Thursday, February 16, 2023

Waybills, Part 105: briefing, Part 1

For some years, I have introduced each operating session on my layout with a short oral briefing on my waybills, so that operators know how to read them and follow them. 

I have occasionally been asked if I could write all that down, not the waybill fundamentals, as those have been covered in a number of articles, but the briefing itself. I was never inspired to do that, until Paul Weiss constructed such a written briefing for his Central Vermont layout. “I could do that,” I thought. 

In my oral briefing, I  begin by pointing out the main features of the waybill design that I use. I always point that, just as in the prototype waybill, the bill is divided down the middle, with shipper information on the right and the destination or consignee on the left. That’s why prototype conductors often folded the bills in half lengthwise; they were only concerned with the left side. Model operators likewise can just read the left half if they wish.

Below is a graphic that I used in an MRH (Model Railroad Hobbyist) article in January 2018 (see: ). It shows the car initials and number at top, as the prototype does; and note also, below the consignee address, the routing of the car is shown. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

At this point I emphasize that the consignee address may not be at the company’s own spur track, but at the town’s team track or house track. I use an example waybill from an actual event on the layout, when an operator, holding this bill, asked me, “Where is Carlson’s Furniture? I don’t see it on the layout.” I just pointed my finger at the address notation, “HS. TRK.”

And of course a waybill could at least equally likely direct a car to the team track as to the house track.

The next form to present is the Empty Car Bill that I use, based on the Southern Pacific paperwork of this kind. It was common for railroads to choose yellow or tan or manila for these Bills. Note that the car’s destination is only to the town in question. This is simply because the agent for that town ordered the empty car to be delivered. He would not have identified the shipper, nor need he do so.

But of course that means that a road crew, in order to deliver this empty, need to find out where it goes. On the prototype, the crew’s conductor would step into the depot and find out from the agent. On the layout, we duplicate what would occur when the train arrives in town outside the agent’s duty hours: there is a bill box. I’ve written extensively about bill boxes; here’s a good background post: .

Here’s the kind of message that would be in the bill box, along with any waybills or Empty Car Bills prepared for outgoing cars that the crew should pick up. (On the SP in the 1950s, most agents’ desks contained lots of pads of blank telegram forms, though telegrams were going out of fashion; thus these pads became used for all kinds of notes written by agents.)

Note here that empty car PFE 40559, shown in the Empty Car Bill, is here directed to be spotted at Western Packing in Ballard. A few other car moves are specified also.

I would summarize what’s just been described this way, in terms of what information a switching crew has. First, they have complete information on both inbound and outbound loads, and on outbound empties, and can go ahead with their work. Second, there are some cars, inbound empties, where they only have partial information, and must get an agent’s message to proceed. And third, there are some cars about which they have no information, and those should be left where they are.

This is the core of my waybill briefing. There are a number of additional features that I also describe, and I will cover those in a following post.

Tony Thompson

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