Car Forwarding is Fun

There are a number of schemes designed to move cars around a model railroad, but I prefer the time-tested 4 cycle waybill popularized by Doug Smith in the 1960s. I have used this system since we began operations on my Bluff City Southern in 1999 with great results. It’s just plain fun, and never the same.

To show you how it works we will follow GATX tank car around the layout. Each car on the railroad has a car card on the left and a 4 cycle waybill on the right. You can buy blank waybills from Micro Mark.

Here the tank car is parked at Getz Gas in Friars Point, Mississippi. We will follow it through its 4 cycles. The top line on the waybill tells you that this car was spotted at Getz Gas, and the next line gives the town. Below is the information for the shipper in other words where the car came from.

Here the tank car has been picked up by Illinois Central NC-6 and is headed to it’s next destination.

After the waybill is turned to the next location, the tank car is switched at Bluff City Yard in Memphis and put on a Frisco train headed to Arkansas. It winds up at the Ford parts plant in West Memphis, Arkansas.

After the car is unloaded at the Ford plant it heads to Greenville, Mississippi staging. But before that it was switched from a Frisco train into a Southern train at the main classification yard in Memphis. In my run again on the next operating session, it may remain in storage if this train is not on the schedule for the next session. A staging yard represents locations off the layout i.e. the rest of the world that is not modeled. This avoids the train set mentality of running a train in a circle. Cars move across the railroad and do actual work by moving material from one location to another.

When the waybill is turned the next session finds the tank car spotted at the VC Fertilizer plant in Somerville, Tennessee. It will be unloaded and then moved during the following operating session. There are other methods of car forwarding including hand written switch lists and computer controlled routing, but I’ve found that keeping things simple with printed waybills works for me.

Finally after at least 4 operating sessions the tank car winds up again at Getz Gas where it started. There is more information you can add to the waybill if desired. But I’ve found that operators don’t really care too much about those additional details. They simply know that the car is at “A” and must be moved to “B”.

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10 Responses to “Car Forwarding is Fun”
  1. Vance Kinlaw
    Vance Kinlaw

    Very informative. I like the presentation format, and I hope you will publish more how-to columns of this nature.

  2. Dale Trongale
    Dale Trongale

    Do you have either a downloadable instruction pamphlet or a hard (paper) version that can be mailed to me? I am trying to set up operations for our club and this would really help in explaining how this system works to those who have no clue.

    • Customer Service
      Customer Service

      Hi Dale, unfortunately we do not have a pamphlet available, however you can print this web page directly from your internet browser if you would like a physical copy.
      Thank you, Hallie Model Railroad Academy Video Membership

  3. Wiley Tinker
    Wiley Tinker

    Thanks for a great presentation as it is very helpful and well thought out for the novice who is learning.

  4. Dennis B.
    Dennis B.

    In a train of cars with each car having a waybill, Does the engineer carry a packet of waybills with him and are they in some kind of box? Are the waybills shuffled by the dispatcher when the train returns with the cars or right before the new train is made up?

    • Customer Service
      Customer Service

      Hello Dennis,

      That would depend on the operator. My original form of the Doug Smith system used car cards and shipment cards attached together to form waybills. All of the waybills were formed before the session began. As cars were spotted the waybills were distributed to the appropriate line side file boxes. With pick ups, the conductor would pick up those appropriate waybills together to form his train. And so on along the length of the run.
      I have pull out drawers under my layout to allow the conductor to do his “office work”, and his coffee cup.
      I’ve evolved with the system now and have added a switch list for the conductor that is derived from the waybills. That simplifies the conductor’s office work so he can spend more time drinking coffee.


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    I was using this system on my railroad in the 70s, it works really well, nice to see it still active in this world of computers, Tony from England

  6. Wiley

    One of the best informative and descriptions of the system I have read. Thanks for sharing. Best, Wiley T.

  7. Lester W
    Lester W

    Not sure that this is the place to mention this, but there are some computer programs to do this. I use “Waybill” which is available on ebay, have used it for more than 20 years. It produces waybills for all of your rolling stock. It is NOT an inventory program