Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bills, Bills, Bills What’s with all these Bills?

Bills, Bills, Bills
What’s with all these Bills?

Waybills, Freight Bills, Bills of Lading, all three are part of the documentation used to move goods by rail.  We all know about Waybills, sorta.  They are the documents that travel with the car (usually) and help it get where it needs to go.  The other two are often confused with the first, including by some professional archivists at the National Archives.  Look for waybills on eBay and you will find examples of all three on almost any given day.  So what are they really, and what do they mean to the model railroader?

First, lets explain what really goes on when a crate or carload of widgets needs to get from the manufacturer to the distributer.  There has to be a legal contract between the owner of the goods and the carrier so that they get where they’re going and that the shipper has some recourse if they don’t.  Then the goods need to have something with them that tells the carrier(s) where to take them and how to care for them during shipment.  Finally, somebody has to pay for these transportation services and they need some kind of invoice to keep their bean counters happy that they aren’t squandering their shareholder’s money.  Then there are the arrangements between carriers for use of equipment to transport these goods, that too needs documentation.

So how are our bills related to these essential functions?  First comes the Bill of Lading.  It is the contract between shipper and carrier.  It is almost always on the carrier’s form, but can be on one provided by the shipper.  I won’t say that some other carriers forms where NEVER used, but if they were, they would have to have been modified to show the originating carrier.  After all, this form is a contract between two specific parties, and those parties have to be clearly identified in  the contract for it to be valid.  So I won’t say that Standard Oil in Richmond never ran out of SP forms and used and ATSF one for an SP shipment, but IF (and that’s a humongous if) it happened, it would be extremely rare.  On the Santa Fe, Bills of Lading were the responsibility of the Freight Department.

Second is the waybill.  Cars don’t (or shouldn’t) move without documentation that tells what to do with the car.  How else are you going to know where to move it?  Switchlists, cut lists, movement orders and notes fall into this category, but are beyond the scope of this discussion.  They may be in addition to or in advance of a waybill, but the waybill is the basic document that gets a car from shipper to consignee.  The railroads used these forms for two purposes.  Tracking services provided shippers so they could get paid, and tracking loaded car usage so the car owners got paid.  Since these forms were the basis of revenue that had to be divided between those carriers that participated in providing the service, they were Accounting Department forms on the Santa Fe and most other roads.

Third is the Freight Bill.  When the dust is settled and the goods arrive, it’s time to pay the piper.  This is how it got done.  All the pick up and delivery charges, heater or icing charges, freight charges, switching charges, and other miscellaneous add ons that put black ink on the railroad accountant’s books got documented and paid with these forms.  Of all the various “bills” associated with railroading, the Freight Bill is the one that comes closest to the layman’s perception of a bill as an invoice that has to be settled with real money out of your pocket. 

So now you know what each of the three kinds of bills are for, why they are different, and now you need to go find only the waybills for your cherished prototype to have more realistic documents to operate you pike. 


You now have a better idea of what’s what, but they all can teach you something about how a given commodity was handled back in the day.  Getting a complete record of what happened fifty or a hundred years ago on a given railroad is tough, these were business records of mostly long gone businesses.  Most of the documents are either ash or buried in landfills so we need to examine any of the survivors for insights into ops of the day.

Lets start with the end product, the Freight Bill.  A true accounting form, train crews usually didn’t handle these unless they were attached to a waybill as part of a multi-part form.  Probably the least valuable to the model operator of the three, but it still has nuggets of valuable information.  At the least, you can see the shipper and consignee, what was shipped, how much of it, and what it cost.  You may not care about costs in your model empire, but knowing that EB Watts received widgets from AC/DC gives you a documented shipper pair.  If extra services were provided and billed, you might know that the widgets needed heater service, an extra operation to model if your layout is in the middle of a shipment, something to do with through freight cars besides icing.  It will also document those icing charges.  So don’t toss a Freight Bill in the dumpster because it’s not your holy grail waybill.

Next come Bills of Lading (BOL).  Why do we care about at contract?  That’s what they are after all.  Yes, contracts between shippers and carriers that list the car(s) employed, goods shipped, the route taken, and consignee to which delivered.  Sounds a lot like a waybill.  And the good archivists at NARA SF call them waybills in their finding aids.  They fooled me and I collected images of all the ones I could find in the records of the Office of Defense Transportation.  Imagine my disappointment when these “waybills” turned out not to be.  Well not as bad as I thought as they do contain an awful lot of valuable information for the model operator.  

