Friday, April 13, 2012

Waybills, Part 22: handling empties

Over the past year, I have received several emails about handling empties in a prototype manner. The most recent and most specific questions were from Bob Sterner, who writes a fine Soo Line blog of his own (for example, at: ). So I thought I might be useful to say a little more about the subject. I don’t think I have left anything out in prior posts, but evidently I didn’t manage to describe things very clearly.
     Sometimes a questioner asks about the connection to the Car Service Rules, which I’ve discussed in two prior posts (these can be viewed at: and also at ). Surveys in the 1950s found that the Car Service Rules were being obeyed in about two-thirds of all cases, so they are certainly not something a modeler has to rigorously observe (you would be outdoing the prototype!). But the rules do not say much about empty cars. You can find these rules in the back of any Official Railway Equipment Register since at least the 1930s.
     By the way, if you would like to know more about those rules, you will probably enjoy the fine book by E.W. Coughlin of the AAR, entitled Freight Car Distribution and Car Handling in the United States (AAR, 1956). He explains the rules in some detail, and describes many of their implications. As I said, these rules are mostly for the selection of cars to be loaded (although Rule 2 provides that empty foreign cars at a junction with the owning road should be delivered directly to that road, regardless of prior service route).
     But let me clarify empty handling. If you have a foreign empty in your yard, don’t need an empty to load, and want it off your rails to avoid per diem, there is only one place (assuming your yard is not an interchange with the owner of that car) that an interchange railroad would accept it: the junction where they gave it to you in the first place. Try to hand it off to any other road or any other junction and the receiving road had the right to refuse it. So reverse routing wasn’t just a possibility, it was enforceable, and you can see why: no one wanted to pay for moving an empty which they hadn’t benefited by when it was loaded. Freight mileage was only billed on loaded cars.
     Interchange points maintained huge books called “jumbos” (I have a monthly one from Bieber, California, where GN and WP met) and kept track of all cars passing through in both directions. That was one way you knew if you wanted to refuse a car or not.
     Another method used by some railroads was the Home Route Card (sometimes combined as part of the Empty Car Bill). I showed an Erie Railroad example, which is simple in its Home Route portion, in an earlier post (see: ). Here is an example of another railroad’s version of this form, to show a much more complex approach to the Home Route information (click on it to enlarge).

     This one is the size of an Empty Car Bill and would be the size of a stack of ordinary waybills, folded the long way (about 4 x 11 inches). It would be attached to the waybill of a loaded car, in principle, and would get filled out as that car moved to its destination. Then all the junction information would be handy for returning the empty. The idea of the home route card was to provide a simple record with the car of routing information, so it was easy to direct the car homeward. But these tended to get lost or damaged, or incompletely filled out (Coughlin discusses this), so not every road used them, or used them consistently.
     When the empty was successfully transferred to another road via its service route, it then might be chosen by the receiving road to be loaded, or it might be moved further along the reverse route to the next railroad in the chain, and so on.
     As modelers, I think use of either an Empty Car Bill or a Home Route/Empty Car Bill (reduced appropriately to convenient model size) does confer some realism in handling empties. They should of course be directed to the interchange from which they came to reach your layout, so the Empty Car Bill which you make for the car (or to balance a loaded move) needs to have been created along with the waybill, so the two will match.
      A further point for those modeling interchanges is that the famous “midnight shove,” to get as many cars as possible off of your railroad and onto someone else’s railroad, and thereby avoid paying tomorrow’s per diem on the cars, is only realistic if the empties in question came from that interchange as loads. Otherwise, as noted, the receiving railroad can refuse them. In other words, the “midnight shove” did not simply clear out all empties in the yard and dump them on an interchange track, though I have seen layout operations in which that was done. The exception, of course, would be a short line’s yard which is that road’s sole connection to the outside world, making it necessarily the interchange at which all cars are received.
     These considerations for prototypical handling of empty cars, though perhaps less interesting than handling loaded cars, are nevertheless part of realistic and prototypical operations. They aren’t hard to implement, and if you are not already doing so, I recommend you give it a try.
Tony Thompson

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