Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Waybills, Part 72: is it merely visual?

I encountered a skeptic at a meeting, after one of my talks about creating and using model waybills in layout operations. His comment to me was, “Who really cares what waybills look like?” I was tactful at the time, and just replied along the lines that we all model in different ways.
     But the discussions I posted recently on the topic of waybill design, the three preceding posts in my long series about waybills prior to this one, brought out a similar comment, delivered by email. Those posts are about a larger-format waybill design, 5 x 7 inches (The second of three posts is at this link: .)
     I would hasten to repeat that I accept differences in modeling goals and choices. But this particular comment sort of annoyed me, so I decided to try to make my point with a kind of whimsical illustration. What follows, I hope, will be recognized as just that, and nothing more.
     Let me choose such an illustration. Let’s say, that instead of waybills, we talk about box cars in model railroading. After all, such a model just fills a spot in a train, or on a siding. If it carries out that assignment, would we care what it looks like? Why not something like this? The body is a little simple, but it has trucks and couplers, so it will operate just fine.

Ah, you say, but that couldn’t serve as a model freight car; it isn’t lettered. Good point, and I can fix that pretty easily with a Post-It note; now it’s AB&C 1245.

Notice how convenient this is; whenever we need some different freight car for operation, just apply a different Post-It note.
     So is this an exaggeration? Of course, and intentionally so, but in my opinion not much more so than using a waybill along the lines of this one:

This “waybill” bears about as much resemblance to the prototype as does the wood-block box car I showed above.
     Do any of us use the prototype waybill in model railroading? Not to my knowledge, but the post I referenced in the second paragraph of the present post shows an effort to get close to the look and content of a prototype waybill. One might then have such a bill filled out like this:

I leave it as an exercise for the viewer, whether this waybill is more prototypical than the one shown just above it.
     What’s my point here? We may or may not aspire to reproducing all aspects of prototype railroading in our models and in our layouts. As many people have said, there is nothing wrong with any of the many versions of our hobby that an individual may choose to pursue. But if you ignore too many aspects of reality, and yes, I include paperwork in that, you run the risk that, as Tony Koester put it, you are just playing with interesting models of railroad hardware, not trying to model the reality of railroading.
     It has always been my modeling goal to try and reproduce at least a decent version of what railroading was like in my chosen locale and era, and on my chosen railroad. I want the crews that come for operating sessions to experience the flavor of what operating on the Southern Pacific was like in 1953. For  me, improving waybills are every bit as much a part of my goals as improving the looks of my locomotives and freight cars, or building better structures and scenery.
Tony Thompson


  1. Hi Tony,

    I am so impressed that you had a lumber boxcar ready for this article. Of course, I would be more impressed if the wheels were P:87.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking essay. My response was too long for a comment. I've put it on my blog instead:


  2. Very nice commentary, Rene. I agree entirely with you, and may provide a link to your comments in a future blog post. The problem for all of us is that there are areas of so-called "extreme" modeling that any of us may not be interested in entering, whether it's high levels of detail or prototype adherence that interferes with the ability to operate a layout. But I think all of us can remain aware of trying for higher achievement. That's what I hope I convey in my blog.
    Thanks again.

  3. Tony, we've met AND exchanged paperwork, so you KNOW how much of a 'Paper Hound" I am. In fact, a bunch of us here in Northern NJ cal ourselves the "North Jersey Paperwork Mafia", even though some us are from PA, NY, and CT! Most of us use "Proto-Bills" on our layouts, and trade back and forth Shipper's Guides, routing info, tariffs, and the most esoteric of commodity carloading reports.

    My point being, is that you and Rene are right, it IS like "modeling by half" if you don't use the right paperwork, no matter what the paperwork might be. Can you imagine operating a timetable and train order layout using scrap paper and not actual Form 19's and 31's and Clearance Cards? Sure, the majority aren't actual flimsies or even full sized forms, but you betcha we use them!

    Even my friend Dave Abeles who doesn't use waybills, but blocking reports on his Onondaga Cutoff (not sure of the correct Conrail term), and who thinks they are "silly, old paperwork" (harumph, kids today!), is STILL using prototypical car routing paperwork, because it is all about modeling the MOOD as he says, and he's right! Of course, it doesn't hurt that he's a great modeler who happens to be trained as a civil engineer employed by the railroad! But regardless, we all have different skill sets (I am not much of a prototypical modeler, and more of a prototypical operator), but I think the envisioned complexity of it all is what scares most away. But let's be honest, you've helped make it easy to understand!

    I look at it this way - if I'm inviting you to my house to run a 1951 version of the Lehigh Valley RR, the LEAST I could do is give you the "full immersion experience", and draw you in and let yourself get lost in the experience, should you choose. I like to think I'm helping recreate history to a certain extent, not just "running trains". If a circle of track around the room is your thing, that's cool I guess, it's just not my thing. Thanks for letting me go on, awesome thought-provoking content as always! ~ Ralph

  4. Thanks, Ralph. I'll take you up on that "full immersion" on the 1951 Lehigh Valley!
    Tony Thompson

  5. Great article, I have learned quite a bit from all of your postings not to mention I have bought most of the books you have used as reference material and enjoy reading them too. Oh by the way is that a single or double sheathed wood boxcar?

  6. Since the same wood encloses both sides, it's a level below single-sheath, which I suppose ought to be zero sheath. Or it can certainly be seen as single-sheathed, just one wood level. Your call (grin).
    Tony Thompson

  7. LOVE this and could not possibly agree more. Now I'm looking for a software program that will create & generate the waybills and print them in this realistic format (though I suppose I could try to write something myself that would basically be a mail merge into an excel spreadsheet or word doc.... hmmmm.... seems I've heard about that somewhere before). Always enjoy your posts - especially about using prototypical paperwork on our layouts.

    1. BTW - coincidentally, I was discussing this very thing over at a thread I started on the MRH blog and since you put it so much better than I did, I linked to your post. (at the bottom) Heh - let's just say there are some folks out there that seem to be a bit self-conscious about not having prototype-looking waybills, at least if the snarkiness about them is any indication LOL!