As a follow-up to Bart's recollections and the very interesting and useful information that most of the time the crew knows where the cars belong, here's some more information from Dale along the same line. Actually, some very interesting information for more modern modelers. All photos by Dale Kritzky.
Even on the prototype, couplers may not match up. As long as it works...
One day when they got to Hartford, in the cut of cars was a CN box car. Dale initially said it wasn't theirs. They don't get CN box cars. The engineer checked the paperwork and said it was theirs. OK, Dale said, then it's not for (Home) Depot. They don't get CN box cars.
But his engineer said it must be, so they took it up and delivered it to Home Depot. A couple of days later, Home Depot told them it wasn't their car. As it turned out, it was for Hartford Lumber, an industry right at the junction, and one they have rarely had to spot a car.
When Dale had told me this, it confirmed that (most of ) the crew can often tell where a car is destined by the road/type of car. But there was something even more intriguing to me.
The Rules and Reality May Differ
But wait. Why was the engineer telling the conductor where the cars go? Or more specifically, why was the engineer handling the paperwork?
It's a great example of how the crew will find what works best rather than just following the standards or the rules. Since the CNZR is usually a two-person crew, the engineer had told the office that it was stupid that Dale (the conductor) had to manage the paperwork, and record the time when each car was spotted or picked up, etc.
While Dale is the conductor, he's also the brakeman, fireman, and everything except the engineer. As a result, it's much more efficient for the engineer to be recording the necessary information on the paperwork while he's sitting there waiting for Dale to throw the iron, or set/release handbrakes, etc. So that's how they do it.
In my era, the conductor wouldn't be busy on the ground, since there would be a head-end brakeman and a rear brakeman to be on the ground. There's more leeway on a shortline railroad where everybody does a bit of everything. I've heard many similar stories from railroaders on larger roads as well.
The saga of the CN box car continues. After they were informed it wasn't for Home Depot, they had to take it back down to Hartford Lumber. As I mentioned, they rarely had to spot a car there. In the meantime, a shipping container had been shoved back against a chain link fence, which was pushed too close to the rail. So the car peeled away several yards of fence, which then needed to be cut out so they could spot the car.
Bad Order Cars
On another day, there was a box car that had a broken bell crank, which meant that you can't set the handbrake. Dale told called his office and CSOR and told them that he wouldn't accept the car until it was repaired. They wanted him to accept it and have it unloaded first, but he still refused and they had to fix it first.
After the repair.
Here's the applicable rules from the 1943 New Haven Rule Book, under the section for Freight Conductors:
826. They must not handle a car which is found to be overloaded or improperly loaded or not in condition to run safely and report cars in such condition to the superintendent promptly.
827. They must, when bad order cars are set out of the train, report the fact to the superintendent promptly, advising nature of defect, where waybill or manifest was left and note on waybill or manifest the point at which car was left.
This could be done on the model as well. I've seen some ops sessions that use cards to identify bad order cars for whatever reason. But on the prototype a cut of cars is walked to check for defects, set/release handbrakes, test the brakes, etc. On the model, the conductor should also be checking the train. If defects are found, issues with the coupler, damage to the handbrake, or things like broken sill steps, could be flagged as a bad order car and either refused or set out to be repaired. This would be useful for the layout owner, because they'll know which cars have broken parts
Empowering Your Crews
I enjoy this sort of operation since it provides some interest and work aside from just dropping off and picking up cars. It's more immersive, and also better models how the prototype actually operates. More importantly, it makes your crews a more integral part of the operations, and empowers them to make decisions and do the job like the real crews. Yes, there are rules to follow, and often a dispatcher or yardmaster who must provide permission to do the work. But once permission is granted, it's the crews that determine how to actually do their work.