Interest in prototypical operation of model railroads has grown in the past 30 years. Along with this growth have come numerous methods for operating a model railroad in a prototypical manner such as the original hand written switch list, later followed by the car card system then computer generated switch lists and on and on. Discussing the merits and drawbacks of the various systems is like discussing politics or religion so I tend to stay away from such encounters. Let’s just say that for many reasons I prefer the car card system and my preferences are based on many years of operation on model railroads using various systems.

Some time ago I designed the operation system for Harold Shelton’s Black Canyon RR. This included fast clock driven time table operation as well as a car routing system. I wanted to use the car card system but did not look forward to pasting all those clear plastic windows on the car cards for everyone that contributed cars to the operating sessions.

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This photo shows a car card and waybill I made years ago and was based on what I believe was the original car card system. This was before home computers and was hand lettered using a draftsman’s Leroy lettering system. Very functional and many just like it had been in use on Ol’ Harold’s Fall River Line for 35 years or more. Back then, in the dark ages before computers, the routing information was applied with a typewriter onto a preprinted purchased waybill/routing card.

Here is my modified version of the car card system. The “car card” is a 3 1/8’ x 5 1/2” envelope. These are sold in quantities of 500 at Staples and other stationary stores. On one side is all the typical information such as reporting marks, number, type, color, length, AAR class, type of lading, agent/owner and in this case the date the car entered service. All done in large printing for those of us visually impaired. On the back side is a service record to note any repairs or maintenance. Such info tracks a cars history when used over a 35 year period of time.

This is the routing/waybill card. It measures 3”x6” and was printed on a 4x6 index card that had been trimmed down to that size. It has four available destinations which is 2 more than the traditional car card system. When inserted into the car card envelop the destination is clearly visible. If this card gets damaged and I need to reprint, it is item #112 in my Waybill file as noted on the card after the 4th destination. You can even use different colors for different industries.

The final component in the system is the "train order" envelope. This is a #10 envelope, sold in packaged quantities of 10 to 12, that had the flap sealed. When dry it was cut in half. It has all the pertinent info that the operating crew would need including train number, description or name of train, train class, since this is a passenger train the consist is defined, and finally the crew orders. All the car cards with their individual routing slips fit into this envelope and moves with the train and crew from start to finish. The routing slips all stick up just enough to be seen without removing them from this envelope. Upon completion of the run the train order packet is turned over to the yard crew that is then responsible for breaking the train up.(Before getting a lot of email with questions I should note that the car cards in this package are only shown for demonstration purposes. They are not the cars to be used on this passenger train.)

The rest of the system is handled like the conventional car card system which has worked on many model railroads for decades.

Most, if not all, printers have a plate on the backside of the printer that can be removed or adjusted that allows you to print on heavy materials which will then be ejected out the back side of the printer. I used that feature when printing all these materials. The “car card envelopes” are printed width wise and require two passes. One for the front and one for the back side. The routing cards are trimmed down to their 3” width first then run through lengthwise four times. Each pass prints one destination. The train order runs through one time. By keeping this all on the puter, it is easy to reprint any one item if a particular component gets damaged and requires replacing. In my case all this info is in Word files but a more advanced operator might be able to design a data base and form that would provide the same results. When I started producing these materials my time resources were limited which imposed restrictions on the degree of creativity I could devote to the project.

Besides the routing slips I also have joker cards printed. During operations when a crew thinks they have everything under control I slip a red card into one of their car card envelopes. This usually states that a specific car in their consist has developed a hot box. They must proceed in accordance with the instructions on the card. Similar cards indicate there is a problem with the locomotive and they must stop at the next water stop or…. You get the picture. Don’t let them get bored or complacent. Keep them on their toes.

If you are interested in this system and would like to have the file formats I used drop me an email and I will send you copies.

Till next time

Happy Model Railroading!


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