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Changing car numbers

Two tank cars sit on a siding outside of the Imerys facility in Marble Hill as the Trackmobile prepares to move them for pick up by the local.

What is wrong in the photo show above besides one car is not weathered while the other one is? The answer, both cars have the same number. Modelers have faced this dilemma for many years as model manufacturers only produce a certain number of cars with different road numbers. What if you need to model a large fleet of cars but only can find cars with duplicate numbers, what are your options?

One of the challenges with trying to change car numbers is removing the factory painted number(s) without damaging the underlying paint on the car. Modelers have tried numerous techniques with varying success. Occasionally the painted numbers can be removed with isopropyl alcohol and lots of patience. Other techniques involve lightly sanding the number until the number is removed, but if you go too far you risk damaging the paint underneath. Another option is to “patch out” the old number with trim film and apply a new number over the patch. While these options can work, I wanted to try something that would give me the consistent results I desired without taking a lot of time or effort.

At a local hobby shop a few years ago I posed the question of the best way to remove painted on car numbers to the sales associate, who is an excellent military modeler. He indicated he used a product called Strip Magic by Deluxe Materials and had excellent results on some of his modeling projects. I purchased a bottle and gave it a try on some open top hopper cars I needed to change the duplicate numbers on. The product worked well and very quickly removed the numbers without damaging the paint underneath. I have also used the Strip Magic product to remove cab numbers on locomotives and stubborn paint that was not removed by soaking the model in isopropyl alcohol when I was repainting an entire car.

Follow along as I describe the steps I used for this latest project on changing the number on a newly purchased tank car. Be sure to follow the instructions on the Strip Magic bottle and use in a well ventilated area and wear gloves to avoid skin contact. For this project I only wanted to change the last number of the car. Using a micro-brush dipped into the strip magic, I carefully applied it to the last number on the car. For the next step you must watch carefully as the product works extremely fast on some paints. As soon as you see the painted number start to bubble up or lift off the car wipe it off with a damp cotton swab. Depending on the model, this can take a few seconds to a couple of minutes for the paint to start to lift up. Instructions on the Strip Magic indicate you can also use isopropyl alcohol to stop the removal process. As per the instructions, do not leave on the model for more than 5 minutes or immerse the plastic model in the product. If there are still parts of the number visible you can always make another application of the Strip Magic. If you leave the product on too long you risk damaging the plastic or the paint underneath, then you will have a bigger project trying to fix the damage. I usually make a couple of light applications until I get to the desired results. Don’t worry if it starts to look a little messy, you can clean it up with subsequent light applications of the product followed by quickly wiping the removed paint with a damp cotton swab. I removed the last number on both sides and the small numbers on each end of the car. Once I got the numbers removed, I gave the car a thorough cleaning to remove any remaining residue.

After cleaning the car, I sprayed it with clear gloss coat before applying the decals. The hardest part of this project was finding numbers that matched the size and type style of the numbers on the car. I located a decal sheet I had for a Railbox boxcar that had numbers that were a very close match to the ones on the tank car. I selected a new number that was only a few digits off from the original car number, but different from any of the other numbers on the car so that the difference in the number would not be that noticeable. If you have two numbers that are the same, but slightly different in height or point size, the dissimilarity is easier to notice than if you have a completely different digit than the other numbers on the car. I applied the decals and used Micro Sol to set them. Once they were dry, I sprayed the car with lusterless flat spray paint and weathered the car with PanPastels and weathering powders.

While not a perfect match, the new number is not noticeable unless you are looking for it. It is still better than having two cars with the same number.

As of today, the Deluxe Materials Strip Magic product (search for it using that name) is available on Amazon for less than $10 a bottle plus shipping. You also might be able to find it at your local hobby shop or art supply store. I have had very good results with the product and recommend you give it a try if you need to change numbers on your cars or locomotives. Hopefully you will achieve as good of a result as I have had removing and re-numbering your car fleet.

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