Rural Free Delivery in Montague, Texas

by Renne Allred, Sr. of Route 4, Box 154, Houston, Texas
from the November 1943, Volume 2. No. 2, Frontier Times
Published in the Allred Family Newsletter #84, Fall 2010

Lineage:  Renne, William, Renne, William, William, William, Solomon born 1680 Lancashire, England

I was born December 2, 1864, in Grayson County, Texas, where my grandfather settled and fought Indians in 1837. In my youth I played town ball and bull pen with one J. H. Hurst. In after years Hurst went to Carlton College at Savoy, and he being a few years older than I, qualified as a teacher. I went to King and Gillespie, who founded a high school at Bells, Texas. Both schools were independently owned by the professors. Hurst taught one school at Cherry Mound, where he and I played together, and I challenged his whole school for a spelling bee. I had spelled down the Bells high school except Florence Scott, and tied her. We both missed the simple word of “separate.” I spelled it with an “e” and she spelled it with a double “r.”

We fixed a date for our contest, but something happened on that day and or so Jim and gone west, I knew not where. Later I went west, stopping at Vernon for a year; thence to Childress County for nearly two more years, where my wife and I lived in a dugout. The drought of 1891 and 1892 drove me out, as well as hundreds of others, who drifted east. I managed to get as far as Bowie, a flourishing little town, where the C.R.I.G. crosses the Fort Worth & D.C. Railroad.

Well do I remember my first job of hauling sand from W.J. Linnen’s Branch to build the two-story rock building on the corner of Smythe and Wise Streets. I was hired by Bill Shields, who had the contract for the hard stone work. I had landed in Bowie in a light spring wagon, drawn by two little Spanish mules. All I had in the world was a wife and two children and three dollars. I heard Bill Shields needed a man and went to see him. A fellow was just in front of me, and Shields asked him, “Are you a married man?” This man said, “No,” and Shields then asked me, and I told him I had a wife and two children, and another one on the way. He said, “You get the job,” and I went to work for 75 cents a day for myself and wagon and team. I did my job so efficiently that Shields used me every time he got a contract. I prospered as a worker in a feeble way, and met my obligations until I could borrow all the money I needed at the bank without security or collateral. I was never refused credit but one time, and that was at a store I had never patronized, and every store was out of meat but this one. It seemed he had it cornered, and sold only for cash. Later this man asked me to share my trade. I shared it, but not much, only when my friends were out of needed supplies.

In 1903 I learned where my schoolboy friend (Hurst) was and I wrote to him, asking what avocation of life he had selected. I expected to hear from a school teacher, but, lo and behold, he was a rural mail carrier out of Burleson, Texas. He said, “Renne, you ought to have it up there, as it is the only thing worth while that has ever been given the farmers.” I wrote, “How do you go about getting it?” He replied, “Go to the postmaster, and get some rural free blank petitions, lay out the route for 24 miles the round trip. Get your roads as near parallel as possible. Get 100 farmers to sign the petition.  Send it to the R.F.D. Department at Washington and they will send an inspector, and if the road is sufficient they will approve it; and, Renne, as I know your qualifications, you ought to land the job. It’s easy work and sure pay.”

So I went to W.C. Smith, the postmaster, and told him what I was contemplating. He said he had none, and By _____, I’ve got plenty of work without that,” and he wasn’t going to have it. I wrote Jim what the postmaster had said. His reply was that the postmaster had no more to say in the matter than he (Hurst) did, and to write to the Fourth Assistant Postmaster General for blanks.  In the course of time I sent E.R. Wofford out for petition signers on Route 1, and I took Route 2, but the merchants found out what I was doing and told me to let up, that I would ruin the town, that people wouldn’t come to town to trade, and they would go broke. One of them talked to me in a very unfriendly manner on Mason Street. I tried to reason with him telling him that they had it all over the north, and why not bring it to our county; that we were entitled to it, and it would bring Federal money to our county. But, no, the old way of lining up at the post office on Saturday was good enough for them.

Regardless of their abuse, I went out and got my petition filled, and Wofford his. We were both expecting a job for our labor, so I sent in our petitions. In a month or so a P.E. Webb sent for me to come to the City National Bank Hotel. I called and he said, “When can you one around those routes?” I said “Any time. Suit yourself.” He said, “I’ll be ready in thirty minutes.”  I went to Downs’ livery stable, got a nice buggy and team and called at the hotel. He came down with a rubber pad filled with air, a hole in the center, his arm through the hole. I had never seen anything like it, and wondered what it was for. I soon learned, without asking. He threw it on the buggy seat and sat down on it, stating, “I have to ride every day and have to protect myself.” Later I saw he was right, so I ordered one, and it was a great help when riding in the mail cart.

We started off at a good Texas gait, as I thought but he said, “Is this as fast as you can drive? By ____, I have to travel.” I said, “No,” and put the bud to them. He sat with his pencil making cots for crossroads and houses, when I didn’t understand at the time. I never checked up hill, down hill, we went at the same gait, and well do I remember crossing a three-log bridge over a ditch. Water had washed the dirt from the logs and it was a 4 to 6 inch lift when we struck it. The springs of the buggy and that air cushion pitched the inspector so high that had it not been for the back of the seat, he would have sat down in the road behind.  He said, “You can check up on such places at that.” I thought that jolt would cost me my job, but when he had made Route 1 he made a complete map, showing every cross road, house, and approximate distance the house was from the road. Where the house was invisible he would question me, and when finished he said: “I will recommend Route 2, and if you have certain places fixed I will recommend Route 1.”

The farmers got busy fixing the road on Route 1. I thought my trouble was over, but it was just beginning. An examination was called for both routes, and yet Route 1 hadn’t been allowed.  Wofford and I were the only wise one, and I said, “E.R., I will apply for Route 2, because I got up the petition on that route, and you go for Route 1—you got that petition”.  He said that was fair, and I told him Route 1 would come next. We hadn’t expected much opposition, but, lo and behold, there were plenty to read the benefit of our efforts, so they all went in to the examination. Most of them applied for Route 1. I took the cinch and applied for Route 2. I had the opposition of nine, and Wofford fifteen; there were 26 applicants. I thought my chances slim as I was up against W.O. Layton, a school teacher and bookkeeper; George Tinkle, a teacher; Geo. S. Hunt, a republican bookkeeper; W.R. Lamb, once candidate for congress on the populist ticket; his stepson, and others to make nine. My most dreaded opponent was George S. Hunt, republican, for Teddy Roosevelt was President. It seemed my chances were slim, but politics didn’t affect Teddy, as Hunt was way down the line. I thought so little of my chances I had gone in business with old man Stillwell. In about three months we began to hear from our examination. I was perfect in mathematics, near perfect in reading. We had handwriting, and I fell low in penmanship, but my papers stated my grade was 92. My name was first on the eligible register for Route No. 2.

I was so sure of my job that I bought a span of mules and a buggy for my equipment. T.P. Evans was 93, and first on Route No. 1, which was not allowed.  But lo and behold, Evans got the appointment. I asked Smith to write the Department. He said he would, but he didn’t; so I took the bull by the horns four days before the mail was to start. I said in my letter that Evans was taking a route that he had not applied for, so this Bowie Cross Timbers had stated I would carry the mail and Evans had the appointment. Upon receiving my letter Evans received a telegram saying, “Your appointment is revoked.” I knew what that meant, and so, on November 16, 1903, I went with the mail on Route 2, which was re-numbered Route 1. Without bond I was sworn in by the postmaster, and it was almost a month before I received my appointment. They sent it with a bond for 500 which required two signatures of men who could qualify that they were solvent. I went to my best friend, I.C. Giles, and told him what I had to do to hold my job, and he affixed his signature at once.

But I had to have two, and I decided C.R. Morgan, the junk dealer and feed man, could qualify. I went to him stating my predicament, and he said, “O.K.,” and signed; and so I congratulated myself on having two of his best men of my town sign my bond.  But Charley’s wife had taught him to write and nobody except the bank could read his signature. In about three weeks the bond came back with a new blank, stating, “We cannot read the last name,” and to fill out the new one. I went to Giles with my trouble; thence to Charley, and I said, “They couldn’t make out your name. Take up this old bond and sign this new one, and do your best. It means a good job for me.” He signed again, and in about three weeks that bond came back with a letter, “You will have to get somebody who can write to sign your bond.”

During the interval the National Surety Company wrote me they would go my bond for 50 cents a year, so I enclosed a money order for 50 cents and mailed the bond to them. At the end of the 26 years and 16 days I had paid him $13.00 because Charlie couldn’t write his name—but you could always cash his check at the bank for a half a dozen ears of “kawn,” as he called it.  Ask Billie Green (Western Union agent) to verify this telegram: “Ship me at once another ear of ‘kawn.’ “ Talk about your common sense, business sense, or any other kind of sense he had it, and yet some people in Bowie thought he was hard-hearted.

But let me have such men when in distress. I watched him shoot the supplies to the Bellevue sufferers of the cyclone, and I know I “joshed” him much about the $13, and told him I sent my last 50 cents and he would not cost me a nickel hereafter. I sold him many crates of berries to ship—but back to the mail line:

Did I quit when I had my job? I got Route 2 approved, and Jno. C. Foreman was first and landed that job. Then I laid out 3, 4, and 5. T.P. Evans got Route 3, E.D.Walker (my stepson) Route 4, and R.M. Hurst (half brother to Jim Hurst) No. 5. And then I quit? No. I got Route 6 and 7 tri-weekly allowed. Burley Box got Route 1, and I got 6 and 7 for approximately five years; then I changed back to my old route and finished on that. They have eliminated two carriers, and only four carriers serve out of Bowie now.

Back to 1905: I had read in the papers what the National Carriers were doing, as well as the various State organizations, to better the pay and the service.  So Big I, as you would say, wanted to get in and help push. I wrote all the carriers to meet at Montague on the 4th of July for a picnic and to form a county organization. All but one came. There were 19 or 20, and we met in the courthouse. I stated what I had called them together for, and told them I thought we ought to help. We could fix things right for better pay by organizing It would be unjust if we stayed out and let the other boys carry the load and us reap the benefit. We called for members and only seven signed. Some were afraid they would lost their job, and various other excuses were put forward.  So of the seven, I was like John Hancock and stuck my name on, followed by T.P.. Foreman, then Shackelford, P.L. Janeway, and the other carrier at
Boneta, and one I can’t remember. Evans was elected president, Janeway vice-president, Foreman cashier and treasurer. We later got John Cunningham of Saint Jo and E.E. McConnell of Sunset, both good talkers and boosters.

After awhile we had them all but Ray Beall of Nocona and one other. They weren’t there and we wanted 100 percent to go to the State organization, so I volunteered to pay the dues for one if someone would pay the other, which someone did, and we sent in 100 per cent. It’s been that way ever since, I’m told, and I hope it will ever remain so, for in organization there is strength and our dues were the measly sum of $1.75 a year. We hired W.D. Brown of Washington, to go before the rural committee, and he put before them the question of what was the use of a mail carriers driving up to every box, unlocking it and looking in many times when there was no mail. As a result of this they passed an order that a patron must raise a flag if he put mail in; and if we had no mail and flag wasn’t up we kept straight down the road. This was worth $1.75 of anybody’s money and then some.  Boxes were hanging on trees and fence posts, any distance from the ground, and some were on the ground. Brown made it uniform and worthwhile to
the mail carriers. Too, he had all the boxes placed on the right side of the road, eliminating the danger of collisions. What this is worth to a mail carrier to hard to contemplate.

Then there was the penny nuisance, or letter with two pennies in the box. It was two cents per ounce then, and we carriers would rather lose the pennies than take off our gloves and pick them up on cold icy days. Brown took that up with the Department and it was ordered that the patron must put a receptacle in the box and place the change therein so the carrier could pick up the cup, turn it upside down, leaving the change in the gloved hand.

Today as you drive the highways and byways you will see most all boxes the proper height, the post painted and it is the best service of any department of the Post Office system; yet it is the tail end of the postal system. It has proved to be the most honest department thereof by the fact there are less fired than I any other department. It makes me proud to have been a member of that body of men and having had a hand in doing something that benefits a great agricultural population. I now see it as Jim Hurst did. It’s the only thing that is worthwhile. Not many people know how it came about. Most all know about Robert Fulton, Henry Ford, Edison, Marconi but few know about Luther Burbank, the greatest of all, who made the seedless orange; and it was an old illiterate Negro who started the rural free delivery system.

I herewith relate what I read was the beginning of the system:   Once upon a time a man of wealth founded a country home in Massachusetts, four miles from town, and retired to private life. He had an old Negro servant who walked to town every day and back about the same hour and people wondered why. Eventually curiosity asserted itself and a farmer asked him why he did his, to which the Negro replied: “I guess to get boss’mail.”  “Well,” said the farmer, I’ll give you a nickel if you’ll bring mine,” and the trade was made.  That farmer told his neighbors, and two nickels more came in. Eventually every man on that four miles was paying his nickel for the delivery of his daily mail. Then the farmers five, six and seven miles from town paid their nickels to get their mail carried the four miles. The congressman from that district heard about it and he prevailed on Congress for a small appropriation to try out three routes. They were a pleasing success to the farmers. Hence, the whole system was inaugurated by an Ethiopian.

It is the humblest, but the best and most beneficial of any department in the postal system. The writer, who served on the rural routes for twenty-six years and sixteen days, goes over again and again he pleasures of the people he knew on the route; how they looked and what they would say; how badly they wanted to elect their sheriff, and those who  wanted to be sheriff, which seemed to be the topic of greatest interest. Then his thoughts wander to the grapes, peaches, apples, pears, plums, even wild thickets of plums that could be had by the bushel free many times by picking them. Then, the tomatoes! All you needed was a little salt. Many times I heard the words: “Get out and help yourself.” They were rotting by the bushel on the ground. The farmers were too busy to take them to town, and when he did ofttimes he would haul them back to his hogs, as there was no market for them then. Eggs were five cents a dozen, butter ten cents a pound, and a person might have little money, but plenty to eat.

There were two little German settlements on my route, and those good housewives loaded me down with cookies and cakes, as only they know how to make them; country sausage with just the right amount of garlic in it, and a lot of other fine things, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas time. Back in those days Christmas Day was not a holiday for rural carriers, but those good people made the day bright for us with their thoughtfulness. Many a time they would meet me at the mail box with hot coffee, and on real cold days have a stone heated and wrapped up in a gunny sack so that I could put it at my feet. I yearn for those days of good living, good breeding, when honesty and neighborliness was in the ascendancy.

But all was not sunshine. We had our storms; hails, rains, blue northers, floods and lightning, and the writer had two narrow calls. One was ten steps where he smelled the brimstone and saw it follow the wire fence, the other fifty yards and tear into a large oak. Both were plenty close. Then in a hailstorm, when it didn’t really hail, but rained chunks of ice; stopped by high water; got in near midnight. All such and more troubles I went trough so that my family could be brought up. Would I do it again? Yes! And would I do it again for my grandchildren? Yes! I was bred with that kind of blood in my veins. 

Later on, if you are interested in it, I will write about some other experiences, and tell you about a little bay mare I drove on my mail route for over twenty years. Shortly after I retired in 1929 Frontier Times carried a brief story about it and a picture of the writer in the mail cart drawn by Ginger, my faithful horse.