Thursday, March 9, 2023

Weathering Freight Cars

After we build a freight car kit or buy a Ready-To- Run (RTR) freight car whether it is plastic or resin many modelers, including myself, believe the freight car is not really finished with just paint and lettering applied.  So when is it finished?   If modeled as a car out of the paint shop it is finished; however, if this is not the case the car will need to be weathered with some medium to better resemble a freight car running on the rails for some period of time.

Cars sitting on Minneapolis & Northland
Railroad Company GN Interchange
(Click on this or any image to enlarge)

 I have been building freight cars since the early 1970’s which has allowed me to read about many methods of weathering a freight car.   Of all the methods I have attempted to use on a freight car, I am going to describe only methods I have used in the past or continue to use today.

When I began building freight cars I began weathering them with an airbrush using Floquil or Scalecoat solvent based paint.  I began weathering cars with solvent based paints mixed 9 parts thinner, normally DioSol, and 1 part paint for airbrushing. The colors used the most were engine black, grimy black, earth, mud and depot buff.


Another weathering method used then and now was dirty DioSol.   After hand brushing with solvent based paints I had to clean the brush.   The brush cleaner was DioSol in a bottle on the modeling desk.  After a period of time the DioSol became quite dirty turning a blackish grey in color and the paint particles settle to the bottom of the bottle forming a sludge of similar color.  I read an article that stated both could be used for weathering.   I tried the dirty DioSol and liked the weathering results.

Dirty DioSol  for weathering.

Dirty DioSol for weathering.

I use the dirty DioSol especially on flat car wood decks.  The decks are painted with solvent or water base earth color as Depot Buff or Earth.  Once dry the dirty DioSol is brushed over the dry colors to get a wood looking deck.

Flat car deck weathered with dirty DioSol
applied over Floquil Depot Buff.

Along the way I learned about the color wheel which helped me to learn about mixing colors beyond using primary colors:  secondary colors: two primary colors mixed together, tint: color plus white, tone: color plus grey and shade: color plus black.   Armed with this knowledge I felt I could also weather freight cars by just painting them with an aged looking color.  My first attempts began by adding black and white to boxcar red.   The results with black added were all right; however, white produced a pink color with which I was not happy.   After discussing my results using white to tint boxcar reds with other modelers I learned the color to use was yellow, not white to age boxcar red.

Color Wheel front.

Color Wheel back.

Besides the color wheel I found other paint charts which introduced me to shading and highlighting.  The best shading trick I read and tried that I still use today was to use a pencil to thin the look of molded on grab irons and ladder rungs.  If you choose to leave molded on grab irons and ladder rungs on a freight car rather than replace them with wire ones is to use a number two pencil to run along the back edge of them where they are molded onto the car body.  The result is to produce a black pencil line that thins the color line of the grab iron.   When the car is looked at from a normal distance when running on a railroad the grab irons and ladder rungs appear much finer.

Shading and highlighting showing.

In addition to the paints or paint mixing I read about weathering with chalks.   I liked the results until I clear coated them and my weathering on the car disappeared.

Chalks for weathering

After chalks proved disappointing,  I quickly turned to weathering powders.    I began with Bradgon weathering powders and liked the results.   Today I especially like to use the rust colors applied with micro brushes on freight car trucks and couplers.

Bradgon weathering powders.

Since the Bradgon Powders worked I tried others weathering powders on the market as AIM and Doc O’Brien Weathering Powders.    Since they produced similar results as the Bradgon Powers, I continued to use Bradgon Powers.

AIM and Doc O'Brien weathering powders.

I continued to use paint, paint mixes and weathering powders until one modeler I spoke with told me he was using eyeshadow to weather freight cars.   At the local drug store in the cosmetic department I purchased eye shadow to see what results I could get if I used them for weathering freight cars.  To my surprise the results were excellent.  Colors I found that I liked the best were black, browns and grays produced by Artmatic and Maybelline .  A green or blue color could be used to simulate the staining on refrigerator car sides below ice hatches.

Artmatic eye shadow for weathering.

Maybelline eye shadow for weathering.

All was well until the water based paints came on the market.  I began using Polly Scale and liked the results, especially the drying time which I could speed up with a hair dryer.  Of the various brands I tried, Polly Scale won out.  The weathering colors remained the same as Polly Scale produced the same colors that had been available in solvent based paints.

