R is for RPO - Page 4


The End of an Era - the Last RPOs

The cover above, with its enclosure, is an interesting souvenir of the era when RPOS's were a dying breed. The year was 1951, and railroads were already in trouble, as cars took over in America. The message is charming for its romantic element - let's hope the "pal" was Mrs. Jackson's husband! The lack of a stamp implies the item was simply a favor cancel, a souvenir, which is less romantic. I'll let you write your own story to explain it all.

This cover was produced in 1974, when there was only one true RPO train still running in the US, on the NY to DC line, where train traffic and mail volume still fit together well enough to justify keeping the service alive.

Three years later, and one hundred years after the early cover near the beginning of this topic was mailed, someone created the cover above as a souvenir of the last official RPO train in the US, marking the end of a 113-year history. The cachet reproduces the 3c Parcel Post stamp of 1913, which depicts a step in that process of grabbing a mailbag on the fly.


HPO's - Highway Post Offices

HPO's (Highway Post Offices) were started in 1941 as a supplement to RPO's, which were still the primary means of moving mail between cities in the US. The cover above - also a nice patriotic cover - was carried on the very first HPO route in the entire country, from Washington, DC to Harrisburg, VA, and on its very first day of service, 2/10/41. "Trip 2" in the postmark refers to which direction of the route this was carried on - every HPO route had two "Trip"s, one in each direction. First Trip covers were prepared for many of the routes, some with special cancellations, some not - see the next cover, which is from the third HPO route established nation-wide.

The HPO cover above is a favorite of mine, both for the imagination shown in preparing it, and for the letter enclosed, whose text is as follows:

Mr. Raymond B. Collings,
Superintendent of Mails,
Santa Cruz, California.

Dear Mr. Collings:

While I assume you will receive many envelopes cancelled on Trip No. 1 of the new San Francisco - Pacific Grove Highway Post, Office, August 4, 1941, I thought you might want the particular map envelope in which this letter is to be enclosed. I had it privately prepared today, with the understanding but not a warranty that the printer will not print same for sale.

I hope that this new Highway Post Office will prove to be an asset to the Post Office Department and the Roosevelt Administration as a whole.

Yours sincerely,

Donald Younger, Attorney at Law

The pamphlet below, postmarked by a collector in 1958, explains the HPO service as the USPS wanted the public to view it. Despite its assertion that all HPO's made a round trip per day, it appears to me that many took two days.

The HPO's died about the same time as the RPO's, with only a couple of routes lasting past 1970 - the latest Last Trip date I could find was April 1, 1972 (see the United States Highway Post Office Cover Catalog, a publication of the Mobile Post Office Society.)


Links and References

The Casey Jones RR Unit of the American Topical Association (of which I am a proud member) is the premier organization in the US for railway stamp collectors - it has an entertaining and informative monthly newsletter with listings of all the new issues with trains on them.

Casey Jones RR Unit of the ATA


Norm Wright, Sr., editor of the ATA Handbook of Railways on Stamps has created an amusing site about his personal railroad:

Norm Wright's Railroad


Here is a site created by Rick Kunz, an RPO Postmark collector, with informative text and images on the topic.

The Mobile Post Office Society is an organization of philatelists interested in "the enroute distribution and postmarking of mail all over the world." That includes RPOs and HPOs.

The Dakshina Kannada Philatelic and Numismatic Association of Magalore, India

has a well-designed and well-maintained philatelic site with several interesting pages about trains.


And if you click on the image below, you will be taken to the excellent site of Al Peterson (The Rail Philatelist) my favorite dealer - be sure to check out his Railway Philately Exhibit pages.


Finally, there are hundreds of books about RPO's and the RMS,
plus thousands of articles and pamphlets on the topics. I won't try to list more here, but if the topic interests you, go to your local library, or talk to your favorite philatelic literature dealer, or do a web search. The Mobile Post Office Society (see link above) has many publications on the topic.


9/1/2010 - Erin Cole, who works for her local library, and was researching hobby links for their database, wrote to let me know that my link to the Dakshina Kannada Philatelic and Numismatic Association of Magalore, India was broken (It's been fixed now), and to recommend the Philatelic Resources page of the Gettysburg Flag Works. I agree with her, it has an excellent selection of links for philatley on the Web - check it out:



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All text Copyright © 2000, William M. Senkus

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Revised -- 09/01/2010