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Railroad ties

Employees recall relatives who worked on RPOs

USPS employee holding photograph of grandfather
Trenton, NJ, Postage Due Technician Donna Reel holds a photo of her grandfather, Frank Harper, a Railway Post Office clerk.

A photo featured in Link last month is stirring fond postal memories among three New Jersey employees.

The 1977 image, which accompanied an article about Railway Post Offices (RPOs), showed a group of clerks aboard a train that served a New York City-to-Washington, DC, route.

Donna Reel was happy to see her grandfather, Frank Harper, in the photo. Reel, a postage due technician in Trenton, said Harper, who died in 2010, loved his job and shared many stories.

“They would grab the mail sacks as the train entered a station,” Reel said. “The mail would be hanging out towards the tracks on a pole and the guys would take a hook and grab it. He said he never saw anyone miss.”

Deborah Reed’s grandfather, Joseph Zvolensky, who died in 1990, is also pictured. Reed, an address management system technician in Kilmer, said Zvolensky received letters from his Postmaster and other recognition during his career.

“Grandpop didn’t talk much about his job,” Reed recalled. “Mom said it was because he took it so seriously and was sworn under oath.”

Zvolensky passed down his strong work ethic to Reed and her brother Dave, a letter carrier in South Jersey District. Both have worked for USPS for about 30 years.

“Grandpop was proud we followed in his footsteps,” Reed said.

The Link photo also sparked memories for Leon Roszkowski, a Hoboken facilities engineer who helped empty retired RPOs in the early 1980s.

“The rail cars were wooden boxes on rail trucks and were not air-conditioned,” he said. “Many of them had toilets that were nothing more than a seat that opened through the floor to the rails below.”

Former railway clerks would come to see the RPOs one last time and reminisce.

“The old timers would enlighten us youngsters about what they called the ‘real’ Post Office,” Roszkowski recalled. “It was truly the end of an era.”

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