Monday, August 9, 2021

Operations - Local Freights and Freight Houses

I've been meaning to put this post together for a while after asking more questions of Bart Hollis, former head end brakeman on the Highland Line at the end of the New Haven (he hired out in 1968 in East Hartford Yard, then moved to the Highland after 6 months, so really at the end...)

He worked NX-17 (Waterbury to Plainville) and has been able to confirm much of the research Chris and I have done. There were some surprises as well, but they make sense. 

The Work of the Local Freight

Bart says the conductor received, "a list of the cars in the train with instructions as to where they were to be spotted." 

He also says he doesn't quite remember, but thinks they were given the waybills too, but then indicates the waybills would be delivered to the agents in Bristol and Plainville, so they must have had them.

This would be a the Consist/Wheel Report that we've seen in earlier posts. From Hartford, Maybrook, Cedar Hill and others these would be printed via Teletype. From Waterbury it would still be a handwritten report. This lists all the cars in the train in order, from engine to caboose, and their destinations. In other words, for a local freight it tells you everything you need to know about the cars in your train.

As we know from other research, the waybills would travel with the conductor, and this confirms that they would be given to an Agent once delivered. That is, they don't go to the industry (since they are railroad documents).

I expect that if the Yardmaster knows of any cars to be picked up they would also tell the conductor at that point. 

Bart then provides a town-by-town description of the work:

"The first siding was at Terryville. There was a passing siding on the south side of the track which was only used if we had to double the hill. There was also a trailing point switch that went to the north side that went into the woods and ended. I was told it went to a clock factory years ago. There was a trailing point switch that had a short track that ended on a trestle and only once did we spot a loaded car of coal there."

DERS-1 (DL-109) 0733 entering the east portal of Terryville Tunnel. Tom McNamara
You can see Terryville station and the passing siding in the distance.

"The next switch was the passing siding at Bristol. Off the siding was the house track. When I first started we would occasionally get a car for the house. There was also a track that went just beyond the station that was used as a team track. There was an agent at Bristol by the name of Coffee (I forget his first name). If we had a car for Bristol, he would tell us exactly where it went and if there was one to pick up he would tell us the road and number. I don't know if the conductor got any paperwork, though."

Bristol 1948

There are a couple of interesting things here. First is that they received an occasional car to spot on the house track. More on that in a moment.

The second bit of info, of course, is that the Agent in Bristol told them what work they had. In a small town, this very well may have been a verbal exchange, although for a pickup the waybill would still be given to the conductor. 

"The next break in the rail was Bristol Brass. It was a facing point switch, so we had to work that place on the return. The Bristol agent was responsible for it and so the same instructions came from him."

They received their work while in town, but would work it on the way back.

"The next break was at Hildreth Press. A printing company. This was a trailing point switch that had another track off it. Again, it was handled by Bristol. This place had four spots. They would get a load of paper cars and we had to store them on the passing siding at the Bristol station. I remember as many as twenty loaded cars consigned to Hildreth Press."

By this era, with no passenger trains scheduled on the Highland Line, there were no passing sidings remaining. That is, the track was there, but they weren't designated in the Employee Time Table as a Siding. The Rule Book only defines two types of track:

  • Main Track: A track extending through yards and between stations, upon which trains are operated by time-table or train order, or both, or the use of which is governed by block signals.
  • Siding: A track auxiliary to the main track for meeting or passing trains.
There are three other related definitions:
  • Single Track: A main track upon which trains are operated in both directions.
  • Two or More Tracks: Two or more main tracks, upon any of which the current of traffic may be in either specified direction.
  • Yard: A system of tracks within defined limits provided for making up of trains, storing of cars, and other purposes, over which movements not authorized by time-table, or by train order, may be made, subject to prescribed signals and rules, or special instructions.

In other words, the Main Track(s) refer only to tracks that are controlled by time table, train order, signals, or later forms of control.

A Siding was a track that was specifically identified in the Employee Time Table for the purpose of meeting or passing trains.

Yards only exist between Yard Limit Signs (a type of fixed signal) and do not require train orders for movements on those tracks. We know that additional rules govern the use of the Main Track within Yard Limits.

