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What is a Paddle?

The Pacific Bus Museum has a membership newsletter called The Paddle. This newsletter predates the PBM and goes back to its predecessor the West Coast Motor Coach Society, and was started ~1984.

But, why is it called The Paddle?

PBM Member Tim Evans provides some explanation in his story, called “Paddles”, which  he wrote for the April/May 2020 edition of The Paddle:


By Tom Evans

My first paddle experiences probably involved the ping pong kind, inasmuch as my father administered his discipline using a leather belt. Then there was a game owned by my high school and utilized during lunch break called box hockey. Several long rollers were inserted through holes in the sides of the box to which small paddles were affixed. These rollers were rotated ferociously by the players during a game. A ball was on the floor of the box, and there were cutout places on each end allowing the ball to exit after a player got off a well aimed hit with one of the paddles. When this occurred I suppose it constituted a goal.

Finally there were the varnished wooden paddles hanging on walls throughout my college fraternity house. These had Greek letters burned into the wood denoting the name of the fraternity. As freshmen we were led to believe that these would be used to administer discipline, the object being to instill fear and compliance in us. When we were later initiated into the fraternity, each of us received our personal paddle.

But the focus here is on the paddles used by transit companies everywhere which display a listing of time points and other information pertaining to the itinerary of a bus run for the drivers’ use. Various terms are used for bus run – block number, schedule number, train number, coach run, etc. The paddle will typically be issued each day to the regular or extra operator covering the run or “tripper” that day.

My first job as a transit driver was operating the “Library Bus” on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington, Indiana, during my senior year at the University. My employer was Leppert Bus Lines, the local transit operator. The Library Bus was a six-night-a-week assignment, with Saturday night off. During my initial departure from the library I’d likely be enjoying a sausage pizza and Pepsi as I somehow drove. The bus departed the library at 6:00 PM and every twenty minutes thereafter on a circular route around the campus, with the last departure at 10:40 PM. Running time was about seventeen minutes, and there were no intermediate time points. Hence there was no need for a paddle for this job.

That summer (of 1962) after graduation I worked as an operator for the Indianapolis Transit System. I was in the big time, and during training I was introduced to paddles for the first time. The paddle at ITS was not unlike the advertising frame on the rear of the buses; a metal frame with lips on all four edges. There were notches at each end of the bottom, allowing cards to be inserted upward into the frame, and gravity held the cards in place. “The paddles in Indianapolis were something like 5″ x 12”, and the fascinating thing to me was that, when installed in the provided brackets attached to the dashboard, the paddle entirely obscured the gauges and warning lights. The only remaining safeguard preventing the driver from unknowingly operating a bus with no brakes was the low air buzzer. provided it was working. Same for the oil pressure and temperature gauges. (This would not have been a problem on the Denver Tramway New Look Flxibles. which had no dashboards!) I had four of them in San Diego. The entire instrumentation on them was the vertical row of idiot lights mounted between the left corner windshield and the driver’s window, plus of course the warning buzzer. Thus there was plenty of space for the paddle and the driver’s left foot in the area where the dashboard was normally placed.

I never met the schedule writer who hand lettered the time cards in Indianapolis, but l imagine a stooped, elderly employee with a green eyeshade working away at his desk somewhere. His/her lettering was neat and consistent, if slanted. But the worst thing about the readability of the paddles was that the time cards were reproduced using a spirit duplicator. The ink color was lavender, as the older reader may remember from his grade school days, when papers prepared by the teachers always featured that same faded out lavender color. In the dim interior light in the old look buses, where most drivers extinguished the front row of lights (which were on a separate switch), it was extremely difficult to make out the printing on the paddles.

At the end of that summer we moved to California and I became employed as a driver at Santa Monica Municipal Bus Lines. William F. Farell, a former National City Lines manager from Texas, was the general manager at SMMBL. Joseph A. Cooper was the schedule supervisor. Joe too had been a NCL employee in Texas, Port Arthur in his case.

Joe produced his “coach runs” on 8½ x 11 paper on which he’d personally typewritten the time points. He made Xerox copies of the coach runs. White was for weekday schedules, and blue and yellow paper identified the Saturday and Sunday schedules. The paper coach runs were expendable; Joe always kept additional copies on hand. This allowed each driver to individualize his sheets, folding or cutting them into whatever configuration met his needs, also entering his girl friend’s phone number or other vital information along the margins. I liked Joe’s method, and when later I needed to produce schedules for drivers I usually did the same.

