Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Waybills, Part 93: work of the WIB

 Those who have been following my long series of posts about waybills will know that “WIB” stands for Weighing and Inspection Bureau, an entity that was part of each regional freight bureau that operated for decades in the U.S. and Canada. I have discussed this topic at length. For a post with links to prior posts, I recommend this one: ; alternatively, use “freight bureau” as the search term in the search box at right. 

In the western U.S., west of approximately 104 degrees west longitude (see map below from Part 85, just cited), the freight bureau was called the Trans-Continental Freight Bureau, often abbreviated TFB.  Since my layout is set within this region, I have been particularly interested in the TFB, and have even received an original weight-agreement stamp (for more, please see: ). 

A friend here in the local area, Joyce Hennessey, sent me the recollections of her father, Harry Ferguson, of his time with the Trans-Continental Freight Bureau, doing freight inspections. He worked for TFB from 1941 to 1974. I am placing the entire document (with Joyce’s permission) on Google Drive with the link shown below, but will follow that by discussing the most relevant parts. Here’s the link:

It is interesting that Harry’s job with TFB, starting in 1941, was originally not located in the territory shown above, but was in Detroit, Michigan, doing freight inspections. These inspections were related to damage claims, and he was the on-site person to look at damage and verify (or not) any claims.  He also looked into disputes on weights. In 1952 he transferred to the San Francisco TFB office. 

He includes an interesting account of checking weights on produce shipments at Salinas, California. The shippers would do their best to get a “unit weight” as small as possible, getting Harry to weigh sample crates that were lighter than average. This weighing of course was to establish a unit weight so that cargo weight could be simply determined by counting crates and multiplying by that unit weight.

Harry being well aware of being shown “light” crates, he arranged to arrive suddenly with an additional man, and pick ten crates off the regular packing line to be weighed. This allowed a more representative weight to be obtained.

He also did the kind of inspection you might expect for a WIB, namely to verify that cargoes were in fact comprising what the shipper said. He also mentions an interesting example of company that would put parts on the scale for him to see, and he would enter weights on the waybill.

Another interesting aspect was his inspection of crating and packaging of goods, of course intended to protect the shipment and eliminate damage claims, though shippers were not always compliant. They could cut corners on packaging and then make a claim to the railroad if there were damages. His job was to determine that correct packaging was used.

Finally, this interesting description of a WIB job reminds us, as I have pointed out a number of times, that relatively few loaded freight cars had their cargo weights establishing on a railroad-owned scale. Both unit weight agreements, and use of in-plant scales, covered the majority of wight determinations. 

There is nothing wrong with modeling a scale track in a freight yard — it is quite correct — but relatively few cars would in fact need to be weighed. There were exceptions, such as coal, but most merchandise and produce would be determined otherwise. And in many cases a “weight agreement stamp” would appear on the waybill, as I have described in a number of prior posts.

Tony Thompson

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