40 years without a permanent home, an 1883 Office Car and a one of a kind RPO Car, join the rolling stock of the McComb Railroad Museum.
It's a long story, one of determination and cooperation between two cities across state lines, and a love affair with the railroad, but the saga of the Office Car and the RPO Car really are a miracle of a sort. It all started back in the 1960s, when the major railroads began winding down their passenger operations. A famous ICRR photographer, C.W. (Bill) Witbeck, now deceased but the n the visionary president of the Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, obtained IC surplus cars in hopes of starting a museum in Hammond, LA. With Witbeck's death in early 1972, the museum idea fell apart, and the sad saga of these cars began...
In 1975 the 1883 office car, the 1914 Railway Post Office Car, and a coach car went to the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum in Baton Rouge (LASM). A lease written at the time allowed the LASM possession of these cars for the maintenance and upkeep of them for 99 years. Around 2000, the Southeast LA Chapter received word the LASM wanted to break the lease and return the cars. At this point, retired McComb Shop Superintendent Edwin Etheridge tried to obtain the cars for McComb, but there were too many legal roadblocks thrown up. Finally in December of 2007, the three cars were moved back to Hammond with the idea of starting a children's museum. For years the cars sat in a fenced area on the southern side of Hammond awaiting a museum idea that once again did not materialize.
Finally, through the efforts of John Fortner and the Southeast LA Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, Mayor Mason Foster and the Hammond City Board, Mayor Whitney Rawlings and the McComb City Board, the McComb City Railroad Depot Museum Board, and the McComb Railroad Retirees, two of the cars at last found a permanent home at the McComb Depot on November 14, 2012. However, after nearly 40 years of neglect, a decision was made to scrap the third coach car due to its deteriorated condition.
The History of the 1914 Railway Post Office Car (RPO)
The rare 1914 Railway Post Office car #95 is a 60 foot heavyweight car built in January of 1914 by the Pullman Company for the Illinois Central Railroad. (The ICRR leased the car to the US Postal Service.) There were seven RPO's in the same class as #95. All of these cars were removed from the IC roster by March of 1971. #95 is the only ICRR RPO still completely intact as an RPO. There are others that may exist but they have been modified for tourist trains, as concession cars or for other uses.
The body of the RPO is steel and the floor is wooden. This car is equipped with racks for large mail bags, sorting cages, and "pigeon hole" mail slots at head level. About 6 mail clerks worked in the car while it was underway. Mail was spread out on long tables. Mail for larger towns was placed in the bags while mail for the smaller towns went into one of the sorting cages or pigeon holes. At the B end of the car is a larger open area for storing larger packages. A toilet closet is located on the right side of the A end.
There are two sliding doors on either side. These doors were opened while the train was stopped at a station to take sacks of mail on board. If a town was not a scheduled stop, mail to be picked up was placed in a pouch and hung on a mail crane by the tracks. As the car approached the mail crane, a clerk opened one of the doors and used the mail hook on the side of the car to snag the pouch of mail. At the same time mail for the town was kicked out onto the station platform. This was mail pickup and delivery on the fly.
Passengers could mail a letter or purchase a stamp in this car. RPO cars were usually found on express and through trains, but could be assigned to any route at any time if needed.