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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20 Responses to “Car Forwarding is Fun”

  1. 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 24x8 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.

  2. Bud Golata

    An entertaining method. Thanks. Hopefully ill get my layout up and running soon.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Chuck Woodward

    What would a tank car be carrying from Kerr McGee to Ford Auto Parts?

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  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.