[This article was first published by John N. McClintock and Company, Boston 1884. Thomas P. Cheney was Superintendent New England Division United States Railway Mail Service.]

It is not the purpose of this paper to give a history of the growth of this important branch of the government service, so much as to impart, perhaps to an indifferent degree, the methods of its intricate workings, and the care and study employed to expedite the vast correspondence of the country. A system as colossal as the Railway Mail Service of this country is, could not be organized but through a process of development meeting needs as they arise. This development is best shown by a comparative illustration from an early date to the present time.

In 1811, there were 2,403 post-offices, and during the year the mail was carried 46,380 miles in stages, and 61,171 miles in sulkies and on horseback. In Postmaster-General Barry’s report for the fiscal year ending November 1, 1834, it is said, that, “The multiplication of railroads in different parts of the country promises within a few years to give great rapidity to the movements of travelers, and it is a subject worthy of inquiry whether measures may now be taken to secure the transportation of the mail upon them. Already have the railroads between Frenchtown in Maryland and New Castle in Delaware, and between Camden and South Amboy in New Jersey, afforded great and important facilities to the transmission of the great Eastern mail.” The lines of railway at that time, 1834, amounted to seventy-eight miles.

In 1838, the Railway Mail Service began with 1,913 miles of railroad throughout the country. In 1846, mails were carried over 4,092 miles of railway, which increased in 1882 to 100,563 miles.

The miles of annual transportation of mail by railroad in 1852 amounted to 11,082,768, which increased to 113,995,318 in 1882, with an increase in the number of Railway Mail Service employees from 43 in 1846 to 3,072 in 1882. This wonderful expansion was but proportional with the development of the country at large. At the close of the war of the Rebellion, business was at its height. Industry and intelligence were seeking together new channels for their diffusion. The Pacific Railway was the grand conception that met this demand, and by its means were united the borders of the continent, and communication thus made more frequent and rapid between our interior, the West, and Europe: the most ancient civilization of the world in the Orient greeted the youngest in the Occident, and completed the girdle about the earth.

The lumbering stage and caravan laboring across the plains, and the swift mustang flying from post to post, frequently intercepted by the wily savage, were but things of yesterday, though fast becoming legendary. When those slower methods by which correspondence was conveyed at a great expense and delay, and current literature was to a great extent debarred, were supplanted by a continuous line of stages, it was considered a revolution in the wheel of progress, and the consummation. The possible accomplishments of the present day, if entertained at all at that time, were in general considered Munchausen, and not difficulties to be surmounted by practical engineering and undaunted perseverance. The civilization of the world has kept pace with its channels of communication and has accordingly rendered invaluable aid to it. In our country the field in this direction is exceedingly broad.

There is no branch of the government service that reaches so near and supplies the wants of the people as the Post-Office Department, and whose ramification may not be inaptly compared to the human system with its arteries filled with the life-current coursing through the veins and diffusing health and vigor to the various parts; in the same manner the people in the different sections of the country interchange their information. The centres of art and literature, conveying to the vast producing region in the West the products of their refined taste, scientific research, and mechanical achievements, keep alive and propagate the spirit of inquiry, making remote parts of the nation homogeneous in tastes, knowledge, and a common interest in all matters of national advancement.

If a map of the United States with every railway that crosses and recrosses its broad surface were laid before us, it would appear that a regulated system for an expeditious transmission of the mails in such an intricate confusion of lines, apparently going nowhere yet everywhere, would be an impossibility; but by study and untiring energy this has been accomplished.

The machinery of the Post-Office Department is a system of cog-fitting wheels, in all its component parts; and were it not so, in the necessarily limited period and space allotted, the work in postal-cars could not be successfully accomplished.

