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why are model locomotives painted a dark gray instead of black?

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why are model locomotives painted a dark gray instead of black?
Posted by gregc on Saturday, March 17, 2018 6:30 PM

here's a photo (left) of a nicely painted locomotive, i believe in service near Boundbrook, NJ, prior to being scrapted in 1956.   Also, a Reading I-10 that show rust on the smokebox but still shiuny black paint elsewhere.

  

 

greg - Philadelphia & Reading / Reading

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Posted by wvg_ca on Saturday, March 17, 2018 6:56 PM

dark gray shows detail better than black, especially on the sizes we normally view at

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Posted by 7j43k on Saturday, March 17, 2018 8:24 PM

I just ambled over to my bookcase:  5 brass engines.  4 painted BLACK, 1 unpainted brass.

So, mine don't appear to be grey to me.  Being as they're black.

I will semi-disagree with the previous post.  I don't think the benefit of using grey paint is because the model is small.  I think it is because the light level is much lower than outdoors.  But, yes, details will be easier to see with some form of grey.

Now, when/if my locos get weathered, there'll probably be a bit of greyness added, among other things.

I think the "amount" of greyness is pretty important.  TOO grey will look, well, grey.  And TOO black will make the details harder to see (which is true of my aforementioned locos).

And then there's the level of weathering one is seeking.

 

 

Interesting topic to explore,

 

Ed

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Posted by NHTX on Saturday, March 17, 2018 8:38 PM

    Indoor lighting does not approach the brilliance or intensity of natural sunlight.  A pure black model viewed at normal distances becomes a black shape with only the most pronounced features visible.  Also, black is a color that is quick to show the effects of the elements.  Any body that owns a black vehicle can attest that a couple of days after you wash it, a patina of atmospheric dust becomes readily visible on it.  Visualize a piece of railroad equipment that may see a paint shop once in ten or twenty years and you will see that once was black has aged to a gray or brown.  To replicate this on a scale model viewed under artificial "daylight", a dark gray paint is used to suggest black.  Personally, I use burnt umber for a grimy weathered black that has a tinge of rust to it or, a dark gray for faded black.  The majority of the "black" railroad equipment we see has been exposed to the elements for months, if not years, and is no longer truly black.  Fortunately in recent years some manufacturers have picked up on this and gotten away from pure black which obscures the details we pay good dollars for them to put into their products.

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Saturday, March 17, 2018 8:39 PM

I paint my locomotives a mixture of four parts black, one part white, and one part red to produce a warm dark gray.

This is so they look reallistic. Real locomotives are painted black, but they are illuminated by the sun and have large surfaces to reflect light. We cannot duplicate this effect in the train room.

We can duplicate it in photographs, but the eye cannot adjust white balance, ISO speed, or exposure time.

The warm dark gray also photographs better because I do not need to make the exposure so long that whiter colors get washed out.

-Kevin

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Posted by Southgate on Sunday, March 18, 2018 2:17 AM

Nice pictures Kevin. What brand and medium of paint do you use? Dan

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Posted by Graham Line on Sunday, March 18, 2018 2:35 AM

I think it was Paul Jansen who started the 'gray' trend with his sunbleached southwestern South Pacific locomotives. Suddenly everyone from Washington to Maine was painting locomotives gray.

 

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Posted by doctorwayne on Sunday, March 18, 2018 3:57 AM

I don't paint my steam locomotives grey, nor do I use just black.  Instead, I use four different versions of black, depending on where on the locomotive each will be applied.
For the cab and the tender's sides, I use black with some white or grey added.  The boiler and tender deck gets the same black, but with more white or grey added, while the frame and running gear of loco and tender get the same black as the boiler, but with some red added.  If I want oily-looking drivers and siderods, I'll add some silver or graphite paint to the mix.  Finally, the smokebox and firebox get black with white, grey, and red added, to create a brownish-grey. 
Any details which require additional colours, such as window sash, roofs, tire edges, etc., are airbrushed or brush painted as necessary.
The running gear and trucks get a very low-sheen semi-gloss clear coat, the boiler a slightly shinier semi-gloss clear finish, and the cab and tender sides get a fairly glossy coat of clear finish.  The tender deck is Dullcoted, while the smokebox and firebox get no clear finish at all, as the dead-flat paint is the look I'm after.

Most of my locomotives aren't weathered too heavily...labour was still cheap in the late '30s era of my layout, and the railroad and its employees take pride in the operation.

