Friday, June 21, 2019

Waybills, Part 64: what’s all the fuss?

As readers of this blog know, I have written dozens of posts about various aspects of prototype waybills: how they come into being, what information they contain, how they are handled, and what they accomplish. I have also written a number of times about how the prototype waybill can be modified or used in model railroad settings. (You can find all these posts by using “Waybills” as a search term in the search box at right.) But I continue to be asked for an introduction to this topic.
     Upon reflection, I think there are two aspects to that request. First, why should anyone even care about a prototypical-looking waybill? The second aspect, as I understand it, is something like, what does such a waybill accomplish on a layout? In this post, I will address the first of those aspects.
     When one visits a layout that uses a timetable type of document, the layout owner has either used the look and format of his prototype, say, Santa Fe, or if a freelancer, has chosen a prototype to copy closely. Why? Because most of us know what these prototype employee timetables look like, and we want that additional piece of prototype realism.

Shown here are, from left, the La Mesa Club timetable for the Tehachapi layout, David Parks’ WM timetable, Mike Burgett’s C&O timetable, and my own SP Coast Division timetable, all closely following the prototypes.
     Operating on a layout that uses Timetable & Train Order (T&TO), track warrants (TW) or Direct Traffic Control (DTC) to control train movements, one will see that the layout owner has either reproduced the prototype document (modified to suit his layout’s operating situation) or, if freelance, has chosen a prototype document of modify. Why? Because we know what these documents look like, and we want to add that bit of prototype realism.

Shown here are, from left, Bill Darnaby’s Form 31 train order, for his freelanced Maumee Route, Mike Burgett’s C&O clearance form, and my own (modified) SP train order form.
     On a layout that uses switch lists to direct the work of train crews, prototype modelers will provide the prototype switch list form, perhaps somewhat modified, and likewise the freelancer will create a prototype-looking form. Why? Same reasons as above. I won’t show examples, but there are plenty of them out there.
     Given those examples, why do modelers provide their visiting operators with a waybill that looks like this? (Though this example is modified from a particular layout, the owner of which may recognize it, the criticism is not directed at that individual, but at the practice in general.)

This is of course the familiar four-cycle waybill, available from Old Line Graphics or Micro-Mark, and it is, to speak as kindly as possible, remote from the prototype.
     Let me illustrate. Does the above model waybill, however familiar, look anything like the prototype example below? (You can click to enlarge if you wish.)

I would be so bold as to suggest that the model example above bears essentially no resemblance to the prototype. Most of my blog posts on this topic have been aimed at getting model waybills just a little closer to the prototype.
     I should hasten to say that I realize not every layout owner uses or wants to use waybills for car forwarding, and of course that layout owners can decide for themselves how prototypical they want to be, and in which areas. My only point here is that there does exist a prototype waybill, and using something that doesn’t remotely resemble it inevitably detracts from a layout’s overall credibility.
     I will say more about this in a following post, when I address the second aspect of model waybills, the question about what they accomplish on a layout.
Tony Thompson


  1. In your follow-up post, please mention a related issue of how things changed when computers took over in the '60's-80's and how this affects what might feel prototypical to an operator of a layout set in that time period. I'm interested in how to create a waybill that looks more computer-generated, if that makes any sense.

  2. You make an important point, Burr. Railroaders have told me that by the early 1960s, nobody worked from waybills (though they carried them in the caboose to the next terminal). Instead, they had computer-printed switch lists. I think computer-printed waybills in the 1960s would sometimes have been teletype-generated, and there are teletype fonts available on the internet. (I use teletype for just a few of my own bills.) Computer printing was in its infancy; by the end of the 1960s, computer-driven Selectric typewriters came into use, and the Selectric fonts are all available digitally. Lastly, most line printers in that era worked only on pin-feed paper, and I have no idea if blank waybills were made in that format. I don't know that era too well, but there are options out there that I think would help.
    Tony Thompson