The interior dimensions of postal-cars vary, from whole cars sixty feet in length, to apartments five feet five inches in length by two feet six inches in width. The most comprehensive conception of the practical working of the postal-car system, can be formed in a railway post-office from forty to sixty feet in length; with this in view, we will make a trip in one. A permit to ride in the car, signed by the superintendent of the division of the service, is necessary to allow us the privilege; and it is also required of clerks belonging to other lines. This rule is necessary, in order that the clerks may perform their work uninterruptedly and correctly; and also to exclude unauthorized persons from mail apartments. After a hasty exchange of salutations with the four clerks, the “clerk in charge” notes our names on his “trip report,” and we are assigned a spot in the contracted space, where, we are assured, we will be undisturbed, at least for a while. The trip report mentioned is used in noting connections missed, and other irregularities that may occur. The interior of the car is fitted up with a carefully-studied economy of space, upon plans made under the supervision of the superintendent of the division, or chief clerk of the line. Occupying one end of the car are cases of pigeon-holes, or boxes, numbering from six hundred to one thousand, arranged in the shape of a horse-shoe, for the distribution of letters. These boxes are labeled with the names of the post-offices on the line of road, connecting lines, States, and prominent cities and towns throughout the country. A long, narrow aisle passes through the centre of the car, on both sides of which are racks for open sacks and pouches, into which packages of letters and pieces of other mail matter are thrown; on the sides above are rows of suspended pouches, with their hungry mouths open. By this plan, in this contracted space, upwards of two hundred different pouches and sacks can be distributed into between the termini. On one side of the aisle is a narrow counter, upon which the mail matter is emptied from the pouches and sacks; this is hinged to the pouch-rack, and can be swung back, to enable the clerks to get at the pouches more easily. The space beyond, divided by stanchions, is for the stowage of mails, and for their separation into piles.

In order that a minute may not be lost, when passing through tunnels or standing in dark railway-stations, the lamps are kept burning from the start to the finish. The last wagon, gorgeously suggestive of a circus, has arrived with its load of mail, and the busy work receives at once a new impetus. Several loads, however, have already arrived, and have been disposed of as much as possible; for the work begins, in some cases, several hours before the starting of the train. Transfer clerks and porters deliver the pouches and sacks into the car, the label of each being scanned and checked by the clerks, to detect if all connections due are received, and that no mail may be delayed by being carried out on the road with the other mail and returned. The last pouch is scarcely received, when a sudden, but not violent, shock announces that the locomotive is attached to the train, and the start about to be made. The sound of the gong, seconded by the electrifying and resonant “Aboard!” of the conductor, and the post-office on wheels is under way. Now, all is a scene of bustle, but not confusion. The two clerks, to whom are assigned the duty of distributing direct packages of letters and newspaper mail, including merchandise, deftly empty the pouches, out of which pour packages of letters and circulars, to be distributed unbroken into pouches, and others labeled to this route and different States, which are in turn to be separated into packages by routes, States, and large towns, at the letter-case. To the clerk in charge is assigned the sorting of such letters as are destined to distant routes or terminal connecting lines; and his associate, or second clerk, is busy distributing letter mail for local delivery, and into separations for intermediate connections.

In addition to sorting letters, the clerk in charge has charge of the registered mail, which requires special care in its reception and delivery, booking and receipting therefor. Large pouches of registered mail are also placed in his charge, _en transit_ between large cities, and represent great value. The peculiar tooting of the whistle, or a peculiar movement of the train around a curve, warns the fourth clerk, who is on the alert, of a “catch” station; the letter mail for that post-office is quickly deposited by the local clerk in the pouch, the lock is snapped, and he is standing at the door not a minute too soon or too late; the pouch is thrown out at a designated spot and one deftly caught an instant after without a slackening of the speed of the train. The pouch thus caught is taken to the counter, opened and emptied by the fourth clerk, and the letters immediately placed in the hands of the second clerk, who assorts the local mail; the through letters, or those destined to go over distant lines beyond the terminus, are sorted by the clerk in charge; the local, or second, clerk distributes his mail as rapidly as possible, with a watchful eye for letters, etc., to be put into the pouch to be delivered at the next station; the pouch is locked and everything is ready for the next delivery and “catch.” When the stations at which pouches are caught are within a mile or two of each other, the greatest activity is needed to assort the mail between stations, to avoid carrying mail by destination and subjecting it to considerable delay before its delivery by a railway post-office on the train to be met at a point perhaps many miles ahead.