A modified Bachmann Ten Wheeler...

A modified brass model of a B&M B-15 Mogul...

Re-detailed Proto USRA 0-8-0...

Re-detailed brass CNR 0-6-0...

...and a similar one, done for a friend who didn't want it lettered.  Here it is, just painted...

...and after weathering as requested...

Athearn USRA Mikado....

A re-built brass CNR Mogul, done for a friend...

A re-worked brass USRA 2-10-2, done for the same friend...

One of my Bachmann Consolidations...

Graham Line
I think it was Paul Jansen who started the 'gray' trend with his sunbleached southwestern South Pacific locomotives. Suddenly everyone from Washington to Maine was painting locomotives gray.

I recall those days, but some roads did paint locomotives  grey, especially the boilers.  CNR and CPR had some, as did, I think, DM&IR and probably others, too.
When Bachmann first came out with their Santa Fe Northern, I bought one and, inspired by photos of real ones in grey, did my modified version in a somewhat similar fashion...

Locomotive builders often gave new locomotives a grey wash for their builder's photos, as the grey better-showed the details.

Wayne

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Posted by richhotrain on Sunday, March 18, 2018 4:24 AM

When I saw the title to this thread, I was hoping for an answer to a question that I have often wondered about. Some of my steamers have the front of the bolier factory painted gray, but the rest of the locomotive is black. Did the prototype follow this practice and, if so, why?

Rich

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, March 18, 2018 6:52 AM

richhotrain
Some of my steamers have the front of the boiler factory painted gray, but the rest of the locomotive is black. Did the prototype follow this practice and, if so, why?

To answer this question it helps to know that the 'gray' paint is usually a high-heat coating on the prototype, usually involving either graphite or aluminum.  The smokebox on a locomotive with a Master Mechanic front end 'sees' a great deal of internal exposure to hot exhaust gas, cinders and ash, complicated further when 'self-cleaning' arrangements of screening, or cyclones or the like, are mounted inside.  Much of the heat from these is communicated directly to the shell without the benefit of convective heat transfer to water as in firebox legs.

While some railroads jacketed the full length of the visible boiler, the practical thermodynamic benefits of lagging end at the front tubesheet.  It is easier and cheaper to leave the smokebox part of the barrel exposed, but most kinds of black paint used elsewhere on a locomotive, even if well primed, would blister or even char if in an area exposed to high spot heat.  Hence the use of graphite in oil as a covering against rust, easy to 'touch up' when necessary.

I believe a few roads used paint on smokebox fronts for 'show' -- Boston and Albany being the one that comes first to mind.  Someone here will know if 'tarpon grey' had a special formulation.  In my opinion very few roads which lagged the side of the smokebox also lagged the front (even when using special latch arrangements on the access doors there) except when 'semi-streamlining' them, so you might expect to see the effect of a 'white face' there.

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Posted by snjroy on Sunday, March 18, 2018 8:11 AM

Graham Line

I think it was Paul Jansen who started the 'gray' trend with his sunbleached southwestern South Pacific locomotives. Suddenly everyone from Washington to Maine was painting locomotives gray.

 

 

That is a good point. Looking at pictures, you can see that geography counts. In Eastern Canada, steam locos came out black from the shop and started to rust way before they got dusty like the locos from the Western dry US states. Some dust did come from the ground, sticking to the lower parts of the engine and the tender. The color of the local ballast often landed there, from what I can see from the pictures.

Simon

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Posted by Graffen on Sunday, March 18, 2018 9:20 AM

I use both black and grey depending on what kind of weathering and results I desire.
This SW7 is painted a dark warm grey to represent a faded black.

This C19 is painted black and then weathered in various grey and beige tones to both lighten the color and weather it.

On this K27 I started with a grey primer and painted it with engine black in light layers to let the primer shine through, and thereby give a faded and lighter color.

All of them has been weathered afterwards of course. But it's easier if you have a weathered base to start with...

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Monday, March 19, 2018 12:19 PM

Southgate
Nice pictures Kevin. What brand and medium of paint do you use?

Dan,

Thank you for the compliment.

I use Scalecoat 2 colors. Engine Black, Reefer White, and CN Bright Red.

Let me know if you have any other questions.

-Kevin

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Posted by Lone Wolf and Santa Fe on Monday, March 19, 2018 3:37 PM

There is an old theatre trick that is also used in movies and TV and it works in the real world too: If you want to hide something paint it black.

