Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Waybills, Part 65: Why the fuss

In the previous post, Waybills Part 64, I described the main reason I think a modeler might be interested in prototypical-looking waybills: for the same reason as having interest in prototypical-looking timetables or train order forms or switch lists, or for that matter, any other railroad printed matter. Here is a link to that post: .
     But as I noted in that post, this is only one aspect of the question as to why one might want to use prototypically designed waybills. There is a second aspect too: what do such waybills accomplish on the layout (beyond their appearance)? So in this post I will address that question.
     Of course, in one sense, all model waybills do what any car forwarding system does: direct the car to its destination. This is as true of the 1961-era Doug Smith car cards, as for any more modern version of car cards and waybills, and the same is true for any switch-list procedure. In that sense, there is nothing distinctive about “realistic” waybills.
     But when a switch crew, for example on a local freight train, looks at the paperwork for what they need to do, compare the following possibilities.  First, this is Allen McClelland’s minor 1970s modification to the original Doug Smith idea, described in Model Railroader in 1961 (“Card Operations,” Dec. 1961, p. 52). It’s a 3 x 5-inch card.

The blank car has been typed at left with car information, and at right, inserted into a taped-on plastic sleeve, is a waybill, also typed. It does give an origin and a cargo, but for a switch crew, most importantly gives the destination, the freight house at Ballard. (I used this system when my layout was in Pittsburgh, that is, prior to 1994.)
     On other layouts, a switch crew might be working with this:

This is the familiar four-cycle waybill, originally described in print by Don McFall (Model Railroading, Vol. 13, Fall 1982) and available commercially from a couple of sources. It only gives a destination and a cargo, though origination points could be added. Car routing could also be added, though I have rarely seen that done. The particular destination shown here is actually a staging yard.
     Neither of these, of course has resemblance to the prototype waybill (the point I made in the preceding post), nor does it contain the kinds of information in a prototype waybill. I have discussed prototype and model waybills in a number of blog posts, and also in published articles on waybills, such as my update in the January 2018 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist or MRH (you can download that issue, or read MRH on-line, for free, at their website, ). So I will just summarize.
     Shown below is an example of the waybills I use in operating my layout, continuing with the same Milwaukee Road box car shown in the previous examples. This time the car is destined to the House Track in Shumala.

     Obviously the document above contains far more information than the preceding examples. It may be worthwhile to clarify what some of this information is, with the annotated example below (taken from the MRH article just cited), for a different freight car. Indicated on it are the various items of information, some of which identify the shipper and consignee, along with other parts of prototype waybills. (You can click on the image to enlarge.) Note that car routing is included. The car in this example is destined to the Team Track in Shumala.

You may also notice some hand-written marks on the bill, as was common with the prototype.
     This bill, as I mentioned in the previous post (see link in the top paragraph in the present post), has the virtue of looking like the prototype document. But in operational terms, it provides little more than the other two waybill types shown above (other than routing), and indeed, provides no more directional instruction than could a switch list. The example shown below can direct cars as required just as well as any sort of waybill.

The missing part of a switch list, of course, usually is car routing, if yard work needs to be done, but as you see above, a column on the list for “destination” can even do that part of the work.
     Operationally, then, a prototypical waybill does not do more to direct switching work than would the earlier, more primitive waybill types that do not resemble the prototype. But they have the advantage of realism, looking like an actual railroad document instead of a card you might draw while playing a board game. Whether that’s important to you is a personal decision.
Tony Thompson


  1. I think there's one additional objective for the CC&WB. In systems where a Car Card is mated to a Waybill, the system serves as a means to track shipper's demands for cars, and the subsequent delivery of loaded cars to consignees. The system may also implement the home routing of empties. (Readers should note that Tony has excellent blog posts on both of these topics).
    With other systems (for example a switchlist system), one needs some other way of knowing where a car is to go AFTER this operating session. This is often accomplished through the use of a computer.

    One last thought - while I personally like using the prototypical-looking waybills, others complain about "TMI" - Too Much Information. The prototypical form is "busy" with lots of large and small print. This can be distracting to some operators.

    1. Jeff's first paragraph raises some quite interesting and important points, and with his permission, I will use them as a springboard to a following post.

      His second paragraph raises a further point; see my response to Ralph Heiss below.
      Tony Thompson

  2. I think, and it is my opinion, that those who DO cry "TMI" (and the "I don't want to bring home the office with me" crowd), are those who prefer to just WATCH trains. Just watch them, not SIMULATE them. There's NOTHING wrong with that, in fact, we're watching them, too. But I WILL say that we are, within the constraints of scale modeling, operating our systems like the real thing when we bring these pieces of paperwork into the fold. I feel that, if you're not willing to think while you're operating, then what are you really "operating"? And hmm, so me of the most paperwork-intensive layouts across the country are the ones people most want to visit and operate on, any coincidence?

  3. Well said, Ralph, and there are certainly those who don't really care or want to know more about prototype operation. But I think we are always striking a balance between accurate prototype details, and too much of some aspect. And as many layout owners will report, some crews are more interested in learning than others. As a person who really enjoys learning about railroading, I find this a little odd, but recognize that personalities differ.
    Tony Thompson