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A few stories and history of my early years as a Mechanic, on the old ATL Melbourne Tote (Australia Circa 1976+)
By Don McKenzie My Early Tote Years - 1976-1988 | Industry Links | Acknowledgements | Julius History | A Few Stories | Betting Terminals in search of a good home | Doubles Betting Comes to Melbourne |

People Profiles | The Staff transfer from ATL to the TAB 1988 | TABLOID ATL Staff Photos 1989-1990 | Recent Photos | Email Correspondence | Win Place & Sting |

Introduction | Prologue | My Years Of Service | History in the Making, A.T.L. | The TIMs 1931-1980 | TIM Operation and Maintenance | The Tracks | Mornington and Pakenham | Mechanic! | Daily Maintenance and General Duties | Loading the TIMs | Unloading the TIMs | Machine Room Flemington | Flemington Machine Room, and New Years Eve | My Small Contributions | Industry Links | Acknowledgements |

Queensland Racing Interview on totalisator history conducted in the Eagle Farm Racing Museum. You Tube Video.

Click on image below to enlarge

These pages are a work in progress....... Commenced 30-Nov-2009

PHOTO (Above Left ) NAA: A1200, L1496
Title : Totalisators at Flemington racecourse, Melbourne Victoria. There are 146 (J6 TIM) totalisator issuing machines operating at Flemington Date : 1945

PHOTO (Above Right ) Julius ticket machine for 'forecast' bets on greyhound races, c 1933. The totalisator at Haringey greyhound racing stadium in the U.K., was a full-scale Julius machine installed three years after the stadium opened in 1927. It remained in use until the stadium closed in 1987. Science & Society Picture Library.

I intend looking at and reporting only the early years, the electro-mechanical days, of the Julius Tote systems in Victoria. This is the history that will vanish very quickly if someone like me doesn't record it now. Mention is made of the later day terminals, but I'll try and keep the scope of this article to my earliest, and best memories. There will be inaccuracies in my accounts, as my memory for names and places, isn't what it used to be.

I don't mind anyone passing on any information, or making corrections, grammar, spelling or otherwise, and I am more than prepared to add any words from anyone associated with the old electro-mechanical totes in Victoria, or Interstate for that matter. Even if you want to write a small article yourself, I'll add it to this archive. Any pictures of the old tote gear, the tote houses, and the staff, is lacking badly, so if anyone wishes to scan photos and send them to me, I know I'll be able to make good use of them. Read here for direct Email contact information.

If you ask ten people who were present at an event 30 years ago, about that event, you will get ten very different answers. The real truth will be a blend of those ten stories. This is Don McKenzie's version of the history of the Tote. It can be changed. Please,  just drop me an email, and tell me your version.

I reserve the right to edit any text that may be presented to me, as I don't wish to paint too big a negative picture of any individual. ATL, the TAB, and Individuals, all have skeletons in their closets, and once you put anything on a web page, it is in concrete, and people will believe it, even if it isn't true. To tell any sort of funny, or interesting story about a person may mean painting some sort of negative picture about that person, but that is about as far as I wish to go. I have found that I have had to bite my lip, and back off in certain areas. I may even find the need to edit a little more as this article grows. I'm sure the descendants of any tote staff mentioned, don't want to read about Grandma, or Grandpa displaying very bad signs of any anti-social behavior, during their years on the tote.



January 1976. I'm 32 years old and in between jobs so to speak. Working as a radio operator at Silver Top Taxis in Melbourne, when I get the call from ATL to join the team. I had just completed a job interview with Frank Dowdle the Chief Engineer, and Peter Kenyon the Victorian Branch Manager, and it looks like I convinced them that my mechanical and electronics knowledge is up to scratch, and that I am the right sort of person to enhance the technical group.

I know ATL is in the middle of a transitional period of development, and are moving into fully computerized systems that I want to be part of. I know I have to effectively do another apprenticeship, up though the ranks of the electro-mechanical operation, before I can get a start in the computer side of things. The other 1959 P.M.G. boys, now have a 10 or 11 years start on me.

As I had driven taxis for two years on what was called a hungry shift, that is, 7 nights a week for 12 hours a night, and had been a Brick Layers labourer for a short period, I didn't see anything that ATL could throw at me, as being any sort of a hurdle.

