Weathering Heights – part 1

I’ve started my weathering project at last. The goal is to produce nicely weathered and realistic looking rolling stock. Easy to say, hard to do well – especially for someone like myself with almost no artistic skill. I’m less worried about the result as much as finding a bunch of different methods to produce different effects when I need them. Therefore any rolling stock will do and the items don’t have to be expensive and may get painted over and over again. Once I have a grip on what I’m doing whereby I have a better understanding of paint, thinners and chalks I’ll then turn to figuring out how to create the infinite weathering effects of time and nature: rust, dirt, paint fading and chipping etc. After that I’ll be able to work on detailing – adding grab irons, breaking equipment, ladders, stirrups, and so on. The detailing project may grow into a scratching project whereby I build boxcars from scratch but let’s not get ahead of myself.

My starting point was to choose a piece of rolling stock to be my first patient. My favorite piece of rolling stock is the boxcar: modern or classic. However I do have a special place for the 40′ boxcar – especially those built between the wars. I’ve had trouble finding books devoted to boxcar history but I was able to find more generic freight car books such as those written by Jeff Wilson: Freight Cars of the ’40s and ’50s, The Model Railroader’s Guide to Freight Cars, and Detailing Freight Cars.

One of my favorite writers on railroad history and modeling, Jeff Wilson books have been an important part of my general railroad book collection. Easy to read and full of great tips and information about the prototype they’ve broadened my knowledge in the many areas of railroading that a modeler needs.

I also several color books of boxcars which I’m using to base my weathering on.

I don’t have the whole series yet – but over the years I hope to collect them all. The Classic Freight Car is an essential series of color photos displaying the infinite range of weathering that can occur during the life of a freight car.
This is the only book available devoted to Soo Line freight equipment. Before acquiring this book I found it quite challenging to find any information on Soo Line rolling stock. It was no doubt available across many different sources but having it here in one place has saved me much time. It’s a wonderful book to just scan through on a rainy day and I could spend all day looking through it.
The patient

The item of rolling stock that I decided to begin with was the Accurail Pennsylvania Railroad 40′ single-sheathed boxcar kit. I really like the wooden slats that make up the single sheath and I looked forward to chipping away the wooden structure to weather the wood even more.

Before starting any painting I looked through my various books to get a group of pictures together to work from. I used my phone to photograph the photos I thought would make an interesting subject and had them printed at my local Walgreens. I find it helpful to have photos of the prototype next to me to stop me going off on some artistic tangent: I simply want the weathering to look like a smaller version of the real thing.

These photos are just pictures taken with my phone camera. I selected them based on a bunch of weathering features that I wanted to attempt: dirty staining and stained wood, worn and beaten wood, rusted metal, faded paint etc.

I sat with these photos for a while to really try to understand what is happening to the subject of each photo. I find it useful to create a theory of weathering and therefore a framework to work within to keep me from straying to much into impressionism or an over-reliance on artistry. Although weathering can be a very artistic endeavor and can result in some very aesthetically pleasing models, in this project, I simply wanted to create a miniature version of the real thing.

I decided that:

  • Different types of rolling stock weather in different ways – boxcars as a group weather differently from tank cars as a group.
  • Within those groups weathering on cars can vary depending on a number of factors such as:
    1. weather
    2. age
    3. accidents
    4. wear and tear
    5. type of usage
  • Weathering events therefore fall into three categories:
    1. Long term general weathering
    2. Short term specific weathering events
    3. Long term specific weathering events.
  • In model terms this can be represented by:
    1. physical changes
    2. color changes
    3. texture changes

I’ll add/edit this list as I proceed but for now this gets me started. By creating lists such as these I tend to be much more disciplined about what I’m doing. In the past I would throw every technique I had at the project till something plausible emerged but this led to a hit or miss result. I feel that a more thought-through technique and plenty of practice would benefit my modeling and get me closer to a result that I’m much happer with.

Am I overthinking this? Maybe, but it works as a good starting point.

Getting started – part two – coming soon.