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How to Weather A Model Train Locomotive

Updated on July 24, 2012
As part of the renumbering, I added a UP logo to the back, which is not uncommon on the real deal.
As part of the renumbering, I added a UP logo to the back, which is not uncommon on the real deal.

Last Time Out

Last Hub, I talked about renumbering a couple of Lionel Southern Pacific locomotives to their post-merger Union Pacific numbers. This time out, I am going to take you through aging one of those locomotives with a dry powder weathering technique. Often, you will see locomotives that never made it to the paint shop after a merger or sale. It is less expensive for the railroad to get as much out of them with a simple renumbering or re-lettering as possible. Now that my ex-Southern Pacific SD70M has it's appropriate Union Pacific road number, it is time to make her a little, well, used.

Using weathering powder makes the project easy. Start with highlights and work up
Using weathering powder makes the project easy. Start with highlights and work up
Little bit of rust and dirt
Little bit of rust and dirt
The white brings out the edges
The white brings out the edges

Bottoms Up

There's no magic to weathering, and the dry powder technique is very easy. I use Doc O'Brien's Weathering Powder to do all of my weathering. The trick is to mimic the effects of weather and wear and tear on the locomotive without making it look like a load of dirt was dumped on top of it. Understated is far better than overdone. You can accomplish the same effects with powdered chalks available at many hobby and craft centers.

It is best to start at the bottom and work up, and start with a light color to catch the highlights. Slowly build up to darker colors, but remember, you don't need much to effectively simulate nature's work. I start with a little bit of white on a small paint brush, whisk the brush back and forth over raised areas to highlight edges and high points. Again, there's no science to this and you'll know it's done when you know it's done. After the highlights, I move on to a rust color. Rust forms in streaks and spots. Streaks run from the top of something to the bottom, spots can be anywhere. I like to limit the rust to the trucks and frame.

With the edges accented and the rust in place, it is time to add some dirt. I move to a reddish brown color for the dirt. Dirt happens anywhere, so application can be liberal, though less is more. I use the same whisking technique as with the white, but with a little more powder on my brush. When I am satisfied, I top the loco off with grimy black. I tend to be spotty in the application of black. Grease and grime accumulate in areas and are not always streaky. I accent the radiators and exhaust and fans with the black, and add some along the lower parts, walkways and steps for good measure.

As a last step, I spray on a very light coat of flat clear coat to seal in the powder. If you are using chalks, be careful to use an extra light spray and be a good distance from the loco when spraying so the chalk doesn't run. The weathering powder I use tends to stick very well to the surface, so running and pooling is not a problem.

The Dirtiest Train Wins

Weathering your locos is not about how dirty you can get them, it is about making them look more appealing on your layout. There's is nothing wrong with keeping them bright as the day they left the factory. I have several that will not be weathered because I don't want to take away from their appeal. I am more focused on operating my O Gauge trains than collecting them, so the decision to make these changes to the SP locos was easy. The Lionel Dash-9 probably won't see as much as the SD-70, mainly because it is already nicely decorated and aside from having her number changed, I don't want to take away from the factory detail.

Don't worry about achieving symmetry when weathering. You don't need to have all the sides match. This doesn't happen in the real world, so it doesn't need to happen on your model. Also, don't be afraid to do parts like couplers. Though, do be cautious, especially if you leave the shell on while weathering, not to drop lots of powder into the roof fans. Also, I suggest you tape the wheels and windows when adding the clear coat. Less cleanup afterward.

Railroads have maintenance and cleaning facilities and they do keep up with their equipment, so not everything has to be grimed up. If you take the less-is-more approach, you'll be satisfied with the results.


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      Bob 5 years ago

      Cool that you got the road numbers right