A Little Something about Weathering


From the beginning of this project I had been wary of weathering my cars. I had thought that as these were new cars in the time I am modeling and that they would have retained a bit of shine. The truth is though that in very short order these cars were subjected to the worst sorts of weathering effects from the elements and industrial grime. There was coal dust everywhere; off their home roads for much of their lives the cars had little or no maintainence, just what was needed to keep them moving. The fact that they lasted as long as they did was a testament to the car builders art of the day. Much care was put into making these cars durable and as weather proof as the science and industry of the day could make them as once they were in service they were on their own.

The thing about modelling early era railroads is that we have to rely on black and white photos for much of our resource material. It is hard to tell what color a car was let alone the color and effect of fading and grime. Here we have to rely on common sense regarding materials we are familiar with and examples we can see preserved or not in the elements today. Also, modern railroads can provide some hint as to the appearance of early railroads as they live in a similar environment.


A photo from the B&O of the period illustrates one of the sources of grime on early railroads. Note the plume of coal smoke drifting over the cars. Also of interest are the many markings the cars in the foreground display.


This photo reveals what the elements can do to wood sided cars.

Paint fades and peals, wood slats dry, shrink and warp. While our cars may not be in this bad a shape at our time, it does illustrate the direction they are all headed. If we are going to strive for realism we might want to consider depicting some of these stages of deterioration in our models.


Step One - Dull, flat, not shiney...

The first step most of us take toward weathering is a coat of dull-cote or some similar application to "kill" any shine or gloss on our cars. For my part, that had been the only step I had taken. As it is, I look on painting my models as one chance I have of completely ruining it. If I got the paint on reasonably well, I felt fortunate. The idea of getting after my neatly painted model with a spray gun full of grime and dirt just turned me off.


Safely painted and dull-coated this car was, I felt, finished.

Even though I was satisfied that the car above met my expectations, there was something that showed up in pictures that bugged me. The lettering was always much too bright and no matter what tricks I employed in photo shopping there was always that high contrast lettering which never shows in prototype photos. The reason, I concluded, was that the prototypes were faded and mine were not.

Just making my models un-shiney was not the answer. They had to be faded. Maybe I should leave them in the back yard for a few weeks or so and see what happens. I am much too impatient for that.


Fading techniques - Paint

This may be where modelling becomes an art form. How best to achieve the results of the effects of weather on models is a matter of talent and technique. Lots of articles and chapters of modelling books have been devoted to this subject since the first motor turned on the first truely "accurate" model railroad. I have tried several of these over the years and never achieved mastery of any of them.

Here is what I have learned. When paint fades what comes through is the color behind it. If you paint white over red eventually it turns pink. So, when weathering with paint, I begin by spraying the base color diluted way down. On top of that I might add some dust and grime from the bottom up.


Same car as pictured before but now with weather applied with a spray gun, also some white pastel pencil graffiti.

Fading techniques - Powder

Recently I have discovered weathering powders. Not chalk but similar with a twist. When weathering with chalks, it is neccessary to fix them in place with dull-cote but these powders from Bragdon Enterprises. have an adheasive in them and once applied are more or less permanent.


The car on the left is unweathered and on the right weathering was done with powders.

The following are some examples of the variety of effects possible with these powders from lightly weathered to just about end of life.

The Armour Refrigerator Line car on the left was part of the "Yellow Fleet" and may not have been allowed to be so badly trashed. The Frisco car is fairly new so only has the beginnings of weather effects. The IC and UP cars are both near the end of their useful lives. The UP went through a renumbering in 1885 but from the looks of these cars they only repainted the areas where the new lettering was applied.