Realistically Weathering a Freight Car in 10 Easy Steps

If you follow us on our Youtube Channel, you’ve probably seen a couple of different weathering methods shown, from quickly dirtying up a train set with powders, to a meticulous airbrush job on a scale boxcar. In this blog post, we’re going to share another method which lies somewhere in between in terms of time and materials, but achieves excellent results.

Materials Needed

For this job, we’re going to be using a mixture of acrylic paints and weathering powders. We recommend using paints from ​Mission Models​, as these are designed specifically with modelers in mind and are based on real life color tones seen in the industrial world. For our powders, we’ll be using ​Panpastel products, again a brand which produces a range of real life industrial color tones. To apply these materials, we’ll be using a selection of smaller artists brushes and a foam brush, which can be purchased from any craft store.

Our car of choice is an HO scale cylindrical hopper from ​Bachmann’s Silver Series​ range. We chose this car as it’s a relatively inexpensive model and should provide a good example of the level of realism that can be achieved through this process.

Step One

Before commencing on the project itself, we need to spray the car with a thin layer of Testors clear coat paint. This will allow the weathering materials to better adhere to the model, and will reduce the plasticity of the model’s appearance. This is best done in a well ventilated or outdoor space, and will require roughly an hour to dry enough to proceed.

Step Two

Once the clear coat is dry, we’ll need to remove the trucks and wheels from the body. These will be weathered separately and will be reinstalled at the end of the process. Some people also remove the couplers, but this isn’t necessary for this project.

Step Three

The key to a good weathering job is to find the locations where dust and dirt would likely collect on the prototype, and begin in these spots. Using a thin artists paint brush, we’ll start by adding a slightly water-diluted layer of darker rust-brown acrylic to the lower side of the model. Once this is done from end to end, it can be evened out to prevent obvious brush marks. You can go over this multiple times until your desired level of grime is achieved, and can smooth it out with the help of your foam brush.

Step Four

The underside of the car is where the most dirt and grime will collect in reality, so this area should be completely covered using the same method as in step three, providing that you can still see some of the original color underneath. Once several layers of diluted acrylic have been applied, you can finish this off with a layer of dark brown weathering powder to create a more realistic dirt texture. This doesn’t need to be applied evenly, but keep in mind where the most dirt would likely accumulate.

Step Five

Moving back to the main body of the car, continue looking for places where dirt would accumulate and where rust would likely build. We’ll add a slightly thicker layer along the edges and corners of the model. Once the paint has been applied, you can use the foam brush to create a runoff effect by gently running over these locations while they’re drying.

Step Six

Once the base layer of the detail and edge spots have been completed, we’re going to apply a thin layer of powder to the main side of the body. To achieve the best results, spread from end to end first, but finish by spreading top to bottom along the whole side to replicate the effect of dirt and rust running down the car over time. Use the foam brush for this, and spread until relatively even.

Step Seven

Repeat the process from Step Three on the upper side of the model. Once this is complete, find any joint or rivet located along this area. These are usually the spots which will see the most runoff of both dirt and rust, so with the thinnest brush you have, create a line of acrylic rust brown running down the side of the body from these locations. For the most realistic result, lines should vary in length, with one or two reaching the bottom of the car, and some going no further than a scale foot or two. In addition to running from rivets and joints, runoff should also be replicated more lightly over any seams or ridges on the side of the model.

Step Eight

When you are satisfied with the appearance of your runoff, come back with some dark brown weathering powder to add to the heaviest accumulation spots. Then repeat with a hint of orange or oxidized red powder to simulate the heavier rust in the worst spots. Once you are satisfied with your covering, lightly blow on the model to remove any excess clumps of powder.

Step Nine

Make any final changes you want to the side of the model, then move to the roof. Using a mid-sized artists brush, lightly brush a layer of rust brown acrylic from end to end, purposely letting it accumulate more over ridges than over the whole roof. Once this is done, come back with your foam brush, and add a thin layer of light brown or white weathering powder from end to end, and brush until fairly even. This will replicate both the fading on the roof’s paintwork, and any grain, cement, or other material which has accumulated from loading or unloading. Once this is complete, blow on the roof to remove excess powder.

Step 10

Now it’s time to return to the trucks. Using a small artists brush, add a thin layer of rust brown acrylic over the front and sides of the truck. You can apply this as heavily or as liberally as you like. While this is drying, apply a light dusting of orange or oxidized red powder to add some texture. Then to complete the model, paint the insides of the wheels with a lighter brown acrylic, and again add a light dusting of orange or red powder. Once dry, take the edge of a screwdriver and gently scrape off any excess paint from the rims or the side of the wheels.

Reassemble the trucks and attach them to the car, and sit back and enjoy your newly weathered piece of rolling stock.

The great thing about weathering is that you’re replicating something that doesn’t have to be done in a certain way. Just follow these guidelines for how and where to apply your materials and you really can’t go wrong. If you’ve tried this process and would like to share your results, send us a message on our Facebook page and we’ll share your images on social media!