About a month ago I shared this lead image on Facebook and with a few friends. There were several compliments and a recurring question, “How did you do that?” Here’s a walkthrough of the basic steps I used on these hopper car interiors. Click on any image here to review a larger version.
I find inspiration in prototype images for many model projects, including weathering. Color images of the steam locomotive era can be found through the American Memory pages at the Library of Congress web site. Photographer Jack Delano captured many railroad scenes in the 1940s using color film. One of his images offers us a hint at the interior of hopper cars. Shorpy has this available. Make sure you click on the View Full Size link.
As weathering on the prototype freight cars did not happen all at once, we should consider several steps to replicate the many effects of Mother Nature. I look at weathering as layers of material and I frequently use a mix of media as the layers are applied.
The first layer is the original body color. In most cases, this color has been applied to our model at the factory.
The next layer is a grimy, dirty brown shade because coal is very dirty stuff. I use a rattle can of Krylon Camouflage Earth Brown to establish this dirty interior base. A mask cut from a cereal box is used to keep the spray directed onto the interior surfaces. Compare the image above with the image of the plain model.
The rust layer comes next with a custom paint mix for each batch of cars to create a color shade variance. Craft paints are used, starting with several drops of terra cotta applied to a cheap palette, such as the yogurt container lid. Three drops of oxide brown are added and mixed together with a Q-Tip. Yellow or red can be added to achieve different shades of rust. A squirt of cheap window cleaner thins the mix to a chowder-like consistency. A runny mix is too thin. Use a cheap brush with short bristles to work the rust color into the hopper crevices. Start in the bottom and work your way up the slopes and sides.
Refer to the prototype image and note how the rust seems to end where you would see the top of a load. Use the paint sparingly and scrub it into place, pulling it up interior walls and slope sheets. If there is excess in the bottom, use it on another hopper rather than using paint from the palette. Don’t think of coating the surface with color, but rather think like you are pulling color across it.
Allow plenty of time for the paint to dry between each step. If you live in a humid area, wait a day or two before proceeding to the next step.
Once the rust color has set, I turn to another scrub using a slightly thinned acrylic grey. This scrub tempers the boldness of the rust and can simulate bare, worn metal areas. Just wet the tip of your cheap short bristled brush and dab a couple of spots onto a slope sheet. Scrub these spots in the direction of the slope and pull the paint around. Add a little paint to the brush and work on another area in the same manner. Work on the interior sides and scrub all the way to the top.
The car interior is looking pretty good now, but it’s missing some grit. I use a soot color of weathering powder from Bragdon Enterprises. Just a little material on the ends of your favorite cheap brush goes a long way. Focus on the slope sheets and some of the angled surfaces in the hopper. Empty any excess onto a sheet of paper, or into another hopper car and work it around. Here’s what the interiors can look like after these weathering steps.
Give this a try to add color and texture to your empty hoppers. Many gondolas would have a similar look, but seek out prototype images to guide your work. One pass of one shade of paint doesn’t quite look right as the prototype was not weathered in one pass. Once you get the hang of it, work in batches of two, three, or four cars at a time. I’ll cover exterior weathering ideas in an upcoming post.
I hope you found these steps helpful. Grab a model or two, some supplies, and dive right in! Your questions and comments can be posted below. All comments are reviewed and approved before they appear.