Next I took a job with Fort Wayne Transit in Indiana. There the schedules were hand typed, then glued onto a lightweight fiber board of some type. The Fort Wayne dispatcher sat behind a window similar to an old time bank teller’s window, where he dispensed rolls of coins for use in making change for passengers and also the appropriate paddle as drivers signed in.

Before long I bought Leppert Bus Lines, my onetime employer in Bloomington, Indiana. In addition to the Library Bus, the transit system there consisted of three loop routes, each of which operated every thirty minutes from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM. The routes converged on the southeast corner of the courthouse square. There were no Intermediate time points on any of the routes, and the drivers were not required to wear watches. The driver of the South Rogers bus could look ahead a block and a half to the Monroe County State Bank, which had a large clock atop a post standing on the sidewalk near the curb. When the minute hand reached the 6 or 12, the South Rogers driver de-parted. When they heard his exhaust, the other two drivers departed too. At least one of the drivers, Don Wilson, couldn’t read, but he could comprehend the hands on the bank clock.

Almost two years later we inaugurated the Campus Bus System on the Indiana University camous. Those four routes did have several time points, and I used the Joe Cooper paddle program. I hand typed the schedules and, having no copier, took them to the local office supply store where they made copies for us.

My next stop was a return to Fort Wayne Transit. I began as a Staff Assistant,” but soon inherited the schedule department when Ed Vonderau returned to driving. Ed had hand typed his paddles, a laborious process requiring typing a replacement each time a paddle disappeared or was damaged. At the time, copiers were just entering the workplace in a big way. The Cadillac of copiers was the Xerox, mostly because it copied onto plain paper. Most of the other copiers at that time were electrostatic copiers, which required a special coated paper.

The cost of purchasing a desktop Xerox copier then was more than $5,000.00. In today’s dollars, that would exceed $35,000.00. Xerox had a lease program. but even the lease program was expensive. So at FWT I decided on an SCM machine. SCM was the successor to the old Smith Corona typewriter company. and their conier was of the electrostatic type, and affordable.

I produced new masters for all the paddles, and made copies, which I pasted onto the fiber board, pretty much as my predecessor had done. But now it a replacement was needed it was a simple matter to make one. I was quite proud of my improved procedure until about noon of the first day the new paddles were in use. Here’s what happened: As the sun’s rays (intensified as they passed through the bus’s windshield against which the paddle was resting) warmed the paddles, the coated paper quickly turned quite brown, totally obliterating all of the copy on the paddle. In the end we had to lease a small Xerox machine. At least it was useful in general office, as well as schedule, work, and that helped justify its cost.

During later employment in Everett, Washington and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois I employed the Joe Cooper paddlemaking method. A number of years later when our “Bus That Goes In Circles” operation in San Diego won some transit contracts, I again followed Joe Cooper’s lead. In all these places I also hand typed passenger timetable copy which I submitted to the printer.

Later in life I had a nineteen-year railroad career, including fifteen years as an Amtrak engineer. At Amtrak the conductor is responsible for the departures, giving a radio or hand signal to the engineer when it’s time to depart. But in my experience many conductors delegated that task to the engineer when leaving a station where there had been significant “dwell” time. For instance, in Spokane, Washington, where I spent most of my Amtrak vears. there were long dwell times of from thirly five minutes to more than an hour. This is because in Spokane the big train from Chicago splits into two sections. one bound for Porland and the other. for Seattle. Eastbound the two arriving trains from Portland and Seattle have to be combined into a single train for the continuation of the trip to Chicago. The switching can be time consuming, and there’s other work including load tests on the locomotives and refilling water tanks in the cars. Also there are crew changes in Spokane.

So, frequently, when the outbound conductor and his assistant have completed the air tests and passenger boardings, the conductor will radio the engineer to “highball on time.” Then he’ll turn his attention to his newspaper, leaving it to the engineer to make an on-time departure.

As in the intercity bus business, there are no paddies at Amtrak. In both instances, the passenger timetable is used. In my case I relied on a Timex watch from Walmart which cost me less than thirty dollars, yet which was highly accurate. Having in the past owned an official railroad approved lever set, twenty one jewel pocket watch, I can attest that the Timex is more reliable. Nonetheless, I sometimes wondered what my passengers would have thought as we sped through the night, had they known that the schedule of their train was being maintained by a twenty-seven dollar Timex watch. Not to mention the presence of an aging bus fan alone at the helm! *

* On Amtrak trains there is no fireman or second engineer assigned to trips of less than six hours.

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