Modeling a fictional version of California set in the 1990s Lone Wolf and Santa Fe Railroad
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Posted by selector on Monday, March 19, 2018 6:42 PM

From the the combat arms, even better is to paint an alternating series of banding, with varying widths, of light colour and dark colour.

Whatever you do, don't move!  Movement is the single greatest giveaway.

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Posted by ricktrains4824 on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 8:20 AM

Must be a steam thing.

My NS Diesels are black.

And I mean black.

As is my model of WNYP 430. Black, Not gray, Black.

Now, detail places have a different color, but the main body color is definitely black. 

Ricky W.

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Sunday, March 25, 2018 11:51 AM

Lone Wolf and Santa Fe
here is an old theatre trick that is also used in movies and TV and it works in the real world too: If you want to hide something paint it black.

Absolutely true.

I use this trick all the time to hide things on models I don't want to be noticed.

Black paint is great for hiding what should be hidden.

-Kevin

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Posted by Dutchman on Tuesday, December 29, 2020 6:00 PM

Good afternoon.  Possibly it was Mr. Jansen who started making the "grey" color popular, or possibly John Allen.  The grey's photographed much better for detail and shadows.  Mr. Jansen (My late father's acquaintance) was an exceptional photographer and artist.  He made dioramas for his weathered locomotives and photographed them outside using ambient sunlight and backgrounds.  Mr. Jansen had many dioramas including the SP Mission Bay engine servicing facility and the old Oakland Mole.  I recall visiting his home on a couple of occasions - I believe it was in San Mateo - in the mid-to-late 1950s when we lived in Lafayette, CA.  He was fond of a delightful poundcake-ish treat that was called "Honey Cake." Fond memories, though slightly faded!  Owning a Paul Jansen-painted loco would be a family heirloom.

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Thursday, December 31, 2020 11:37 PM

Dutchman
Good afternoon.

Welcome To the Model Railroader dicsussion forums. Your first few posts are delayed by the moderators, but that will end soon enough. Please stick it out through the delays and join in our conversations.

-Kevin

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Posted by rrinker on Thursday, December 31, 2020 11:45 PM

 Though an old topic - they painting of model steam locos a more grey than black seemed to be most popular when B&W photography was the order of the day - the details reporduced easier. Lighting and contrast issues, as mentioned. Or else people were copying builder's photos they say - the real things were often given a coat of water based lighter color paint over the shiny back when posed for the official builder's photos, then washed off. I saw this mentioned somewhere - I think in Fred Westing's Baldwin book. Considering he was the official plant photographer for many years, I guess he'd know.

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Friday, January 1, 2021 1:18 AM

Anything painted black in the real world looks gray when exposed to bright natural sunlight. The effects of sunlight reflecting off of a complex surface cannot be miniaturized, so we paint our locomotive models gray.

This is so they look like this:

And not lilke this:

This model is wearing black paint... yuck!

This is gray, much better.

-Kevin

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Posted by doctorwayne on Friday, January 1, 2021 2:42 AM

Well, this locomotive plainly has a black boiler, and pretty-well anything else thay's not painted green is black, too.  However, the smokebox likely hasn't been black since the locomotive was fired-up...

...and this one, another excursion engine, has a smokebox coloured similar to the previous loco.  While the sunlit boiler looks like it might be grey, it's just as black as the sides of the cab and tender...

...and that's one of the reasons I paint my HO scale boilers a lighter black than the cabs and tenders.

If you're painting a locomotive to match a real one, even if the real one is in a photo, the key is to see the colours (and finishes...gloss, semi-gloss, matte) as they are, not as you think they should be.
And, has been mentioned, the lighting of a locomotive outdoors is not the same as the lighting of a locomotive on our layouts.

Paint 'em as you wish.

Wayne

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Posted by gregc on Friday, January 1, 2021 3:52 AM

smoke box vs boiler

greg - Philadelphia & Reading / Reading

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Friday, January 1, 2021 12:23 PM

gregc
smoke box vs boiler

Greg, look at this picture I took of a Santa Fe 4-8-4 out West. It has the boiler jacket removed. That is why the sand box looks as if it is floating above the boiler.

It is under restoration in a Museum's backshop. I was there on thew right day, and it was outside where a crane could access it. Seeing a steam locomotove without the jacketing was a rare treat for me.

