Re: box car colors

Jim Betz


Tim restates and "re-examples" something I've been going on
and on about for over a decade now. Even after weathering in
which considerable care is taken to ensure "lots" of variations
from car to car - when you look at a yard on a layout (any layout)
the variation in the shades/variations of the freight cars is far too
There are many reasons why this happens ...

1) Each mfgr seems to have a small number of shades of
"box car colors" ... and they work hard at making this
run of cars match the prior run(s).

2) Even when the models are custom painted the tendency
is to use what paints are available - and to repeat the
same colors over and over (see #1). How many times
have you heard someone complain about how the paint
from a particular mfgr has 'changed color' over the years?

3) Often our research is done on the details of the prototype
but we tend to 'discount' the variations we see in the
colorsshades in those same photos ... and/or our research
is based primarily upon B/W photos.

4) Even when we know (and are paying attention) to the fact
that we've seen photos which show significant variation
in the color we often are 'trapped' in the belief that there
was "a -particular- shade of tuscan (/whatever) that was
used" by a particular RR. What I'm saying is that even in
the face of actual evidence we hear guys talk about how
"that's just because of variations in lighting conditions",
"the film used is important to the color", "the printer is
the one who actually decides what color we see" and
other such arguments. These arguments aren't wrong.
Those things actually do affect the color(s) that we see.
But photos such as the one Tim linked us to make
those arguments "suspect" ...

5) Often we tend to think that we can "weather it in that
direction" ... and we can ... but so far I've never seen
any one who could weather two cars that started with
the same color ... and achieve the variations that Tim
and Tony point out in the cars in that photo.

6) And let's not forget how much an affect "era" (when it was
last painted) has upon the 'shade' of a particular car. And
that all the RRs (each of them, one by one) went thru their
own variations over time. For instance - just think about
how the RRs went thru "identity crises" and came out with
new paint schemes. This happened every 10 to 15 years.
And if you name any particular RR you can find at least one
paint scheme (and often more) that lasted a relatively short
time or was applied to only a particular car type (and often
not even to all of that car type). And cars painted in different
eras used paints that were significantly different - and that
weathered differently ... in fact the way a particular paint
changed over the years was often the reason why new
paints were used by the RRs in later years.

7) I'm a member of a club that has a very stable membership.
And, unlike most clubs, we don't have any permanent
rolling stock on the layout - we bring our trains out, put them
on the layout, have the run, and then take them home. And
we don't bring out the same cars every time - quite the
contrary. Yes, there are some cars that are unique - such
as my flat car with a ship propeller load. But other than
those cars you can't predict what any member will bring
out on any one day.
But you know what? At the end of the day when we
are packing up ... every one "just knows who that car
belongs to" ... and certainly can recognize their own cars.
My point? Each of us has certain 'techniques' and/or
'preferences' in what/how we model that makes our
freight cars recognizable ... so much so that we can usually
establish "ownership" without checking "whose car is that".
The same thing is true when you go to layouts that are
the work of "one" person - such as the large layouts with
their own set of cars. And I visit a club frequently that has
freight cars that belong to the individual members - but the
cars are "permanently" on the layout ... and it doesn't take
long to start picking out which car belongs to which member.

8) And just how many times have you heard someone describe
the look of a freight yard as "a sea of brown" or of a train
working its way thru a canyon as "a long brown snake".

9) And I'm not even going to "go there" with respect to how
we go on and on about stuff such as "what color was used
on the PFE reefers?". Tony has commented on this many

10) I tried about a decade or so ago - in fact I didn't just try ...
it was more of a "quest" ... to find a way to chemically (or
otherwise) produce "the effect of time" on a paint job. The
'success' was very limited. It did result in some subtle
changes in my methods and I'm happy with what happened.
But it didn't produce the variations Tim pointed out in that

11) And let's not forget the realities of what it means when you
sit down to produce a string of 10, 20, or even 60-80 cars
at a 'single' sitting! Hey, I'm gonna finally get those Stewart
coal hoppers on the layout ... all 200 of them!

12) The era we model has a significant affect on this color stuff.
The freight cars from the STMFC era are considerably
different from more modern eras ... and have considerable
differences within the STMFC era if you consider what
happens if you introduce something as simple as "what
decade is this layout placed in?"

Yes, the RRs tried to have/used particular colors for particular
cars. And they had "rules/standards/practices" intended to produce
cars of "identical" colors. Paint departments had drift cards and
paint diagrams and ... well you all know this aspect.
But the reality is that the actual practices/actions used on any
particular freight car on any particular day at any particular
location ... made it a certainty that there would be variations.
Significant variations. Often even -startling- variations. Of
cars that were painted using the same set of "rules/practices".
And on cars that were "painted in the same paint scheme". And,
although less common, even of cars that were "painted on
the 'same' day in the 'same' paint shop and had been in the
'same' service since being painted". It is possible for two such
"identically painted cars" to 'drift' away from each other in
amazingly short amounts of time - sometimes it isn't so much a
'drift' as a "rush". And when you are starting with two cars that
came from the same RR and are of the same class and in the same
paint scheme ... but could have had significant variations on the day
they rolled out of the paint shop because one was painted in L.A.
and the other in Texas - let's just say that the 'starting point' can
be ... and often is ... significantly different.

And yet ... I'll be the first in line to say that "you need to have
some 'standards' in how you paint your models ... that if you
don't you will have problems". Are we our own worst enemies?

Regrettably - it appears that we have a "strong tendency" to
produce models that don't reflect the variations that Tim points
out in the photo. And there are -many- reasons why we tend to
produce models that tend to "look alike" rather than look like
"variations on a theme".

I remain ... that guy who says "Viva La Difference" ... Jim

P.S. And -today- I wish I had never said "that color on that model
looks wrong" ... or even that I could tell you "I'll never say that
again". Not likely. At least I'm in good company? In fact I'm
going to be among the first to admit that there are times when
I look at a model and "just know that it is wrong" ... when the
evidence seems to be that any such statement is, in fact,
flawed because "anything is possible on any one car".

P.P.S. Blind copies sent to some "interested parties" ...

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