The manner of taking or “catching” the mail from the trackside by some invisible power on a railroad train plunging through space has seemed to many a feat of almost legerdemanic skill, when all that is required is a simple mechanical apparatus and a quick, firm movement of the arm in using it at the right moment. A crane similar in appearance to the oldtime gibbet is erected near the track, and may have served as a warning by its suggestive appearance to some would-be train-wrecker. Its base is a platform two feet and a half square, with two short steps on top to assist the person hanging the pouch; a post ten feet in height passes up through this platform near the edge; a stout joist about five feet in length is fixed across the top of the post and so balanced that when relieved of the weight of the pouch it flies up perpendicularly against the post. The pouch used for this purpose is made of canvas and is somewhat narrower than the ordinary leathern pouch. It is lightly suspended by a slender iron rod projecting from the horizontal joist, passed through a ring at the top and lightly held at the bottom in the same manner as at the top.

When the pouch is snatched from the crane, the top piece flies up as described, and a parallel short joist at the bottom of the pouch drops. The pouch is strapped small in the middle, resembling an hour-glass, where the catcher-iron on the car is to strike it. This “catcher” consists of a round iron bar across the door of the car, and placed in a socket on each side about shoulder high; a strong handle, similar to a chisel-handle, projects perpendicularly from this bar; on the under side of the bar projects, at an angle of about forty-five degrees, a slender and strong iron rod, slightly turned at the end to prevent its tearing the pouch, of about three feet in length. As the train approaches the crane, the operating clerk with a quick, steady throw delivers the mail at a given point, usually near the crane; he then grasps the handle with his right hand, swinging the handle over inward; the arm when thrown outward, the horizontal bar turning in the sockets, comes in contact with the pouch, striking that part of it narrowed by the strap and striking the arm near the vertex of the angle into which it is driven by the momentum of the train; the greater the speed the more securely it is held there; but the clerk is on the _qui vive_, and as soon as it strikes the catcher-iron, grasps the pouch to make sure of getting it, as sometimes if the pouch is not hung properly, the arm will strike it at such a part as to require the most agile movement on the part of the clerk to secure it and to prevent its falling to the ground or under the wheels of the train and being torn to pieces; these cases, however, are rare, but pouches have lodged on the trucks and have been carried many miles.

To return to the clerks and their work. In the meantime, the “through” work continues, when the distance between stations and junctions will allow of it; letters in packages are distributed into boxes with a celerity and economy of motion which could be acquired only by continued practice and training of the eye to decipher an ever-varying chirography, and of mental activity to almost instantly locate a post-office on its proper route, its earliest point of supply, or connecting line.

The emptying of pouches continues; package after package of letters roll out on the counter as though they were potatoes rather than the dumb expression of every human emotion, or the innocent touchspring of their awakening. The pouches are labeled to indicate those requiring the earliest attention, as are also the packages of letters they contain; this plan prevents, to a great extent, the carrying of mail past its destination.

The packages of letters to be distributed by routes, post-offices, and States, are taken to the letter-case; those not to be so separated, that is, unbroken packages, _en transit_, are placed at once into their proper pouches.

The emptying of sacks of paper mail follows that of the pouches; the papers and packages of merchandise are faced in a manner to be readily picked up, their addresses read, and deftly thrown into the mouths of the pouches and sacks in the racks; this is very skilfully done, as the want of space requires that they shall be crowded closely together.

The swaying of the train around a curve makes little difference, as the clerks in a short time learn to follow every motion of the train. A quick decision, ready eye, and economy of movement as a superstructure to a good knowledge of his duties, are the invaluable qualities of a successful railway postal-clerk; and one so equipped soon outstrips his lagging seniors and associates in grade. As the train approaches a junction, preparations are made to “close out” that part of the mail to be delivered at that point, the sacks are tied, the tags or labels having been attached before starting. The clerks at the letter-case are rapidly taking the letters from the boxes tying them into packages, and separating them into piles, which are dropped into their proper pouches and locked, and so on until all is ready. Let us examine these packages of letters and at the same time describe the slip system. On the outside of each package for redistribution, and also inside each direct package, that is, containing mail for a single post-office, is placed a brown paper slip, or label, about the size of an ordinary envelope, bearing its address or destination, which may be that of a post-office, a group of post-offices supplied therefrom, and labelled “dis.” (the abbreviation of distribution), or for a railway post-office; this slip also bears the imprint of the name of the clerk who sorted into the package and is responsible for its correctness, the postmark with date, and a letter, as “N.” for north, or “W.” for west, indicating the direction the train is moving at the time. A similar slip is also placed loose in each pouch and sack.

