all that’s fit to print

Lens from Traffic Camera

Toronto. I received an email Tuesday from Brad down in Florida. Brad came across an unusual camera there with a label by Kominek in Toronto. He has it up on Ebay at the moment.

Brad explained the camera had been used by a bank to allow the teller to photograph customers. I replied that it looked like a telephone company traffic camera but I would discuss it with Russ, the current owner of Kominek Camera Repair (when Mike retired, he sold his business to Russ Forfar and the late Hugh Cooley, both PHSC members).

Russ identified it as a custom made camera tested and maintained, not made, by Kominek.  The cameras use a Wallensak lens and shutter on a half frame 35mm camera. The shutter is triggered by a solenoid and a small motor winds the film on. Mostly used to record traffic registers for telephone companies, the cameras could also be triggered remotely by bank tellers and manufacturing assembly lines.

Here are more gory details from telephone company usage: The camera was placed in a large housing with banks of lights. The operation was by a remote timer, taking photos at set times. The housing was mounted over a bank of registers. Each register was like a small    odometer. Before cameras were used, the registers were read manually. Each register noted the number of times a particular trunk circuit/switch was busy over a set period of time.

The telephone company  used trunk circuits to connect different switches exchanges. In the days of the first automation of phone calls, the companies used step by step (SxS) switches. Each two digits of a phone number required a switch. If your number was say 3337, the first switch would go up three and across three connecting via a trunk circuit to a second switch that went up three and across seven to connect to a line going to the home of the number 3337. If the phone was busy, the caller heard a busy tone.

If the caller was in a different exchange, a trunk circuit was used between the two. The phone company added trunk circuits between switches and exchanges based on activity. Unnecessary trunks were costly; too few led to a “fast busy” signal (all trunks busy). Most companies tried to keep the number of fast busy signals down – customers usually thought the phone was busy, not the connection to it.

By photographing the registers and reading the results later, it was possible to see how busy the groups of trunks were and over time decide whether to increase them or not. Each call required every line and switch to be used for the call duration. When crossbar and later computers arrived with a central control feature, the high maintenance SxS switches (and register cameras) were made obsolete. Today modern packet switching systems make the older systems obsolete as well.

Bell Canada’s Fibe system uses packet switching to connect the telephone, internet, and television over a single thread of glass fibre making the large mechanical equipment of years gone by all obsolete today.  An in-house box converts the telephone signals to analogue to work on existing house wiring and to packet switching to use the fibre connection. A built-in lithium ion battery allows hours of telephone connection during a power outage. A set top box converts the television signal to suit the TV receiver. Internet is already packet so the in-house box acts as a router as well.

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