Re: Colors by Freight Car Type by Railroad

Eric Hansmann

I think the “mixing local pigment with linseed oil” has been stated too frequently. I feel it is a generalization and verges on hobby myth.


I will admit this may have been a regular process on some railroads. It may have also been more common earlier in the 19th Century. But our group focus is 1900-1960. A cursory look at many freight car diagram pages will show paint manufacturer call outs for DuPont, Glidden, Sherwin-Williams, and other brands.


In reviewing a few entries on the Pacific NG Historic Paint Color Index, I note a few surprises. I’ve focused on lines with large freight car fleets. Here’s a link to the Index.


Under the AT&SF link, an 1881 entry notes stock cars painted with "Winters Mineral Paint."


Under the B&O, it is noted in 1851 the B&O used “Blake’s Patent Ohio Fire-Proof Paint” since 1850.


Under the CB&Q, it is noted in 1880 that grain and merchandise cars painted brown, using either Parker's Cement or Prince's Mineral Paint.


Under the NYC&HR, an 1892 note indicates gondolas are painted with Prince's Metallic Brown with white lettering and glossy black iron work including "the heads of bolts and coach screws." Trucks are mineral brown.


Under the Union Pacific, an 1876 entry notes Rawlin's Metallic Paint Company advertises that Union Pacific and the Pacific Mail Steamship Company both use their product.


I also see many lines painted their 1800s freight cars in white, straw, green, and blue colors. I don’t see these base pigments as being widely available to mix homemade paints.


Again, producing freight car color paint may have been a regular process on some railroads. I’ve heard the Pennsy made their own from bricks crushed at a ball mill west of Altoona, but I’ve not heard how long that lasted. Plus, it’s one railroad, albeit a large one. I don’t think we should “cover the world” with a general statement, especially as we focus on the 1900-1960 decades.


I’m open to corrections and additional details.



Eric Hansmann

Media, PA





From: <> On Behalf Of Jim Betz
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2023 7:52 PM
Subject: Re: [RealSTMFC] Colors by Freight Car Type by Railroad


  There is one "this is how it worked" relative to paint ... before ... color film.  And that is that
many (dare I say "most"?) RRs mixed their own "box car red", a batch at a time, in the paint
shop ... by mixing linseed oil with pigment (usually some form/from some source).  And, of
course, the local shop didn't always do things the same way every time or between different
  Yes, a lot of paint was purchased pre-mixed - but even there the colors varied in those
early years (i.e. before color film - and even well beyond the arrival of color film)..  
  Soooo - was the freight car reddish brown "pretty much the same for the same RR".
Yes, it was.  Because the RRs tended to buy from their sources (mixed or not) and
those sources tended to provide consistent product.  And yes, the Pennsy color is
different ("more red") than the color for the SP ("more brown" - expecially when 
compared to Pennsy freight car reddish brown).  Ad infinitum.

  I'm lucky - I weather everything.  And I don't use the exact same process for
weathering on every car (not even the same mixes of weathering colors).  My
goal is simple - if you look at a yard full of cars they will look "all the same" -
but when you look at individual cars (and especially when you compare two
cars side-by-side) you will see differences.  Some cars get little more than a
light dusting coat - some are heavily weathered ... and everything in between.

                                                     - Jim in the PNW

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