This section deals with weathering the track....  If you have some questions about the methods used here, please drop a mail to the author Kevin Brady, or look in the FAQ which will come soon.....   

Well, our first lesson in weathering is track, K-track that is. But just because I'll be talking K-track doesn't mean you can't apply these techniques to the new C, the good old M, or other track from other manufacturers.  
What we are trying to do is to make our rails look like the prototype. So take a walk on a nice sunny day near some real railway tracks. Look at the color of the rails, the ties and the ballast. Mainline, branch line, an old abandoned siding. Take a few notes and some film in the camera won't hurt! It becomes clear that model track is nowhere near realistic in appearance. Even on a well maintained mainline, colors differ.

K-track is code 100, which means it is oversized to the prototype, so by weathering it (i.e. painting) we can make it look smaller. It's simple fashion tip really, dark colors make you... I mean the rails look smaller.

Tools & materials

Here's a list or tools and materials we'll need to weather our track. 

  • Paint 

    A dark rust colored paint. I use Floquil's roof brown for the rails. Real rail (steel) rusts to a dark brown. Also find a light grey (I use Floquil's grime) and an earth color (this should be an earth color you use for your scenery). Flat or matte finish, needed when you hand paint your rails.

  • Magic masker

    This is an uncured latex product that you use to 'mask' the third rail, it is available from e. g.
    Micro-Mark - The Small Tool Specialists and Walthers Model Railroad Mall

  • Airbrush

    This is the best tool one can use for not only track, but structures and many other uses around the layout. It's also the fastest way to weather a whole lotta track! 

  • Paint brushes

    Your going to need two types in this school, very good ones and some cheap ones. The good ones for detailing the track if you choose to dry brush or hand painting the rails. A few cheap ones for applying the magic masker (it's tough to clean off the brush) 

  • Extra "scrap" K-Track 

    A few short never to be used sections will be needed to connect to the sections to be painted and mask not only the rail joiners but also the brass tabs that serve as the 3rd rail connectors when airbrushing. It would help when hand brushing too.

  • Cleaning tools

     This includes thinner (for your paint your using) Q-tips (or cotton ear cleaners, the name depends on where you live :-)), to clean the rail heads after painting, and a cleaning block to make sure the rails are clean.                                                    


Preparation of track
First thing we need to do is prepare the track for painting. Start applying the 'Magic masker' to the top of the 3rd rail studs. Use a small cheap brush to cover the center rail of all the track to be painted. It will take about 15 minutes to dry. With the first piece of track to be painted connect your "scrap" track (I use odd sections of left over flex track)
Painting the track
Fire up the airbrush with your rail paint, test and begin by painting from the sides, covering completely. Disconnect the scrap rail and begin on the next piece. When the track is all painted, come back to the first piece and add a little light grey (I use Floquil's grime) to your rail color. The ratio isn't important. Now from the top, looking down on the track, spray this color side to side hitting a few ties here and there, doing all the track. Come back again, now add an earth color to rail paint and again from the top hit other
ties with it. When done clean your airbrush! This will give the paint time to 'tack' (start drying). Solvent based paint takes about 12 hour, but the new acrylics are much faster (10 minutes). Now take some Q-tips of a rag damp with solvent for your paint and clean the rail head of paint. Get most of it off, the next day you can take a cleaning block and really clean your rails. 

My next step after the paint is very dry is to dry-brush the ties with  earth colored paint to bring those nice details, like the wood grain and tie plates. How do you dry-brush ? Well, it's not as hard as one might imagine and is a technique we are going to use on every model we weather. Practice on some of that scrap track you used to mask the ends of your track. Take a brush and dip just the tips into the paint. Now on some old newspaper wipe off most of the paint until only a trace of paint remains, that is dry, hence the term "dry-brush". Use a light touch and just hit the top most part of the ties and tie plates, leaving only a hint of paint. Don't overdo it, check your results. See how this brings out the detail? Now try it on your 'real' track, don't do every tie, you're going to need time to actually build a layout:-)) 

If you are going to use Merkur road bed you can now remove the 'Magic masker', simply rub your thumb along the studs and it peels off. If you are going to use the loose ballast method, leave it on until after you have ballast. That way you only have to clean the rail heads.
Why did we do this?
Before we go on, let us review why we did what we did. Remember your walk along the tracks? You noticed the color of the rail (a brown rust color), you also took note of the ties and how some where dark, some light (the grey and earth color) .You also were able to take notice of the way the sun hit the wood grain and tie plates (dry-brushing, which could be called brushing on sunlight). This painting makes our model track look like the prototype and brings out the detail to make them models in their own right.  
Now wait a second, I don't own an airbrush!!!
Can I still weather my track? Sure you can, it's just going to take a bit longer. Still use the 'Magic masker' on the center studs and at least put some old rail joiners on the ends so clean up will be easier.   Use a good paint brush that is just about the size of the rails (#1). Paint the rails with your rail color. Getting some on the tie plates and ties? Don't worry about that, tie plates would be the same color as the rails and gravity, rain would bring some rust on the ties too. When dry do some dry-brushing with the light grey and earth on some of the ties. Something amiss? Those ties you didn't dry-brush are a bit too shiny. Let's take care of that. Get some flat (matte) finish in a spray can and coat those unrealistic shiny ties!  How is it looking now ? Good ? 
Just a couple of tips with hand painting. 
You must be very careful when doing turnouts not to get too much paint on the movable parts. Paint especially water-based types are almost like glues and will stick together your points (turnouts). This not a problem with airbrushing as the paint is almost dry when it hits the track. Use care and move your switches right after you paint them so they don't stick! Also if you know where some track will go you can really get away with only painting one side.
Want to go a step further with detailing your rails? 
Here's a few tips I've come across: Whether you use Merkur roadbed or loose ballast, you can add a thin black wash(1 part paint to 6-10 parts thinner) and run this mixture down the middle of the tracks. This would show the effects of grease and grime left by locos, at Bw's, long grades where heavy trains struggle to climb, stations, etc. Thin wash of earth color paint along the outside of the rails, to show the dirt kicked up by passing trains and settles back down. 
Don't forget to also match your signal lanterns and turnout motor covers to match your rails. Once you've weathered your track and have seen it's effects on your layout, you'll wonder how you ever got by without! 

Good luck and have fun!!!


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