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Hey,

The reason I ask is that I saw a documentary a few years ago that said that many U.S. Postal workers were issued revolvers  by the U.S. Government up until about  1955.   

This got me wondering whether side arms were standard equipment issued by the Railroads themselves up until a certain year or decade.  They certainly carried mail, and cash deposits as well.

If so, I wonder when this stopped?

Mannyrock

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@Mannyrock posted:

Hey,

The reason I ask is that I saw a documentary a few years ago that said that many U.S. Postal workers were issued revolvers  by the U.S. Government up until about  1955.   

This got me wondering whether side arms were standard equipment issued by the Railroads themselves up until a certain year or decade.

No.

  They certainly carried mail, and cash deposits as well.

That would only have been in the Railway Post Office cars, and those U.S. Postal Employees did indeed care side arms.

If so, I wonder when this stopped?

When the railroads lost the U.S. Mail and RPO contracts. Can't remember what rear that was (early 1960s?).

Mannyrock

That is a very interesting question. I doubt the railroads themselves ever issued official weapons at any point, with the exception of as others pointed out mail cars and cars carrying money (among other things, spend money? some things with railroads never change *lol*).  About the only other personnel I could see being armed might be railroad police, and that would (I assume) be through the company.

On the other hand, especially in the 19th century, I would bet a lot of rail personnel had guns on them. In the initial decades, there would have been hostility from the native Americans and even without RPO or money transfer on a train, there were enough bandits around who would rob the passengers (among other things, rail travel was pretty expensive back then, so the people riding were often going to be somewhat well off). Not to mention robbing freight trains of whatever they could. Even in the 20th century I could imagine railroad personnel having guns working in more rural areas, if only for protection.

On the other hand I have a story of more urban activity. My mom's sister in law's father was a motorman on the old 3rd ave el (this would be in the 30's-40's). He told stories he heard from towermen who worked at the Willet's Point tower on the 7 line (near where Shea Stadium was and now Citifield). The area had been a landfill/dump and is also a swamp (Flushing Meadows *lol*). Anyway area was full of rats and the towermen there would often be armed and would spend time shooting rats. I doubt the TA would have issued the guns *lol*.

    Wow, great responses and info.

      Just guessing, but I would think that the mail employees on those cars would have been issued the standard, plain vanilla, incredibly common, S&W Model 10 M&P (military and police), in .38 long colt or .38 Special, sold in many variations from 1899 up through the 1960s, with over 6 million of them made.  This was the standard issue for hundreds of police departments and federal workers across the country into the 1960s.  A very poor weapon indeed, since it fired a plain lead 158 slug at medium speeds, which had little penetration or stopping power.     It was often called the "widow maker," not because is stopped bad guys, but because it often ended up with the policeman getting killed by the opponent, who had a better handgun, such as a .45.   (The .45 of course had great stopping power, but its recoil made it difficult to master for multiple shots, and police departments and most federal agencies spent little or nothing on regular target practice or firearms training for their personnel.)

     Barney Fife carried one.

Thanks,

Mannyrock

Unofficially (and in violation of Operating Rules) there have been, and are, train and engine service employees who have a pistol in their bag.  However, it is not the majority of employees who do this.  Normally, it is for protection, and almost never is shown to anyone.  When there were open agencies (stations) and towers, many Clerks and Operators had a hogleg in the drawer in case of trouble.  Agencies which sold passenger tickets had a cash drawer with a fair amount of money in it.  Being alone at night, in a 24-hour office or aboard a stopped train, sometimes exposes railroad employees to increased risk of personal danger, and there are a few armed assaults or robberies every year.  Many Officials and Signal Maintainers who have to go out onto their territory at night, have a pistol under the seat of their vehicle.  I never asked our Track Supervisors or Signal Maintainers if they were armed.  Likewise I never asked any crewmen.  It is not a problem.

Except for a shooting between two employees over a woman in Silsbee, Texas, around 1975-80, I do not personally know of an employee discharging a firearm at another person.  It is very rare.

When railroads ran pay cars, and paid employees at remote locations in cash*, the pay car was accompanied by at least one railroad Special Agent, who was armed.  Pay cars disappeared in the 1950's.

*  Such as traveling bridge and track gangs, as well as some remote locations where there was a telegraph office but no town and no bank.

Last edited by Number 90

Was there one on the NEC which lasted until the mid 1970's?

