Saturday, May 19, 2012

The yard “jumbo”

In several places, including on this blog, I’ve referred to a kind of record book called a yard “jumbo.” One example would be my post about the handling of empties, at this link: . The “jumbo” was simply a book in which to record all cars passing through a junction point, in both directions. It not only created a record of the date and location of each junction passage, which was separately reported to the owner of each car, but also served as a record against which returning empties could be checked.
     This check was made because any empty being offered in interchange could be refused by the receiving railroad, if the car had not come through that junction in the other direction with a load. (For an explanation of this point, consult the post on empties, linked above.) How would you know? Easiest way, check the “jumbo.”
     A number of years ago at a Winterail event, there was a vendor with two “jumbos” for sale, both from the Bieber, California interchange between Great Northern and Western Pacific. One was for a couple months of 1947, as I recall (Richard Hendrickson purchased it, since he models 1947) and the other was for 1953, and I bought that one.
     I knew from talking to former car clerks why it was called a “jumbo:” because of its size. The covers of mine are 15 x 19.5 inches. Here’s my wife Mary holding it:

A plan view shows the cover, with its notation “JAN FEB 1953,” and the place name, BIEBER.

     The way these books were organized is interesting, because it reveals how clerks were accustomed to think of car numbers. The book is manufactured with tabs for numbers, every two digit number from 00 to 99. The leftmost row (toward the front of the book) is from 00 to 49, the right row for 50 to 99. Thus there are 100 tabs. The black tab contains the first digit, the yellowish tab the second digit.

These tabs together form the last two digits of a car number. If you go to such a tabbed page, it contains ten sections, each section having a different digit preceding the two tabbed digits. For example, if you go to tab 28, all the entry spaces are for numbers from 028 to 928. The clerk simply writes in all preceding digits, and the car initials.
     To describe the process of entering information, here is an extract from the book’s instructions (you can click on this to enlarge it):

If you would like to see the entire instruction document, I have placed it on Google Docs, at this link:
     When you look up a car record, it’s the same procedure. Say the car is D&RGW 46628 (a GS gondola). You would go to the “28” tab and then on those pages, to the section for 628. It will be one of several cars with car numbers ending in 628, but now it’s a small group to peruse. Here is that number group:

The clerk has abbreviated D&RGW as “RG;” note also “AT” for ATSF.
     Under “Movements” are indicated the arriving train (by locomotive number) and date. For D&RGW 46628, the entries are: arriving Jan. 2, WP 923, departing the same day with GN locomotive 2002. The second entry, to the right, shows arrival on Jan. 12, GN locomotive 2021, departing Jan. 16, WP engine 918 (the delay probably means it was empty, but loaded vs. empty is not shown in these records).
     Further down this record, note SLSF 161628 (a box car), arriving Jan. 15 behind WP 916 and departing the next day behind GN 2017. What do we know about all these locomotives? The WP 913–924 series were EMD F7 diesels; the GN 2000 series were 2-8-8-0 articulated steam engines. Many GN 600-series locomotives are also listed in this book, and in 1953 these were EMD GP7 engines.
     Examples of this motive power can be discovered in published records. For example, here is a four-unit set of F7s, led by WP 923-D, passing Lake Almanor on the way to Keddie from Bieber. (Photo is by Western Pacific, from the Plumas County Museum collection in Quincy, courtesy Don Harris. The same image is reproduced on p. 94 of Norman Holmes’s book, My Western Pacific Railroad, Steel Rails West, Reno, 1996.) This is the locomotive identified for D&RGW gondola 46628.

     On the Great Northern side, the “jumbo” shows a mix of GP7 and 2-8-8-0 power. Here is an Al Phelps photo, taken on a bitter morning in January 1953, during the period of this particular “jumbo,” departing northward from Klamath Falls, Oregon (the first GN yard north of Bieber). Power is GN 2017 on the head end, assisted by a GP7. (Signature Press collection; this image is also in John Signor’s book, Southern Pacific’s Shasta Division (Signature Press, 2000), page 210.) This is the locomotive identified in the entry for SLSF box car 161628.

     Both these prototype photos were chosen, of course, to show engine numbers corresponding to the “jumbo” entries. The curious part of this, though, is that GN was operating scheduled freight trains on this line by timetable authority and train number, and WP was likewise operating most freight trains as scheduled train numbers. The reason the Bieber clerks used locomotive instead of train numbers is not known.
     One more point of interest. It may be noted in the book segment shown above that there is one car with four entries, which means passing through Bieber in both directions twice in these two months: refrigerator car FGEX 57628. This pattern of four entries in two months is seen occasionally throughout the book, primarily for reefers and for automobile cars and tank cars, which of course were largely in assigned service. Here’s an additional example:

The Associated Oil Company tank car AOX 1106 (with one entry for that same train on January 16 behind GN 2017, which contained SLSF box car 161628).  And reefer BREX 75106 also has four entries here. Note the abbreviation “RD” for SFRD.
     With that, I’ll wrap up this description of what I think is a fascinating chunk of railroad records. There are many data to be mined in this document, and as time permits, I expect to explore them. Any findings which seem appropriate for posting here will be reported.
Tony Thompson


  1. The delay on 46628, could of been a visit to the RIP track.

  2. Sure, and it could be other things too, including yard congestion. I just thought an empty GS gon would be something not prioritized for quick movement, so might get delayed. By the way, I don't know that there WAS a RIP track at Bieber.
    Tony Thompson

  3. Ref the road identifiers, I found the same usage in a Colorado Midland Rwy Yard Register book from Basalt Yard in May 1917, with the ATSF box car identified as AT, SFRD reefer as RD and a D&RG box as RG. Note that the road was still the D&RG until 1923 when it was reorganized as the D&RGW. Those abbreviated identifiers were used early and for a long time.

  4. You are right, Tom, and usages like this did survive remarkably long in some cases. But I'm not so sure the old D&RG was the reason for the "RG" abbreviation. That railroad was widely called the "Rio Grande" for short, and the obvious usage is then "RG" even for those who never knew it as anything but D&RGW.
    Tony Thompson

  5. Actually, BREX75106 has 5 entries. There's a full 4, then at the bottom of the pic, there's another entry for it with a single entry.

  6. Thank you for pointing this out, which I forgot to do. These pages with the ten sections of number groups also had a group of "overflow" sections for situations like this, and in a few cases they were used in this 1953 jumbo.
    Tony Thompson