Maine Central, Lamoille Valley

Maine Central, Lamoille Valley
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Sunday, January 01, 2012

Of Operations, Car Cards and Waybills

The February 2012 issue of Model Railroader had an interesting article on advancing the state of car cards and waybills used for operations. The goal is to move towards a more realistic waybill following the prototype a little more closely than what many model railroaders have become familiar with, the 4 cycle waybill put into a car card holder. This got me to thinking about waybills for my layout, making me revisit my plans for car cards and waybills. So I thought I would share some details about how I plan to use paperwork to operate my layout.
I have slowly been moving the operating scheme for my layout forward in preparation for the (hopefully not too distant) future initial operating session. I plan to use the familiar and popular car card and waybill system. In our general area, most layouts are using this system and the pool of available operators will be familiar with their concept and use. I did however make some initial changes.
Many layouts use the original larger style car card, which is about 3” x 5” size. Personally I find them a little too large to deal with and find there is plenty of unused space on the card as well as the waybill. So it made sense to look at a smaller alternative. I am going with a custom size that is 2-1/2” by 4”, a little larger than “smaller” versions that are available from Micro-Mark among others. Through a couple of tests I found this to be a comfortable size.
As I had already started a database to track my freight cars, I used a “merge” process to put my database entries into a printable template. This allowed me to print just what I wanted and meant I did not have to hand-write all the data. I did have to then trim the cards to size after printing, but that seemed easier than writing out all the data. Here is a picture of some of my completed car cards.
Traditional car cards with fold up pocket, although the size is somewhat custom, in between the original large ones, and the later small ones.

The next step is waybills. This is an involved process because you really need to look at your layout, the sidings you have, their capacity and the types of cars that can be spotted there. My basic plan will use a method to keep track of this info when preparing the waybills that has been shared locally, was printed in the OpSig Dispatcher magazine and also discussed on the web site of Mark Fryzstacki, a local modeler who helped refine the process. I suggest reading that info to help understand how to do it. Here is a link:

So I started designing a waybill and test fitting it to see what looked good and could be easily printed and cut out. As far as the data on the waybill, I simply took the approach of following a car’s travels across my layout. I started in location 1 and routed the car through 4 steps, for instance from staging to a siding, then in the next step from that siding to either another siding, or back to staging, etc. for all 4 steps. The only consideration is that the car needs to be back at the location of the first waybill in order to restart the process at step 1 again.
An example: A Boxcar goes from East Deerfield CP staging to Vermont Wallboard on the LVRC (waybill 1), then loaded it moved to the MEC and Portland staging (waybill 2), then from Portland staging as an empty it moves from the MEC to the Groveton Paper Mill on the B&M (waybill 3), then finally from Groveton loaded with paper to the CP and on to ED staging, representing a printer in the Mid-Atlantic (waybill 4). At this point the waybill can restart its journey with the same car, or I could swap it with a different boxcar’s car card perhaps.
Nothing unusual, just a manual process to visualize the steps the car will take. And you need to keep track of the steps so you do not overload a siding with too many waybill movements, as explained in the linked article.
Getting back to the MR article, I looked at this alternative method that is using plastic sleeves and single sheets to list the car and the waybill. It is certainly more realistic in a prototype sense. But I wasn’t sure if that really mattered, at least to me. After all we are just model railroaders and most of us do not see real prototype waybills, so the goal for a more prototypical waybill is really a decision for the layout owner in what he wants most. I don’t think one way is wrong or right, just a different approach to the same need – moving cars on the layout.
One thing I did like however was the idea of plastic sleeves holding the waybills. It seems this might help the paperwork hold up better to operator handling. There is a bit of wear on car cards I have seen on other layouts and this seems to help address that issue.
I also like that the full face of the document can be used to convey info to the operator. On traditional car cards, the lower pocket is really wasted space, about 1/3 of the available area in my case.
So, for now I have ordered a few vinyl sleeves to play around with. I am thinking of trimming off the folded pocket on the car card and inserting that into the sleeve. Then print smaller waybills that sit on top of the car card, using a full 2-1/2” x 3” area to convey the waybill information.
I did download the sample spreadsheet and played around with it and tweaked it, adding and removing some fields to better fit my goals. I do like the look of it, but until I get the sleeves and mock one up, I am not sure yet how well it will work. So I will put another entry up once that happens.