Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The problems of Dark Olive Green

There has long been a challenge for modelers of Southern Pacific passenger equipment, and that is to reproduce the color commonly known as “Dark Olive Green” or DOG. The actual SP color drift panel for this, which happens to be Common Standard Color #1, is called “Dark Olive,” and the “green” part is added for clarity. I happen to have one of these drift panels, so can compare various model paints to the SP drift panel.
     Below I show a photo of the drift panel black envelope, and next to it, the drift panel itself, photographed in full sun. You may note the panel is shorter than the envelope length. Some years ago, I cut off a strip to loan to a brass importer (which shall remain unnamed) and never got it back. Nowadays I would not be willing to share information in that way.

I have shown this envelope and its drift panel before, though in that case it was a scanned image, not like the photograph above, taken in sunshine. But the previous post does have some commentary congruent with my present discussion (you can see it at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2012/11/modeling-sp-passenger-cars-coast-mail.html ). It is in any event obvious how dark this color is, though how dark the image looks to you will depend on how dark your room is right now.
     How can we best match it? There are two parts to any answer. The first part is to find a model paint that matches the drift panel shown above. As it turns out, the military Olive Drab paint colors (in some versions) are very much like the SP color, and so are some versions of Great Northern Empire Builder green. But paints come and go, and some of the paints once recommended for DOG, such as Polly S (Floquil) “Olive Drab,” their no. 500850, FS 33070, is at best hard to find today. The same goes for some of the Badger Modelflex colors, such as their “GN Green,” no. 16-65, though there is a pretty good Modelflex military color, “Olive Drab,” no. 16-96, FS 34097. Of the two, I think the FS 33070 is better.
     (You may ask, what are these “FS” numbers? They are from a set of Federal Standard (thus FS) numbers, strictly from Federal Standard 595C, identifying colors for government procurement. This concept originated in the 1950s for military colors, and does describe a wide variety of U.S. military colors, but now extends to more than 600 colors of all kinds. They do not have official names, just numbers, and the only description is an FS color chip. The entire FS list is now going to be handled by the Society of Automotive Engineers [SAE] as SAE-STD-595, but I understand the numbers will not change. Military modelers regard them as the gold standard.)
     Today we have better alternatives for SP DOG. Both the Star Brand and Tru-color lines now include colors intended to match DOG. The Star paint, STR-29, called “SP/UP/D&RGW Dark Olive,” is quite a good match, and so is the Tru-Color version, their TCP-135, “SP Dark Olive Green.” (Probably most modelers know this by now, but Tru-color paint requires a primer undercoat when applied to a resin model, as it does not stick to resin by itself.)
     I should mention that in this post, I am only discussing a particular paint color, not entire paint schemes. For the latter, there is no better reference that the book by Jeff Cauthen and John Signor (Southern Pacific Painting and Lettering Guide: Locomotives and Passenger Cars, SP Historical & Technical Society, Upland, CA, 2013).
     I am sometimes asked how one should compare model paints, prototype paints, etc. I have airbrushed model paints onto white card or white styrene to serve as something to match to an SP drift panel. I usually match model paints to the SP color drifts in indoor light, since that is where my models will live, but in most cases when I have repeated the experiment outdoors, the indoor good matches remain good, and the less good indoor matches remain inferior.
     I said there were two parts to the answer about matching DOG. The second part has to do with modeling with light levels below daylight levels. However you choose a starting point for a model color (from the discussion above), all these colors are quite dark. Color photos of SP equipment painted DOG usually looks considerably lighter than what that DOG color presents in indoor lighting. Shown below is a Bruce Heard photo, taken at Fresno in July 1958 in full sun. You will note that the car color looks a lot lighter than the drift panel shown at the top of this page, though it is clean and glossy, certainly not badly faded in service.

This photo appears in Volume 1, on coaches and chair cars, from the SPH&TS series, Southern Pacific Passenger Cars, (SPH&TS, Pasadena, 2003) on page 254.
     Modelers have commented on some of my SP passenger car colors, that they seem light. That is true, and entirely deliberate. (for examples, see this post: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2018/02/my-pullman-projects-part-2.html ). I want my models to look like the Bruce Heard photo above, even though my layout room doesn’t have Fresno-intensity July sunlight in it. Now we enter the realm of what you want to see in a color. I plead guilty to lightening the color of most of my SP passenger equipment, so it looks less like the drift panel and more like the Bruce Heard photo. Of course, as the saying goes, your mileage may vary.
     Shown below is one of my AHM Pullman conversions, discussed in a prior series of posts (you can access them by using the term “Pullman” in the search box at the top right of this blog post). It is a conventional 12-1 (12 sections, 1 drawing room), with air conditioning ducts added and its name, Tuolumne, chosen from the roster of heavyweight sleepers SP purchased from Pullman in 1948.

This color doesn’t really match the Bruce Heard photo above, but it is headed in that direction.
     Incidentally, true Pullman Green is definitely not the same as the SP’s DOG. To my eye, Pullman green is darker and lacks the olive tone, comprising yellows and browns, that is visible in DOG. And as would be expected, paints such as Scalecoat Pullman Green do not match the SP drift panel at all. The point here is that you should not substitute Pullman Green for DOG.
     This particular color discussion, centered on SP’s DOG, can stand for any number of dark prototype colors that we modelers have to “duplicate” in indoor lighting. It’s a value judgement by each of us, not science or engineering, and probably best seen as a question of Art.  As an engineer myself, that seems “wrong” at first, but I have learned to understand and accept it. This is just one more example of a set of modeling paths among which we all have to choose.
Tony Thompson


  1. Tony -

    Has anyone tried to locate the original Dulux enamel formulas for this and other long-sought colors? In 1969 I worked for an automotive paint jobber. We sold Dulux, and we had or could get formulas to match fleet colors (I remember mixing Qantas airlines red and Porsche racing silver). That is how SP or any other fleet operator would get paint locally (as opposed to ordering it factory mixed for the main shops). The Dulux brand has been sold to ICI or PPG or somebody, but I am convinced that the formulas are still on mixing cards in the back of somebody's file cabinet. It might be difficult to duplicate them without access to the tinting colors, but has anybody tried? Best, Dan Smith

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  2. I have found the Star Brand DOG the best match when I prime it with Privateer Press P3 black primer in a spray can. I've noticed that it brings out more of the olive tones.
    Thanks for all of your information on SP.