Re: Basic Boxcar Decals

Tony Thompson

John Hagen wrote:

Even though there a railroad fonts around, the railroads would often change. In particular the "good olde days" the lettering would vary from order to order or even from shop to shop. There wasn't any big, huge printing presses printing big huge vinyl decals. It was all done by sign painters at each location, and different sign painters even at the same locations. While there may have been stencil for the smaller stuff the bigger lettering and logos were often made by laying out the design on paper and then punching many small holes by using a pounce wheel (them things used by modelers to make rows of rivets in a hurry). Then the paper would be taped to the car side and powder puffs were used to put the design on the car with powder. Remove teh paper and teh sign painter would use the powered dots as a guide for the actual paint. Lots of room for variations here. Plus, each run of cars would have new artwork drawn as the chances of one layout being identical to the next project were practically nil.

    This may well be true for some railroads, but for a substantial number of big ones (I can provide specifics for SP and Santa Fe), it is certainly NOT true. For example, SP adopted a set of characters, separately drawn for each size (2 inches high, 3 inches, 6 inches, etc.) and these were in use for DECADES. And they were applied with stencils, as large as need be, not with the pounce wheel method. When Santa Fe had the huge "map" emblems, they made corresponding huge stencils. I have seen a photo of a large Seaboard graphic like for the "Orange Blossom Special," also in the form of a giant stencil. These kinds of lettering did NOT vary from car order to car order, nor did the railroad want them to. That means that you CAN make decals for models for specific railroads, with "standard" lettering for that railroad.
     I don't disagree with the "signpainter" comment, in that each railroad's draftsmen would create the lettering to be used as standard, but it was NOT painted freehand on the car, as a signpainter would do, but was applied with stencils. The major exception I can think of is the billboard reefers, where many variations DID exist, where often a particular lessee might only get a couple of cars, and the elaborate schemes were clearly hand painted in many instances. But that isn't exactly standard railroad practice.

Tony Thompson             Editor, Signature Press, Berkeley, CA
2906 Forest Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705
(510) 540-6538; fax, (510) 540-1937; e-mail, tony@...
Publishers of books on railroad history

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