I knew ATL would throw plenty of hours at me, and a wheel barrow load of money each week. What I didn't know was that the electro-mechanical era was more akin to working as a mechanic on a motor vehicle. I found out why the old boys wore grey dust coats to protect their normal race day clothing, as the printers ink got into everything.

But the bottom line is, I really enjoyed these early years, the electro-mechanical equipment, and the people I worked with. I hope it shows up in the telling of these stories.


My Years Of Service
I started with ATL Melbourne on the 16th-Jan-1976, and retired with TABcorp on the 29th-Sep-1999. During this period, my job description went from "Tote Mechanic" to "Senior Systems Engineer".

Whenever I was asked how long I worked on the tote, I always said 25 years, as it was an easy answer. After doing the calculations for this article, I see it was really 23 years, 8 months, and a bit. So I am really short 15 months, and a bit. OK, it was a white lie. You know what a white lie is? When Bill Clinton pointed his finger down the barrel of a TV camera and said "I did not have sex with that woman", he told a white lie, and the people of America believed him. OK, would you believe they forgave him. That was also about a little bit.

If I spend another 15 and a bit months completing  this article, perhaps I can really say, "I worked on the tote for 25 years".

These days, you will find me running my Internet based Microcontroller Products Company at


History in the Making, A.T.L.

A reunion of past and present staff of Automatic Totalisators was held at Mergillina's, Elsternwick on Tuesday evening the 11th of September, 1984.

The occassion was a highly nostalgic event as those present represented a period commencing with the inception of the on-course Totalisator in Melbourne in 1931, through to the present day. The Guests of Honour were Alf Schloeffel, Les Strange, Gordon Collier, and Joe Waddington, all long time employees of the company, but now all retired. It was regretted that three of the other past senior staff namely, Bill Dick, Bob Davies, and Alf Pople could not be present on the night.

Peter Nelson opened proceedings by welcoming the guests and distributing various items of memorabillia. He then introduced Frank Dowdle who gave a short speech, using the theme, "The amazing Technological Change in the totalisator world over the past 50 years."

Following the brief formalities everyone relaxed and enjoyed an excellent meal and fine beverages. The festivities continued until after midnight and the evening proved to be an outstanding success.

Standing: Peter Collier, Brendan Dowdle, Mike Higgins, Henry Lynch, Harry Lane (back), Frank Dowdle, Gordon Collier (back), Don Passmore, Fred Escourt (hidden), Ian Dykes, Craig Alladice, Les Sellman. Front Row: Arthur Gardiner, Don McKenzie, Ken Crook, Alf Schloeffel, Joe Waddington.

Picture courtesy of Peter Collier.


The TIMs 1931-1980 (Ticket Issuing Machines)
J6 Electro-mechanical. 1931
J8 Electro-mechanical. 1948
J10 Electro-mechanical. 1955
J18 7400 TTL Logic. 1974
J25 6800 Micro 1980
PWT PC Motherboard Based 1992

The PWT first appeared in the country in late 1992, and the city tracks in 1993
J6 TIM (1931)
J8 TIM (1948)

J10 (1955) Doubles - Quinella Tote House
J10 TIM (1955) Doubles - Quinella

J25A TIM (1980) 6800 Microcontroller Based. J25T TIM (1980) 6800 Microcontroller Based.

J25A and J25T Differences

Our first batch of J25s were the "T" version, pictured right. We got about 70 of these, and had to cut out special bench spaces to fit them into a tote window, as much of the machine was designed below knee level. Possibly designed by a committee of zookeepers, who had never seen a racecourse, let alone a tote. Took two men to lift it, and it would never pack easily into a truck for transportation.

Phil White, (pictured left) an ATL Sydney Engineer, re-packaged the J25T into the J25A, pictured left. Used the same components, just a different layout, and a new case. Existing benches needed very little modification. We sold the 70 odd J25Ts to South Africa. I remember teaching Tony and Tony (from South Africa) as much as we could, about the terminals and the PDP 11/34 control equipment, during their 2 weeks stay with us. We only ever installed J25Ts at Olympic Park dog track.

