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Union Pacific RPO No.5901

GGRM Collection 

Union Pacific No.5901 was one of a pool of seven Railway Post Office (RPO) cars — UP Nos.5900-5902, Chicago & Northwestern Nos.8225-8226 (by American Car and Foundry) and Southern Pacific Nos.5003-5004 (by Pullman Standard) — built in 1949 to add mail service to the SP-UP-C&NW streamliner City of San Francisco, operating between Oakland and Chicago. Painted in Armour Yellow and Harbor Mist Gray passenger colors, the car fit right in with the sleek looking passenger cars. The RPO car is 85-feet long with a full 60-foot post office apartment. The rest of the car is space for storing worked mail.
On October 13, 2007, UP-5901 was spotted at Sunol Depot to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of the last RPO run on the Southern Pacific system.
Streamliner City of San Francisco Trains 101-102
The City of San Francisco train Nos.101-102 began service between Chicago and Oakland Pier on June 14, 1936, making five round-trips a month on a swift schedule (under 40 hours). It was among the first diesel streamliners in an era of custom-built aluminum and stainless steel trains. The train was a joint operation of Southern Pacific (Oakland - Ogden), Union Pacific (Ogden - Omaha) and Chicago and Northwestern (Omaha - Chicago). The train was so successful that a larger train replaced it in 1938. A second train was added in 1941, and frequency was increased to 10 round-trips a month.

After WWII, railroads ordered thousands of new cars to replace older equipment that was worn out by the huge transportation burden placed on them during the war. Many orders for new streamlined passenger equipment included a matching RPO, with regulation interior appointments. Enough equipment arrived by 1948 for the City of San Francisco to run daily. RPO cars were added in 1950 and ran until October 13, 1967.

Snowbound Train - January 13-16, 1952

The winter of 1951-52 brought record snows to Donner Pass and Southern Pacific struggled to keep the line open. On January 13, 1952 train 101, the westbound City of San Francisco streamliner with 226 passengers aboard, struck a snow slide between tunnels 35 and 36. The train attempted to back out, but was unsuccessful. Snowplows tried to reach the train from both sides and they too soon became stuck. An avalanche knocked a snowplow locomotive over, killing the engineer. By the morning of the 14th, the route was blocked and the storm was raging. Highway 40 had been closed since the 11th when an avalanche buried a truck and trailer rig. Newspaper stories were going wild, running the story of the original Donner party and the gruesome fate that had befallen them. They wondered if the same was happening on the stranded train high up in the blizzard-covered mountains. Troops of the Sixth Army attempted to reach the train with Weasels, but the heavy, motorized, tracked-vehicles sank into the snow. On the morning of the 15th, a Truckee doctor with a dog sled was able to reach the train and offer medical help. A break in the storm allowed a Coast Guard helicopter to drop medical aids, supplies, and food. On Wednesday the 16th, the skies had cleared. Rotary snowplows were able to get close enough to the stranded train so evacuations could begin.

Fuel had run out on the steam locomotive that had been providing heat. Toilets and water pipes had frozen and burst. Passengers had wrapped themselves in the extra Pullman blankets, Dining Car linens, and window shades. It took several more days to free the locomotives and cars from the ice and snow. The line was closed for 13 days.

The last surviving car from that snowbound train is the UP-5901 RPO. There was only one postal clerk on the marooned train No.101. The normal crew's eastbound train had been annulled by the storm, so there was no crew at Lovelock, Nevada waiting to board 101's westbound RPO. Instead, one crew-member from the East Division, Mr. E. Wayne Loveland, continued on 101 west of Lovelock to stay with the registered mail.

UP-5901 at Hunters Point
UP-5901 went into maintenance-of-Way (MOW) service for the bridge and signal work gangs. The upper mail bins were painted silver and labeled for the different nuts, bolts, and washers the workers needed. Most mail/baggage cars going into MOW service had all of the postal equipment stripped out, so it is very fortunate that the car is as complete as it is. Major items missing are the mid-car sorting tables.
The letter cases have headers made by retired RPO clerk Jim Briggs. One side of the car is set up to display eastbound sorting of Central California towns, mountain states destinations, and eastern states. The other side is set up to display westbound sorting of Central California towns, Bay Area towns, and San Francisco neighborhood destinations.
The pouch and sack racks dressed for service. The upper bins had been painted silver by the MOW department and hand lettered for the parts stored in them. These were stripped of paint and returned to their natural wood finish.
A case used to test RPO clerks on speed and accuracy.