Trucking the US Mail

The first facility built specifically for trucks by the US Post Office Bureau of Transportation in the US was opened for business in Birmingham, Alabama, on November 15, 1951, according to an article in the December 1, 1951 issue of Post Haste, a P.O. Bureau of Transportation publication. The new facility provided thirteen 50-inch-high dock spaces for semi-trailers, and five 30-inch-high dock spaces for shuttle trucks. The bids for trucking contracts came in lower than estimates. The new building was also contracted below estimate and was completed on time. About that time, railroad rates were being increased by the ICC, so that savings in operation for the first year approximated $400,000, and such savings were expected to continue, as rail routes were being phased out and rates raised.

The first truck mail route was established on August 17, 1948, to carry mail between Washington D.C., Richmond, Virginia, and Durham, Reidsville, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Trucking of mail from New York to Flushing and Jamaica, Long Island, was begun on May 25, 1949; between Brooklyn, New York, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 1, 1949; and between Washington D.C. and Silver Spring, Maryland on January 1, 1951.

The first “short-haul” truck route, or “T” route, established under the announced program, however, was operated by J&S, Inc. between Washington and Fredericksburg, Virginia, beginning March 1951. Fredericksburg was being set up as a “Sectional Center,” a central point into which truck routes from a number of cities in a 100-or-so mile radius converged, and where the incoming mail would be quickly sorted and reloaded onto the respective trucks returning to their points of origin.

In an article in the Maryland Transport News, Stu Abraham outlined the progress in instituting “T” routes by the Post Office Department to that time. Two hundred new routes had been contracted for during the previous year, and that increased the number of contracts at that time to 234. These routes were in addition to the 100-year-old “Star” routes, which in some cases included air and rail short hauls as well as other motor vehicle routes.

Diverting short-haul mail traffic from railroads not only sped up delivery, reduced damage, and saved money, but it also financed a large number of small contractors and provided for the expansion of existing truck lines. In 1951, the P.O. Department was the largest truck operator in the United States, with more than 50,000 government-owned or contract united operating under the department’s supervision.

As the system was expanded, John Abraham, operating as J&S, Inc., secured additional contracts to haul mail between Washington and Baltimore, between rail terminals and truck terminals, and between the larger cities and small towns in both Maryland and Virginia. J&S, Inc. continued operating these routes until the 1960s.