BNAPS Railway Post Office Study Group

Railway mail service history
MT-1 Albert and Salisbury RPO postmark dated 3 Aug. 1931
Train 255, 3 Aug. 1931
QC-98 Levis and Riviere-du-Loup RPO postmark with RPO clerk's name, J. A. Dionne, dated
                     18 Dec. 1915
(RPO clerk name)
Train 45, 18 Dec. 1915
RY-87 Halifax and  S.W.R'Y. RPO postmark dated 18 May 1910
East, 18 May 1910
SN-10 Hamilton Canada duplex postmark used at GTRy station dated 22 Nov. 1910
11 AM, 22 Nov. 1910
Duplex used at GTRy station
Countess Dufferin locomotive SPM&M locomotive

The railway mail service ended in 1971. As time goes on, fewer and fewer railway mail clerks will be available to provide first-hand accounts of the railway mail service and answer questions from RPO collectors and researchers. Fortunately, there are written accounts, but when specific questions arise, it is wonderful to be able to call on someone's memory.

Some years ago, Robert K. Lane, former BNAPS Webmaster and noted RPO collector, began to post on the BNAPS website information from people who were part of the service.

Recollections of Clarence Hopkin, railway mail clerk

In 2004, Robert Lane became acquainted with Clarence Hopkin, a 90 year-old ex-railway mail clerk. Clarence worked on westward lines out of Brandon, MB, on the south side of the Main Line. Mr. Hopkin served as a railway mail clerk and main post office clerk at Brandon. His years as an railway mail clerk included June 1943 to March 1947. The runs he worked on included:

  • Brandon & Estevan
  • Brandon & Regina
  • Brandon, Bulyea and Regina

Note: on the latter, his crew did not work from Bulyea to Regina but went there to lie-over.

Men he worked with on RPO cars included:

  • Harry Penton
  • Jim Carr
  • Bob Cooper
  • Doug Johnston
  • Stan Copp
  • ? McKinnon
  • ? Orchard
  • Horace Sefton

His notes follow.

Railway Mail Clerks (RMC)

RMCs were required to learn and know all post offices in Northwestern Ontario (Lakehead to Manitoba border), all Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Distribution and Connections. RPOs or baggage car service or P.O.s of towns where mail was distributed from, such as Brandon, Forrest, Boissevain, Rapid City, etc.

Examined on these in practical case exam. Written exam on Postal Law and Rules and Regulations regarding RPOs and Baggage Car Service.

Case exam and written exam held the same day once every year. Average mark MUST not be below 90%. The general average was 98 or 99%. Occasionally, RMCs got 100% in one or the other; once in a while for both exams.

Required to take the case exams alternately Manitoba and NW Ontario - then Saskatchewan and Alberta.

After 10 years, one was allowed to select whichever combination he wished. After 20 years continuous service, exams were no longer required unless applying for a supervisor's position.

In the main post office (money orders, stamps, etc.), one was required to be examined once a year on "Financial Law and Postal Law" - "Financial", for short.

Some RPOs and Baggage Car Service - Also some P.O. were served by motor vehicle (MVs)


Baggage Car Service:


Mail Cars

Mail cars were 30, 60 and 90 feet in length. 30 foot cars were usually half of a 60 foot car and entirely sealed off from the baggage car and were marked "mail car". A baggage car service had a heavy steel locked mail container inside the car with a steel latch on the outside marked "mail". It was given to a connecting mail clerk at the end of the run or to a designated postmaster for unlocking and handling the mail inside.

60 foot cars were sometimes all mail cars or designated by the Post Office Department as 30 foot mail car and 10, 20 or 30 foot baggage car at the baggage car rate at the discretion of the "clerk in charge".

90 foot cars were very frequently designated by the Post Office Department as 60 foot mail cars and 30 foot baggage car. The rates paid by the Post Office was so much a mile and another rate for the baggage mail that was carried.

CNR trains 5 & 6 WINNIPEG/BRANDON/REGINA was so designated and moved a lot of American mail from Edmonton that way (Winnipeg, Brandon, Regina, N. Battleford, Edmonton). I made numerous trips on this run (WINNIPEG/BRANDON/REGINA).

