This is one of several pages relating to the history of the automatic totalisator, its invention in 1913, the inventor George Julius and the Australian company he founded in 1917, which became a monopoly, later part of an oligopoly in this field. This page is a continuation of the description of the factory at Meadowbank and the people who worked there. If you wish to start from the beginning then go to the index
|Memories of the Factory part 2|
The following is the second part of a transcription of an audio tape by Neville Mitchell and photographs he has supplied. Neville has held several management positions with the company Automatic Totalisators Limited. When I first joined the company, I think he was the manager of the drawing office.
Here we have the picture of the canteen. In the corner there was the properly equipped kitchen that could provide 1000 meals a day. When you worked overtime you were provided with a three course meal. If you worked a night shift you were given breakfast as well. This was bacon and eggs and toast and tomato, the whole bit. You really felt like you were looked after in those days. The chairs were a bit of a problem. As they wore they became known as nut crushers because of that canvas, slim type seat, used to stretch and as you sat in it you sunk down between those steel tubes and often you would get down there and if you were a bit overweight you would get stuck.
One thing about this, when you went there you were sort of assigned a seat. If you went upstairs for morning tea and sat down with a group of guys, they would look at you as if to say "that seat belonged to someone else", you could not go and sit anywhere you liked. The hierarchy even extended to where you sat and ate lunch. The executive's lunch room was behind the kitchen and they ate separately to the production and office staff.
An animation of a J8 Ticket Issuing Machine
The wonderful J8 machine. I have no idea of how many they manufactured, but it was certainly in the tens of thousands. They were distributed world wide. This particular one is a multi value machine. You can see it had a value key that you could swap between 10 and 50 pounds.
This is a view of the J8 assembly line, part of the assembly section. It shows the factory prior to an extension that was made. There was one more sawtooth that was added when Automatic Totalisators bought out Page Engineering and started to manufacture the yellow and black number plates for the NSW Department of Transport. This enterprise eventually shifted into its own factory across the street.
Here is the toolies hand fitting section, where the various dies jigs and fixtures were assembled and checked out. Notice that the work benches are solid cast iron they weighed close to half a ton each.
Part of the machine room for the toolies. All precision machinery surface grinders and centreless grinding jig boring and overhead mills.
The production floor shop, these are some of the machines used in tool maintenance. As you can see the amount of machines was enormous.
This is the metrology department. This room was air conditioned and the laboratory was certificated to National Laboratory standards and they did a lot of checking and testing work here. I particularly remember the stage when we were subcontracting the manufacture of parts for the Victa Air Tourer aircraft and every part was taken through here and tested for accuracy and was X-rayed and hardness checked, all that sort of thing which went into certifying a part suitable for an aircraft.
The heat treatment area. It was run by a bloke named Bob, he was a Communist. Of course the whole factory was unionised, very very strictly unionised. He was one of those soap box blokes so whenever there was a union meeting this bloke would be up the front and wanted to get on his soap box. The area where this heat treatment room is was in the annex under the men's locker room. If you look at the sewerage pipes up there you can see the additional pipe they put in there which drained that rare washing basin I talked about before. The heat treatment room was eventually moved to the new toolroom across the street. The image shows a group of Liquid Heat Furnaces. Of particular interest is the Isothermal Furnace.
Webmaster's note: I recall this room very well. It was next door to the Installation Department. When I started with the company I was assigned to the Installation Department under Ron Hood who was the manager. I spent a lot of time at a desk on the other side of the left hand wall in the above photo, studying PDP 11 architecture and hardware, as well as ATL products. I was very fortunate to have Ron as my manager. So long as I was reading ATL or DEC manuals and studying engineering drawings from either company, Ron was happy. I was ecstatic at this uninterrupted opportunity to learn. I was ecstatic and Ron the manager was happy an ideal rarely achieved! I joined the company with the intention of moving to Queensland with the new computer tote systems. It is funny how sometimes a casual remark can end up enormously prophetic. Ron told me, as a fledgling in the company, that I was in a fortunate position as I would have a job that I could mould into whatever I wished. I paid little attention to this comment at the time primarily because I could not see how something like that could happen. I have recently retired and in retrospect Ron was absolutely correct. Having introduced Ron, let's take this opportunity to introduce some human interest into this textbook-like review of the factory.