So what are the other tracks? They aren't listed in the definitions, but they are referred to in other rules ("Sidings and other tracks to the right of the main track" for example). In the Engine Restrictions section of the ETT we can see a number of examples, such as house track, bulk track, brick yard tracks, industrial tracks, run  around track, plus many identified by name, such as A.H. Hayes Fuel Co. track. They are also frequently referred to by track number.

 (Model) railroaders often call them sidings or spurs. When working with real railroaders, they tend to refer to them by name (Depot box car track, Depot flat car track, etc.) so there's no question which track they are referring to.

Anyway at this point the former Sidings in Terryville, Bristol, and Forestville are now used by the crew as needed, which is exactly what Bart describes. In my era, these were still in use as Sidings, and they would have had to inform the Dispatcher if they were to leave a cut of cars on any of them.

"Next was Wallace Barnes. Again, a trailing point switch. They received covered gondolas loaded with steel coils. Once more, handled by Bristol.

Two RDCs at Forestville in September 1956 (McNamara).

Eagle-eyed readers who know Forestville might notice something odd about this picture...

"Then came Plainville." 

Three trains at Plainville, 1948 (Cochrane).
I-1 1001 with a passenger train at Plainville station on the eastbound main.
DEY-5 (S-2) 0604 with YN-3 coming down the east leg of the wye onto Track No. 5.
Between them, you can just see the caboose of the Bristol local on the westbound main.
That's known as HDX-3 in 1948, but NX-17 in 1968.

There was an operator and an agent there. The agent's name was Ed Coffee, brother to the Bristol agent. Almost all of the loads bound for Plainville came via NX-25 out of Hartford. Occasionally we would be asked to spot one or more of them and once in a while we would pull a load back to Waterbury. I remember a few times we would take a car from Plainville north on the Canal Line to a lumber yard and/or a cement place. Not often. Then, a few times we took a car south on the Canal Line to either a lumber yard or a car of casting sand to a forge. I believe these place were within Plainville Yard Limits as I don't remember ever getting orders to go there."

I love the fact that the two agents on the line were brothers. But this also confirms that the Agent would assign work as needed to the crews that were available where there were multiple trains.

What about the lack of paperwork? I asked whether the orders were verbal or written, and his reply was very informative (and hinted in the notes above):

"For the most part, we could tell by the type of car and the road which one went where."

He also clarified, "As I remember, the only time we got a list was a hand written note with the road and number for Hildreth Press. The rest of the cars were obvious."

Another question I had is whether an industry would tell them to pull a car, or if they had to get permission from the Agent.

 "If the consignee asked us to pull a car, we would as a service to the customer."

This makes sense, although they would still need to get a waybill from the Agent before the car could move on the railroad. Because the Agents along the line would know the work (or the crew calls ahead), I suspect this would be relatively rare. But if they were pulling a car from an industry that is prior to reaching the station, then they would get the waybills from the Agent at that point. 

So while the New Haven had forms for switching at yards, and must have had something for the road too, the reality is that these sort of working documents (that didn't have to be saved for recordkeeping purposes) weren't needed as much for regular crews. They knew their industries, and how they would work them. In the era Chris and I are modeling, there are more industries, and they would be receiving more house cars. So the paperwork would still be important, although the crews will still be able to pick out the obvious cars. They would also use chalk marks to identify specific cars.

Operating a Local Freight 

From a model railroad operating viewpoint, while you may want to know what your work will be ahead of time, most of us won't know a model railroad as well as a crew that works it 5 days a week. After a quick glance to see if there's something unusual, I think the key is to approach it one town at a time.

The train should be blocked by town, as on the prototype. Prior to leaving one station (town), the conductor should already be looking at what work will be done at the next town. Identify the end of the cut, then start by identifying which industries will be served, and an efficient order on how to serve them. 

You don't have to worry about the specific cars at this point, just the industries and the order to serve them. It doesn't matter which order the cars are in the block at this point, because you'll simply cut the train just behind the car that is being dropped at a given industry.

The train may pass some industries on the way into a town. If there are cars to drop, then the train can stop on the way. To determine if there are cars to pick up, then can get that info from the prior station, or the industry can give it to them there. In either case, they can pull the cars, and pick up the waybills from the Agent prior to leaving town.

It's also not uncommon for a Siding or track to be near the center of a town. That is, the local freight would come to the station, pull into the siding to clear the Main, then go get their work from the Agent. They would leave their train on the siding and go back to work any industries in that town that they already passed. It wouldn't be uncommon to work both sides of town before putting their train back together and continuing to the next one.

