In my earlier post about waybill design and use (“Waybills-12,” which can be viewed at http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/09/waybills-12.html ), I included a waybill with erroneous information on it. Thanks to Jim Lancaster, who worked at Boeing and knows the area (and who commented helpfully on that post), I’ve corrected that waybill. Here is how it looks now:
The parts delivery is now via Northern Pacific, the railroad which actually did serve the Boeing plant in Renton.
The correction of this single waybill may seem fairly trivial in the greater scheme of things, particularly for a single layout. But the information provided by Jim shows that in many cases, it can be difficult to use existing information (such as the OpSIG data base) or to find new information, and get it entirely right. The OpSIG database is an excellent starting point; so are shipper guides for the railroads, when they can be located (or if they are reprinted). Double-checking whether businesses were operating at the time you model is always wise, too. Both shipper guides and the OpSIG entries are for specific years. The history of larger businesses can be Googled; smaller ones can often be traced through library collections of telephone books. Of course, the area you model may not be near your home, and it might be necessary to travel to a town or city near the modeled area to find a good phone book collection.
Individuals who know the area you model, and its history, are a good source too, as Jim showed in his responses to my original post. But be aware that Jim is very conscientious about information, which cannot be said about everyone you might talk to. This is definitely a situation where double-checking verbal information is a good idea.
I have had the experience of interviewing retired railroad people, and though they are irreplaceable as sources of how and why things were done, they are typically not very reliable on facts and dates. This is not a criticism of railroaders; a historian colleague of mine said that I should expect “95 percent of factual data in oral interviews” will be wrong. Of course, it may not be as high as 95 percent in every case, but the warning is sound: be careful with facts in oral histories.
All these worries about accuracy, you may be thinking, are readily avoided if one simply invents waybill information, or else just uses what comes to hand, without worrying if it is correct for a specific year. Of course those are options we all have. In my own case, I certainly have imaginary model industries, mostly my on-layout ones, but whenever I can, I like to use real ones. Just my personal preference, and something that often adds that “texture of realism” to waybills. My view is that in modeling, we need to insert as much realism as we can, given that so much selective compression and other compromises are unavoidable.