Notes from the Past

Remembering the Mail - Part I

I grew up in a small town in the plains of eastern Colorado.  It sat beside the South Platte River which is often described as: "A mile wide and an inch deep; too thin to plow and too thick to drink."  The population was less than 4,000 during the early 1930s.  The community was agricultural and dominated by the Great Western Sugar Company that purchased and processed the only big cash crop.

The town was served by two railroads -- the Union Pacific and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy.  The town was on the mainline of the route between Chicago and Denver for each of these railroads.  The railroads were lifelines of travel and commerce.  Although travel by car was growing there were no superhighways and a trip to Denver took more than 2 hours.  The railroads provided all the transport of mail in and out of the town which then distributed it through the local and RFD routes out of the town's post office.

One of the chores of the post office was delivering the mail to the railroad to be loaded on the mail car and returning with the mail which arrived in the mail car.  Mail which was processed in the post office was cancelled with a town cancel.  There was another way for getting late mail on board the train.  At each end of the depot there was a mailbox in which mail could be deposited.  As you might suspect, the one at the west end of the depot was for west-bound mail and the one at the east end was for east-bound mail.  Such mail would be picked up by the Railway Mail Service and then cancelled on board the train with a Railway Post Office cancel.

In my family, mail to and from relatives was an important part of life.  No one thought of using the telephone except for catastrophes due to the cost of long distance telephony.  If you received a long distance call, you just knew that someone had died.  Mail was how one kept up with distant (more than 10 miles) friends and relatives.  As a result, we often would visit the depot in the evening after the post office closed to catch the late mail train.  If I was lucky, this excursion would be followed by a treat at the local A&W Root Beer stand.  And if I was really lucky, my Milk-Nickel would have a "Free" stick!

- Jim Watson
Posted November 18, 1999
© 1999, Jim Watson

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