Neville Mitchell wrote in June 2014: Iraq had a PDP11 tote, it was installed about the time of the six day war? It had J11 TIM’s and a large infield indicator. The installation engineer was Sir Rex Turner the project manager was Ron Hood.
Three Iraqi engineers ex army came to ATL for training. Ron befriended them and they became excellent customers buying many Australian racing products through ATL. One peculiar shipment was Swimming pool filter sand! Otherwise it was racing saddles crops, and horse related gear.
Rex got caught up in the war. He was confined to his hotel. A Russian oil prospecting team were also at his hotel. They invited Rex to flee Baghdad with them. This included a 600 Km truck ride into the desert from where they were taken by aircraft to Sophia in Bulgaria. He had no visa, so he was confined by the KGB until consulate , QANTAS & ATA rescued him, flying him out via London. Rex never went overseas again!
The image below shows Ron Hood with two of the Iraqi Engineers. This photo was taken in the installation Department where I worked/studied, next door to the heat treatment room, approximately a decade after the 6 day war. There are some PDP11 racks visible behind Ron. It was the architecture of the machines in these racks that I was stydying. In the foreground of this photo, in front of Ron and the Iraqi engineers, is a J18 ATL TIM (Ticket Issuing machine.) It was machines like this that I was also studying. The TIM has its covers removed because this department was engaged in engineering work on them. Ron has a rather rare, in my time, circuit baord he is pointing to and presumably is discussing with the engineers. This photo is possibly posed for, however it is indicative of the training that took place. The circuit board under discussion, is part of a PDP11 and is called a single height circuit board. By far, most of the DEC PDP11 boards in my time were hex height boards, which were over six times the width of the board being discussed. In the background of the photo, near the PDP11 racks, between Ron on the left and the engineer next to him, extending out towards Ron from behind the upper arm of the engineer in the blue shirt, there is another DEC PDP11 circuit board. As can be seen, this is similar to, but a lot wider than, the board being discussed. As this board in the background is partly obscured, I can only conclude that it will either be a quad height or hex height board. This board is probably sitting on top of an expansion box pulled out on its runners from the right hand rack. These expansion boxes each housed over 20 Hex Height PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards.) Each Hex Height slot in the backplane could alternatively house 6 single height PCBs instead. This height classification of DEC PCBs refers to the number of backplane connectors on the board. Each rack would house 3 or 4 expansion boxes.
Neville Mitchell wrote in May 2015. Extracts follow: I was searching through my old photo file and I came across a photo of our great friends Ron Hood and George Jenkins. ... Talking about Ron Hood, we both worked for a radio and television company, Stromberg Carlson, In Bourke street Alexandria. We were mates from day one. Ron was a model maker in the research division of SC, I was a trainee cadet engineer in the same office. May 1962 we were both made redundant, luckily ATL took on quite a few ex SC engineers including Ron, George, Morrie Cox, Bert Rowe and me.
Ron and I worked at SC on the introduction of TV manufacture. Ron made up the mechanical parts of the production test equipment to George Jenkins and my designs.
At that time I rode a Lambretta Motor scooter. Each afternoon I would give Ron a lift to Redfern station on the pillion seat of the scooter. We became family friends working through the usual problems with children wives and of course ATL!
Neville Mitchell wrote in July 2015 in response to my mentioning that I had recently visited Colin and Dale, two excellent ex ATL programmers. They both had realised long held dreams of owning farms. It also contains a reference to Ron Hood: Must have been good to catch up with Colin and Dale. Strange how two excellent software guys turn into farmers! Bill Johnston had a cattle farm for many years after he left ATL, Assistant General Manager David McFarland had a farm let near Canberra.
I suppose Colin did not tell you the story of him being in Manilla with his long fuzzy blond hair? The locals thought he was Jesus, as he walked the streets with the sun shining through his hair making a bright halo.
