Essence of Ops
Basics of Operations, Car Cards
and Waybills for Your Model Railroad Layout
by Robert D. (Bob) Johnson
Pseudo-Soo Line Model Railroad
After my presentation at the Fall Gateway
Convention, a voice from the back of the room asked
if I could convert it to an article for the RPO.
Fortunately, at that very moment my laptop flashed
the "blue screen of death" and I could dodge the
question. In spite of that, I knew I had been asked
and I knew it was something I should do. Besides, it
might give me a couple of points for my "Author"
merit badge (Certificate of Achievement).
'Tis not as easy task to convert those PowerPoint
slides to understandable text. But here goes.
Model Railroad Operation
I believe that model railroad operation is one of
the world's most magnificent board games. Linn
Westcott, long time editor of Model Railroader,
first expressed that view in an editorial in the
1960s. Operation has all of the elements: a playing
board (your layout) with multiple paths to success
(trains), tokens (your rolling stock), a card deck
to choose from (your waybills), and probability
(will we make the meet?). If you are successful, the
correct cards get to the right places more or less
on time. If you are not successful, you will have
chaos and a good bit of frustration on the part of
I am not going to delve into the complexities of
layout design. There are more competent folks to do
that. I will give a couple of examples of train
orders as I do it on my Pseudo-Soo Line (PSL).
However, the key for me is car forwarding, that is,
ways to direct the movement of specific cars to
specific destinations so the railroad can earn its
keep. I will mention several such schemes and detail
my own paperwork and that available from the NMRA
Operations Special Interest Group (OpSIG). I will
also give a few "if I had to do it over again"
Before you can produce train orders, you have to
figure out what trains are required to work your
industries and serve your passengers. You can omit
this step if you just have a switching layout, but
as soon as you add trains actually going somewhere
you need to at least conceptualize a schedule. As
the layout and work to be done gets larger, you need
a good methodology to make all of the work fit into
the time available (normally the length of your
operations session). There are numerous software
programs that can make this effort relatively
painless, but it can be done manually. The end
result will be a "string diagram" showing when yards
are busy, where trains will meet, etc. Of course,
you will make some train runs to prove you can
switch 12 cars at eight industries in 15 minutes!
Then you can write your train orders.
Figure 1 shows
one of my train orders for a passenger run.
is an order for a freight job, in this case a turn
(e.g., out to an industrial area or interchange and
The train order provides the information the
operator needs to do his or her job. It gives the
train name and number, where it originates, what it
does, and when it does it. Finally, it tells where
it is supposed to end up at the end of the run.
Happily, my layout is a simple oval so trains like
the Atlantic Limited always end up where they
started. It sure makes getting the layout ready for
the next session easier!
A freight train order is similar but lists the
industries to be worked. Note that it also provides
a tonnage limit, 10 cars in this case. This is scale
model railroading and if I can suppose my HO track
is 4 ft 8½ in, then I can suppose that each car on
the layout is equal to five cars on the prototype.
Fifty-car locals would be a pretty good size drag
for the era and region I model.
My train orders are printed on 3x5 inch cards. I use
Avery 5388 index card stock (three 3x5 cards per
sheet) so it is easy to produce a corrected version
or replace a mangled one if necessary (operators can
be pretty hard on your paperwork). I also use 3x5
inch index cards for my car cards so the package of
train order and car cards is easy for the operator
That, of course, was the easy part! The big
• How do we decide what cars go where?
• How do we know how to get them to their next
destination (the routing)?
• How do we know which cars to pick up?
• How do we make the movements "random?"
How do we keep from going nuts!!!
There have been numerous car-forwarding systems
proposed over the years. For convenience I have
broken them into five general schemes:
• Car-for-car replacement
• Switch lists
• Color coded tacks
• Single destination waybill cards
• Multiple destination waybill cards
With car-for-car replacement you make up a train in
your yard and tootle down the track. At the first
industry, you pull cars currently in place and
replace them with appropriate cars from your
consist. Cars pulled from industries go to the rear
of the train; cars being delivered come from the
front. Soon you will have used up the original cars
and start re-spotting cars you picked up a few
industries ago. You don't need many cars initially
to switch the entire railroad.
