Operation means different things to different modellers. After many years of exhibition layouts where trains go round and round and round.... I now like to use a local freight running between classification yards setting out and picking up cars at industries along the way.
To instill a form of reality to these operations I use Car Cards and Waybills I print the car cards on 200gsm card stock and the waybills on normal 80gsm copy paper. This system has been around for many years in various forms, my system is only a slight variation.
First I make the car card. This is folded up as shown to make a pocket for the waybill. The folded card is held together with a clear address label. They are easier to use than sticking tape, and, I have a few thousand of them doing nothing.
Because my hand writing is so bad (no, I'm not a doctor) I print the car cards and way bills on the printer. To get the right information in the right place, I use an Excel Spreadsheet to set up and then print the waybills. The original idea of the format came from a web page by Wolfgang Dudler
The car cards are the easiest part and they are also setup on a spreadsheet. All text the same way up, the reporting mark, AAR car type, car number, short description of the car, e.g. Brown Boxcar - in small print. The waybill spreadsheet takes a little more time to set up.
I put a car in its location at each industry along with its car card. I then go around the layout and add a suitable waybill to each car card. Peddler Freights are set up in the staging yards with 4 - 6 cars blocked for Shelby. The waybill has a section [ VIA ] in red, this shows the next yard destination for the car. Shelby is the yard for the division, the other "VIA" destinations are staging yards for the 'run through' trains. The cars dropped at Shelby are then sorted into "locals" for each of the industrial towns on the division.
The local has 5 cars and caboose. The reasoning behind this is that it takes about an hour (real time) to travel to location, switch each industries, and return to the yard. Once at the yard, the loco has to return the caboose to the caboose track and then get its self to the loco yard for service and refueling.
Any of the peddler freights can be diverted over the full system instead of going straight to the next staging yard. There are also "manifest freights" that just run from staging to staging, there are also a few passenger trains that run the system.
As each car is set out, a car is removed from that exact location. This stops the industry or yard being swamped with cars. There are 78 industry "spots" on the layout. This means there can be 78 single car movements in a session, not counting run throughs or passenger trains. The cars returned to Shelby are placed in trains going to staging. If a peddler drops off 4 cars, it can take 4 cars to staging. This ensures that trains are not too long for staging. Limited space -limited staging.
Each train has a Loco Card and a car card for each car in the train. Each car card has a waybill in the pocket. The Loco Card has the details of the loco; type, Road Name, Number and capacity. The number is the address entered into the throttles. At the front of the pocket there is a list of functions available for that loco. These are normally – F1=bell, F2=horn/whistle, F3=dynamic brakes, F4=coupler clank on steam locos, F4=dip headlights on diesels, F5= marker lights. The Car Card has the car type, reporting marks, number, description and “Return To” information. There is a pocket on the front for the waybill.
The Way Bill has two sides, both sides show the car type, Via ( the next yard ), destination and commodity carried. The destination will show the town, the industry and the location at that industry. The operator does not turn the way bill, that is done by the dispatcher between sessions. The reverse side shows the off line town, industry, and commodity just to add "reason" to the movement. The way bill is turned between session, we have yet to move all 78 cars in a session which lasts about 3 hours with a 30 minute break.