paint and lettering

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Fri May 23 13:44:46 EDT 2014

Thanks for the info. What I am trying to do is paint the door to my train room and then add a medallion with the N&W lettering on it. Just trying to get close enough.      Tom Anson

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------ Original message------
From: NW Mailing List
Date: Tue, Apr 22, 2014 1:17 PM
To: NW Mailing List;
Subject:Re: paint and lettering


This subject has come up again and again, on both this and the Virginian list. Perhaps I should write an article about it with examples. This can be a really complicated subject, and getting it right is not always easy and in the case with models frequently done incorrectly.

I am only going to address the Norfolk and Western and Virginian. I've not really studied either 1970, since I've not truly studied the lettering after that time, there is no such thing as a standard "font" for either railroad. 

font (noun) a complete assortment of type of one style and size.

The term font was truly a term that only designers, commercial artists and printers used until the arrival of the personal computer with more than a couple of fonts in the mid to late 1980s, with that and the very first laser printers to be readily available to consumers, font became more of a household term. A font normally consists of a complete series of letters, numbers and various symbols or punctuation, all done in a similar style to the other. The key term there is "complete" i.e. the entire alphabet.

In the 1950s (if I recall correctly) the C&O adopted a Futura font, (I think bold) as a lettering font for diesels and equipment, prior to that, the Pennsylvania adopted a Clarendon font as a lettering font. However, the N&W and VGN did not use anything that is classified as a font.

For model purposes, I've seen several decal companies that simply use a computer font rather than the correct lettering. I recall a friend having me over about 10-12 years ago, proud to show off the Virginian hopper decals he had just purchased. I took one look at the sheets and said they are not right. The person producing them was using a standard computer font, slightly stretched and pointed out what was wrong. They might have looked OK to an untrained eye, but they were dead wrong. Either the maker did not have the skill to actually draw the material, lack of training to really know the difference, or perhaps figured it was "close enough" and he need not bother doing it right.

Let me give some background on myself before I continue. I've probably studied this subject as close as anyone out here. I am a graphic designer by trade, and paint and lettering for railroad equipment and signage is a personal interest as well as professional. I have lettered a large amount of full size equipment; numerous passenger cars, cabooses, diesel locomotives, steam locomotives including the N&W 1218, VGN 4, C&O 614 Western Maryland No. 6, BC&G No. 14 and as soon as weather permits, N&W No. 6. All this lettering was totally recreated for modern use by my drawing, from either tracing original lettering going back some decades, working from drawings, or photos using known dimensions. 

For example, lets look at the Norfolk and Western that was used on the passenger cars. This lettering is 6 inch tall extended width. The origins of that lettering appears to me to have been derived from letters used by the Pennsylvania Railroad, at least as far back as the 1880s. This would not be surprising with Pennsy having a financial stake in the Norfolk and Western.

However, the earliest drawing of the passenger lettering I have, which is not handy to look at the date, but is probably about 1890, and was slightly revised over the years. This however, is not a complete font, the drawing consists of only letters that make up the words "Norfolk and Western" originally "Norfolk & Western", it is missing the letters B, C, G, H, I, J, M, P, Q, U, V, X, Y and Z. A separate drawing covers the numbers, 0-9. But those other letters did not exist to Norfolk and Westen. 

A few weeks ago, one of our members posted this:

N&W lettering is similar to RAILROAD ROMAN ( a font now) but it differs quite a bit.

I would have to disagree with that last comment, similar would be that the letters are similar shapes, i.e. an "A" still looks like an "A" but the thicks and thins and curved shapes on normal Railroad Roman make it VERY different from the Norfolk and Western steam or passenger lettering. The only connection that I see to Railroad Roman is that an "A" is still an "A" in both styles, otherwise, it is a long way apart.

Since there is always a heated discussion of the color of N&W Tuscan Red, it is very difficult to answer. A lot of what you want depends on how it is used, is it for full size equipment or a model railroad? Most paint used for full size equipment is some variation of an automotive or commercial grade type paint that does not translate to models. These types of paint tend to have various materials such as a hardener added to it prior to application, not lending itself to modeling. So, for model work, paint codes really don't mean a lot.

Color in general is very tough, Tuscan varied over the years, both in application, surface prep, repeated washings, sun fading, etc. Color is also very much subject to perception and personal interpretation. It can change depending on how you view it, the type of light, aging, was the paint applied properly, was the surface prep done well, thousands of factors. 

Judging color also depends on depends on your source, if you are trying to judge color, different film types records the same color differently, Kodachrome, Ektachrome, Fuji, Ansochrome and company, all look different, not to mention how that film was stored over time, how it was taken care of, the amount of times it was projected, etc. etc.

Paint itself has changed considerably over the years, pigment is a lot more stable and lasts a lot longer than it used to.

The paint mix by the painter can also change the color. The story I was told of the  famed Pennsylvania Brunswick Green was that it was made by adding yellow chromate to black paint, a handful or two to a drum. Now, how many variables does that add to the equation? How big a handful? How big was the persons hand? What if someone new was doing it, and added 3-4 handfuls? Who is to know? How much thinner did the put in the paint? What was the primer color underneath? So many variable elements.

I really get a good laugh out of folks talking about "well it looks like this on the video, or on YouTube" again, all that is perception, your TV, your computer monitor, except in very rare cases are not calibrated, and color is your perception of what you see. The lighting in the room, the color on the walls, the area around your TV or monitor, even the desktop color on the monitor, all can change color perception. Even if you go purchase a color calibration system, a lot has to do with the source image,  how it was scanned or tranferred from film, if the original film was exposed correctly, was the sun out, was it a cloudy day, was the paint fresh, where was the car painted, did it go through the car washer recently, or a rain storm, etc.. All that factors in. Your models are rarely seen in what is actual daylight or the light color equivalent of it.

Now, all that being said, and this is only a single example, you can interpret it as you like. The Roanoke Chapter NRHS owns several ex N&W passenger cars, tool car 1407, coach 537 and 512. Of these, all are in need of new paint. However, when last painted, at least for 537 and 512, we used automotive paint, that was specified as "1976 Lincoln Continental Dark Red No. 2". We went to an automotive paint dealer to get that. I have a can with tuscan red in my cabinet that was used on the N&W units painted in the late 1970s, but it is not handy at the moment to get the code, and if I recall correctly, it was metallic paint as well.

Now in very recent years, paint has changed considerably, and former paint formulas that once were good, are different in this day and time. 

Questions? Feel free. Sorry this is so long, but it is a detailed subject and question.

Ken Miller

On Apr 18, 2014, at 8:36 PM, NW Mailing List wrote:

Anyone know what the lettering font was in the 50's?
Also need a paint number for the Tuscan red.

Thomas Anson

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