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Detailing and weathering a ‘Mcrat’

The joys of parenthood. Here I am, at 4am in the morning, not able to sleep after trying every trick in the book to settle my daughter and get her back to her bed due to her teething.

In a strange way I am actually thankful, now I can’t sleep so find myself in front of my laptop writing another article about my beloved locomotives!

My layout Annitsford, is based somewhere in the North East. The location gives me a very good excuse to run locomotives with a Scottish flavour, as I used to see them locally on  a regular basis. The 26’s, and to a lesser extent the 27’s, used to make regular trips to Newcastle, and could often be found resting on Gateshead TMD. It was always a bonus and quite exciting to cop such an unusual locomotive.

The subject of this article is Railfreight red stripe liveried 26006. These little Heljan locomotives are fantastic; indeed I think they could be justified on just about any type of layout. They offer excellent smooth running, and can normally be picked up for a bargain price from retailers.

The first thing required, is to find some decent prototype pictures to work from. Armed with cups of tea and chocolate digestives, this is a very enjoyable stage in the project. Indeed, it has been known to go on for weeks! I have amassed a large collection of books and magazines over the Years which prove very useful for wasting lots of time while ‘researching’.

Coincidentally, 26006 used to be quite common on workings in the North East, I remember seeing it on Gateshead depot ex works on its way North after repainting in its new fangled livery. So, I didn’t have to go to the trouble of renumbering. A good start.

I always start a locomotive project by detailing the chassis. The first thing to do is to separate the body and chassis. Very easy to do with the Heljan, My method is to slide 4 small pieces of plasticard between body and chassis around about the cab door area, this almost acts as an extra pair of hands. It’s then just a matter of gently pulling both away from each other, and they should easily separate.

A tip here is to watch for the little plastic lighting units, which form the head and tail lights of the locomotive, dropping out. If they do, they are just about impossible to hold in place whilst putting the body back onto the chassis. If loose, they are simply secured in place with a tiny amount of Araldite. Job done.

Next, I prepare all of the buffer beam equipment for fitting. The Heljan hoses for this particular model are very fine, and the job alone of fitting these really enhances the model. I paint all of the ends of the hose cocks appropriate colours, again referring to reference pictures. Whilst waiting for these to dry, I also paint the small boxes on the bufferbeam of the chassis orange, again as per the prototype. I usually find 2 coats of paint sufficient for proper coverage.

Once everything has dried, the hoses are removed from the sprues with a sharp knife, and tried for fitting in the appropriate hole on the bufferbeam. 9 times out of 10 they don’t fit, so the hole can be opened up slightly using a small drill in a pin vice. Its better to work up gradually in drill bit size, rather than selecting a bigger one and having an over sized hole. Once everything has been tested and you are happy, put everything aside in a safe place and we can move onto fitting the snowploughs.

I have decided to use the ‘Spratt and Winkle’ coupling system on my stock, so I completely remove the tension lock coupler, and its socket, from the bogies of the locomotive. My chosen system also has the advantage of allowing me to be able to fully detail both ends of the bufferbeam of my locomotives. Its personal preference and if you prefer tension lock couplings, then just stick to one detailed bufferbeam. Again, Heljan make this very easy to do. I start by removing the loco sideframes, these simply pull straight off. Next, the plastic baseplate of the bogie is levered off with a small flat head screwdriver. This then allows the 2 bogie housing pieces to be slightly pulled apart, which in turn allows the nem coupling socket to be removed from its holding pin. I save these for future use just in case the loco ever needs them again. We are now left with 2 thin plastic ‘prongs’ attached to the front of the bogie, these are there to provide a bit of springing when the nem pocket is fitted. They can just be left in place as they are so thin they cause no issues, and they don’t touch the fitted snowploughs anyways.

Another thing that was very common on these locos, were the snowploughs, they are essential on most Scottish locos, and really adds to the locomotives character. The Heljan ones are a bit chunky, but weathered, they don’t look too bad. I will get around to trying some finer etched ones at some point.

I glue these directly to the back of the bufferbeams, roughening up the area that they will be attached to with a file first to provide a good key for the glue. There are some locating pips moulded on the ploughs, which locate in holes on the rear of the bufferbeam to aid placement. I always find one of the holes poorly formed, and just file off the offending ‘pip’. Again my chosen adhesive is Araldite, I leave the chassis upside down in a Peco foam loco cradle well out of harms way while the glue cures. If you can’t get the ploughs to sit properly in position, I find using little lumps of strategically place blu tack very useful until the glue grips properly.

