The Railway Mail Service

The Railway Postal Clerk
A Vanished Breed

Part One

The first record of rail transportation of mail in the United States was in 1831, when a mail contractor utilized the service of the South Carolina Railroad. It was in the shift from stage to rail that a new job or profession appeared—that of the “route agent,” the forerunner of the railway postal clerk. On the old stage lines, a local postmaster, who usually had his office in the tavern, opened the carrying case containing the mail and exchanged “mails” while the stage driver changed horses. On the railroads, this could not be done, and a man was soon assigned to accompany the mail on the train; a separate compartment was set aside for the mails, beginning in 1835. This agent usually rode in the baggage car, and was at first the baggage man or other employee of the stage company or railroad.

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A Railfan Visits
 Swift Current, Saskatchewan

A trip to Saskatchewan in late June, 2015, afforded a chance to do—what else?—a bit of railfanning. It started with the journey along the Trans-Canada Highway from Winnipeg. For many kilometers along the way the highway parallels the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) mainline and, in a few places in Manitoba, the Canadian National (CN) line. In some places, the tracks are very close to the highway. If you are lucky, you will come across trains in those places. I was not very lucky on this trip, seeing only a few trains up close.

Our destination was Swift Current, with a side trip to Saskatoon. Read more

Editor’s Notebook

Samuel Morse Day


Last Saturday (April 28, 2018) I attended the Samuel Morse Day celebration at the former N&W depot in Boyce, Virginia. Samuel Morse was the inventor of the telegraph which was adopted by the railroad in its earliest days.

Mr. Abram Burnett, from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was on hand to demonstrate the early telegraph and he graciously agreed to let us make a video as he demonstrates the telegraph and relates some of its history. In the video, we are inside the N&W depot in the trainmaster’s office overlooking the current Norfolk & Western tracks. The office retains much of its original furnishings and looks very much like it would have looked nearly one hundred years ago. Read more

Editor’s Notebook

“Connectedness”

Former Norfolk & Western Depot – Boyce, Virginia

Earlier this month, I boarded a plane for Chicago to attend Conversations 2018, the annual gathering of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art. The weather was awful—freezing rain, snow and wind, but it was a fitting contrast to the warm welcome I felt at the reception and dinner Friday night.

It was a pleasure to be in the company of so many talented railroad photographers and artists. I not only made new friends, but also had the opportunity to meet several people who have contributed to and supported The Trackside Photographer—David Kahler, Matthew Malkiewicz, Dennis Livesey, Brandon Townley, Jeff Brouws and Matt Kierstead. Read more

Waiting on a Train

One day you are making dinner in the afternoon and see a headlight on the bridge, that headlight you waited so patiently for as a kid.

Go back to the days when you were ten or eleven and the phone rings at home. Grandma needs you to get something from the pharmacy. She sends you there a couple of times a week for various and sundry goods, so you jump on your bike (a twenty-six incher—big time stuff there) and head to her house to get the money. Then off you go down the back road, not because it’s the most direct route, no because it runs along the edge of the hill and from there you can check out the B&O and their big bridge over the Allegheny River. The line is the Pittsburgh and Western (P&W) sub that runs from Glenwood yard west towards Ohio or (if they take a right at the wye in Eidenau) Buffalo.

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