This is a good way to make sure your layout is
working reasonably well, make sure run-arounds are
long enough, and so on. If you haven't done much
switching work it will give you a chance to
practice. However, it doesn't provide the challenge
of having to put the "right" car in the "right"
Switch lists are usually computerized and have
achieved some popularity. Some folks manually
prepare switch lists but it can be very time
consuming. Some owners combine the
computerized/written list with car cards so there is
a piece of paper for each car at each industry. I
have used switch lists on other layouts and found
them difficult to work with. In addition, after each
operating session, you (the owner) have to survey
the entire layout to make sure cars ended up where
the computer thought they would. If not, you need to
make corrections to the database or more the cars
before the next list. Overall, computerized lists
seem a lot harder both for the owner and the
operators. It is up to you, but I don't recommend
them, especially as a starting point.
The Color-Coded Tack (CCT) system was proposed by Ed
Ravenscroft in the July 1965 issue of Model
Railroader. I have never seen it in use, but it is a
good way to explain what we are trying to
The method does require a small hole in the top of
each car to hold the tack. You need as many tack
colors as you have trains to run. Strangely,
thumbtacks seem to be a dying breed (push pins are
"in") but can still be found, mostly with plain
white or steel finish. You can air brush or hand
paint the colors you need. Every piece of rolling
stock on the layout except locomotives, cabooses,
and cars captive in unit or passenger trains, needs
a tack. If your passenger service adds or drops
diners, mail cars, or express cars during a session,
you will need tacks for these cars. You also need
perhaps as may more for resetting the layout after
each session. Finally, you need a tack of the
appropriate color at each industry/spot. That tack
is placed so the engineer can see it when working
With this system, the yardmaster can easily sort the
color-coded cars into trains. However, we also have
to indicate the recipient industry. That is done by
a single letter on each tack written with an
indelible pen. Thus, the yardmaster can sort not
only by train, but can block (group cars together)
The operator then matches the letter code to the
actual industry out on the road. Very easy to learn
and no paperwork! The downside is that little,
almost invisible hole in the roof. Of course, that
would normally be hidden by the tack.
The photo shows CCT at the Rhinelander Veneer and
Plywood plant on my PSL. Note the industry
identifying tack on the table. This could very
easily have been mounted on the face of the building
and would be very inconspicuous.
Figure 4 is a diagram of a small railroad at the end
of an operating session. The rectangles represent
cars, each with a color-coded tack as a waybill. The
letters on the rectangles represent the color of the
tacks, not the industry code. G=Green, O=Orange,
R=Red, and Y=Yellow.
It was a miracle! All of the
"orange" cars were
delivered by the "orange" train to their proper
spots at the Mill. The same is true for the "green,"
"red," and "yellow" cars. Cars left in the yard
presumably arrived in the yard after the appropriate
train had departed. They might have come from any
place on the layout. For example, the "red" car in
the yard might have started the session on the AB&C
Interchange. During the next session, the "red" car
will undoubtedly make it to the staging track via
the "red" train.
Between sessions you "reset" the layout. That
doesn't mean you move all the cars willy-nilly
around the layout. Instead, you grab your trusty box
of spare color-coded tacks and replace the tacks on
those cars that are at, what I call, "endpoints."
That is, the cars that have arrived at their correct
destinations. The cars in the yard haven't gotten to
their destinations, so those tacks remain
undisturbed. Figure 5 shows how the layout now
Notice that one of the
"orange" cars at the Mill did
not get a new color. This could happen for either of
two reasons. First, because you were picking your
replacement tacks randomly, there was a chance that
you would pick another orange tack. The other
possibility is that the Mill, you decided, can only
load or unload two cars per day (that's a "scale" 10
cars in my system). Therefore, one of three cars
won't get loaded/unloaded and should not leave the
Mill until the following session.
Now, let's look at the situation after the first
train of the next session has run. We will assume
the Mill job, the "orange" train, is first out.
Figure 6 tells the tale.