I should have stated most mail trains were discontinued in 1967.  There were actually some that lasted until the advent of Amtrak in 1971 (less than 10 total) and one that Penn Central / Conrail continued to operate the NEC until the end of June, 1977.  There was a special ceremony held with a freshly painted PC green RPO of NYC heritage that was on that final run.

What I am about to say is from my poor memory quoting an old published railroad story that may not have been factual:

the railroads leaving El Paso, TX westward allowed the train service crews to carry guns for protection.  The railroad would not provide guns, but would buy or reimburse for the ammunition.

I also cannot provide a time frame for this statement, but common knowledge of the area would say that guns would be a necessity for protection since the first track was laid until present date.

I knew a guy when I was in the Navy that used to be a welder that worked in the yards repairing freight cars.  He claimed that some high value cargo cars (like electronics) had armed guards inside of the freight cars stationed in armored porta potties with firing ports.  This was back in the 90s.  I don't know if this is true or not, but thought I would share.

I have a copy of the book "The Railroad Police" copyright 1955, by H.S. Dewhurst.  This is just one book from the Police Science Series of books.

On page 44 it states part of the RR policeman's equipment was a revolver.  Also says there were riot guns, shotguns, and even machineguns available for emergencies or guarding expensive mechandise.  As a rule clubs, badges, handcuffs, rule books, and revolvers are loaned, but some RR police were required to provide their own revolvers at their own expense and had to comply with the RRs specifications.

Also says that some RRs even had their own pistol teams and often competed in matches with other teams from that RR and other RRs, municipal police departments and other law enforcement agencies.

I worked with a guy who's brother was a detective for either N&W or NS, who often investigated thefts such as copper wire and he said his brother carried a gun.

I used to work at a hazard waste treatment (incineration) plant and several times over the years we received material of a classified nature to be incinerated, not hazardous but needed to be totally destroyed. One morning as I passed through the security gate, there were 3 unmarked vans being checked into the plant accompanied by about a dozen or more of 20 to 30 something year old men and women with short cropped hair dressed like Neo and  Trinity from The Matrix.  The guard (a real joker) at the security gate said to me, “Hey Kooter, jump in that lead van and drive it around the plant.”  

I looked at the security detail and a young lady parted her covering revealing an arsenal of weaponry that could take out a couple of platoons. All eyes were on me and I said, “Leon, these people look like all business and aren’t laughing. I’ll pass on the drive.” They all smiled and knowingly nodded they heads.

The plant does take material by RailRoad so I guess this qualifies as a RR post.

Larry

Great info here.

Brad Rock, very interesting that your friend found a shotgun which actually had a railroad name on it.  In the collecting world, rifles and shotguns with genuine original "company names" on them, such as Wells Fargo, mining companies and railroads, bring a very hefty premium.  Most of these are from the 1880 to 1930s era.     I don't believe that I have ever personally seen one with a railroad name on it.   Those with prison names on them are also widely sought after, and were in common use up into the 1950s.

With the advent of terrorism, I wonder if we will see railroad employees become armed again. 

Does New York have a group of "subway" police?  Are they subway/railroad employees?  (My father- in- law was a motorman on the New York City Port Authority subway for 32 years.   Crammed into that insanely small motorman's cabin 5 days a week.)

Mannyrock

The original IRT I believe had their own security as did the BRT/BMT ( note if you read accounts if the early subway, guards were not security per se, they were what we call conductors). I believe the IND had it's own police force and when the city took over the subways in the 40s, they merged to form the TA police that be became the NYC transit police. They used to be independent, they merged with the NYPD a number of years ago, now it is a branch of NYPD.

Or at least that is what I know of it. On the first subway ride in 1904 after system was opened, someone had a diamond stickpin stolen.

@Number 90 posted:

Unofficially (and in violation of Operating Rules) there have been, and are, train and engine service employees who have a pistol in their bag.  However, it is not the majority of employees who do this.  Normally, it is for protection, and almost never is shown to anyone.  When there were open agencies (stations) and towers, many Clerks and Operators had a hogleg in the drawer in case of trouble.  Agencies which sold passenger tickets had a cash drawer with a fair amount of money in it.  Being alone at night, in a 24-hour office or aboard a stopped train, sometimes exposes railroad employees to increased risk of personal danger, and there are a few armed assaults or robberies every year.  Many Officials and Signal Maintainers who have to go out onto their territory at night, have a pistol under the seat of their vehicle.  I never asked our Track Supervisors or Signal Maintainers if they were armed.  Likewise I never asked any crewmen.  It is not a problem.

Except for a shooting between two employees over a woman in Silsbee, Texas, around 1975-80, I do not personally know of an employee discharging a firearm at another person.  It is very rare.

