Saturday, December 7, 2013


After the push to complete the current mainline with the Willamette River bridge between Eugene and Springfield, I was in need of a break, or at least a change of pace.  One of the wonderful things about the model railroad hobby is that it has so many facets that one can usually find a project to fit one’s “mood.”  While recovering from the Thanksgiving holiday, I needed a shift.  My focus turned to the shipping and storage boxes containing the hoard of rolling stock acquired for my dream layout.  Initial operations on that dream layout are fast approaching, so it was time to start preparing some of that equipment for operation. 

I have chosen to focus on the early 1980’s for the initial set of equipment on the railroad.  This has to do with the relative ease of equipping the motive power fleet with decoders, availability of sufficient suitable cabooses, and adequate model coverage of required freight cars.  Indeed, I have several storage bins full of SP and other freight cars for this era, largely ready to go.  More cars are needed, though, especially those used to ship forest products.

As I began pulling out boxes of freight cars, I came upon my recent acquisition of SP bulkhead flat cars.  The 1962 and 1956 bulkhead designs were released recently by the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society model program:
For me, the 1962 design bulkhead was the “definitive” design applied to the major postwar classes of F-70-6 and F-70-7 riveted flat cars.  I have a number of photos of these shot in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, still carrying lumber for the SP.  Though the SP lists the bulkheads as being for plasterboard service, many found their way into lumber service.  SP designates them by AAR code “FMS,” meaning a general flat car with special loading devices applied—the bulkheads.

An “issue” with the SP Models release is that all of the car body, including the deck and bulkhead timber, has been painted SP mineral red.  This is a reasonable choice for the model program, but a conscientious modeler needs to complete the job of representing timber decks and bulkhead lining.  SP did not paint or treat the deck timbers.  Pictures show the timber weathering to a dark gray tone. 

I replicated this with a fairly standard technique for representing weathered wood.  I used PolyScale acrylic hobby paints.  Although Testors parent corporation has discontinued the PolyScale line, similar acrylic colors are now available from other sources.  Micro-Mark’s new line of MicroLux paints fills this important gap.  First, a gray base coat of paint was applied.  I used “aged concrete” as a good light gray with a yellow cast, picking up a couple of color features of weathered timber.  I applied this with a ¼ inch brush, brushing in line with the boards.  I was careful but not fastidious about paint application.  Over-swipes could be cleaned up later with touch-up paint.  Streaks in the gray were desirable for providing color intensity variations among individual boards.  After this paint set, I applied a color wash of “rail tie brown” thinned 1:2 with alcohol.  The deck coloring was completed by a wash of “grimy black,” thinned at 1:2 with alcohol.  It is important that the last color wash be the darkest color (grimy black) as this settles into the crevices to provide surface definition.  Once all of this set, I returned with touch-up paint, using “DRGW Freight Car Brown” as a decent match to the mineral red applied to the cars.  One touch-up item comprised the bolster straps on the deck, which inevitably got covered by the three deck color applications. 

Stages of timber deck finishing on SP bulkhead flat cars.  Top pair are as-delivered models.  Next pair of cars have “aged concrete” paint applied.  Third pair of cars has a wash of “rail tie brown” applied.  Final pair of cars in the foreground have received the final wash of “grimy black” and touch up of the car body mineral red.  The ¼ inch brush for deck paint and micro-brush for touch-up paint are in the near foreground.

I still need to apply Automatic Car Identification (ACI) labels to the cars, as SP was a leader in that technology.  ACI was first required on the national car fleet in 1967, though the SP began the program earlier.  I also need to paint the trucks mineral red, the SP standard for these cars, and then weather all the “steel.”  For now, I have a great start with weathered decks and bulkheads.


  1. Bill,

    Nice job on weathering the decks of the cars. The combination of colors is very effective.

    Tom Patterson

  2. Hi Bill,

    Your bulkheads came out fantastic! You make us at Espee Models proud.

    Scott Inman

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.