Cable systems

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A very detailed account of a cable system is given by the reporter of the Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW) on 28 October 1911, p.8:

"Some time ago Mr. C.E. Moore, of the firm of Pellew and Moore, visited Melbourne and Sydney, and whilst in those cities his attention was directed to a 'cash carrier' in use in one or two of the leading houses there. He was greatly taken up with the new idea, which appealed to him, more particularly from the standpoints of quickness, compactness, and utility. He saw that the old ball system had outlived its usefulness, and it had to make way for something more modern and up-to-date in the shape of the Lamson perfection cable system, and accordingly set about making the necessary arrangements for the installation of the system.

"To-day the cable was given its first run at Pellew and Moore's establishment, and as far as could be seen by a 'Miner' reporter, ran smoothly.

"The cable system is a power operated cash carrier, and may be classed as an intermediate between the ball cash railway and pneumatic tube. The tracks are made of specially manufactured cold drawn steel rods, with supporting brackets. The cash boxes,which are made of high class stamped steel, are fitted with the necessary grips to fasten on the ever-travelling cable,which are thrown out of gear by patent clutches at, or near, the receiving stations. The speed maintained is such as to enable each box to travel at a rate of from 600 to 900 feet per minute round corners, upstairs, downstairs,through walls, etc., with equal facility. At the various corners an ingenious device is fixed to tho horizontal wheels which throws off the clutch and frees the carriage from the cable in its spin round the corners only to be taken up again after they have been safely negotiated. A receiving-station, or cash desk, has been fixed between the showroom and the men's department, and here the whole of the cash is concentrated,which means a saving in time to both customers and assistants, as well as a reduction in the number of cashiers.

"The travellers occupy but little space, the cables revolve almost silently (excepting for a buzzing sound), and the whole is driven by a two h.p. electric motor. There are 18 assistants' stations installed, each station being provided with three boxes. The boxes are numbered consecutively, and by a simple contrivance are so set that they will only return to the station from which they have been dispatched. As, for instance, No. 10 will be found at no other station than No. 10, and so on.

"Mr. Moore expressed himself as highly pleased with his latest achievment, which will cost the firm something like £600 when completed.

"Besides the installation of the cash railway, the premises are being enlarged."

Another detailed account, including how the cars were attached and detached and how they negotiated turnings, is given for Harry Davies shop in Ballarat, Victoria.

This diagram is from Appleton's Cyclopædia which gives the following explanation. "In Fig. 11 the arrows show the direction of motion of the cable. A is the carrier, and B a lever acting upon the cable-grip C. The salesman has several carriers within reach, and when he wishes to send one to the cashier he raises the lever B, and sets the carrier upon the rails... Placing his finger upon the lever B, he presses it downward; the grip C closes upon the moving cable and the carrier disappears so swiftly that the eye can hardly follow, perhaps plunging down through an opening in the floor to the cashier's department, whence it is returned at a like rate of speed, and switches itself off upon a little platform at the proper station. The switching device .. [operates by having] a thin curved piece of metal fixed at each station in such a position that it engages projections set on top of the carrier and derails it at the proper point. First, however, the cable-grip is automatically released by an inclined fixture against which the lever B strikes just before reaching the switch. At the switch there is a break in the guide-rod D, so that the carrier is free to leave the rails and falls into a suitable receptacle. The whole structure of rails, guide rods and supports occupies very little space and can be so disposed as not to be in the least unsightly or inconvenient. The motive power can be derived from any available source - steam, electricity, water, or the like."

There were two distinct types sold by Lamsons which appear to involve low-level horizontal stations (the "Perfection" system) and high-level (the "Preferred" system). The history of these is described in the Nashua Telegraph, 26 Jun. 1969, p. 10:

"An ever-running cable system takes the customer's money to a cashier's office above... The main lines of the system's cables extend across the ceiling of the store, well overhead, and some 25 'drops' descend to departments below. The drops were the invention of the resourceful Mr. Lamson who had originally developed a one-level conveyer which ran along just above the heads of the customers. The salespeople then had to insert the cars on the moving line, the shorter girls requiring boxes to stand on for the purpose."

Joseph C. Martin of Vermont first patented a cable system in 1882 and formed the Martin & Hill Cash Carrier Company in Florence, Mass. In June 1887, the company won a lawsuit against a "certain company" (Lamson?) who threatened to sue "each and every company" who used their system. Another case in 1894 between Martin and the Company attempted "to suppress the defendant from further patents on the machine". The company was presumably acquired by Lamsons and Lamsons was using over 500 miles of the special cable cord per year in 1912.

The Dickinson Press, 18 Feb. 1888. p. 1 (in an article attributed to "Boston Transcript") describes "A new system of cash collecting for stores" as "a cable line operated by electric motor. The grooves in which the boxes move are of nickel plate. At each corner are wheels, around which the cables are arranged, a lower and an upper one. The lines go all over a store, and could be carried into the attic or very far away with the necessity of only one headquarters. The boxes, little nickel plated square ones, shut with a spring and fitted with clutches, are side tracked at the station by grooves. The clerk puts the money and check inside and slides it onto the main groove, when quick as a flash it is taken by the cable and hurried up inclines and around corners with wonderful rapidity. In a second or two it returns at the same fast rate. Compared with the rolling ball system it is ike the locomotive to the stage coach or what electricity is to steam."

According to Berwickshire News and General Advertiser, 1 May 1906, p. 4, the first shop to use the Lamson cable system was the Boston Store in Brockton (owned by James Edgar), which was founded in 1890. Brockton is 19 miles from Boston.

They are referred to at several of the Locations in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. When the system was put in Wm. Pettie and Co. in Gisborne, New Zealand by the Lamson Despatch Company in 1913, there were "less than half a dozen in the Dominion". One of these was George & Kersley in Wellington, which was there in 1905. There are photographs showing an electric system at C.O.Millers store on the Stamford History website and many good photographs of parts on the Grey Roots Museum website. There seem to have been few instaled in Britain. The first was claimed to be at David Fearn and Co. on Kilburn High Road (Kilburn Times, 16 Feb. 1906, p. 5). The Midland Daily Telegraph, 6 July 1918, reported that there were three in the English Midlands with one just having being installed at Mountford & Jones in Coventry. William Low in Kirkcaldy is also said to have had an electric cable system.

"The Story of a service idea" (American Pneumatic Service Company, 1912) states that "the Cable Cash Carrier has been more highly specialized than any other, it is protected by numerous patents and is among the Company's most profitable assets." It describes the operation of the system thus:

The Cable Carrier System is operated by a small motor which drives a series of endless cables running bewteen light metal tracks, upon which sending and delivery stations are fixed at desired intervals. The rapidly running and noiseless cable engages small steel boxes and slides them swiftly along their tracks up, down, around corners, and through partitions, floors or walls to their destination, where they are automatically and consecutively switched off and arrested at the hand of the clerk or cashier.

Twenty or more stations could easily be operated with a 1 horse-power motor. The motors were usually electric but water-powered systems also existed. At Lock Haven, Penn. a new water main was laid to W.A. Flack's store to power the cable system. An automatic "take-up" adjusted for variations in length of the cable due to changes of temperature and kept the tension constant.

Disadvantages according to Whitaker were "derailments were not uncommon, the noise was annoying, and the wires were unsightly. By 1900, pneumatic tubes .. had superseded cables and railways in many stores."

The best late survival was Joyner's at Moose Jaw, Canada, recorded in a detailed 1994 video on YouTube. There is still one at the D'Aoust store in Ste Anne de Bellevue, Montreal.