The errors discovered in the packages of letters, or among the loose pieces in the pouches and sacks, are endorsed on the proper slip, signed and postmarked by the clerk in the railway post-office receiving it. These errors may be the result of carelessness, ignorance, or misinformation; in the latter case, had the clerk been properly informed, perhaps a delay of half an hour or less might have been avoided if sent by some other route. These error-slips are sent each day enclosed in a trip report to the division superintendent; if approved, the record is made, and the clerk in receiving the error-slip at the end of the month is informed of his mistake, and it is needless to add that the error, if one of ignorance or misinformation, will not be repeated. This forms a part of the record of the clerk upon which to a degree his future advancement depends. The beneficial effect of this system as an incentive to study, care in distribution, and a commendable rivalry, is indisputable.

The postmarks on the letters in the package in our hands show that they joined the current at a junction but a few miles past, and if the location of one of them is sought on the map, it is found to be an obscure hamlet on a remote stage route, by which it reaches the railroad, over which a single clerk in an office seven feet square, or less, performs local service, and which line makes connection with the through mail-train on the main road. The letters described are tied in a package with others, and a label slip placed thereon addressed to some railway post-office, perhaps hundreds of miles distant, which is reached unbroken through a many-linked chain of connections; with this package are others for large cities which will be passed along intact to destination, and also letters labeled to railway post-office lines making connections in their turn. The pouches and sacks into which the packages of letters and papers are deposited will be received at the next junction into a railway post-office car, sorted and forwarded in the manner described. In many cases a mail is sent across by a stage route to connect a parallel line, and thereby feeding a new section.

Mail matter is frequently received, through error, for post-offices on the line of road but just passed, or for post-offices supplied only by one railway post-office train moving in the opposite direction; to provide for such mail a pouch is left at the meeting-point of this train; and so the train plunges on with its busy workers, its pleasure-seekers, and its composite humanity, The clerks have long since become grim with the smut of the train, paling all others but the fireman, and the long-nursed illusion that all government positions are sinecures is rudely dispelled by their appearance, and an insight into their arduous duties. As the train lazily rolls into the terminal station, pouches and sacks are ready for delivery and the clerks make ready to leave the car.

The instant the train stops, a portion of the mail, large or small as the case may be, is delivered into a wagon for rapid transfer to a railway post-office train about to start from another station. If the incoming train is late, it may be necessary to exact the utmost speed to reach the outgoing train, and in many cases it is always necessary to effect it rapidly. After the transfer mail is disposed of, the labels of the remaining pouches and sacks are examined, and as the mail is passed out of the car we are surprised at its quantity, filling a number of large wagons; this, however, does not constitute the entire mail distributed _en route_, as the quantities delivered at junctions and stations aggregate, in many cases, more by far than that delivered at the terminal station, There are many details of work that our space forbids us to describe, that are technical and of little interest to the reader, but are of relative importance. These we must leave, and prepare for the return journey on the night-train, feeling grateful that our busy fellow-travelers are to have an opportunity to refresh themselves.

The work performed in a railway post-office on a night-train differs somewhat from that on a day-train, yet maintaining the same general principle of distribution. The methods differ, governed by the connections, and a clerk suddenly transferred from a day-train to a night-train on the same route, unless thoroughly informed of the train schedules, of close and remote connections, the time of the dispatch of direct closed pouches from many post-offices, stage route schedules, etc.,–which knowledge, even approximating correctness, would be extraordinary,–would be almost as much at a loss as if transf erred to another route, excepting his knowledge of the location of the post-offices on his own line. In all cases if a delay occurs, causing a connection to be missed, it is the duty of the clerk to know at once the next most expeditious route by which the mail can be forwarded.

