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Necessary Steam Era Freight Car Weathering: Boxcars

May 5, 2008

Ok, let’s face it, there are too many “clean” model freight cars out there. Not to say that every car needs to be filthy, but there are ESSENTIAL basics that make a model stand out in quality, yet fit in with all the modeling you’re probably doing along the line itself.

Here’s a diagram illustrating some essential details:

1. A thinned DARK brown wash over the entire car is a great start to any steam-era weathered cars. Looking back on old color photographs, it seems like 90% of the cars out there had at least a light dusting of dark brown. The other 10% would be lighter colors for different regional soil colors. The dark brown wash looks much better than a traditional India Ink wash, and gives the lettering and details in the car more depth without it looking like a wash.

2. Rust it where you need it. I would start with a dark orange color for light rust, working into a medium/dark brown for older rust and a darkbrown with a hint of mauve (purple) for really old rust.

3. Rust those trucks up. Use DARK borwn on the trucks, orange/brown on the coil or leaf springs.

4. DO NOT FORGET TO OIL THOSE JOURNAL BOXES with some GLOSS black. Try to keep the oily gloss on the bottom half of the Journal boxes, with more grimy black on the top of the journal boxes.

5. Chalk Marks are a MUST for steam era rolling stock. You can do these a number of ways. A sharp, PRISMACOLOR colored pencil will do the trick, but be careful, chalk marks will be small in any scale. To “decode” some of the markings, visit this website:

6. Most paint of the Era didn’t stick well, if at all to the galvanized steel roofs of the day. After some more extreme conditions, the roof would begin to oxidize or rust. Rust only where you think snow or rain would accumulate, or sit on the roof for any period of time. Sometimes the rust wouldn’t come from the Galvanized metal, but the nuts, bolts and other non-galvanized metal pieces, streaking down over the galvanized metal. Cood areas for rust would be:

-Low spots on the roof

-Flat areas, or places where the angle of the roof levels out.

-Seams, Joints or Ribs.

-The Peak of the roof, if the pitch is shallow or flat.

7. The Tackboard. Ignored by 95% of modelers, this all-important piece of railroad hardware was where you tacked any special instructions (on paper usually) on handling of the load inside the car. Cars in Grain service, “Do not hump” messages, and other special circumstances required a message tacked onto the car.

8. Wear and tear on most boxcars happened where the door slid back over the body of the car. If the door was open during a rainstorm, or high-humidity situation, water would condense on the covered side of the car and begin working on the wood. On steel cars this wasn’t a problem. However, on steel cars, the forklift operators would frequently gash the sides of the car loading or unloading the car, and some careless operators would try to close the door USING the forklift, eventually leaving rusty gashes along where the door slides.

9. ON ALL CARS MAKE SURE YOU WEATHER YOUR WHEELS. On even the newest cars, the wheels, which are almost always unpainted all throughout their life, have already began to oxidize starting right after they were first machined, well before the actual car would even have been built. My favorite way to go about fixing this is to use a dark ruaty color, and using a paint brush, twirl it around the well in a circular fashion to give it a correct circular rust pattern from the irregularities done with HUGE lathes they used to turn the steel ingot into the wheel that it is now.

10. The Areas around ladders are frequently dirty, rusty and even muddy from the brakemen climbing up the ladder from the muddy ground, wearing the paint off the ladder rungs with his shoes, and polishing the metal, which would eventually rust again.

11. The Galvanized metal where it wouldn’t rust can be modeled with a mix 25/75 mix of silver and light grey paint. The light gray paint should be most of the mixtue, because as galvanized steel ages, it looses its shine and dulls into a gray color, with hints of sparkle left.

Whew! Well this is alot of information to absorb, I hope this helps, feel free to correct me on anything said.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Gary Ray permalink
    February 5, 2011 5:07 pm

    I’m the editor of a Short Line, the Sierra Div., PCR, NMRA. Could I have permission to reprint your excellent article on weathering in our quarterly publication. Our last contest was weathered cars and this would be a great follow-up.

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