No. 153: Dave Nelson on Prototype Track Weathering

Over on the Ron’s Train Club site, Dave Nelson put together a nice post on track weathering last week and allowed me to share it here. This is a look at weathering and appearance of prototype track, not how to weather track. All photos are by Dave Nelson, but I did add a few more at the end.

Here’s Dave:

Here is a collection of track photos, with commentary, that I have used in two clinics—one on “Trackside Details” and another on “A Closer Look at Track”, neither of which I have presented since the 35mm slide era. This post will focus on track color and weathering, focusing mostly main tracks in the Midwest.

Below. There are situations where there is a very precise and clean distinction between the color of rail sides, tie plates and spikes and the ties and ballast. Even in this photo however one can see clear “rust” colors here and there on the ties themselves. The No Trespassing notice adds to the appeal.


Below. In some instances, rails, tie plates and spikes share a uniform coloring with the ties and with the overall appearance of the track, including ballast. This is Burlington, Wisconsin, circa 2003 on the Wisconsin Central. This line is now CN, and was originally Soo Line. In this photo there is a near uniformity of color between rail sides and ties, including ballast between the rails.


Below. This is the Union Pacific (ex-C&NW) “New Line” in 1999, photographed immediately after a wreck which caused the scars on the tie and tie plate. The tie has an unusual red hue.


Below. In this 2017 photo from Ackerville, Wisconsin on the Canadian National, the entire track structure on the left displays a rusted coloration. My hunch is that the track on the left is on a grade and this is an area of heavy brake application.


Below. This 2003 photo is at the CP at Waterford Avenue in South Milwaukee. This is former Milwaukee Road right-of-way. Note how the rusted rail sides has stained the ties and ballast.


Below. What is striking about this photo from Galesburg, Illinois on the former Burlington lines is that the wood ties basically share the same color as adjacent steel ties. The steel ties seem to be moving around a little bit too. I can’t really call the ties black or brown – they are box car-reddish.


Below. Of course external factors can also be at work, such as this track in Galesburg in 2003 where the “lurch” at the switch to the Quincy Main has caused many loaded ore cars to dump bits of taconite on the tracks, lending a reddish shade to everything.


Below. Another external factor is when a freight car sits for a long period, the wheels and the car sides rust and that rust ends up on the ballast and elsewhere. An ex- C&IM gondola at Milwaukee’s Miller Compressing facility in 1986. Note the “drip line” beneath the car side!


Below. Wheel greasing also creates its own shades of course. What a greasy mess!


Below. Here’s a John Golden photo on the Indiana Railroad, formerly Monon. A pad has been put down at the point of a flange oiler to protect the ballast and it’s doing a great job. I’ve never seen this modeled.

Monon, Orleans, IN (10)

Below. This is a photo of a mainline with mud pumped up through the entire track structure. Silt and dirty ballast has found it’s way to the top of the ties, which has it’s own colors which show on ballast, ties and rail sides.

This is seen most often at crossings because those areas tend to be left alone by track gangs for economic reasons. This is 2007 on the CP near Portage, Wisconsin, on the former Milwaukee Road lines. This is almost never modeled.


Below. 2014 on the BNSF along the Mississippi River in Wisconsin. This is an extreme example of mud pumping up through the ballast due to flooding and plugged culverts. Note how it is only in a specific area on the track.


Below. This is 2014 on the Santa Fe, now BNSF, between Cameron and Fort Madison, Illinois. Note the clear demarcation where the subroadbed has failed and is pumping up mud, near but not at a crossing.


Below. This photo was taken on a former Milwaukee Road branch at North Lake, Wisconsin. The line was sold to a tourist railroad for a while but that operation is now closed. Most of the rail rolling dates date well back in the 19th century along here. Note the ballast is made of rocks, dirt, cinders, and whatever was available at the time.


Below. Matt Goodman has done a great job of modeling this type of ballast on his switching layout. Here’s a photo from Matt’s Flickr site:

Matt Goodman 1 (6)

Wood timber crossings have always been a special interest of mine. There were two in my home town and both were on heavily traveled roads with lots of trucks. The timbers were loose and the crossings were really in bad shape no matter how much attention the C&NW paid to them.

Below. I took this photo in 1997 on the BNSF at Gilson, Illinois between Galesburg and Peoria. This was at a lightly-traveled rural road. And yes, the automatic crossing gate was somehow not working in time even though (or because?) the train was moving very slowly.


Below. A very rough road crossing in Earlville, Illinois, where the UP (ex-CNW) Troy Branch line crosses the BNSF ex-CB&Q main. This would never be modeled because it just doesn’t look prototypical.


Below. Pedestrian crossings were very, very common in the Midwest. I don’t remember where I took this photo—probably somewhere in Illinois. Note the very narrow sidewalk.


Below. Here is a nice timber crossing at a skewed angle on the Iowa Interstate, ex-Rock Island, west of DeSoto, Iowa. I had won a drawing for a cab ride.


Below. Another nicely maintained timber crossing, this on the BNSF line between Galesburg and Peoria, Illinois on the outskirts of Yates City which was at one time a major junction point. This view demonstrates why culverts and ditches are so important to realism in modeling.


Thank you, Dave for another great post.  I certainly learned a lot!  Here, below, are a few additional photos that I’ve taken over the years.  The shot below is on the CSX lines in Vidalia, Georgia (former SAL).  Note how the ties around the moving switch points are mostly clear of ballast.


Below.  This is another photo along the CSX lines, near Helena, Georgia.  The contrast between the rusty rails and the old ties is interesting.  Modeling ties that are deteriorating is a challenge.


Here’s a closer view of a different tie. No spikes on this one.


Below. This photo is from the Rancocas Industrial Park, near my former home in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. The roadbed and ties have completely sunken into the ground. The top of a few ties are still visible. This is very difficult to model convincingly.


Below. I’ll finish Dave’s excellent post with this lovely picture, taken a few miles north of Albuquerque in 1998. Looking straight down at the track one can see different colors of rail, ties and ballast, but looking at the long view–to the horizon–everything blends together into one rusty color.

Albuguerque Area 1 (18)

And a Post Script: Here’s a recent photo from my adopted country. Date nails are rare in the US any more, but they are still found everywhere in Germany and Europe. Here is a tie on retired track with five nails. One is certainly the date nail–the others I’m not quite sure about.


In these troubling times, look to Psalm 37:3 for strength and reassurance:
Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.


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