AJC Pay Day and Reminiscences

I recall when, as a 15-year-old Electrical Apprentice with the Australasian Jam Company (AJC) in Chapel Street, Prahran, I saw a very old sign remaining on the wall of the antiquated pay office:

No blaspheming
No swearing
No gambling
Bring your own coal for heating

I was required to visit the pay office weekly with a circular bronze token about the size and thickness of a fifty cent piece. On one surface, there was a stamped number with my unique payroll ID: “Number 19”.

This was handed to me weekly by my immediate boss, the Head Electrician, thus establishing the chain of authority and appropriate levels of status.

After waiting in the pay queue for some time, I was required to hand the brass token over a very worn wooden windowsill to the paymaster ensconced behind.

The Paymaster, whose head was the only visible feature, reached behind to take my “Number 19” pay packet off the wall and passed it to me over the counter.

It was very Dickensian, but then the whole factory was frozen in time, preferring the methods of old rather than moving too quickly into the 20th Century. It had been there a long time and successfully so.

In fact, when I began as an apprentice in the factory, many machines were still driven by steam engines drawing their power from an overhead pulley system to which all the machines were attached by long, flapping leather belts. It was my job as part of the electrical team to convert them all to individual electric motors.

Unfortunately, at the time, there were continual outages of power in the local area stopping the factory from producing. Therefore, the Head Engineer had a brainwave and purchased a second-hand, 300-horsepower steam engine to drive a stand-by alternator that the Electrical Department was required to assemble.

On the first day of testing the steam engine, it was found that the main bearing was considerably worn and had a main bearing “knock”.
This “knock” could not only be heard but also felt through one’s shoes right throughout the factory. So, after dismantling the steam engine, new white metal bearings were fitted and all worked well.

But a steam engine cannot start from cold (something the Chief Engineer had embarrassingly forgotten). It took a whole forty-five minutes for the steam cylinders to be brought up to temperature with very hot steam running through them and thus the factory was left again without production.

(To have started the engine cold would have meant the steam turning quickly to water in the cylinder head and, as water does not compress, the head would have blown clear off!)

So back to the drawing board and eventually modernisation could not be fought off any longer and a diesel motor replaced the elegant but impractical steam engine.

As an interesting aside and recalling how long the Jam Factory had provided employment for local people in South Yarra some 20 years before, my father-in-law, George, had stood in a queue which was some 50-men long outside a factory for a job paying boy’s wages. This was the only job available, as it was in depression times. In fact, most of the jobs left available then were “boy’s wages only”. He was unsuccessful on that occasion and had to chop wood to survive. George worked in the Jam Factory with me much later.

Images relating to the AJC are:

AJC Label: Princes Jams

The Australasian Jam Factory Circa 1950

AJC Pay Day and Reminiscences

Tom Newman

Frankston, Australia

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