The hardship incurred by a night-clerk is greater in many respects than that of the day-clerk; while in the latter case a continual active strain is required in the performance of local work and its multiplicity of detail, yet this is more than offset by the handling of bulky and heavy through mail and the unnatural necessity of sleeping in the daytime, which at most affords but a partial rest. On many night-lines the clerks commence work in mid-afternoon, accomplishing considerable before the train starts, and as the train plunges through darkness into the gray dawn and early morning, they sturdily empty pouches and sacks, and the incessant flow of letters and papers is only interrupted when approaching some important junction where mail is delivered and received from connecting lines or post-offices. Everything presents a weird aspect in a railway-station at midnight,–men flit about in a dazed way with satchels, the bright light bursting through the doorway of the car gives a ghastly look to the face of the man who throws in the pouches and sacks, and all appear like ghosts that will vanish with the approach of dawn; but we realize the substance of our surroundings when we again turn our attention to the busy scene in the car. The city distribution of letters–a feature of the service on night-trains which has greatly facilitated the early delivery of mails in a few of the larger cities–has been extended to other cities, and others are still to receive its benefit. For instance, clerks from the Boston post-office detailed to do this duty enter the mail-car at the Boston and Albany Railway at Springfield, Massachusetts, and sort the city letters by carriers’ routes, post-office box sections, banks, insurance offices, etc. The corresponding train moving in the opposite direction is boarded by New York post-office clerks making similar separations.

The packages of letters thus made up go direct to their respective divisions in the post-office, thereby avoiding the delay that would be caused in passing through other preliminary distributing departments. This work has been taken up recently by the Railway Mail Service, the plan enlarged and extended, and added to the other duties of the clerks. Additional clerks, however, have been employed to perform this work, yet the others are required to know it, and on lines where additional clerks were not appointed, to make it their regular duty.

A glance has been given at one of the many links in the continuous chains of connections that cross and recross the face of the country. A comparison of the oldtime method and of the railway post-office service will show the superior advantage of the latter. At some remote hamlet in Nova Scotia, a letter is started for San Francisco, California. It crosses the boundary line into the United States and enters at once the swelling current at Vanceborough, Maine. Leaving that place at 1.35 A.M., Monday, without delay it reaches Boston at 5.10 P.M., is transferred across the city, leaves at 6.00 P.M., connecting with the fast mail train from New York City at Albany, through Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo, reaches Cleveland at 6.00 P.M., Tuesday, and Chicago at 6.00 A.M., Wednesday, where an intermission of six hours makes the longest delay in the line of connection. The next morning, Thursday, at 11. A.M., Omaha is reached; Friday, at 6.00 P.M., Laramie, Wyoming; Saturday, at 6.00 P.M., Ogden, Utah; Sunday, Humboldt, Nevada; and Monday, at 11.00 A.M., San Francisco. This illustration has been made to show the far-reaching continuity of connecting lines across the country, passing through many of the principal cities but not entering a post-office for distribution, rather than a complexity of connections almost innumerable in a thickly-settled country, and over which study and patient inquiry to simplify are ever at work.

Lyons, Wayne County, New York, is located on the New York Central Railway; a letter is started from that place for Leeds, Franklin County, Massachusetts; it is received into the New York and Chicago railway post-office at 8.17 A.M., then it is given to the Boston and Albany railway post-office at Albany, the latter line connecting at Westfield, Massachusetts, with the Williamsburgh and New Haven railway post-office, arriving at destination at 9.37 that night.

Again at 6.08 P.M., from Lyons, another New York and Chicago railway post-office train passes, but, owing to different connections, disposes of it differently: from this railway post-office a pouch containing a similarly addressed letter, with other mail, is delivered at Albany for the Boston and Albany railway post-office, due to leave Springfield, Massachusetts, at 7.15 A.M.; this pouch is conveyed from Albany in the baggage-car attached to an express-train, which train, passing Westfield, connects at Springfield with the 7.15 A.M. railway post-office train East. At Palmer a short distance east of Springfield a return mail is left for the railway post-office that left Boston at five o’clock that morning; into this mail the letter for Leeds is placed, as the clerks in the latter-named railway post-office deliver at Westfield a pouch for Leeds, which place is reached 10.07 that morning, on train in charge of baggage-master. This illustration is comparatively a simple one. Many instances could be given where a detour of many miles is made to gain a few minutes in time. By the old system the letter would, in all probability, have gone to Albany post-office for distribution, thence either to New Haven, Connecticut, or Westfield, Massachusetts, for the same purpose, losing trains at each place waiting to be distributed, and consuming fully, or more, than sixty-four instead of sixteen hours. By the old method delays became almost interminable as the connections became intricate, more so than on a continuous line. The advantage of the “catcher” system described elsewhere, which enabled towns to communicate with one another in a few minutes, instead of by the direct closed pouch system through a distributing office miles away, consuming hours, is not inconsiderable.