The J25A keyboard folds up to close the case, which also fully protects the screen, keyboard, and prevents any dust from entering the reader and printer. The handle seen supporting the open keyboard, becomes the carrying handle when the unit is closed, and as we found out, we could stack these on my_early_tote_years.html of each other in a truck without any damage. Good one Phil.

(Chris Robertson 27-12-2009)
I saw the J25T in a TAB in Cape Town in September 1983. Makes sense to use them in an environment where they would hardly ever need to be moved.


James Brennan, President of the Western Australian Trotting Association (W.A.T.A.) demonstrating the new automatic tote, 1929. Believed to be a J5 TIM.

TIM Operation and Maintenance

The TIM was a machine to transmit the bet transaction to a set of counters. Upon successful completion of the recording of that bet, it was then used as a printing press, to print the ticket. The ticket had to have bet value, track, date, house abbreviation-window number, and pool type information. It also needed to be secure to smy_early_tote_years.html potential forgeries. This was done with a rotating code barrel, that changed the printed wording each race, and coded paper for individual races. Each TIM had a total ticket counter that was read by the government inspectors after each meeting, and tallied with the number of bets recorded by the counting equipment.


The Tracks
The tracks we serviced when I started were Flemington, Moonee Valley, Caulfield, Sandown, Showground Trots, Olympic Park Dogs, Sandown Dogs, Mornington, Pakenham, Yarra Glen, Cranbourne, Colac, Echuca, Sale, and Shepparton. Jim and Ray covered many other small country tracks in the mobile tote, which was a complete J8 portable tote mounted in a semi trailer.

(Chris Robertson 27-12-2009)
The Echuca and Shepparton venues were Trots. There is a separate Echuca racecourse that ATL did not service. Seymour should be included in the above list. Control Systems didn't take over from ATL at Seymour until the early 1980's. Seymour Cup Day (10 September 1980) was the last time I saw ATL there.

The last meeting where the J18 (MPV & TDQ) were used in Victoria might have been 9 February 1983, Colac Cup Day. By then the J25's had been introduced to the Port Phillip District Clubs that ATL serviced; and Noreast Totes, Control Systems and Gippsland Regional Tote had carved up the rest of the state.

PHOTO NAA: A1200, L2410
Title : J6 operating at Moonee Valley Racecourse.
Date : 1945

ATL commenced operation of Julius totalisator systems in Victoria, on the following dates:
Moonee Valley (MVRC) Wednesday Sat 19-August-1931
Williamstown Saturday 22-August-1931
Flemington (VRC) October-1931
Caulfield (VATC) 1931
Victorian Trotting and Racing Association, Ascot 1933
Mentone Turf Club, Melbourne 1936
Epsom Turf Club, Melbourne 1936
Pakenham Thursday 22-February-1940
Mornington Thursday 29-February-1940
Sandown Racecourse 19-June-1965

Each course had J6 TIMs installed, and a machine room constructed along the same lines as the one at Flemington. Always one floor above the terminals. At Moonee Valley, this was above "Paddock A", much the same as Flemington, with a win-place odds board at the front. A machine room was built above the "Guinea's Tote" at Caulfield, again with a win-place odds display facing the punters. I have no additional information on the others, as these have long since vanished as racecourses with totalisators.

When installed, Sandown Racecourse was based on a Mobile Electro-Mechanical Semi-Trailer Totalisator for Win-Place Betting using J8s, and had Doubles and Quinella punch tape systems installed inside the control room that tallied the transactions from the J10 D-Q TIMs.

Prior to the Sandown Races installation, (19-Jun-1965) all other existing city courses had been converted across from the great big original Julius Tote machine rooms, to the new Mobile Win-Place van, and the D-Q punch tape systems.


Click on image left to download the 1930 "PREMIER TOTE (JULIUS)"  25 page flyer. (7.7Mb PDF)

Document courtesy of Peter Collier.

Mornington and Pakenham
The machine room still existed at the Mornington club when I last visited around 1990, but the Pakenham one had been demolished. When it was in operation, I remember we had to transport the full Julius Tote equipment between these two race tracks, and it was all up a flight of very steep stairs. The mechanical adders were hauled up by a rope, no pulleys, a direct pull. An ink stained rope and a steel hook. Everything associated with a Julius Tote was ink stained, with a liberal coating of oil and grease. (We always made sure that the TIM itself was spotlessly clean from an operators point of view). The GT adders were killers, as they weighed so much more than the standard counter adders.

