Story: Christmas Rush Is On: The Escanaba Post Office - 1952

From the Escanaba Daily Press, December 17, 1952

Come rain or come shine, the saying goes, the mail has to go through. And it's at Christmas time that postal employees learn what that really means.

Packages, letters and cards may pile ceiling-high, but it all has to be checked and put on its way. The sooner the better, too, for in the Yule season the post office department is a greetings messenger for folks all over the world.

If you've wondered what happens to a letter or a Christmas card after dropping it in a street mailbox, Mrs. Regina W. Cleary, Escanaba postmaster, has the answers.

Stamps Cancelled

Though she and her staff are extremely busy in the holiday rush, she took time the other day to outline an inside view of how it works.

Mail is collected on the streets here by a staff of 12 letter-carriers, each of whom walks about 16-18 miles a day. They bring the out-going mail into the post office building, stacking it on a large table.

Clerks then "face" the letters and put them through a canceling machine. This machine, which puts the date, city and hour mailed on letters, does not operate by clock as many suppose. It has a device by which employees change the time designations every half-hour.

The Bundles

The cards and letters then are thrown into "pigeon-holes" in letter cases. There are about 150 "pigeon holes" in the cases here, one for each of the major cities, for the railroads carrying mail out-of-the-city, etc. About 60% of the mail going out of Escanaba is destined for Chicago or points between here and the Windy City, employees report.

Then, about 15 minutes before train time, clerks tie the mail in bundles, which are placed in locked pouches. The mail is brought to and from the trains by truck. The post office here normally operates two trucks but two additional trucks have been borrowed from the Bureau of Etymology office for the holiday rush.

Mail going to Chicago, New York and other distant cities is "reworked" by mail clerks on the trains, but bundles going to Marinette, Green Bay and other nearby cities aren't. For the latter, as well as for major business houses, direct bundles are made up. Mail not in direct bundles goes into "line" or "train" bundles. Line bundles made up here include one for Escanaba to Menominee, and another for Wisconsin, and still another for all other U.S. states beyond Wisconsin.

The "Mac and Cal"

Trains, trucks and airliners bring mail into Escanaba beginning at 5:40 a.m. each day. That's when C&NW train 161 arrives. At 8:30 a mail messenger brings mail brought to Gladstone by Soo Line railroad, and at 10 a.m., C&NW train 121 brings still more in. Air mail arrives here bout 2:30 p.m. and a truck brings mail from Trout Lake at 5 p.m.

This latter delivery, by star route, is termed the "Mac and Cal" by postal employees because it is the mail from Lower Michigan and the East Coast brought by the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic railway from the Straits of Mackinac to Calumet. The Escanaba trucks meets the train at Trout Lake. The "Mac and Cal" often is late, especially at Christmas and during storms, because connections with straits ferries are missed, Mrs. Cleary said.

Extra Help Hired

Northbound mail is sent out from Escanaba on train 161 on the C&NW line at 5:35 a.m. and southbound mail is placed on the C&NW streamliner at 8:45 a.m. Mail going to Lower Michigan is taken by truck at 1 p.m. to Trout Lake to meet the DSS&A train going to St. Ignace. Mail going south also is sent out on C&NW train 224 at 4 p.m., on the Wisconsin Central plane at 4:30 p.m. and on the C&NW at 9 p.m. Westbound mail is taken to Gladstone at 8 p.m. to be carried by the Soo Line.

Gladstone and Wells mail goes out on the Soo Line from Gladstone at 6:45 a.m. and mail for Powers, Spalding, Wilson, Bark River and Iron Mountain goes by star route at 7 a.m. A truck leaves at 8:45 a.m. to bring mail to the Cornell-Northland-Arnold area.

The post office here, which has nine clerks, 12 carriers and six substitutes, has hired 15 additional workers for the Christmas rush. These holiday workers are not required to take Civil Service tests, as regular employees are. Veterans are given first chance for the jobs.

Doesn't Send Cards

Crews in the post office work from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. but stagger their shifts so each works only 40 hours per week. During holiday rushes, employees may be asked to work overtime if mail processing is behind schedule. Post office workers started at 3 a.m. when the Escanaba Daily Press was a morning newspaper.

