Thursday, January 12, 2012

Car Service Rules-2

In the previous post on this topic (the post can be viewed at:, I gave a general description of the Car Service Rules and how they might be used by modelers. In this post, I want to provide more details for those interested. I should credit the substantial help I’ve received on this topic from railroaders Jerry Stewart, Paul Koehler, and Dan Holbrook, the latter of whom presented a superb clinic on the Rules at the Lisle meeting in October 2011.
     A background point: I received a query after my first post from a modeler of the early 20th century, who wanted to know how far back these rules go. In Dan’s clinic, he stated that the impetus for these rules was a meeting in 1876 of car accountants from 64 railroads (and letters from 21 more), which led eventually to the first full set of rules, established in 1888. By 1904, there was a committee of Railway Car Accountants which oversaw the operation of these rules. On March 1, 1920, the railroads voluntarily established the Car Service Division of the ARA, which merged into the AAR in 1934. Although the ICC had the power to intervene in car service matters, it tended to allow the ARA or AAR procedures to take precedence unless an emergency arose.
     The “Home District” map I showed, for 1954, was in force from 1952 until 1973, so it suits my own layout operation, but modelers of eras prior to 1952 will need to locate maps for their own time period. I believe the map prior to the 1952 map had been in use since before World War II, but I have not tried to establish the exact period. These maps are usually included in every issue of the Official Railway Equipment Register, so one can check for one’s own era.
     The ARA or AAR would from time to time issue Special Car Orders (SCO), which could overrule the Car Service Rules for particular cases. It would happen that a particular railroad was desperate for its own cars to be returned, often coal railroads, so an SCO might be issued, for example, directing that hopper cars of the N&W should be returned directly home when unloaded, regardless of service route. Normally these orders were terminated when the car shortage abated.
     When the need for particular cars didn’t rise to the level of needing an SCO, there were still requests through an AAR clearing house for particular car routings. These various needs were usually circulated to agents, yardmasters, conductors and car clerks in the form of railroad memos called “Equipment Instructions” or some similar title. I have constructed such a document for my layout, as I showed in an earlier post (you can view it at: ). Dan pointed out that in later years these were called “Tide” instructions.
     I mentioned “emergencies” above. The ICC could issue Service Orders of many different kinds, and did so for a number of situations during World War II, as one example. These are distinct from the ARA or AAR Orders, because ICC orders had the force of law, and were legally mandatory. The ARA/AAR Orders were not mandatory and there were no penalties for non-compliance.
     A famous example of an ICC Service Order during World War II was the directive that refrigerator cars could be substituted for box cars, and that several refrigerator car owners who normally controlled their own fleets would have to allow the cars to be free-running, that is, able to be loaded wherever needed. Although ICC Service Order 104 initially applied only to PFE and SFRD cars, since they made extensive empty movements westward while much wartime traffic was westward for the Pacific Theater and empty cars were badly needed, other refrigerator car owners were gradually added. This order was in effect until 1949, and during its operation, refrigerator cars of all owners could be found throughout the country.
     The most important rule for many modelers of 1953 and later is SCO 90, which directed, in effect, that empty box cars (without special equipment) should be moved directly homeward instead of returning via their service route. It was very complex in operation, because each railroad would direct which terminals should receive the cars from various connecting railroads, and an immense matrix came into existence, telling agents and yardmasters throughout the nation exactly where to send empty box cars, of every railroad, from every part of the country. Over the years, as conditions changed, SCO 90 was reissued many times, sometimes monthly. I have seen copies of SCO 90 extending to more than 20 closely typed pages.
     I show here a page from a Santa Fe SCO 90 document of 1953, which gives some idea of the complexity I am talking about (click to enlarge).

     The first memos and letters pertaining to SCO 90 that I have seen were from March 1953, and it did not go into official use until July 1, 1953. So far, I have chosen not to apply SCO 90 conditions to my layout, but I intend to explore how it will change my Empty Car Bill cycles if I do so.
     For obvious reasons, Car Service Rules generally did not apply to privately owned cars such as tank cars. The car owners directed movement of the cars, and might not always move a particular empty back to its loading point, but might move it to the location of another lessee. Directives were issued by owners of the cars to affected railroads, and sometimes this information was included on or attached to waybills.
     Incorporating all these refinements into model waybill systems could naturally be a complex challenge. Accompanying Dan Holbrook’s fine clinic at Lisle on the Car Service Rules was a talk by Perry Sugarman on his implementation of some of these factors in his computer system for the Holbrook layout’s operation. I found much food for thought in Perry’s talk.
     I recognize that many modelers will find these details to be “too much information,” and indeed several of them would be either difficult to model, or would not make much difference if modeled. But my own view is that prototype information like this is always valuable to know, because it increases the discrimination one can use in deciding what to model and what not to model. I would prefer to make that decision as a deliberate choice rather than out of ignorance.
Tony Thompson


  1. Tony,
    Thanks for the history lesson on the Car Service Rules, so now I have a lot more choices for my return routing of cars from the Colorado Midland to any of the six roads on the east end. You are very correct in your observation about more data, even TMI may be of service in developing the car waybills and routing instructions. By the way the waybills that have been found to be used by the CM were much simpler than both the SP, PE and PMT that I found for my PE efforts. Thanks again.

  2. Thanks for the record tutorial on the Car Assistance Regulations, so now I have a lot more alternatives for my come back course-plotting of vehicles from the Co Midland to any of the six roadways on the eastern end.

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  3. You're both welcome. I never worked as a car clerk or comparable job myself, so I have learned all this stuff from talking to people who did do those jobs. It's been an interesting learning experience.
    Tony Thompson

  4. Tony, in rereading this blog post on Car Service Rule / Empties, I noticed something I missed before. Since I model 1947, it appears that ICC Service Order 104 would affect which empty and loaded reefers I'd see on my Northern California proto-freelanced Burney, Redding & Western. You state above, " ...refrigerator cars could be substituted for box cars, and that several refrigerator car owners who normally controlled their own fleets would have to allow the cars to be free-running, that is, able to be loaded wherever needed." I assume this order was mostly strongly in place during World War II, but as you indicate, was still in place until 1949. Would it be appropriate for me to occasionally model a PFE, SFRD, WFE etc reefer loaded with a carload of "non-produce" that was loaded on the East Coast or Midwest? Al Daumann

  5. Good question, Al. It is certainly true that the WW II order on reefers extended until the end of 1948. But I think things returned toward normal much earlier. The two PFE retirees I interviewed both mentioned that very soon after the war ended, eastern yardmasters began to cooperate with PFE car movements as they had done re-war. So yes, you can operate "flexibly" in 1947 if you wish, but if it were me, I would do a minimal amount of that.
    Tony Thomson