Friday, September 30, 2022


 The question mark in the title of today’s post will remind older readers of previous discussions of this topic on my blog. And that stems in turn from a clinic my late friend Richard Hendrickson used to enjoy giving. He would open with a photo of a “ready-to-run” model right out of the box, shiny as anything, and then show a prototype slide of fairly new car, but of course showing signs of service. He would then put the original model shot back on screen, and dramatically exclaim, “Ready to run? I think not.”

He then went through the steps he himself used to prepare such models until they really were, in his standards, ready to run. I’ve described the same sort of process in this blog, but not recently, and in any case, my own approach has evolved a little. So I’m going to show it one more time.

I have somewhat arbitrarily chosen a new “R-T-R” model from my shelves for this project. It’s a recent InterMountain product, a 40-foot PS-1 box car. It happens to be L&N 6255, and though not “mirror glossy,” it is certainly shiny. As you can see, it has an 8-foot door, in common with new PS-1 orders by L&N totalling more than 2000 cars by the time I model, 1953. This particular car has a built date of April 1952.

My first step with a model like this is a coat of flat finish. I usually prefer the Tamiya product (their number TS-80), because of the far more dependable spray can, but do use Dull-Cote sometimes. The car has to be flatted for the next step, application of my acrylic-wash weathering process, because the water-based washes won’t “wet” a glossy surface.

Now some may comment that a new car just out of the builder’s shop would indeed be glossy. That’s true. But prototype photos of cars only a month old already show a duller finish and often a few chalk marks. If you model a specific month, as for example Richard Hendrickson modeled October 1947, then yes, a car built that month can be clean and shiny. Otherwise, I would maintain, a shiny car is a poor model.

So once the model is entirely flat, I weather just the roof, with my usual mix of acrylic tube paints (I like Liquitex), Neutral Gray, Burnt Umber, and Black. The water-base wash method is fully described in my “Reference pages,” linked at the upper right of this blog post. I might mention here that roofs got dirtier than car sides, as many prototype photos show, and I usually weather accordingly. Here is the car at this stage. It’s obvious how bright and white the unweathered lettering still is.

Why just the roof? That way, I have lots of model to hang onto while working on the roof. And in the following step, I can hang onto the model with the roof and underbody (or truck bolsters), while working on sides and ends. I have occasionally tried doing the entire car at once, but for me at least, it’s unnecessarily difficult and I often make a mess.

This might be a good place to mention trucks. Though most wheelsets coming with an R-T-R model have at least somewhat blackened wheels, they are at best semi-gloss and too pale. Moreover, the sideframes are usually jet black and glossy. Though my preliminary overcoat of flat finish mitigates the glossy sideframes, the whole truck still needs work.

I brush-paint the wheel faces with Tamiya “German Grey,” XF-63. I used to paint the axles and the insides of the wheels too, but since it’s almost impossible to see those surfaces on a layout, I no longer do that, just painting the wheel faces. While I’m at it, I usually dry-brush some of the Grey over the sideframes. The photo below shows the result. 

In this photo you can see the flat gray wheel faces, along with the coupler sides and trip pin, and a kind of highlighted gray on the sideframe. Note that the “NEW” date here is 4-52, so my modeling year of 1953 would have found this lettering still in place, along with the builder emblem next to the door. Work on the trucks isn’t finished. I will come back to them when I weather the car sides.

Next step is to weather the sides, very much like the process of doing the roof. This car is not too old, so I don’t want to make it very dirty, but do want to tone down the bright white lettering. The photo below shows the left side at this point. Note the dark splotch toward the right end of the visible side, at the top. I sometimes add things like this, which one certainly sees in occasional prototype photos, for variety.

You may also note the bulge upward in the running board, where it has come partly unglued from the roof. I have no idea what kind of adhesive is used in assembling these models, but I am confident it is not canopy glue. I simply run a razor blade under the running board from end to end to complete the “de-gluing” process, then re-glue with canopy glue. It is not only a tenacious adhesive, but remains flexible for years. Etched metal parts I canopy-glued 25 years ago are still fine.

My last step with the overall model is a coat of flat finish to protect the acrylic pigments of the weathering. Without that, a fingernail scratch can mar the acrylic layer, but flat finish is very effective in protecting it.

Finally, I add chalk marks with a white Prismacolor pencil, and add a small rectangle of white or manila-color paper to the route card board. With most models, I would also have to paint-patch areas for the reweigh and repack stencils (as I have described in this blog numerous times), but this car is so new it would not even have required a repack by the time I model. So the model is complete, as shown in this view of the right side:

I have spent the space to describe this finishing process fairly fully, just to clarify the steps I would pursue on any so-called “ready-to-run”model. My friend and mentor Richard Hendrickson was right: a model like this that you acquire is really only “ready to finish.”

Tony Thompson


  1. Nice job, Tony. Even a minimal amount of weathering makes a huge difference in a car's appearance.

  2. I think most Kadee cars use very little glue; the parts mostly are attached by friction. The roofwalk should snap back into place if you push the bulge down (it attaches to the roof with pins iirc).

    I am thinking of gluing the running boards on my Kadee LPG cars as they are do not touch the underframe in several places.


    1. You are right about Kadee cars, but this is an InterMountain car. Running board was glued, not with pins as the Kadee cars have.
      Tony Thompson