Weathering Freight Cars

It isn’t difficult to understand that after purchasing a brand new bright and shiny freight car, that many model railroaders may be less than enthusiastic about making it look like it has run over thousands of miles of railroad.  Arguments may even be presented by some that more than one pristine in appearance freight car has been spotted at one location or another.  However, this is definitely not typical, or in keeping with the necessity to make your model railroad look as realistic as possible.

As with many other modeling projects which are a part of building a model railroad, it is good idea to take a trip to your local railroad yard so that you may observe the actual condition of freight cars which have been in use over an extended period of time.  In doing this, make sure that you take as many photographs as you can which demonstrate all the various effects time can have on these cars.  They will most likely be stained with rust, soot, graffiti, and all sorts of patina which give them an aged and used appearance.

Let’s take a look at some of the various methods that can be used to weather freight cars:

Regardless of the weathering technique you decide to use your freight car should first be washed in a warm soapy solution which will remove any existing grease and other types of grime.  Follow this by disassembling the undersides and floor of the car.  Finally, the trucks should be removed as well.

As with any project of this type a clean and paper covered work surface is necessary, and if you are using any materials which are toxic in nature a respirator or mask should be worn.

Most modelers are somewhat intimidated when airbrushing as mentioned, but this is one of the better ways, in spite of there being other alternatives, to weather your freight cars.

Obviously, if you don’t own an airbrush, now is the time to purchase one.  This can be done at your local model train hobby store or airbrushing equipment can be purchased online as an alternative.

Where I previously mentioned the need to wear protective gear when using toxic materials this really isn’t necessary if you choose to airbrush with acrylic paints as they do not present damaging effects to ones health.  Additionally, there is no worry of damaging plastic as well.

Although this is a personal preference, I like to use Pactra Clear Flat for a clear finish.  I discovered that it will leave a dead flat finish when airbrushed.  Some of the other items or products I use when weathering my freight cars include Polly S or craft paints, Rustall for large rust spots, small tubes of burnt umber and burnt sienna for smaller rust spots.  Try using Weatherall for giving wood an aged appearance, and you’ll find that having a 5” or 6” long piece of stranded wire will come in handy when applying paint as well as an old brush or two for dry brushing.

Note:  Before you try weathering your favorite models it might just be a good idea to purchase some cheap models to practice on first.

When airbrushing start by airbrushing all of your cars wheel sets with a light coat of Pactra Weathering.  This is an earthy color which will leave a grimy or dirty appearing effect.

Next, airbrush the entire car with Pactra Clear Flat.  For a good effect try spraying a light coat of Pactra weathering around the top and bottom of the car.  This color works well for bring out small details, and in particular on the trucks.  For another weathering effect, try dry brushing a few vertical streaks between the ribs on your freight car.  If you’ve never dry brushed before, you do this technique by placing a small amount of paint on the tip of a brush.  Now, wipe most of it off on a paper towel.  When you feel that the brush is almost dry, you streak the models surface.  By using different colors you can easily create variety of effects such as grime, dirt, dust, and rust.

Now, I’d like to discuss creating rust spots and streaks:

To create the appearance of rust and streaks this is where that 5” piece of stranded wire will come into play.  Begin by squeezing a little burnt umber and burn sienna onto a piece of paper or a small card.  Next, take the piece of stranded wire and pick up a small amount of paint on the end or tip of the wire, and then randomly place small amounts of the paint at different locations.  The next step involves taking a brush and using a very gentle touch drag it over the dots of paint you’ve added to your car.  This will produce a result that looks like rust which is beginning to work on the surface metal of your freight car.  How much of this you apply to your car is entirely up to you.  You may also want to take the paint that is left on the brush and dry brush the car’s roof.

For another touch of authenticity try using Rustall to color one of the cars wheels on your freight car so that it appears as though it has been recently replaced.  Finally, you’ll want to load your airbrush with Clear flat and give your freight car a protective coat to protect the paints which you just applied.

Here’s another idea you might want to use to create another touch of realism:  most hopper cars have hatches which are the same color.  In the lifetime of the car it isn’t unusual for a hatch to require replacement.  You could replace a hatch or two by using hatches from other kits and then paint them.

In general I try to weather everything on my model railroad including people.  Weathering gives your railroad a realistic look and definitely enhances an observers experience.

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