The first step is to strip the paint, if the item is metal. This I do in a large, sealed jar of 91% Isopropyl Alcohol from the drug store. Some vintage paint is almost impossible to strip with alcohol (for example Lionel paint—the alcohol is just not strong enough) but the average vintage brush painting job will normally strip pretty easily. I let the car sit at least 24 hours between scrubbings with an old toothbrush and picking on the stubborn places with a dull blade. It takes days to strip any one car normally but you can come back to it just a few minutes every few days and get quite a number of cars ready to paint.
After that I paint the car. If the item is all metal you can scrub it in water with a little dish soap, but if not I like to wipe down the corners and metal areas with a little alcohol. I spray paint outside on our trash cans and now an admission: I use spray cans. I know an airbrush would be cooler, but years ago I had bad experiences with an airbrush and the cans are quick and efficient. Plan on a number of light coats! On average the cars below reflect on 4-5 coats of paint with the bodies oriented at different angles to assure full coverage. Some colors cover better than others but I plan on about 3 cars per can of spray paint, which is why I do projects in groups. It is best to use up an entire can on a series of cars rather than have a little left and try to get a good finish weeks/months after starting the can.
Also, years ago I figured out that a simple but neat paint job and decals do wonders for vintage cars. It is not hard work and very satisfying to see a car go from being a junker to a star. Below are two groups of cars painted in recent weeks. As I write this the paint is almost done curing (I like to wait until the paint smell is gone before applying decals) but they will be ready for decals soon! As to applying decals, I have some notes in this article, but to that I would add have the decals in mind before you paint and they need a glossy surface to go on well. More notes and tips follow.
- First up is a Graceline Pullman troop sleeper. This is a rare model (more on it here) and I was excited to have this one come my way recently. This particular car was missing a roof! Fortunately, a substitute was in the parts supply and I was able to duplicate the roof hatches based on the instructions and photos of other models.
- Stepping back a second, many of the items in this group required masking. I was hesitant to mask for years after bad experiences with standard masking tape. A colleague suggested that he used Tamiya masking tape which is a great product. As I only had to paint the roof of the troop sleeper it was masked off in the same manner as the other cars that needed masking in this group. If it is a multi-color paint job be sure the paint cures well on the first color before you apply the masking tape and the second color.
- The next car going clockwise is a scratchbuilt wooden baggage car. This was nearly completed by William Gilbert and he was intending it for a maintenance of way train. However, I wanted to run it in more of a 1920s setting and completed the details (hand grabs and such) and painted it to decorate for that era. I hope to assemble a Graceline old time coach that will closely match it as a nice pair of cars.
- The tender is Scale-Craft. It will be used on an 0-6-0 that is in the shop and was ready to paint.
- The solid red caboose is Schorr (more here). This one is pretty much stock but had been built up by a prior owner and brush painted, and an owner in between had stripped off most of the paint. I completed that job and this will be decorated for my Orient.
- Next is the body and tank for a Scale-Craft 4-6-4t. I am looking forward to getting this running; more on the model here.
- Next up are the two Scale-Craft caboose bodies. These will be decorated for the PRR in a prototypical scheme.
- Finally, hiding underneath is a Scale-Craft gas-electric car body. An eBay purchase a few years ago, this one I have all the parts ready to put this together with the early style drive with the big S-C universal motor. Will be interested to see how it comes out operationally.
- First up is that horizontal rib boxcar. This scratchbuilt model was started and nearly finished by William Gilbert and is similar to the one seen in this article (scroll down a bit). It still needed doors and a frame among other details.
- Next is a Picard scribed 40' boxcar. Not real remarkable but a rebuilding project to which I added new ends, a new roof, and new doors. It will be decorated for the Missouri Pacific.
- And then the first of three Scale-Craft stock cars which I will describe all at one time. The two on the right are going to be ATSF cars and both I built new roofs for. Both were vintage cars from eBay; one had no roof and the other had a strange replacement roof. These cars require a long roof and Picard roof stock won't work at all, so one has a roof made up from two pieces of Eastern roof stock and the other has a mystery roof from the scrap box. They are set up to be ready for ATSF decals. The other car on the other side of the photo has the lettering board on it that it came to me with which will be decorated for the T&P and also a stock roof for comparison.
- Next up is another Schorr caboose. This one also came to me partially rebuilt. One thing I really have wanted for a while is an ATSF caboose. They had a series of wood cabooses that were generally similar to the Schorr model with the cupola being the main detail that did not match. I modified the cupola with a plastic insert to take it to this point; this car will look great on the layout with the ATSF engines.
- The last two cars are also Scale-Craft, a flat car with a new deck and also a boxcar. The flat car will be ATSF and the boxcar I have some options but leaning toward Cotton Belt.
The main thing to note is it is not that hard to bring cars to this point and decals are not that hard either. The key, again, is multiple, light coats of paint. Another tip: start spraying when the can is not pointing at the model and move it across the model quickly while spraying. This technique and light coats of paint will make a huge difference if you have had bad experiences with spray cans.
UPDATE: A group of eight of the above cars with their decals, all came out well I feel.