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January 13, 2010

Railway Post Office exam practice kit

Filed under: What's New — Matt Anderson @ 3:50 pm

CaseInto the 1960s, much of the nation’s mail moved on railroads. Passenger trains carried Railway Post Office (RPO) cars equipped with sacks and slots that allowed clerks to sort mail en route. Sorted mail was delivered, and new letters were picked up, as the train passed through each town. It was complex work, and required a high degree of speed and accuracy. Clerks took regular examinations to keep their skills well-honed.

Sharp clerks practiced for their exams with kits like this one. It belonged to Richard Loida, a St. Paul-based postal clerk who made frequent RPO runs to Duluth and the Dakotas in the years after World War II. The kit consists of a wooden box, about the size of a briefcase, which opens to reveal slots labeled with primary railroad junctions; and a box of cards for each post office in Minnesota. Mr. Loida would practice placing the cards into the appropriate slots as quickly and correctly as he could. RPO clerks were required to sort as many as 600 pieces of mail per hour, and needed to score 97% to pass their exams. Needless to say, a little practice wasn’t a bad idea.

Matt Anderson, Objects CuratorCard

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10 Responses to “Railway Post Office exam practice kit”

  1. Annie Henson Says:

    My father (90) passed recently. In sorting through his belongings, I came across what I believe is a set of practice cards for the card case examination. My father had told us many times of his father practicing sorting the mail for his examinations, but he never told us just how this practice was done. We knew that grandfather built a sorting station for this practice, but just what he threw into all those cubbyholes was never described. Dad used to ride along on the train as his father gathered, sorted and distributed the mail. He liked to hang out with the engineer.

    These cards are printed on both sides. An example: Havana Kansas and on the other side Montgomery County K C & Tulsa. They are roughly the size of a business card. The label on the end of the box reads:

    Routes and County Printed on Back
    Price, including delivery, $4.25

    There is also a stamp that was most likely used for cancellation. It reads:
    Hope & Ardmore B.P.O. G. C. Henson JUN 12 1919 T575
    Grandfather’s name was Grover Cleveland Henson

    Can you advise me as to what to do with these cards?

    Matt Anderson reply on June 14th, 2010:

    This sounds like an interesting find. If the cards are all related to Kansas, then you might consider offering them to the Kansas State Historical Society. It looks like there is a local historical society in Caney (Montgomery County), Kansas, too, which may be interested.

    BARBARA SINGER reply on October 6th, 2010:

    Our grandson would like to purchase a box of practice cards. Please advise as to how you want to handle this.

    Thank you,

    Barbara Singer

    Kay Chambers reply on January 3rd, 2011:

    Mrs. Singer,
    I came across your post from September 2010 after I searched the internet for information about a box of cards I recently obtained. I believe it is a box of the practice cards used to practice sorting mail. The box I have has a label on the end that is printed with the following information:
    New York State, Sec. 1
    Routes and County Printed on Back
    Price per section, delivered, $5.30
    Price whole state, ” , $13.75
    Amsterdam, NEW YORK

    Would you be able to provide me with any information on the value or importance of these cards?

    Thank you so much for your time!
    Kay Chambers
    Florence, SC


    My husband is the grandson of the founder of the Amsterdam Printing Co. Abraham Singer was a postal clerk on the New York City, NY – Buffalo, NY railroad route. He determined that prospective clerks needed a way to hone their skills prior to taking the clerk test. Ergo…the Practice Card set. It was the first of many products designed and marketed by the company for more than 100 years. Amsterdam Printing & Litho is now owned by a large, private corporation. The great-grandson is employed by that company.

    If you want further info, please feel free to contact me.

    Paul E. Petosky reply on September 16th, 2011:

    I just recently acquired two boxes of Backed Railroad Practice cards Wisconsin, Section B. These are in excelent condition.

    These are all from the Amsterdam Printing Company, Amsterdam, NY.

    I also have some from Michigan.

    I am not to familiar with these cards as collectibles and was wondering if you know the value of them?

    Thank you,

    Paul Petosky

  3. David B. Singer Says:

    I am also one of Abraham Singer’s grandsons, as Barbara Singer’s husband is my first cousin. Several years ago, while visiting the Railroad Museum of PA in Strasburg, Lancaster County, I saw an RPO (Railway Post Office) car like the one my grandfather must have worked in when he invented the practice cards. I was able to enter and walk around the same spaces that those postal clerks spent many days in between time off at home. When Abraham came back to Amsterdam, NY with orders for the cards, he initially printed them on his first printing press at home. When he went back to work, his wife Augusta would continue to print the orders for him to deliver on his next trip. I feel a special kinship with my grandfather, as my schedule as an airline pilot also sent me away from home for days at a time. Although I have not heard that he ever brought any of his three sons on the railroad with him, as Annie Henson’s father did, I took my daughter on trips when I flew, including my last flight to Paris, France shortly before the demise of my airline, TWA.


    Hi Kay,

    I just checked this site and am replying to your question.

    The Practice Cards are of no real monetary value. Their worth is that of an example of the entrepreneurship and creativity of the the American mind…including those immigrants who came here to better their lives and ours.

    The Amsterdam Printing Co. continued to print practice cards into the 1960’s and then fulfilled a government contract in the beginning of the zipcode procedure.

    Feel free to contact me if you want more info.

    By the way, we live in Bluffton, SC.


  5. Michelle Says:

    Hi, I have a mail sorting practice case that belonged to my Grandfather who retired from the post office in the late 1960’s. Just wondering if anyone knows what the value of it might be?

    Thanks, Michelle

  6. Owney - dog Picture - Cute and Funny Pet Wallpaper Says:

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