Thursday, July 23, 2020

Modeling paint patches

There can be all sorts of reasons that a freight car would exhibit a paint patch, but by far the most common, in the transition era, were the dual requirements to restencil cars that either had been reweighed or had journals repacked. I will show a prototype example or two.
     First is this DT&I gondola with a load of auto frames (photo from the Richard Hendrickson collection). Its light weight and load limit have both been changed (one cannot change without the other, as their sum is a fixed value), along with the date and place of reweighing; and toward the far end, the repacking stencil has also been renewed on a paint patch. (As with all these photos, you can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

Sometimes larger areas have received paint patches, when other data have changed or the railroad changes some other aspect of the lettering. The Grand Trunk 40-foot automobile car below is an example (again, Richard Hendrickson collection). At right, dimensional data as well as repack stencil have been renewed. At left also, several items are patched and re-stenciled.

     These paint patches are common enough that they cry out to be modeled. One can easily model them by using a fine brush to paint a rectangle of the desired color in the appropriate place on the model, then add a coat of gloss for decal application. But it turns out it is not so easy to paint a little rectangle with crisp corners. To do that, one answer is decals.
     The extremely useful reweigh decal sets once offered by Sunshine Models contained panels of freight car color, which were black, brownish red, and chestnut red. I show examples of them below. These were printed by Rail Graphics (now out of business) for Sunshine. The long dimension of each panel is about 2.25 inches.

Using these, of course, is very simple. Cut out the appropriate rectangle, apply to model, and apply the needed reweigh or repack information over it. It hardly needs stating that these decals panels are no longer available — though someone else could offer them.
     But what is the answer if you don’t have the Sunshine panels, and would like panels in colors like these? And even if you do have the Sunshine panels, what if you need a color different from the ones you see above? Maybe the railroad you model had freight cars of different colors from the ones above, or perhaps you need to add a reweigh panel to a yellow reefer.
     One solution is to save the blank ends or edges from decal sets, which often have a blank area (if you have it, of course, you can use a whole sheet of blank decal paper) and then paint it the color you want. For the example I used above, of needing yellow, I took an old decal set edge and painted it with Testor’s Gloss Yellow from the rattle can. It’s held here with a normally-closed tweezer, not because it’s hard to hold, but to give it weight while it dries in the sun outdoors.

Obviously any paint color, via airbrush or rattle can, can be used to make panels in the same way.
     Many authors, including me, have posted or written magazine articles previously about how these paint patches can be used on model freight cars. One example is my article, “Reweigh dates on freight cars,” in Railroad Model Craftsman in April 2011, and reprinted (with corrections) in Model Railroad Hobbyist in February 2020 (you can read my post about all this at: ). In a future post, I will show some examples of how I use these paint patch panels.
Tony Thompson


  1. Similar to your technique of painting blank decal sheet with a color, I have used Microscale TrimFilm in various colors and cut to appropriate sizes for this. Looking at rolling stock photos, it is more likely that an exact match of the patch was not common.

  2. I tried that film years ago and found it terribly fragile. I should probably revisit and see how it works now. Using paint, of course, frees you to choose whatever you want.

    I will be commenting on color matching in the next post in this series.
    Tony Thompson

    1. I agree, it is very fragile. I haven't tried coating it with Microscale Liquid Decal Film. That might aid in making it easier to use.

  3. Another method to try, is making a mask of tape the size needed to cover the load limit and light weight data and the station symbol and date. Apply the mask and then weather the car with you favorite medium. Then remove the mask and the appearance is that of the masked area being newly painted.

  4. Certainly this works. But it has two problems. First, the reweigh date already on the car may not be suitable, if it's a ready-to-run car. (Of course, if you decaled it yourself, you can MAKE it be okay.)

    Second, if you weather with acrylic washes, as I do, it is difficult to avoid a little build-up of paint pigment around the margins of that tape. This doesn't look good when the tape comes off. You can minimize that problem by carefully wicking away water at the tape edges as the wash dries.
    Tony Thompson