But in this post, I want to add something quite specific: weathering. Of course this is a relevant topic for all kinds of model rolling stock, but refrigerator cars generally are of particular importance because their (almost always) light-colored sides showed dirt and grime far more readily than their boxcar-red brethren among the freight car fleet. This was accentuated because the cooler sides of working reefers had a greater tendency to condense water from the steam exhausted by locomotives, particularly in tunnels, and this tended to trap dirt, dust and cinders (or oil smoke particles).
As modelers, we need to depict this grime accumulation, but also to recognize that a string of reefers would show a range of dirtiness, from fairly clean to pretty darn dirty.
It’s natural to think of cars longer in service, and with older paint schemes, as needing to be modeled with greater amounts of dirt and grime. But Pacific Fruit Express washed its cars from time to time up until about 1955, as described in some detail in the PFE book. (Anthony W. Thompson, Robert J. Church and Bruce H. Jones, Pacific Fruit Express (2nd edition), Signature Press, Wilton, Calif., 2000, pages 100, 117 and 159.) During the 1945 to 1948 period, for example, about 11,000 cars were washed per year, at a time when the total car fleet numbered about 40,000 cars. This means that there is not always a strong correlation of paint-scheme age and amount of dirt on PFE cars.
Here are a couple of prototype images showing PFE cars with a range of weathering and dirt on them, which can serve as a guide to modeling:
A second photo shows a train of westward empties on Sherman Hill, Wyoming on the UP, behind double-headed locomotives in 1955 (cropped from a John E. Shaw photo). Here the dirty cars strongly contrast with one which looks relatively clean.
One reason to emphasize these prototype photos is that most modelers, myself included, tend to have a particular degree of grime that they are comfortable with, and to weather car after car to about the same extent. These photos show that such a procedure is not realistic.
One good example of varying weathering to obtain model cars looking like the range of grime in these prototype photos comes from Richard Hendrickson, long an advocate of heavier weathering than most modelers like. Of course he means “heavier” when appropriate, but reefers are obviously an important instance. Here’s four of his models to illustrate the point (models and photo by Richard Hendrickson):
At far right is an almost-new car, which does have some light dust along the side sill and trucks. Then from left to right can be seen three cars of increasing dirtiness, and these most definitely do reflect the prototype range of weathering shown in the photos first presented. Note in particular that Richard has successfully depicted the rather brownish tone usually dominant as the orange car sides got dirty.
I have been striving to extend the range of my own weathering beyond the “light to medium” I often apply, to obtain a few cars with serious levels of grime. I think this is an important goal to reflect the prototype in the 1950s.