Prototype Waybills

Operations on my layout have evolved from basic car cards and waybills, to switch lists,  and now to what some call “prototype waybills”. Before I get too deep into this subject, let me state that “I consider prototype waybills to be an extension of the layout scenery” and nothing more.

My adventure with prototype waybills started when I was searching for an alternative to traditional car cards and waybills. I never liked how those cards stacked up in hand. The pack of cards was always thicker at the bottom because of the waybill pocket. This led me to baseball card sleeves and that’s when I landed on Tony Thompson’s blog. I spent days reading about the concept and in my eyes, it seemed like a good fit for my operations. 

If you read Tony’s blog you will discover several different ways to go about implementing this system. I have tried two of those systems and each has its advantages and disadvantages.

One of the biggest issues with prototype waybills is the railroad name at the top of the bill. That name would change depending on what railroad created the waybill, regardless of the car’s name.  Let’s say the Pennsylvania Railroad had an empty AT&SF boxcar sitting in one of its yards. The PRR could do one of two things.

  • Route the car empty toward home and the railroad makes no money.
  • Load the car with a load heading west. The railroad makes money and the car is heading toward home loaded. 

In the second scenario that would result in a Freight Waybill with 620 – The Pennsylvania Railroad – 620 printed on the top of the waybill and assigned to the AT&SF car.

You can see how that complicates the creation of prototype waybills. Again, the railroad name at the top of the waybill is all scenery as far as moving your cars on the model railroad go, but the name would change. 

Prototype Waybills and Card Holder Boxes

Prototype Waybill Systems Pros & Cons

Both of the systems I have created utilize clear baseball card protective sleeves to hold the waybills.

The first system replicates the standard car card system with an applied label to the baseball card sleeve. The label has the car information on it and once applied to the sleeve this becomes your car card. At that point, a waybill, or series of waybills, is placed into the car card sleeve much like a traditional card card and waybill system.


  • The car card and waybill stack lay flat in hand;
  • Waybills can be shared between cars of the same kind.


  • Labels have to be created for each car;
  • Labels need to be aligned just right or the underlying waybill won’t look right;
  • Labels can start to peel off the sleeve after several uses
  • Waybills need to be stored for recycling
Baseball Sleeve
Labeled Baseball Card Sleeves With Separate Waybill

The second system uses waybills specific to each car. Instead of creating a car card, the car info is printed on each waybill. 


  • No labels have to be printed or applied to the baseball card sleeve;
  • Storage bins for extra waybills are not needed.


  • Waybills can not be shared between similar cars because the car name and number are printed on the waybill.
  • Each car might need multiple waybills to visit different locations on your layout.

The difference between the two systems is subtle. Depending on your layout size and configuration the ability to cycle waybills to different cars like in system one, might outweigh the label creation issue. For smaller layouts that have limited spots or cars system two might be a better fit.

Prototype waybills prepared for use
Waybills ready to be be placed in the baseball card sleeves.
Waybill In Card Sleeve
Waybills In Plain Baseball Card Sleeves, No Labels!

For those who are interested in trying out this system of Prototype waybills, I am making my spreadsheets available for download and would love your feedback. Please note I am an armature at writing spreadsheets so if you find a better solution feel free to share it here.

The latest versions of my spreadsheets are available below.   Both systems will create Freight Waybills, Empty For Loading bills, and Empty For Home bills depending on the words used in columns I and J of the Waybill Data Tab. Both systems will produce single or double-sided waybills depending on how you arrange the waybills in the Print Tab.

The spreadsheets were created with open-source software and will run on both Open Office and Libre Office. The spreadsheet should also work with Excel however I have not tested it as I do not own the product.

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