While I am certainly not an "old timer," I have been in this hobby for most of my life. I love the ready-to-run stuff. However, I have developed certain standards that even the best ready-to-run models don't quite meet, and every model still has to spend some time on the workbench to become layout ready. In this article I wanted to share with you how I do that.
First, it is important to have a set of standards for your models. Without this, it will be difficult to put together a fleet that looks great and operates flawlessly. Each person will develop a different set of standards based on their interests. Each car in my fleet must have the following to be considered "layout ready":
- Unique reporting marks and number
- Conspicuity markings (if applicable, more on that later)
- Sergent Engineering couplers
- Placards (if applicable)
- If it is an open car, it either needs to have a load or to be a convincing empty car
For this article, I will be following the progress of four Walthers tank cars I recently finished. They came as two identical sets of two, and so I had two of each road number. I made the following diagram to explain what needed to be done with the cars to make them layout ready:
When my cars get to the workbench, I like to print out a photo of the car's 1:1 scale version as a reference. For these tank cars, I used the following photo:
|Photo is from Walthers, edited by Steven Ogden|
|Photo by Paul Rice, from rrpicturearchives.com.|
Next, the Optimiser logo needed to be blacked out. You can see in the prototype photo where it had been blacked out. Again, I used Microscale black trimfilm to cover up the logo.
After that, the car needed conspicuity markings. In 2005, the FRA required railroads to start putting these on locomotives and rolling stock, to be completed in 2015. If you model a period in between those years, not all rolling stock would have them yet. I base it off of the prototype photos I find, if the car has the stripes in the photo, the model gets the stripes; if not, I leave them off. This way most of my models have the stripes but a few do not. If you model before 2005, a lot of railroads had begun putting reflective stripes on their equipment before the FRA made it a requirement. For the conspicuity stripes, I used a decal set from Highball Graphics.
The Department of Transportation requires all vehicles carrying hazardous materials to carry placards. This way, in case of a derailment, the emergency responders know exactly what is in the car and what dangers that presents to the site. Even when the car is empty, it is considered a residue car, because some of the product is still in the car, and it is still required to carry placards. I used a tank car data set from Highball Graphics to give these four cars placards for fuel oil. As a side note, modeling hazmats can be confusing, and James and I are planning on writing a short series on hazmats and how to model them.
Another sign that tank cars are required to carry is the Chemtrec sign. This is a yellow rectangle that has a phone number in it for people to call in case of a spill. These cars came with the Chemtrec sign on them, but Walthers had put their own phone number on the sign. I'm not a rivet counter, and normally this would not bother me, but the decal set I bought for the placards came with a bunch of Chemtrec signs too, so I went ahead and replaced those while I was at it.
Next, I weathered the cars. You'll notice in the prototype photo that the black is a lighter color than in the model photo. This is caused by the car being out in the sun for years and having the paint faded by the sun. To simulate this, I airbrushed the cars with a very light coat of Reefer White. This lightens up the black just enough to make the cars look like they have been outdoors for a while. After the white dried, I airbrushed a light coat of Dirt on the bottom half of the cars, to simulate the dirt and mud kicked up by the wheels. There are several colors that work well for this, Mud and Railroad Tie Brown are colors that I've used and gotten good results as well.
In the prototype photo, there is an area on the car that has been repainted recently. You can tell because the black is cleaner and has not been faded by the sun. I decided to simulate this on two of the cars. After the airbrushing had time to dry, I used more of the Microscale black trimfilm decal sheet to "repaint" some random areas on the two cars. Since the decals were put on after the weathering, those areas came out looking like they had just been repainted and had not been faded by the sun or splattered with mud yet.
After doing that, I used small dabs of oil paints to put some minor spots of rust on the cars. After letting it dry for a couple of hours, I used a paintbrush soaked in turpenoid, an oil paint thinner, to streak the paint downward, as if it had rained and washed the rust down the side of the car. Once that had dried, I sprayed the cars with dullcoat to seal in all the decals and paint that I had done.
Once the dullcoat dried, I replaced the couplers. I use Sergent Engineering couplers, which are not Kadee compatible, so I need to replace the couplers on all the cars that come across my workbench. Tank cars carrying hazardous materials are required to have double shelf couplers. Since the manufacturer doesn't know which cars are going to carry hazardous materials and which ones will not, most tank cars are given double shelf couplers when they are built. Sergent Engineering has double shelf type E couplers that I used. I got the kits, since they are cheaper than the pre-assembled couplers. I learned the hard way, however, that the double shelf couplers do not fit in the assembly jigs, and are a pain to assemble. In the future, I would buy the pre-assembled ones. Lower shelf and standard E couplers fit in the jig just fine. If you do not use Sergent Engineering couplers, Kadee makes some double shelf couplers as well.
Once the couplers were installed, the cars were layout ready. I don't normally use scale size wheels, but since they are so visible on these cars, I do want to replace the wheels with scale size ones, but I haven't gotten to that just yet.
Most cars are not this involved. Usually I just have to add conspicuity stripes and do some basic weathering and install new couplers. I like to do this in batches of three to five cars, to get a bunch done at a time. Each step can take a bit of time, so doing several cars together saves a lot of time.
I brought the finished cars to the club a few nights ago and took some photos. Here are a couple of them:
|Photo by Steven Ogden. Compare this to the prototype photo above.|
|Photo by Steven Ogden. Here are all four finished cars in a train.|