READERS have beaten history to the punch by solving a mystery which had proved every bit as big as Enigma.
Graham Wallace is curator for Calculators and Punched Card Equipment at The National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, home of the Second World War codebreaking Colossus.
We reported how two cards were found buried inside Powers Samas punched card equipment, sent by Liverpool Museums for restoration and now on semi-permanent loan. The cards had apparently been used by or for Blackpool Corporation, but Graham could find no information regarding the equipment or its history.
He says: “The response to your article has been quite remarkable. We received two letters from ladies, one 86 the other 83, who remembered their days in the Transport Department as if it were yesterday.
“Another lady cleared up part of the mystery for us.
“Initially all the response came from those who had been in that department, but nobody could identify the cards.
“Then, out of the blue, a lady told us she worked in the treasury department, and the mystery is partially solved. The machine that is being restored must have been in, or used by, the treasury department.”
Graham adds: “I have replied to all those who contacted us, but I would be grateful if you would express our sincere thanks for the interest shown.”
Among readers who contacted Memory Lane was Coun Norman Hardy, who confirmed the Powers Samas system was in use at Blackpool Corporation Transport, as it was then, for wages, stores and mileage records, requiring eight machine operators, both punching the cards and then using the equipment that printed out the information.
He admits: “I was always amazed by how someone devised the system in the first place! I know of one machine girl still living in Blackpool.”
Michael Hope, of Layton, says: “I am a haulage contractor, although the family business these days is run by my son Steven. Between 1961 and 1967 we used to receive the punch cards from Blackpool Transport. We called them a tally.
“After a week’s work with a wagon on hire, the following Thursday they gave us the tally on clocking off. We walked across the road to the office, which is where the conductors handed in their money, and presented the perforated card, and they paid us in cash.”
Howard Carter says: “When I was 16, I was an accountancy assistant at the North Western Gas Board West Lancashire Group in Princess Street, Blackpool.
“My responsibility on a Monday morning was to gather in all the labourers’ time sheets for the various sites.
“The men would have coded in six numbers, their jobs for the week. I then had the responsibility to check codings were correct, and forward over 50 time sheets to a Mrs Myerscough at Powers Samas in Preston.
“They then came back in tabulation form, and the codes were re-checked and returned to Power Samas for a final statement. These were then fed by hand into the accountancy and costings systems to produce quarterly accounts for the group.
“Stan Onslow was head of department, ably assisted by Philip Gaggs and Jack Wareing. Assistant accountant was Nick Whiteside, chief accountant Alf Hardy and general manager was a Mr Collins, followed by Ralph Stead.”
Howard says: “So where does this fit in with Blackpool Corporation? Some years earlier the County Borough of Blackpool ran the Gas Works before privatisation.
“I have a loose leaf binder and imprinted in embossed gold on the front is: County Borough of Blackpool Gas Department Wages – Division of Cost Summaries.
“Prior to Power Samas coming on stream, everything was carried out by hand.
“My dear late father, Frederick Charles Carter, was a keen philatelist, and rather than see the splendid binders thrown away, I rescued three of them to house my father’s stamp collection.
“Looking back on those days nobody was bothered about the preservation of items for future generations.”