Comparing the two diagrams, you see that the train
gathered up the two "orange" cars in the yard and
delivered them to the Mill. The "orange" car that
had been at the Mill is still there. The "green" and
"yellow" cars that were at the Mill have moved to
the yard. As you continue through the session, the
"yellow," "green," and "red" cars in the yard should
all make it to their endpoints. Some of the cars now
at the Interchange, Greenville, or Staging will make
it to their endpoints, others only to the yard,
depending on the schedule of arrivals and
Ed Ravenscroft developed the CCT scheme on his
layout in Chicago. He expanded on the method after
retiring to the Phoenix area in 1964. Ed passed away
in 1998 and his crew continued to use CCT until the
layout was dismantled a couple of years later.
Single-Destination Waybill Cards
That brings us to car card and waybill systems. The
earliest systems were discussed in the hobby press
in the late 1940s. Even Ed Ravenscroft wrote about a
method a few years before he created his CCT system.
Commercially produced car card and waybill forms
have been available for many years. In this
discussion I have used my home grown system and the
system developed by the
Operations Special Interest
Group (OpSIG) to demonstrate the critter. There is
no perfect system for all layouts, so these are used
only as examples of the methodology and paperwork
First you need a
"car card," one for every piece of
rolling stock on the railroad with the same
exceptions noted for CCT.
Figure 7 is a sample of my
homegrown car card. I use standard 3x5 inch index
The only mandatory information is the reporting
mark, in this case "PSL 2535," and the car type, "Box." I try to keep everything simple so I don't
subdivide car types by size, fittings, etc. You
could indicate all sorts of special configurations
if you wish, but it will greatly complicate your
The only other requirement is a way to attach the
waybill. I form pockets from 3x2½ inch pieces of
transparency film, the kind used with overhead
projectors. The least expensive kind is the "mark
on" style (about $15 for 100 sheets at office supply
stores). Transparency film made for laser or inkjet
printers is much more expensive. Of course, you
might be able to salvage a few sheets of film from
your sales department t work. A small pack will
suffice for a lot of car cards. Use heavy-duty
packing tape to attach the acetate – everyday "Scotch" tape will not last long.
You could also use paper clips to attach the
waybill. This is quick and easy, but paper clips get
caught on other waybills and car cards.
You can add other information. Some operators like
to show "When empty return to ________." You can
also use the card as your record of when you bought
the car, maintenance actions, who gave it to you if
it was a gift, and so on. Be sure this information
is either on the back or hidden under the waybill so
it won't distract your operators.
Your waybills are your most important documents to
ensure smooth operations. But, before I go further,
let me explain my terminology. The waybill consists
of the information printed on the physical card.
Later, when I get into multi-destination systems,
you will see that you can have multiple waybills on
a single, physical card.
Figure 8 is
an example of my waybill. At the top
left is the "routing code." On the Pseudo-Soo Line
this is a two-part code. The first segment indicates
what yard the car must go to in order to "catch its
train." I need this yard code because I have three
major yards that originate trains. If you only have
one yard that does all of your classification you do
not need the first segment.
The second segment indicates the train or "job" that
works the receiving industry. This segment is
equivalent to the tack color in the CCT system.
The routing code is primarily for the yardmasters.
For example, a car appears in the Weyerhauser yard,
having been brought in by the Rice Lake Turn. The
Yardmaster can see by the routing that is should be
forwarded to Rhinelander. He would classify it for
the next train to Rhinelander. Similarly, the
Rhinelander Yardmaster can see that the car belongs
in Rhinelander and it should be classified to the
Tony Turn when he prepares that train for the road
In the upper right corner is the car type. This is
not necessary if you don't care what types of cars
go to what industries. Box cars were appropriate
almost everywhere in the "good old days," but I
don't want boxcars to go to the pulpwood or coal
sidings at the papermill. Thus, you will probably
want a way to differentiate waybills for various car
types. I make this even easier by using different
colors of card stock: green for boxcars, bright
yellow for reefers, a dark blue for tank cars,
manure yellow for stock cars, and so on.
