Freerails Home 
Home Search search Menu menu Not logged in - Login | Register
Freerails > Model Railroad Forums > Way Back When > Collected Newsletter Modeling Tips

Freerails IS ACCEPTING new Members ... To join Freerails ... See how to Register as a Member in the 'Joining Freerails' Forum

Collected Newsletter Modeling Tips
 Moderated by: . Page:    1  2  Next Page Last Page  
New Topic Reply Printer Friendly
 Rating:  Rating
 Posted: Thu Nov 2nd, 2006 05:49 pm
1st Post

Joined: Tue Jan 24th, 2006
Location: Warba, Minnesota USA
Posts: 1831
Here is a collection of tips gleaned from the Walthers Newsletter for those who havent seen them.

Share your favorite weathering and detailing tips here!!

The Right Age for your Freight Cars

One of the easiest ways to convey a specific modeling era to visitors is through your selection of freight cars.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) sets the mechanical standards for car age, types and safety appliances required for interchange. Typically, cars require extensive inspection work at 40 years old to allow another 10 years of use (historic equipment falls under another set of rules). Most cars that make it this far are retired at 50.

Cars that don’t travel onto other railroads can receive waivers for continued service. Usually these are work train cars and the like, but some railroads and industrial lines operate captive fleets of ore cars, log bunks, hoppers and more.

So what does this mean on your layout? Keep cars built over 50 years before your modeling era to a bare-bones minimum. If you model modern railroads like today’s BNSF, you’ll still see cars from predecessors like Santa Fe and BN, but most cars purchased by BN’s predecessors’ are disappearing fast—it’s been 35 years since the GN, NP, CB&Q and SP&S merged.

Similarly, the first big 60' and 86' auto parts box cars built for many lines beginning in 1963 are fading fast—and those that survive their 40-year inspection/rebuild probably won’t remain in their classic paint schemes for long.

By keeping an eye out for cars in the right paint schemes and of an appropriate vintage, your freight car fleet can add atmosphere to your railroad simply by being visible.

Adding Freight House Details

Freight houses were once common sights. These utilitarian facilities allowed easy transfer of cargo between freight cars and trucks or wagons. They usually had their own sidings and primarily handled freight moving in box cars or reefers.

Once you’ve chosen a freight house or depot, detailing is easy. Small freight houses adjacent to passenger depots typically handled express and less-than-carload (LCL) shipments. On the loading dock, add hand trucks, crates, pallets (after WWII), barrels, 55-gallon drums and sacks, but don’t overdo it, these items were meant to keep moving!

At larger facilities near yards and team tracks, forklifts are used to carry palletized goods and crates between freight cars and trucks. Before forklifts, small tractors hauled strings of four-wheeled cargo wagons; these wagons were loaded by hand. All of this activity took place on canopied loading docks that ran the length of the building.

Other details include lights under the dock canopy, “gooseneck” wall-mount lamps over the office and access doors, and rooftop floodlights aimed into the parking lot to aid drivers. Finally, don’t forget to add box trucks, trailers and flatbeds specific to the era you’re modeling

Modeling Loading Ramps

Loading ramps allow cargo to be moved easily between freight cars and trucks. Whether a stand-alone operation or combined with a warehouse, they can be seen along many railroads.

Ramps also handle vehicles of all kinds including farm machinery, military vehicles, buses, tractors and others that can be moved on flat cars.

The ramps also provide an area where forklifts as well as cargo tractors and wagons can be operated.

Detailing loading ramp scenes is easy with palletized cargo, shipping crates, and suitable vehicles for your era. Busy facilities are usually well lighted, so add floodlights directed at the ramp and parking lot.

Choose the Right Adhesive

Nobody wants their models to fall apart! Choosing the correct cement for the job is important whether you’re building kits or furniture. Here are a few guidelines for selecting the right adhesives:

Wood: Most resin glues (white or yellow glue), epoxies and thick cyanoacrylates (CA) work well.

Plastics: Liquid cements work best as they melt the surfaces together and create a weld. CA cements and epoxies also work well. Just be careful when working with plastic window glazing; CA glues can fog or craze the clear finish.

Scenery: White or yellow glues, or matte medium are your best bet. They’re affordably priced and readily available making them a good choice for covering large areas.

Metals: Epoxies, CAs and contact cements work well, but make sure the surfaces are not too smooth. For better results, sand them to give them some “teeth” for the cements to adhere to.

