Saturday, April 26, 2014

Waybills, Part 32: waybill preparation

Last year, I posted a summary about waybill preparation, quoting Tony Koester’s friend Harry Dolan, who described in some detail his recollection of typing waybills when working for the Nickel Plate. That post can be seen at: .
     Recently Tom Dill called my attention to an article by Dave Sprau, who started work as a telegrapher for Northern Pacific; he hired on in 1960 and in 1964 was promoted to dispatcher. He later worked for Great Northern and Milwaukee, among others, and retired in 1998. He is one of the authors of the recent outstanding book on operation, published by the Operations SIG of NMRA, entitled “19 East, Copy Three”.
     The article in question was called “Snoqualmie Days,” and describes some of Dave’s experiences as a relief agent at Snoqualmie, Washington in 1963. It was published in the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association magazine, The Mainstreeter, Volume 20, No. 4, Fall 2001. Part of the story is his description of waybill procedures and preparation. With Dave’s permission, I quote a few parts of the article here.

    “All I had to do at Snoqualmie was station work. I hated station work. The North Bend Local would bring in [loaded] cars, and I would take the waybills and abstract them, and make freight bills. When loaded cars were shipped out, I would have to make out the waybills.
    “Weyerhaeuser had their own traffic office right in town, at the mill headquarters. They would fill out and bring bills of lading to me with the routing and freight rate already figured out. Weyerhaeuser had their own tariff books where they would look up those rates. I just billed the cars out based on their information, which turned out not to be infallible.
    “When ordering empty cars for loading, you would always specify where the shipment was going. You would tell the car distributor, ‘We need a car for lumber to Los Angeles.’ He would send you a Southern Pacific or Union Pacific car. ‘We need a car for lumber to Kansas City.’ He would send you a Burlington or Rock Island car. The idea was that once the car was empty it would immediately be available for use again, or at least it would get back to its home road more quickly.
    “One day Weyerhaeuser brought over their big pile of bills of lading at 4 P.M. I had to handle all of them before going off duty at 5 P.M. The local would be there at 6 P.M. and do all the switching, and then go down to North Bend to tie up. They would come down again in the morning before I arrived, and take the loaded cars to Woodinville, so I had to hurry.”

There is much more to Dave’s account, but this is the most pertinent waybill part.
     His account fits well with what I have learned by talking to others who did “station work” (as Dave calls it) or who worked as car clerks. Prominent among these is Jerry Stewart, who not only explained much to me, but also was kind enough to read and correct my first writings on this subject. I remain amazed at how many misconceptions I had, and which Jerry has tried valiantly to remove. Doubtless some remain, but it isn’t for lack of effort on Jerry’s part.
     To make sure that the whole waybill process is clear, here is an outline of it, which I use in my clinics on this topic. A shipper who wants a car to load calls his local agent (or in a city, a Car Distributor) and says what the load is and where it’s going. The agent or Distributor arranges to get the empty delivered to the shipper, who fills out a Bill of Lading with all the particulars of the shipment. As Dave indicates above, large shippers had their own traffic people, who would choose routings, and would usually correctly identify tariff rate and categories for the load. (Although Jerry Stewart remarked that at least half of all waybills he saw as a Chief Clerk had corrections on them.) These Bills of Lading were used by the agent or Distributor’s clerk to prepare the Waybills, which accompanied the shipment to its destination.
     When the loaded car was delivered at its destination, the Waybill ended up with that local agent, who prepared the Freight Bill to collect payment for the transportation. Dave mentions this also in his comments above. I have discussed all three of these prototype documents in a prior post; it is at: .
     Modelers may choose to duplicate as much or as little of all this process as they like. I know from many layout visits that the interest out there in prototype waybills ranges from pretty substantial, to just about zero. That of course is a personal call. Should it mean that some readers of this blog will skip posts about waybills? I don’t know about that, but I always think we are better off to have more knowledge about a subject, rather than less, so we know what we are omitting if we choose to model only part of a topic. That is why I continue to be interested in, and write about, prototype waybills.
Tony Thompson


  1. Hi Tony, I have been following your car cars recently and would like to know how do we find the information on car routing? A friend of mine who died had car cards which had complete routing on each car card. He may have had 2K to 3K car cards. He modeled the the Nickel Plate Road in Illinois. I would have liked to have gotten the cards but that did not workout. I see that some of your cards do have eastern destinations or orientations but say for 1950 to 1955 how would we route cars say from you on the SP to Chicago or to New York, or say for me to New Haven RR. Rick

  2. Excellent question, Rick, and one I have blogged about previously. The most direct answers are at this link:
    but I have touched on it elsewhere. You can use the search box at the upper right of the blog page to search on key words or topics.I use it myself to find specific older blogs.
    Tony Thompson