Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Weathering the Proto 1000 NSC Newsprint Boxcar Fleet

CV boxcar weathered with usual weathering powder techniques and washes.

The art of weathering is generally considered from the modern concept of “rust buckets” point of view. While quite pertinent for our era, the further you go back in time the less you are to find them, except in very specific occasions or type of services.

CV boxcar faded with Pan Pastel with lettering cleaned after application.

My recollections of CN trains in the 1980s are somewhat clear: locomotives had a subtle layer on dirt on the cab but the paint was otherwise in excellent shape, cabooses were relatively clean with a light layer of darker dirt and cars were most of the time very clean except a few ones in ballast service. Only the cement cars were a real mess and even then, not to the point of being rust buckets.

DW&P boxcar weathered using only the airbrush and light washes.

Murray Bay being a subdivision mainly dedicated to newsprint transport, most cars were in excellent condition and generally at the top of their game due to the commodity. I don’t ever recall seeing rusted cars with peeling paint. The big difference was that some were faded while newer ones still had their fresh glossy finish.

While this is all uncertain memories from 30 years ago, looking through pictures from the 80s made clear to me newsprint cars were indeed in good shape. It’s why when I decided to weather my Proto 1000 NSC newsprint boxcars, I decided to keep things subtle.

Following prototype pictures, I was able to determine CV boxcars with yellow doors were indeed covered by a substantial amount of dirt, but all the other boxcars were quite pristine. At this point, it was clear that the big part of the job would be to fade the paint. And fading didn’t mean a generic coat over the model, but rather a modulation of colors as seen on the prototype.

To achieve this effect, I tried Pan Pastels then weathering powders. The first ones require too much effort for what I was trying to achieve while the second ones makes stark contrasts. Very useful, but definitely not for lightly weathered model.

I then decided to only use my airbrush and very light washes to achieve the effect. This is a technique I experimented last summer when weathering the Harlem Station layout rolling stock fleet. Basically, here are the few steps I followed over a period of few days.

First, car roofs were painted with a coat of lightly oxydized galvanized steel. My father worked with metal most of his life and I’m well aware galvanized steel or aluminium paint never keep their shiny and sparkling appearance. Most modellers will use a metallic paint out from the bottle then weather it, but I find it a bad way to achieve the correct color. Instead, I generally mix my custom color using aluminium and white paints to get a whitish slightly metallic look. Some drop of black can be used to vary the final tone or to give variety among a fleet. This makes for an extremely nice base to apply weathering.

When the model is ready, here are the steps to weather the car:
-Fade the model with a white wash applied evenly;
-Highlight the middle of each steel panel with the white wash;
-Add contrast and shadow over rivets and seems using an India Ink + alcohol mix (this can be achieve with any grungy colored wash);
-Add more dirt with the India ink mix at the seam between the roof and sides, between the car ends ribs, on the lower part of the ends, on the sill, behind the ladders, on each side of the door and along the tracks and plug door rods;
-Cover the roof with an even coat of India ink mix;
-Use oil paint to create streaking pattern on the roof panel ridges and along the door tracks;
-Apply the white fading wash over the roof to bring the various effect together under a coat of dust;
-Apply dust projection on the car sills and ends using a tan color wash;
-Paint the trucks and wheel with dark brown and weather them with rust and black weathering powder.

It’s good to note many steps were followed by a liberal application to seal the weathering. I still can see some areas of improvement like adding waybills and recoloring some tack board to represents distressed wood as seen on some random cars.

At the end of the day, light and subtle weathering requires much more effort than medium weathering. The reason is that you need to follow many steps to build up the fading effect while exerting a lot of restraint to not overdue it. The goal is to create subtle color variation instead of stark contrasts associated with heavily weathered cars. I’m well aware this kind of weathering effects is often used by aircraft and military modellers. The trick is to use very light washes and build up the effect. Unfortunately, this kind of weathering is rarely referenced in model railroading even if many modellers do use it.


  1. Matthieu,

    Excellent weathering. You are right on about taking your time to do a car with minimal weathering...its all to easy to just add to much and over do it. I have one of these cars ready for weathering..thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Taking your time has also another advantage. You can let the model sit on a shelf for a few days and take time to analyze your job and come back with touch up here and there. They are really nice cars, I'm glad I picked a few of them even if I wasn't modelling that era back then.