Freight Cars

by Dan Wexler

Part III -- Operations

In the first two articles of this series, we discussed the construction of freight cars, and a philosophy for assembling our freight car rosters. We also discussed the hows and whys of freight car loading and routing. In this installment Paul presents his philosophy of model freight car forwarding.

For the sake of this article letís divide operation into two types: serious and play. Playing is, by my definition, running trains just to see them go. While thereís absolutely nothing wrong with this and Iím not making any value judgments, it's not operation. This article concerns serious operation.

There are probably as many ways to route cars as there are model railroaders--colored pins, car cards, dice, etc. The colored pin (or spot) is a very simple way to route and block cars on your railroad. New operators will pick this method up with little difficulty. Colored pins appeal almost universally to N-scalers, because itís so difficult to read N-scale reporting marks. Operationally, the problem with this system is that operators donít look at trains as the WM-1, the 199, or the gum train (WCGUM). They say "give me all your blues," or "send me the Red Train." The car for Littlerock Poultry Growers Co-op becomes the "black 6 car." So you can carve this commandment on stone tablets, "Car cards and waybills are the one true routing system." They require paperwork and some fumbling by the train crew, but for the sake of realism you canít beat them.

To properly route cars on your layout, you must first know where (geographically) your layout is. Even before you build the bench work you should establish a region and develop a traffic pattern. Once you know where your railroad is, you can easily establish what and with whom it interchanges. You can then decide what kind of trains you will run (i.e., locals or through freights). You donít need to plan all of them, because once the layout is up and running youíll find out what you need and youíll add those new trains as needed.

In order to assign a car card to each car and avoid confusion youíll have to take that big step and eliminate duplicate numbers. So that long string of P.F.E. reefers (you know, Athearn number 45689), will require some work.

Okay, we know where we are, weíve developed a traffic pattern, our cars have different numbers, and each one has a filled-out card. We can now start making waybills that correspond to our layout's industries and spurs. These waybills will dictate our traffic flow. Youíll want to keep your local crews busy for a while so make plenty of waybills.

One last thing about layout planning--every layout should have a central theme. That is, your layout should specialize in one or perhaps two commodities, such as coal, grain, lumber, unobtainium ... (you get the picture). To convey this theme effectively you should have several load points for these commodities on your layout. Three coal loaders or grain elevators are better than one coal loader, one grain elevator, and one lumber mill.

When youíre spotting cars at one of your theme commodity load points, remember to spot system cars only. For example, suppose the east mine shifter leaves Coal Yard to service the tipples and loaders on the Littlerock sub of the Atlantic Inland Railway. He had better spot only Atlantic Inland hoppers at those tipples and truck dumps or be prepared to find other gainful employment. Railroads that make a living hauling a commodity like coal, ore, or grain haul it from spots on line to spots on line. Using another railroadís cars to haul Atlantic Inland coal would cost the Inland MONEY from per diem charges for those foreign cars.

There is an exception to the system-only commandment. Per diem charges are based upon where the car is at midnight. So when foreign cars do come onto system property, you need to get those foreign cars out of town as fast as possible. If the Atlantic Inland can turn a car around in one day and pass it off to the B&O before midnight, the B&O gets stuck with the per diem charge! But knowing about this, the B&O will try to hold that car up so the Inland still has possession at midnight. Howís that for an operations scenario--block another railroadís train so you donít have to pay the per diem charges?.