In the Great Lakes steel producing area of the United States, the mill gondola became a prominent part of the railroad industry. Not too many years ago, before the EPA, subsidized foreign steel and the slumping economy of the late 1970's and early 1980's, the open hearths and electric furnaces of this once prosperous region kept thousands of these gons rolling day and night. The Pennsylvania, New York Central, Baltimore & Ohio, Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, Bessemer & Lake Erie and other railroads owned and operated large fleets of mill gons. Ferrying sheets of steel, pipe, slabs, channels, scrap and other products, these extended cousins of the shorter, standard gondola lived a full and active railroad life.
When E&B Valley Railroad Company released their HO scale version of this popular freight car, we had a fine model that with only minor modification became right at home on the model railroad. One modification needed is the addition of weight; because of the car's length and lack of "out of the box" weight, it tends to be pulled off the track when rounding even the slightest of curves. We added a weight removed from an Athearn boxcar kit, placing it beneath a load of pipe (soda straws painted black). The problem cleared up immediately. The car's other glaring problem is that it rides too high on the trucks in its unaltered state. This is corrected by filing the bolster flush with the bottom of the main frame beam. A few small shim washers (available from Kadee) are then used to adjust the height after couplers are installed and the car is ready for painting. We removed the stirrup steps at the four corners of the car, replacing them with Tuttle steps. The coupler pockets were cut away and Kadee No. 4's were installed. We prefer the No. 4's for their all-metal construction and more importantly, for their positive centering action (they don't go limp dangling to the right or left).
After fastening the weight to the deck of the car (Walthers Goo worked fine), everyone's "favorite" color was then applied...PC Green! Foquil PC Green thinned to 40 percent paint/60 percent lacquer thinner was utilized. Herald King G-360 decals were applied, being careful to match the number to that of a real car in a photograph. The entire car (less trucks, removed) was then sprayed with Testors Dullcote thinned to 25 percent Dullcote/75 percent lacquer thinner.
We usually wait a week for the paint to dry before applying weathering. Our weathering colors are thinned with 85-90 percent lacquer thinner, and with so much thinner the new paint may interact with the earlier paint job unless it is completely dry, and this would limit the effect of the weathering.
We keep several weathering colors on hand, each a combination of two or three colors mixed to our tastes. In the case of the gon, we used Floquil colors. We began by airbrushing the entire bottom of the car with a darker weathering color and using the same color on the trucks. We allowed the paint to set somewhat by waiting an hour or more.
Next we highlighted the underframe structure with a lighter color. One weathering feature we tried to replicate was the tendency of some outside ribbed cars to accumulate more dirt and grime on the sides of each rib than on the outside edge. In up and down passes, we sprayed the lighter color directly onto all the edges of the ribs. Because of the "thinness" of the paint, several passes over the same area were made, feathering any overspray onto the side "panels."
Again, we allowed paint to set somewhat by waiting an hour. Then, using "worn out" 600-grit (or finer) wet-and dry sandpaper, we wet-sanded the outer rib edges very lightly-just enough to "clean" the surface and give the car a prototypical appearance.
While the lighter color is loaded in the airbrush, you can also weather the couplers (which you'd probably want to first paint a rusty brown) and trucks. They should be sprayed from an angle representing dirt coming up from beneath the car-from the roadbed and ground. Later you can even add streaks of rust if you want the cars to reflect the sporadic periods of service their real-life counterparts have endured in recent years.
Mill gons were the subject of a two-part article by Richard H. Hendrickson that appeared in the September-October 1982 and November-December 1982 issues of PM. The articles told how to kitbash Athearn's HO scale mill gondola into longer mill gons used by C&O, DT&I, EJ&E, Erie, NYC, PM, SP and WP.