A carload of grist for the mill!

For more years than I would like to admit, I have been reading articles about car forwarding using 3x5 cards, colored pins stuck on the tops of cars, and computer generated switch lists. Back in the late fifty's my brother and I even used a 3x5 card system for directing shipments to consignees. We only had three consignees on our 4x8 Plywood & Western so keeping track of freight movements with this elementary system was not a problem. We used it when we wanted and ignored it when we didn't. Since then, many well meaning authors have written articles about the advantages of car forwarding for use in model railroading. There is computer software on the market designed to keep all the model railroad's records in order so that the operators will know exactly where every car is placed and which cars are to be spotted at which industries and when. Some car forwarding systems have become quite elaborate.

I suppose, for some, these systems provide a nice, orderly way of keeping track of things and I guess there are those who believe that since paperwork is such a large part of real railroading it should be "replicated" just as an industrial siding and the operation of switching the cars in and out of it are "replicated". For those of you who never get enough paperwork at the office, I say, "Have at it".

In this vein, it seems that the hobby's "special interest" press has not fully explored the possibilities of modeling "car forwarding" as a hobby in itself (or maybe I just missed it). We can all imagine super detailing a yard office with miniature clerks hovering near the miniature coffee maker while the miniature computer spits out miniature fan fold lists of miniature cars to be classified and delivered as part of the day to day operations of a basement empire. But there is more.

For instance, a car forwarding enthusiast could forgo the expense and hassles of modeling a miniature railroad right of way and turn the family room, extra bedroom, or basement into a freight office on a 12" to the foot scale with double sided or roll top desks, scissors phones, a Morse key, and an ancient Royal or Smith Corona typewriter sitting on a table next to the desk with reams of onion skin forms and a box of well used carbon paper to copy everything in triplicate. A bay window built into one wall with a photo mural of a rail yard pasted to it would complete the office with a look to make the Smithsonian proud.

Imagine, no longer worrying whether Details West will make that left side frizzdikker that you need to complete the Kansas City Ocean Terminal SD67 you've been working on for the last six years. Forget forever scouring the hobby shops for those Prime Mover Decal sets for the Lehigh Coal and Bus Transportation Company.

Imagine instead, the whole family; husband, wife, and children, friends and neighbors participating as yard clerks, freight agents, and operators busily clacking away on their Royals, answering phones and copying down Morse code in a setting fit for a Hollywood sound stage. To simulate real trains, therefore real work to do, a 12" to the foot computer will generate random train consists to be checked against a simulated train passing in front of the clerk via a computer screen, way bills to be processed, and train orders to be delivered, all based on a specific prototype on a specific day sometime in the past.

Family and friends could sit around the "office" during a lull in the action and complain about the latest BRAC contract and how management is cutting back on yard clerks at XYZ yard and how the "bumping" of jobs is going to cause little Suzy to get furloughed and how the family would all be better off taking a buy-out and going into the retail hardware business. Little Suzy would become depressed and disgruntled, marking off sick for the rest of the "operating session" just as the printer starts to spew forth more random cars numbers. Bobby, Suzy's older brother and senior clerk, would have to cover her assignment, doubling his workload and therefore doubling his fun..

The importance of the real life lessons imparted to all by such "operating" sessions is obvious. The family unit is strengthened, the children are prepared for the real world, and the community of friends is strengthened by the common challenges overcome.

Not to mention that the virtual transportation system is maintained, nurtured, and advanced by the slavish passing of paperwork from desk to desk and finally into a computer where it will form the basis for the next session.

The problem with this scenario? I could never do it! I hate paperwork! Its a simple formula, Paperwork = Drudge! If paperwork was important, Athearn would have motorized it, given it six axles, and painted it warbonnet red and silver. Kato would have given it six steps instead of five and Samhongsa would have imported it in factory painted brass. They didn't, ergo, it isn't.

