Sunday, February 26, 2012

Waybills, Part 19: confiscation

The terminology of “confiscation” of freight cars, meaning the use of an empty foreign car to be loaded on a particular railroad, rather than being sent homeward empty, sometimes sounds like something illicit is being described. But that’s not true at all; this is simply the term sometimes used.
     A problem which can arise in modelers’ waybill systems is a realistic means of arranging for a certain amount of confiscation of empties. The usual prototype cycle, in which a car is unloaded and then sent directly homeward (if there is a direct connection to the owning railroad) or sent off on the reverse route it followed when loaded, is familiar. But obviously the Car Service Rules (which I’ve tried to summarize briefly at: ) intend that foreign cars be loaded whenever possible, rather than moved empty, and this is exactly what “confiscation” is all about.
     On model railroads, the ease and realism of simulating confiscation of empties which otherwise would be homeward bound will vary with the system of car cards and/or waybills. Here’s why. Any system with a fixed cycle of car movements, such as the traditional four-cycle waybill, directs unloaded cars to specific places, such as yards or off-layout destinations, and in the following cycle, the next piece of the paperwork directs the car again to a specific location. Then cars are “never” available empty at most layout locations, because their paperwork always directs them to some other location.
     Obviously it is the rigidity of the cycles which is at fault here. One way to break the fixed cycles is if new paperwork is supplied to each car for each operating session; then confiscation is readily accomplished. This can, however, represent an awful lot of paper generation. But most people re-use their paperwork in subsequent sessions. What about those systems? One option is to prepare for the possibility of confiscation at a particular town, by including an additional waybill in the sleeve (if one is used), which can be chosen when desired. But this is not “demand-based” car flow if that choice is arbitrary.
     In a layout system with demand-based car flow (this means car flow which derives from industry needs, an idea which I’ve discussed previously; see: ), a yardmaster may receive a certain number of waybills (in effect, standing in for Bills of Lading), and these identify needed empties. The yardmaster or his yard crew can then choose suitable empty cars for these loads, following Car Service Rules if desired. For this to work, either the four-cycle paperwork needs to have an empty cycle called “available for loading,” or the paperwork needs to be pulled or replaced as needed. I’ll turn to the latter possibility in a moment.
     The system I use on my layout, in which all waybills are “one-function” or single-sided bills, makes confiscation easy and natural. Layout resetting between sessions readily provides for confiscation, either directly from industry sidings or from car accumulation points such as yards or interchange tracks. For a summary, see: and also the further discussion of the same topic at:
     But the problem comes with any system in which car movements are relatively constrained, whether by four or any other number of cycles which repeat, or by having preprinted waybills and Empty Car Bills organized in a sleeve or other system (as I have described for Otis McGee’s layout, at: ). As mentioned above, it can readily happen that cars are always regarded as having firm destinations. The way to break this pattern is to treat any free-running car with an “empty cycle” as potentially loadable, if the car is suitable for the needed load. Appropriate paperwork can be created to supersede an existing cycle, presumably under the control of a yardmaster or agent at a particular town.
     I am in the process of trying two approaches to this. One is to provide blank Empty Car Bills at the yard, so a yardmaster, presented with specific car needs of certain industries, can handwrite a fresh Bill to move a suitable car to that industry, if it is already empty and moving on a prior Empty Car Bill. This new Empty Car Bill would be placed atop the existing Empty bill in the sleeve.

Filling out part or all of such a bill by hand is prototypical; several several examples I’ve seen of actual Empty Car Bills are indeed written out in pencil, as in this instance (click to enlarge):

However, unless these new Empty Bills are regarded as disposable, waybills will build up in some car sleeves. Moreover, additional load waybills have to be provided also.
     The second approach is to prepare “overlay bills” for industries which typically need cars, in the case of Otis McGee’s layout, flat cars for lumber mills. I’ve discussed overlay bills before (see for example: ), both for empty and loaded movement, and these would be available at the yard (Dunsmuir on Otis’s layout). A rule for use of such overlay bills is probably needed. For Otis’s layout, this might be something like “all empty flat cars destined Eugene or beyond can be confiscated if needed.” So a yardmaster with overlay bills on hand, representing industry needs, would then seek the appropriate cars subject to confiscation, and add the short bills.
      Here are examples of both the Empty Car Bills and waybills, in full-length and short (overlay) form. When the short bill is placed atop the long bill in the car sleeve and aligned, it looks like a single bill. First, the overlay Empty bill which preempts the long Empty bill:

