Markings tell story of mail delivery

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By Virgil Binfet

(Editor’s note: The following is a story written by Mobridge resident Virgil Binfet. We thank him for sharing this interesting bit of Mobridge history.)

Railroad mail delivery through Mobridge on Olympic Hiawatha #15 -16 is a pleasant memory for train lovers and just plain personal past. This writer can only speak of the moment, but his interest in postal letter cancellation from railroad postal cars snapped his attention. Bear with me as I explain what I could find.

Experimenting with mail on railroads started on the East coast in 1862. As our country expanded west, trains became an important means of getting information west. Yes, the Pony Express did run from St. Louis to California and back; but, the trains still took the mail back east.

By 1864 a true postal car was added to the trains. Can you imagine that box swaying left to right as it moved on those rails while the clerk tried to sort and cancel the mail? He could lose his job if he ever made more than about two mistakes. Or, can you picture the clerk doing his job and the overhead lantern fell because of the rough tracks and burned the car and its contents?

These markings tell the story of letters carried by rail:

(a) A letter mailed at Stouchton, Wis., to Selby was cancelled by the Rail Postal Office (RPO) on the Chicago & Minneapolis, track 5, May 15, 1933. It was cancelled again by the St. Paul, Aberdeen & Miles City RPO, track 5, on the same day. For delivery by Rural Mail Service (RMS), the cancellation shows M.O.B. (Mobridge) to Selby on May 16, 1933.

(b) A letter mailed in Aberdeen was cancelled April 10, 1933 by the St. Paul, Aberdeen & Miles City RPO on track 6. It was fµrther cancelled on the St. Paul & Williston RPO, track 27, April 11. The Williston & Spokane RPO took it west April 12 on track 27. Final delivery was by RMS in Wenatchee, Wash., April 13 at 1 a.m.

Olympic Hiawatha should be remembered as the train that brought, sorted or picked-up the mail here from the 1930s into the closing of the Rail Postal Office. When passenger trains were still running, the train stopped at depots. Here the mail bags were delivered and picked-up. Individuals could slip their own mail into a slot on the side of the Mail Car. At times a mail yard-arm was used to catch the mail bags as the train moved nonstop through the different communities. The mail officer would then kick the mail bag for that community out of the door as the train sped through. Passenger trains ended here in 1964. The last official rail postal services ended in the 1970s.

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