For a layout owner, I would recommend providing some information for pickups at the start of a run, and the rest would be communicated along the way. When the train arrives in town, the conductor should have already planned out how they will work the industries, and usually they will get their additional work from the Agent (it could simply be a box with a card).

Don't be afraid to spend a few minutes finalizing your planned moves in that town. Again, I think the focus should be on how you'll work the industry itself, don't pay attention to specifically which cars. Then when you go to switch each industry you can look at the cars in the train and determine where to make your cut. 

Freight House Traffic

Chris and I had been told that some freight houses (such as Rocky Hill) were served by truck in our era. Combined with sources like the ETT which lists what stations are open for Train Orders, came to the conclusion that there wasn't an Agent at many of those towns. This is related not only to traffic at the freight house, but also how the crew receives work.

The funny thing is, I believe I've had the answer for several years now, and just didn't realize it. As I've been digging through paperwork, I missed a subtle but important point. The Freight Car and Package Car schedules list scheduled L.C.L cars to the freight houses. I originally thought any remaining traffic to the freight house essentially used it as a bulk/team track. I now think that's incorrect.

I think the freight house could still receive cars, or be used to load cars, they just weren't scheduled. These freight houses were on scheduled truck service from freight houses that received scheduled service, but traffic that wasn't part of those scheduled cars would have still gone direct to the freight house in that town.

Of course, even if the freight house only received from trucks (which I now know is incorrect), they would still have a Freight Agent, and that agent would still be the point of contact for local industries and the place where crews would receive their work. For example, by the 1966 ETT Bristol was not open for Day Train Orders (only Plainville). On the Valley it was Wethersfield and Middletown.

But industry work isn't a  Train Order. That is, they aren't orders that give them permission to occupy the Main Track. Train Orders aren't required to occupy an industry track. So whether or not a station is a Day Train Order station doesn't tell us whether there is a Freight Agent on duty, and Bart's recollections prove that.

So how can we tell?

Well, indirectly any freight house that has scheduled service by rail or truck must have a Freight Agent. That Agent would provide the local work for the crew. But there's also a publication that specifically identifies every station with an Agent.

Official List of Open and Prepay Stations

Open and Prepay Stations for 1949

Issued annually, this book lists every freight station in the North American Rail System, including Canada, Mexico and even Alaska (although from what I understand it wasn't directly connected to the rest of the rail system). Hawaii is not listed, although Cuba (!) is.

Like all such books, entries may have numerous notes.

The first note (designated by an asterisk) states: No Agent. Freight charges to this station must be prepaid. Except as otherwise provided, to order (or negotiable) bills of lading must not be issued to a station where there is no freight agent. In other words, every active freight house is listed, and it identified which ones have an Agent and which do not.

So for Chris' benefit (and to satisfy my curiosity), here's the Valley Line in 1949:

Essex, Deep River, Chester, East Haddam and Moodus, Higganum, Cromwell, Rocky Hill, and Wethersfield are all Open. South Wethersfield is Prepay (no Agent) and there are several notes that apply:

1. Carload freight only. (South Wethersfield)

76. A very long note: Shipments for the following points, except "Shippers' Order Notify," when consigned to the persons or firms named, may be forwarded "Collect," unless shipments are of such nature that the governing "Classification" requires prepayment: Shipments for all other consignees must be prepaid. There are then several pages of Stations and Consignees to which this applies. For South Wethersfield it only applies to B. O. Pelton. (South Wethersfield)

126. Nearest less than carload delivery for this station shown is: Chester > Deep River; South Wethersfield > Wethersfield. This rule likely always accompanies Rule 1 to inform shippers where to route L.C.L for that station. (Chester and South Wethersfield) 

1560. Carloads only, except that less than carload shipments in lots of 4,000 pounds or more will be handled from or to industries having private sidings. (Chester)

So my earlier interpretation was wrong. The freight houses in our era are still active, if low volume.


  1. Awesome information Randy, as always! Your research is always so impressive… And in this case especially helpful since I can use my freight houses legitimately now!

    1. I knew you'd like that! It's hard to beat first-hand accounts, but it's always nice to have supporting documentation too. Sometimes it's just a matter of figuring out how it all pieces together.