A Weathered and Unweathered Penn Central Locomotive.

Weathering 101
MPRR Clinic Night Archive

Clinic Photo Gallery

A weathered box car at Selkirk Yard.

Above: A prototype photo to use as a weathering guide. Photo Credit: Dan Delany

An overhead picture of a box car roof.

Above: A view of a box car's roof which can be used to guide weathering. Photo Credit: Dan Delany

An overhead picture of a HO scale box car roof.

Above: A finished weathered HO scale box car roof. Photo Credit: Dan Delany

A weathered Union Pacific refrigerator car.

Above: A weathered Union Pacific refrigerator car. Photo Credit: Dan Delany

A weathered HO scale box car.

Above: A weathered HO scale box car. Photo Credit: Dan Delany

A weathered Conrail gondola.

Above: A weathered Conrail gondola. Photo Credit: Dan Delany

Clinic By: Dan Delany
Clinic Night Date: November 6, 2005

Once I decided to write an article on freight car weathering, I sat down and started to brainstorm how I would lay out the article.  The more I sat and thought about it, the larger and more complex the article got.  Thus I arrived at my first major conclusion: the topic of weathering is very diverse, and it can be made as simple or as intricate as we like, much like the hobby of model railroading itself.  Personally, I have found that my weathering jobs usually start out small, and then begin to mushroom into individual projects of their own, as I strive for perfect realism.

I’ll start off with an introduction to weathering itself, and touch upon the methods used, as well as the effects we are trying to achieve through weathering.

To start, the million dollar question is of course: Why take the time and effort to weather rolling stock?  The most obvious is realism.  All real freight cars are weathered to some degree, and to make a model freight train look realistic, weathering is essential.  Weathering is a way to bring diversity and uniqueness to your freight car roster.  Weathering also makes a stock $10 freight car look like it’s a super detailed kit.  I don’t really know why, but weathering a stock model almost always makes it look like it’s a high end kit.  Weathering also brings out the extraordinary detail found in a lot of the modern models (ie: Proto 2000, Athearn Genesis, Atlas, etc).  A prime example is the black trucks found on the new Walthers passenger cars.  These trucks are excellent models in their own right, but since they are gloss black, you can’t see one bit of that detail.  Weathering helps bring detail out into the open.  Lastly, weathering is a way to cover up incorrect paint jobs.  Being an avid Conrail modeler, I have found that each manufacturer has their own idea of what shade Conrail blue is.  Weathering can help cover up these color differences and blend them together.

Rule number one for me is to use prototype photos to guide the process along.  The photos don’t have to be of the exact car you wish to model, but of the same type so you can see how the prototype weathers.

The Do’s and Don’ts: Although there are many different ways to weather a model, there are some things you should try to avoid.

Uniformity: Having all your cars look like they just came off the weathering assembly line is not what you want.  Variation is the key here.  Lightly weather some cars, while others are heavily weathered.  Add rust spots or streaks to cars that are different for each model.  Covered hoppers and tanks cars carry many different loads, consider the commodity carried when adding spills or streaks down the side.  Coal cars should be similar, but mix in as much variation as you can.

Overweathering: Overweathering is a common mistake even I still make.  You want a car that looks dirty, not like one that has be spray painted Floquil grimy black.  Overweathering is easy to do when airbrushing, so use light coats and highly thinned paints.  Build up the weathering in multiple light coats.

Out of Era weathering:  When weathering a car, try to take into account not only the type of car, but also the approximate time it was built or painted, and compare that to the time period you are modeling.  Unlike passenger cars, freight cars don’t get washed, so the older the car, the dirtier it should be.  For example, if I were running one of my Conrail freights, a Pennsy boxcar in that train would probably be in pretty rough shape.  (The Pennsy ceased to exist in 1968, while Conrail was formed in 1976).  Conversely, if my friend Stu was running one of his Pennsy freights, and had one of my PRR 86’ Hi-Cube monster boxcars in it, the car would be clean, representing a new car.  And yes, that would actually be prototypical since both the PRR and the NYC owned 86’ Hi-Cubes built in the early 1960’s, right before both roads went bankrupt.

Methods: The following is a list of techniques commonly used to weather freight cars.

Airbrush:  This technique involves spraying thinned paints over a model to produce the effects of surface grime, rust and fading.  One of my personal favorite methods.

Artist Oil Paints:  This technique involves using artist oil paints, the ones that come in tubes, to simulate rust, grime and other streaks from various commodities.  These paints are easy to use and offer unlimited color potential through blending of colors.  These paints typically take 1-2 days to dry to the touch, so there is plenty of time to work on the model.  Another one of my favorites.

Pastel Chalks:  This technique involves using powdered chalks to color the model and add various effects.  This is probably the most economical, and the most forgiving, since most chalks will wash off with soap and water.  A good alternative to airbrushing, but I have found that chalks don’t hold up well to transportation to shows, unless you fix the powders in place with a coat of DullCoat.

Ink Washes: This technique involves using a wash if thinned ink to simulate weathering.  Ink washes work well on buildings and wooden rolling stock where the stain penetrates the groves between each board, as well as the wood grain and other surface textures.  I use it to simulate fuels spills on tank cars and locomotives, as well as shading the insides of coal cars, (Since I don’t have many pieces of wooden rolling stock).

Dry Brushing: This technique involves dipping a paintbrush in full strength paint, and then blotting most of the paint off, leaving a “dry brush”.  Running the brush over the model will cause the leftover paint to cling to all the high spots on the model, highlighting detail.  Use this to highlight truck detail, or things like walkways and ladders.

Other Methods: The list of weathering techniques is truly endless, but here are a few others I have used: Graphite pencils to simulate worn metal on steps and rungs, silver pencils to simulate recent scratches exposing bare metal, layering paint to recreate old paint flaking off to reveal old paint schemes, and real rust from my rusty old bulkhead door to name a few.

I hope everyone was able to take something out of this introductory article.  Weathering is not a difficult process, but it is one that takes time to master.

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