Basically, the Old Boys were still running these systems right up until the end of the life of the systems, and they were now getting into their 60s and 70s. They needed a bit of fresh blood to help with the heavy haul between tracks. I was around 33 at the time, and really enjoyed seeing, and being involved in the operation of this very early Julius Tote.

Alf Schloeffel described to me, the method of transportation of the equipment, and the work force, when Pakenham and Mornington first opened. The clubs transported all of the tote equipment between courses, (which they did for the life of the system) and ATL supplied a four door tourer car, with a canvas my_early_tote_years.html, which I believe was a 1934 Chevrolet. This had large running boards, that proved extremely useful for transporting mechanic's tool boxes. Must have been quite a trip in the early 1940s.

During WWII, the Totalisator was considered an essential service, and all technical employees were given an exemption from joining the armed services.


Mechanic!, Mechanic!
The yell goes out. Mechanic!, Mechanic! It was the call used by the sellers to get a Technician in a hurry. I didn't know if I had to find a spare wheel, or a set of spark plugs to fetch back to the damsel in distress. The Technician was known as Mechanic for many years, even well into the PC era. I'll bet I still heard it as I strolled through a tote house in 1999, the year I retired.

Learning the TIMs, My Training Grounds
Ray Johnston taught me the basic raceday operation,  mechanics, and maintenaince of the J8, J10, and 18 Tims. Ken Crook. and Peter Nelson, the electrical side of things, and Graeme Twycross, the TTL logic of the J18s. I found most of the techs very willing to help out during a spare moment, with teaching the skills needed to keep these monsters going. Much of this equipment was very dated, even for 1976. The J8's went back to 1948, and the J6's that we were still using at Mornington and Pakenham were around 1931 vintage.

The Interstate Tote  (A.K.A. Allan's Giggle Palace) was my initial training ground, which intoduced me to J8 Win-Place Betting, and control equipment.
Arthur, and the DQ Tote  My Doubles-Quinella apprenticeship. This used J10 TIMs, and Punch Tape Recorders and Readers.


Daily Maintenance and General Duties

As well as the general TIM maintenance, the most labour intensive task, and most dreaded, was the inking of the ribbons on every terminal. Each machine had an ink-able ribbon about 50 feet long and two inches wide. Anyone familiar with the operation of a typewriter ribbon will know the principle. A set of levers and ratchets keep the ribbon moving from one end, then reversing to the other end, so that the printing press portion of the TIM is correctly inked.

These ribbons were pulled out of the ratchet driven bobbins, and into plastic rubbish bins. A paint brush, a tin of black printers ink, and a set of rubber gloves, was used to manually paint the full length of the ribbons, which were then re-wound back into the TIMs. This was from the J6s right through to the J18s.

The terminals were a printing press. This meant that every terminal on the racecourse had to be "loaded" with the correct type. For security reasons, this was generally done less than 24 hours before the actual meeting. Loading a machine meant installing a value, house, window number, and pool slide, a code barrel, and a date strip. Much the same as an old fashion printer would typeset a printing press. The code barrel had three positions. The date strips were a strip of lead with tiny countersunk screws at each end. Very fine and fiddly to install and remove.

Ticket Printing Type Explanation Using the example ticket

Race Change
The TIMs also had to be set to race 1. This was done by winding the race change solenoid fully anti-clockwise. This also carried the code barrel, and was activated from a central control panel. In the ticket example, the "RACE 6 HAGUT" is the printing type controlled by the race change solenoid

(Chris Robertson 27-12-2009)
On two separate occasions at Flemington I was sold tickets bearing the wrong race number and codeword (this was before your time). I can remember a sceptical tote house manager looking at me as though I was from another planet when I tried to collect on the second occasion (the earlier time the bets were no good). Thankfully the papercode vindicated my claim. It turned out that when the machines were locked at the start of the race, the machine I was betting on kept issuing, while jumping forward to next race and codeword. There is more to this story, but it won't make it into print! It was an interstate race, by the way.