And there was the night in Melbourne with Dale and Pat at a Richmond Motel. We had worked the gallops at Sandown Park and the Trots in the evening, got back to the motel about midnight. Ron Hood had asked the manager to put a carton of beer in his room fridge. Ron was irate when there was no beer, so he knocked up the manager in his pyjamas and dressing gown, who reluctantly bought the beer to Dale & Pats room, where we all settled into a long session of ATL talk mixed with a few beers.
I remember flying back to Sydney next morning with Ron feeling a bit hung over. Hardly got back to Meadowbank, when we were packed off to Brisbane to do some strike breaking at a Brisbane track. Still overworked and stressed we were then flown back to Sydney to operate Harold Park Trots and the Randwick Gallops. Ron was very cranky, we were seated in the last two rear seats in a DC 9, with a very noisy jet engine churning away outside Ron's window. He complained to the Stewardess and we were moved to the front of the aircraft.
Neville sent the following in January 2016, after I related a similar experience on a DC9, where I had the same seat as Neville describes, on an ATL business trip returning from Melbourne to Brisbane. I mentioned the beat frequency, resulting from the two poorly synchronised engines, to a friend of mine, who was a First Officer on DC9s at the time. He indicated that this was a problem, as it is hard to adjust the engine synchronisation due to the difficulty of hearing the beat frequency, from the flight deck at the opposite end of the aircraft.
We, that’s Nancy daughter Elizabeth and I were to fly from Guam to Brisbane on a Continental Airlines DC10. We had sat on the plane from midnight to sunrise because the little green light on the wing would not come on. Captain, a Mr Foster, informed the passengers that he could not take off until the light was fixed, or we could fly when the sun came up, about 6 am, which is what happened. Anyway the DC10 had seen better days the hunting of the three unsynchronised engines caused distinct shudder to regularly pass through the planes cabin. Arrived into Brisbane 7 hours late for our connecting flight home. I found this remarkable. A DC10 delayed 7 hours due to inability to get the starboard navigation light repaired, even though it is no doubt outside normal maintenance business hours! Additionally, I presume some protocol demanded that the passengers remain on board all this time.
Also in January 2016, Neville recollects more about this part of the factory: Also on that side of the building was the Print & Type shops, Maintenance Workshop the Emergency Power Generators the Welding Bay and finally the Spray Painting Booth and baking oven. The first aid room was under the stairs up to the canteen and at the south front was a area used for crate making and packing goods for delivery.
I used the staircase to the canteen mentioned by Neville, up to three times a day for morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea. I also remember the first aid room and the packing section.
The two Iraqi engineers were Cousins Sammy & Nabil, I was good friends with them, they spent a lot of time with my family. They were just a little older that our Michele & Elizabeth, so lots of loud music and dancing at parties. When hostilities broke out in Baghdad they fled with their families to Paris. Never heard of them since. Neville also wrote a comment about the above image: That's a great photo of Ron and the Iraqis. The J18 looks good too!
A nice view of an adder. Everything on it is manufactured by Automatic Totalisators except the rotary counter and the mercury switch located at the bottom right. This is a three shaft adder, a work of art. It had the capacity of up to 240 ticket issuing machines.
The Meadowbank Factory
The land to which Neville refers below, is the land that the factory is standing on. It includes the land on the near side of Nancarrow Avenue on which the photographer is standing. This land across the road from the factory, is where ATL built a separate tool-room which became necessary due to growth of the business.
