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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Reply to CHAD
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28 Responses to “Car Forwarding is Fun”

  1. Vance Kinlaw

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

    Reply
  2. 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.

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  3. Wiley Tinker

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

    Reply
  4. 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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Thanks,

      Douglas
      Model Railroad Academy Video Membership

      We’d love to have you be a part of our community. We are convinced you will enjoy the benefits of becoming a member and having access to the best instructional how to videos and professional tips. We would like to offer you a special promotion for your first year membership.
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  5. ANTHONY DAVEY

    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

    Reply
  6. Wiley

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

    Reply
  7. 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

    Reply
  8. Jeff Cerame

    I’ve been trying to figure this out for years, and your explanation STILL has me lost…

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello,

      Thank you for your feedback. I have forwarded your comment to the proper department. We value your opinion, and it will help with the development of our online streaming community. We will continue to listen and work hard for your complete satisfaction.

      Sincerely,
      Sarah
      Model Railroad Academy

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  9. john.cosg6

    Why is the tank car no. 5072 as seen on GATX tank car not the number that shows on the waybill?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello,

      Great question! The ‘Ask an Expert’ section is currently for members of our online community. By becoming a member, you will have access to our expert’s knowledge. With your membership you will also receive discounts on products and hundreds of hours of Premium content.
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  10. WARREN

    What am I missing here? The tank car number on the car itself is GATX 5072 but the number showing on the card is GATX 22691.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello Warren,

      Here’s what the experts had to say about your question:
      Ooops! That’s a little production mistake I believe!

      Sincerely,
      Sarah
      Model Railroad Academy

      Reply
  11. James Stanford

    I’ve found that having ‘beyond the basement’ car movements adds an extra depth to operation. I have been part of a group that has done this virtually (ie, via the internet) for more than 10 years. Now, most of the car movements (usually > 90%) on my model railroad layouts are to / from industries on other group members’ layouts.

    Reply
  12. Bill Riggs

    Thanks for a great web site. Just starting to get back to model trains. I had a large selection of American flyers. But after I left home, fad sold them all. So now I am about to start up with HO. At 65, I am looking forward to getting back to it.

    Reply
  13. Carroll Shirkey

    Loved the info with pics and please…..more how-to’s. Everything might not apply to you but, the info may help a fellow model railroader who’s at their wit’s end trying to figure something out.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Great question! The ‘Ask an Expert’ section is currently for members of our online community. By becoming a member, you will have access to our expert’s knowledge. With your membership you will also receive discounts on products and hundreds of hours of Premium content.
      If you are interested in becoming a member, please click on the offer below:
      https://go.modelrailroadacademy.com/C34508
      Thanks
      Sarah
      Model Railroad Academy Video Membership

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    • CHAD

      Could be empty and headed there to pick up FoMoCo fluids? In my imagination, I’d think that it delivered a load at Kerr McGee, was washed out (my college roommate did that for a summer job at Dow Chem. one year), and then shipped to Ford to take on a new product.

      What’s your imagination say???

      Reply
  14. Bob Wajerski

    This is the system I use on my WL&W RR.I have corresponding industries. Example:window & door manufacturer to building supply toyard,back to window & door manufacturer.With 22 industries it is a lot of fun operating.

    Reply
  15. DAVID

    I have been wanting to use car forwarding for some time, but have been unable to find a step-by-step explanation of the process. I have car cards and way bills. This read was interesting but seemed to assume the reader has a grasp on car forwarding. The car seems to magically appear at places and moved by trains that don’t seem to follow what is on the card that is displayed. It would be helpful if the story would include EVERY move and WHY. It seems there is info on the card not shown in the pictures. Otherwise, thanks for the artivcle, every bit will eventually help.

    Reply
  16. Louis

    In the trucking world, we must bring tank trailers to the was to clean the previous chemical residue before loading another chemical (unless toploading the same chemical), with tank cars, you may want to run them through the tank wash between jobs.

    Reply
    • John Beshaeian

      Good point, driver. There’s a lot of different types of loads that require cleaning out of the trailer(s) before you pick up a new kind of load; ex., don’t ever try to P/U Hot Rock (AC) with clay residue from yesterday’s job in your belly dumps.: “Old truckers never die, we just grab another gear.”

      Reply
  17. John Schreiner

    I know you don’t cover 3 rail 0 gauge which is what I have but I use a simple index card system for moving cars. Layout is 24×8 feet, and runs the CB&Q between Chicago and KC (passenger) and St. Louis (freight). A terminal passenger track is both Chicago and KC, and the main yard is Chicago/St. Louis. Consists are a fast and slow freight, and a Burlington American Royal passenger. The card file is in two sections. One draws the order in which trains operate to and from the end of the line with the inbetween stops. Of course the stops are east and westbound depending on the approach. The second part of the file are 2 each of all the freight cars, reshuffled after all the out and back runs. The fast freight is made up by switcher in Chicago and runs the route through to St. Louis and is broken up there, and vice versa. As the slow freight approaches the next stop, a card is drawn for each siding. If the car is on the train it’s dropped off, and if on the siding it’s picked up. If the card doesn’t apply another is drawn. Obviously not prototype but it’s a simple and fun way to move things around on a small layout.

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