Date Strip
"18 11 74" is the lead date strip that had to be screwed onto a printing plate with two very tiny counter sunk screws.

Pool House Window Value Plate.
"$6 Australian 19" This information varied a little with different TIMs, but for the J8, you would normally display value, tote house name, and window number.

This is specific bet details that was selected by the operator, (seller) of the machine. It could select win or place, and runners from one to twenty four, as well as print a self-test ticket.


Loading the TIMs

Picture courtesy of Peter Collier.
J10 Type Flemington
J18 Type Trotting Control Board
J18 Type Sandown Park
J8 Slide Sandown Park
J10 Slide Flemington
J8 Slide TCB Show Grounds
J18 Date Strips 29th Nov 1976

Previously I have briefly explained that each terminal was an electro-mechanical printing press, and each one had to be effectively typeset, just like any ink printing press. In Victoria from 1931 until
1983 each TIM had to be loaded with suitable type, which included many security features. With the introduction of the J25 (Motorola 6800) TIM, came thermal printers on the city tracks in 1980. This meant that this labor intensive chore was phased out over a period of time, until the very last J18 operation at Colac on the 9th February 1983.

As Saturday Races was an ongoing and the most common racing fixture, I'll explain the TIM loading procedure for a typical Saturday meeting.

Friday mornings:
We would have the final sellers listing and the date pieces would be in the locked cupboard in the main tote house along with the rest of the type.

Frank Dowdle the Chief Engineer, would generally come out on Friday mornings, as most of the team would be sitting around a table getting the type ready. It gave him the opportunity to go over any last minute changes, and chat with the key personnel regarding equipment movements for the following week. Before he left, he would collect our weekly time sheets for the previous 7 days work input. As I recall, Ray Johnston held the record for most hours worked. With penalty adjustments, this came to 130 hours for the record winning week.

The procedure to load the J8s, J10s, and J18s, was almost the same however the J18 differed slightly with the date pieces. The two lead "arrow headed" date strips shown above in the bottom right of the picture are for the J18. These slid into the machine, and had a spring loaded locking clip which sat on the groove near the knurled end of the strip pictured at the right hand end.

The J8s and J10s needed small date strips screwed to the main ID plate. Above the J18 arrows is a J10 slide, and the two pictured to the left of these are J8 slides. Again, these had the date strips screwed onto them. Above these are J18 ID strips, and the very top one looks like part of a J10 slide.

Each tote house had a wooden box that contained the TIM type required for each tote house. All boxes were gathered from the locked cupboard and placed in the middle of a large table, along with the correct code barrels. All available staff would join in setting up the type. The TIM total could range from 150 up to 500 terminals for a Saturday meeting.

We would have a paper list, code barrel number, and code barrel position. The J8 and J10 date pieces would need screwing onto the ID slides with two tiny counter sunk screws, and placed back into the tote house wooden box along with the correct number of J18 arrow date pieces, plus the correct number of code barrels.

To get the printers ink from our hands after this type setting procedure, we used an industrial liquid hand cleaner gel white soap, that was provided in a tin can, about 4 to 5 litres in capacity. You plunged your hand into the can and came up with a fist full of this gooey soap, which did a reasonable job of removing the ink, but left you with a distinct smell, that usually needed a conventional wash up with standard soap to bring you back to bearable levels to get you through the day.

Upon completion, the boxes would be returned to the cupboard, and secured again. For added security, the interstate tote had a different paper list and code barrel for each state.

If it was an 8 race meeting, the running security list would look something like Paper "QAZWSXED", Code Barrel 32, Position 2. You would have the barrels all packed up into the wooden boxes at this point, however the paper would still need to be stacked next to each TIM in every tote house. There was a large paper cupboard in every tote house, and this was usually stocked up during the week.

Fridays, the paper according to the paper list, would be stacked in order on top of the selling benches, to the right of every TIM, with the first race at the top of the stack. This could be quite a big job and often a separate team would be dispatched to concentrate on this, rather than work on setting up the type.

