Monday, October 3, 2011

Waybills, Part 13

The exercise (from my point of view) of creating a waybill system for Otis McGee’s layout has been interesting for several reasons. First, it’s a different shape of waybill, as I observed in my first post on the topic (Waybills-9), so I had the opportunity to see how I might rearrange and re-space the prototype waybill elements. Second, it’s a waybill with car initial and number included (just like the prototype), thus avoiding the creation of “car sleeves” carrying that information. I made both these points in my first post about this new waybill format (at:
     But perhaps the most interesting aspect is that the mental process of deciding which  bills to make, and what they should contain, is entirely different. With this new system, the thought process is centered on cars: what they can reasonably contain, and of course constraining their movements so that they plausibly travel on the Shasta Division. Among other things, this means that use of the AAR mechanical designations for cars is almost irrelevant, because the process of matching cars to loads begins with the car itself, and loads are naturally matched to the car. Probably the main use of the AAR class in this system is to help find the car in a yard or train (I’m looking for a gondola, etc.).
     In the system I use on my layout, which does have car sleeves with car initials and numbers (see, for example, the post at: ), the process is industry-centered: what loads would go in and out of a particular facility, including what AAR class of car would be needed. This information is on the waybill, and in matching up waybills to available cars (which have the AAR classes on the sleeve), obviously AAR class can be and should be matched.
     Car service rules come into play about equally in both systems, primarily at the level of resetting the layout for a future operating session on my layout, but entirely in the waybill creation process for Otis’s waybills.
     The end result for my layout is that I have a considerable pool of waybills for each industry, thereby providing variety and also minimizing any recognition of repetition. With the much larger freight car fleet which Otis has, and the far smaller number of switching locations (the Shasta Division is in many ways primarily a bridge route in the area Otis models), avoiding the recognition of repetition relies on the sheer size of the car fleet, and on the fact that a large majority of the freight cars are mundane boxcar red without eye-catching lettering. As Tony Koester is fond of saying, if the freight cars are pedestrian in appearance, operators can’t remember them individually and won’t notice a certain amount of repetition.
     To say it another way, I have more waybills than cars on my layout, by a big margin, and since layout operations are heavily oriented to switching, the variety of waybills is essential. On Otis’s layout, there are not many more waybills than cars (though I hope to enlarge that ratio over time), and there is less switching of individual cars, so variety comes from the size of the pool of freight cars which move over the layout.
     Of course Otis’s cars also have Empty Car Bills in addition to waybills, and these have to be chosen so they move the cars in the opposite direction to what the waybills direct (or form a triangular or more complex pattern of car movement, when multiple bills are used). I’ve thought about using “overlay” or short bills to see if a demand system for consuming empties could work. More on that later if it seems to prove practical.
     A point worth emphasizing is that all waybills and Empty Car Bills in both systems are “single purpose” paperwork, that is, they are one-sided items. A different bill needs to be brought forward in the plastic sleeve for each new car movement.
     One thing I am gaining from working on the waybills for Otis is information about through loads, that is, loads which move from staging to staging without interruption. I had not worried much about this for my layout, but now can see ways in which I can make my through cars have more varied and interesting waybills in their own right. That’s where the focus on car movement pays off.
     The advantage of confronting an entirely different layout approach to waybills is, as I’m stating, that one can appreciate different ways of thinking about the process. This can happen when operating as a guest on someone’s layout, but in that situation one ordinarily only “goes with the flow” for that layout, without necessarily understanding the ideas behind that flow. In my situation, thinking about two quite different layouts, the need to create the waybills in a different system from my own affords a much more intimate view of the reasoning behind each system.
Tony Thompson


  1. I've found your blog posts on waybills very informative. I also enjoyed your presentation on car frequencies at the NMRA convention. Both have been helpful in my thinking about freight operations and using waybills on my own layout. I hope you don't mind the questions I've posed on #12 and waybill content #2. I have more to add to #12 but I'm waiting for some confirmation of a couple of items.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Jim. Questions are more than welcome and I look forward to any that clarify or correct what I've said. I know that sometimes I write unclearly, and of course I make errors too. Fixing those problems seems to me an essential step. By all means fire away.
    Tony Thompson