Car Cards and Operations

I recorded a video to talk about the car cards I am trying out for my layout. I am going to use it to run through a trial operations session to see how well it works.

In this video I show the car cards I am using, the card pockets I installed around the layout, and the inserts into the pockets for the destinations. Photos below the video…

Car Card with Pocket
Car Card with Pocket

Here is a completed car card, with a caboose card inserted into the pocket.

These car cards were generated by the Easy Model Railroad Inventory program, a free program. See this Facebook group for a link to download it.

You print several cards per sheet of paper, then cut each card out and fold the bottom up and tape it to make the pocket. The fold lines are printed as part of the card, so it is really easy to put these cards together.

For card holders, I cut the tops off envelopes and staple-gunned them to the edge of my layout. That’ll do for now until I put a fascia on, and at that point I’ll look for a nicer card box. Precision Design Co. makes some very nice and inexpensive laser-cut boxes.

I used Excel to make the inserts for the cards. The inserts show where the card should go. Here’s an example showing an insert “EAST to Toronto”.

Car Cards with Inserts
Car Cards with Inserts

The intent is to use these to route the cars to their destinations. Once they have arrived, the yellow destination tags are removed and a HOLD tag is inserted to show it is to stay there.

Sometime between operation sessions, I’ll replace some of the HOLD tags with destination tags so they’ll get moved in the next session.

These destination tags are commonly called waybills. I am using a very simple system…. maybe too simple.

Some people use “4 cycle waybills” where there are four destinations on a waybill, and after a car arrives at the currently-shown destination, you flip the card over or upside down to show the next destination. The car will end up cycling between those 4 destinations.

This page discusses some other ways to forward cards.

That’s the basic idea… we’ll see how it works in the next post.

Question: What do you use for a car card system, if any?


Industrial Spur Lengths

Spur lengths
Spur lengths

Many model train layout designers try to have the maximum spur lengths they can, to maximize how many cars can sit at the industry, and therefore maximize their train lengths. There’s nothing wrong with this but you should consider how the industry actually uses the spur.

I’ll give an example: the grain elevator spur in Georgetown on my layout. The absolute maximum usable length of the track is 105 cm (41.3″) without cars blocking the main line. In HO scale terms that’s 91.35m / 300′, and it’s listed in the CN timetable as 260′ of usable footage (see above).

Given that a grain car is 50′ long (without couplers) in real life, that should translate to 5 cars capacity, and it is indeed listed in the timetable that way.

Here’s how the spur looks with 5 cars in it. They fit comfortably.

Siding with 5 cars
Siding with 5 cars

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that there is no place to move cars within the siding. Here’s how the grain elevator would actually use the cars:

  1. CN pulls whatever cars are in the siding.
  2. CN delivers empty cars to the elevator, spotting one of them beside the elevator.
  3. The customer fills the spotted car with grain.
  4. Using a car puller, gravity, or some other means, the loaded car would be rolled away and the next empty car would be spotted at the elevator.
  5. Repeat steps 3-4 until all cars are filled.
  6. The customer contacts CN for a pickup, and perhaps requests more empties at the same time.

Steps 4-5 are why you can’t fill the siding with cars – you need a place to put the loaded cars!

I will be operating this layout with a maximum of 3 cars. That gives 2 cars of space to roll the loads into with the third load spotted at the elevator.

3 cars on the siding
3 cars on the siding

Think of other industries and how they would use their spurs. Can cars only be loaded or unloaded at particular locations on their spurs? Other industries that come to my mind include oil spurs and paper mills.

Have a look at Chris Mears’ post on loading 100 cars in 15 hours to see how one elevator does it. You’ll see how they need empty spots too!

Happy operating!


Visiting the BNML

William Brillinger at Morris
William Brillinger at Morris

I had my first ever operations session on someone else’s layout today! I was invited to an operating session on William Brillinger’s BNSF Manitoba Limited (BNML). After driving the icy highway 75 south around noon, I arrived at Bill’s house and saw the BNML for the first time in person. Bill’s layout occupies the top floor of his house and has a nice long main line run (track plan). The layout models the CN Letellier subdivision from Morris to the US border at Emerson, and the BNSF Noyes subdivision from Noyes on the other side of the border south.

Bill and I were the two operators today, as a third operator wasn’t able to make it. He gave me the choice of running CN 532 or the BNSF train, and I chose 532 because I was familiar with the area he was modeling (Morris). I’ve never been to Noyes, MN.

We started with CN 532 in staging just north of Morris.

CN 532 in staging
CN 532 in staging

CN 4775 and CN 4805 were the power on this long train.

Bill uses the RailPro system to control his trains. It’s a radio control system (not DCC) with its own controllers and locomotive modules. This was my first experience with it but it was very easy to understand and use.

I had to lay a bit of sand to get 532 up the grade into Morris as it was a long train [aka Bill gave it a bit of a push].

We had some work to do in Morris to sort the train to make it easier to service the customers farther down the line. At first I tried to be the engineer and the conductor but I found it a bit much so I asked Bill to be the conductor. I ran 4775 back and forth as we drilled the small yard in Morris, blowing horns at the crossings and trying not to block the crossings for too long (sorry, model car drivers). At one point we had a 22 car train and it was taking a bit of time to run around it!

CN 4775
CN 4775 on the main in Morris

Bill uses a car card system to track the cars on his layout. I haven’t decided what to use on my layout yet, as I wanted some experience with car cards to decide if they were right for me. So far so good! The car cards are pretty clear and Bill has made some attractive cards for his cars. He’s made some great looking card boxes, too – and I understand he’ll be offering them for sale soon. Watch his web site for details!

Car card boxes
Car card boxes

That FGEX car was a red herring – there was no car card for it so it wasn’t clear to me what needed to be done. Fortunately, Bill has developed a clear employee timetable and other documentation, so a quick consult showed this phrase “Improperly billed equipment: contact Car Control for instructions.” Since Car Control aka Bill was standing right beside me, the answer was quick – take it back to Winnipeg. Since 532 was heading south, we stuck it in the yard at Morris for pickup by 533 when it came back through.

Here’s an example of Bill’s excellent documentation. This chart shows where each location is on the layout as well as the siding capacities. The blocking code is shown on each car card so you can match them up.

CN Letellier sub blocking and maps
CN Letellier sub blocking and maps

One industry we didn’t switch in Morris was the Paterson elevator. It was to be serviced by a light engine BNSF run but that didn’t happen this time.

Paterson elevator, Morris
Paterson elevator, Morris

We finished switching Morris and headed out on the main toward Letellier. At this point I ran out of time, as I had to be back in Winnipeg so my wife and daughter could go see the latest Hunger Games movie.

Fortunately I did have time to enjoy a piece of Allagash Lemon Cake with Bill’s family before heading out.

I swiped Bill’s photo of me operating the layout.

Me operating on the BNML
Me operating on the BNML

Check out the rocking Movember moustache I have! (feel free to support Movember and men’s health)

Thank you very much, Bill! It was great to get to know you better and to operate on your layout. I look forward to operating there again.

See also: