New Product Spotlight – More News from York

22 10 2013

Yesterday we showed previews of some of the major new releases coming in 2014 debuted last week in York. Of course there were lots of other products on display as well. Here are some of the highlights.

Weathered Locomotives

B&O weatherered

Weathered B&O Sharks


Weathered UP 9000


Weathered PRR Sharks

Samples of the UP 9000, PRR and B&O weathered sharks, all featured in the 2013 Fall Catalog, were all on display. Each weathered model will be hand-weathered by artist Harry Heike – a beautiful and personal touch to make your models unique. The extra touch of weathering really brings out the details on the models.

Norfolk Southern Heritage

Preproduction samples of all 10 shells for the Heritage SD70ACE and three of the ES44AC O Gauge locomotives were on display as well as many of the American Flyer versions as well.


Conrail Heritage in American Flyer…


…and in O!


Nickel Plate Heritage


SD70ACE’s too. Here are the Wabash…


…and the Reading.


PE set

The Polar Express colors work very well on the FT.

From the new Polar Express Streamlined Passenger set to our new home-decor items, Christmas came early in York. (Even Santa showed up!)

Look for more Christmas product blog posts in the coming weeks.

American Flyer

mint car

The American Flyer Mint Car looks like a million bucks!

In addition to the new Heritage locomotives, there were several other American Flyer cars shown was well, including the new mint car.


Samples of many of our LionChief Remote sets ran the days away on our display towers. There were plenty of other traditional locomotives, sets and cars to see as well.

SF Set

The new Santa Fe Scout was just one of many LionChief Remote sets operating.


“Where the Wild Things Are” Mint Car


We had enough new Made in the USA cars to fill an entire wall, including Presidential series cars and the Armed Services series flat and box cars.



Scale Locomotives and Rolling Stock

A few more goodies to round out our display.

L&N 2-bay hopper

L&N 2-bay hopper

Freight Car Friday – Improving Flatcar Decks

4 10 2013

Throughout October, we’ll be featuring several easy projects you can use to improve your freight car models. Whether you are just getting started with “weathering” and customizing models, looking for ways to make your models unique and more realistic, or just need a relaxing modeling project for the weekend ahead, these posts may provide just the inspiration you need. So you say you’re not fond of “dirty” model trains? Don’t worry, many of the projects ahead can be done without adding a lot of extra grime or even changing the finish of the original model at all.

Improving Flatcar Decks

Even an empty flatcar deck offers an opportunity for the modeler.

Even an empty flatcar deck offers an opportunity for the modeler.

Flatcars and gondolas offer some of the greatest modeling possibilities with a virtually unlimited number of loads that can be added to them. We’ve shown how to model some loads already and we’ll present two more in the coming weeks. But every load will look better if it sits on a realistic platform.

For this project, we’re using one of our traditional plastic flatcar models. If you have a Lionel train set, there is a pretty good chance you have one of these in your collection. These same techniques can be used with just about any plastic or metal model however. We’ll make some notes along the way for how you could modify these techniques for our scale cars with real wood decks.

Our first challenge is to make a plastic car look like it has a wood floor. In most cases, the wood floor of a car is not painted on the prototype. The expense would quickly be worn away by the rough treatment the car will receive in service. This beating also leaves plenty of gouges and even broken boards.

Distressing the Deck

deck texture

A few passes with some 60 grit sandpaper adds a wood grain effect to the deck boards. You can add additional scratches and scrapes to represent abuse from loads.

You can decide how much abuse your car needs for yourself. If you want to add a little wood grain to your car simply rub it with some 60 grit sand paper or scratch away with a hobby knife blade. This process will go much faster with a real wood deck so start with a light pressure and built up to the desired level of punishment. A prototype photo (we’ve got a few of those here!) can be a big help when trying to get the right look.

Masking and Painting


Carefully mask all of the steel areas of the car – anything you don’t want to turn to wood.

Begin by carefully masking off all of the “steel” parts of the car. Regular blue painters tape will work well for this. Make sure to get the tape pressed tightly against the car. You can trim the strips to width with a hobby knife. The grooves in the floor make a good guide for a straight cut. If you are going to spray the car, don’t forget to mask all the sides and ends too. If you are brush painting, you can avoid this masking as long as you don’t get too crazy with that paint brush!


Peel back the mask to reveal a sharp contrast between the wood and steel. If you have any bleed through spots, don’t worry; they’ll be easy to cover with subsequent weathering.

