Decals and Lettering


A few box cars were lettered in July. This is a great thing to do while various weathering washes dry on the models featured in the last blog post. Several cars have been in service that have been painted but lacked the decals. Let’s take a look at these.

I had era appropriate decals on hand for all of these models but I still needed to know what parts of the decal sheet to use for my 1926 era. Many modelers do not realize the lettering guidelines changed a few times during the 1920s. Here’s a handy PDF that compares the 1920 ARA lettering guidelines with an updated version approved in 1926 for implementation in 1927. The newer guidelines eliminated much of the data documenting various hardware components. The capacity and weight details were also modified to present critical details easier. Note the 1920 guidelines did not have a line for Load Limit. This Pennsylvania Railroad H21a hopper is wearing original lettering, including the 1916 New weight from a plant in Johnstown, PA.

Photo from the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library Flickr collection in the PRR St Louis Division photo album (LINK: ).
Photo from the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library Flickr collection in the PRR St Louis Division photo album.

This hopper sports the period lettering details I had in mind for the box cars. The kits contained good quality decal sets and a good deal of information about lettering changes over the years.


This Western Maryland USRA single-sheathed box car was decaled with a Westerfield decal set. The 3-25 reweigh date is a couple of small decals carefully lined up. Many decal sets have reweigh dates that do not fall into the two years previous to my November 1926 modeling focus, so a number is often cut out separately from the decal sheet in order to give the model with a plausible reweigh date.


The Soo Line box car is a Storzek Resin kit that was produced a few decades ago and it was a joy to build. It was featured awhile back on the blog and is finally lettered. The kit decals were fragile so a gloss coat of Pledge Floor Finish (formerly Future) was brushed on and allowed to dry. The kit instructions included detailed lettering drawings for the as-built lettering and for the post-1927 ARA guidelines. The decal sheet includes all the lettering needed to cover both guideline styles.

There were a couple of hold-your-breath moments with the old decals, especially when one of the Soo emblems nearly tore in half. Careful nudging with a toothpick and lots of decal solution made everything work out.


I can’t believe it, but this is my first box car lettered for the B&O. You would think I would have more of the home road represented in the Wheeling Freight Terminal fleet, but progress has been slow. This is an M-13a class car and a very nice Westerfield kit that was featured on the blog. In the early 1920s, the B&O stenciled the reweigh date and location (MC initials) above both bolsters.


Yes, this model does seem out of place, doesn’t it? Funaro & Camerlengo produce this Canadian Pacific Minibox model. I bought it before I had a 1926 focus and the prototypes came into service in 1929. it will go to a friend’s layout for use sometime soon. This model illustrates the later ARA lettering guidelines. Compare the lettering with the B&O car and you can see the difference.

I also applied a couple of paint out decals to the model to represent the area where the old data was painted over and the new data was stenciled. Note the slightly darker areas under the LD LMT and LT WT figures, as well as the reweigh location and date. To the right of the door, a similar paint out was applied under the repack stencil. These paint outs using a different color than the car, or a fresher color, are a common freight car detail.

On many of my other models, masking tape is applied to cover the reweigh data before weathering the car. After all of the weathering is applied and dry, the tape is carefully peeled away to reveal a fresh looking patch and brighter lettering. All the models featured in this post will go through this process.

After decaling all of these models, I stumbled across another ARA lettering mandate. In May of 1925, the Load Limit was required to be stenciled on all cars when reweighed. Hmm, I had not seen this on many photos until this image arrived via email.

Collection of Claus Schlund.
Collection of Claus Schlund.

A Pennsylvania Railroad USRA single sheathed box car was next to decal, but the Westerfield details were not clear on a couple of points. Prototype photos of these cars in the 1920-26 years were nearly non-existent. An inquiry was posted to a group building Pennsy models and the above image was received. While the box car is only partial seen, it features the important lettering elements.

The box car is a PRR X26 class and was originally lettered for Pennsylvania Lines, but Lines has been painted over. The reweigh data has been stenciled on the car sill, which I was not expecting to find. Nearly as important is the lettering on the gondola. This car was reweighed in 1926 and follows the new requirements with the Load Limit freshly stenciled on the steel side sill.

Some may wonder why the box car does not have the Load Limit stencil as it has an October 1925 reweigh date. In our world of lightning quick communication, we forget how long it took simple data and instructions to trickle down 100 years ago. As noted earlier, the ARA set a Load Limit stencil requirement in May 1925, but how quickly does that info get to the car shops that are spread out across several states? Part of the requirement indicated that all cars needed the Load Limit stencil by 1929, so there was lots of time to cover the million or so freight cars in service. In any event, the prototype photo really helped with this next model.


With the prototype details from the image, this USRA single-sheathed box car was decaled with a Westerfield decal set. The 26 reweigh date again used a couple small decals carefully lined up. A 9 from another date was inverted to use as a 6 here. The fraction before the 26 is the day and month of the weigh date, which was part of the earlier lettering guidelines. This was eliminated with the 1927 revisions and only the month and year were stenciled.

The Pennsylvania lettering is offset because the Lines portions have been painted out. Some masking tape will cover those patches for the heavy weathering process. It should look pretty neat with the brighter paint stripe.

I enjoyed decaling these models and learned a great deal about the lettering of the mid-1920s. Parts were tedious but the models will wear these decals for a very long time. I am thankful for the image Claus sent along to help with this project.

Collaboration is an important part of our hobby. I lost track of the number of completed projects where some assistance pushed things along. Prototype images, resource suggestions, and hands-on help from a wide variety of modelers have contributed to my hobby progress and enjoyment. I may have a small railroad but I don’t think I can fit everyone in my home that has helped the Wheeling Freight Terminal become a railroad model.

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10 thoughts on “Decals and Lettering”

  1. Excellent posting Eric!
    Your models look great.
    Many Thanks for the PDF download – I’ll keep it handy for reference.
    Take Care

  2. You’ve put in a lot of effort to upgrade the lettering of your fleet to make it approptiate for your era. Can I assume your next layout will also focus on 1928? Or will you have to do all this hard work all over again???

    1. Dave, I do not plan to model another era outside of 1926. The location may change but the moment in time will remain the same. The more I build, decal, and weather these period freight cars, the more I enjoy the end results. In many ways, 1926 presents a railroad scene very different from the post-WW2 years. Familiar railroad emblems have not yet been designed or implemented. Earlier freight car designs are dominating the fleets. And there are many active railroads that would merge or disappear over the next 25 years. The freight car fleet is a long term investment of time and talent. It can be reused on the next few layouts set in 1926. – Eric

  3. Eric, despite I model an era and locale 25 years in advance of you, I always enjoy your details, history search and your links. Keep the good work! thanks

    1. Since it’s from a Sunshine Models kit, I’ll bet they were produced by Rail Graphics. – Eric H.

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