Sunday, April 21, 2024

Waybills, Part 114: managing the “fleet”

It’s been awhile since I commented on a waybills topic, and preparing for operating sessions this month (four in all) has reminded me of some aspects I haven’t discussed at all recently. (To find previous posts in this series, the easiest way is to use “waybills, part” as the search term in the search box at right; they will mostly come up in chronological order.) For most purposes, the best overview or guide to the first 100 posts on the topic is here: .

Part of what I want to discuss in the present post is management of the entirety of the waybill collection used on my layout, as it now is. Some of what I will touch on has been presented in basic form in an earlier post (see it at: ), and I want to add to that background.

My basic system is to file waybills by industry, and the waybills for that industry are filed by reporting mark. Within each reporting mark, they are filed by car number. This makes it quite easy to select waybills to use for a particular industry in an upcoming operating session, or to find a particular car’s waybill for that industry. 

My waybills are enclosed in baseball-card collectors’ clear plastic sleeves, and I use a card-collectors’ storage box for the waybills between sessions. It’s shown below. The magenta dividers indicate towns on the layout.

In the case that I want to use a particular freight car in an upcoming session, and need to know what industries’ waybills may have been made for it, I turn to my “pairs list,” a multi-page document listing all shipper-consignee pairs that exist (for background, see: ). Every new waybill is added to this list. And since it is an digital list, it is readily searchable for any car number.

In a decade of operating the layout in its present form, and some 90 sessions in total, the system has really worked well. It is simple and convenient to manage waybills and thus car movements, and I have been happy with the relative realism of the paperwork.

But the perhaps more interesting aspect I want to discuss stems from a question I was asked, after presenting a clinic about my waybill system. The question was, “How many waybills do you make for each operating session?”

I responded by saying, in effect, “This is really two questions. The first is, and I think what you meant is,  ‘how many waybills do I have to make for each session,’ but I think there is implied a second question, ‘how many waybills do I actually make for a session?’ ” Then I went on to say the following.

The number I have to make is really zero. I have a substantial number of waybills, more than one for many of my cars, but at least one waybill for every car in the fleet. In addition, I have a number of “overlay” or half-bills, which allow multiple cars to have a particular load. (For a description of that idea, see this post: ; and if you are interested in that topic, using “overlay bills’ as a search term in the search box at upper right of this post will show you some additional commentary, such as this one: .) So it is only if a new car has been added to the fleet, that I have to make a new waybill.

But in fact, I often do make new waybills before an operating session. Why would that be, given that I don’t really have to do so? One reason is that I discover faults in waybills that may have been made years ago. Sometimes it’s merely a typo, which I want to fix. Here’s an embarrassing one: I got the car number wrong. (The one on the left is correct.) 

Sometimes I now have additional information about a purported shipper or destination, or about car routing (usually from a railroad’s Shipper Guide; see: ). Sometimes I failed to include the actual destination, such as the team track or house track. Here again, the left-hand bill is correct; I noted the error by hand, on the right-hand one.

As I have developed more and more ways to represent rubber stamps on waybills, I have replaced the old one with a new, stamped one. In the case shown below, it’s a weight agreement stamp, added to one on the left.

And sometimes I am correcting state designations. In the early days of making waybills, I just used the conventional two-letter abbreviations, which in fact were introduced by the U.S. Postal Service in late 1963. But I model 1953, when the “traditional” state abbreviations were in use (a listing of both sets of abbreviations is available at: ). I have often replaced an existing waybill with post-1963 state abbreviations on it, with the older style abbreviation (see any of the waybills above for examples).

So in an ongoing process, I do correct or improve older waybills, and as these come to light for particular sessions, I make new, correct waybills. I suppose I could go through the entire box (see photo at top of this post) and find all the replaceable ones, but that has never risen to a level of importance that I actually did that. I usually just fix ones I want to use. It’s all part of how I manage the (waybill) fleet.

Tony Thompson


  1. Tony, thanks for the links. I've generally followed your posts on these waybills, and I like the refinements that have taken place over the years. I'm seriously considering using your system on my own pike once I get it operational. But first I need to go back and review the system in detail.

  2. Hi, Jack. I'm glad the posts are interesting and hopefully helpful. Feel free to ask questions if you have any snags.
    Tony Thompson