Earlier in the tape I was talking about Julius acquiring the land at Meadowbank. The story behind why he wanted to build, in those days, way out in the boondocks comes from the war time and post war era, from the factory that was located in Crown Street in the city. The problem with the factory there was the proximity of all the hotels. There was a hotel or pub on every corner. They had great trouble keeping the people at work especially working three shifts as they did all through the war years. So when he looked for a site for the new factory, one of the prime considerations was that it had to be at least a mile from the nearest hotel. He achieved that with a vengeance, because the closest hotel was way down at West Ryde and it certainly wasn't a place that you could get to, have a drink and get back to work in your half hour lunch break. However over the years of course we have spent many pleasant hours there after work especially after Friday night with the likes of George Klemmer and Peter Rolls etcetera. The problem with alcohol at the Crown Street Factory had many hilarious tales of how the people who worked there brought the illegal liquor into the place so that they could imbibe sometime during the night. There was many stories of people being found asleep and that sort of thing and getting suspended, you could not sack them in those days so they would be suspended without pay. So when he decided on the new factory it had to be well away from anything like that.
This is an interesting point for me. When I joined Automatic Totalisators in 1977, I was surprised to find that we would often attend the Wallumetta Club for lunch on Fridays. This was a Businessman's Club on Victoria Road that was not far away. In all previous jobs, work and partaking in alcoholic beverages was kept quite separate. In this instance, it was accepted. With the passage of time I began to realise that this was bigger than I had first imagined. I started to recognise more of the people at the club and I came to realise that the patrons at the club on Friday afternoons was a who's who of Automatic Totalisators. Occasionally the stay at the club extended beyond lunch hours and little work was done at the factory for the rest of the afternoon. Several of the management staff thought that this was actually a productive exercise as more communication took place at the Club than at the factory. I tend to concur, as the major topic of conversation was always Automatic Totalisators and people from different departments would often be engaged in conversation.
I have included one more photograph from Neville's collection which he has not commented on. This photograph has significance for me. In my latter shooldays, I spent a holiday break working at William Adams, another engineering company, for work experience, as arranged by my father. I learnt a lot about the workings of a machine shop and most of my time was spent operating a milling machine which has fired my interest in the ATL Precision Milling Department as shown in this photograph.
|Factory memories from Rod Richards|
I started at ATL in early January 1949 as a 17 year old second year apprentice as I had to transfer from a small Press Metal shop that had to close its doors and I was left without a job. This however was a blessing in disguise as not long after I started my first year, the company moved to a larger shop at Matraville from Clovelly and at about the same time my family moved from Annandale to Ermington near West Ryde. This left me with a massive amount of travel each day to get to work and to go to Tech at Ultimo a couple of nights a week; my 30 shillings a week wage went mostly on fares; I soon became disenchanted with the whole affair
I could not believe my luck when I was accepted at ATL, to continue my apprenticeship, this massive modern almost new factory, certainly beat the hell out of the old Fibro shed that I had just left, also ATL was just a bike ride from home and a new Tech College had just started at Meadowbank, fate and my fairy godfather was certainly looking after me.
On my first day at ATL I was introduced to man in charge of the Adders, Fred James an old Tote man whose first words were “Rod, I do not care how long it takes, but it must be done right” I still remember those words as I still tend not to take short cuts. Although ‘take your time’ was not quite right as Totes was at the time super busy with a number of jobs in the pipe line and overtime being worked. I recall that towards the end of the year 1949, the Randall Park job in the USA was top priority as it had to be completed before a certain date to meet the racing carnival or severe penalties would apply, I think we even worked Boxing Day and air freight was involved.
I worked mainly with the Adders and not to ramble on for too long a couple of things stick in my mind; One is the Number Counter mounted on the Adder, this was commonly known as “The Veeder” as the Counter was made by Veeder – Root and the name Veeder just seemed to stick.
The Escapement Shaft was also an assembly that required some careful assembly as the brass bevel gears had to be de burred so that they ran smoothly when assembled, this was done with the aid of a fine knife file. The Escapement Wheels were also assembled to the Cross Head with four BA Csk Hd screws with a similar product to Loctite. Once the assembly was completed the unit was then ‘Run In’ mounted in a fixture in an enclosed tank and run with a light oil as a lubricant. Each Escapement Wheel was locked off in turn to ensure that all the bevel gears were being run in. The end result was that the whole assembly was like a piece of silk to turn. Alf Burnell was the man that took a personal interest in each Escapement Shaft that left his care.
Those were the days!!
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