As model railroaders, most of us are not very interested in the entire army of people who once did (and still do) much of the work of the railroad behind the scenes, as we perceive it, of the action along the tracks. But understanding waybills and how they are prepared and used requires at least a broad familiarity with the people who did the work. The same applies to other aspects of railroad operation, as I will briefly touch upon below.
In almost every small town in America until the 1960s, an agent worked at the railroad’s depot. He or she handled paperwork of all kinds: accounting, billing, waybills, passenger tickets and reservations (if the station still had that service), but beyond the paper, and more importantly, the agent was the railroad to residents of the town. Not only in the economic life of local businesses and customers, but travel and other activities flowed through the agent. I have written several times previously about the various aspects of the waybill process, especially in a post devoted just to the role of the agent (you can read it at this link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2014/07/waybills-part-33-more-on-role-of-agent.html ). There is more on the same topic at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2014/04/waybills-part-32-waybill-preparation.html .
In a depot that saw many trains, there might well be an operator also, who was the link from the dispatcher to the train crews, and transmitted orders to trains as needed. Sometimes the jobs of agent and operator were combined, though on some railroads, the two jobs were only combined occasionally.
Many modelers will be aware of the roles of agent and operator, but most do not realize how many clerks were employed to fill out and manage paperwork. In a town of any size, there were virtual armies of railroad clerks (and almost all of them would have been men in the transition era and before). There might be clerks who only did waybilling, or only handled demurrage accounts, or only managed freight billing. Clerks might be assigned entirely to tracing shipments, making interchange reports at a junction, working directly with local industries to facilitate shipping or receiving of cargo, or a host of other duties. These clerks might work in the depot, in a yard office, or in a separate office structure in larger towns.
The Southern Pacific photo below shows yard clerks at work, handling waybills and related paper for freight cars. It dates from 1952. You can see the sheer volume of paper that was involved.
One duty of clerks was to check the yard. This meant checking inbound and outbound trains as they passed, to ensure that consists were as listed, and walking yard tracks to assemble a list of cars (reporting marks and numbers) in order along the track. And in an active yard, this had to be done again and again during the day.
Other railroad tasks, such as roundhouse work, would be overseen by a foreman, supervising the boilermakers and machinists (in steam days), and the foreman would have one or several clerks to handle paperwork associated with the jobs in the shop. A stock of parts and materials was normally necessary for the machine-shop aspect of a roundhouse, and that in turn usually required a storeroom — and one or more clerks to run it.
As modelers, we don’t want or need to model these jobs, but we need to be aware that they existed. Just to cite one example, yard offices need to be big enough for the work force of clerks that would have occupied it. Roundhouses need office space somewhere, and so on.
In building the structures on my layout, I have tried to keep all this in mind. The roundhouse I built from a Banta Models kit (which duplicates the SP roundhouse at Port Costa, California) does include the office and storeroom space that was in the prototype. (You can see this space in the second and third photos in my final post about building this roundhouse, at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2014/02/a-roundhouse-for-shumala-part-5.html .)
I also built a small yard office at Shumala, and this photo, from my previous layout, can be interpreted as the engineer walking down to the yard office (at left) to see if he can get a cup of coffee from the clerks, while the yard clerk, having walked the train, relaxes by the door. The conductor is no doubt inside, collecting his waybills for the day’s work.
Being aware of all the jobs that had to be done on the railroad, even a small railroad, or at a small town, or even on a branch line, allows us to build realistic structures and to recognize the people behind the scenes who did the work which made the system run.