How to weather your first model

06 July 2022
Looking to create a subtle weathered effect on your latest locomotive purchase but not sure where to start? Phil Parker has the answer with this step-by-step guide.

Can you weather a locomotive to look clean?

Steams locomotives, by their nature, are mucky things. Dirty coal goes in one end, and smoke and ash comes out. As they work, dirt is thrown up from the trackbed and also falls out of the sky. Those who have seen photographs from the end of steam will know, some can look filthy.

Travel back in time, though, and crews took pride in their locomotives. With labour being cheap, the main lines employed plenty of cleaners to spruce up the fleet. While small narrow-gauge concerns might not have enjoyed the same staffing levels, there was still a pride in their appearance, and so the crew wouldn't let their locomotive get too mucky.

Our subject today is a Heljan OO9 Lyn, although all these methods are applicable to any other steam locomotive, in any scale.

The model is in 1907-1923 condition, early enough that it would be looked after, but also before much in the way of useful photography became available to show us how it would have appeared each day. Even photographs available must be suspect because taking an image was quite an undertaking, so the crew would likely 'bull' the locomotive up to show it off.

There are some colour images of the later days of the Dinorwic Quarry, showing locomotives with paintwork that had been cleaned occasionally, though retaining dirt around certain areas. It's still not quite the L&B in its prime, but it's a start.

My aim is to produce a model that looks reasonably clean, but is working for its living. That's partly because this isn't an inexpensive model at £240 (RRP), but also because the L&B was always well presented, and so, being covered in dirt would be inappropriate.


The first step is to give the chassis a light dry brush with Humbrol 70 (Brick Red) to add variety to the colours under the footplate.

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On the roof, I'm dry-brushing Humbrol 67 (Tank Grey). You can see the way it highlights the rivet and hatch detail, bringing this alive. The effect needs to be subtle, less paint on the brush than you might think, and keep working it over the roof until you're happy.


Let the paint dry, then add shadows under the footplate with Citadel shading ink - Agrax Earthshade – or mucky brown – as it's better described. This will gather in the nooks and crannies, exactly where real dirt would collect.


Painted brass never really looks right to my eye, but a wash of Citadel Nulin Oil, black, over anything that purports to be metal, makes a big difference. I'm treating the whistle, safety valves and also the cylinder ends.


Now for the really mucky stuff – weathering powders. I'm not subtle here, just splodging on plenty of 'Dark Brown' on the sides and 'Smoke' along the top of the boiler and cab. Work the powder into all of the corners, the places where dirt will gather.


What a mess! I've added some rust on the cowcatchers and pale grey in front of the smokebox where ash would be shovelled out at the end of the day. You would be forgiven for feeling concerned that the model is ruined at this point.


Time to replicate the efforts of the locomotive cleaner with a series of damp cotton buds dipped in water. The aim is to remove most, but not all, of the dirt on the tank and cab sides. Weathering powder will become liquid once damp, and this encourages it to gather around rivets and detail as you clean away.


It might take a few cleaning sessions, but eventually, the model starts to come alive. I've aimed for a clean machine, but one that is in use every day.


Of course, the finishing touch is a sprinkle of coal dust over the plastic stuff in the bunker. A thin coat of slightly watered-down PVA holds the fuel in place.

Ready to have a go? Here are the products you need;

60 'Tank Grey'
70 'Brick Red'
9 'Anthracite'
Citadel (Games Workshop) shading inks
Agrax Earthshade
Nulin oil
Weathering powder
Dark Brown
Light Rust
DoubleO Scenics
Light Grey

If you enjoyed this, why not try:

Creating rust effects using hair spray

Weathering track without an airbrush

Top tips for using weathering powders

How to get started in airbrushing

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