In your picture the "smoke box" is the front part of the boiler assembly, and the jacketing over the rear part is what is black. The jacketing would be insulated from the boiler, and not be as hot.

The jacketing would just be painted as normal. The most common color, by far, was black, but some were green, red, or whatever.

This is another steam locomotive I saw out West without the boiler jacket.

The smokebox was generally not jacketed, and the surface was much hotter. Normal paint would not work, so they were protected by different substances, high temperature paint, or maybe something else.

The smokebox in your locomotive picture might not have been "painted" in a long time. It is showing lots of weathering.

This in-process picture shows my standard paint scheme for a steam locomotive. The boiler jacket and cab are sheet metal, so they are basic black (dark gray). The smoke box, fire box, and some mechanicals are graphite/oil/gray, and the cab roof is oxide red.

You are going to reach the end of my knowledge very quickly.

Your question was short, but I hope I helped.

-Kevin

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Posted by rrinker on Friday, January 1, 2021 1:20 PM

 The Reading Mike, that's not Russia Iron, that's RUST. I suspect that photo was from near the end of that loco's service life.

 Graphite paint was often used on smokeboxes to handle the high temperature.

 As for Russia Iron, I don't think there has been any formal consensus on just what color it is - since most locos that used it were long before the days of common color photography. Some say it was bluish, almost like gun bluing. Some say is was a greyish-blue, etc. 

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Posted by georgev on Friday, January 1, 2021 1:55 PM

Having volunteered several years at a railroad museum, I can say that a steam locomotive starts out a nice shiny black but it doesn't last long.  Soot, cinders and atmospheric dirt cover it, sunlight and weather fade it, and heat changes the color in different ways on different parts of the locomotive.  Over the time between paint jobs the locomotive appearance will change quite a bit.  A washing will take off some of the dirt and grime but not all of it and does nothing for fading.  

Do an image search for "Pere Maquette 1225" to take a look at that locomotive changes.  You'll see how it goes from that new "showroom shine" to the look of a hard working locomotive.  It doesn't take more than a few hundred miles over a few weeks. 

I'd say that if you want to paint or weather your own locomotives just do what you like.  Just out of the shop, ready for the dead line, or anything in between is how they really look. 

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Friday, January 1, 2021 2:11 PM

Lastspikemike
The big puzzle is why diesels are so colourful.

Not a puzzle at all.

The development of railroad paint schemes is well documented and researched, along with the reasons it happened. I am sure if you start a new thread in Prototype Information, many people will be glad to help you out.

-Kevin

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Friday, January 1, 2021 2:14 PM

rrinker
As for Russia Iron, I don't think there has been any formal consensus on just what color it is - since most locos that used it were long before the days of common color photography. Some say it was bluish, almost like gun bluing. Some say is was a greyish-blue, etc. 

We had an interesting discussion about Russia Iron a few months ago. No concensus was reached of course.

Lots of interesting contributions.

-Kevin

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Posted by NittanyLion on Friday, January 1, 2021 3:01 PM

Black was cheap too. Those fleets were big, so.. Make it all black. 

You go back far enough and to smaller locomotive fleets with assigned crews who also cleaned them? You have a riot of color that doesn't exist now. 

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Posted by doctorwayne on Friday, January 1, 2021 3:13 PM

SeeYou190

Anything painted black in the real world looks gray when exposed to bright natural sunlight. The effects of sunlight reflecting off of a complex surface cannot be miniaturized, so we paint our locomotive models gray.

This is so they look like this:

Yeah, that one looks grey, but I think that the photo is also overexposed.

SeeYou190

And not lilke this:

Yeah, that one's definitely underexposed, but a little tinkering gives a slightly truer view, although still lacking good clarity...

SeeYou190

This model is wearing black paint... yuck!


In my opinion, the photo above is the best one of the lot, as far as prototypical appearances are concerned.

SeeYou190

This is gray, much better.

-Kevin

 

 
Sorry, Kevin, but I'd respectfully disagree.  The weathering reminds me of that common in the late '60s and into the '70s where random vertical streaking didn't always jive with reality.  The colour of the boiler is, I think, quite appropriate, but the weathering maybe not quite so much so, at least to my eyes.

All things considered, though, I do believe that anyone painting their own locomotives (or anything else on their layout, for that matter) should do it in the manner and method which best suits their tastes and capabilities.  I'm pretty sure that we could find pictures of the real ones which illustrate any of our varying techniques and preferences.

Wayne

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