Paper/Cardboard: White or yellow glues, epoxies or contact cements work best, but use them sparingly to avoid warping or soaking the material.

 India Ink Weathering and Highlighting

Looking for a way to add a slightly weathered look to your models? Or, at least, a quick and easy way brings out surface textures on structures and rolling stock? Try a solution of India Ink and rubbing alcohol.

First, make sure your model is prepared. Decals must be sealed and over sprayed with a coat of clear finish. No parts of your model can be water soluble.

In a well-ventilated area, simply add two to three drops of the ink to a pint of alcohol. Apply to your model with a spray bottle or brush. The solution will creep into the crevices and create slight shadows that will add visual texture to surfaces by accentuating highlights. Let the model air-dry. If you feel you want more texture, add another application and let dry.

Once you have the desired effect and your model is dry, you may continue weathering with chalks or a dry brush.


A Cool Industry for Steam-Era Layouts

Before mechanical refrigeration the natural ice industry was a big business that depended on railroads as shippers and customers.

Natural ice was harvested from lakes. During the winter, once the ice was 12" to 30" thick (this varied by region), an army of workers began harvesting. They used horses to pull a saw that cut a grid of grooves in the surface, typically about two by three feet. Using ice saws with long teeth, blocks were cut off and floated to ice house chutes on the shore.

Inside the huge, wooden icehouses, blocks were stacked in layers and covered with straw and sawdust for additional insulation. Icemakers shipped blocks to railroad icing platforms and industrial users (like breweries and meat processors) in dedicated ice-service reefers. By the 20s, mechanical ice making replaced natural ice and most natural ice operations saw discontinued service by the early 40s.

Tannery Freight Cars at a Glance

Tanneries once generated a lot of traffic for the railroads. These bustling businesses received raw materials and shipped finished leather by rail. While much of this traffic moves by truck in the modern era, a few holdouts still received “green” hides by rail into the 90s. Individual tanneries had different needs and not all companies used all of these different car types. Here is a list of freight cars that typically served this industry:

• Hide-Service Box Cars: Typically some of the oldest cars on the railroad, many cars served their twilight years handling hides. In fact, some BN 40' cars hauled hides into Chicago as late as 1993. Most of these cars are distinguished by “Hide Service Only” stenciling on their sides.

• Standard Box Cars: Used for hauling away finished hides, these cars also handle certain bagged materials used in some types of tanning processes.

• Hopper Cars: Hoppers brought in coal for use in the boilerhouse.

• Log and Flat Cars: Vegetable tanning requires natural tannin extracts from tree bark.

• Gondolas: Some bark and lumber arrived in gondolas, and waste flesh and hair (called “offal”) was shipped in dedicated cars, often stenciled “Offal Service Only”.

• Tank Cars: Some chemicals and acids used for mineral tanning arrived in tank cars.

Realistic Roofs in Minutes

Adding strips of flashing makes model roofs more realistic. On prototype structures, these thin sheets of various soft metals, tarpaper or rubber are used to deflect water and prevent leaks. They’re applied where roof sections meet, as well as around chimneys and vents.

Best of all, this realistic detail can be modeled in minutes. Simply cut a thin strip of plain masking tape about 12 scale inches wide and place it lengthwise along the seam before you paint the roof. Its rough surface will approximate tarpaper once painted. To simulate metal flashing, use heavy aluminum foil, dull side up. Again, cut a thin strip and apply it before painting your final color coat.


Great Fun in Modeling Abandoned Scenes

In every area there are railroad-served businesses that have closed or scaled back, leaving behind abandoned buildings and facilities. They offer great opportunities for detailing using scenery materials and won’t require a lot of vehicles or figures.

Modeling an abandoned scene is easy; simply place a structure and its associated siding on your layout. Leave out the connecting turnout as though it has been removed. Weather the unused track with rust and cover it with tall grass and weeds.

Board up or break some windows on the buildings, make cracks in vacant parking lots with weeds growing in them and, perhaps, hastily paint out a few signs. Decorate the buildings with faded, peeling paint. If your business is large and surrounded by a fence, add a guardhouse at the front gate, perhaps with a single vehicle parked next to it. If your business had landscaping, don’t forget to make it look overgrown and unkept, especially if your company has been closed for a long time. Finally, add “No Trespassing” signs along the perimeter.

