Northern Pacific 1102

Heavyweight Triple Combine

Northern Pacific 1102
Photo by Eric Hopp

Northern Pacific 1102 is one of the Minnesota Transportation Museum's most useful passenger cars. A triple combine built in 1914, it includes coach seating, a baggage compartment, and a small railway post office - a very typical branch line car from between the world wars. Besides being a real gem on the outside, 1102 has some very useful features inside. The railway post office section has been restored to look like it did in operation, and is used for mail-catch demonstrations and historic show-and-tell for any passengers who wander in. The baggage section doors are always open in good weather. Guard rails have been installed so passengers may stand in the doorway and get an unsurpassed view of the passing scenery. The baggage section is also home to the store on rails, which sells refeshments and souveniers, and our accomodation for passengers in wheelchairs. The windows in its coach section open, which is very popular with passenger. It is a fixture on every passenger train the Osceola & St. Croix Valley runs.

On the way to Dresser, or the return trip from Marine on St. Croix, it is directly behind the locomotive. Going the other way, it is the last car on the train and a great place to watch the rails go by.

Railway Post Office Demonstrations

The carefully restored Railway Post Office section is often staffed by retired Railway Mail Service employees who are glad to tell about their work, answer questions, and demonstrate the sorting of mail enroute. Their demonstration usually includes an "on the fly" mail pickup at Osceola at the beginning of the 1:00 Dresser trip.

Ready to Catch During a demonstration, the RPO clerk is about to catch the mailbag. The stand holding the bag is called a "mail crane." It allowed the post office to pick up mail without stopping. Unloading was simpler. They just kicked it out the door.
Photo by Mary Ann Hopp
Caught it! On another day, the hook has just snagged the bag. The mail crane arms immediately drop to clear the rest of the train. Notice the snap-on windshield at the forward edge of the door. It protects the clerk as he prepares to catch the mailbag. As soon as the bag is inside the car, the clerks will go to work sorting the mail by destination.
Photo by Eric Hopp

To maintain the high degree of speed and accuracy that made the Railway Mail Service the most dependable mail service ever known, railway postal clerks were required to pass regular proficiency tests. These tests were conducted in an office using "letters" made of small business card stock and a small portable letter case. The cards were labeled with city names, but the letter cases had few, if any, boxes labeled with city names. A clerk being tested could not simply put the Hinckley cards in the Hinckley box. The clerk would put the Hinckley cards into one of several boxes in the letter case depending on the run, location and time of day for the test. None of these boxes were labeled Hinckley. RPO clerks qualified to serve on the many Upper Midwest routes could name the several letter boxes for Hinckley mail without hesitation. Clerks had to have a 97% or better accuracy at 16 cards per minute to pass proficiency exams. The average, however, was usually 99% accuracy at 40 cards per minute. The national speed record is 101 cards per minute at 99.9% accuracy, and the national accuracy record is over 29,000 cards without an error!

For a more detailed information on the Railway Mail Service, visit this link to a history published by the Post Office.

History of the 1102

On June 7th, 1914, Pullman Standard outshopped a 24 chair drawing room buffet parlor car named "Reba," plan 2417B, lot 4265. In August of that year it went to the Northern Pacific, where it eventually became 86-passenger coach number 631. (Sources are not entirely in agreement - one even claims Reba was sold to the NYC in September 1941.) In 1947 coach 631 was rebuilt into triple-combine 1102, with a 15' Railway Post Office (RPO) compartment, a 37' baggage/express compartment, and a 20' coach section which could seat 20. The RPO compartment had a full-sized letter case, mail pouch, newspaper racks, overhead letterboxes and stalls for storage mail. On the floor of the baggage/express compartment were "fish racks" used to drain melt water from ice from refrigerated express items such as commercial fish from Minnesota Lakes. Mechanical systems included a generator for electricity, steam heat, and a coal-fired hot water heater. Total inside length was 72' 10", outside length 82' 4.5", and it weighed 158,120 lbs. In this configuration it served in mixed passenger/freight trains on branch lines which had few passengers but a decent express business and a mail contract. It is known to have served the James & Wilton, Carrington & Turtle Lake, James & Oakes and the Leeds & Jamestown routes on trains 157 and 158 in North Dakota, and also the Little Falls-Funkley-Kelliher RPO route in Minnesota.

In 1965, No. 1102 was modified as Northern Pacific's Signal Department training car, and renumbered 1931. It was used throughout the entire NP system to teach train crews about Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) operations. The baggage compartment contained switch machines, switch locking mechanisms and signals for the practical demonstrations which took place in the "classroom" area that had been the passenger compartment.

With the Burlington Northern merger in 1970, 1931 was retired and sat, the victim of vandals, until 1976 when it was purchased by the Minnesota Transportation Museum. Working in rented space in the NP's Como Shops (today's Bandana Square in St. Paul) volunteers restored the car to operation in its post-1947 triple-combine appearance. The St. Paul Post Office and Retired Railway Clerks donated sacks and other equipment to fully outfit the interior of the RPO compartment. Restoration was complete in 1978.

Northern Pacific 1102 is unique in that it is one of the very few "triple combine" cars remaining in operation today. It is part of almost every train run by the Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway. In the next year or two it is scheduled for a new coat of paint to restore its shine, funded by a public ISTEA grant.


  1. "A Century of Pullman Cars - Volume I, Alphabetical List" by Ralph L. Barger.
  2. "Complete Roster of Heavyweight Pullman Cars" by Wayner; data p87.
  3. NP 1102 history brochure distributed aboard the car.
  4. "Pullman Car Construction Record Database," pub. by The Pullman Project;
  5. "Pullman Company Descriptive List of Cars, September 1, 1937" reprinted by Wayner Publications; data p144.

Volunteer Information

To work on or run the 1102, you must be an MTM member. Retired Railway Clerks are invited to join the museum and share their experiences with the public on board the train, and to demonstrate how the work was done.

Any MTM member may be a coach attendant, RPO volunteer, or store keeper during passenger trips. Coach attendant training is offered each spring.