Polly Scale water base paints.

Polly S came out in a weathering color kit which I purchased and used.  It provided  a quick group of colors to choose from when using the oldest method of thinner and paint to weather freight cars along with other weathering methods using eye shadow and weathering powders.

Polly S weathering kit.

When Polly Scale went off the market I switched to Vallejo water base paints so weathering methods did not change.  Ok, one change, no railroad color names; however, I did not find that a problem.   I hope Vallejo Model Color and Model Air remain on market for many years to come.

Vallejo water base paints.

Along the way I read highlighting and special weathering effects were being done with Prismacolor pencils.   I used them in school art classes so why not to weather freight cars.  Today Prismacolor pencils are used primarily on wood cars to change board colors.

Primacolor pencils used to change board color.

My favorite Prismacolor pencil colors are Black PC935, Warm Grey PC1054, Light Umber PC941, Dark Brown PC946, Burnt Ochre PC943, white PC938 for chalks marks and Silver PC949 can be used to create small chipped paint areas on car roofs.

Prismacolor pencils for weathering.

Deck weathered with Prismacolor pencils.

Using these weathering methods continued until I went to a weathering presentation at a Railroad Prototype Modelers.   At a Naperville RPM, later renamed Chicagoland, I sat in a very crowed room where a freight car weathering presentation introduced me to Pan Pastels.   Wow!   Back in Minneapolis off to Dick Blick, an art supply store, where Pan Pastels were purchased.  I found they produced results much the same as eye shadow; however, much more economical.  Pan Pastels provide an excellent choice of colors.  And, if you are not happy with your results you can remove them with soap and water.

Pan Pastels can be purchased by individual color or in sets.    I suggest buying individual colors as some of the colors found in sets I have never used.   Colors I use the most are as follows:  Paynes Grey Extra Dark 840.1  is used on the car body, roof and lightly over safety appliances, Neutral Grey 820.5 is used as highlight on car body, interior areas and placard boards, Burnt Sienna Shade 740.3 and  Red Iron Oxide Extra Dark 380.1 is used to simulate the rust areas.

Pan Pastels I use for weathering.

NYC 157306 weathered with Pan Pastels.

No matter what weathering method  you choose to use you will need tools to apply them.   Of course, for thinned paint color you use brushes or an air brush.   For other weathering methods described above I want to show you tools I use.

Eye shadow comes with foam applicators.

Eye shadow comes with foam applicators.

New foam applicator I just found at Dick Blick
art store.

Makeup brushes and paint brushes can be used.

Make up and paint brushes.

Larger makeup brushes.

Pan Pastels can be used with Pan Pastels applicators including foam pads and plastic handles with different shaped tips and foam pads shaped to fit them.   I started applying Pan Pastels with their foam pads; however,  I use these only once in a while now.  I use the makeup brushes and paint brushes (shown above).

Pan Pastels from applicators.

Pan Pastels plastic handle with foam pads

Cotton swabs  can be purchased to work with all weathering methods.

Cotton swabs can be used with most
weathering methods.

Micro applicators of various sizes and shapes can be purchased to apply Pan Pastels, eye shadow and weathering powders.

Micro applicators for weathering.

Once weathering is applied to a freight car the most asked question, “ Do you use a clear coat to protect the weathering?”   I do not and find the freight cars on my Minneapolis & Northland Railroad Company, an operating railroad, do not show a problem due to not doing so.  Other modelers will say a clear coat is necessary so you will have to decide which is best for you.

The methods I have described here to weather freight cars are the ones I normally use.  There are other methods to produce special effects such a peeling paint on roofs.  Each method can be explored to see if you want to add it to your methods of weathering freight cars.  I have not described these methods here as I have used them on only a few cars.

Until I find another method that I really like, I will continue to weather freight cars after paint and lettering with eye shadow, Pan Pastels, weathering powders, and Prismacolor pencils and maybe now and then using thinned paint in an airbrush.

Well I  have already found another method, AK Weathering Pencils; however,  I have not yet used them on a project so I can not say I really like them.  Therefore, as the old saying goes, "Only time will tell."

Thank You for taking time to read my blog.  You can share a comment in the section below if you choose to do so.  Please sign your comment with your name if you choose to leave one.  Please share the blog link with other model railroaders.

Lester Breuer

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