PLACARDS AND ROUTING BOARDS FOR HOUSE CARS
House cars are defined as a fully enclosed, rectangular, car with side and/or end doors and/or roof hatches. As such, the term includes all box, refrigerator, automobile, and plug door box cars. Both placard and routing boards are made of soft wood where they are needed. This is so that a placard or routing card can be conveniently tacked or nailed to it and removed at a later date, tacks/nails and all. However, as it happens, often the tacks/nails aren't removed and, in many cases, pieces of the card are left behind waving in the breeze. Early cars prior to the wide-spread use of steel on the sides, ends, and doors were not equipped with these boards unless the location of the placard as required meant it would have to be nailed to metal.
Placard boards were intended to have special placards made of card stock affixed to them. A good example is a warning that the lading is explosive, flammable, corrosive, or what have you, or the placard would carry special unloading instructions such as "Unload From This Side Only" or "Unload From Other Side Only" and other special instructions to be followed at the car's destination. Routing boards were just that; provision for attaching special routing instructions to the sides of the car for the benefit of the trainmen. The specifications covering placard and routing boards were first introduced in 1914. Today, the units are covered by specific AAR and ICC regulations. Initially, placard boards were only applied to cars with steel ends and doors. On wooden ended cars, instead of a placard board affixed just above the car's horizontal centerline and to the right, near the right corner, on the area roughly equivalent to the size of a placard was painted black and the placards were tacked/nailed directly to the end sheathing. If the car had steel ends, a placard board was installed. The 1914 specification called for a minimum size of 16" x 24" overall and 1" thick and with metal reinforced ends. It would appear that the size of the placard board has changed little since 1914.
When the ICC ruled that the railroads were to remove roof running boards, cut the corner ladders to half their old height, and lower the location of the B end brake gear, many roads also lowered the placard boards as well - but not all of them did, and it appears that the relocation of the end placard boards was optional because many of the cars were altered according to the ICC ruling still have their placard boards firmly affixed to the area just above the horizontal centerline of the end and to the right of the vertical centerline. So, it would be important, as a modeler, to be aware of this when modeling a car built prior to and altered just after the new ICC regulations covering roof running boards and so forth. New cars, however, have their placard boards located approximately two feet above the bottom edge of the steel end and very near to the right corner of the end.
When cars were built with wooden doors, placard boards were not affixed to the door. Instead, about 3/4ths the way up from the bottom edge of the door and on a vertical centerline (but not always) an the area about the size of a standard placard was painted black. When the car was equipped with a wooden door the routing card was affixed directly to the door instead of on a routing board. Again, an area about 8" square was designated about one foot above the bottom edge of the door on the vertical centerline (but, again, not always) of the door, the area was again painted black. Frequently, however, routing cards would be found much closer to the latching device for the door on the left or even to the left of the door itself at about the same level as the latching device. In addition, sometimes routing boards or areas designated for fastening routing on the centerline of the door. However, occassionaliy, the placard board would not be located at the vertical centerline, but to the right of the centerline instead. Routing boards would be found on steel doors in the same locations as above on wooden doors, the most common location on the vertical centerline below the placard board. Again, however, routing boards might be found on the left side of the car rather than on the door.
Cars with steel doors had placard boards fastened to the door at the same location as above, that is about 2/3rds the way up from the bottom edge and cards would be found at the bottom edge to the left of and some distance away from the door on the side of the car. Here, you will have to carefully look for the tell-tale scraps of paper arranged more or less in a square where the previous routing cards have been removed.
Again, when the ICC changed the regulations with regard to the running boards, ladders, and brake gear, many railroads relocated the side placard boards to a lower position, roughly equivalent to the same height as the end placard boards. Relocation, however, appears to have been optional, and some cars that were otherwise altered to suit the new ICC regulations sported their placard and routing boards in the same locations as they were prior to the regulation change.
Present day practice seems to be regulated more strictly than in the past. Whereas the railroads or car builders had some optional locations for the placard and routing boards on the sides of the car in the past, today's practice seems to be limited to three or four locations for both devices. First, on plug door cars equipped with both plug and sliding doors, the placard board is uniformly located to the left of the doors approximately 2-1/2' from the bottom edge of the side and about a foot or so from the left of the door itself. Routing boards are found in many locations as in the past: On the current new Railbox ABOX cars, the routing board is found just below the plug door latching device and we have seen evidence that this seems to be a common location. However, routing boards can be found to the left of and at the same level as the latching device on the left side of the car just to the left of the door.
If the car is equipped with sliding doors only, the side-mounted placard boards are often found on the door panel below the horizontal centerline of the door. It can be on the vertical centerline of the door or to the right of the vertical centerline. Usually, if the placard board is to the right of the vertical centerline, the routing board is to the left of the vertical centerline near the latching mechanism. If, on the other hand, the placard board is located on the vertical centerline of the car's door, the routing board is often found on the left side of the car to the left of the door at the same level as the latching device. This seems to be the rule rather than the exception.
What is important here is that few modelers pay much attention to these details. We have seen numerous very excellent models that lack both placard and routing boards, particularly modern box and refrigerator cars. Apparently, most modelers don't realize the importance of these details. The same can be said of models of earlier years. While the railroads may not have bothered to paint a black area in the appropriate places on wood sheathed cars, the placards and routing cards would be placed at the locations discussed, and the evidence of their existance would be revealed by the appearance of the cards or, at the very least, there would be groups of nails and bits of torn card stock where the cards had been fastened then hastily removed. Even brand new cars would have evidence of bits of scrap card stock flapping in the breeze.
We have selected a number of photos illustrating some box cars and we have tried to include cars built during the past 65 years. Note the locations of both the placard and routing boards where installed. If the car had no routing or placard boards, remember that both cards would be fastened to areas on the car's sides and ends as described and it would be sufficient to locate placard and routing cards in the same areas as found on cars with steel sides, ends, and doors. For exact locations, refer to drawings of box cars or work up a scale to secure the proper dimensions from a photo. For current equipment, a folding rule or tape measure will assist you when securing dimensions from an actual car for all of the locations of both devices. Just remember to secure permission from the railroad to trespass on their property. Some drawings will detail the location for you if access to a prototype car is not available to you. You will note that the boards on new cars will all seem to have standardized locations and dimensions so that if your model calls for a particular set of locations, it shouldn't be too hard to find a drawing, photo, or prototype car from which to make measurements.