No. 169: Best Train Wrecks of 2021

Reflecting on 2021

Post-Christmas is a great time for reflection and planning for the new year. I always like to make plans for the next year after Christmas. I think it’s a good way to set goals and “refresh” myself for the year ahead.

In my hobby life, it’s a good time to reflect on my wins and losses for the year, and make renewed plans for the new year. I think I had some good hobby wins—I finished a lot of projects and the Hermitage Road layout is now about 90% complete. But I had a whole lot of less-publicized losses which also need to be recorded—in other words, my best train wrecks for the year.

Best Train Wrecks of 2021

Like the photo above, train wrecks are best shared with other people.

This Milwaukee Road car was finished in March. I’ve been trying to slowly add some 50-foot cars to the fleet to add some variety. I took a lot of time to get the build right, and get the paint color right, and get all the details right. After laying the decals down, I hit it with Dullcote. Then I noticed that there were some prominent bubbles in the Route of the Hiawathas decal. See them all trying to hide on top of that rib? If I try to fix it I’ll ruin the rest of the finish. So I’ll just have to face that car away from the aisle forever.

Doesn’t that make you wonder why we finish both sides of a model in the first place?

This is a Monon single-sheathed Fowler box car that I bought from Chad Boas at St. Louis RPM 2017. I decided that I wanted to build new ends, so I cut the model up and added new ends and a replacement Westerfield roof. Well, one thing led to another and I tore up everything to the point where I had to consign this one to the round file. I’ll try again…this time with an Accurail car.

Here’s an NP Historical Society War Emergency box car, finished a year or two ago. The decals cost twenty bucks (!!!) and were beyond thick. Thick decals for a single-sheathed car are a bad combination. They went on terribly and I worked on them for weeks. I‘m mentioning this one because this year I discovered Walthers Solvaset, which is much more powerful than MicroScale Decal Set, and I think had I used Walthers Solvaset on this car I would’ve had much better results.

Turning Cars White

I got really good at turning finished models white this year. Really good. It happens when applying Testors Dullcote to a finished model to seal the decals and paint. There are a lot of theories why this happens; in my experience, it occurs when the atmospheric humidity is greater than 40-50%, and also sometimes when the mixture is wrong (Dullcote + thinner) and sometimes when the atmospheric temperature is doing something stupid (too cold, or too hot, with perhaps some extra moisture in the air). It also happens if the coat goes on too thick, or if there is latent humidity on the model. Sometimes I think it is caused when the Dullcote dries in the air, after it leaves the airbrush on the way to the model.

Check out this New York Central hopper. It was formerly an M&StL car that I sandblasted, rebuilt and repainted with new K4 decals. The Dullcote pooled in the corners and turned a nice snowy white.

I was able to remove most of the coating by painting the model with paint thinner once or twice and thinning the dry Dullcote. Then I weathered the car a little heavily to fix the problem areas. I didn’t intend to heavily weather the car, but to avoid yet another trip to the sandblaster I weathered it hard and put it away wet. Results are okay (seen below).

I rebuilt this Wabash car in August while the family was away in the US for a few weeks. I painted it with Tru Color Wabash Freight Car Red and used the new K4 Wabash decal set to finish it. The model is an old Sunshine mini-kit. Well, wouldn’t ya know—after I hit it with Dullcote and it turned white. The picture doesn’t show it too well, but when it dried it looked like it was frozen.

In my anger I didn’t take a picture of its snowy whiteness. Instead, I brought it to the workbench and painted it with paint thinner to reduce the Dullote, and that worked somewhat. Once again, I had to heavily weather it, but I found that was a little prototypical since these cars were rebuilt in 1940 and by 1950 they were trashed.

Here’s the over-weathered version. I think another repaint is in this car’s future…

Here’s a hard-to-find Sunshine Rock Island rebuilt flat car that I bought on eBay a few years ago. I built, painted and decaled it, then turned it almost completely white with a bad shot of Dullcote. I sandblasted it, and found a set of decals from Hubert Mask that would work. So I re-painted and re-decaled the model…then turned it completely white again. A few paint-thinner baths and some touch up later, here’s the result. What a mess.

This CB&Q 50-footer, which I carefully built and added all kinds of things to, including a lot of expensive Archer rivets. To improve my chances I tried using Mr. Hobby flat finish. Test shots went on great. Yet somehow I managed to turn this model almost completely white as well. It’s now completely stripped and ready for a second try.

Below. All those expensive rivets…and decals…have been blasted away after I turned the whole bloody thing white.

And this Sunshine Models Milwaukee single-sheathed box car? The first paint job I put the wrong number series on the car. I robbed the decals from another Sunshine kit and repainted it, but it turned out so bad that I couldn’t live with it. The third time—using K4 decals—was a charm. There’s a more details discussion on the repainting at

Third times a charm:

Without a doubt the biggest train wreck of the year was this MP car. I spent about eight hours rebuilding this thing. Everything went well, including the paint, decals and Dullcote. When it was done, I looked closely…and found out that I put two different numbers on the car. One side is 86147 (correct) and the other side is 89147 (incorrect). Holy crap.

Best Layout Wrecks of 2021

I managed to pack a lot of wrecks into my 7’ x 18” layout this year. For example:

I built the coal yard, then took it apart and re-laid the track, then rebuilt the coal yard again…twice.

I rebuilt the grocery warehouse three times, as I outlined in my last blog post.

I built—to a level of 99% completion—the Alcatraz Paint & Varnish Co. Then I removed it and replaced it with the Sitterding, Carneal & Davis Mfg Co. (both were prototypes served by the SAL). I built two versions of Sitterding, and am modifying version two already.

Here’s Alcatraz, below. It’s gone.

The team track loading ramp didn’t escape either. I laid it down, moved it and destroyed it, then rebuilt it, and moved it again. Twice.

Here’s the team track ramp below. In the background are several other versions of other factories that I tried for a few weeks. They’re gone too.

Lessons Learned

1 – Do it right the first time!
2 – My actual hands-on hobby time is limited to about five or six hours a week. Rounding up, that’s about 300 hours a year. Note: Last year I spent probably 150 hours fixing mistakes.
3 – See #1.

There’s a footnote too: NEVER, EVER freelance a layout.

2022 Plans

I’m facing a move from Germany to the US in 2022. I’m also facing a career change. That’ll shake up my life and the first thing to go will be all my hobby time.

That means my hobby time will be even more precious. So I’ve really got to slow down and do things right the first time so I can finish 2022 with more wins, zero losses, and zero ties.

Hope you guys had a better year than I did! – John G

One thought on “No. 169: Best Train Wrecks of 2021

  1. John, your post made me feel so much better about the minor silvering I had on my last car. I’ve frosted a few cars with Dullcote, but never bad enough to repaint. Have you tried gloss coating over it? Good luck on your move back to the US too, back to the St. Louis area? Happy New Year!


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