by Chris Frissell
Conductor’s wheel reports provide invaluable data on freight train consists that tell us what kinds of freight cars were in use at given times and places, in which trains they ran, what kinds of lading each car carried, which customers they served, and which other railroads’ freight cars were interchanged and operated on the NP. This information can be useful for shaping your model roster, freight operations and your selection of industries and interchanges on your layout. These records show which NP trains did what work, which kinds of cars were moved and which industries were served in the process.
Wheel reports were generated to account for freight car movements and as a basis for billing car hire and mileage charges. The train’s conductor prepared the wheel report to document pickups and setouts of cars in his train. Wheel reports were usually handwritten en route, based on waybills obtained from the yard office and information gleaned during intervening car inspections.
Wheel reports turned in by conductors at a given station document every freight car originating from, delivered to, or passing through that station. A wheel report documents a single train on a single day, and collections of wheel reports can show a slice or sample of rolling stock passing through a given point of the railroad at a given time.
Although typically handwritten, wheel reports were entered on official forms, and because of their importance to operations and accounting, had to be accurate. Northern Pacific’s wheel reports included a header that included a train identifier corresponding to the direction of travel, and timetable or scheduled number and section of the train; date, time and location the report was filed; the lead engine number (used to dispatch the train); and the conductor’s last name. These were followed by several columns of data, a row for each car including reporting marks or other shorthand identification of the car’s owner; car number; whether the car was empty (E) or loaded (L), alphanumeric classification of the car type and capacity, tonnage estimate for loaded cars, a shorthand note on contents of loaded cars (including notes about hazardous or rush loads), numeric identifier for the station destination of every car, and miscellaneous remarks, which often included additional shorthand notes on customer or consignee or station agent destination. At the bottom of the form were summary data including total train tonnage.
a gentleman with an abiding interest in railroad history and operations,
obtained a large collection of NP wheel reports from
Two official NP documents have proven useful in interpreting wheel reports. I found a 1969 Form 9276 entitled Kind Of Car Codes for a few dollars at a swap meet. This pocket-sized cardstock document lists NP alphanumeric car designations by type—boxcars, flat cars, hoppers, trailers, company service and others—and for many classes further defined by capacity, length or equipment. For example, flat cars are subdivided into thirteen classes. F5 signifies a flat car in the 50-59 foot length range; F6 a car of 60-feet or greater length. F2 is bi-level autorack, F3 a tri-level autorack and F7 and F8 are short and long flats with trailer hitches. B codes cover boxcars, G gondolas, T tank cars, H hopper cars, C covered hoppers, R reefers, S stock cars and V trailers. Almost 100 car codes are listed, and half appeared regularly in wheel reports.
The reverse side of Form 9276,
called Commodity Coding: Capacity and
Variable Characteristics, contains the key to describing loads and aspects
of car condition and capacity which affect maintenance and car loading. Some
wheel report entries appear to represent car inspection results coded this way.
For example, on April 4, 1969 on westbound train WEXSO-1-13, single-sheathed 40-foot
War Emergency boxcar NP 28420 bound for
The second document for understanding wheel reports is the Numerical List of Operating Station Numbers. My copy consists of pages 91-104 of a larger NP document unknown to me. These pages list hundreds of five-digit numeric location codes for stations spanning every mainline and branchline on the NP. The codes relate to station mileposts, but the starting points are different for different segments of the system, so the codes cannot be interpreted reliably without reference to this official list. Many, if not all, of these codes can also be found on NP Employee Timetables published for each division.
Cheat sheets and useful additions and corrections have been posted on the NPTellTale Yahoo group to help decipher station locations, destination codes and the car type codes, as well as other cryptic notations used by conductors to signify loads and customers. Allen may repost them at 2-8-2.com/wheelreports/np/Jamestown, and if all goes well, this information may eventually be posted on the NPRHA.org Web site, along with more wheel reports.
Matt Herson had the fortitude a few
years ago to initiate what I then considered to be a daunting task—compile the
Matt shared his draft spreadsheet with me and I’ve since added several thousand new entries, notations on car series, further interpretations of destination and customer information, modeling notes, as well as a few dozen additional wheel reports that Allen has since transcribed. My spreadsheet has about 6,560 rows, each representing a single car record in a freight train. My spreadsheet includes consists for about 60 trains reported on eleven dates ranging from April to November 1969.
Matt’s spreadsheet has proved very workable. Each row of data captures the information for a single car, arrayed in order by its reporting marks and number. Columns capture all of the original data in the wheel reports, and Matt added columns for additional information gleaned from 1969 Official Railroad Equipment Registers and other sources: car type, length, door width and tonnage capacity; a notes column for information on mechanical equipment and likely paint scheme of the prototype; modeling possibilities; American Association of Railroads (AAR) car-type identifier; destination decoded from the NP station mile codes; and notes about customer and lading inferred from the conductor’s shorthand.
I am most fortunate that the
Finally I shade in gray entries for
freight cars that I know are available as good quality, accurate models in HO
scale, or are fairly straightforward kitbashes from
existing models. I’ve even added Web links to modeling articles and prototype
photos of the car series. These give me a handy guide for my model purchases
and projects. In recent years I have confined 90 percent of my freight car
purchases to cars whose number series appears to have passed through or been
destined for the Missoula-Paradise subdivisions, based on research from these Jamestown
wheel reports. The rest of my purchases are based on photographic evidence of
them appearing in NP trains in western