Painting Trucks

In the past, when I completed a new model freight car or locomotive, I would paint the trucks black, add some weathering powers and call it good. I wouldn’t spend a whole lot of time on them for the most part. In recent years, for me, that mentality has changed. I began to look at trucks as models themselves. And, with all of the highly detailed truck kits on the market in HO through Gauge 1 and above, this allows the model builder to further add realism to their models.


I know a lot of us are not “rivet-counters”, however, I would say most of us are, at the very least, trying to capture the feel of the real thing.

A Closer Look at Trucks

So what exactly do we see when we are looking at our trucks? Well, on most railroads, they painted the trucks and wheels black, similar to the image above. After a time, the sun would quickly change the black to a faded dark grey. Further oil deposits, mud, and dirt would collect in and around all of the wheel bearings. If the equipment was being used on regular service, you might see less grease and grime. On equipment that was used less, quite a bit of the truck could be covered as seen in the next image.

So Let’s Add Color

When I think of painting my models, I like to add layers as the prototype would:

With these steps in mind, let’s look at adding color to our trucks.

First, the undercoat. I paint my entire truck a flat acrylic black from AK Interactive. Make sure you cover the entire truck as this will show through the weathering and add shadows to our details. Similar to illustrating, we use our darker colors first to make our details jump out and add depth to our drawings or, in this case, our models.


Now we can begin to add rust to our model. Start with dark color first. In this case, I am using AK Interactive dark rust. Build up your color in areas that would naturally see rust, such as the moving parts of the brake details, wheels springs, and sideframe where rocks and elements would come in contact with the moving train.


Now I add my highlights. I use medium rust in my airbrush to further highlight areas of newer rust. You can also use a brush to dry-brush color onto some of the details if needed.


Seal your model with a flat overcoat and allow that to dry. This is important as the rest of our weathering will be done with enamel paints and we want to protect our undercoats.


I’ve been spending a lot of time on military modeler forums and they use washes of thin enamel or oil paints a lot. I have been practicing with them and these techniques are perfect for us model railroaders as well.

Once our sealer is dry, I will coat the entire truck with a light coat of Track Wash. This is very thin out of the bottle, suitable for an airbrush however, I use mineral spirits to further thin to a really light wash. This is done with a brush and dabbed onto the model letting the thinner carry the wash into all the cracks and crevices. Additionally, I will add color full strength in spots and dab thinner mineral spirits onto the spot. This wash will tone down your rust and blend it into the undercoat.


To finish up my model, I will use real dirt, Earth and Engine Grime washes.

I will add earth color and dirt on my pallet thinned with mineral spirits. Blend them together and brush this onto the wheels, springs, journals, and sideframes. When using the washes, think of how rain will flow over your model as well as the wind. This will affect when the dirt and grime will collect.

Finish by spraying everything with a flat sealer and polish your wheels (if the truck is in service).


    1. I used two methods in the past which seem to work well. First, a polishing wheel in my motor tool or fingernail polish remover (only should be used on metal, not plastic). I have not tried masking the wheels with masking tape but that might be the easiest.


  1. Looks great. I’m actually a little scared to weather up my $65 Protocraft trucks lol.

    I usually do my HO trucks with rattle cans. Chalk black on the trucks and camp brown on the wheels. Then hit with pigments and if it’s a newer car paint the bearing caps blue.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: