December 1, 2005


Measurable progress has been made at the Railway Mail Service Library (RMSL) during 2005.  Here's a summary along with some photos of principal accomplishments.
After more than 50 trips with the Chevy step-van, all material and furnishings were moved to Boyce from Alexandria.  At 150 miles per round trip, 7,500 miles were added to the trip odometer in the two years since the truck was purchased.

            Now that all of the boxes, cabinets, and shelving are in the station, attention during 2006 will focus on unpacking, sorting, and filing.  The disorder will gradually be replaced by an organized display of information and artifacts.  I've observed that stuff in boxes takes much more space than when it is arranged on shelves and in filing cabinets for easy access.  Fortunately, the 4,000 square feet in the station allow enough elbow room for this unpacking process.

The roof has required patching, pressure washing, and repainting with primer plus two finish coats.  The sheet metal roof may have been installed by the Norfolk & Western Railway in the mid-1950s.  This might have occurred at the same time that the hot water heating system was changed  from coal to fuel oil.  The northern portion of the roof was painted by the Winchester Chapter, National Railway Historical Society, around 1984.  They only applied a single coat and stopped halfway through the project when money and volunteer efforts dwindled.  The southern end of the roof exhibited rust and I was concerned about roof leakage if left much longer as is.  This was a situation where on can't afford the project, but also cannot afford not to.  The potential for building and collection damage convinced me that it must be accomplished in 2005.

Arrangements were originally made with Bob Carter, a local roof painter.  He quoted $1 per square foot to clean, repair, prime, and paint the roof.  Since the station and pump house roofs total --by his estimate-- 7,144 square feet, I tried to allocate sufficient funds for the work.  Regardless of funds shifting, it was apparent that I needed to approach it with a home equity loan.  Since the painting should last at least ten years, the payments ought to last that long, too.

 While in Finland during July for a family vacation, we visited Arja's brother Jorma who now lives in Poland.  He was between jobs and was willing to undertake the roof repainting.  He drove us back to Finland and on the way, we visited Jarmo who is a friend of Jorma.  Jarmo works as a roofer; since work slows down after Summer, he was willing to come over and help.

With those arrangements made, I turned my attention to procuring matériel.   When I started, I planned to use Rustoleum "Hunter Green" paint to match the metal doors and trim below the roof-line.  My thinking changed radically after doing research of roof coatings.  Rustoleum metal paints aren't recommended for roofs, even though I am sure it has been used for that purpose.  After much Internet searching, I settled on a white ceramic coating manufactured by HyTec in Florida.  It addressed a secondary concern that I had: heat build-up in the attic areas during Summer.  I have some items in storage above the baggage room and temperatures there can rise above 120 degrees fahrenheit.

The HyTec coating is described at  There are two desirable features that guided my selection of this product.  First, it reflects much of the sunlight since the coating is white.  Second, it has an insulating characteristic.  So, I ordered 33 five-gallon pails of Bond It and Cool Coat and arranged less-than-truckload freight delivery by Estes Express.

Air circulation and lighting in the attic areas are also important.   These were solved with purchases of solar-powered attic fans and tubular skylights  from Sun Cowboy.  "Harness the Sun; rope the wind" is Todd and Kathy Gatewood's slogan.  These were also shipped by freight carrier, requiring pick-up at the Saia Express terminal in Richmond.

I supplemented the attic fans with four solar gable fans.  These were eventually mounted on plywood panels in place of two clerestory windows in each of the waiting rooms.  Their purpose is to exhaust hot air about 18 feet above the waiting room floors and create air circulation within these rooms.

All of the required supplies were stowed in the small waiting room until Jorma and Jarmo arrived in mid-September.  The station received perhaps the most intensive work-over in the past fifty years, since these men were there nearly every day during four weeks until departure in early November.  Some video clips and still photos can be seen at by clicking on file names.

Although replacing blocked galvanized pipes remain a future project, Jim Lockard and helper did install a propane hot water heater on October 15.  It is different than most since it does not have a tank.  Instead, when a hot water line is opened, the heater turns on and heats water as it is used.  This style is idea for the station, since use of hot water faucets is only occasional.

As Jorma and Jarmo (J&J) completed roof painting, I also asked them to install a 20-feet long aluminum walk-board and a roof hatch.  As I'll explain later, some antennas needed to be moved from a front vent pipe to the chimney.  Both of these allowed safer access to the roof and work around the chimney.