I run trains for a living. I have, in the past, been a brakeman and conductor. I have, with much reluctance, worked on a track gang. The schedules I run for New Jersey Transit are intense. There is a great deal of stress on the job and the last thing I want is stress in my hobby. When I descend into the basement I want to relax and have fun. I want the people who help build and operate the Lackawanna Terminal to relax and have fun also. We will not be slaves to an operating schedule or the complexity engendered by waybills and car numbers. I have seldom been asked if there is an opening for a yard clerk by anyone interested in operating on the LT.

Through the LT we try to emulate prototype railroad practices as they pertain to the operation of trains. This means running trains, switching consists, and industries along the railroad. My crews run through freights, interchange cars with other railroads, drill cars in the yard, spot and pickup loads and empties at industries and all the other "stuff " that real railroaders do. It is all done with little or no paperwork. I am not trying to model an economic system (that happens to pertain to trains) with strict rules and protocols. This is the way railroad management views a railroad. Management most often does not know how long it takes to deliver a car, does not know a reverser from a brake handle, and cannot move a lite engine let along a whole train. The phrase "I could run a great office if it wasn't for the railroad" is more true today then at any time in railroad history. My railroad is viewed and run as front line railroaders see it; down in the ballast and out in the rain. Like the prototype, most managers are the living embodiment of the stop signal.

The Lackawanna Terminal is run on a theory of operation called the "Looks good-Feels good" Scenario:

There are three basic operating assignments on the Lackawanna Terminal Railway:

1. MAINLINE EXTRA CREWS- Operate local and through passenger service, overhead freights, such as unit run-through trains, trailvan trains, manifest freights as needed. Eastbound mainline trains start out of an eleven track staging yard at the west end of the railroad (Conrail, CSXT, NS, etc. run-through via the Buffalo gateway). Intermodal trains, for example, will run from the staging yard to the intermodal facility approximately halfway across the division, where incoming cars will be exchanged for cars that are already there and the train will continue to the eleven track staging yard at the east end of the layout (somewhere east of Corning, NY) and on toward Croxton Yard in Secaucus, NJ (my staging yard is double ended serving as both the east and west ends of the division). Don't bother the crew with paperwork, they're running trains. All stack cars look the same when loaded with containers anyway so it adds little to the operation to document what is supposed to be in them (we "hire" only crews with good imaginations). Empty well cars are "deadhead" moves from the intermodal facility to the staging tracks. Setouts are made for "cripples" at the discretion of the train crew to enhance employee interest. Unit coal trains and overhead traffic from Buffalo through to Croxton Yard in New Jersey that don't set off on the division? Don't need waybills there! These moves are for variety and to keep the crews busy. People that choose these assignments generally want to see lots of trains run so they don't mind the workload (if they do mind, they can sit down and nibble on chips and sip various liquid libations provided by a caring management team; subject to Rule G, of course).

2.LOCAL EXTRA CREW - Runs transfer trains between yards and industries within the division.

What about generic mixed consist freights and road locals? We receive interchange off Conrail, CSXT, and NS or other railroads through our gateway yard in Buffalo bound for points on the Lackawanna Terminal. Whenever possible, the LT will use the foreign road's engines and fuel as a cost control measure. It saves the company money and adds railfan interest. Besides, we haven't been caught yet and if we do get caught, we will fire little Suzy since she's the bottom clerk on the roster.

Lackawanna Terminal crews will meet the trains at East Buffalo and, after drilling out the appropriate looking cars (the looks good part) for National Chemical, continue across the division dropping off and picking up as they deem necessary (our crew "teams" are self empowered).

When they get to a major industry like the Stradivarius Steel Company's Fabricated Steel Products plant, they will drill the inbounds and outbounds until they don't want to anymore and then continue down the railroad stopping at each industry they want to drill (the feel good aspect). Even with minimal switching at each industry, there is enough to keep a crew busy for a while.

Eventually, they arrive at Corning and enter the staging yard where they will "tie down" the train, pick up another train or stop and go for beans. The crews from the foreign roads, in the mean time, will be taxied back to their terminals before they know what we are doing with their company's engines. Yes, Virginia, we do have a dispatcher to schedule (Cripes, there's that word again!) meets between trains when there is more than one on the road and to make sure the National Chemical switch crew does not go to lunch with the engine left on the main.

