Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Steam Locomotive Colors

George Dimond, courtesy Central Vermont Railway Historical Society
 For many years model railroaders were told to paint steam locomotives "Grimy Black" - which is basically a flat, dark gray.  In addition, model railroaders started weathering steam locomotives to appear so old, dingy, and poorly maintained that they looked like they were on the verge of falling apart. 
Supposedly this made the models look better in the low light levels typical of most model railroads - and all that weathering supposedly made the details "stand out." Really, it was another example of the extreme weathering - to the point of caricature - that gripped the hobby in the 1950s and still hasn't let up in some quarters. 

Studying prototype pictures, at least of the Central Vermont, shows the shop and road crews took great pride in their iron steeds, and the locomotives showed a hard-working, but well maintained appearance even in the last few years of steam. 

This shot shows 2-10-4 no. 707 arriving in White River Junction in September 1953. By this point she's the last of her class in service and would soon be relegated to standby duties out of White River Jct. She may be dusty and soot covered in this photo, and appears to have been working hard out of the road, but she's most definitely not gray. 
An even better example is the lead image of 4-8-2 no. 600 being readied for another run at the White River engine terminal. In March, 1954 she's not only not gray or "Grimy Black," she's shiny!
The lesson here is to feel free to paint your steamers black, and to take it easy on the weathering. 
If you find there's not enough light in the layout room then consider adding more lighting to your layout instead of lightening your locomotives. 



3 comments:

  1. When the CNSiG created their line of CN paints, they worked with a well known custom painter and developed a "Warm Black", just for painting locos and dealing with the issues you describe. It is a rich black, but doesn't hide the details and looks very good under layout lighting. We should harass Scalecoat to offer said colour as part of their product line.
    I use it for all steam locos and most tankcars and coach roofs these days.

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  2. YES, Marty, YES!! I have always maintained that black is black and if our layout lighting isn't up to the task, the solution is NOT to paint the trains a different color. I was part of a modular group for a couple years and the gray steamers really stood out over and against the factory painted 'black' engines (even though they may use an off-black, it was still darker than the custom 'black' engines).

    Part of the problem is John Allen. For all his fantastic contributions to the hobby, inspiring countless modelers, even myself (my first hand-laid track was a timesaver), he was a strong proponant of painting everything in colors appropriate to the lighting. Fine, if your trains never leave the room and your lighting never changes. But our lighting choices are far more numerous and less expensive, I'd bet, than in John's day. He also studied art and understood color. How many have copied his efforts without understanding the fullness of what he did and why?

    Anyway, thanks for sticking up for us black-is-black folks. Muted colors belong on distant images on the backdrop, not our foreground trains.

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    Replies
    1. Galen,
      I know some who claim John Allen, and his chief self-proclaimed disciple, George Sellios, set the model railroad hobby back three decades. I don't necessarily agree, but I do think the caricature weathering school of modeling certainly dominated the hobby for years.

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