Saturday Race Mornings:
Around 08:00 the team would arrive, the secure cupboard would be unlocked, and the wooden boxes placed onto the large table. If I was working the Interstate, I would grab the two Interstate boxes, and head off to the Interstate tote house. Every TIM in the tote house would need to be lifted into the upright position to load the machines. There was a locking mechanism, like a fold up table hinge, that allowed each one to be easily locked in the vertical position.

I would run along and lift every machine into the air first. Then I would go along and load the type into each machine, make sure the code barrel was keyed into the correct position of three possibilities, drop the machine back to normal, and place the first race roll of paper onto the paper bobbin under the TIM, and feed it up into the TIM. Much like you would feed a printing calculator today.

Then I would take a test ticket off every TIM, make sure the race change was set to race one, go upstairs and check my control equipment, before taking off to the next nearest tote house that hadn't been loaded. We usually planned in advance, what direction we would go next, as the idea was to all end up in the last tote house together, and be able to say that the course has been fully loaded with type.

After this, we would meet back at the big table that was also the morning tea area. Peter Nelson in these days was the roving technician, and it was part of his duties to check all test tickets for correct type, code barrel word, date, and paper. He wasn't allocated a tote house like everyone else, but would be sent where there was an additional need during the day. Graeme Twycross was also rostered as the Rover on many occasions. I scored this job a few times towards the end of the electro-mechanical days.

So the house technician checked the ticket, the roving technician checked it, the house supervisor also checked it, and finally the seller checked it. How in the world we could start off with one or two tickets wrong occasionally was beyond us with so many checks, but with so many variables, it was possible and did happen from time to time.

In the PDP 11/40 days, manual software patches would be done to the selling line up, so every selling window has to be checked against the software changes. The paper tape manually loaded via a tape reader, had to be checked to make sure they were loaded correctly, then matched against the test tickets.

The rover also had to have reasonable skills to be able to assist with most problems that part time technicians may have problems with, or lack knowledge, or simply be bogged down with serious failures. These failures could range way outside general terminal problems, and may include power or selling line outages, odds indicators, or phone communications failures.


Unloading the TIMs:
Again, explained from a Saturday race meeting point of view.

After the last race, it was the job of the technician rostered to work in a specific tote house, to unload all TIMs in that tote. As I generally had the interstate tote, I had to wait for two separate pools to close, as Sydney and Adelaide would normally finish at different times to the Melbourne pool.

Unloading was much the reverse procedure to the loading of the TIMs. Throw all TIMs in the air. On each TIM, pull out the race change spindle far enough to catch the the code barrel and race wheel, then remove the code barrel from the keyed interlock with the race wheel, replace the race wheel back up into the machine, and push the race spindle back home to lock the race wheel into position. Remove the ID Type, and on J18s, remove the date arrows.

You didn't even need to look after a while, as you could do this in your sleep. Reminded me of stripping down a weapon in the Army. You knew it so well, you could feel your way through the task.

The TIMs could then be laid back down into the bench, with all type placed on the bench beside the TIM. Last race paper would be removed and returned to the paper cupboard, and the paper bobbin, pushed back into the TIM for transportation.

The TIM also had to be unplugged. This was done by sliding the TIM out of the bench by about 6 inches, and unplugging it from the rear. The J8 had four similar plugs, the J10 two similar plugs, and the J18 had two. These were a power cord, and a large data cable.

When you have a handful of very inky TIM type back at your local work bench area, you then remove the date strips on the J8 and J10s by unscrewing the tiny counter sunk screws. You then break all lead date strips in half, and place all type, and barrels back into the wooden box.

You had two house phones, a Tech's phone, and an Admin phone, that also had to be placed into the box to be returned to a central location. These ended up covered in ink as well.

On top of this, there may be other duties to be carried out, before you can take off back to the main tote. Many odds indicators had portable relay boxes than were transported between course, and these had to be unplugged. If you had one or more in your rostered tote house, then you had to unplug these. These additional chores would be listed on your daily work sheet.

The main infield tote was usually unplugged by either the roving technician, or a technician rostered close to the indicator. These sorts of jobs were sometimes worked out on the run so to speak, as conditions varied with finishing times, and perhaps casual staff rostered that may not be familiar with the task, and other factors.

If I was working interstate, I would have to unplug two sets of control equipment as well, as they usually got moved on a Monday morning. If I had an early finish, I may even pack up the control equipment, and get my technician, Joe Waddington to assist me downstairs with some of it.

