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Trading Passes                  


The hobby of model railroading is alive and well in the world today.  One of the many facets of this hobby is the exchanging, trading and collection of passes.  The pass was originally a kind of permanent ticket awarded to an employee or close associate of a railroad company.  It was valid when signed by the president or a high officer within the company and entitled the bearer to ride the company’s trains without payment.  Naturally there were usually some restrictions but the idea was that the owner would use that railroad for travel whenever possible.






Several model railroaders, proud of their creations, borrowed that concept beginning around 1950.  As president of their own miniature empires they issued “passes” as an invitation to other fellow modelers to come for a visit.  “Pass of the month” columns still appear in several model railroad magazines as modelers still trade and exchange these paper or traditional passes today



Epass, e-Pass or e-passes, whatever way you want to spell it.  The computer has recently added a new version of the original paper-based pass with a virtual or electronic version called an “e-pass”.  This GIF or JPG image is displayed on a web site and traded via e-mail.  



For those who want to be really modern there is the CD-Pass, a business card-shaped 30mb CD that can be jam-packed with any amount of information about a layout including pictures, music, track plans and any amount of text description of a railroad.








Anatomy of a pass


Many passes used today for model railroads mimic those used by railroads of the Victorian Age (1837-1901) when engineering was for esthetic beauty as much as for functionality and ornamentations flourished.  Although I have seen a number of very nice modern motif designs I must admit to a fondness of the extraneous scrollwork and fancy lettering of a bygone era.



Once upon a time there were a number of specialty printers who could supply a number of stock images for use in printing up a pass.  Today you also have the internet.  Most browsers will have some kind of image browser that retrieves an image from a sight based on the text associated with it.  Also there are image libraries to help you find that special picture.  Normally you will want to look for clipart or GIF images such as from the Railroad Print Shop but another source not to be overlooked are the fonts from RailFonts.Com.  If you still can’t find what you want or have money to burn you can always find a designer who will probably charge $300 or more for a simple design.


The individual images you have selected may be modified through some type of graphics editor program.  An image of a locomotive for instance may be made lighter so that it is suitable for a background or any number of texturing and special effects may be applied.  MS paint and photo editor are simple applications that can yield a number of interesting effects while Coral Draw, Jasc Paint shop pro allows unlimited modifications.


Once the individual images have been prepared you can then assemble the fonts and images into the actual pass image using a desktop publisher such as the MS desktop publisher or even MS Word or use and advanced graphic editor such as Coral Paint.








The Traditional Pass


Front of North River Pass

Back side of North River pass











The traditional or cardstock pass is the oldest form of pass exchanged between modelers and has been around for a good fifty years.  They can be framed for display on the wall, you can use pins in a map to show where they come from or you can simply collect them.  They can be produced on anything from a mimeograph machine to a professional printer and the home computer printer. 


This business-card document today represents an open invitation to the owner for a visit to the home layout and still can be found at club meetings and conventions but is most often exchanged through the mail.  Most pass collectors will include a letter that often includes a few simple checkboxes such as:

__ Thanks for your pass

__ Here is my pass in return for the one you sent

__ Enclosed is my pass

__ Could you please send me your pass?       

There is usually some form of other enclosure ranging from a fictional history of the railroad, a biography or some sort of humorous materials such as jokes or witty sayings.  I have also seen very nicely done fictitious stock certificates suitable for framing.  These are sometimes sold for a few dollars to help defray the cost of trading passes as well as to provide something interesting to hang on the wall.


The hardest part of collecting of course is finding new names to trade with.  The NMRA Bulletin carries a list of new names every month and you can get a list of currently active traders.  Some collectors will give you the names of a few friends for you to try.  Other publications will post lists from time to time.



I have several passes that where printed on plain paper but most use some kind of cardstock.  Ask for Heavyweight Cardstock between 90 and 110 lbs for a good heavy paper.  This is light enough to pass through your printer yet heavy enough to endure a bit of handling.  If you want a colored background and want to save on ink ask for a light color such as buff, salmon or light green etc.  NOTE: be sure that if you purchase anything over 8-1/2 wide your printer will handle it.  BEWARE: printing the background color of a printed pass eats color ink cartridges like crazy.