At its peak here, the post office handles 60,000 letters per day and about 250 sacks of parcel post. Last week, one week earlier than last year, the peak was reached here. "Everyone seems to be getting mail out earlier this year," Mrs. Cleary notes.

The Escanaba postmaster decided several years ago that she wouldn't add to the terrific volume of mail which must be processed at Christmas time. For eight years she hasn't sent Christmas cards, and she always brings home her own mail, including packages.

Added Bonus Article

DSS&A Starts Truck Mail Deliveries August 1, 1955

From the Escanaba Daily Press, October 20, 1955

Improved mail service will be provided for the Manistique area beginning August 1 when the DSS&A railway replaces present train mail deliveries from St. Ignace westward with truck delivery, R.J. Barry of Marquette, general superintendent of the railroad reports.

The truck system of delivery will be operated by the railroad company. All communities presently served by the railroad will be serviced by the mail truck, but the mail will be delivered directly to post offices. Mail arriving at the Straits for areas west of Mackinaw City runs heavy, averaging 700 sacks daily, while eastbound mail traffic runs lighter, with an average of 100 sacks daily, the railroad superintendent stated.

Capacity of 89

The DSS&A has ordered a railway Budd car, a self-propelled diesel-electric unit, and delivery is expected the first or second week of August. It will replace the DSS&A train a short time after it arrives. The modern, air-conditioned railway Budd car will be exhibited in cities along the St. Ignace to Marquette route for a few days before it is placed in service.

The car is constructed of stainless steel and has a capacity of 89 passengers. It will leave St. Ignace at 9 a.m., C.S.T, and arrive in Marquette at 12:19 p.m. The DSS&A run will be extended to Ishpeming and Negaunee, where the new car will arrive at 12:55 p.m.

The Budd car will operate on this schedule for a 90-day train period the superintendent reported, during which time the railway will seek to increase passenger traffic. At present the DSS&A train leaves St. Ignace at 8:55 a.m. and is due to arrive in Marquette at 1:40 p.m., however, it usually is about two hours late, Barry pointed out.

More Regular Service

The railroad plans to continue its present passenger schedule until the new unit is in operation, but mail and express service will be switched to the new plan August 1. When the new railway car replaces the present locomotive, mail car, express car and passenger coach on the line, the same connections will be maintained with the Soo Line railroad's westbound No. 7 at Trout Lake. Two men - an engineer and conductor - will operate the new car. Four men operate the present DSS&A unit.

Present mail and express connections with the Soo Line's No. 7 and 8 trains and with Star Routes at Trout Lake will be maintained when the truck delivery system is adopted. More regular service will be assured, Barry states, and when the bridge at the Straits of Mackinac is completed another hour will be saved on mail delivery time. At present, Star Route mail trucks sometimes have to leave Trout Lake without mail, because the train is delayed at the ferry crossing at the Straits.

4 to 1 Ratio

The Manistique post office receives mail by Star Route from the DSS&A station at Trout Lake daily. It is due here (Escanaba) at 1:15 p.m. but usually arrives at 2:30 or 2:45 p.m., because of delays at the Straits, Postmaster Frank N. Gierke Sr., reports. Newspapers, third class mail and parcel post constitute the bulk of this mail. The Star Route carrier also brings outgoing mail to Trout Lake for transportation south by the DSS&A.

The Soo Line railway also handles incoming and outgoing mail here (Escanaba) at 7 a.m., and 8 p.m. on trains No. 7 and 8. The Soo Line shipments in the morning usually contain four mail pouches, and the night train usually has one. The Star Route mail delivery from the DSS&A averages one pouch per day, the postmaster stated. [EDP-1955-1020]




The following sources are utilized in this website. [SOURCE-YEAR-MMDD-PG]:

  • [AAB| = All Aboard!, by Willis Dunbar, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids ©1969.
  • [AAN] = Alpena Argus newspaper.
  • [AARQJ] = American Association of Railroads Quiz Jr. pamphlet. © 1956
  • [AATHA] = Ann Arbor Railroad Technical and Historical Association newsletter "The Double A"
  • [AB] = Information provided at Michigan History Conference from Andrew Bailey, Port Huron, MI

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