Before and after

By Tim Shackleton

These wagons were the outcome of a conversation with Alan Whitehouse, who'd seen a 7mm 'unpainted' wagon I'd done and wondered if I fancied having a crack at something similar in 2mm FS.

Original Wagons

Why 'unpainted'? Because the woodwork of many open wagons of the pre- and immediately post-war era - from one-plank machinery trucks through to 7- and 8-plank minerals - was never painted. The LMS and LNER owned large numbers of wagons where the ironwork alone was given a protective coat of paint, and BR continued the practice.

So if they didn't carry a formal livery, what colour were these 'unpainted' wagons? The straw colour of new wood quickly turns a warm silvery-grey - an old, unpainted fence is a useful guide -although the timber used in many wagons seems to have been given a treatment that turned it a kind of telegraph-pole brown. Damaged planks, meanwhile, were replaced with whatever was handy.

Around 1956, there was a sudden about-turn and many opens received a coat of paint (light grey, the standard colour for unfitted stock) for the first time in their lives. Not all were so treated and in the early 1960s unpainted wagons could still be seen running around in an ever-advancing state of decrepitude, with damage-repair replacement planks in a wide variety of 'natural wood' shades. There were also, of course, the ex-private owner coal wagons that were another familiar sight until 1960-1 or so, their once-distinctive liveries and lettering styles all but obscured by peeling paint, replacement planking and advancing years until they reached a stage where they were barely distinguishable from the common herd.

Whatever the scale, the challenge with weathering wooden-bodied wagons is capturing the softened effect that has built up in stages over a long period - fragments of the original livery, by now much faded, alongside piecemeal repairs spanning many years of service. Planks that haven't seen a lick of paint in almost forty years rub shoulders with virtually new timber. A door is replaced but given no further attention and after a few years, it looks as tatty as the rest of the wagon. And so it goes on . . . Do note, incidentally, that the top two planks on 7- and 8-plank wagons are a continuous length of timber and, like the curb rail immediately above the solebar, will be replaced in similar fashion, rather than in sections.

To paint these wagons I chose much the same colour palette that I use in the larger scales, taken from Lifecolor's useful 'Weathered Wood' set, augmented by 'Burned Black', 'Track Brown' and 'Rust Base Colour' from other weathering packs. In this application I prefer acrylics (Lifecolor are by far the best I've tried) because they're fast-drying - important when you're painting individual planks - and because they're much more effective than enamels when applied in thin, semi-translucent coats.

Gouache is better still, on both counts, but I didn't have any white to hand and white is essential in 2mm work because colours are so much paler and more subdued compared with 4mm, let alone 7mm. Colour is as much subject to scale considerations as dimension and proportion and to my eye most proprietary paints are balanced out to something around 1:48 scale, popular with the military modellers and also of course the American O gauge standard. All shop-bought colours therefore need toning down by the addition of white or more correctly a pale beige, otherwise they look far too intense.

The first step was to take a biggish brush and paint each wagon, inside and out, with a thin beige mixed out of white, brown and black shades (tiny specks only of the last two). This knocked the colour back closer towards scale - especially important with the ex-PO wagons, whose bright colours would quickly have begun to fade. Then, using a good-quality No 1 candle-flame brush, I began painting each plank on the inside of the wagon with variations of the same mix, one plank at a time with very little variation of colour but sufficient to be noticed. This was a warm-up exercise prior to painting the exterior planks in the same way.

Having finished the planking - we don't want anything to stand out too much, so be wary of any wood colour that looks like it's just come from Ikea - I painted the ironwork with a No 0 brush in barely discernible shades mixed from the brownish acrylics mentioned above. A very thin wash, inside and out, of Burned Black filled in the gaps between the planks and suggested shadows where there are none. I then airbrushed the exterior with a fine mist of ComArt/Medea 'Pale Dust' which is a pale skintone-coloured acrylic filter that has the effect of (a) fading everything down nicely and (b) subtly merging the different tones.

The final stage, having painted the wooden solebars as before, was to airbrush the underframes with a darkish browny-grey, again mixed from the same basic palette, before finishing with touches of local colour to break up that 'airbrush' look. Unlike the underpinnings of fitted stock - passenger or goods - these will not be liberally coated with brake-block dust; for the most part, the brakes on unfitted stock were used as parking brakes and underframe colours, in consequence, are a patchy mix of faded black, brown and rust shades.

Article reproduced by kind permission of Hornby Magazine ( . Text and photographs copyright Tim Shackleton.