Re: Freight Car Colors

Richard Hendrickson

Ian Cranstone writes:

I'll second Ted on this one -- super-accurate colours are probably only
important if you're modelling a brand-new (or freshly repainted) car. After
a year or two, they've probably started to fade or weather to the point that
spending too much time matching the base colour exactly is a bit of a waste
of time.
I've tried to stay out of this discussion, as it comes up periodically and
I've said my piece on it before. However, I will add the following (and
then disappear back into the woodwork, up next to the sills, or down next
to the eaves, or whatever).

After a year or two? Try after a month or two, at least if we're talking
about the steam era. Paint wasn't as durable then as it has become in more
recent years, so the effects of fading and weathering turned up very
quickly, and dirt and grime accumulated on rolling stock (and everything
else) faster than those who weren't there at the time can possibly imagine.
Steam RRs, not to mention pre-EPA industrial America, emitted an incredible
amount of grunge which settled on rail cars (not to mention towns, people,
etc. - e.g., Donora, PA, 1947).

As for how carefully color was controlled, I will recount again an anecdote
I've written here before about the Santa Fe, whose company standards and
enforcement thereof were about as rigorous as those of any other RR
company. In the late 1960s I happened to find two freshly painted Santa Fe
covered hoppers coupled together on a siding. Both were painted "mineral
brown," one a new car just delivered by Pullman-Standard and the other an
older car just repainted at the Santa Fe's San Bernardino shops. The color
of the two cars was noticeably different - and note that both had been
painted with pre-mixed synthetic enamel, not paint that had been formulated
in the back rooms of the car shops. Now, tell me again how you can use the
Pantone system to determine the "true color" of Santa Fe Mineral Brown?

Many years ago some advanced modelers in England studied the many variables
(human visual perception, lighting, size of object, distance from object,
etc., etc.) and conducted some rather sophisticated and carefully
controlled experiments. Their conclusions make interesting reading, but
can be summarized in one sentence: attempts to match in miniature the
exact color of the prototype are a waste of time, and even if successful
result in a highly unrealistic appearance. Jeff Aley is doubtless correct
that color can be objectively and precisely measured, but the process of
painting, aging, and weathering modelsl to look like the real thing
(especially in the artificial light they're almost always viewed under) is
an art form and "realism" in scale modeling is at least partly in the eye
(or more precisely in the brain) of the beholder. This may not be welcome
news to the engineering types who want to quantify everything, but (as Ted,
Ian, and others have pointed out) there's no getting around it.

Richard H. Hendrickson
Ashland, Oregon 97520

Join { to automatically receive all group messages.