Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Paint the Track!

Brown paint makes the rails look more realistic.

I recently visited a model railroad that was, by most any estimate, a pretty good layout—good looking scenery, interesting track plan, nice and varied scenes. Obviously, a lot of thought had gone into it.
Except in one crucial area: The track. It was silver. Although the owners had gone to some length to create a believable and credible model, they had failed to paint the track.
The result? No matter how good the overall impression, the layout looked toy-like. After all, everyone knows track isn’t silver!
Maybe I’m being too picky, but I don’t think so. And it’s not like my standards are so high—you won’t find any fine-scale models on my layout (and I still run Athearn blue box locomotives). But in this area I am pretty uncompromising.
For me, nothing detracts from a scene like unpainted track.
I don't claim to be an expert track painter. All I did was use brown and black latex paints, applied with a brush. I didn't worry about matching the exact shade of brown or grey as the prototype. All I wanted to do was to hide the silver sides.
Even Code 100 looks smaller when painted.

That said, I did try to match a bit of the prototype by using a lighter brown for yard or little-used tracks, and a darker brown, or almost black, for the mainline.

To paint the track, I simply put some brown and black paint on a piece of cardboard, then randomly mixed it together. A stiff modeller’s brush was used to apply the paint; after doing a few feet, I wiped the excess paint off the top of the rails.

I also added the brown-black mixture to the tops of the ties, to take off the uniform black plastic sheen.
Even though my track is all Code 100—much larger than on the prototype—I found that by painting the track it looked smaller (especially from three feet away).

Some might worry that painting the track makes flex-track harder to re-use if you ever have to pull it up. I didn’t find that to be the case, although you have to clean the ends if you clip a piece of painted track in mid-track to fit another space (to establish good electrical contact for the rail joiner).
Painting flex-track also stiffens it; you have to bend it a few times to break the paint so it will once again be able to curve.

But those are small things to consider when weighed against how good track looks when it is painted—and how bad it looks when it isn’t.
In my opinion, at least.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree about the difference made by painting the sides; I use one of those Floquil paint pens. I also use the Floquil paint pens to paint some of the ties to break up the uniformity of the black ties on my flextrack. Really fast and I like the look.