When railroads ran pay cars, and paid employees at remote locations in cash*, the pay car was accompanied by at least one railroad Special Agent, who was armed.  Pay cars disappeared in the 1950's.

*  Such as traveling bridge and track gangs, as well as some remote locations where there was a telegraph office but no town and no bank.

This doesn't surprise me. There's a saying -- "Better to be judged by 12 than carried by six!" which is the mindset behind carrying a firearm against law or policy. Just sayin'

To the topic one item that has not been discussed is that personal ownership of sidearms was not nearly as common as it is today up until approximately the last quarter of the 20th century.  Traditionally, they were reserved for law enforcement or military use.  This is especially true of semi-automatics.

However, I feel like this topic has gotten off track.  I own 6 pistols and 3 rifles, but this is a train forum.  I'd rather hear about the trains here.  If I wanted to discuss firearms, there are many more and better forums for that.  Just my opinion.

In Sioux City, IA the Milwaukee road Riverside shops had an animal problem on the north end of the yard as it was fairly close to a river. They also cleaned out cattle and hog cars in that area with the occasional hog carcass thrown out. I was told the area was full of animals that would eat anything. Once in a while gun shots would ring out but the Milwaukee strictly forbid guns on the property..

Dick

Wow Bob.  Thanks!

     The third article, on the history of the railroad police, is an incredibly thorough historical treatment.

       A theme throughout seems to be that the railroads didn't hire men and call them "railroad police".  They hired them and called them something less "offensive", such as Railroad Agents or Railroad Detectives.  Clearly though, they were well armed and given a license to kill. 

     Given the huge economic benefits brought by the railroads to any state or region, it appears that the State Governors and the Federal Government turned a blind eye to this. 

      Also interesting is that the Pinkerton Agency seems to have been catapulted into wealth and fame in large part due to the hirings and support by the railroads, who had endless cash flow.  It almost sounds as if the railroad Pinkertons were the 19th century precursors to the FBI, since they were apparently granted the power by the Federal Government or State Governors to investigate crimes and arrest people in any part of the country.

Mannyrock

My father worked for the US Post Office / Postal Service 1943-1974. His first job was as a Mail Handler, going from the downtown Minneapolis post office to the nearby Milwaukee Road and Great Northern stations to pick up incoming mail and to deliver outgoing mail to the trains. He was issued a revolver when on that job, he said normally he got a very long-barreled pistol from like the Spanish-American War era. The main post office had it's own armorer in the basement, who according to Dad really knew his stuff and kept all the weapons in top-flight condition. Dad said the RPO clerks generally had very small sidearms. He noted that most RPO clerks had 'the shakes' from all the years bouncing around on a train, and he didn't think they would do a very good job shooting if ever called on to do so.

Great story Stix.

The sidearm your father was issued was the long-barreled U.S. Colt Model 1892 Military Double Action Revolver in .38 Long Colt.

This was the first double action pistol ever adopted by the U.S. Army.   (Double action means, that the revolver will always fire by just pulling the trigger, without the need to first cock the hammer back by hand, which is what a single action revolver is.)

The adoption of this revolver by the Army was fueled by a driving desire to update its standard sidearm with something "truly modern", using a smaller higher velocity bullet and a rapid rate of fire (as the Europeans were doing.)  The thought was that a higher velocity, narrower bullet would always translate into more energy being delivered to the target and better penetration, and thus better stopping power.

Unfortunately, they found out that paper ballistics and calculations almost never correspond to real life. 

In both the Spanish American War and the Philippines insurrection that followed, officers found that these .38 rounds would not "stop" a charging determined assailant, even after delivering three or more rounds on target. 

So disgusted were the officers by this, that many older members dug out and carried their old single-action 1873 Colt .45 Calvary Pistols, which though they needed to be cocked by hand, delivered a devastating and game-stopping .45 slug.

In 1911, the U.S. Army admitted its mistake, and switched to the 1911 Colt Automatic, designed by John M. Browning, which is still a highly desired and widely carried sidearm today.

The 1892 Colts were not thrown away, but put in storage.  So, I imagine that when the U.S. Post Office employees on railroad runs were in need of sidearms, these older revolvers were issued to or acquire by them.

Often, when the Army declared a firearm obsolete, they would be sold off as surplus for as little as $5.00 each.    So, I would imagine that if any railroads desired to equip their trainmen or "agents" with a sidearm, these would have been an economically attractive option.

Mannyrock

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