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Kathleen Steiner Bennett sent me this note a couple of weeks ago about her family history in the Canal Zone.  Her note inspired me to make this presentation about how the Canal Army was paid.

Both of my grandfathers and families lived and worked in the Zone by 1915. My father, Jerome Steiner began working for the Panama Canal Company in 1929 and in the early 30s worked at the Paymaster's Office at the Administration Building. During the early years he worked on the "pay car" which was attached to a railroad locomotive and went across from Balboa to Colon once a month on payday.  The train stopped at the appointed stops to pay the crowds that lined up in the jungle clearings to be paid - IN CASH.  People back then didn't receive a check - but went to the Paymaster's office to pick up their pay in cash.  Many, especially those who worked outside of Balboa or Cristobal or who were on the "Silver Roll' had no way to get to the one of the two pay offices.  These were the people who met the pay car to pick up their pay when it made its monthly run across the isthmus.  A 'chit' with the amount to be paid to each worker was delivered to the worker a few days before payday. 
    Each of the Pay Clerks aboard the pay car were given wooden boxes of cash and coins (which in the early days were gold and silver rather than bank notes (bills).  The clerk sat on a chair behind a train car window that had been fitted with fancy bank-style brass dividers.  They worked from sheets of paper that contained a list of the names of the individuals to be paid, his IP number and the amount he was to be paid.  Manual adding machines were used by each of the Pay Clerks to keep a running total of the amounts paid out. The only identification used was the metal tag with photo and IP Number engraved on it which was affixed to a leather strap which was issued to all employees at that time.  
   My father, Jerry Steiner and Mr. Lundy were the two fastest Pay Clerks in those days.  As with most things in the Zone paying or line handling, what ever your job, there were those that tried to do the best job they could do and it became a challenge to be the 'best'.  Both my father and Mr. Lundy could pay an average of 6 to 7 employees PER MINUTE (without an error) imagine that! All this done while sitting in a train car with boxes of money in the middle of the jungle. The only protection provided was two security guards with rifles that sat on top of the pay car at stops and rode inside between stops. Both Mr. Lundy and my father went on to become Treasurer of the Panama Canal Company before they retired from Canal service. One of the other interesting notes that Dad related to me was:  When one of the 'chits' or badges had been reported as lost he would look up the name and memorize the dollar amount to be paid out and when a 'chit' with that amount was placed in front of him he would pick it and the ID tag up and then ask the individual who presented it to step to the side for a moment.  More often than not that individual decided to leave the area in a hurry without waiting for "his" pay.  Thus the ID tag and the 'chit' was recovered without endangering anyone and the paying could go on without missing a beat.    

Kathleen Steiner Bennett

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