White County Courthouse in 1903

White County, Arkansas

White County Historical Society

A  Coach-Mail  and Baggage Car?

By Jim Wakefield

Employee timetables listed Combine No. 57 as "Coach-Mail" with "No Partition" and seating for "36" or "36 W", but a partition and an extra toilet were added, reducing capacity to "20 W/ 14 C" or less, and the RPO section also may have been subdivided so the car could carry baggage and express as well while the Helena-Kensett RPO was running in mixed trains. These details were discovered only after residential trappings (linoleum, sheetrock, etc.) added while the car was on the ground at Searcy were removed, and the car was moved to Bald Knob.

Prior to November 1918, primary passenger trains on the M&NA usually ran through from Joplin, Missouri, to Helena, Arkansas. For most of this period, a local passenger train also made a round trip between Heber Springs and Helena. After 1918, the primary trains terminated at Kensett, leaving the Heber-Helena locals as the only passenger service south of Kensett. Before and after 1918, these runs often were made by a General Electric gas-electric car with a trailer containing a short (20’ or 15’) RPO apartment. The last trailer was No. 60, a baggage-mail-passenger combine rebuilt in 1925 or 1926 from Coach No. 16, a former Pennsylvania Railroad car built in the 1880’s and acquired by the M&NA about 1911. Number 60 had a 20-foot baggage-express section, a 15-foot RPO apartment and a coach section seating twelve. The GE cars were sold in 1927 and the south-end trains became steam-powered, most likely using No. 60 and a coach.

In March 1929, the trains were cut back to Kensett-Helena. Combine No. 57 was acquired the following month. In 1931, Baggage-Mail No. 58 was acquired, and the daily Kensett-Helena passenger train requiring less than nine hours round trip, including a ninety-minute layover at Helena was replaced by a pair of daily mixed trains that carried both freight and passengers. Their crews worked south one day and back the next. The trains were scheduled for about six hours or more either way but may have taken longer since they handled all of the railroad’s business south of Kensett. The RPO clerk worked all the way to Helena and back on the passenger trains, but worked on the southbound mixed only to its scheduled meeting point with the northbound, where he changed trains to work back to Kensett. Mail service between the meet point and Helena became "closed pouch" only,

Number 57 may have been modified to provide all passenger-train accommodations necessary on the Kensett-Helena trains in a single car. RPO fixtures could have been rearranged to reduce the mail apartment to the space (about 17 feet) rearward of the side doors, leaving the portion forward of the doors available for baggage and express. A partition to separate mail and baggage sections could have been installed. It would have required a door for the RPO clerk to access the side doors to pick up and drop off mail. Changes shortening the RPO would have been unlikely prior to the acquisition of No. 58 since a 30-foot RPO was required north of Kensett. A longer car could fill in for a shorter one (15-foot RPO south of Kensett), but not the other way around. A desk also may have been installed in the coach section for the conductor to do his freight business paper work. This would have reduced seating capacity to "16 W/ 14 C", but that probably would have been sufficient for declining traffic.

Brill Motor No. 605 restored Kensett-Helena round-trip passenger runs daily-except-Sunday when it entered service around August 2, 1937. It had a stated seating capacity of "14 W/14 C" and a 12-foot baggage section, but no RPO apartment since the route south of Kensett had been discontinued around July 19. The only mail now carried to or from Helena was "closed pouch" which was allotted space in the baggage section. Number 57, pulled by a 30-class 2-8-2, probably was used when No. 605 was out of service. All of No. 57’s RPO fixtures probably were removed and the door that is now in the center partition may have been installed at this time.

Very few photographs of the Kensett-Helena segment of the M&NA are known. Any photos that include trains, even if only a small portion in the background behind people, may be very helpful in answering questions about the railroad, including changes to No. 57 and its usage. (Used as an RPO, the car would have been lettered UNITED STATES MALL/RAILWAY POST OFFICE; if modified for baggage and express: RAILWAY EXPRESS AGENCY/BAGGAGE.) If you have any pictures that include any part of the M&NA, please share them.