Next, for the following session, the overlay waybill which supersedes the existing waybill for this car (both overlay bills would be put in the sleeve):

Once the car has been loaded and moved to westward staging (Redding), the overlay bills would be removed and returned to storage at Dunsmuir yard. I lean toward this second approach, but will try both.
     This handling of empty cars to be loaded may not be an important feature of too many layouts, but when it is, a realistic means of accomplishing it seems to me to be essential.
Tony Thompson


  1. Hi Tony, As with a number of other comments, I have very much enjoyed your blog and in particular your waybills thread. I also attended your waybills clinic at the Milwaukee NMRA convention. It is interesting to see the nuance changes over time. Thanks for making your journey available to the rest of us.

    I had a couple of thoughts on your recent “Confiscation” blog, and would be interested in your further comments. First, the definition of confiscation at the beginning of the blog refers only to empty foreign cars, rather than home cars. However, the example given at the end relating to Otis McGee’s layout involves an SP car, which I believe is a home car on his layout. That does appear to be an appropriate car under the Car Service Rules as based on the overlay waybill provided it appears the car was to be both loaded (Dorris, CA) and delivered (Santa Ana, CA) on the SP (I am assuming SP went to Santa Ana and serviced the relevant consignee). Query whether the correct technical term in that case is a “confiscation”, however, I don’t know that matters much.

    What it got me thinking about is any differences between a confiscation of a foreign car and, say, a “redirection” of a home car. It seems that maybe a confiscation of a foreign car might be easier in that it is being sent back to its home road, under the “For Home” section of the Empty Car Bill, and as such has not yet been directed by a Yardmaster or Agent for loading at a particular customer. Accordingly, I am thinking that confiscating a foreign car being dealt with under the “For Home” section of the Empty Car Bill will not disrupt an already organized plan to send an MTY to a particular customer - I am assuming that in the real prototype world a foreign road would not know when an off-road car of that foreign road will return and therefore does not plan for the directing of an off-road car until it actually returns to the foreign road (the four cycle waybill approach in the model world is, of course, inconsistent with the real world here, and there is disruption in a modeled cycle if a returning empty is confiscated).

    A home car being moved, however, has often been requested by a customer and then an agent and is now enroute (under the “For Loading” section of the Empty Car Bill) for loading by that particular customer. Redirecting that car with a new Empty Car Bill would disrupt the already organized move to that customer. In your Otis McGee example it appears that perhaps there is a general ongoing movement of empty flat cars north to Eugene to be available for subsequent direction to customers in the logging/lumber industry, so a redirection at Dunsmuir of a flat car would not disrupt an already organized move to a particular customer. This permits the rule you refer to on Otis’s layout in respect of confiscating empty flat cars destined Eugene or beyond. However, I wonder if in the normal case one would need to be careful before redirecting a home car moving under “For Loading” instructions on an Empty Car Bill.

    Lastly, I am wondering how the Dunsmuir Yardmaster knows what type of car to send to Dorris for the Long-Bell Lumber Co? There is no car designation on the short (overlay) Empty Car Bill. Is another car request form used?

    Thanks again,
    Andy Love
    Calgary, Alberta

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Andy. You are right that the example I chose to use from Otis McGee's layout is really not confiscation--but the process described would WORK for confiscation. I had the waybills handy since we have been trying to solve the problem of getting the right number of lumber empties to the industries that need them, and these happen to be home-road cars for this cargo on the SP.

    A car moving "For Loading," as you say, may well be filling a specific request. But it also may not. It was commonplace for "Equipment Instructions" to be in force on a railroad, directing empties (flat cars, say) to a specific yard where they were needed. That does not represent a specific customer request, it is merely an accumulation point for those cars. I agree with your suggestion that a yardmaster or car distributor would have to know the difference. BTW, I discussed "Equipment Instructions" in a blog post for January 30, 2011, entitled Modeling Freight Traffic-4" and showed the version in use on my layout, if you are interested.

    On your last question, Long-Bell entirely ships rough lumber on flat cars and probably prefers 53 ft., 6 in. cars. That is what the yardmaster or car distributor would know (though on the layout we could provide that detail as part of the Job Description for that job).
    Tony Thompson