$2.50 Rolling Stock!!!

Never skip an opportunity to sift through the bargain bin at your local hobby shop.


During recent visits to my train monger, I scooped up a pair of Roundhouse Apache Railway boxcars and an Atlas Burlington Northern covered hopper for the basement price of $2.50 apiece.

Out of the box, the models weren’t worth much more than that. The lettering and finish were poor and the running gear was truck-mounted Rapido couplers and ancient plastic wheels. But we can fix all that.


Here’s the step-by-step for the hopper. The boxcars got similar treatment:

I removed the old trucks and discarded them, retaining the bolster pins. (I’ve found that older rolling stock doesn’t always accept new Micro-Trains pins.) I then gave the car a good spray of dullcoat to give the shiny finish a little tooth.

Using a toothpick dipped in burnt sienna paint, I dappled the sides and ends of the car with random rust spots. I then mixed some rust-colored weathering powder with a little rubbing alcohol to make a thin paste. With a fine brush, I drew streaks of the paste down from each rust spot.


I then applied a wash of light rust-colored alcohol ink solution to the entire car. With careful downward strokes, I used the wash to soften the rust streaks without rubbing them out entirely.


When the wash was dry, I patched out the Burlington Northern herald and reporting marks with dark-green paint. Some modelers suggest masking patch outs and spray painting them. I think the rounded corners and uneven edges of my brush painted patches better simulate the quick work of a guy in the car shop wielding a spray gun or roller.


After the patches dried overnight, I added FCFL reporting marks and car number decals. I set the decals with Micro-Sol and let them dry. I then brushed a light coat of dullcoat over the decals to seal them. When that was dry, I coated the decals with my alcohol ink solution to knock down their bright white. When that dried, the dullcoat and alcohol ink had hazed up so I brushed another coat of dullcoat over the top. The several layers of dullcoat and weathering wash further enhance the spray-gun look of the patches, in my opinion.


I outfitted the car with my standby Micro-Trains 100-ton roller bearing trucks and Fox Valley Models 36-inch metal wheelsets. I weathered the trucks with powders and painted the wheels rail brown.

There are some very beautiful, very expensive models on the market, but you can fill in your fleet nicely with pretty good, budget-friendly cars from the bargain bin.




Weathering a Covered Hopper

Today I am going to demonstrate how I weather rolling stock. This is my down n’ dirty, quick n’ easy process that I’ve refined over the last few years – if you’re looking for a complicated, highly detailed project that involves an airbrush and an entire weekend, this ain’t it. This takes about an hour, most of which is drying time. That said, my fleet has received a lot of compliments, so maybe I’m doing something right.

Our subject today is Norfolk & Western 178134 from Intermountain. Right out of the box, it’s a pretty model. Too pretty:


The first step is to carefully remove the trucks and set them where they will stay clean, unbroken, and be found again.


The next step is to decide how weathered we want our car to look. According to the marks on the car, it was built in 1973. We know that the N&W merged with the Southern to become Norfolk Southern in 1982. Since I model present day, that means we have about 30 years of abuse to replicate. So, we don’t just want the car to look dirty – we need to distress the lettering and add some rust.

I use a sanding block to knock the lettering down. Go slowly and check every few strokes until you get to the look you want. If you intend to use the original reporting marks, which I do in this case, tread lightly on the numbers. It is also important at this stage to run the sanding block in between all of the ribs on the side of the car, even the “blanks” where there aren’t any letters. This will rough up the surface and help our weathering solutions “streak” more effectively.


Here is the car after sanding:



Now we apply our weathering solution. I use a mix of Adirondack brand inks and rubbing alcohol. I buy the inks at Michael’s; I think they are supposed to be used for stamping. Any alcohol-based ink will do, I suppose. I use baby food jars and mix five or six drops of ink to maybe 1/4 cup of alcohol. This takes some trial and error, and I keep a few jars with varying concentrations on hand. I also have a mix with a drop of India ink in it. I’d love to give you the exact recipe for my solutions, but I don’t have one. I just mix until it feels right.


I use a cheap one-inch paintbrush to apply a liberal wash of the lightest solution and let it dry. I then add a wash of darker solution. While it is still wet, I experiment with holding the car upside down, or laying it on its side, so get the distribution of color I want.


Now let’s turn our attention to the trucks. Carefully remove the wheels and set them aside. We are going to use weathering powders to add some years to the trucks and bring out the molded detail.


The trucks and wheelsets are acetal plastic, so I hit them with a little dullcoat to give the powder something to hold on to. But first, mask the couplers and the inside of the sideframes so we retain a slick surface for the wheelset to roll in and don’t gum up the couplers.


In a well-ventilated area, give the trucks (but not the wheels) a coat of dullcoat. I use the Testors stuff in the spray can. After the trucks dry, I use a stiff brush to dust on gray and medium earth weathing powder to the outside of the sideframes.


A note about dullcoat: Sometimes I give the carbody a coat and sometimes I don’t. I’ve found that dullcoat put over my weathering solution makes it look too grainy. But, weathering solution or just plain rubbing alcohol, applied in a wash over dry dullcoat, produces a craized finish that nicely simulates faded paint. (You can see this effect on the GN boxcar in the “about me” section.) In the case of our N&W hopper, I gave it a coat of dullcoat and didn’t like it (too grainy!), so I applied another wash of the light weathering solution, scrubbing a little with my brush to loosen up the dried stuff.

After everything dried, I reassembled the car and turned it loose on the layout.





I think the hardest thing for some people about weathering is fear. I just paid $30 for this Micro Trains boxcar, I’m not taking a sanding block to it! Well, don’t start with your $30 Micro-Trains stuff. Get a cheap car and experiment until you build some confidence. Weathered rolling stock – as well as weathered buildings, weathered track, weathered vehicles – adds a very satisfying element to any layout.