Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Commodity Classifications

I noted in an earlier post here, that the railroads used various classifications for commodities for waybills as noted in the AAR Freight Commodity Classification book. These classifications were important, because they were required by the ICC to report quarterly and annually the movement of such commodities in carloads and tons. You'll find this data in all sorts of industry and government studies and reports.

Does this matter to model railroaders?

Well, not really. No.

Unless you want it to. Then yes.

What my non-committal answer is really saying is that it matters only if it matters to you.

In my case, since I enjoy the historical and research aspects of the hobby, combined with the fact that I am creating waybills for the operation of the railroad, I'd like to gather as much prototypical-type information as I can for that purpose. Since I haven't been able to find a stack of actual waybills for New Britain in my era, I'll need to create that data.

I have data from averaged from the 1950-1954 1% waybill study for commodity traffic originating and terminating in CT. These use commodity classifications, including a number assigned to that commodity. 

I have several freight classification books, like this tattered one is from October 25, 1943:

The first one I purchased was a Photo-Reduction Edition from October 1, 1934. This is more 'pocket sized' version, and you can see how much smaller it is than the full version:

I had these before I got the 1% waybill study data, and found I had trouble reconciling the data. In the 1934 version, the commodities don't have any numbers assigned to them. By 1943, each commodity was assigned a number, but they didn't match the numbers listed in the waybill study data.

Then I found a copy of the AAR Freight Commodity Classifications:

These commodities matched those listed in the 1% waybill study.

In the forward it notes that, "It cancels and supersedes the R.A.O.A. Commodity Classification, 1928 Edition. 

You'll note that the bottom of the AAR Freight Classification also notes that it's published by the Accounting Division of the AAR. It divides commodities into seven major categories:
I. Products of Agriculture (C.L.)
II. Animals and Products (C.L.)
III. Products of Mines (C.L.)
IV. Products of Forests (C.L.)
V. Manufactures and Miscellaneous (C.L.)
VI. Forwarder Traffic (C.L.)
VII. All L.C.L Freight
These are divided into a total of 262 classes for reporting purposes. As I noted, when doing your research these are the commodity classes that you'll find in reports. I find them interesting from the standpoint that you can see what was shipped by rail frequently enough to warrant being identified in a classification. Here's the list:

It appears that the Consolidated Freight Classification books serve a different purpose. There are a number of rules relating to bills of lading, and also with the manufacture of shipping containers (bags, boxes, etc.) where a manufacturer can stamp an identification on their packaging that it conforms to the Consolidated Freight Classifications. I think that these, in conjunction with the freight tariff books, were used by the freight agents for calculating shipping prices. They also note that bills of lading should conform to the descriptions. The bill of lading/freight bill/waybill on a railroad was usually a multipart form so it was typed up only once. 

The Accounting Department would have had to reconcile the detailed commodity information on the waybills and condense it down to the AAR classifications for the government reporting purposes. 

Combined, they are useful in better understanding the various reports and data from the era, and will be useful in creating waybills. One option is to use these AAR commodity classes as is. It would be easy enough to compile a spreadsheet of the ones needed for a given layout, and use that to generate waybills. Although not prototypical, it would be more than enough for a model railroad, and most layouts need only a small number of them.

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