To represent aged wood, use a light gray primer color. For a brand new deck, a light tan works well. Keep in mind that freight car builders did not use “green” lumber. It was carefully stacked and dried for as much as two years prior to being used on a car to prevent it from warping and distressing on its own once in place. So even a new deck would likely show some signs of age.

If you don’t have any experience with an airbrush, don’t worry. This is one of those jobs that will turn out just as well with a rattle can of primer from the hardware store. On the other hand, if you don’t have any experience with an airbrush, a simple project like this would be a great place to get started!

painted deck

The painted deck already looks much more like wood but it is still too uniform.

Paint the entire deck. We can come back and highlight individual boards later if desired by hand painting lighter or darker “wood” shades on individual planks. If you don’t want to paint these with a brush, tape off individual boards or groups of boards and spray with a can or airbrush.

For real would decks, skip the paint and use a stain. You can find aged wood gray stains in small jars at your home or hardware center. Apply the stain with a foam brush. You can apply it to the entire deck or just selective boards to represent recent repairs. Although you can wipe the stain off the “steel” parts of the car quickly if you go outside the wood deck, masking these areas is still not a bad idea.

When you’ve finished painting, peel back the painters tape. You will already notice a dramatic difference. Before we continue however, let the paint dry thoroughly overnight.

Adding Depth


A quick wash with some diluted black paint brings out a lot of detail and adds to the aged look.

Now we want to highlight, or more correctly shadow, the lower parts of the deck. To do this we’ll apply a weathering wash. This process was described in more detail in an earlier blog.

Using a very thin flat black paint, brush paint the entire deck. Allow the paint to soak into all the cracks between boards. After the paint has had a few minutes to set, you can wipe off any excess from the tops of the boards. If you take off too much and you don’t have the desired look in the cracks, you can reapply the wash. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to leave a little black on the tops of the boards either. It will help add to the final affect.

Apply as many washes as necessary until you are comfortable. Remember, no two cars are the same. There is no “right” way to weather yours and the train will look better if you don’t try to make them all “just right.”


Now that we’ve brought out the detail, we can finish our deck treatment by highlighting the boards themselves. Weathering powders or chalks work best for this. These powders can be found in a variety of hues. Again, we’ve covered weathering chalks in an earlier blog if you’d like more information. Pick several of your favorite grays, browns and black and mix them on the car.


After brushing several shades of weathering powders the deck has a well-used yet maintained appearance. Even if the rest of the car is not weathered, improving the deck makes a big difference.

The heaviest weathering should be focused towards the center of the car where most loads would be placed. Use black or dark gray to add a healthy layer of grime to the middle of the car. You can now highlight individual planks with lighter colors to help vary their aging. Add unique stains in random locations with other colors to represent further load damage.

While we’ve focused on the wood parts of the deck, this weathering can go over the steel portions too. It all gets scratched and dirty. If you want to add some heavier “rust” to the steel parts of the deck, consider using oil paints.

Again, how much you apply is up to you. One advantage of the chalks however is that a wet sponge or paper towel will quickly correct any “mistakes” or bring you back to the start if you think you’ve gone too far.

Final Details

The deck itself is now finished. If you are modeling an empty car you can leave it at this. Many flatcars and gondolas aren’t as “empty” however and you can sprinkle a few extra blocks of wood, a piece of chain, bailing straps, etc.  from previous load restraints on the deck for that extra little bit of realism even if you’re not going to add a full load. If you do want to add a load, we’ll start one of those projects next Friday!

Make A Scrap Load for a Gondola

21 11 2012

If you’ve been following our conversion of a gondola from one of our Scout sets, you’ve seen just what can be done with a little work. This week we’ll finish this project with a simple but interesting load to complement our railroad bone yard.


With a load of old locomotive parts, our gondola is ready to roll.

Scrap metal comes in many, many varieties. Often, there is no visual clue as to what was scrapped; the metal is compressed, bailed or shredded that well. Sometimes however you get a pretty good look at what has been recycled. Such is the case with this particular load. In keeping with our railroad bone yard theme, this car is carrying the remains of several locomotives and cars on their last trip by rail.

Making a Base

A scrap of foam serves as the base for the load. Labeling the underside will be helpful when you have more than one.

Like the tarped load we featured in an earlier blog, this load is designed to be removable. You can take it out to run the car in loaded/empty cycles or swap it out with other cars of the same dimensions.