The gain by the present method is incomparable. Intersecting at Albany, New York, with the line from Vanceborough, Maine, to San Francisco, just described, or perhaps what may be called the vertebral column of the system, is the New York and Chicago railway post-office line, known also as the “Fast Mail” or the “White Mail,” as the mail-cars on this line were originally painted white. A mail-train consisting of four mail-cars and express-cars leaves New York City at 8.50 P.M., making the through connection to Chicago. There are two similar trains, leaving New York at 4.35 A.M., and at 10.30 A.M., with a less number of cars; and three moving in the opposite direction. There are twenty mail-cars on this line, each interior is sixty feet in length, and the exterior, as already mentioned, painted white, and bearing the coat-of-arms of some State and the name of its past or present governor. Each car is devoted to a special purpose: the distribution of letters and local, or “way,” work; the distribution of paper mail; and others for storage. The distributing cars are built upon a different plan from the one herein before described; the packages, etc., are distributed into large compartments or boxes slightly pitching back one over the other in a large case, and the clerk wishing to empty one of them passes into the narrow aisle to the rear of the case; the pouch or sack is hooked to the case under the door of the box, and the mail drops into it. Pouches and sacks are also hung in racks to be distributed into. These cars are post-offices of no mean pretensions when the amount of work performed is considered. When it is considered how densely populated the country is through which this line passes many times each day, and its numerous and swelling tributaries, the volume of mail conveyed is enormous, yet not disproportionate.

The average amount conveyed during thirty days, in the sixty days in January and February of 1881, that the weights of mails were taken between New York City and Buffalo, a distance of four hundred and forty-two miles, amounted to 4,416,451 lbs.; between Buffalo and Chicago, a distance of five hundred and forty-two miles, 2,874,918 lbs. Over the first section 73,607 lbs. per day, the second section 47,848 per day; while either of these amounts does not equal those carried during the same period between New York and West Philadelphia, on the route to Washington, a distance of ninety miles, amounting to 6,202,370 lbs. for the thirty days, and 103,372 lbs. per day, the great discrepancy in miles must be borne in mind and the fact that government supplies and public documents to the East and North contribute no small proportion of the amount. The mail between New York and Chicago is altogether a working mail. It requires more than two hundred and sixty clerks to handle this mail, who travel annually 2,030,687 miles.

The clerks on the westerly bound trains are assigned the distributing of mails by route, for all Middle, Western, Southwestern, and Northwestern States, and on the easterly bound trains for the Middle and Eastern States.

When such States as New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois, with respectively 3,070, 3,681, 2,603, and 2,568 post-offices, are taken into consideration, some idea may be formed of the work required in preparing a system of distribution, the vigilance required to keep pace with the frequently changing schedules, and the study of the clerks to properly carry its requirements into effect. Beyond Chicago, in the new country, the work of distribution grows less intricate, but the powers of endurance of the clerks are severely tested. On the line between Kansas City, Missouri, and Deming, New Mexico, a distance of 1,147 miles, the clerks ship for a long voyage–five days on the outward trip and the same on the inward, sleeping and eating on the train.

