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Weathering Freight Car Trucks.... Realistically.

You know, it seems everyone and their Aunt has their own method for weathering trucks. And unless youíre one of those fellows that models derailments just about every piece of rolling stock that sits on your rails has them. If you want your rolling stock to have that realistic appearance, you probably weather your trucks. If you donít, maybe you can read this little how-to and see just how easy it is to take your models to the next level with just a few small steps.

First off, you have to choose your trucks. I know that many of you just kinda consider whatever comes with your model to be good enough and if I was in charge of weathering dozens of cars to run on my layout, Iíd probably agree. For those of us that may weather a few cars a month or year though, there are some trucks that are highly detailed and excellent subjects for weathering. My favorite so far are the trucks that are produced by ExactRail. If youíve never seen a set of these things, I suggest you get your hands on some. The level of detail is amazing and in my opinion, they are at the top of the hill as far as model trucks go. For this exercise, I used ExactRailís ASF 100 ton Ride Control trucks.

Next you should decide what kind of look you want your trucks to have. If there is one thing Iíve learned in looking through prototype photos, and Iíve probably looked through hundreds of thousands of them, itís that no two trucks weather exactly the same. So, that being said, you could probably get away with doing almost anything. To an extent. When it comes to trucks you want to keep in mind a few general rules. Number one, less is more. You want to keep the amount of paint, powder, whatever you are using on your trucks to a minimum. The more gunk you drop on those trucks, the less detail you have in the end. Number two, remember that almost everything you see when looking at that detail is a separate part in real life. So, taking that into consideration, itís logical that separate objects will weather differently. Many people will paint their springs a different color from the side frame but it doesnít take much more to add a little paint to the bearing adapters, friction wedges or shear pads. Doing this adds depth and a touch of realism to your trucks and when viewed up close your trucks will look nothing short of spectacular.

To begin I like to spray a light coat of paint on my trucks. My paint of choice at the moment is Rustoleum dark gray auto primer. It is an ultra flat paint that is almost a flat black and itís a perfect color because it gives the trucks a faded look to start out. Many people use a dark brown and thatís fine but many of the flat brown colors Iíve found are just a shade off what I personally think would be the correct shade for trucks. Many trucks come from the factory painted a gloss black and they steadily degrade as time and the elements bear down on them. I have seen many different variants of this weathering from bright rust orange to a dark reddish, almost maroon color to a dirty brown. As I previously stated, just about anything is acceptable simply because of the widespread variance in weather, material and environment.

My second step is usually to highlight some of those little details I mentioned earlier. I like to use some Artist Oil paint, usually Burnt Sienna, to paint the bearing adapters, shear plate faces and sometimes the bearing caps. The cool thing about these parts is that they commonly come painted a different color from the side frame and sometimes itís just fun to paint the end caps blue or the adapters red as Iíve often seen. After Iíve added a few highlights to these little parts with the oil paint, Iíll wet the area around the paint with mineral spirits. This makes the paint flow into all the little nooks and crannies and helps to smooth things out. After Iíve got the look I want, Iíll dry my brush and dab the wet, non painted areas to help take up any excess liquid that has pooled up.

After I let that paint dry a bit Iíll get out my weathering powders. I used to use pastel chalks but I was introduced to A.I.M Weathering Powders a few months back. These powders have an adhesive that helps them to stick to whatever they are applied to. I love them for this application because I donít have to apply them in abundance and hope they stay on the truck. Once they are applied, they stay unless washed off. The colors I use are Medium Earth and Light Gray.

I will take a relatively fine brush and apply the Medium Earth powder to the side frame of the truck. My area of emphasis here is along the bottom of the frame. Iíll add a little bit of color on the entire side frame but I want most of it concentrated along the bottom because this area is closest to the ground and the upper frame is somewhat protected by the bottom of the car. I guess it would be a good time to point out that I use a stippling, poking motion when doing this. Donít worry about excess because you can simply blow that off and add more powder to any areas you may have missed.

Next Iíll take a larger, soft brush and brush this powder into the underlying paint using vertical strokes. I do this because I want to knock off any excess powder and because I want the powder to blend with the paint underneath. By now the side frame is gradually flowing from dark, dirty gray at the top to light, dusty brown at the bottom.

While I have my Medium Earth out, Iíll go over those areas I painted earlier. I use the same general technique I used when applying the powder to the side frame and stipple my powder directly on the painted areas. This gives a nicely defined area of lighter rust to these separate parts. Be careful though, if you add too much powder or if you added too much paint earlier, youíll end up losing the detail on the truck.

I will also hit the springs with powder now as well. While the springs usually are a lighter color than the side frame, I think this is generally overplayed by many people. I canít tell you how many times Iíve seen bright, rusty orange springs on a freight car model. Thatís fine, I guess, but you have to remember that the springs are in constant motion from being compressed by the weight of the freight car. They are also usually painted when new and this paint is shed from this constant motion. Usually, any rust you see on truck springs is at the top or bottom of the spring where the spring is seated in the frame and contacts the bolster.

After this step I will use the Light Gray powder as a general highlight color. I like to hit the lower areas of the truck below the top of the spring opening and I gradually increase the amount I apply as I go down the truck towards the bottom with this powder and it gives the truck a light dusty look. I apply it in the same manner as before and blow off any excess.

After that, youíre pretty much home free. You can seal your trucks if you like but I donít. I havenít had any trouble with any of the powder coming off but I am rather careful with how I handle my cars.

So, there you have it. If you follow these steps, you can expect to spend maybe an hour weathering the trucks on your freight car. Maybe. An hour to add a touch of realism to your car. Is it worth it? I hope so. I hope you have found this little how-to informative and if there are any questions or comments, please donít hesitate to drop me a line.

Thanks,
Jeremy St. Peter