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  • Weathering Modern Cars and Locomotives, Part III "Patch" Weathering

    Railmodel Journal January 2007

    Pages: 6,7,8,9,10

    Weathering Modern Cars and Locomotives, Part III "Patch" Weathering

    By Matt Snell


    Weathered cars and locomotives on the real railroads did not disappear in the sixties, but to look at most "modern"-era model railroads you would think that every car and every locomotive just left the paint shop or wash rack.  This new series of articles will help make any modern-era railroad look more realistic.  Part I, in the September issue of "The Journal" illustrated a variety of techniques to replicate fade-through lettering effects, and Part II in the November 2006 issue illustrated how to use chalk to create modern weathering effects.  (This article originally said it was the November issue but it was actually in the October)

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    Since the 1960s the railroad scene has been one of merger after merger.  As a result locomotive shops have been busy repainting locomotives, but often there's no time to do a full repaint until a unit is due for heavy repair.  When a merger occurs, there is often a duplication of unit numbers requiring the equipment to be renumbered.  For railroads that have more need to use the equipment rather than show a particular corporate image, a simple paint-over of the predecessor owner's reporting marks, logos and numbers with a quick stenciling of the new information suffices to keep the equipment earning revenue.

    For modern modelers patching is no longer limited to specific railroads.  Railroads are increasingly dependent on lease power and the lessor often has second or third-hand power in their pools.  A lease company's priority is to keep the fleet in motion earning revenue, so much of this lease power exists in predecessor paint with the markings replaced by a simple stencil ending in X, such as HLCX or FAlX.

    For modelers, patch jobs can be a difficult task on factory-decorated locomotives as the printing process leaves raised printing.  Simply painting over the factory-applied lettering still allows the lettering to show through as a raised image.  Applying decal film over the lettering gives the same unrealistic results.  To achieve a realistic patch job, the lettering must be removed or the model must receive a full repaint.

    I'll show two methods for combating factory lettering and applying realistic patches, and I'll show a third patch job that began as an undecorated model.

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    The Conrail Leasing program (CRL) acquired used locomotives from a variety of sources, rebuilt them as needed, then leased them to offline railroads. Often these were painted i n a plain Conrai l blue scheme without graphics, however several remained in the predecessor road's colors. CRL 341 is a GP38 that was acquired from the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie andspent its lifetime in the CRL program wearing the P&LE colors.

    The P&LE paint scheme is somewhat difficult due to the yellow doors, so when Atlas released this model in their RTR line it presented an opportunity to model 341 w ithout the need for painting the locomotive.  My original plan was to simply place black decal film over the P&LE markings and renumber the unit.

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    After looking at the unit, I immediately saw a problem since the large P&LE markings and cab number were printed thick enough to be raised over the paint.  These markings would have to be removed with as little damage to the paint as possible.  Minor damage under the patch would be acceptable, but outside the patch areas, the paint needed to remain intact.
    Since I had still planned to use a decal patch, the decision not to use a stripper was made. Not only would a stripper have the potential to cause damage outside the patch area, but it would also leave the paint under the patch blotchy, which would show through the thin decal film, especially on the flat cab side surface.

    Anyone familiar w ith auto body repair understands the concept of wet sanding using a very fine grit sandpaper to remove scratches. Could the same principle be applied to remove unwanted lettering without leaving scratches in the paint or gouging the plastic?
    The Atlas model was partially disassembled, removing the handrails to allow better access to the body surface. The patch would not extend onto the dynamic brake blister, so the blister was removed leaving the flat surface of the long hood to work on.

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    The large P&LE lettering on the long hood would be removed first.  A sheet of 1000-grit sandpaper was cut into a thin strip, which was folded over itself repeatedly until it was a fairly stiff small rectangle.  The hood lettering was then m oistened with a wet paper towel and I proceeded to sand on top of the first letter, gently working in small circles, taking care not to sand off any of the door or hinge details. As the hood dried, it was remoistened to help prevent damage to the surface.

    Within a minute the lettering began to lose its shine and the black paint underneath began to show through. To fully remove the lettering, some of the paint would be lost as well, but this was acceptable since the wet sanding process was not leaving gouge marks, which would show later.
    Now that the P&LE markings had been removed, the numberboards were painted black and the model was ready for the application of trim film for what was now a "real" patch job. The areas w here the patches would be applied were cleaned w ith a wet brush to remove any residual ink or sandpaper grit, and Microscale Black Trim Film number TF-2 was cut to the appropriate patch sizes.  (When placing the patches, try to use natural starting and ending points, which will hide the edges, such as door edges, walkways, and any joint such as the dynamic brake blister.)

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    Although unable to fully remove the paint from the hinge and latch areas of the doors, enough was removed that the large P&LE was no longer readable and just a few chips of paint remained.  Once the hood was done this same process was used on the cab sides and nose.

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    The patch area on the long hood was coated with Microsol, and the decal patch was appliedto the hood.

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    Additional Microsol was brushed over the top of the decal following the contours of the hood doors.  As the patch covers a large area, air bubbles trapped underneath can be released by puncturing the film with a sharp number 11 X-Acto blade and then brushing the air bubble out followed by an additional coating of Microsol to settle the decal.  This must be done before the decal begins to set as any subsequent brushing will cause the film to crinkle.

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    After the long hood was finished, the same procedures were used on the cab sides and nose, then the model was set aside for 48 hours to allow the film to fully set. Once the film has fully set, the model may be flipped over and the opposite side can be completed, followed byanother 48-hour setting period. After the film had fully set, the new reporting marks were applied directly oil top of the film used on the cab. Microscale White Gothic lettering was cut into stencil-style characters and applied to the cab sides followed by a thin coating of Microsol to set the decals together.  Microscale white numberboards were applied to the numberboard areas and when dry, Shellscale numbers replaced the original P&LE numbers.