The base for the load was made from a scrap of 1/8″ rigid foam insulation sheet. Cut the base for a close fit. On the bottom, identify the car the load will fit. This will help later on when you have multiple loads for several different car types.

Making Scrap

The scrap for the load itself was created in the same manner as the shells and parts strewn about the bone yard. Disassembly, and when necessary cutting old shells provides a bounty of potential.

Just remember to wear proper protection when cutting and follow these steps to create material for your load.



A plastic bag prevents the load from sticking to the car.

Before you start to assemble the load, lay a plastic bag in between the car and the base to protect the floor and sides of the gondola from the glue.

Next smear a heavy layer of white glue on top of the foam base. Arrange the pieces of scrap as you see fit, covering the entire base. If you are working with a lot of metal parts, be sure to balance the load.


Pour on a thick coat of white glue. Don’t worry, it won’t look this bad in the morning.

Finally, completely secure the load by pouring a heavy layer of white glue over everything. Don’t worry, it will dry clear.

Leave the car to rest and dry for at least 24 hours before removing the load.

Paint and Weathering

Once the glue has set, remove the load from the car and peel off the plastic bag.


Paint and weathering hide any faults and highlight details with slight contrasts in color.

Finish the look by painting the load. Shades of rust and grimy black work well. Use acrylic paints to prevent attacking the foam base. Apply with a brush and take solace in knowing that neatness won’t help much with this project.

After the paint has dried, you can add more color and highlights with weathering chalks. Just weather the load the same way you treated the car itself.

There you have it! Compare the finished model with a new one in the photo below. In a few evenings you can convert an inexpensive car into a one-of-a-kind model sure to turn a few heads. And when people ask, you can proudly say, “I made it.”

Before and After

It only takes a few evenings to convert an ordinary train set car into something unique.

Freight Car Friday – “Empty” Gondolas

16 11 2012

Gondolas present lots of interesting modeling options for the amazing variety of loads they carry. But an “empty” gondola can be just as much fun! That’s because most empty cars aren’t completely empty after all.

wood debris

One of the more common finds in empty cars is left-over bracing from previous loads. This can include wood, steel bands, and more. It is easy to recreate with scraps of scale lumber.

This week we’ll take a look at some interesting empty finds that may inspire you to add some details to your fleet of gons. These little treasures add a fun discovery to a passing train for the observant watcher.

close up

Here is a closer view of some of this discarded packing. Also take notice of the extreme wear on the inside of the gondola. The side sheets have bulged out and completely separated from the floor. Some steel angles have been welded to the posts to prevent further damage and the entire interior has taken a rusty color – easy to recreate with some of the weathering techniques we’ve shown this month.

You could also use the technique described in our modeling covered loads blog to build a false floor and replace your “empty” car with an equally interesting load.

load debris

Another common remnant in empty cars comes from the load itself. This car has a nice coating of dust and aggregate to complement the beaten look of the interior. You could recreate this with some fine ballast, plaster or even cement mix.

You can click on any of the images here to get a larger view to help your modeling. What details have you added to your empty cars?


Here’s a car that has been hauling new railroad ties for many years. The walls and floor are coated in black creosote and the floor is completely covered with wood splinters. You could easily recreate this look with some sawdust or pencil shavings and a can of black spray paint. Just mask the exterior of the car first.



Here’s another tie car – this one was rebuilt from an old pulpwood car. Like the previous gon, the interior is blackened with creosote and the floor is likely covered with wood too – somewhere under that massive puddle of murky water! Usually water will find a way out of a gondola before accumulating like this, but what a neat look it would be on a model.



This car might be more interesting empty than loaded! The large rack is used to support steel sheets on an angle. Otherwise they would be too wide to ship by rail. The floor of the car is also strewn with discarded banding from previous loads. This is common for many steel shipments. The rack could be fabricated from plastic or brass shapes. Thin strips of electrical tape could make respectable bands.


Living Load

If you don’t have a load, grow your own! This car has obviously been parked somewhere for a while. Likely used in company service collecting sediment, the car has fostered its own ecosystem. Live loads like this also occasionally sprout on top of covered hoppers used in grain service. Any of the scenery products available could be used to recreate this look. The most extreme example I’ve seen was an old gondola used in maintenance service; a tree had grown so large in the car itself that it set off a high / wide clearance detector. That was an interesting radio conversation!