With a little experience a crew member can tell which cars go to which customer, with what commodities. For instance, double door 50' and double plug door 60' boxcars, Thrall door, center beam, and bulkhead flats are usually lumber commodities for the reload center, although 50' single door cars can be spotted also. Empty and loaded gondolas, flats, and, sometimes, boxcars for the Stradivarius Steel Company's Fabricated Steel Products Division, loads and empties out for interchange.

Tanks cars, boxcars, and covered hoppers for the chemical company. Don't need waybills to tell the crews that. Common sense and a little experience tells the crew that propane tank cars are not unloaded into the same pipe as base oils. If the crew does switch the propane car to the wrong position, the nonexistent employees at the chemical plant know not to unload it. Common sense rules here but a good sense of humor comes a close second.

3. PLANT EXTRA CREW - Responsible for all plant switching at National Chemical and Refining Plant as directed by the Yardmaster. Can be assigned to any yard or industry requiring full time service by bid.

For an example, at the start of an operating session a crew is assigned to switch the enormous National Chemical and Refining complex in Depew. The crew brings their engine off the ready track and runs down the main to the East Buffalo yard where the inbound cars are waiting on tracks 1,2, and 3 north (or 1 and 2 south. It doesn't really matter). As mentioned earlier, the chemical plant takes tank cars of many types, box cars, covered hoppers, and an occasional flatcar load of machinery. If those types of cars are in the yard they probably belong to the chemical plant so the crew ties on to them and takes them away. How many cars are taken is determined by the plant crew based on how crowded the complex is at the start of the session. If the three track yard on the plant property is full and most doors and unloading positions are full, the crew will pick up the outbound cars first (perhaps switching the misplaced propane tank first), then bring enough inbounds from East Buffalo yard to replace the cars taken from the complex. How much time and effort is put into the switching project is left up the plant crew (This is supposed to be a fun hobby. Forced labor by slaving the crew to specific waybill driven moves can drive away good employees).

Each engineer acts as a entire crew unless manpower allows additional help. Local, yard, and plant crews are normally allowed to work at their own pace dependent on workload and enthusiasm. The mainline crews normally have a sequence of trains to operate.


While the LT has few rules, the local and plant extra crews work under the following mandates:

The dispatcher is a Benevolent Dictator and will do what is best for his crews.

All freight cars leaving any yard or interchange point for local or plant distribution, whether loaded or empty, must be spotted at a door or loading or unloading facility appropriate for that type of car before being returned to the yard or interchange point (i.e., no coal hoppers or refrigerated cars at spots normally used by tank cars or covered hoppers). Cars which are spotted for loading or unloading may then be re-spotted as many times as necessary (read as the crew wants) to complete the process (i.e., a car that is unloaded at one door may be spotted at another for loading or a partially loaded car may be re-spotted to complete the loading process). We must have some rules otherwise anarchy reigns.

Granted, I am blessed with a crew that consists of a large percentage of railroaders with common "real railroad" experience. Barring experience, common sense rules. If a "new guy" drops off a stack car in the yard for the chemical plant or down the road at the reload center, the plant or local switch crew can call it a "bad order" car or misroute and switch it to another track to be "fixed" or picked up by a passing train. A tank car set off at the reload center is drilled to the out bound track as a misroute or bad order car setout. When a crew has drilled the chemical plant and the outbounds are returned to the East Buffalo yard, the crew calls the dispatcher and the next mainline crew through the yard makes the pickup and drops off more cars to be spotted (eastbound or westbound doesn't matter, I mean the cars are gone. That's what happens in the real set the cars out and they go to be magically replaced by different cars!) If the drill crew is ambitious, they go back to work. If not, the cars are left until the next crew goes on duty.

No waybills or switch lists are exchanged or used in the course of an operating session on the Lackawanna Terminal. Waybills also restrict the play value of a model railroad between "formal" operating sessions because the computer which keeps track of the location of cars must be updated after any car is moved even if it is moved from door #1 at the National Chemical's shipping department to door #3. While paperwork may be necessary for the operation of the prototype, It need have little bearing on the enjoyment of working on the Lackawanna Terminal Railway.

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