At the center of the waybill in bold letters is the
receiving industry. This is the only information the
road crew needs. However, the yardmaster also uses
it to block the train prior to handling it over to
the road crew. This is equivalent to the industry
letter code in the CCT system.
Finally, you might occasionally need some additional
instructions on the waybill. In the sample provided,
I attempted to add some levity because the Brewery
and Coca-Cola plant were next to each other on the
old Pseudo-Soo Line in Minneapolis.
My waybills are 3 inches tall by 2½ inches wide.
This fits comfortably in the pocket of my card
cards. Card stock is available at Target, K-Mart,
Walmart, and office supply stores. If you need lots
of colors, a good source is Xpedx, a printer's
supply company. They have two outlets in the St.
Louis area. I have a lot of waybills, typically
twelve for each industry, so I preprint the
information on Avery labels. This is fast and neat.
Unfortunately, there isn't a label just the right
size, so I trim a little off both ends of the 1 inch
by 2-5/8 inch size (Avery 8160 for inkjets). If I
had to do it again, I would increase the width of
the waybill to 2¾ so the label would fit!
The waybill is completely visible through the
acetate window when it is in the pocket of the car
card. It is easy to handle, easy to read, and not
cluttered with extraneous information.
Most of my waybills are on single-destination cards.
That is, once a car reaches its endpoint, the
waybill card has to be replaced by another one.
However, I also use some two-destination cards,
depending on the situation and what I am trying to
achieve. Figures 9a and
9b are an example, showing
both sides of a two-sided card.
My loaded hoppers come from the southern Illinois
coalfields, well "beyond the basement." The PSL
picks them up at its interchanges with the C&NW,
Wisconsin Central, and Milwaukee Road. The cycle
starts at the interchange. I remove the prior card
and insert a new
one. "Side 1" of that card bills the coal to an
industry on the PSL, in this case the Rhinelander
Papermill. During the next session, or more likely
the one after that, the car will arrive at the
Papermill. After that session I remove the coal load
from the car and flip the waybill card over to
display "Side 2." This now bills the empty car back
to one of the interchanges, not necessarily the one
the car started at. This keeps things fairly random.
However, I could consider this a permanent card and
just flip it from Side 2 back to Side 1 and repeat
the cycle. For example, I have several brine cars
that bring cucumbers from interchanges and deliver
them to the Gedney pickle factory at Cameron,
Wisconsin. I generally don't replace these cards
upon arrival at the interchange.
I have a fairly complicated arrangement with my milk
cards on the east and west "milk" trains. There are
three cars in the cycle, and each can be billed to
three different endpoints, so I keep both a
two-destination and a single destination card in the
car pocket for each car. Early in the morning the
westbound train delivered its milk car to the Lassig
Dairy near Hawkins. It picks up the car left at the
dairy during the prior session and takes it to
Minneapolis. During the session I sneak back to the
dairy and flip the waybill card. The car that just
arrived is now billed back to The Soo (Sault Ste.
Marie). Later the eastbound train drops its milk car
and picks up the car left by the westbound.
To keep operators on their toes, I use a number of
special circumstance waybills. The most common one
directs that reefers be iced at either Rhinelander
or Weyerhauser. These cards are one-half the width
of a regular card. They are inserted in the car card
pocket in front of the regular waybill so the
routing code can still be seen. An assortment of
these cards are shown in
Multiple-Destination Waybill Cards
Four-destination waybill cards are used by many
owners. These have been produced commercially by
Figures 11a &
11b show the waybill card sponsored by the
Operations Special Interest Group (OpSIG). These
cards are about 2½ inches wide by 3¾ inches tall.
Contact the OpSIG at
availability and cost.
You cycle through the waybills by first turning the
card end-for-end, then turning it over, then
end-for-end again. At the end of the cycle you can
replace it or just turn in back to Waybill 1.
This form has blanks for a lot of data. At the upper
left corner of Waybill 1 is a box for the car type.
This is meant to be a two-digit code along the lines
of the AAR code system. It is equivalent to the car
type on my waybills and is for filing and making sure that you have a waybill appropriate for
The "Routing" line is used in the same manner as my
routing. "To" directs the car to a town or major
industry; "Rcvr" provides the specific industry,
siding, or "spot." The "From" and "Shpr" lines
provide similar information regarding where the car
originated. Finally, "Contents" allows you to
specify what the car is carrying or that it is
empty. All this is typical of what a prototype
waybill would contain. Some owners are very
particular about this information being logical and
However, your engineer/conductor doesn't care where
the car came from or what is in it (that's also
prototypical!). The amount of information results in
a crowded, difficult to read waybill that can easily
confuse an operator.
Figure 12 is a suggested
simplified version of the OpSIG waybill card. You
can create these on your computer (I used Microsoft
Publisher 97). You will need a similar "side 2"
version with waybills 3 and 4 indicated. Even
easier, create the basic form (with the waybill
numbers) and print the routing, type, and "To"
information on Avery labels. Note that I have put
the waybill number at the bottom because the
operator doesn't care about it. I discuss the serial
number (S/N) toward the end of this article.
Obviously, you could use these cards (OpSIG or a
simplified version) as single-, two-, or
three-destination cards if the particular situation
makes it appropriate. If your hoppers cycled back
and forth between the same industry (say, a power
plant) and the coal source, two-destinations might
With the OpSIG format you need a car card that hides
all but the current waybill.
Figure 13 shows the OpSIG car card with a waybill card in place. The
waybill pocket is formed by folding the bottom of
the pre-printed card upward and sealing the sides
with packing tape. That hides the bottom of the
waybill card so the operator only sees the current
waybill. The assembled card is about 3x5 inch size.
In the "Car Type" box use the same letter codes you
use on the waybills so you can match the car type
with the waybill type. "Road" and "No." are the
reporting marks. "Color" is provided because in the
smaller scales the reporting marks might me
difficult for some operators to read. Actually, I
sometimes indicate the color or some other
distinguishing characteristic on my car cards so the
extra information can be useful even in HO scale.
On the car card, hidden under the waybill, is a
pre-printed note: "Empty Car, Return To:." After you
have cycled through the waybills, if you remove the
waybill card you reveal this note. This is actually
a fifth waybill. I tried this technique many years
ago on the PSL but it gave problems. Typically,
one-quarter or more of your cars will be "empty."
That means you need a place to receive them – large
yards with dead storage tracks and/or lots of
interchange tracks. If yours is a bridge line, you
will jam up your staging tracks. If you have
designed your layout with these considerations in
mind, you should not have a problem but at least I
have warned you!
Another issue is that this "fifth waybill" looks
different than your regular waybills. That adds a
confusion factor for the casual operator. I think
making one of the positions on your regular waybill
card the "empty" destination is much better. As I
said earlier, anything that adds confusion should be
That takes care of the mechanics. Now we get to the
really hard stuff (well, sort of).
Balancing the Railroad
To operate smoothly you need the right number of
waybills for each destination. A siding with three
"spots" needs thrice as many waybills as a siding
with a single spot. When figuring the number of
waybills required, recognize that interchanges and
staging tracks are just big general-purpose
industries. Every "spot" on these tracks has to have
an appropriate number of waybills to keep the
If you have the correct number of waybills for each
spot and for each car type, your railroad will be
"balanced." That is, cars will flow smoothly without
jamming a bunch of tank cars into a siding that
should mostly get boxcars. That is not to say that
your sidings will never be chock-a-block with cars,
but over several sessions it will average out. At
the end of each session some sidings/spots will be
empty while others are plugged. That is the natural
ebb and flow that makes it interesting.
That is, of course, if you avoid the temptation of
having too many cars on the layout. Yards and
sidings will be jammed if you keep adding cars.
Trains will be long, meets difficult, and run-around
tracks and industry sidings too short. A job that
should take ten minutes will take 15 or 20. Remember
that not only must the total number of cars be
correct, but you must also have the right
proportions based on your industry needs.
To get there, start with a spreadsheet (manual or
computerized) of your industries and car types.
