May 19, 2000

Celebrate the Century Express; Train Arrives in San Diego

The Celebrate The Century Express, the newest element of the U.S. Postal Service's exciting Celebrate the Century educational program, will take to the rails for the next 18 months to bring a history lesson to America's school children.

The specially outfitted Amtrak train is made up of a baggage car; a modern exhibit car featuring Celebrate The Century stamp and historical displays, a restored Railway Post Office (RPO) car, and a historical railroad business car. The trip begins from Tampa, FL on March 11, 1999 and will make a whistle stop in San Diego at the Amtrak Station on Kettner Blvd., May 19-21.

A unique part of the Express, is a historical Railway Post Office (RPO) car. RPO cars were used to transport the mail by the Post Office Department until the late 1960s. Railway Post Office clerks rode the RPOs between major cities sorting, processing and delivering the mail to all the communities. They were responsible for sorting and distributing the mail during the trip, and for protecting it from damage and dangers, including train robbers.

And if you think the RPO clerks had it easy, trains didn't always stop at every station, but the clerks had to exchange mail pouches anyway. With hook in hand, a clerk would snab a mail pouch as the train sped by. The pouch had to be opened and the mail sorted. Any mail addressed to nearby towns had to be sorted and put into a pouch before the train got there … sometimes only giving the clerks a few seconds to get the mail through.

While trains still carry some USPS mail, the last RPO car was discontinued in 1977.

When the Celebrate The Century Express pulls into a city or town visitors will be able to take a journey through Postal time. Coming aboard, visitors experience a century's worth of achievement and tragedy, entertainment and innovation, grit and greatness - all reflected in postage stamps and brought to life through multimedia displays and interactive activities.

The Express, a moving memento of times gone by, will encourage participants including the Postal community to join in the preservation of the many treasures that on a community basis, make up our country's rich history. Throughout the country, historic treasures with the stamp of Postal heritage can be found. It is the intent of the Celebrate The Century Express program to recognize and encourage the preservation and education of these treasures for America's future.

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