Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Paint schemes, real and imaginary

This is an old topic in model railroading, where there seem always to have been paint schemes offered in decal form, and decorated on models, that were, to put the very best light on it, “improved” from reality. I’m not talking about the widespread practice of lettering a particular car body or locomotive with the names and emblems of every popular railroad. This too has been around from the dawn of the hobby, and admittedly can be confusing for beginners, because the paint scheme may be quite accurately rendered but simply is on the wrong car or engine. In many cases, that particular type of rolling stock is one that the prototype of the lettering never had.
     But that’s not my topic here. My reference is, instead, to paint schemes which may be difficult to assess if you don’t know much about the prototype referenced in the paint scheme. In my own case, I do make an effort to choose painted cars that are prototypically accurate. But if I haven’t had a chance to check reference material, you could certainly fool me with a bogus paint scheme on, say, an Atlantic Coast Line or Chicago & Eastern Illinois car. I simply don’t know those roads very well.
     This discussion is occasioned by the following model, using a tank car body produced some years ago by Walthers. Nowadays Walthers has a bit of a reputation for slap-dash models, not entirely fair since they also do some quite good ones. This particular car, somewhere between the extremes of Walthers’ accomplishments, has been relettered with old Walthers decals. Nearly all of the oldest Walthers decals, from the William K. Walthers era, were certainly derived from prototype observation, even if typefaces were usually only approximate. So what about this model?

     We know that the Richfield Oil Company did use large block lettering like this on some tank cars, and in the 1940s, many photographs support Richfield’s use of aluminum paint for lettering. But the Walthers decal set used for this car clearly has the block lettering in yellow. Given that the old Walthers decals were substantially based on prototype, one might wonder if this color could be right.
     Years ago, when I was frequently purchasing freight car photos from the late Wilbur (Will) Whittaker, I asked him about the yellow decals, and he replied that he could remember seeing occasional Richfield cars which did have the yellow block lettering. But there is no photo evidence of the yellow color which I’m aware.
     Some time after talking to Will, I asked my go-to tank car expert at the time, Richard Hendrickson, and he also said he knew of no photo evidence of yellow, but was not sure it was wrong, either. Bottom line? I guess I can keep the car with the yellow lettering.
     Incidentally, the most common Richfield lettering was a smaller spelled-out owner’s name, right above the reporting marks. I showed a prototype photo of this scheme in a post about asphalt tank cars. You can see it at this link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2016/09/asphalt-tank-cars-part-3.html .
     Now for a real “foobie” (a term derived from the World War II military slang word, “fubar,” standing for “fouled up beyond all recognition,” originally of course employing another f-word). As foobies go, you can’t beat the model shown below. This is a LifeLike box car from some years back, and of course was decorated to celebrate this brand of candy. And I happen to like it myself! I saw this car for sale cheap at the Bakersfield NMRA convention (see my post at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2017/05/pacific-coast-region-nmra-2017.html ), and could not resist.

And of course, for those who aren’t familiar with this candy, the model car paint really does mirror the actual package. I happen to have a current package handy.

Now what? There’s no basis whatever for this car in the real world. Then again, I really do like the candy, so there is a temptation to slip it into an operating session. Maybe it could just be “stationary scenery” at my wholesale grocers’ warehouse, spotted at Door 3?

Sigh. Maybe yes, but probably not, so don’t hold your breath.
     There are all kinds and degrees of foobies out there. How bad an individual example might be, and whether you want to make it part of your modeling life or not, is obviously up to you. But in such cases, I always hark back to a remark of Tony Koester’s, which ran something like this: “Modelers will cite Rule 1, that it’s your model railroad and you can do what you want. But the moment you cite Rule 1, you run the risk of revealing that you are not really trying to model real railroads and actual railroading, but are just having fun with little models of trains.” Either of these two hobbies are perfectly fine hobbies, but they shouldn’t be confused with each other. ’Nuf said.
Tony Thompson


  1. Tony, not to rain on your parade, but the Peppermint Pattie cars in the 21000 series were PS-1s.

  2. Well, in my 1953 ORER, the only two PPX cars were tank cars. The LifeLike model is certainly not a PS-1, but has "original" (sharp corner) Dreadnaught ends. So I'm not sure what you mean.
    Tony Thompson

    1. Richard TownsendJuly 12, 2017 at 1:06 PM

      OK, it got cut off again. There was an arrow, the letters VBG and another arrow. Sigh.

  3. Yes, PS-1s...
    The big issue is that all of these old photos are in black and white so unless someone has physically put an eye on the car you really do not know what color that lettering really was.
    Great site you have by the way!

  4. I like the approach of doing the best you can with the the information available, but also having cars that look plausible - like the yellow lettered Richfield car - when the information is not definitive.

    With a LITTLE stretch you might justify that York car after all. Peter Paul, which bought York in 1972, had a plant in Salinas until 1981. Since Salinas is on the Coast Line with Shumala, clearly the car is a proposed paint scheme to be evaluated by local Peter Paul officers before the merger. That also explains why it is so clean! By some standards of "modeler's license" that is quite modest - I've seen worse on magazine covers.