Weathering Ideas

I recently came across this 1926 image featuring a couple of boxcars on the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western railroad in New Jersey. Let’s take a good look at the weathering on these cars. They have obviously seen some mileage as the lettering is faded. Some streaks are visible from water and a little dust is apparent. But there’s much more here that we can model. Click on any image here to review a larger size.

The images on this blog post were originally taken by William B Barry, Jr., in his service as a DL&W company photographer. Thousands of historic DL&W photographs have been scanned my NPS Steamtown and can be found through the Erie Lackawanna E-Mail List Photo Archive.


These two boxcars may have been involved in an accident so there are a few images that were taken at the same time revealing different sides of each car. Let’s take a look at the details on these images with a focus on weathering elements.

DL&W 12369, an automobile boxcar, was built in July 1924 and reweighted in August 1925. The built date is to the right of the doors along the sill while the weigh data in to the left of the doors. Model railroaders tend to weather models to reflect Mother Nature’s effects on a freight car as it travels thousands of rail miles. These boxcar photos reveal several elements that were added by crews along the journey.


Here’s the same image but several details are noted. These are all elements that have been added by railroad crews. Chalkmarks are common and convey an instruction for a car. They can be very simple, like the T12 seen in the bottom left corner. This car has a couple of chalkmarks that are more extensive. Near the reporting marks is an instruction to hold the car. Vertical notes on the door indicate specail placement in Montclair, NJ. These are less common than simple letter-number combinations that often refer to a yard track for classification.

Many freight cars have a route tag tacked near the reporting marks and placards are often tacked to a door indicating special consideration for the load. In this case, the door placard reads “Unload on this side”. Notice to the left of the door placard are a bunch of tack from previously posted notices. Sometimes a remnant of a placard remains attached.

Here’s a look at the other side of the boxcar. The angle of the sun makes the sheathing look different. Chalkmarks, a route tag, and remnants of previous tags are apparent. Note there is a chalkmark on the steel sill above the right truck and it seems like the same mark is applied to a couple other points on that end of the car. There are many other chalkmarks on this car but they have faded over time. One chalkmark on the car number has been partially erased and has a smudged appearance.

That’s a Federal truck in the left background, in case you were wondering.

The car end also has some details to spot. The tack board has remnants of old placards and several tacks. A few chalkmarks can be seen scribbled on the both of the corners near the bottom. When applying chalkmarks to freight cars, remember your crews are typically making these marks while standing on the ground. There are examples of marks further up on a car side, as seen on the previous image. Chalk marks are most common closer to the car sills.

Southern 166561 was built in 1924. The built date data is just below the chalkmakr to the left of the door and mostly obscured by dirt and grime. The car was weighed when it was built in May 1924. These cars were built with truss rods and a steel centersill. The Southern added more than 21,000 of these cars between 1916 and 1926.

After reviewing the previous photos, I’m sure you are already picking out the various chalkmarks, old tacks, and card remnants. This car once had a paper door seal installed. That’s what is seen where the door and door frame come together. Batten strips were used to anchor the paper seal on the door and these remain along both of the door edges. This car also has a couple of chalkmarks near the fascia.

The distinctive T-brace steel ends show quite a few chalkmarks. Many on the left side are quite faded. Also note the scuffing on the car end above each grab iron. This is another interesting detail that can be added to models using a light grey color pencil. A few old tacks remain embedded in the tack board. The tackboard wood often weathers quickly as the paint fails with the constant pounding of tacks and the infrequent tack removal. Sometimes part of a board has split away leaving an irregular edge. This car is hardly two years old so the tackboard is in good shape.

All of these details are easy to add to models as part of the weathering process. You can find the original images of the Southern boxcar on this set of thumbnail links posted by the Erie Lackawanna E-Mail List Photo Archive. And here’s the page for the Lackawanna boxcar.


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2 Responses to “Weathering Ideas”

  1. John Nehrich says:

    A couple of things to add – paint chemistry back then is different than it is today. Paints today form a more solid coat than in steam days, but if the surface gets dinged or scraped, you get rust “bleeding” in just those areas. (In other words, try not to rely on examples today if you want to get it accurate for steam days.) Back then, rolling stock was subjected to a constant rain of soot, again making a difference in overall coloring. It was common that when a car got dirty enough to make it hard to read the lettering, the lettering only was redone. (We ought to weather some cars, THEN letter them.) Finally, the Library of Congress has a massive collection of color photos of the early ’40’s and unbelievable resolution, photos of entire rail yards of cars so you can see the overall mix.

  2. I model the early ’70s, so on the rare occasion that I weather a piece of steam era rolling stock for a customer, I find myself out of my element. As John already pointed out, rolling stock weathered differently in different eras. I suspected, but never confirmed, that much of this difference was due to changes in paint chemistry and paint application tools over time. Further to his point, I wonder if lettering, particularly white lettering, is more resilient against grime and corrosion because it is applied thicker than the overall carbody colour, and because white reflects the entire spectrum of light, thereby changing the affects of UV on surface of the paint.

    I’ve also suspect that changes in the composition of the materials used to make freight cars also affects the way the look as they age. For instance, photos of a late 1950s-built boxcar taken when the car has had 15 years of service life show a different kind of roof weathering than, say, a late 1970s-built per diem boxcar after the same amount of service. The subculture of freight car weathering enthusiasts have done a great job of recreating the effects of age on these more modern cars, but many of those effects would look out of place on an older car because they simply didn’t weather that way. All of this talk of materials technology is mostly academic, but the takeaway is that “rustbucket weathering” subculture’s summa lex of working from prototype photos is a good one to follow.

    The difficulty I’ve had when weathering steam era cars for a client is that the vast majority of the photos from the era are black and white. I tend to err on the conservative side and stick with soot and dust colours. If rust streaks, roof-decay, and graffiti are the hallmarks of post 1970s railroading, I think chalkmarks define the steam era. The challenge with chalkmarks, as I see it, is to make them fine enough to suggest they were scrawled with the tip of a tiny 1/87 piece of chalk, and to have them sufficiently faded such that they reflect a varying degree of being washed off by the rain and snow.

    -HH

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