When you have your box of type, or boxes if you have many smaller totes, your two phones, your tools, and your grubby, inky hands, you would then return to the central location where the lockable cupboard was located. The roving Technician would count and check your type, and place it back into the cupboard.

The casual Techs would generally then take off home, and the permanents, would double check that all tote houses checked were actually back in, and all odds indicator boxes unplugged. If things didn't add up, such as a house hadn't been unloaded, a small team would be dispatched to finish the job. The real problem was, there were so many tiny tote houses, and many little 2 or 3 window totes, that may only be open for a few meetings a year, or wired up for one special meeting.

Sometimes temporary wiring had to be packed up, and returned. If it was a Marque, TIMs, phones, and other gear may also need to be moved back to a safe location. The rules changed at every meeting, and we had to adapt, and cover it all.

After everything has been checked, and all type secured, you could then wash up by dipping your fist once again, into the murky bucket of soap. And if this wasn't enough, you can go and do it all again tonight at the trot meeting. And if you are very bad, you get to load the truck up with more J18 TIMs to drive across to the night trot meeting.

Saturdays for me was always around 08:00 to 00:00 on the track, then you could add your traveling time to it.

Then some smart bugger came up with Sunday races, and because we didn't get a 10 hour break, we were on permanent penalty rates. As I say, the money was great, the hours and working conditions, extremely harsh at times.

How many times would you be washing your hands in a day? If you did two meetings on a Saturday, in theory it would be 4 times, but in practice with doing repairs, opening up extra TIMs, and other unscheduled changes and maintenance, it could be up to a dozen times I would think. You always attempted to keep the face of all TIMs spotless, as they were always operated by lovely young ladies, all dressed up to go to the races.


Sir George Julius inspecting the electro-mechanical tote at Flemington (VRC) in 1931

The Old Machine Room Flemington

I knew this room extremely well. It was built on a very solid steel frame with fibro cement (AKA Fibre Cement, yes the one with asbestos) ceiling and walls, (almost everything was fibro in those days) and a timber floor. The old tote was stripped out, however you could still see the mounting hardware, and some left over equipment hanging on the walls and ceiling, that was never fully removed. This very large room was used as a VRC storeroom, a Technicians workshop area, and HQ for the video people. Over the years, various little rooms were built, and sometimes removed.

To the right of where Sir George is standing, was the tote indicator win-place odds board. This basically covered the complete wall, and indicated the Win-Place betting fluctuations to the public. Paddock "A" selling house tote was immediately below this room, and the steepest old wooden staircase you would ever care to imagine, joined the two areas together. Many a young lass had slipped on the stairs. We usually warned anyone not familiar with them to grab the handrail solidly. The tote control area was upstairs, and with the main tote downstairs, so there was plenty of traffic on this staircase. Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) would have a field day at any racecourse I took them to 35 years ago.


Flemington Machine Room, and New Years Eve.
Flemington always had a New Years Day meeting, which without fail, always followed a race meeting at a city course. This meant shifting the complete tote, the control gear, the TIMs, the indicators, and the technical staff, and it all had to happen straight after the meeting on the 31st of December.  The tote technical circus would pack up, jump into cars, trucks, semi-trailers, and we would dash across to Flemington to set everything up, test it, and get the type ready to load the machines for new years day. Between racecourses, we would have a bite to eat on the run. Someone usually sped off, and picked up fish and chips or similar, for tea for the whole troupe, while we went ahead to set everything up. This procedure wasn't just one day a year, it happened on many occasions, but New Years Eve was very special.

You know New Years Eve. It's the time to be spent with friends and family, ringing in the New Year. New Yorkers may be watching the big ball drop in Times Square, Sydney Siders may venture out to see the massive fireworks display on the Harbour Bridge, and watch from around the beautiful harbour. Others may simply be sitting at home watching it all on TV, having a drink with the misses, and setting off a few fireworks with the kids.