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    The model was then reassembled and weathered using chalk powders. Weatheringover the patch areas was applied lighter than the rest of the unit to both simulate newerpaint as well as prevent any splotching of the chalk on the film. The model was then given amist spray of Testor's DullCote and was ready for service providing a unique paint schemeon the roster.

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    One side note when using trim film for patches.  If you intend to use a lighter-colored trim filmover a dark-colored lettering remnant, the remnant will show through.  Light-colored trimfilm such as white and yellow are fairly opaque.  To correct this, first place a layer of blacktrim film onto the model. Once this has dried, overlay the black with the lighter colored film,settling the two together using Microsol.

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    Upon Conrail's formation in 1976, they received most of the locomotive fleet from the six railroads that made up the new road. Since I've always wanted to add this Lehigh Valley scheme to my fleet when Athearn released the Lehigh Valley GP38-2 in the ready-to-roll fleet, I saw an opportunity to add this scheme-which was long overdue-without a need to paintthe entire unit.
    Conrail patch jobs were often "quick and dirty," with large black patches covering the predecessor marks and logos regardless of the color over which they were applied. Locomotives from the Valley however seemed to fare much better and were usually carefully painted out in the Valley's colors.

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    Many Erie Lackawanna & Lehigh Valley locomotives had their former owner's markings painted out using matching paint upon the formatIon of Conrail.

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    Modeling the knockoff of the G P38AC (the Athearn is actually a GP38-2) would require removal of the factory lettering and covering the areas using patches of a slightly darker shade to make them stand out.

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    Several methods can be used to remove the factory lettering. One method is to apply alcohol to the area and then scrape the lettering off. The alcohol will dry the ink out, then it can be removed with either a pencil eraser or a blunt Q-tip. Alcohol also has the drawback of fogging the paint in the area where it is applied, but if it is applied in a controlled manner the new paintpatch will cover any fogging.

    To remove the factory lettering, pull about half of the cotton off the end of a Q-tip then spin the Q-tip end in your fingers until the end is no longer a ball, but instead matches the contours of the Q-tip stick. Dip the Q-tip in 70% Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol and apply a coating directly over each marking you want to remove.

    The alcohol will dry the pad-printed ink out and the blunt edge of the Q-tip may be used to scrape the markings from the paint, leaving thepaint intact with a fogging effect. If the ink doesn't come off easily just use repeated applications until the ink has fully dried out and is easy to remove.  Marking remnants left around details such as door latches or hinges can beremoved by using a dull knife blade or stiff toothbrush.

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    Another effect, which can be created using this method, is to chip away certai n areas of the printing giving a weathered look. Prototype photos of the LV locomotive show the diamond intact, but heavily distressed due to the effects of time. Use a fine brush to carefully applythin amounts to the markings, ensuring that no alcohol gets onto the surrounding paint. Once the ink has dried out, the markings may be chipped away by gently scraping over them with a dull knife blade. For heavily distressed areas such as the striping on the pilots of the LV locomotive, simply chi p or scrape away more of the factory markings.

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    Once the LV markings had been removed or altered, the patch areas were masked off with painter's tape using natural breaks such as the door edges and the lower stripe to form the outer boundaries. The patches were airbrushed using SMP Accupaint, which has the advantages of fairly opaque application, being self-leveling, and drying glossy. This eliminates the need for a coat of GlossCote prior to applying decals to the model.

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    Accupaint is a thin paint and should be applied by making repeated thin applications until thedesired look has been achieved. Spraying the paint heavily will obscure detail areas andresult in a goopy look. Spraying thin coats and worki ng against the edges of the masking willalso help prevent paint from seeping under the mask edges.

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    The third effect, which can be created using these methods, is to allow some of the predecessor markings to show through the repaint. This method was used in the nose area where the edges of the nose striping were allowed to show through the patch paint. The striping left over from the alcohol strip job showed through as raised portions under the new paint.

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    The paint on CR 2456 is probably the simplest of patch jobs to do as this unit started asan undecorated model. This prototype began its life under the Conrail/GE LMS program andsubsequently was transferred to LMSX, a GE subsidiary. On long-term lease to Canadian National, the CN painted over the LMSX marks with a "matching" paint and placed their own number and corporate logo on the unit. As the original factory paint had faded over time, even the matching paint would take on a darker hue than the rest of the locomotive.

    The model was detailed to match the LMSX unit, and a faded Conrail blue paint was mixed from a white base with Conrail blue added. This would simulate the faded paint the locomotive wears and help the patching to stand out.  

    A darker standard Conrail blue was applied to the long hood to form a patch, which extends  from the walkways to the top of the long hood. Additional patches were placed on each hood end to cover the areas formerly occupied by the LMSX marks. Photos show the cab number area was not as faded as the l ong hood, so no additional patch ing was done in this area.

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    The numberboards were painted black, and decals from Shellscale provided both thenew black background as well as the white numbers for the numberboards. MicroscaleConrail number and stencil style lettering was added to the locomotive carbody to add thenew ownership markings and number.  After the decals had dried, the locomotive  was reassembled, detailed, and lightly  weathered to match prototype photos found at George Elwood's Fallen Flags photo website (  The entire project took about three evenings to complete and saved painting an entire unit, which would have taken considerably longer.

    Article Details

    • Original Author Matt Snell
    • Source Railmodel Journal

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