Sunday, March 30, 2014

Waybills, Part 31: empty private cars

One of the interesting details of prototype waybill procedures was the handling of private-owner cars when they had been made empty. Foreign railroad-owned cars (that is, owned by another railroad) which were made empty were either returned to the railroad on which they were loaded, via the service route, or “confiscated” locally for loading, or returned to owner if a direct connection existed, but private cars were different. They were naturally under the direction of their owner, and could be sent wherever specified by the owning company.
     There is an allusion to this in my prior post about waybill preparation, roughly midway through that text, describing handling of an empty GACX covered hopper. (That post, quoting extensively from Harry Dolan, is at this link: .) Recently I received a copy of a 1956 document directing such an empty car movement, from the collection of Geoffrey Barbier, sent to me by Tony Koester. It’s shown below; you can click on it to enlarge the image.

The document was issued by Dow Chemical Company, Midland Division, and directs the return of empty GATX 76602 (presumably a leased car) to Midland, Michigan.
     The body of the document is to some extent self-explanatory, but let me make a few comments. Both the destination and the present location of the empty car are shown, as is the former cargo, weed killer (identified for safety reasons). As stated at the bottom of the notice, this document was sent to the consignee of the loaded car, and was to be handed to the local railroad agent, who in turn would pass it to the conductor of the train that picked up the empty.
     In Harry Dolan’s account of waybill preparation (cited in the second paragraph of this post), he mentions that a clerk preparing paperwork for an empty private car would check the file to see if there were any instructions by that car owner. The document above is the kind of thing that would be in that file.
     Whether one might wish to include some such document in model layout operations is an interesting question. Certainly any major yard on a layout could handle private cars with such documents, perhaps as part of a yard clerk or car distributor duty. Such a person would find out where to send a private empty by having documents of this kind on hand at the yard.
     Note, however, that this document is not meant as an Empty Car Bill to actually move the car, only to direct where it goes. Most railroads used an Empty Car Bill as the paperwork for such movements. (I discussed that paperwork in a previous blog post, and if you wish, you can read it at: .) Thus a yard clerk, prototype or model, would have to prepare (or select from a file) an appropriate Empty Bill for the car, once Instructions like those above identify the destination.
Tony Thompson


  1. Tony, great post on a topic that many of us modelers that use waybills should see. I have a nugget regarding this post. In the second paragraph under the image, you noted that this document would be given by the consignee to the station agent, and then the conductor. The first half is correct, but instead of giving this document to the conductor, the agent would create a waybill covering the empty movement (not an empty slip bill as you mention in the last paragraph; those went with empty RR-owned cars). The document you show is similar to a bill of lading...but since there is no lading in this case, it has a different name. It would be used to create a waybill, then filed.
    Note that the form references Car Service Rule 13, which provides for the return of an empty private car via reverse route in the absence of this form being presented to the railroad. I believe that many private cars returned empty on that Rule (accompanied by a waybill), and this form was used to send an empty to a point different than its loaded origin for loading at a different facility, cleaning, or repair.
    Andy L.

  2. Thanks, Andy. But I think your statement about Empty Car Bills only used for RR-owned cars is not true for all railroads. I know that many private tank cars were returned empty with a regular freight waybill, in part to identify the previous cargo for safety reasons, and have written as much in previous posts. But equally certainly, private cars could be and were moved empty with Empty Car Bills in some situations.

    You are certainly right that an agent could prepare either an Empty Car Bill or a Waybill for an empty car being picked up, but I have been told that many empties like this simply were returned to the next yard, where a yard clerk or car distributor had instructions on file, and would determine the needed routing and make the paperwork. That's why I talked about model yard jobs in this regard.
    Tony Thompson