Mind the curve!
Notices on Melbournes cable trams were full of common sense and almost always observed by all at least to some degree. To todays eyes they seem rather quaint, as we are accustomed to snappy graphics which are not always obvious to the general public, or to very terse, blunt warnings. Instead, notices were phrased with a sense of natural politeness:
PLEASE CLOSE UP AND MAKE ROOM FOR OTHERS
MAKE WAY FOR PASSENGERS GETTING IN OR OUT
LOOK BACK BEFORE GETTING OFF AVOID DANGER FROM MOTOR VEHICLES
WAIT UNTIL THE CAR STOPS
NEVER GET ON OR OFF WHILE THE CAR IS IN MOTION
PASSENGERS MUST NOT STAND ON FRONT OR SIDE OF DUMMY
The last notice was only partially obeyed, as passengers commonly hung on to the sides when the tram was crowded or if the seats were wet. However, woe betide any passenger who attempted to stand at the front of the dummy, and obscure the gripmans forward view. He would stop the car and refuse to proceed, even if a passenger seated at the front opened an umbrella to stop getting wet.
There was one regulation that was always honoured in the breach rather than the observance:
PASSENGERS MAY NOT TALK TO THE GRIPMAN
The gripman was surrounded by passengers, and it would have been a very rare individual who could have resisted speaking to the gripman, and getting a polite reply. Some gripman whistled, hummed or sang while they did their work.
But the gripmen were respected by all they tended to be big men with powerful shoulders, due to the constant physical effort of pulling and releasing the grip and brake levers, which were operated without any form of power assistance.
There was one salutary warning that appeared on the platforms of the trailer car:
PASSENGERS HOLD ON WHILE ROUNDING CURVES
When a cable tram took a sharp curve at speed, particularly under momentum, it would have a curious bounding motion. This was a particular feature of the Melbourne system, which had more curves than any other cable tram system in the world. So if a standing passenger didnt hang on, he could find himself spilled out onto the roadway.
This bounding around the curve is evident in film footage of the period.
The Companys regulations covered this by requiring gripmen to give warning by calling in a loud voice, Hold on while rounding the curve!. The laconic nature of the Australian character rapidly reduced this to the succinct Mind the curve!.
This become such an icon associated with the cable trams that the constant ringing of the bells and the warning of Mind the curve! is firmly fixed in the minds of those few remaining with first hand memories of Melbournes cable trams.
Keating, J (1970) Mind the Curve! Melbourne University Press
Content copyright © Russell Jones 2001-3. Reproduced with permission.