Figure 14 is a section of my spreadsheet. This
segment only covers industries at Ladysmith and I
have omitted several car types for clarity.
As a reminder, you have to start with an idea of
what trains are required to service your customers.
The industries shown here, I decided, should all be
worked by the Ladysmith Yardmaster, so this list
represents the industries worked by one of my
"turns." The spreadsheet has similar lists for
Rhinelander and Weyer-hauser. There are also lists
of industries worked by each of several "turns" and
"peddlers" (you may use different terms). Overall, I
have 60 industries and team tracks that have to be
The column labeled "Cap" indicates the capacity of
the industry to load/unload cars each day. It does
not indicate the number of cars that will fit on the
track. Most of my customers have capacity for
two cars although, as you can see, Shellbrach Junk
Yard can only handle one car per day. My layout
represents a fairly low-density line in northern
Wisconsin in 1953, so this feels reasonable. Also, I
decided I would rather have more but smaller
industries in the space available. Repeating an
earlier statement, my "car scale" is one HO car
equals five of the real thing, so a capacity of two
reflects a pretty substantial industry.
The columns labeled "Reef," "Box," etc. represent my
car types. If you have opted to subdivide basic
types into various subtypes (e.g., iced reefers vs.
mechanical reefers), you need a column for each
You have to decide how many waybills you need for
each "spot." An industry with a capacity of two cars
per day constitutes two spots. You could get by with
just two waybills per spot, but it will severely
restrict the flexibility and randomness that makes
it interesting. For reasons lost in antiquity, I
decided on six waybills per spot many years ago.
When I moved to St. Peters in 2000, I stayed with
that decision – but four or five per spot would have
worked as well. I suggest that you start with four –
you can always increase it later if you feel it
would be useful.
Having settled on six per spot (as shown in the
spreadsheet), you see that I need 12 waybills for
most industries. The column on the far right, "Tot,"
reflects that requirement. This is actually a sum of
the car-type columns to show that I have generated
enough waybills. At issue then is how to distribute
the waybills between different car types. At Attabury Furniture, I decided that 9 out of 12
waybills should be for boxcars. The other three
waybills are for a coal hopper, a general service
gondola, and a flat car. This seems to be a fairly
reasonable distribution for a furniture manufacturer
in the mid-1950s. McDonald's Lumber gets the same
distribution, while Frazier's Plumbing and the team
track only receive boxcars. Flatley Oil gets only
tank cars, although it would be perfectly reasonable
to have two or three boxcar waybills in the
distribution. Fredericks Foundry is a new industry,
and for some reason I did not make as many waybills
as I should have. As a result, the foundry will
receive a few less cars than its "fair share."
Again, the purpose of all of this is to balance the
railroad. If you had 10 waybills per spot for the
team track vs. six for all other spots at Ladysmith,
on average you would pull 67% more waybills for the
team track than for the other industries. This
system would diligently route an excessive number of
cars to the team track. No fun for you or your
The capacity of the industry also affects the way I
reset after an operating session. As mentioned when
I discussed the color-coded tack method, if there
are more cars at the industry than its daily
load/unload capacity, those excess cars should stay
at the industry. Thus, if the capacity is two, two
of the cars would get new waybills while any others
would remain billed to the industry. The operator
will see when he works the industry that two cars
should come our and the rest remain. If you have
balanced your supply of waybills and don't have too
many cars on the layout, over the next one or two
sessions those extra cars will have "served their
time" and the industry will no longer be overloaded.
It is also possible when you randomly pick a waybill
while resetting the layout that it will be for the
same industry. No problem. Just pull the old waybill
card and insert the new one in the car card pocket.
This tells the operator that the car should remain
in place for another day. This applies even if the
industry is at or below capacity. This doesn't
happen often with my 60 industries, but will be
more common if your have fewer customers. The idea
is to have fun while providing some challenge to
your operators, so don't worry about re-billing a
car to an industry.
