Dirty, oily & rusty - a first go at weathering

This is my 16mm scale Darjeeling Class B, a few years old now and starting to look it. So, I thought, perhaps a candidate for a new experience for me, namely weathering. Until now I have resisted the temptation, without trying too hard, as although I can admire a well-weathered model as well as the next rivet-counter, I have never felt the need to try it out for myself. One reason possibly is that regular use of rolling stock in the external domestic environment can, in time, do the job on its own, without any human intervention.

However, one Spring evening, after a short but pleasurable session running trains in the garden, I was flicking through some of my railway photos when I came upon some taken in 2004, on a trip to India and Nepal with Dr Ford and a dozen or so others. Tipong coal mine is in eastern Assam, not far from the border with Burma (hence the armed guards that accompanied us). It uses Class Bs to shunt the coal wagons, and the locos are more weathered by the service than even the most ardent fan of the technique could wish for. So I had my subject, I just needed to find out how to do it.

One of the modelling magazines (I forget which) had an article on the subject, so for once I read almost all the words from beginning to end, without speed-reading over the longer ones. For materials, I realised I needed one of nearly everything, so eBay supplied me with a Revell Weathering Set, supplemented by a ‘Tamiya Weatherine Master’ (I think it reads better in the original Japanese). The former contained a foam-tipped brush and several small pots of paint powder, and the latter a smaller brush and a palette of three oil-based colours, burnt blue, burnt red and oil stain (a sort of burnt grey).

To complete the outfit I acquired a Windsor & Newton water colour marker, probably not intended for weathering use but I was intrigued by the description of the colour shade in three languages: lamp black, noir de fume and negro de humo. No Japanese, unfortunately. And a steam loco would have plenty of coal dust liberally scattered over it, so some small pieces of coal liberated from the West Lancashire Light Railway’s waste pile were ground up, or rather down, to a not-too-overscale size.

The basic method seemed simple enough, just dip the brush into the container of choice and dab whatever comes out onto the area of loco selected. The clever part apparently is knowing what to dab where, for example using burnt red to represent rust streaks on the roof or corroded bolts on the body panels. Trial and error was the order of the day, as it was quite easy to remove any misapplied material with a damp cloth and try again. The Revell instructions advised the purchaser (in four languages) to observe the prototype, and try to emulate what you saw. Apparently there were no limits to my creativity, in English, French, German or Spanish. So it was back to the photos.

It took quite a time, as once you start the whole loco needs to be done (unless you pretend some new panels have been added) and there is a surprisingly large number of square inches of metalwork on a Class B at 1:19 scale. Not to mention the edges, bends, creases and joints, all of which could be expected to accumulate dirt. A tricky area was the motion, which required to be weathered on all surfaces apart from where moving parts slid or rotated. Another aspect requiring care was merging one area into the next, to avoid sudden changes of colour. At least the larger size of the loco meant the weathering substances were relatively easy to apply. Doing it in 00 would require not only smaller tools but also a steadier eye and preferably some artificial magnification.

Once I had reached my preferred level of scruffiness I discovered one disadvantage of weathering – the loco is very dirty to handle! A quick squirt of extra-hold hairspray alleviated this, but I still use string loops to lift the loco in and out of its cradle. It has nowhere near the level of grime exhibited on the Tipong originals, and I was not inclined to add any of the myriad bumps, dents, scrapes and holes that they possessed. But the loco looks realistic enough from the standard 6ft viewing distance, so overall I am fairly satisfied with my first attempt.

With a Summerlands chuffer in the chimney and a Slomo flywheel between the frames, it not only looks the part but can both chuff and crawl in a prototypical manner. So now I have more than just photographic reminders of past holidays. All that remains is to decide when we are going back.

This article first appeared in the newsletter of Southport Model Railway Society.

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