Designs Left By Conductors' Punches Almost As Varied As SnowflakeEach conductor's punch - like every snowflake has a different design. It seems incredible, but the two major Canadian railways can produce a total of just under 7,000 different kinds of punches. Nobody has counted the different kinds of snowflakes, incidentally.
Published 30 January 1954
"Each punch, like a human fingerprint, leaves a mark that has no duplicate" says Bill Howard of the Canadian National Railways Accounting System
He goes on to say that the variety of punch marks is part of the railway's accounting systems.
"The hole the conductor punched in your ticket may be the outline cf a lady's head, a high button shoe or a top hat," he said.
"In any event, it will be unique" he sums up.
The Canadian Pacific, according to Marc McNeil, its spokesman, has at least 3,000 different punches.
"It is true that every punch is different. They last about ten years on an average - but sometimes they see a train conductor through his whole career."
When a Canadian Pacific conductor ends his days and retires, he turns in his punch. But down in New Brunswick not so long ago, a conductor asked to be allowed to keep his punch for sentimental reasons. The CPR granted this wish.
But if a commuter conductor leaves his suburban run, he is obliged to turn in his punch immediately. From this law there is no deviation.
Thus if a "con" were working the Montreal-Rigaud run he would carry a conductor's commuter punch. But should he be transferred to the Montreal-Ottawa run - even though he was still operating on part of the same line - he would have to turn in commuter's punch.
A Sort Of Signature
The punch is a sort of signature; an auditor on either the CNR or the CPR could look at a ticket and say
"Smith must be sick: I see Jones is on the Ottawa run these davs."
The commuter's punch is one that knocks a big square in a ticket. Since suburban tickets have a time element usually, the punch punches out a date or a numher. It is rough and ready, but accurate book keeping.
On the Canadian National, these conductor's punches have more than once proved an auditor's best friend. Suppose a man buys a ticket from Ottawa to Winnipeg and for some reason gets off at Capreol. Then he puts in for a refund. The application for refund goes with the ticket.
Out of Ottawa, according to the CNR, "the conductors will leave their punch marks, a horse shoe."
The auditors duly check the ticket, note said horse shoe, and recognize the horse shoe as belonging to the conductor west of Ottawa. If there are no punch marks other than the horse shoe, it means that the ticket has not been punched west of Capreol. This is added evidence that the passenger did not use the rest of his ticket. A refund thus is in order.
These ticket punches are carefully guarded. Just as an employe today in many instances is fingerprinted, so does the auditor of passenger accounts on the CNR keep what is known "The Record of Ticket Punches"
The Canadian Pacific has a similar system where even the feel of the punch gets to be known. Thus the passenger traffic bureau in Windsor station has a sort of record of punches in Braille.
The railway reaches far for punch designs; a star, a mushroom, a half moon, a hatchet, an anchor, a fish, a trowel, and even a horse's head are all symbols the railways use.
In fact it keeps the snowflakes hustling to think up more designs than the railways use.