There are a number of lines in the far West, on which the clerks do not leave the train for a number of days. Throughout the country the total number of pieces of ordinary mail handled by 3,855 railway postal clerks on the lines, during the year ending June 30, 1883, amounted to 3,981,516,280; the number of errors made in their distribution was 958,478 pieces, or a per centage of correct distribution of 99.97. This minutia of detail is applied to the distribution of a vast bulk of mail. It is estimated that in Boston, Massachusetts, between eighty and one hundred tons of mail matter are daily dispatched, and between forty and sixty tons are daily received; while at New York City this quantity is more than doubled. Even figures become interesting when they represent the standard of intelligence and progress, as shown by an increased correspondence and literature. In no branch of the government service, it can be safely said, have the tenets advanced by the advocates of the civil-service reform been so nearly realized as in this bureau of the Post-Office Department even at that period when the initiatory steps now being applied to other departmental machinery were considered all but Utopian,–a system consisting of a probationary period preceding appointment, and promotion from grade to grade, based upon a practical and thorough system of examination, had long since been developed up through an experimental stage to a well-grounded success. The complexity of the postal system, continually varying in detail, demanded a uniform system of giving information, and a corresponding test of its operation. The system of distribution for each State is compiled in tabulated form in a book or sheet, known as a “scheme,” for ready reference when on duty, or study when off the road. In thickly-settled States, where numerous railroads cross and re-cross each other in the same county, it is necessary to have the names of the post-offices arranged alphabetically; opposite the name of each office is given all its methods of supply and also the hour the mail reaches that office. In more sparsely-settled States the schemes are arranged by counties; this is done where the majority of the offices in a county are supplied by one or two lines, and the exceptions, which are only specified in detail in the scheme, by other lines or a number of post-offices. In this case the clerk memorizes the supply of the excepted post-offices particularly, the disposition of the remaining post-offices in the county being the same; it is of the first importance to be properly informed in which county an office is located, and the line supplying the principal part of that county. A name prefixed with “north” in one county may have the prefix of “south” in another, or a similar name in a remote county. These schemes are compiled at division headquarters, and the general orders are revised almost daily, informing the clerks of changes affecting the distribution, and also instructions as to other duties. From the schemes mentioned, lists of distribution are made and time computed applicable to each line or train of the States for which mail is selected.

To return from this preliminary digression to the examinations. These examinations are of the most practical character and serve to develop the mental abilities and intelligent understanding of the clerks. To clearly understand the method, the clerk should be followed step by step from the time of his probationary appointment into the service, through the probationary period and his examinations as a full-fledged clerk. After a month’s service on a line, the clerk is assigned a day and hour for his examination; here is laid the foundation for future usefulness, the intelligent understanding of a service, acquired by continual study and inquiry, that gives to all occupations that peculiar zest when understandingly rather than mechanically followed. A single State, with the least number of offices, that in the course of duty he will be required to assort, is selected at the first; it is not expected that it will be memorized understandingly, or the location of each office fully known at once, but it forms the basis of inquiry, and develops either future excellence or mediocrity, or total incapacity. The room in which these examinations are usually conducted (excepting when a clerk on a route in a remote part of the division is the subject, in which case he is visited by the examining clerk) is kept quiet, and nothing that will distract the attention allowed. He is placed before a case containing one hundred pigeon-holes, or more, each the width of an ordinary visiting-card, and sufficiently high to contain a large pack of them. Cards are then produced, upon each one of which is printed the name of a post-office, comprising a whole State. The cards are distributed into the case by the clerk being examined and the number of separations made as required when on actual duty in the railway post-office. The number of separations varies according to the connections due to be made; when the line is through a thickly-settled country, the separations are made in fine detail. In the State of Massachusetts there are seven hundred and seventy-two post-offices; and the number of separations made by one line is upwards of eighty. On the train it is necessary to make many (what are known as) direct packages that the examination does not call for. Account is taken of the time consumed in “sticking” the cards, and questions asked to test the knowledge of connections. A large number of questions are asked relating to the Postal Laws and Regulations, as affecting the Railway Mail Service; these latter questions vary in number from fifty to one hundred. When practicable, during the probationary period of six months, one examination is held each month, taking a different State each time.

The results of these examinations are placed on record, and at the expiration of the probationary term, this record, together with the list of errors in sending mail, are forwarded to the Honorable William B. Thompson, General Superintendent of the Railway Mail Service, in Washington, District of Columbia, with a recommendation that the clerk be permanently appointed or dropped out of the service. These examinations are held at intervals among all the clerks to test their efficiency, and as an incentive to study, to keep fresh in their minds the proper disposition of the important mails passing through their hands. In these examinations a good-natured rivalry exists, and a vigilant eye is kept by the clerks that their line shall make as high an average per centage, or, if possible, higher than any other. The percentage of correctness rarely falls below seventy-five; an average is generally made of ninety-five per cent. The list of errors made is closely scanned by better-informed clerks, and no stone left unturned by them to clear their record, and to satisfactorily settle disputed points. These discussions and inquiries are invited, not only that all may feel satisfied with the result, but also that much valuable information is frequently elicited from the clerks, who in many cases are situated advantageously to see where practical benefits may be attained.