Missouri & North Arkansas Combine No.57 — c.193l-37?

This diagram was modified than a diagram of Missouri Pacific No. 2707 in the James R. Fair Collection/Boone County Heritage Museum. It approximates the appearance of M&NA No. 57 (formerly Mo Pac No. 2706), and its floor plan it may have been if used in Kensett-Helena mixed tam service 1931-1937. Other than window style, the two cars were very similar. The length over buffers is from timetable rosters; length over sills is estimated; platform, step and truck wheelbase dimensions and wheel diameter are from No- 2707; other dimensions are from measurements of 57. All should be considered approximate, Details are not to scale.

Windows. There were nineteen’ windows (all apparently on 35 1/2" centers) on each side of the clerestory. Most of those in the RPO section remain with glass intact. Of ten clerestory windows on each side of the coach section, seven were removed and the openings covered inside (and out?) with sheet metal. The glass in the remaining three also was replaced with sheet metal, so they no longer provided extra, light although [hey still could be opened for ventilation. The upper-sash glass (which may have been stained or patterned) of the coach-section side windows likewise was replaced with sheet metal (Coach-window pairs were on about 70 ¼" centers.)

Segregated Seating. The car originally had nine seats on each side for a capacity of 36. All seats, including those at each end of the coach section, apparently had pedestal bases. About eighteen feet of (original?) flooring remains in place from the center partition back. Scars on this flooring indicate the location of six seats on each side, Seats were spaced on about 35" centers, with 2" to 4" extra before the end seats, whose pedestal center-lines were about 13" from the partitions, Seats on the left generally were about all inch forward of those on the right. A partition and second toilet were added as shown, evidenced by notches in the interior above-window molding and window sills; scars on the ceiling, walls and floor; and holes in the sub-flooring and under-floor sheathing, visible when viewed from below. This change would have reduced capacity to ‘20 W/l4 C"

Conductor’s Desk Added? There is a second pedestal scar for the sixth seat on the right, overlapping the normal location about six inches forward, suggesting the seat was moved. Passenger train conductors often improvised an ‘office" by using a facing seat for a ‘desk". Freight conductors had much more paperwork to process en route, especially when picking up and dropping cars as these mixed trains would have done. The fifth seat may have been removed and a desk added as shown and the sixth seat moved forward to a more comfortable location for using the desk. Such a change would have further reduced capacity to "16 W/14 C". (A similar modification may have been made in Coach No. 10, whose total seating capacity was reduced from 68 to 64, although this change was listed several months before the mixed train’s started in January 1936.)

Abbreviated RPO Apartment? The Railway Post Office route between Kensett and Neosho required a thirty-foot RPO, but the route between Helena and Kensett required only fifteen-feet. The M&NA acquired an extra baggage-mail car in 1931 so No. 57 probably was no longer needed as standby on Neosho-Kensett trains. Scars on the ceiling indicate No. 57 once had twelve or thirteen paper boxes (on 12 centers) on each side above the RPC windows. It probably also had bag racks below the windows and vertical pipe stanchion’s (to keep stacked bags from shifting) forward of the doors on both sides. Scars on the molding at the bottom of the right clerestory side apparently are from brackets (on 18" centers) for the stanchions as shown. There are no corresponding scars on the left side, but four metal plates (on about 36’ centers) above the RPO windows on the left may cover scars from stanchion brackets. Left-side racks and paper boxes may have been removed and stanchions forward of the left side door moved rearward of the door" and repositioned, leaving the front of the car available for baggage and express. A partition may have been added just rearward of the side doors.

Additional information welcome, especially comments and opinions regarding possible changes to the RPG and possible addition of a conductors desk, Jim Wakefield, 316 Auburn Drive, Little Rock, AR 72205 - 501-664-0232