Not the tote boys. Many, many times I remember being up to my elbows in printers ink, in that room (pictured above) that Sir George was inspecting in 1931, and pouring a glass of champagne, right on the stroke of midnight. The main idea was to finish the job at ten or eleven at night, so we could drive to our homes, or where the family party was being held, and ring in the new year. But it didn't always happened that way. You may get to where you want to be by one, or two in the morning. Then after you do all that, guess what? You try and get a bit of sleep, because you have to be back at Flemington early to do it all again.

Cranbourne Races and New Years Day


Picture courtesy of Peter Collier.

Click on Picture at left for a larger view.

Some of my small contributions to the old electro-mechanical Tote System.

1977 Auto Inking Bobbin
From 1917, ATL staff had been hand-inking ribbons on their TIMs. Many man-hours were spent pulling the ribbons out of the bobbins of the machines, and into plastic rubbish bins, before inking with a paintbrush. This procedure is covered elsewhere in this article. I came up with an ink-able felt roller fitted to the machine, which took all of 15 seconds to ink each machine, and was used successfully until the introduction of thermal printers on the J25s, which took place in 1980 on the city courses, and 1983 around the country tracks.

1978 High Speed Counter Tote
We had two portable Counter Totes. Basically one for the city interstate tracks, and one for the country. These were very slow systems, possibly 250ms a bet, or four bets a second. Each bet represented a 50 cent transaction. Relay logic was used to allow each TIM access to the counters for the time required to place each bet. Say we had a $10 TIM (20 counts on the counter), 2 by $2 Tims, and 8 by 50 cent TIMs. A total of thirty six 50-cent bets. During heavy betting periods, this would represent a 9 second delay, before the next machine could issue a ticket.

I had a reasonable amount of relay logic experience from my days in P.M.G telephone exchanges, and I came up with a new relay access box, and two additional counter boxes, that allowed the $10 bets to go through as a single bet. It meant that instead of a single pair of counters, one for win, and one for place, we had two sets. One set that counted $10 bets, and the other set counted 50-cent bets. The dividend and odds calculator staff then had to adjust their figures correctly to suit. Made this baby counter tote really scream along. The $10 TIM could now bet at $40 a second, instead of $10 every 9 seconds. That is close to 40 times the speed of the original $10 TIM. Never missed a beat.

1979 Video Display of Win-Place Odds and Dividends
In early 1979, I purchased possibly Australia's First PC, an off the shelf TRS-80 Computer. One of the applications I wanted to develop was some sort of portable Video Tote Odds Display, and I quickly had this up and running. The individual horse totals were fed into the system via a keyboard, a one person operation, and a full set of win and place odds, horse totals, and grand totals, were displayed on a video monitor. It would now be very easy to distribute this video output to other locations on the racecourse. It also had the ability to display a full set of accurate dividends. I had hoped to interface to J8 TIMs, so that it could become a portable micro tote. I understood that ATL Sydney had a 6800-based micro tote under development during this period.

To cut a long story short, it appears I offended the current engineering management, because of the way I went about introducing this product, and was discouraged to the point of shelving the idea. Some time after this, Ron Snell (pictured elsewhere, as a VATC Racing Administrator) was tied in with Cranbourne Dog Racing. They were using a manual ticketing system, and could really use some sort of video tote odds display, so Ron approached me. With ATL's sanction, I sold a software package to Cranbourne, and they successfully used the system until the introduction of an ATL J25 system many years later. The new system, what we called a "Stat Mux", was designed and built by Peter Collier, and interfaced back to the new VOTS system at Moonee Valley.


Industry Links
George Julius, Australia's Father Of Scientific & Industrial Research.
Brian Conlon's web site devoted to Automatic Totalisators Ltd.
Powerhouse Museum Automatic totalisator.
An Unlikely History of Australian Computing: the Reign of the Totalisator
CSIRAC Australia's first electronic digital computer
The World's First Large-Scale, Multi-User, Real Time System.
Was George Julius the inspiration for CSIRAC, Australia's first electronic digital computer?
My Early Tote Years - Don McKenzie
Is This Australia's First PC?
Betting Terminals in search of a good home


Acknowledgment to Contributions:
Brian Conlon, Neville Mitchell, Mick Gulovsen, Trevor Perkins, Chris Robertson, Peter Collier, Kevin Johnston, Ron Cooper, Cliff Ellen, Graeme Twycross,