Real bills of lading were normally three part forms with copy one the original bill of lading with all the standard legalese fine print on the back, copy two, a shippers order to the railroad, and three, a memorandum copy that the shipper could use as needed to facilitate his business.  Sometimes additional forms would be placed in common with the original and the preprinted copy numbers would be corrected as memoranda.  As legal contracts, there could only be a single original.  The shipper had to sign the original as his request for transportation and the originating carrier had to sign as their acceptance.  This established the legal transportation contract.  Copy two, the shippers order, went to the originating carrier, and they used it to prepare the way bill that would accompany or catch up with the car as it traveled the rail network with its goods to its destination.  Copy three could be used to advise interested parties of the shipment, as is found at NARA SF and my BOL copies of tank car movements.  BOL are valuable because they have most of the information seen on a waybill.  It won’t have a weight ticket, but often has a corrected weight.  It will have the reporting marks and car number(s) and the route.  It won’t have the record of movement recorded by the arrival stamps.  A pretty cool set of information and very valuable for the model operator.  A note about routing.  Shippers could specify routing if they so chose.  Otherwise the originating carrier would specify which of any alternative routes would be used.  Relations with shippers was one of the reasons Santa Fe had a Freight office in New York and NYC had one in San Francisco.  Shippers could say if they wanted SP or ATSF delivery if the destination was served by both and the railroads made aggressive efforts at capturing business nation wide.  These routings are useful on your model waybills.  The BOL can also contain special instructions for additional services.  All in all, a great resource for the modeler.  And sometimes train crews did handle BOL.  The 1973 ATSF Valley Division bulletin book has a bulletin on how conductors are to handle them.  In a nutshell, at a non-agency station, the shipper could prepare and sign the three part BOL and place it in a locked bill box near where the railroad would pick up the loaded car.  When the conductor picked up the car, he would sign the BOL, take copy 2 to the specified agency for waybilling, fill out a conductor’s waybill to document car movement, and return copies 1 & 3 of the signed BOL to the bill box for the shipper.  Something to think about adding to an ops session enhance play value, or not.

WAYBILLS, the Holy Grail of Car Documentation.  The waybill has it all.  Many folks such as Tony Thompson, Charles Hostetler, Andy Laurent and others have written extensively on waybills and how to model them more realistically.  I refer you to their blogs and websites for more detailed information.  What I’ll cover here is a basic description of what the waybill does and how it is used.  It documents the billable charges and records who performed which services during a loads transit form origin to destination.  It provides the legal basis for the division of revenue from a given shipment between the participating carriers and tells those carriers what services to perform and where and to whom to effect delivery.  A lot of responsibility for a 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.  Since the waybill is the basis for the accounting task of interline revenue division, it is preprinted with the originating carrier’s interline accounting number.  This is the number you see next to the railroad name in the header and the footer.  It facilitates the book keeping by shortening Kewaunee, Green Bay and Western to 407 in the accounts.  Originating station agents would keep a copy of the Waybill to both make sure their railroad got paid, and to have a back up in case the original got separated from the shipment enroute.  Railroads had set procedures for astray freight and waybills, no 0-5-0ing allowed.  And there is a good variety of specialized waybills, ARA recommended pink stock for perishables.  Many roads used cards to return empty private meat reefers, ATSF used green.

ATSF also used blue cards for cotton.  That traffic might be moved in bulk to a compress, then baled for export.  Conductor’s waybills were an interim document to get a car moving until the clerks could type up the formal copy.  Coal bills, sulphur bills, ore bills, are all examples of specialized waybills that various roads used to minimize clerical overhead.  ATSF used green print on white cardstock to print their consigned empty car bills, used for cars in dedicated service such as auto parts pools from the late 50’s.  The variety of specialized waybills is vast, if not endless.  Santa Fe had four versions of their basic waybill, one for each of their operating companies, ATSF, ATSF Coast Lines, P&SF, and GC&SF.  Similarly there were four Santa Fe versions of the perishable, livestock, transit, and expedited movement waybills as well.  I’m still looking for images of these ATSF forms.  If you have one to share, please contact me at NorthBayLines at att dot net.  I have not yet found my holy grail.

Modeler’s Dilemma, too many waybill forms?  You should see a variety of waybill forms on your inbound loads.  Since the originating carriers all put the shipping information on THEIR waybill form, the shipment of jeep parts for the Richmond plant should be on a GTW form regardless of the reporting marks of the car in which it is loaded.  Same thing for the farm implements that originate on the Wabash or the component chemicals from Texaco on the CRI&P.  Modelling waybills can give you an additional taste of history in your ops sessions.
Despite all this variety, the outgoing loads are much simpler.  Most of us model only a single road with industries that originate loads.  Therefore we only need that road’s waybills for originating traffic.  So all of your loads out will be on the home road forms, as well as the loads in that originated on the home road.  Suddenly your waybill modeling task is cut in half or less. 

Have fun!


Cameron Park, CA

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