Weathering a CSX Gondola.

An “Unloaded” Gondola Load
MPRR Clinic Night Archive

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Top view of weathered gondola.

Above: A top side view of the finished gondola. Photo Credit: Jim Spavins

CSX Gondola at Selkirk Yard.

Above: The CSX gondola at Selkirk Yard which served as the project's inspiration. Photo Credit: Dan Delany

Clinic By: Dan Delany
Clinic Night Date: December 11, 2005

The Model

Walthers 65’ Mill Gondola - CSX

The Prototype

65’ Mill gondolas have been around since the late 1950’s.  In the East, the Pennsy, Reading, and the Erie Lackawanna all owned some of the early examples of this car.  The Walther’s model represents a more modern prototype, and includes a steel floor, fixed ends and all welded construction.  These cars are used for a huge variety of loads, but most often for finished mill products like pipe, structural steel, rail, and other loads which are longer than a standard 53’ Mill Gondola.  For this project, I’ve decided to model an unloaded car, since I’m always looking for variety in my car fleet.

Inspiration and References

Inspiration for this project came from seeing what looked like “leftovers” in the bottoms of empty gondolas while railfanning on “Ben’s Bridge”, over the center of Selkirk Yard.  From this bridge, you can check out the engine facility, and more importantly for this article, the cuts of cars being showed over the hump.  These longs cuts are pushed at around 2mph over the hump, creating great opportunities to observe and photograph cars of all types as they rolled by.  The ability to look from directly overhead gives the photographer a great angle to see loads in any of the open cars.  On April 30, 2005 I caught a CSX gondola similar to the Walthers model rolling towards the hump.  The car was empty, but the bottom of the car was covered with bits of scrap metal, dirt, chunks of wood, and metal load straps.  This would serve as the inspiration for the project car.

Building The Model

The Walthers model comes ready to run, so no real assembly was required.  Since this was going to run on the club modular layout, I took the time to replace the standard plastic wheels with Proto 2000 metal wheels, and I also replaced the plastic knuckle couplers with good ‘ole Kadee No. 5’s.  These little modifications go a long way in ensuring flawless operation on our layout, and are highly recommended for those wishing to use this car for operation, not just a shelf model.  These long cars are a little light by NMRA standards, but with the addition of the metal wheels, they have never given me any trouble in the many hours they’ve logged on the club layout (I own 4 of these cars).

The project begins with some basic weathering.  Since the car is a fairly new prototype, I lightly weathered the exterior and trucks with a diluted (8:1) mix of Floquil dust.  This helps dull down the stark black color of the car, and breaks up the uniformity of the solid color factory paintjob.  The weathering was applied with very light, successive coats, since I didn’t want to over weather the car.  Once the exterior was done, I weathered the interior of the gondola with a diluted mix of roof brown (8:1), to represent the surface rust that appears on the interior of all steel gondolas after hauling just a few loads.  I sprayed the floor and interior sides with successive coats to build up a fairly heavy reddish brown coating.  Depending on your prototype, you could add more orange to the weathering mix to lighten the color of the surface rust, but be careful.  Surface rust looks very orange in prototype photos, but on a model, I have found it looks more realistic to darken the color to avoid a bright appearance.

I let this base-weathering coat dry for a few days, and then went to work on the actual “load”.

The load was intended to represent leftover scrap metal, as well as some accumulated dirt and other junk, as well as some leftover chunks of wood to represent bracing leftover from previous loads.  I started with the wood chunks.  These were scavenged from my scrap pile of leftover scale wood from structure projects.  I took a few pieces of 8x8 lumber, as well as a few 2x12 pieces, and strained them with “Age-It”.  This stain is produced by Mirco-Mark, and is great for simulating gray, aged lumber.  This step could be left out on some or all of the wood pieces, depending upon how old you want it to look.  I set these aside to dry, and went to wok on the bits of scrap metal.

When modeling bits of scrap metal, what better than actual bits of flaked off real rust?  I went into my basement with a screwdriver and a small cup, and scraped some of the rusty flakes off the sides of my bulkhead door.  I then took the flakes and crushed them into small pieces, not much larger than coarse ballast.  Once I had my scrap metal, I poured a little here and there in the bottom of the car, and then placed the wood around the car, partially buried by some more scrap metal.  Once I was happy with the placement of the load, I took a small amount of white glue, water and alcohol mix, which I use for my scenery, and put a few drops into the car.  To finish off the load, I sprinkled a very small amount of Woodland Scenics “Soil” ground foam into the car.  This helped sponge up the excess glue mix, and added the “dirt and junk” component to the load.  Then, it let the car dry overnight.

The final step is optional, but might be useful if the glue mix discolored the interior slightly.  I airbrushed a little more of my dilute roof brown mixture into the car interior to dull down and blend the scrap load.  Once this final coat of weathering was applied, the car is done and ready for service on the M&P Club layout.


This project proved to be a fairly quick and easy way to add a little variety to my car fleet.  The project did take multiple evening, but mostly due to the drying time of the airbrushed weathering coats.  If you wish to speed up the project, or if you aren’t comfortable with an airbrush, chalks of weathering powders could be substituted for both the interior and exterior weathering.  Obviously, the variations to this load are endless, and just about any “leftovers” could be used to represent the “stuff” in the bottom of an otherwise empty gondola.  As usual, it’s these little projects that make the hobby so enjoyable, and I hope this small project gets everyone’s creative juices flowing.

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