Here is a simple, inexpensive car card and waybill system for freight car routing; which minimizes handling and makes routing obvious for old forgetful operators like me, and for new operators on your layout.
- Baseball card toploader sleeves. Toploader means the opening is on the shorter side. (Amazon)
- Car cards, cardstock cut to baseball card size (3 1/2” x 2 5/8”)
- Waybills (cut from 3x5 index cards)
- Channel: vinyl outside-corner molding used for bathroom tile, UPC 70673 85883 (Home Depot)
- Elastic hair bands
Create a list of standard abbreviations to include all possible freight car destinations on your layout. Use the same abbreviations consistently. I use three-letter abbreviations. Here is the list of abbreviations on my layout.
BOL Bolton Railcar Maintenance Facility COM Commissary CPR Chronicle Printing, Marias CSH Cascade Section House DAS Davis Passenger Station DAV Davis Classification Yard EEE EEE Feed and Supply, Marias FRT Freight House and Team Track GCF Glen Cove Fuels, Glen Cove GCM Glen Cove Signal Maintenance Yard KEL Kenton Electric Fabricators, Kenton KEN Kenton Yard KFF Kenton Freight Forwarders LMS Leslie Marine Services, Marias MMT Marias Machining & Tool, Marias NPO North Portal Interchange PAM Pamola siding PSH Pamola Section House PTC Precision Tooling Corporation, Marias QUI Quinn Intermodal Yard SPO South Portal Interchange
Install a channel all along the edge of the layout to hold the sleeves. It is helpful to label the destinations on the channel itself. The channel comes in 8 foot lengths, so it easy to just mount channel everywhere all along the edge of your layout. The channel has a flange which allows you to tack it in place from below, so no nails will be visible. Or you can just run a bead of adhesive on it and glue it in place.
channel material: vinyl outside-corner tile molding
car card/waybill rests in channel
Each freight car gets a Car Card. These are cut to baseball card size and show the reporting marks, car type, and destination for the car when empty. The Car Card is inserted into a baseball card sleeve,
car card in sleeve
Each sleeve/Car Card will always stay with its associated car.
When on the layout, the sleeve rests in the channel in front of the car.
When in transit, like the prototype, the waybills go along for the ride. A recycled margarine tub next to the power pack works well.
When off the layout, keep car and sleeve together by using an elastic hair band. These are soft and won’t mar your cars, and they won't dry out like rubber bands.
Waybills are half-size cards which have a destination written on both front and back. The destination abbreviation is written in big red letters for easy viewing, so you need not pick up a card to read the destination. The waybill is inserted in the lower half of the sleeve so it is visible in front of the Car Card. With only two destinations written on the waybill, it is a 2-cycle waybill. You can also write the load information on the waybill if you wish.
There is no car “storage” on my layout. Every car on the rails is in the process of going somewhere else. (The cars go in/out interchange tracks to/from a rolling storage rack, which represents all destinations beyond the layout). The abbreviation shows where the car is going NEXT. When setting out a car at a destination, the operator places the sleeve in the channel where it will remain.
car at destination
At the end of a session, all the cars are hopefully at their destination for the day. After a certain time has elapsed (typically, in between sessions), it is time to advance the waybills to prepare the cars for their next move. In each sleeve, turn the waybill over so the next location is showing. Now replace the sleeve in the channel, but place it standing UP to indicate the car is ready to be picked UP.
car ready for pickUP
To indicate an empty, just place the waybill BEHIND the car card so it cannot be seen, which reveals the empty routing instructions written on the lower half of the car card.
no waybill indicates empty car
Now when the train comes by, it is obvious to the operator which cars have recently been set out (the sleeves are horizontal, and waybill abbreviation matches the car’s current location); and which are ready to be picked UP (the sleeve is standing UP, and the waybill abbreviation shows a new destination).
This makes it easy to check that you delivered all your cars during the session. If you see any sleeves still standing UP, you still have work to do!
Making up trains
A length of channel can be mounted on the top of the layout in front of a sorting track, so the yard operator can clearly see which car is going where, and rearrange/block them in an efficient order as a train is made up. I just set the cards in correct order first, then shuffle the cars until they line up with the cards.
making up a train
Multiple channels can be mounted in front of multiple tracks, so the sleeves are arranged in the same pattern as the cars.