Text Box:  You can buy “business card” stock that is perforated for easy separation but this is a bit more expensive, it is usually a lighter-weight stock and your selection in colors is limited.   I prefer to cut mine apart using a hobby knife.  If you do it this way you can make things easier by printing a small ‘+’ symbol.  Just line the edge of a steel ruler up and cut without having to measure.


A nice finishing touch is to use a punch to round the corners to a 1/8 – ¼ radius.



Pass collecting can be fun but no matter how cheap you make the pass there will always be certain expenses.  Postage within the USA is $0.39, to Mexico or Canada it is $0.60 and to the rest of the world it is $0.80.  There is also the cost of the cardstock, envelope, and printer ink.  I figure each pass costs about a dollar to make and mail and it takes about an hour to reply to a pass I have received  







    The E-Pass





The E-Pass has evolved about ten years ago and is mostly used over the internet.  This type of pass was never as common as the traditional pass for several reasons the main one being that it is designed to be used in conjunction with a web site.  A collector begins by creating the design much as the traditional pass but with only one side and to certain specifications.  The pass is then posted on a personal website.  Visitors to that web sight can request an exchange and the passes are exchanged via e-mail attachments, hence the term e-pass.  Passes that have been received are then posted to a gallery for display to future visitors to the site with a link back to the owner.


One of the chief advantages to the e-pass (in addition to proudly displaying your own) is that the links exchanged with other pass holders create boosts the site’s ranking with search engines and generates a considerable amount of pleasant conversations within the e-mails involved.  Other advantages include animated images, virtually no cost and ease of response.  More than one club has completely automated the process to the point where you can upload your pass and receive a unique club pass all dynamically on line in five minutes.


I have found the best sources of e-passes to be either a web ring’ (search for ‘e-pass Web Ring’) or to chain through the various galleries of other e-pass collectors from all over the world.


By convention, an electronic pass is either a GIF or JPG file that is about 550 pixels wide by 350 pixels high with a file size of less than 100kb so that it can be conveniently attached to an e-mail message.  I create both a GIF image (which tends to have a smaller file size and slightly less detailed) that can be used for a thumbnail and a JPG image which is generally a bit larger in file size and yields more detail when displayed as full size or enlarged.


The electronic pass usually contains the name of a railroad, and an emblem, herald or some trade mark representing the road.  There is usually a place to enter the name of the person receiving the pass, the name of the railroad president awarding the pass and a date.  Often there is also a place to enter the name of the receiver's railroad.






    The following are a sample of e-passes I have received

    and are posted elsewhere on this site











   The CD-PASS





For those who want to be really modern there is the CD-Pass, a business card-shaped 30mb CD that can be jam-packed with any amount of information about a layout including pictures, music, track plans and any amount of text description of a railroad.


A pass made from a ‘business card’ CD is a natural extension of the ‘PASS’ concept.  The idea is to create the equivalent to small web site on a CD by copying selected files required to display a number of site pages plus an ‘autorun’ file to automatically bring the site up when the CD is loaded into the system. 

Pages that might be included are:


         Welcome or home page for site

         Pictures of model railroad

         Links page to other favorite sites

         E-pass page

         A biographical page telling about yourself


These files can all be copied manually or they can be transferred by backup utilities like Roxio’s “Easy CD Creator” or a regular installation program such as the WISE Installer.


The insert for the jewel box, if designed properly, can actually be a traditional pass (See the section above on the design of the traditional pass.



The CD pass makes an excellent souvenir to those visiting your miniature empire as it combines all the features of the traditional pass and the e-pass and more.  The jewel box insert if designed carefully can actually be a traditional pass while the CD can display all the passes you have received to date.
























       Card stock – Medium weight (Ivory-100 Sheets)



Office Depot

       Card Stock – 240564    INDEX, 90# 8.5x11, buff

                               Wausau Papers    Exact Index    8-1/2 x 11   21.64M    90 lb

                               BUFF 49131     Smooth Finish      216x279mm                 165g/m2


Office Zone

       COREAD1/CORSD1KN18 – Diamond 1 corner rounder with 1/8 knife

       CORSD1KN14                      Diamond ¼ inch knife






























Model Railroading is fun in Connecticut.
Bob Van Cleef, MMR

Last update  08/03/2012