Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Military Way

I recently talked about implementing military modelling techniques into model railroading. It was now time to put my ideas in action. It should be noted adding shadows and highlights is an old trick which I initially learned in the early 2000s when I was building resin figure garage kits. In fact, it is an universal modelling technique and I'm surprised it is seldom used in model railroading.

Among our fleet of grain hoppers, there was a neat Intermountain Branchline Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) hopper. Unfortunately, these lightweight all-aluminium construction hoppers were rare back in the days and didn't visit Quebec often since they were kept in service on rural branchlines in the Prairies. For this reason, it had to be repainted. Meanwhile, our fleet was deprived of the classic  CWB brown hoppers with the centered single wheat sheaf. Thus, the branchline car would be repainted in that scheme.

Intermountain cars are generally very detailed and fragile. Instead of completely stripping the paint, I simply decided to erased the lettering using fine grit sandpaper and Walthers Solvaset. The same technique was also used to removed the paint lines between colors to get a smooth finish. This is an important step to insure you don't have ghost lettering and colors showing through your new paint job.

Removing lettering and feathering paint demarcation.

Once done, the car was primed then painted. Instead of replicating a perfect shade of "Salmon" color as per prototype, I used several pictures of CWB cars in service during the 2005-2008 era and tried to replicate that color. Once the car was painted, I then started to weather the brown color BEFORE applying any decals. It wasn't a big weathering job, but something rather subtle. A darker shade of my custom mix was used to cast shadows along the seamlines per prototype while a lighter shade was applied to highlight the steel panels. Very simple, but very effective to bring life into the paint scheme and it didn't require more time to paint than following a standard procedure.

It's subtle, but you can see the airbrushed shadows and highlights.

When done, a Future acrylic gloss coat was handbrushed all over the model and decals were applied. Don't be afraid by the whit deposits on the picture. This is a common chemical reaction between decal solution and Future. After a hour, the car's color revert back to its original color and the decal film blend seamlessly into the future. I know many people and most respected modellers don't like Future and I can certainly understand their frustration (it's far to be perfect). However, what I really like about Future is the fact it reacts with the setting solution (Solvaset or Micro Sol) in such a way it becomes slightly molten and the decal film "sink" into it. When everything is dry and you add a final coat of Future over the decals, you find out everything blends together and you don't get hard edged along the decal films. I believe this single advantage makes up for the inconveniences generally associated with Future. Other gloss coats don't react that way with the setting solution and even with the best cares, you can always see the decal perimeter. This is even more annoying when using weathering washes over the model. The pigments then pool along the decal edges, making them even more visible (and annoying). Maybe I'm not good enough to master more orthodox techniques, but I've found this one to work well for me.

Future applied to create a glossy finish prior to decalling.

Back on the model, I now consider what I'll refer in the future as "pre-weathering" as a valid way to paint a model. Not only it is fast, but it adds a layer of depth in the paint scheme. Not truly weathering, it serves to underline the model details and better define the panels. In real life, steel panels are often slightly warped, which reflect light in such a way a solid colors has several darker and lighter spots. This pre-weathering helps to replicate that. And to be honest, I believe many modellers that don't venture into weathering should seriously consider using this technique when custom painting model. It brings realism to any model without altering the lettering appearance. And yes, if you look at enough freight cars, you'll find out the lettering - for some unknown reason or optical illusion - often seems cleaner and brighter than the rest of the car.

Decals setting into Future. Only one Micro Sol application and no air bubbles or silvering.

By the way, repainting this model made me think how I missed when modern Canadian National freight cars sported bilingual lettering. For some reason, I think it looked quite classy and probably "exotic" in the US. It was an era when railways in Canada were still seen as a nation-building political tool even if their prime time was long gone. Unfortunately, I wish some decal makers and manufacturers would care to correct their grotesque spelling errors on their French lettered cars. Given many prominent French Canadian modellers are closely associated with the model railroading industry leaders, I'm still surprised to see so many mistakes. In the past, I used to contact manufacturers and to point out errors. It became quickly evident it wasn't a priority, particularly when about 95% of the customers weren't aware of it due to language barrier. Fortunately, some decal makers are more serious and do their due diligence. It is always fun to work with their decals without having to deal with obvious typos.


  1. Matthieu,
    Looks great, and wonderful use of a common military modeling/painting technique.
    I laughed at your mention of the bi-lingual lettering. At a show a number of years ago I had one modeler call me over and tell me in a hushed quiet voice that we'd made a huge mistake on one of the cylindrical cars since we'd misspelled "Canadian."
    He said it was only on one side of the car, but he was wondering what we were going to do to fix the problem.
    I thought he was kidding (he wasn't), so I told him he should hang onto the thing because such manufacturer's "mistakes" often became valuable collector's items.
    A week or so later a post appeared on a forum (Atlas??) talking about how an Intermountain rep had refused to take his complaint seriously and warning his fellow modelers about the supposed screw up.
    The other forum members toyed with him for a bit before setting him straight!

    1. Ahahah! Great anecdote! Must have been humiliating!