Pacific 5901.This train is in the collection of golden Gate Railroad Museum (GGRM). GGRM members and several retired USPS Railway Mail Service clerks have restored it to represent a working RPO. USPS provided a special cancel for the event and a reproduction cachet from the 1949 inaugural. All mail brought to the car that day received the unique cancel as UP 5901 became an official Post Office for the day.

For over 100 years the U.S.Post Office used Railway Post Office cars to sort mail on hundreds of trains each day all across the country. RPO service ended in 1967

A previous RPO event was held in Sunol, celebrating the final run of RMS on the Southern Pacific on October 13, 1967. Over 900 pieces of mail were canceled that day. "It was a great opportunity for people to see a very little known operation of the mail service. The Railway Post Office cars were always locked and even the train conductor was not allowed in. RPO clerks were employed by the post office, and carried guns to protect the mail," Operations Manager, Golden Gate Railroad Museum, Dave Roth told TCV. For more information visit and click Letters from a Train.

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