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Past life

Former RPO clerk recalls his rail days

Older man standing near railroad tracks
Kenneth Race of Sherman, IL, says he was proud to serve as a Railway Post Office clerk.

Kenneth Race remembers a lot from his years working inside a Railway Post Office (RPO).

Race, who served as a clerk on a Chicago-to-St. Louis route 60 years ago, has fond memories of traveling the rails.

“I was happy to get a job with the Postal Service because the pay was good and I was starting a new family,” he said.

There were no ZIP Codes when Race began his career, so he had to learn the locations of cities and towns along his route.

“After a while I became full time and then I could live anywhere along the route and just hop a train to get to work,” he said.

One career highlight was his responsibility to protect the mail — a role Race took very seriously.

“If we got any Registered Mail, they would hand you the sack and a gun so you could guard it while you took it to the Postmaster,” he said.

Race, a Sherman, IL, resident, is one of several employees and retirees who are sharing their memories this year, which marks the 40th anniversary of the end of RPOs.

Many memories have focused on the strong work ethic of the RPO clerks, as well as their talent for memorizing towns and cities on their routes.

Race said RPO careers were like no other.

“I will never forget my time on the train,” he said.

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