Express Agents in 1910

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Thu May 13 22:32:43 EDT 2010

Bluefield Daily Telegraph
November 20, 1910

Annual Movement of Turkeys From Southwest Virginia to Eastern Markets Heaver Than Usual
The annual movement of turkeys which are shipped from the southwestern section of Virginia to the eastern markets for Thanksgiving is heavier than usual this year and the birds appear to be in excellent shape.
A large number of ducks and geese are also sent, showing that the demand for them is next to that for turkeys. Every year the southwest produces and ships millions of chickens to various markets. These chickens are in many cases sent by the carload and from the handling of them many an express agent makes enough money to purchase all of his Christmas presents. At small stations the ticket agent is express agent, telegrapher and baggage agent as well as the railroad company's freight representative. Since the railroad company pays him nothing extra for soliciting freight and whereas the express companies give him ten per cent of what they get out of the express charges, he makes a special effort to get express business, which raises his $50 salary to what may be considered a good wage. There are times when, to get this business instead of letting it go by freight, he shortweighs express packages and it is a common practice to bill all chicken crates at 100 pounds, although many times they weigh more. The shipper who knows this makes it a point to give extra business to the express company from which the agent receives a profit.
There is one place on the Norfolk and Western field where the express agent, station agent, telegraph operator and freight agent, who was all one man, made so much money out of the express that it was commonly said that his job was good for $300 per month. Of this sum he did not get more than $50 from the railroad company and he saw to it that express was the chief business.
As long as his ten per cent is coming the express agent does not care much how long the passenger train is held while express is being shifted. All he is after is that ten per cent. He makes it, too, in spite of the fact that the freight rates are cheaper than express rates.
Many a passenger who has stood on a station platform wondering why it took so long to get the train started could readily have known why it was if he had seen all the express being shifted, much of which was being shipped at $1.00 per hundred and out of which the express agent was getting ten cents. The delivery of telegraph messages is another source of profit to the ticket agent, but in small places this does not amount to much, but there are places where it amounts to five and six dollars a month.
Gordon Hamilton
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