Equipping Several Railroads At Once is the Challenge
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You may have picked up on it by now, but on the La Plata Division I am operating several different railroads at multiple points in time. They just all happen to use the same track. The only way to sell each version of “reality” is to eliminate anachronism while using accurate groupings of equipment. Within any given operating session, or environment, the key word is TYPICAL. What might a person see on the Moffat on any TYPICAL day in that era? The best way to answer that question is to do a lot of research, particularly studying photos. Just because a model sits on a store shelf wearing some railroad’s lettering does NOT mean that it’s accurate. The manufacturers are getting better, but it’s never a safe bet. I like my environment to be convincing, so I try to do my homework as much as possible.
That said, I don’t usually spend a ton of money on my freight cars; I don’t find the additional detail to be worth the extra cost in most cases. That’s not to say that every car I have is an Athearn shake-the-box kit from 1968, but I do have some. (Incidentally, you can really dress up a cheaper car with careful weathering!)
Visually, realistic weathering is a huge key to realism. Clean equipment is rare in this environment, and I try hard to make the appearance of my fleet reflect reality. An actual railcar stays clean until its first trip down the line; after that, grime and dust are the norm. For my weathering projects I usually use the drybrush method, with a thin overspray of grimy black or flat clear paint to blend and tone down the colors. I have even put graffiti on one car as an experiment, and it looks so right that I’m afraid I must now do a bunch more.