During the fiscal year which ended June 30, 1882, there were 2,898 examinations of permanent clerks held, and 3,140,630 cards handled; of this number 208,736 were incorrect, 512,460 not known, making a correct average per centage of 77.05. This record does not include that of probationary clerks. This constant watchfulness, it can readily be seen, redounds to the benefit of the public and results in the most expeditious methods of forwarding the mails attainable. In some cases a test of reading addresses of irregular or difficult legibility as rapidly as possible is given, but this idea has not been generally adopted. The query naturally arises, Is there no incentive to study other than to make a good record? There is; for upon this basis, together with a knowledge of a ready working capacity and application–both great considerations–are the promotions and reductions made. Those in charge of lines are fully cognizant of the status of the men, bearing on all points. The clerks in the service are classified, those on the small or less important routes according to the distance. Our attention, however, is drawn particularly to the trunk lines. The probationary appointee is of class 1, receiving pay at the rate of eight hundred dollars per annum; but at the expiration of his six months’ probation, if he is retained, he is paid nine hundred dollars per annum, and placed in class 2. The number of men in a crew on a trunk line making through connections is governed by the quantity of work performed, and generally consists of four men, excepting the fast lines, New York to Chicago and Pittsburgh, where more than one mail-car on a train is required. With four men in a crew the clerk in charge is classed 5, and others successively 4, 3, and 2, and paid at the rate of thirteen hundred dollars, eleven hundred and fifty dollars, one thousand dollars, and nine hundred dollars per annum. In the event of a vacancy in class 5, the records of examinations and errors made in the performance of work are scanned, the relative working capacity of the eligible men in class 4 considered, and a copy of the records, with recommendations, forwarded to the General Superintendent. The gap caused by the retirement of one of class 5, and filled by one of class 4, necessitates promotions from classes 2 and 3, and also a new appointment into class 1, probationary, and after that period is passed into class 2, thus preserving a uniform organization.

The selections for promotion are made from the clerks on the entire line. Thus it will be seen that a graduated system of promotion exists, based upon merit and competitive examination, and which to the fullest extent is practical and theoretically satisfactory to the most exacting civil-service reform doctrinaire. The general supervision of the Railway Mail Service is under a General Superintendent, the Honorable William B. Thompson, located in Washington, District of Columbia. It is divided into nine sections, with offices in Boston, New York City, Washington, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Cleveland, and is respectively under the superintendence Messrs. Thomas P. Cheney, R.C. Jackson, C.W. Vickery, L.M. Terrell, C.J. French, J.E. White, E.W. Warfield, H.J. McKusick, and W.G. Lovell,–men who have risen from humble positions in the service, step by step, to their present positions of responsibility.

It is an erroneous impression that prevails in certain quarters that the forwarding of mails over the various railroads is arranged by postmasters; the especial charge and control of the reception and dispatch of mails is under the Superintendents of the Railway Mail Service, who, in their turn, are responsible to the General Superintendent, who, in his turn is responsible to the Honorable Second Assistant Postmaster-General.

It will readily be seen by the foregoing sketch that a clerkship in the Railway Mail Service is far from being a sinecure, either mentally or physically. As the country increases in population and the system becomes more complex, it is found to be important to the public that the clerks should be insured against removal except for the following reasons: “Intemperance, inattention to or neglect of duty, incapacity for the duties of the office, disobedience of official instructions, intentional disrespect to officers of this or other departments of the government, indecency in speech, intentional rudeness of language or behavior towards persons having official business with them or towards associates, and conduct unbecoming a gentleman.” In several annual reports the General Superintendent has urged upon Congress that some provision be made for pensioning disabled clerks. This would seem to be only fitting justice to the clerks, who hourly incur a risk of either limb or life.