The Case Examination

As of 1943-47, there were 2,600 post offices in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

There was a card for each post office, printed with the name and province. One could buy each province separately at about $3.50 to $5.00 for each one. Or one could buy a box of 500 blank cards and write in the post offices.

In a case about 25 inches by 25 inches with 100 separations, one made headings for each of these separations. R.P.O.s, B.C. Service or Distribution according to the plan provided by the Post Office Dept.

One was given 1,000 cards and allowed 60 minutes for an examination. Sometimes an examining inspector would allow 15 extra minutes if there had been interruptions. My best mark was 98.2% which means that I had dropped 18 cards either by mistake or had not known the correct distribution. I had 100% on my written exam with congratulations written over the inspector's signature.

Railway mail service on the Winnipeg-Warroad-Ft. Frances-Duluth line(s)

In mid-March 2005, Robert Lane posted a request for information on the bulletin board. His request read as follows:

I would like to get in touch with anyone knowledgeable about RPO services on the Winnipeg-Warroad-Ft. Frances-Duluth line(s) in the 1930s. This includes the DWP line. Canadian RPO services existed between Winnipeg and Ft. Frances; U.S. RPO services existed between Warroad and Duluth. Obviously, there could have been some duplication/overlap and I wonder how that was handled.

Here are some of the replies he received.

I lived in Middlebro, Manitoba, from 1949 to 1957 but unfortunately as an 8 year old didn't ask for details on the RPO cross-border legalities. I do remember going to the station just before the 9:30 pm eastbound passenger arrived and giving the postmaster, George Templeman, a letter that had a 3-cent Canadian stamp on it, and he would hand it to the people in the RPO. All mail from Middlebro went out eastbound.

If you did the same in Warroad, MN, the letter needed U.S. postage even though it was the same car. I may be wrong but I believe the car had a U.S. clerk who worked from Warroad to Baudette and rode along with the Canadian ones. From Rainy River, ON, the Canadians took over.

Did the car have dual marking for Canadian and United States mail? I'm not sure.

The DW&P was out of my home territory so I can't help.

BTW, the railway bridge at Baudette is a separate company of its own.

Nick A.

I believe that RPO cars assigned to such trains as these had "U.S. Mail" lettering on them. I have seen photos of "Mail & Express" cars with both 30 foot postal apartments and 15 foot postal apartments lettered as such. Apparently, our post office did not stipulate such lettering. Also, in case anyone questions my use of the word "apartment" instead of "compartment", I heard this a lot from retired "Railway Mail Service" employees that I've communicated with over the years ... I am not sure if it was "official" terminology or not!

Robin Lowrie
Stony Plain, Alberta

The word "apartment" in reference to mail sections of RDCs was definitely used in CPR documents like Folio drawings and likely was just carrying through the terminology from the Budd Company.

Dale Wilson
Sudbury, ON

On the discussion about international RPOs:

My uncle worked in the Railway Mail Service about twenty years in British Columbia. One of the runs he handled was the RPO from Blaine, Washington, to Vancouver, BC.

U.S. Clerks from Seattle handled the mail car from Seattle to Blaine and the Canadian Clerks from Vancouver took over at Blaine. For those of you in eastern Canada who may not have been to BC, Blaine is located on the Washington - BC border. These cars ran on the "Internationals" on the Great Northern.

The RPOs in Canada were owned by the railways and leased by the Post Office Department. I think the same thing applied to the U.S. railways and the U.S. Post Office, but I am not sure.

I only heard the stub end referred to as a compartment when I worked in the Railway Mail Service.

Bill MacDonald
Former Railway Mail Clerk
Cal & Van RPO

The American crew got off in Blaine and the Canadian crew got on. Going south, the Canadian crew handed the car over to the American crew. The car was a Great Northern car. The situation was no different than us handing over the car at Calgary to the Moose Jaw & Calgary crew on the CPR main line.

The major difference is that the American crew carried revolvers. The Canadian crew did not.


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This page was last modified on 2024-01-02