Friday, February 10, 2023

Waybills, Part 104: yard stamps

 This part of the long series of blog posts about waybills is about Empty Car Bills. It’s now well known that all railroads used some form for paperwork to move empty cars. (The adage often quoted is: “Just like the military, nothing happens on the railroad without paperwork.”) 

The most important thing to know about these types of Bills is that they were only valid on the issuing railroad, unlike waybills, which could move a car to the next town or across the country.

I have written several posts about these kinds of Bills, and those are readily found by using the search box at right, with Empty Car Bills as the search term. A good starting point is this one:

For more detail, I recommend the excellent summary of waybill preparation by Harry Dolan; he includes a mention of the Empty Car paperwork (see: ). Today I want to concentrate on one feature often noticed on them. It’s the fact that many of them carry rubber stamps. Here’s one example: .

It is of course understandable that an office that repeatedly has to use a particular text on documents would have a rubber stamp made to do so. It simply saves time. As mentioned, this is visible on prototype Empty Car Bills. For example, look at the C&O example below, provided to me by Ted Pamperin. Here a Nickel Plate box car was received at the East Buffalo, New York yard, and the yard stamp shows that name, and gives the station number, 9235:

Another example is this Reading Empty Car bill, provided by Rob Mantler, with stamps not only for the receiving yard (Newberry Junction, PA), but also for the destination, (Sunbury, PA). It also has a time stamp for Newberry Junction. You may also note on both these forms that the car initials and number are hand-written.

For my layout, the yard that supplies most of the empties is Los Angeles, with West Oakland firmly in second place. It occurred to me that both these large yards might well have employed rubber stamps in their paperwork. Now one can readily find lots of “rubber stamp” fonts on the internet, allowing one’s model paperwork to carry that appearance, but real rubber stamps are easily varied in color and in the placement of the impression on the paperwork.

It now seems blindingly obvious, but it suddenly occurred to me to just have some rubber stamps made. Surely this must be possible in the modern age on the Internet? And indeed it is. There are lots of sites, and I only tried one, but it worked quickly and for a modest price. I used TheStampMaker (see the wide range of their offerings at: ), and ordered the two yard names mentioned above.

The stamps arrived promptly. Here is a photo of them. I assume the two different bodies are merely due to the different lengths of the two legends.

I tried making out a couple of my usual Empty Car Bill forms, leaving the originating yard blank, and used two different stamp pad colors. On one, I tried writing in the car identification in pencil, in the spirit of the prototype examples shown at the top of the present post. The other one is typed in the font I have chosen to resemble the billing typewriters that SP and UP used, Letter Gothic.

These look good to me, and I will continue to use them. In fact, I intend to replace some of my existing Empty Car Bills with new ones bearing these stamps. It’s yet another example of making more realistic paperwork for moving freight cars.

Tony Thompson


  1. Tony, these look fantastic! Nothing duplicates the real thing, like the real thing. Nice work on the stamps. I'm thinking about switching my Route Card forms to include some blank spaces (for repetitive/varying entries) and entering the info with a stamp. I like the variety and 'mood' that it creates.

    1. Thanks, Andy. I am pleased with them too! I am considering whether some other stamps should join the line-up, including WIB stamps.
      Tony Thompson