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American Streetcar R.P.O.s: 1893-1929
Mainline Railway Post Offices were in use in the United States from 1862 to 1978 (with the final year being operated by boat instead of on rails), but for a much briefer era, cable cars and streetcars were also used for mail handling in the following 15 cities*:
New Bedford, Massachusetts
New York City
Rochester, New York
*As noted by some of our readers, this list does not include interurban RPOs.
Our latest E-book American Streetcar R.P.O.s collects 12 books on this subject (over 1000 pages in all) onto a DVD data disc that can be read on any computer using Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is free software. All have been out of print for decades and are hard to find. In addition, there is an introductory essay by David Sadowski.
The rolling stock, routes, operations, and cancellation markings of the various American street railway post office systems are covered in detail. The era of the streetcar R.P.O. was relatively brief, covering 1893 to 1929, but it represented an improvement in mail handling over what came before, and it moved a lot of mail. In many places, it was possible to deposit a letter into a mail slot on a streetcar or cable car and have it delivered across town within a short number of hours.
These operations present a very interesting history, but are not well-known to railfans. We feel they deserve greater scrutiny, and therefore we are donating $1 from each sale of this item to the Mobile Post Office Society, in support of their efforts.
# of Discs – 1 Price: $19.95
CTA 3381, now in CTA green, near the south end of route 4 – Cottage Grove, circa 1952. We can tell that this car has been converted to one man because of the sign that says, “Enter at Front.” (Earl Clark Photo)
CTA 3182 and 660 at Cottage Grove and 115th circa 1951. (Earl Clark Photo)
In this 1945 view, CSL 6191 has just turned from Pine onto Lake, heading east on route 16. Looks like the trolley has come off the wire. (Stephen D, Maguire Photo)
Westbound CTA 1758 is turning from Lake onto Pine in this March 1953 view. This is where Lake switched over to the other side of the Chicago & North Western embankment. The streetcar would continue on to Austin Boulevard, the city limits. That looks like a 1952 Kaiser at left.
The Pine Avenue viaduct today, looking north.
The Pine Avenue viaduct looking south. I assume the tracks have not really shifted location, and this is an optical illusion based on the fact that the Google Street View camera was in motion when it took this picture. In other words, it was the camera that shifted its position, not the tracks.
CTA 3153 and 1772 at Lake and Austin, the west end of route 16, on May 15, 1954, same day as the famous “Farewell to Red Cars” fantrip run by Central Electric Railfans’ Association.
CTA 818 by the Park Theatre at Lake and Austin on August 13, 1948. I don’t believe the movie theatre stayed open much later than this. (John F. Bromley Collection)
This old photo was identified as Chicago, but we’d like to know what our readers think.
Chicago Surface Lines work cars P8, P251, P9 and S55 on the scrap line at South Shops, May 12, 1943.
CSL supply car S201. (Earl Clark Photo)
CTA 144 at, I believe, the east end of the 63rd Street line on 64th just west of Stony Island. The Charles J. Klees Golf Shop opened in 1910 across the street from the Jackson Park Golf Course and is still in business today at 10436 S. Western Avenue. Car 144 is preserved in operating condition at the Illinois Railway Museum. (Roy W. Bruce Photo)
West Chicago Street Railway sprinklers.
CSL 5660 on through route 9 – Ashland in 1941. Paraphrasing Don’s Rail Photos, 5660 was built by Kuhlman Car Co in June 1907 (order) #350 for the Chicago & Southern Traction Company. It was purchased and rebuilt as Chicago City Ry 5660 in 1912 and became CSL 5660 in 1914. (Stephen D. Maguire Photo)
CSL 2753 in 1946. (Stephen D. Maguire Photo)
CSL 2776 at Wabash and Wacker in the 1940s. (George Snyder Photo)
CTA 3333 on route 5 in the summer of 1949. (R. O. Johnstone Photo)
CTA Sedan (aka “Peter Witt”) 6310 appears to have been converted to one-man in this view circa 1952 view at South Shops. However, it may not have been used in service this way before being scrapped. (Roy W. Bruce Photo)
CTA 114 heading east on 63rd street, just about to go under the Jackson Park branch of the “L”. M. E. adds, “At the right side of the picture in the foreground are two vertical posts that supported the structure that went south across 63rd St. to the lower 63rd St. yard. Therefore this picture was taken just about underneath that structure.” (Roy W. Bruce Photo)
314 E. 63rd Street today. In the previous photo, the photographer appears to have been standing under the ramp going down to the CTA’s 63rd Street Lower Yard. The ramp has been rebuilt since the earlier picture was taken. The broken lines in the ramp are due to the movement of the camera while this Google Street View picture was being taken.
CSL 2530 in Hegewisch on March 16, 1943. Note the South Shore Line station at rear. (Gordon Lloyd Photo)
Don’s Rail Photos says CSL 2595 was “built by St Louis Car Co in 1901.” The 2501-2625 cars are known as Robertson rebuilds. 2595 is shown on the Riverdale line on November 11, 1939.
C&WT 138 at Cermak and Kenton in the 1940s. Here riders could transfer to the Chicago Surface Lines route 21 streetcar at right. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)
C&WT 155 on private right-of-way west of the Brookfield Zoo on April 11, 1948, on the CERA “day after abandonment” fantrip. (John F. Bromley Collection)
C&WT at 52nd and 36th on February 28, 1938. (John F. Bromley Collection)
C&WT 119 on August 19, 1947. (John F. Bromley Collection)
C&WT 138 at the Brookfield Zoo on July 22, 1938, on the busy LaGrange line. The zoo first opened in 1934. Within a year or two, all West Towns streetcars would be repainted blue. (John F. Bromley Collection)
C&WT 15 on DesPlaines Avenue on April 11, 1948. The occasion was a Central Electric Railfans’ Association fantrip, held the day after West Towns streetcar service came to an end. Note one of the distinctive C&WT shelters at rear. (John F. Bromley Collection)
C&WT line car 15 at Harlem and Cermak on August 19, 1947. (John F. Bromley Collection)
C&WT snow sweeper 9. According to Don’s Rail Photos, “9 was built by McGuire-Cummings in 1928. It was sold to Sand Springs (Oklahoma) Railway in 1948.”
C&WT 126, with bus substitution notice, on April 4, 1948. (Photo by Mathews)