The final J&J projects were to dig two post holes for the RMSL sign, then assemble it.  Approval for the sign came from the Clarke County planning board in 2004 and components had been painted but unassembled for nearly a year.  I rented an two-man auger on the first Saturday of November.  The three of us dug two and a half holes --we hit rocks during the second attempt.  By the time we finished after a half-hour, we were worn out just holding the gas-powered drill in place while it did the work.

After the guys departed for Poland and Finland on November 15, incremental progress was made on a couple of other fronts.  Mack Muir and Nathan Simmons moved radio antennas used for Advanced Traffic Control System (ATCS) monitoring to the chimney.  The pole line that runs along the Norfolk Southern (NS) track with wires over the station used to carry the codes that operated the signal system.  In recent years, NS converted to a radio-based system.  These codes can be picked up with special radio receivers, decoded, and the information displayed on a dispatcher-like track layout.  The agent-operator who worked at the station before 1955 monitored train movements; this is the 21st Century way to do it.

An additional antenna at the top of the mast picks up voice communications between train crews, dispatcher, and an equipment defect detector that is a mile north of the station building.  This and the ATCS monitoring became operational on November 27.

The third-leg of the stool is capturing video images of passing trains.  The combination of these allows virtual rail-fanning at Boyce.  One can monitor train movements using ATCS, hear operational situations from the voice radio channels, as well as see the trains as they pass.  All three data streams are downloaded to the Internet using a Verizon DSL connection from the "radio room" --the former outside-entry men's room with partitions and fixtures that were removed and stored.

Axis network cameras have been installed under the eaves in outdoor housings.   Two are for north- and south-bound train web cam images.  The others are for security monitoring of the exterior walls and adjacent property.  The Axis 2120 cameras used are described at   Network cameras produce digital images and can be plugged directly into a router.  Operation and recording processes are simpler than with analog video cameras.

Of course while the station building is important, the collection it houses is more so.   Notable contributions were received during 2005.  These included collections preserved by Marvin Martin of the Wichita, Kansas, Railway Postal Clerks.  Important material was also donated by Louis Surles on behalf of the Denver-area Railway Post Office (RPO) clerks.  These will be helpful for postal and railroad historians for many years to come.

            While contributions of funds and historical artifacts are important to any library, volunteer efforts are the keystone to long-term success.  I've already mentioned Mack's and Nathan's kind support.  Tom Rogers likewise made a lasting contribution.  He does business as Blue Ridge Productions and markets railroad Digital Video Disks (DVDs).  After attending a "train night" on November 15, 2004, Tom offered to convert beta masters of MEN AND MAIL IN TRANSIT and MAIL IN MOTION to digital recordings.  He designed a label, created chapters, and recorded these to a data cartridge and CD-ROMs.  The DVD is designed to run in auto-play mode in a continuous loop, making it suitable for both home viewing as well as a hands-free display at the Library.   I paid for professional duplication by Sony DADC at Terre Haute, Indiana, in September.  After production costs are covered by the first 100 DVD sales, all proceeds will benefit Boyce station repairs and monthly utility expenses.  Sample video clips can be viewed at and selecting these files: /m&mit01.MPG through /m&mit05.MPG as well as /MIM‑01.MPG and /MIM‑02.MPG.  These video clips aren't the same high resolution as the digital recordings on the disk, which are broadcast quality.  If you want one, the DVD is $18.99 plus $2.01 for domestic mailing.  The international packing and shipping charge is $3.01.

A PayPal commercial account was also established to facilitate electronic commerce.  Many historians, RPO clerks, or others who query "Railway Mail Service" on the Internet will only use the collection via the website and email.  Some of these are people in other countries were currency exchange and transfer of small amounts have been difficult and expensive.  So, the RMSL can now make payments as well as receive them at under the user account  This account facilitates the Library's ability to pay for subscriptions to foreign publications about RPO history, such as membership in Great Britain's Traveling Post Office and Seapost Society.

So as 2005 draws to a close, 2006 and future years hold much promise for the RMSL.  I hope you are able to visit Boyce station, which is at the grade crossing where post office history meets railroading.  If the Smithsonian Institution's museums are considered to be the "nation's attic," the RMSL is the RPO clerk's basement!

 Happy New Year,


Frank R. Scheer

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