I haven’t had any problems fitting these ploughs this way on my layout, I do have the benefit of 3’ radius curves though. Some people with sharper curves on their layouts have commented that they have problems with the bogies and ploughs catching. Try them first if in any doubt.

Once the ploughs are dry and secure, I touch up the chunky plastic ‘beams’ that hold the 3 pieces together with black paint. This makes them invisible from normal viewing distances and just makes them look that bit finer.

Now we turn our attention back to the buffer beam pipes, and using fine pliers and my friend Araldite, locate everything in their previously tested and pre drilled homes, and once again, set aside to dry in a safe, undisturbed place.

The only work carried out on the body was very simple…..I just painted the front cab handrails warning yellow to match the cab fronts; they were never unpainted metal on the prototype.

Preparing for painting, I cut various sized pieces of Tamiya masking tape, and use them to mask the windows out to protect them from overspray.

Work can now start on the weathering. Looking at the chassis first, my chosen prototype pictures show an overall blackness, with a lot of highlighted rusty areas, including patches on the wheels. I usually start by giving the whole underframe a dusting of Precision Paints underframe dirt, but this time I just sprayed a dirty matt black mix to take the very model like plastic sheen off, and provide a good key for the other colours.

Be careful not to go too heavy on the buffer beam area, the pipes do need toning down, but even on well weathered locos, the painted colours on all of the pipework can normally still be seen through the muck. The Railfreight red solebar is also lightly toned down at this point, again taking care not to be too heavy and obliterate too much of the colour.

Next, I loaded up some Precision rusty rails colour into the airbrush, and started highlighting areas, again working to the reference pictures. The brake cylinders, bogie ends, and springs all seemed to accumulate quite a bit of this rusty colour. One of the joys of weathering with an airbrush is its very easy to rectify a colour if for instance, its too rusty in colour, it’s easily toned down with a darker overcoat. Still using the rusty colour, I very finely misted over the bufferbeam areas and hoses, just enough to tone it down. Finally I added some oil staining, by hand with a paintbrush, along the solebar, around the axleboxes, and dribbled around the fuel tanks. I used an acrylic gloss black for this.

I generally leave everything to dry a bit at this stage, walk away, make a cuppa, and come back to it after a while to see what I think, and make any changes as necessary. As it happens, it looked good, so I left it at that. It is very easy to go over the top with weathering, one thing I have learnt is to constantly have a break from the work, on return you can look at it with fresh eyes.

Attention now turns towards the body. Subtlety is the key here, and I am learning after doing a few locos now, that it’s better to start building nice light coats of paint, and add further if more colouring and weathering is required.

The next colour into the airbrush is Phoenix roof dirt, darkened down a bit with a few drops of black. The roof, and cant rail grilles, and the main bodyside grilles are darkened down to give a proper in service look.

Using this same paint mix, I sprayed a light coating onto the yellow cab ends, and wrap around area. I then dip a cotton bud in thinners, and working in a downward streaking motion, remove most of it again. This technique is very good at producing a dirty, rain streaked finish, just repeat the light spray coats, and removal with cotton buds as many times as is necessary to obtain the desired effect.

For the body sides, I again sprayed a very light misting just to tone them down, and then created a few downward streaks from the cantrail grilles; this technique is really well suited to an airbrush. For anyone just starting out with spraying, it’s a good idea to practise on some scrap pieces of plasticard to refine your techniques.

After all that, the loco was now looking like a workaday 26. To finish, I painted a buffer at each end of the loco a rusty colour as per the reference picture.. in this case, it looked as though the buffers had been replaced on a recent works visit.

Turning my attention back to the roof, I tried using a couple of colours of weathering powders, just to add a little bit of ingrained dirt and rust around some of the raised detail, and to add a bit of colour variation to the grille areas.

And there we have it, another loco suitably dirtied up, and certainly looking a bit more realistic than it did when it came fresh out of the box. Every time I paint a loco, I try to use slightly different techniques, and it makes me think about trying something slightly different. For instance, I have only just tried a little bit of work with powders, but I really like the effects they can create. I think I will try weathering a loco with powders alone and see how it looks.


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