Prototype paperwork or no?

When I was designing and planning my layout, I of course thought about how to operate it prototypically and realistically. A lot of computer software has been written to produce realistic paperwork for running a layout, some simple, some only a programmer could decipher.

I purchased several books on operating a model railroad realistically, read forums, and website resources on waybills, switch lists and such. I wanted a system that would be prototypical, but not overwhelm someone with paperwork. After several months of research, I came up with a system I felt comfortable with, felt it was easy to use, yet prototypical.

The system is sort of a hybrid system. The waybills I copied from an article in Model Railroader magazine, and from a chapter in one of their books on realistic prototype operation. It’s the system a C&O modeler named Ted Pamperin uses. I already had been testing the system from Micro-Mark, so I had their car cards, clearance forms, and empty car requests.

I actually recently had thought about using replicas of actual PC waybills, as this one pictured below courtesy of a friend in the southeast:

Being accustomed to using these when I worked on the prototype, this was a tempting idea. However, the amount of time and effort to set up a duplicate blank waybill, then to add all the details on each waybill for about one hundred cars would have been enormous.

So, once again, I went back to a simpler system with waybills produced on light 65 lb. cardstock, reduced to fit into the card holders from Micro-Mark as shown below:

As shown above, this waybill to me is adequate. It looks prototypical in my opinion plus has all the information required to route the car on the layout. On the layout, home road cars can be routed when empty to other industries requiring an empty car for loading, for example can be routed to Armitage Furniture to load scrap wood going to a recycling center. For these I use an empty car request card from Micro-Mark as shown below:

When a car is routed to say Armitage Furniture as shown above via the empty car request, it is spotted and the empty request is left in front of the card. The next cycle this card is simply clipped to the back of the waybill showing the car is now loaded and ready to move to it’s destination.

Since on my layout as on the prototype all the coal went from Union Carbide’s mines straight to their plants up and down the Kanawha Valley, I use the same empty car requests when the two mines need to load more hoppers. Again with these, the next cycle these are clipped to the back of the waybill showing the hopper is now loaded and ready to move. The other main industry requiring empty car requests is Allied Chemical, when tankers are required to be loaded. These are then taken from the dedicated track in Dickinson yard to be routed to Nitro and the plant.

Foreign road cars are simply routed to their designated industries with the waybill facing outward. When the next cycle rolls around, the waybill is simply turned backwards in the card holder to signify the car is empty and ready to be routed back to Dickinson yard and from there routed off the system. Routed offline means simply the car is taken off and replaced with a different car until sometime in the future.

Finally, I do use a prototypical duplicate of a PC switch list as shown below:

This is an example from the Morris Fork turn from June 1st, 1968. I do in my collection have a bit different and revised version of their switch list which I also may use at some point.

These forms in my opinion are very prototypical and look the part, and are relatively simple to use without overwhelming either myself or any operators I may have in the future. To me, these add to the realism and fun of running the layout. Happy modeling!


  1. Steve, the use of waybills, especially the more prototypical waybills like you’re using that essentially have all the necessary information and leave off the accounting portions, is fantastic. The switchless are great. Everything looks fantastic. Keep up the great work.


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