Saturday, June 18, 2016


A current discussion among layout designers concerns holding and sorting slots for car cards used to direct freight car movements on model railroads.  I described my basic car card slots in a post two years ago.  Since that time, I have put my railroad into full operations and done a fair bit of labeling.  Further, I just introduced new computer-printed waybills and the “Spot Card” concept.  Given the current on-line discussion, a refreshed visit to this topic is in order.

As I previously noted, I build my car card boxes with a nominal 1x3 MDF molding for the front piece.  Most of my boxes use nominal ½ x 2 wood strip for spacer-separators.  Though this might seem wide by some, I have found the extra thickness of the spacer makes for easier handling of the cards by my fat fingers and better visual separation of the groups of cards in the slots.  I use 1/8 hardboard as a backing.  This is a bit shorter than the height of the cards, providing for a finger-hold for the car cards in the slots.

A key reason for the thick front piece is to provide a horizontal surface for slot labels.  I got this idea from Rob Spangler in descriptions of his WP 8th Sub layout on the Model Railroad Hobbyist Forum.  The horizontal labels are easily viewed from the normal operator standing position.

Car Card slot boxes on fascia shelves at Eugene Yard.

Yard track car card box with slots for each track. 

In the picture above, the yardmaster has begun assembling blocks of cars on three classification tracks for three of the locals that originate at Eugene.  Slot file separators are available for the yardmaster to identify the use of each track and groups of car cards associated with the blocks of cars on those tracks. 

The yardmaster also has a stack of “Spot Cards” for each of those locals.  The spot cards are used to control the number of cars sent out to each industry spur.  A high proportion of the traffic on my railroad is for empties delivered to industries for outbound loading.  One can think of the spot cards as a form of the station agent’s call for empties.  This reinforces the waybills, which also represent industry demand.  Each day, the car clerk (usually me during staging) collects up the spot cards from the cars at industries that are to be picked up.  These are added to the spot card stack at Eugene.  All the yardmaster needs to know is that if a car is billed for an industry and has a spot card, there will be space at that industry and the car can be sent out on the next local serving that station.

Inbound loads might arrive on any mainline freight arriving at Eugene.  The yard needs to pull those cards into the classification yard and add them to the car block for the appropriate local.  There is more variability in dealing with these inbound cars, so the spot cards help control what goes out on the locals.  The result is the use of Eugene for excess traffic—the “off-spot” cars.  Since my waybill deck is quite new, I have not had time to balance the traffic contained therein, so it is quite easy to overload a few of the industry spurs.  The spot cards help control this flow.

Example cars with car cards containing both waybill and spot card.  These cars are ready to go out to Oakridge on the next Oakridge Turn.

Cars at Springfield ready for pick up.  The spot cards have been removed and the waybills cycled toward the next destination.

As the photos show, I use a car card slot for each track, spur or industry.  That last case provides three separate card slots for the three industries along one spur at Eugene.  My other industry spurs get a single slot each, even when one industry has a couple of tracks, such as Western Lumber at Westfir.

Car Card slots at Westfir.  Western Lumber has two tracks.  The front track serves the wood chip loader and the plywood warehouse.  The back track serves the lumber loading.  A spare slot has been provided for a possible future use.

My car card slot boxes rest on the 1x4 shelves at the base of the layout fascia.  For some layouts, the shelf extension into the aisle might be an issue.  I have been careful placing the fascia shelves to minimize their impact on human traffic flow.  The railroad was designed with fairly wide aisles, though I did compromise down to a standard three feet wide aisle minimum around much of the mainline.  The Eugene-Springfield area has a very generous aisle that squeezes down to six-feet wide at the Springfield turn-back loop, but broadens to eight feet wide at the blind end near the Willamette River crossing at RR-West Eugene (RR-East Springfield).  I carefully thought through the human traffic around the rest of the railroad.  So far, this seems to work acceptably, though there are occasions when operators must pass each other.  Aisle width is an important element of layout design.  Projections into that aisle, such as my operator shelves and card card boxes, must be considered as part of that overall design.  It is not all track!


  1. really nice use of your generous aisle space. Nothing makes the job more pleasant than a comfortable, well organized work space! But then you did ergonomics as a career -- it shows!

  2. I don't know that how to use these apps. Can you give me some suggestion through by your post.Thanks.

    1. Ly Heng,

      I am not sure what "apps" you are asking about. This post simply describes my car card slots and my current use of "Spot Cards" to ensure out-going local freights will have places to spot all of their cars. The capacity of an industry spur sets the number of spots, hence the number of spot cards available. If you are asking about the basic use of cr cards and waybills, I suggest you look at Tony Koester's book on model railroad operations published by Kalmbach Books.

  3. Very nice post really ! I apperciate your blog Thanks for sharing,keep sharing more blogs.