Notes from the Past

Remembering the Mail - Part II

There was a considerable competition between the railroads running between Chicago and Denver.  It was the line on which the Streamliners were introduced.  The silver Zephyr was the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy's entry.  The yellow City of Denver was the Union Pacific's competitor.  It was not long until they were called the Bug and the Banana.  Their passage through the town was always a thrilling sight.  Alot of people went to the respective depots to see the first visit of the new trains -- just like going to the airport to see a visit from the first commercial jet years later.  At various times during the life of these special, twice-a-day trains -- one east-bound and one west-bound -- they would not stop at our small town but would just zip through town destined for more prosperous communities.

Of course the failure to stop put a crimp in the use of the high speed trains for mail in and out of our town.  Just throwing the out-bound mail to be caught by the people in the mail car didn't work -- the train was going 60 mph or more.  In-bound mail bags could be tossed -- judiciously -- and picked up by the post office employee serving the train.  An ingenious solution was instituted in the late 30s.  The mail bags destined for the train were placed on tall posts and there was a hook on the mail car which was extended to capture the mail bags as the train sped past.  The hook was then retracted into the mail car and the mail bag released.

There was an occasional disaster as this mail system was being perfected.  The worst was when the mail bag would be swept under the train and cut by the wheels.  Picking up the mail after being spread about in such an accident was just the start of the fun of putting the mail into forwarding envelopes noting the damage to the mail.  I don't know if any of these are still around but I would love to have one!

- Jim Watson
Posted November 19, 1999
© 1999, Jim Watson  

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