The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 6 (October 1, 1929)
A Tremendous Trifle — Story of a Railway Ticket — A Five Mile Pile
The carriage door opens and the guard sounds his ringing warning. You rouse yourself and start the search for that vital piece of pasteboard. You at length turn out your pockets, unbutton your coat, and delve into your waistcoat. The guard moves nearer and the snip-snip of his clippers becomes louder. You turn to your overcoat pockets and then dip into your luggage, with growing annoyance.
The guard is standing right by you now. Grim and silent he waits patiently. You continue your frantic search, growing a little red in the face. Good heavens! To look at him anyone would think the guard suspected you didn't have a ticket and were trying to get the better of the Railways Department. You mumble some reassuring sentences, and go through the same pockets again.
You wonder if the guard will shortly lose his patience. You know he has supreme power. If you fail to produce your ticket he might stop the train and put you off unceremoniously somewhere in the great, open spaces among the rudely staring cows. Or he might even set you shovelling coal in the engine cab, as a stowaway at sea is forced to work his passage.
Ah! At last. Your fingers, probing each pocket, fasten on a slip of cardboard. With a gasp of relief you hand it over. But what is this? The guard hands back the card with a hollow, fiendish laugh.
“That's no good,” he says, with chilling finality.
And, really you must admit it is not much good, because as you stare at it dazedly you see it is only a cigarette card showing a teddy bear and a dog sitting together, and beneath the picture is the inscription: “There was a little man and he wooed a little maid.”
Very charming, of course, but with renewed vigour you plunge again into your pockets.
“Here we are,” says the guard, with a laugh, as he locates the elusive ticket in the band of your hat. Snip go his clippers. You are safe, but as the door slams on him you reflect that the places we choose as the safest are not the easiest to remember. And you have cause, too, to brood on the fact that a railway ticket is a tremendous trifle.
Symbol of Romance.
What does that ticket signify? That you have paid your fare as an honest citizen and have no intention of travelling under the seat. Certainly. But it is a symbol of much more. It calls up the whole romantic story of the growth of steam transport in the world. It takes us back more than one hundred years to that mighty moment when George Stephenson, the boy, idly watching the steam rattling the lid page 59 of the kettle on the fire, discovered the secret of steam power. We see the historic debut in England of the first steam engine made by George Stephenson, the man, and before which weird sight—a vehicle moving unaided as by some black power—horses shied, women cried out, and men marvelled. We see workshops springing up and new industries launched; we see men swarming over the countryside, levelling, digging and blasting; millions of money are set in motion, wheels are set whirling and hammers beating. Like a flame eating up a gunpowder fuse we see the great iron trail creeping throughout the land, splitting up into branches and bringing in its train monsters of iron breathing fire, to feed which, men go down into mines for the black diamonds. The isolation of the country areas of former days ceases to exist as the steam railway penetrates into village and hamlet, and town is linked with town, enabling quick and safe access to the centres of commerce and the rapid despatch of products. We see bunting waving in the breeze, and the gathering of great concourses of people as link upon link is added to the chain of railway communication. In far-flung country cottages families stand in their doorways and wave across the nodding fields of daisies to the wonderful new thing that hurries past with its human freight and load of goods, bound for the throbbing cities.
In the history of transport a new era has opened. Soon there is a stir in countries abroad, and in the East as in the West, the flame of railway transport bursts forth anew, amid a babble of strange tongues. In those following years George Stephenson would have stood dumbfounded at the sight of the bonfire he had lighted on that September day of 1825.
That is the stirring story told us by the little ticket we can buy at any railway station in New Zealand. It is a tremendous trifle.
Millions a Year.
These tickets are manufactured by the million in Wellington—at the rate of almost ten million per annum. Each year's output weighs ten tons, and would make a pile just on five miles high. If placed lengthwise, end on end, they would extend to a distance of over 350 miles!
I visited the Government Printing Office in Wellington where the tickets are printed. The coloured cards, cut to size, are obtained through the High Commissioner in London, under contract. The Railway Ticket Printer has a staff of seven, all of whom are solely occupied in the printing and despatch of railway tickets. The names of all stations and the matter on standard tickets are electro-typed, so that the setting up of the bulk of the tickets is a very simple operation. The type is contained in large open racks, and gleam like dull gold in a Monte Cristo treasure cave. The necessary lines are picked out from the racks, placed in a small frame, screwed up, and placed in position in the printing machine.
There are four printing machines, all electrically driven. In addition, they automatically number and perforate the tickets if such is required, performing this in one operation. The machines are 100 per cent. accurate. They spit out the tickets like a maxim gun at the rate of 10,000 an hour. The separate punching machines are even faster, having an output of approximately 15,000 an hour. They perforate two clean holes for binding the tickets with copper wire. Then there is the automatic counting machine, which registers the number of the tickets with equal rapidity and exclusive of error.
Stations keep six months’ stock of tickets, and obtain further batches from supplies on hand, or new ones are printed. Out of date tickets, after being checked, are burnt in the city destructor.
As one example of the efficiency of the Department, on an occasion when Dick Arnst was world's champion oarsman, an urgent order was received in Wellington for five hundred tickets for use at Blenheim the following morning. The telegram was received at the office of the Chief Accountant at 10.30 a.m., and the tickets were printed and registered at the G.P.O. at 11 a.m.
Trifling—that little ticket you hold—but tremendous!
Travelling and Time-Saving
The reinstatement of the “Daylight Limited”—an express connecting Auckland and Wellington—has a special significance for South Island people who are interested in cutting down the time that has hitherto been occupied in visiting the North Island. The effect of this new service, which is to be continued for the next six months, may be indicated by a simple illustration. A Christchurch business man may now travel as far as Palmerston North, spend three or four hours there, and yet be back in Christchurch after an absence of only one day, thanks to the readjustment of express timetables in the North Island. We refer to this matter not so much to give the Railway Department a well deserved pat on the back as to emphasise the very great advantages of the railway system as far as longdistance travelling is concerned.—From the Christchurch Star.page 60