How to Add Underbrush

Take a look at any prototype forest and you’ll see that the trees don’t spring up from grassy fields. There’s a whole world of plant life that thrives underneath the forest canopy. Ferns, sumac, brambles, berry bushes and mosses are just a few examples of plants that live among the fallen leaves and branches on the forest floor. Modeling the forest floor is easy thanks to the variety of scenery materials available.

In deciduous forests, the ground is littered with fallen leaves, limbs and exposed tree roots that create an uneven terrain. Add a mix of brown ground cover and twigs around your tree bases to simulate this surface. Detail the scene with parasitic vines hanging from some trees creating a “net” effect and plant some green vegetation and grasses in the areas that receive sunlight.

In coniferous (pine) forests, tall grasses and bushes are most common, with ferns and mosses found in rainy climates. The forest floor is covered with a fairly uniform layer of brown pine needles and fallen logs.

There are bound to be areas near the edges of your forests that are very visible—especially along your right-of-ways. Adding undergrowth is really easy. A covering of brown ground cover and the addition of green clump foliage and turf are usually enough to hint at extensive undergrowth. For more realism, add a few fallen logs and some exposed roots. You only need to detail the first few inches in from the edges of dense forests; sparse forests don’t have as much undergrowth.

Paint Stirring

Before starting any painting project, make sure your paint is thoroughly mixed in the jar.

Your best bet is to shake it for a couple of minutes so the pigments and base are completely blended. Motorized paint shakers help greatly as they shake it faster. Stirring paint isn’t the best method as it allows more air in the mix.

One easy way to aid paint mixing is to drop a couple of BBs or stainless steel ball bearings into each jar when you open it; these help stir up the thicker pigments at the bottom of the jar as you shake it.

Rugged Railroads

Back before trucks and modern highways, railroads hauled the lion’s share of freshly cut timber from the forests. The forests were truly remote places with no towns, few people and plenty of trees.

Logging company railroads carried everything. They built serpentine branch lines, often not connected to the rest of the country’s rail system, deep into the woods where loggers were cutting. Portable “camps” built on railroad cars housed the loggers. These railroads were notable for their geared steam locomotives and homebuilt equipment. Because of their surroundings and need to make do with supplies on hand, the lines often had a rugged appearance that’s ideal for modeling and detailing.

Modeling a logging line on a pre-60s railroad is easy. Several ready-to-run geared locos such as Shays, Heislers and Climaxes are available in the major scales, as are appropriate log cars. Dieselized lines, a few of which lasted into the 80s, often used switchers like SW8/900s, Alco S-Series and Baldwin locos to haul cars from the woods to the mills. As for structures, plenty of kits for sawmills and related buildings are available in HO and N.

Make Them Look Alive

Figures put new life in any layout scene. Posing figures in realistic situations turns any location into a mini-diorama. Simple scenes like workers shooting the breeze in a parking lot, or kids playing on the lawn can be added in minutes.

Engine cabs, automobiles and passenger cars look much better with seated figures inside. Most will require some cutting and filing to fit correctly, but luckily, they won’t feel a thing!

To accent clothing texture and reduce the shine of plastic figures, simply brush on a wash of one part India ink to 10 parts water and allow to dry. A final coat of dull varnish completes the job.

The Army’s Leftovers

Ever wonder what happens to vehicles and machinery no longer needed by the armed forces?

Most surplus is sold in a series of auctions, but only after it is offered to a prescribed “pecking order” of government agencies and nonprofit organizations. The leftovers are then available to the public. Everything from gas masks to amphibious vehicles do end up on the open market. And yes, even military railroad equipment also makes it onto civilian rails. Small businesses, construction companies, loggers, railroad museums and even short line railroads often acquire materials and machinery for continued use.

Some of the most common surplus items you’ll see are Quonset huts which have been reassembled into everything from city garages to retail stores. Former military vehicles, especially trucks, forklifts and construction equipment, are sought by contractors and businesses looking for a good deal. Storage containers make great outbuildings. Old aircraft, tanks and other unusable artillery ends up in museums. A few tanks have even been made into logging machines!

Military models are readily available in many model railroad scales. Trucks, construction equipment and forklifts are easily painted olive drab to simulate former military use. Surplus troop cars were used by railroads on work trains and as express box cars, and military locos like Alco and EMD MRS-1s and GE 65 and 80 ton switchers work for a variety of lines across the continent.

