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I can only speak to the B&M, and only to an early era (teens to 1945). Every series that I have tabulated from the ORERs in my collection has declined in number in a systematic and even predictable way. This is especially true of the WUF cars that disappeared completely between the 1930 and 1935 registers that I own. I have no reason to believe that this does not represent a sincere effort to report the car counts as accurately as was reasonably possible (as per Tony's comment).
As for "company papers" that would tell a different story, if they ever existed for the B&M they are now at the bottom of some landfill in eastern MA (AFAIK). Mercifully, the B&M never renumbered their cars in the pre-WWII era or, if they did, this is easy to tease out of the registers.
Consequently, I find the ORERs to be a decent (at least) source of information to help understand fleet composition, and it's about all there is in this particular instance. I am particularly grateful for the sizeable number of these that have been scanned and made available at little or no cost.
On Saturday, April 8, 2017 8:29 PM, "blindog blindog@... [STMFC]" wrote:
I should also like to point out that just because a group of older cars is listed in the ORER doesn't mean they actually in service. News reports from the late '50s indicated huge numbers of cars owned by the northeastern railroads were in dead storage, never to used in revenue service again. In 1958 one-quarter of the Pennsy's fleet was stored bad order. That's a lot of freight cars! So while sizable numbers of older classes were still listed in the Register, unless you model some old yard or nearly-abandoned branchline where all those miles of cars were stored, you probably don't need them.