Re: Weathering for Late Steam and Transition Era

Richard Hendrickson

On Aug 11, 2005, at 8:38 AM, Jim Betz wrote:

We see guys selling stuff on eBay that have rust blowouts,
repaint bleed thrus (especially after an ownership change),
paint patches, spray can grafitti, etc. ... what I'd call
"heavy weathering". And we see photo examples of steam locos
- late in their active service (or after) - that are in pretty
bad shape (ie. heavily weathered/obviously in need of general
maintenance as opposed to a quick oil-aorund and lube).

BUT - it is my impression that this kind of weathering is - in
general - "later" ... that it started to show up on the RRs in
the 70's. And, more importantly, that other than -sometimes-
having a lot of 'road grime' that locos and cars were kept in
fairly good condition thruout the 40's, 50's, and 60's. Yes,
I know that maintenance was often deferred during WWII ... but
that meant 'more dirt' -most/some of the time- rather than
'more rust'.

My belief is that it was relatively rare to see a car such as
this example with rust blow-outs, where the earlier paint scheme
is showing thru, heavy rust (not heavy grime!), etc. And also that
grafitti was fairly uncommon (most cars did not have any at all)
and what grafitti you did see was mostly done with chalk by a
hobo (rather than by some kid/vandal). Similarly, although you
did find the occasional "patch job" such as a repaint block around
the car data ... that this was very much the exception as opposed
to being "common" or even "fairly common".
Jim, on the whole I think you're right, and other respondents have added some useful insights. In the steam era, cars were typically repainted at about ten year intervals (though of course there was a lot of variation in individual cars and in general practice from one RR to another). In between repaintings, freight cars collected a lot of dirt. The soot and cinders from steam locos was responsible for much of that dirt, which the moisture from condensed steam tended to turn into a sort of sooty goo that clung to the cars even after exposure to rain. But freight yards were often in industrial areas where air pollution was far worse than anything to be found today (remember Donora PA?), so industrial grime contributed its share as well. Rust was common on the insides of open top cars, but paint and grime usually kept rust from forming extensively on other parts of the cars. And the undersides were invariably an oily mess; plain journals shed oil at a great rare onto the wheels and from the wheels onto the undersides of the cars and in oily stripes up the lower parts of the ends. (BTW, for that reason rusty wheels are a no-no on steam era models, though I've seen it done. OK on roller bearing trucks, definitely not OK on plain bearing trucks). So it's certainly true that the kinds of weathering - extensive rust, scraped and faded paint, etc. - that are appropriate to models of modern freight cars aren't at all realistic on steam era models.

The practice of overdoing aging and weathering dates back to the John Allen era, and probably began with the narrow gaugers who were modeling Colorado narrow gauge in its death throes, when dirty, weathered, and worn-out equipment was being used up without any gestures in the direction of maintenance. Allen then adopted advanced decrepitude and made it fashionable because his modeling was inclined more to quaintness and caricature than to realism (and in that respect I think he set the hobby back at least twenty years).

Prototype rolling stock got especially grimy during WW II, for obvious reasons, but after the war most RRs engaged in vigorous efforts to retire worn out equipment and repair and repaint serviceable cars, and there was also a car building boom in the late 1940s and early 1950s that put many new cars onto the rails, so relatively fresh paint jobs were more common then than you seem to think.

As for graffiti, it was VERY rare. In my collection of more than 30,000 photos of steam era freight cars, there are only three or four images that show genuine graffiti, in contrast to the many chalk markings used by working railroaders (which were, of course, numerous on almost every freight car).

As other respondents have said, photos are vastly better guides than speculation and guesswork, in this as in other aspects of modeling.

Richard Hendrickson

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