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This is a Depression-era sized consist, but clearly a secondary train: you can tell because it has a 30' RPO/express by how it bears down hell-for-leather on the mail sack dangling at trackside. This particular train, which also has a baggage- combine and what is probably a couple of section sleepers, is a typical connecting run handling local traffic and forwarding through Pullmans either to a smaller city or to a further connection. (Note that the RPO compartment is facing the front of the train: not your normal practice).
Not every train will have an RPO car, but as a rule of thumb, any train carrying an RPO is in a hurry. The U.S. Post Office prides itself on prompt delivery and demands fast service from the railroads operating it's RPO routes.
To save time, most RPO cars are fitted with a retractable hook mounted on either side which can be extended to snatch a mail bag on the run. These mail sacks are set up by the local Postmaster, who may also be the Station Agent in some small towns (that is probably his automobile parked in the background above).
The local mail is put into a heavy canvas and leather mail sack which is hung from a collapsible hook assembly at trackside, as shown below. The design of these hooks varies, but they are all built to standards set by the Railway Mail Service regulations. There are several designs available from railway suppliers and a railroad will usually standardize on one or two of these.
When the train passes, the RPO Clerk opens the door and extends the hook, which grabs the bag and pulls it down into the curved notch near the door (as shown at left). At the same time, the Clerk throws off the outbound mail which is picked up by the Postmaster. The snatched bag is then pulled into the car, the hook retracted and the RPO goes about its business.
Of course, if your train has a working REA car, bag hooks are unnecessary, as the train has to stop anyway (throwing a Franklin stove off a train at 60 mph voids the warranty - and perhaps the Station Agent as well).
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