Details, details, details

You can always add more details to your growing model railroad

Is a model railroad ever entirely finished? Not really. There are always more details to add, scenes to create, small structures to build, and weathering to do. Detailing is a great deal of fun. Often details take as much time as the original construction. They are worth the attention because they help turn a toy train into a model railroad. There's no rush to complete any of these projects add them as you feel inclined to.

The first details fall in the category of additional landscaping.

Here's some ideas you might want to try.

Consider using Sculptamold to create small mounds, rolling hills, depressions, or small valleys on any remaining flat areas. Make small drainage puddles using three-minute epoxy. Add underbrush using reed materials. Small shrubs and bushes are most easily represented by small clumps of lichen. This is one of the best uses of lichen, and it's hard to overdo it, as long as you vary the clumps in size and color. A dot of white glue or matte medium will hold them in place. Make grass by first flooding a small area with dilute matte medium; using a squirt bottle, eject flocking fibers with a quick squeeze. Most of the particles will stand upright because of the electrostatic charge on the fibers.

Creep mossy vines up the sides of buildings or bridge piers using glue applied with a squeeze bottle. Make a trail of white glue that looks like a vine network and dust it with ground foam turf. If it is a flowering vine or trailing rosebush, add flowers now or wait until the vine dries and use the hairspray trick. Add moss and clumpy hedges by making a paste of ground foam and undiluted matte medium.

Manmade details

Unfortunately, humans leave their junk all over our planet, from litter to oil spills. To authentically recreate the world in miniature you need debris. The best place to start is with a favorite among modelers, the junk pile.

You can use anything leftover parts from kits, lumber, watch and small machine parts, tracklaying supplies, and cast items. Molded junk piles are available, but it is so much more fun to create your own. Make a quick and dirty junk pile by disassembling a section of track and heaping a stack or pile of ties and rusting rails alongside the track.

Industries leave junk everywhere. Among the castings readily available to model railroaders are 55-gallon oil drums, piles of tires, pallets, crates, boxes, and barrels. You could even add a locomotive to the bottom of a lake.

Weathering freight cars

It doesn't take long for a real railroad car to become a weathered veteran with rust, scratches, dust, dirt, and grime. Many modelers take pride in how well they can realistically weather railroad cars. However, weathering cars presents a dilemma. There are two schools of thought - those modelers who weather for the realism of it and those who don't. Those who weather their cars do so because everything else on their layout looks used, and a string of shiny railroad cars would look out of place. Those who don't weather are unwilling to mess up the factory paint job on a very expensive model railroad car. Some modelers get around the dilemma by purchasing two cars, one to weather and one to save - but this becomes very expensive. Some spray the model with Dullcote first, so all the weathering can be washed away-but it is doubtful that such a car can be returned to a pristine "collector value" condition.

Model Railroader magazine has published many articles on weathering, and Kalmbach Publishing Co. has published the book Basic Painting and Weathering for Model Railroaders by Jeff Wilson. But we developed our own method of weathering.

First, obtain photographs of real weathered railroad cars to use as references. You can take the photos yourself if you keep a camera handy in the car while you are driving. Often you'll be stopped at a rail crossing waiting on a train or be alongside a set of tracks with a freight passing by. Keep in mind that cars can be weathered just a little or a lot, depending on their age and usage. It's a good idea to vary the style and amount of weathering from car to car. Otherwise they look the same, just weathered.

Next, remove the trucks and couplers. Almost every prototype car has some type of denting. This is the most difficult and dangerous thing you can do to a car to represent heavy usage. Using a soldering iron (on a very low temperature setting) or heated screwdriver, press against the inside of the walls of an old gondola, ore car, or steel boxcar. Heat will deform the plastic outward, making it look as though the cargo fell against the metal and dented it.

Then use a sharply honed scriber and hobby knife to chip off bits of paint to represent flaking, and scratch horizontally along the sides where car doors slide back and forth.

If you are using more than one of the same car and the manufacturer has not offered different-numbered cars, you could alter the car number. Alter existing numbers with matching white paint or by removing a digit with gentle scraping or fine sanding. Change a digit or entire number by carefully removing the prepainted numbers and using dry transfers or decals. Sometimes you can give cars a whole new set of numbers by painting over the old numbers and adding a new series. On some cars you can simply obscure the numbers by flaking, smearing, running paint, or grime, mud, or anything else nature might throw at it.

Next comes that old standard, the alcohol wash. The black ink particles will collect in the crevices, cracks, and seams and around the molded details. If you are going to weather a yellow or white car, use a brown ink wash instead of black. After the ink wash comes a Dullcote spray. This spray actually puts a "tooth" on the model's surface, which will allow colored pencils to adhere to the surface. Additional alcohol washes over the Dullcote will produce the whitish glazing effect that resembles real metal oxidation.

Using a white-colored pencil, you can streak the white lettering that is on most railroad cars. Use rust-colored pencils flat, in streaks, in dots, or abraded around rivets, leaving particles of pencil lead. Accent grab irons with a fine black marker. The secret weapon is the standard graphite pencil - it leaves marks that look like steel. Once you are satisfied with how the car looks, by the way, don't forget about the roof-dust it with a final coat of Dullcote. Compare the same car factory fresh and the one that has seen road wear.

Finally, add different loads to your rail cars. Junk loads are available for gondolas, coal loads for hoppers. Flatcars are always interesting because they carry just about everything. An old favorite is a hobo or two riding in an empty boxcar with the door open. We have even put cattle inside cattle cars so you see their silhouettes as the cars roll by. Whatever you can imagine was probably out on the rails at one time or another.