This subject, a freight car in 1999, may seem wildly improbable for a 1953 modeler like myself. But it was a challenge I took on for a friend, Seth Neumann, who models part of the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999. He wanted to have a model on the layout of a freight car, quite old by 1999, which could be on its way to the Western Pacific Museum in Portola, California. He chose a Kadee PS-2 two-bay covered hopper, a Western Pacific car built in 1958.
Obviously the first issue was how it might have deteriorated in service (externally) after some 40 years on the rails. Small (by subsequent standards) covered hoppers like the 2003-cubic foot PS-2 were originally mostly used for cement service, but were superseded in the early 1960s by larger-capacity cars, and many were re-purposed for other cargoes. The Southern Pacific, for example, reassigned many cars of this size to carry chemicals or rice. I know that at least some of the WP cars were similarly re-purposed. I decided to model that kind of car instead of a cement car.
Shown below is the manufacturer’s photos of this model. Obviously work was needed to reflect its 40 service years.
The first thing of course is the weathering degree. I decided to begin with acrylic washes to provide a base of general dirt. I then applied a light coat of gloss and applied rust streak decals. These were the same Weathering Solutions decals I used and written about before (see my post about them at: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2017/07/using-weathering-solutions-decals.html ), I didn’t want this to be too heavy or extreme, just enough to suggest a car late in its life.
Next, I needed to deal with all the changes in car maintenance lettering over the years after 1958. Cars had to be reweighed periodically until the 1970s; cars with plain bearings like this car had to have them repacked periodically; brake gear had to be oiled and tested; and in the late 1960s there were ACI labels applied. I needed to reflect all these things. I’m not a historian of the post-1960 era, but will summarize below what I think I know (corrections or additions welcome).
The ACI (Automatic Car Identification) labels were introduced in 1967, and it was mandatory for all railcar owners to apply them, although as late as 1975 only 90 percent of all cars had the labels. But by that time, it was already evident that the system could not continue. Dirt accumulation on the labels caused false readings, as did physical damage like scrapes. Railcar owners were supposed to have an active maintenance program for the labels, but that didn’t really happen. The system was abandoned in 1977, but labels, evidently applied with a really good adhesive, remained visible for many years after.
In 1972, a consolidated stencil was introduced by the AAR for air brake maintenance, and was called a COTS label (Clean, Oil, Test, Stencil) to record work that was done. This was a single black box, and was adopted slowly. In 1974, a two-box label that added lubrication information for the wheel bearings was introduced, and the Federal Railroad Administration made it mandatory for all cars. But the exact format varied from railroad to railroad. There is also a 3-box version used by some railroads.
Finally, cars had been required for decades to be reweighed periodically to determine light or tare or empty weight, but as all-steel cars became predominant, weight variations essentially disappeared, and in the 1970s the reweigh requirement was eliminated. Of course this 1958 car would have been reweighed multiple times, and should display a 1970s date as its last one.
As an illustration about these various elements, shown below is a photo I took in 1981 in San Luis Obispo, California, of a car in a passing train. It’s SP 400502 (SP Class H-70-8, originally numbered 165077), and exhibits the color-bar-code ACI label, and one of each of the COTS stencil types, all in three adjacent panels. This car happens to be heavily cement-stained, but that wasn’t the look I was aiming for. Instead, as mentioned, I wanted to do more of a general service car.
You may also notice above, the ‘yellow dot” U-1 wheel label. These were the result of a 1978 program to identify safe (yellow dot) and “unapproved” (white dot) car wheels, and were mandatory for a short time, but were never required to be removed. They were often painted out
or had COTS stencils put over them in later years, so I decided not to
add a U-1 label.
A variety of modern freight car decal sheets have some or all of these elements, so I dug into my collection and pulled out a few. Where do they go? Perusal of 1980s and later freight car photos shows the ACI labels, and COTS stencils especially, in all kinds of locations on cars (the photo above is definitely only one example). To illustrate this point, I can show photos of covered hoppers with the ACI label in the rightmost panel, in the second panel from the right, and in the third or fourth or fifth panel from the right. I just chose a few suitable places.
Once I had applied all the rust streak decals, and the various special stencils just described, I went back to the model with some acrylic paints and dry-brushed things further to make sure the older elements (such as ACI labels) were suitably dirty, and to increase the “crud” buildup around roof hatches. Here is the model at this point.
Last comes the issue of graffiti. I know many modelers truly detest this aspect of modern railroading, and have banished any hint of it from their layouts. But to me, it’s just plain old reality, folks. Modern freight cars without graffiti are as unrealistic, to my eyes, as modern freight cars with pristine paint schemes and no rust or dirt. Of course, that’s just my opinion, and I know it isn’t universal. So I contacted the owner of this model, Mr. Neumann, and asked if he wanted some graffiti added. He said, “In 1999? Sure.” I just used felt-tip pens to approximate some of the lettering I have seen here in the Bay Area, not the full-car, many colors, shading galore kind of artwork, but just lettering, along with a few tags.
Incidentally, the word “Nesta” is Bob Marley’s middle name, and is frequently seen locally. It seemed to me that the other side might as well be different, so I added the tag “OAKT” that one sees being used to suggest Oaktown, the residents’ tongue-in-cheek way of referring to Oakland (sports fans will know that one of the Warriors’ jerseys in recent years was lettered “The Town” with the same idea).
Remember, this car is supposed to be a retired car, on its way to a railroad museum for restoration and display. But hopefully it looks like it has some history.