Figure 15 is the segment of my spreadsheet listing
the interchange tracks. In this case, the "Cap"
column indications the "ideal" number of cars
delivered to the interchange each session, rather
than the fixed capacity of industries. The
difference is that when I reset the interchanges,
all cars get new waybills, even if there are more
than the ideal number at the interchange. This is
obviously what would happen in real life – the
receiving railroad would take all cars you delivered
and they would have given you everything they had.
The matrix shows that there are still six waybills
per "spot," requiring a lot of waybills for the
larger interchanges. You can also see the large
number of coal hoppers going to the interchanges.
Beyond that, it shows the mish-mash of car types
that you would expect to see at a general-purpose
Finally, Figure 16 shows the portion of the
spreadsheet devoted to my staging tracks. I actually
have eight staging tracks, but only three are for
Staging track capacity and resetting are handled the
same way interchanges are. You can see by this
matrix that I consider a lot of my reefers to be in
bridge traffic – moving from the west coast eastward
across the northern tier to New York and Boston
markets. Conversely, the paucity of gons, stock
cars, etc. indicates that most of that traffic is
within the PSL or with its interchange railroads.
There are no waybills for coal hoppers or pulpwood
gons because that traffic is exclusively between the
PSL and the interchanges.
So far my discussion of the mathematics of waybills
has been on the basis that you opt primarily for
single-destination waybill cards. After every
session, you replace all cards for cars that have
reached endpoints – industry, interchange, or
staging – with the exceptions noted. But how will
balance be achieved if you opt for an OpSIG type
card with up to four destinations per card?
First, if all of your waybill cards utilize all four
destinations, it means that you have four waybills
per car rather than four per spot. You will probably
have more cars on the layout than spots. Recently I
counted 195 cars (not counting unit trains, such as
my ore train and passenger trains) on my layout,
compared to about 160 car spots, a ratio of 1.22
cars per spot. Using 4-destination cards leads to a
waybill-to-spot ratio of almost 5 – more than
adequate for car
distribution flexibility and randomness.
So it is reasonable to have one waybill per car and
never have to exchange the card. This is neat
because it is much easier to turn cards that to
replace them. However, with multiple waybills per
card, it becomes much more difficult to keep track
of what you have done. I came up with the following
spreadsheet format (figure
17) for Noel Baker when he started
writing his waybills.
In this matrix I have put the industries and
capacities across the top and the car types in the
left column. I have given each card a serial number
(S/N) for tracking purposes (remember this on my
simplified version of the OpSIG card on page 13?).
You will have as many waybill cards as you have cars
on the layout. Note that each card has a maximum of
four destinations indicated. If a car goes back and
forth between a coal mine and power plant, then just
repeat the sequence twice on one card. Count it
twice on the spreadsheet. Note that if this hopper
is assigned to a unit train from mine to power plant
and back, you don't need waybills (the train order
suffices) unless the cars are to be spotted at
different tipples at the mine. Only if you have some
sort of three-step sequence, similar to my milk car
situation, would you not use all four positions.
When you are done, the grand total for each industry
should add up to something near your expected ratio
of waybills-to-spots. If you add more cars, your
waybill-to-spots ratio will increase, but that is
not a bad thing. If the railroad starts bogging down
because you have too many cars, you remove some of
them along with their car cards and waybills.
If I started over, I would probably use a simplified
form of the OpSIG waybill card. With a computer, it
is much easier to create the cards and keep track of
waybill counts than when I started. As I said
before, flipping cards between sessions is much
easier than exchanging them. I would still use
colored card stock to make the cards, but that is a
minor consideration. Of course, my car cards with
their transparent pockets would not work. I would
certainly use something like the OpSIG car card.
That would be another real advantage because my car
cards are very time consuming to make. The OpSIG
form is much easier.
If you are interested in operations you should visit
a couple of operating layouts and see how it is
done. You should also join the NMRA
Special Interest Group. They have an excellent
quarterly journal; the dues are $15 per year.
Arlington Heights, IL 60006-0872
The Pseudo-Soo Line welcomes visitors to its monthly
operating sessions. I will put you to work and you
can help us achieve our goal of unparalleled
service. Remember our motto: "We give prompt
service no matter how long it takes."