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Rusting the rails

Richard T


Having completed the building of the trackwork, and glued all the templates to the baseboard, it was time to bed the templates in to the scenery. There are several things to do: painting of the rails, building up of the ground layer around the track, and finally ballasting the track. Clachbeg is in the far north west of the Scottish Highlands, so rails would have very quickly acquired a rusty patina, and the traffic was hardly intense enough to coat the rails with the sort of grime which we are used to from modern railways.


I had tried painting the rails using a small brush, but was not happy with the result. The larger rails were somewhat grimy (I suppose I could have cleaned them before building the track; bit late now...) and the lighter rails were shiny.


I also tried rail weathering solutions, but was far from convinced: they merely resulted in matt and blotchy rails; perhaps they are better suited to outdoor rails (or freshly-cleaned ones).




Finally I decided to simply spray-paint the rails, then lay the ballast, then colour ballast and sleepers (and rails) with a dirty wash of scenic glue when I secure the ballast. That ought to tone down the rust and blend the colours. I used small cans of HMG “Dark Rust” from Howes Models; not sure how much I needed, I ordered four cans, and in the end used two.


Having settled on a plan, next thing was to find time to tackle it...




The entrance turnout. The rail to the left has been painted by hand with a paint which is supposed to rust naturally; after a week it remained grey, but I was unhappy with the quality of the brushwork rather than impatient with the natural rust.


This is the tedious part: I used 2"-wide masking tape along the outsides of the rails, and ½"-wide tape between the rails to mask the sleepers and—in the corner where I have already started the scenery—the grass and existing ballast. There will be some overspray, but I am not too concerned about that, as long as I can avoid intense colour or hard lines. Taping the turnouts is quite fiddly; this was the first, and I rushed it, so shall have to return with a paintbrush to touch up some places.




Masking the station loop.


I had tried painting the rails of the mine spur using a rust-coloured paint pen by Woodlands Scenics: easy enough (if rather pricey), but I was not happy with the outcome: the shiny Code 148 rail shone through the paint even after a second coat was applied, and the pen was not suited to coating the complications of the fishplates and their bolt-heads and nuts properly.




The light rail of the mine spur, and the branch line behind. I was a little worried about overspray, but the spray cans proved pretty accurate.




The mine spur.




A first impression: I was pleased with this. This was my first attempt, and it went fairly well. There was some overspray onto the sleepers where the tape had gone around spike heads, but I don't mind some rust stain on the sleepers.




I should have protected the wall better, but the overspray there will be easily sorted.




The bridge and culvert. Some overspray caught the timbering; I took a brush and painted some paint thinner onto the sleepers, where it was drawn into the grain and rather effectively drew out the rust colour and seeped it into the wood. I’ll tidy this further once I’ve applied the final wash of dirt. At the moment the rust is rather bright against the scenery colours.




I needed a break from the fumes of the spray paint, so I decided to build up some of the terrain. I mixed up Artex powder with water and remains of tubes of watercolour paints, and black ink. The colours don’t make much sense, but I wanted anything earthy rather than white, so that should anything chip it won’t look unsightly. I applied about 500g of plaster at a time, using a small sculptor’s trowel, and then brushed it smooth with a water-laden paintbrush.


I am building up the ground around the tracks to about the tops of the sleepers; I’ll fill up with ballast to the same level, and then blend earth and ballast in some places. I want to recreate a reasonably well-maintained look to the “main line” track, whereas the sidings will be less well-ballasted; grass will complete the effect I am looking for later.




The turntable benefits from being buried in the landscape.




At this point I have completed the ground between the front of the layout and the tracks, as well as between the tracks. Before working behind the rear track I shall form the platforms from foam board, then bed them in with plaster all around them. The buildings will later sit on the platform bases.




The station loop with the stonemason spur in the background. The foam board will be cut to fit the platforms. This rail is still unpainted in the foreground: a part of me yearns to keep it that way...




Having cleared the air from the first painting session it was time to finish the job. An hour of masking sleepers, then five minutes of spraying. Here we see the turntable turnout.




The crossover turnouts. I sprayed each rail from the side, both front and back, as well as longitudinally at the turnouts to colour the rail inside the check rails as well as the sides of the switch rails. Overspray is not an issue here, as this will all be coloured as the scenery progresses.




The turntable pit and buffer stops.


I protected the backscene here with adhesive foil meant for protecting carpets when decorating: a good idea, and I am sure it will work, but applying it single-handed was very tricky; I envisaged becoming wrapped in it and unable to free myself... The smudgy marks are from my fingers as I unrolled the foil and stuck it against the backscene.




Stonemason spur.




With this the rail rusting exercise was by and large completed, and despite keeping the garage door wide open all the time I was light-headed from the spray paint smell. Time to take a break!




The same scene once the paint had dried. It only took a few minutes to peel away the masking tape...




The track does look much more realistic now...




I spent some time with Ballistol oil cleaning paint from the tie-plates and ensuring the switch rails move smoothly. I also touched up any shiny metal which remained. I’ll tidy the sleepers once the ground cover and ballasting are finished.



With that, the rails are done, so I can proceed with ground cover and ballasting.

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