Rail mail

Clerks sort mail in the cramped interior of a Railway Post Office, which typically ranged from 15-60 feet long to about 9 feet wide.

Noel Beaudette had an interesting mail route once — one that took him from Minnesota to Nebraska.

In a recent Minneapolis Star Tribune article, Beaudette, who retired from USPS in 1986, recalled his experiences as a railway postal clerk in the 1960s.

The national postal system included Railway Post Offices in Minnesota from 1871-1971. Mail cars were like a regular Post Office, with cubbyholes and slots for receiving and dispatching mail.

“We’d work like the dickens on overnight rides to Omaha, sorting mail for Iowa, Nebraska and California,” Beaudette recalled.

Rail routes were risky. From 1875-1916, about 300 clerks were reportedly killed and 11,000 injured in train accidents nationwide.

By the late 1960s, railroad companies had cut the number of mail-carrying passenger trains as ridership declined, prompting postal leaders to divert resources to highway service.

With his railway route gone, Beaudette became a letter carrier.

“When I mention the Railway Post Offices today, nobody knows what I’m talking about,” he said.

Beaudette, 85, loved his rolling Post Office.

“If I had the opportunity, I would have paid $50,000 to buy that railway post job,” he said. “I never would have left it if I wasn’t forced to.”