A Dry Brushing Primer

Dry brushing is basically a form of weathering which allows you to add that tiny bit of extra realism to buildings or rail equipment, simulating the effects of Ol' Mother Nature.

Joints, seams and rivets of structures and rolling stock, or anywhere else moisture plays a large part in corrosion, are ideal areas on any model for adding a bit of rust or weathering. Dry brushing is also ideal for highlighting raised details on figures (i.e. a fold in a figure’s shirt) or salt residue on roads or reefer cars.

The process is easy. First, choose a lighter shade of the base color for contrast, for example, pink for a bright red surface. Dip your brush into the contrasting color and wipe most of the paint off on the rim of the paint jar. Then paint a scrap piece of material until there is very little paint coming off the brush. Take the brush and lightly go across the area you want to highlight, building up multiple layers of color. Continue the process until the highlight has visible contrast against the base color.

For rust or oil effects, use rust or thinned dark gray paints instead of a similar color. For any dry brushing effects, remember that you want to build up very small amounts of paint to simulate a dusty or filmy look without completely covering the base color.

A Mural for your Layout

Check out historical districts and other tourist areas in your city or town and you’ll often find murals on buildings or retaining walls. The subjects can range from abstract designs to depictions of historic or current events and celebrities, so they’re useful for adding a recognizable landmark to your city scene. If you’ve got a home computer and color inkjet printer, you can add a mural to your layout.

If you’re going to model a prototype, you’ll need a flat-view photo (one taken at a 90° angle) of the mural. Scan the image at 300 dpi for the largest dimension (for example, 300dpi at 3" wide). If you’re creating one from your own computer artwork, you’ll need your image file at 300dpi resolution. Size your artwork or scan to fit the area where you want your mural using your photo editing or scanning program.

Several manufacturers offer inkjet decal paper that you can use in your printer. If your mural has white or light colors, then choose white decal paper. If you’re adding it to a light-colored or white surface, you can use clear decal paper.

Print your artwork out according to the decal paper manufacturer’s instructions. Then apply the decal to your structure or wall as you would any other decal. Once you’ve got it in place and it has dried, spray on a dull clear coat to hide the edges. Once dry, you can weather your model as desired.

 Bunkhouses on Wheels

Until recently, one of the most common work train cars was the bunk, or camp car that housed track, bridge & building (B&B) and construction crews working along the line. Railroads parked the cars on the siding nearest to the work area. Kitchen cars and occasionally a recreation car were also used with bunk cars.

Most bunk cars were built from retired boxcars. After WWII, troop cars became a popular choice because they already had windows and were usually converted with fewer, more comfortable bunk beds. Roads that used retired boxcars outfitted them with doors and windows to make them feel more like home. Some bunk cars also featured showers and water-heating equipment. Kitchen cars were outfitted with stoves, ovens and cooking-related equipment. If the cars didn’t have access to running water, they were coupled next to a retired tank car carrying drinking water.

Modeling these cars on your pre-1980s railroad is relatively easy. Troop sleepers and kitchens are available in several scales and require few changes, just a repaint. You can use any retired boxcars that the railroad had. These cars were usually painted the same colors as other maintenance equipment on the line, but given special lettering to identify their role.

After the 1980s, new regulations saw the use of these cars sharply reduced or eliminated in North America. Some roads began hauling mobile home-style trailers on flat cars; at the work site they are set up a safe distance from the tracks to housework crews. The remaining roads put up their crews in local hotels.


And a few from

Carl Cascone
Kanawha Creek Rail Supply   (hint...type top tips in special discount coupon code area online and recieve 10% discount on your purchase. No Kidding :o) )

Tip #1: Make sure to weather and ballast your track work. It's amazing how many modelers fail to paint their rails a grimy/rusty black (just the sides, not the top, of course!). Have you looked at real track lately? The stuff is iron and it rusts folks! The only thing shiny is the top surface where the wheel flanges ride. And the rails in little used sidings? Guess what--they're pretty much rusted out all over! It's the same story with ballast. Sure, ballasting is a messy job. But unless you kill the plastic shine of your ties and spread some realistically fine textured and prototypically colored ballast between your rails and in nice shoulders on either side, you're still in the toy train business! Properly weathered and ballasted, even the oversize rail that most of us use can come off looking mighty fine!

