On May 6, the Railway Post Office Northern Pacific #1102 will run the mainline rails once more in honor of its original role as a railway post office (RPO) car.
“The concept is simple,” Andrew Tighe wrote earlier this year in a brief to the Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway board. “Run a mail train in 2017 commemorating the original railway postal offices that ran from 1862 through 1977.”
In their heyday, RPO cars were staffed by Railway Mail Service postal clerks, who sorted mail en route to the next location as a way to speed delivery. But the post office discontinued their use 40 years ago.
The Minnesota Transportation Museum has preserved the Northern Pacific #1102, which has sections for the RPO, 20 passengers and the Railway Express Agency. It is one of two known RPO cars in working order and certified for movement on mainline rail, according to the Minnesota Transportation Museum. The Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway runs the car regularly, complete with a former railway mail service clerk who retrieves the mailbag while the train is on the move, according to depot manager JoAnna Falkofske.
In honor of the 40th anniversary of the “last mail train,” Tighe envisioned a partnership between the United States Postal Service (USPS) and Minnesota Transportation Museum (MTM) to give the #1102 a commemorative run. He pitched the idea to MTM Executive Director Erik Johnson, who encouraged him to see if it could be arranged.
As it turned out, the St. Paul District Postmaster’s office was interested, a meeting was held with representatives in January and the proposal was approved and forwarded to the Postmaster General’s Office before the month was over.
The #1102 will spend National Train Day, May 6, on display at the St. Paul Union Depot. At 4 p.m., it will depart for Osceola with the BN 325 locomotive and two coach cars, hauling commemorative cards and envelopes.
After that, the car will operate in regular service with the Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway.
“Historic connections reside with BNSF (Railway), the USPS Railway Postal Offices, Wells Fargo and the various corporations that depended on railway services,” Tighe told the railway board.
May 6 will be the first time in nearly 40 years that a real RPO postmark will be used, according to the MTM. “Last Mail Train” mementoes will be available for purchase at the depot and can be found online via Facebook (search for “The Last Mail Train”) and the MTM Facebook page and website.