Sunday, December 23, 2018

An excellent NP shipper’s guide

In a growing series of Shipper Guide reprints, Ted Schnepf’s Rails Unlimited has released another of these railroad-produced documents, this time for the Northern Pacific, dated 1954. As always, these guides are an absolute gold mine of information for those interested in freight traffic. I have reviewed a number of Ted’s previous releases (see, for example, the earlier post at this link: ), and they are invariably superb sources for those of us interested in freight cars and what freight cars carried.
     The release of this NP “Industrial Guide” is a great addition to the series, not only because it is a railroad not previously covered explicitly in this series (Ted’s  GN guide includes some NP information), but also because it is a guide with excellent detail. To begin, here is the cover of this new guide:

Like all of these, this particular guide can be purchased on-line from Rails Unlimited (which can be found at: ), though I don’t know that the website has been updated yet for this new guide. If it hasn’t, it soon will be.
     You may be thinking, “Well, sure, but I don’t model the NP.” Actually, like all the guides, this one is really more productive for those who model other roads. Why? Because you need to find out shippers and receivers of cargoes all over the country, to and from your railroad, and this NP guide covers a whole bunch of states. Ideally, your bookshelf would contain guides like this from every corner of the country, so you could devise shipping patterns in all directions.
     I will give just a couple of examples of the richness of material included in this guide. Many towns are identified as to whether they are, to use the railroad term, “non-competitive,” meaning only NP-served, or jointly switched with one or more other railroads, or have a “reciprocal switching” agreement. (I discussed this kind of switching agreement in a previous post, which is at; .) Just to illustrate, here is the listing for Forest River, North Dakota:

The footnote below the listing identifies this a a reciprocal-switching location with the Soo Line. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish)
     Many town listings, of course, contain fascinating bits of local industrial and business history and intriguing regional and local names of various businesses. Also of considerable interest for anyone interested in operation are the many footnotes at the back of this guide. For example, this one describes a situation of a shipper (Pope & Talbot Lumber) not on a direct rail connection, located across Puget Sound:

     Another couple of interesting examples, especially footnote 32 for several British Columbia industrial sidings served by boat:

     Last example, a description of several switching districts within the city of Seattle, including the meaning of some terms seen in the city listings in the Guide:

     This kind of information is simply invaluable for development of waybill and traffic patterns. I highly recommend this or any of the guides available from Rails Unlimited. If you haven’t ever gotten one, choose a railroad of interest, splurge on the modest investment, and see how much rich information one of them contains. You may find yourself buying more . . . I do!
Tony Thompson


  1. Hi Tony,

    Were (or are) you able to ascertain what the original purpose was for this guide? I have seen a list from 1967 (or so) that lists only shippers or towns or areas of cities that were contested with at least one other railroad. Thanks.

  2. Good question. I have asked former railroad employees and not gotten a clear answer. But one obvious use of such a guide is for a clerk or agent making up a waybill, since the Guide tells you what the destinations switching situation will be. It would also be useful for anyone working to solicit traffic.
    Tony Thompson

    1. Thanks and agreed. Just wondering about completeness vs. special purpose.