A little bit of history: cash railways (not the usual type of railway I post about)

I’d been told this segment was coming up on Coxy’s Big Break, and it finally aired on Sunday: a look at the cash railways at the shop I worked at part-time as a teenager, Hattams in Elsternwick.

Apparently these are some of the few still working cash railways in Victoria. They were common in medium to larger shops early last century, as a way for money to be relayed to a central cashier, and change sent back.

For more on cash railways, check the Cash Railway web site.

  • Completely unrelated: The Age has an article today about new Myki gates being no faster than the hybrid Metcard/Myki “frankenbarriers” they replaced. This is based on this great blog post from earlier in the week by Marcus Wong. Well worth a read.

Simple jobs

Here’s another blog post inspired by a discussion with the kids.

Relatively simple things, it appears, can also be quite profitable.

Back when I worked at Hattams as a 16-17 year-old, the alterations for trousers and jackets and things were done by a bloke called Telly who lived up the road. Trouser shortening was $5, in most cases passed-on to the customer. Sometimes I’d be tasked with taking the trousers etc up to Telly. It turned out all those alterations, many at $5 each (and no doubt similar minor jobs from other places) had managed to fund an enormous house (and this was in Elsternwick — even in the late-80s, it was expensive) and a shiny new Mercedes in the driveway.

The barber shop in Glen Huntly where I’ve gone for years is run by a bloke and his two sons. It’s a fairly basic type of haircut you get there — the current going rate is $20. The family lives around the corner in pretty big, very impressive house.

I think the lesson here is that if you can do moderately skilled, even if it’s simple and cheap, do it quickly and efficiently enough and you can still make yourself a lot of dosh.

The number became a brand

Back when I worked at Hattams (mid 80s to early 90s), we stocked Levi’s jeans, primarily the 555 “red tabs”, but also the 517 “boot cut”.

The numbers were Levi’s product codes. The first digit 5 signified they were for adult men’s — my recollection is that the “student” (kids/young men up to a size 81 cm/32″) sizes in red tabs were 855.

We didn’t stock women’s jeans, but they seemed to be all numbered in the 700s.

And while the sizing was multiples of inches, like most things in the trouser-world (in Australia at least), it was measured in centimetres.

Levi's jeans

At some stage in the last couple of decades, the product codes have become marketing tools. 501s in particular have been catapulted into a fully-fledged brand of their own. They used to be a specific type of button-fly men’s jeans; now they seem to be a catch-all for anything Levi’s feels like calling “501s” for marketing purposes, not to mention thrown onto promotional T-shirts and hoodies.

I think the women’s equivalent used to be 701s, but now they too go by the 501 branding, as I noted recently when Marita was out jeans-shopping.

They’ve also reverted the measurements from centimetres to those archaic inches, to give themselves some genuine American-ness. At least, I assume that’s the reason, as everybody else has switched to metric — well, apart from Burma and Liberia.

This page doesn’t claim to be authoritative, but talks about the numbering of Levi’s jeans — in particular it seems to be a list from after some of the numbers got mixed up a bit. I know I have two pairs of 504s (bought at Hattams in the last couple of years) which that list reckons are “slouch straight for women”, which I’d dispute.

Presumably internally Levi’s now have a completely different numbering system, so they can tell all the myriad of “501” products apart.