Time to Weather: Custom Operator N Scale DASH-9 – ScaleTrains.com Inc.
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Time to Weather: Custom Operator N Scale DASH-9

An Article by Justin Sobeck
I remember hearing of the BNSF merger in the mid-1990s through the railfan press and growing up along a former Burlington Northern line, I recall fondly seeing some of the first newly painted BNSF units to hit the rails. The “Heritage One” scheme or “H1” as it came to be known, has long been a favorite using the former Great Northern color palate with Santa Fe font and logos. In order to understand how to effectively weather a locomotive, one should consider how it becomes dirty, how it is washed, and lives outside 24/7. The use of dated prototype photos helps one to understand the changes a unit goes through during its career. In this case, a Google search of BNSF 974 netted dozens of photos from both sides of the locomotive across the BNSF system. I settled on the post-2013 appearance because it was the most interesting, and worked for a project I had in mind for this unit.
To begin weathering, take a look at the prototype photos and plan out your approach. While I leaned on my artist past for some style and technique here, you don’t have to be an artist to weather effectively. A good palate of earth-toned acrylic colors works the best – Black, Pavement, Glacier Gray, Burnt Umber, Sienna, Territorial Beige and Warm Buff were all used, as well as a lighter shade of green, some yellows, and orange as the primary body colors are also useful to restore the colors over the dirt (washing, paint touch-ups, clean spots, etc).
Let’s also discuss some art terms so you can understand how the effects are created:
  • Burnish: to wipe or polish a surface clean
  • Dry Brush: a technique used to finish any surface in an uneven way, creating irregularity associated with aged materials
  • Fade: to lose brightness/vividness of color
  • Stippling: the process of painting with numerous dots or specs
  • Underpinning: a way to add depth to the light, medium and dark colors
  • Wash: a semi-transparent layer of colors
  • Weather: to wear away or change the appearance or texture of something through exposure to the elements
As far as other supplies go, I used a pair of tweezers, various round and flat sable and stiff brushes, Q-tips, Tamiya acrylic thinner, and paper towels. The total time spent weathering this locomotive was more than 6 hours across multiple sessions.
I started by first applying the details provided loose in the box: mu hoses, air hose, plow and cut levers (a spot of glue to the end that inserts into the locomotive is sufficient). They fit up really nicely in the pre-drilled holes. The next step is to cover the windows and numberboards. I use Tamiya masking tape because it works really well and can be burnished down easily. This will keep any stray clear coat or paint from damaging the glazing. Once you cut the masking tape to fit, and it is applied over the windows the number boards of the locomotive, also place tape over the bottom of the trucks and wheels of the locomotive as well.

We will spray a dullcoat across the locomotive, as the weathering application will need something to grip to. Since the factory finish of this model is a satin finish out of the box, getting a flat surface allows the washes to coat more evenly. While it’s drying, look up the app appropriate prototype photos of the locomotive in either your era or location. The 974 was found to be dirty and with a gray air conditioning box on the conductor’s side 2014, so this is the appearance that we’re going to go for.

As mentioned above for the color selection, I used acrylic craft paints which are readily available at any local craft, hobby shop, or big-box retailer. The idea here is to show how realistic weathering can be achieved with available materials. An airbrush is also helpful for lighter weathering tasks, but not necessary for a moderate or heavy job. This model was accomplished with a variety of techniques including washes dry brushing underpinning and stippling.


Start by washing the radiator intakes and air filter grills of the locomotive with a wash of pavement – this works best for this, with a little brown mixed in. Carefully remove the handrails using a pair of tweezers to allow access to the walkways. This will help to continue the fade of the red walkways several of these H1 units were delivered from General Electric with red walkways. Our unit already has a pink fade, so a mixture of black gray and light/dark browns bring out the well-worn look. Paint the couplers a rust color of your choice lighter would indicate a newer or replaced coupler, darker one that’s been in service for a while.
Apply a wash of lighter green over the green portions of the hood, radiators, and cab. This underpinning will help add depth and fade to the dark green, which has held up well in nearly 20 years of service. Upon review of the prototype photos, note that the yellow stripes were a combination of faded, dirty or washed out with primer coming through. I simulated that on the appropriate parts of the locomotive with some gray and lighter yellow, brushed along the stripe. For the dirty sill stripe, dry brushing and washesof the underframe added this effect, with the application of circa 2005 era conspicuity stripes along the frame really making it stand out.
Next is an overall wash of diluted burnt umber and pavement across all surfaces of the locomotive. Work from the bottom up, making broad and quick brush strokes to keep the pigments of the wash moving. Add more water if your wash is too thick, or dry your brush if there is too much wash. Let these dry, and evaluate if more is needed. The *trick* to keep in mind while weathering is to stop just before you think you’ve gone too far, or simply less is more. The other benefit of using acrylic paint is that it can be burnished off, washed, or moved around to suit your desired effect. The stairwells and pilots get some dry-brushing effects and lighter washed to simulate the extra grime these surfaces are subjected to. For the exhaust stack, paint the inside black or pavement, wash some burnt umber and sienna around the outside for that toasty look, and finish it off with some stippling of gloss black for oil soot. Burnish off the top of the stack if it looks overdone.

On to the trucks. The bearing caps on the center axles are a dark rust color, and some of the springs and bearing boxes have been replaced with primer gray or rust-colored components, so dress them up to your desire before continuing with washing and dry brushes. One often overlooked item in weathering is the ends of the fuel tank, which was painted in a medium brown color, as this is surface that is hardly ever washed, and receives a constant application of mud and other road dirt. Follow this underpinning with a wash of pavement, let dry and then apply a wash of light brown to simulate any rust in the nooks and crannies of the trucks, and then a lighter wash of the dark brown for additional road grime. The fun feature on fuel tanks is to feature some diesel residue around the fills, gauge and overfill vents, along with some grime around the air tank drains – washes of gloss black or dark brown accomplish this.
If you feel your have applied to many washes, or want to burnish some clean or bare spots back into the surfaces, a dry Q-tip rubbed in the direction of wear or wash pattern adds an additional layer of depth to the surface with more color variety. Use some water or acrylic thinner if you require a more aggressive approach, remembering that you are in reality washing your model. The photos of the 974 showed an interesting application of the conspicuity stripes on the engineer’s side of the locomotive off of the sill stripe, and I used some from a Microscale BNSF locomotive decal set, although they are available from a variety of sources. They were applied with an X-ACTO knife after cutting from the sheet and a quick soak in distilled water. Once dried in place, a quick swipe with some Solvaset will make sure they stay put. A top wash of burnt umber or pavement provides that not to clean look to any burnished areas, and seal the deal with another application of dull coat.  Unmask the windows, touch up around them if necessary. Clean the wheels if you happened to have some wash stray onto the treads, and your model is once again ready for service.
Equipment weathers differently, just as we all model differently – so don’t be afraid to practice on an older model or other surfaces first to better understand your own technique and perfect your own style. Just like a haircut, every weathering job has the potential to be the best yet!
I hope that this article and photos are inspiring to both new or long time modelers, and enhance your enjoyment of the hobby.
Justin Sobeck is a lifelong N Scale Modeler and lives with his young family in Pacific, Missouri. When he’s not working at his day job as a Rail Safety Specialist for the State of Missouri, Sobeck custom paints and weathers model trains as a side business called “Cedar Summit Customs.”