Tip #2: A little weathering goes a long way! This is Carl's (The Weathering Doctor's) favorite! What turns a shiny, $4.95 shake-the-box plastic toy into a miniature rendition of a hard working, AAR 40' boxcar? Give it a little basic weathering! Make it a rule to not allow any piece of equipment out onto your right-of-way until you've given its trucks, couplers and underbody a fine misting of grimy black and rust--preferably Floquil for you old-timers--sprayed in a properly ventilated booth, of course. Unless your car is supposed to be right out of the paint shop--I mean not even one mile on the high iron--then this basic weathering step is an absolute must!

Tip #3: Plant Your Buildings! Nothing is more irritating to us than buildings that obviously have no foundations. (Well, except maybe shiny, non-weathered freight cars--see Tip #2). They literally float on the layout with gaps here and there between their bottom walls and the layout surface. Real buildings have foundations. They're built into the ground, not on it! Cover those gaps with foliage, modeling putty, whatever. Just get rid of 'em. There's a sub tip to this tip I should also mention--don't let your interior building lights shine through translucent plastic building walls. Paint interiors black first--even if you'll be wall papering later. Do I also have to mention that the building's corners should be tight enough so that no interior light spills out there either? Nah, I didn't think

Getting old aint for Sissies!!! ;)
Back To Top

 Posted: Thu Nov 2nd, 2006 08:02 pm
2nd Post

Joined: Thu Jan 26th, 2006
Location: Portage, Pennsylvania USA
Posts: 1217
That's Great Todd.:thumb: :thumb: :thumb:

Matthew Miller
Norfolk Southern Cyclopedia
Independent Live Steamers
Back To Top

 Posted: Fri Nov 3rd, 2006 06:10 am
3rd Post

Joined: Thu Jan 26th, 2006
Location: Ontario Canada
Posts: 814
Very good bunch of tips :wave:

Back To Top

 Posted: Sat Nov 4th, 2006 12:25 am
4th Post

Great tips Todd... thanks for sharing :)

Back To Top

 Posted: Sat Nov 4th, 2006 12:39 am
5th Post

Joined: Tue Jan 24th, 2006
Location: Berwick, Australia
Posts: 2403
Thanks Todd

Looks like I have another to print-out and put into the safe:bow::bow::bow:

Don McL
Back To Top

 Posted: Sat Nov 4th, 2006 04:51 am
6th Post
Dave D

Joined: Mon Jan 23rd, 2006
Location: Green Bay, Wisconsin USA
Posts: 3291
Too cool Todd! :moose::moose::moose::pimp:

My father worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium, a master.
Back To Top

 Posted: Sat Nov 11th, 2006 10:51 pm
7th Post

Joined: Tue May 2nd, 2006
Location: Frisco, Texas USA
Posts: 821
Lots of good stuff. Thanks.

Frisco, Texas
Back To Top

 Posted: Sun Jul 21st, 2013 04:10 am
8th Post
W C Greene

Joined: Fri May 4th, 2007
Location: Royse City, Texas USA
Posts: 8189
OK kiddies, here's another "old timer" brought back for all to appreciate and enjoy.
Todd put some time in on this thread and it deserves to be seen new eyes.


It doesn't matter if you win or lose, its' how you rig the game.
Back To Top

 Posted: Sun Jul 21st, 2013 10:36 am
9th Post

Joined: Thu Aug 30th, 2012
Location: Brisbane, Australia
Posts: 322
Thanks for reviving this thread Woodie good tips

Back To Top

 Posted: Sun Jul 21st, 2013 03:51 pm
10th Post
Herb Kephart

Joined: Thu Jul 19th, 2007
Location: Glen Mills, Pennsylvania USA
Posts: 5955
Excellent pick from the past, Woodrow!

If you follow the 40+10 year life ruling,
how many cars on your railroad should be retired?

Remember that this also means that certain types of car,
wooden reefers with ice hatches for instance,
possibly might be too old to be around in the era you are modeling.

Food for thought.


Fix it again, Mr Gates--it still works!"
Back To Top

 Current time is 04:01 pm
Page:    1  2  Next Page Last Page  

Freerails > Model Railroad Forums > Way Back When > Collected Newsletter Modeling Tips

UltraBB 1.172 Copyright © 2007-2016 Data 1 Systems