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I have secured a little Lionel 2-axle switcher at a great price and, since my original use for it quickly fell through, I've decided I'm going to use it as a small project engine. I'm all thumbs, mechanically inept, and electronically illiterate. Hence, this project will be my first serious foray into dis-assembing any engine (beyond popping off shells) and doing any custom paint.

The Plan:

My goal is to make this  a simple Ford Motor Company switcher. The simplest prototype Ford switcher I've been able to find was this GE 132-tonner but I'm thinking I'm simply gonna go with all black a la this K-line Plymouth or all blue like what forum member SWC did with white decal logo and numbers (note I already own the orange K-line MP-15). The all black scheme would also match much of my Ford rolling stock.

Not sure how well I'm gonna be able to pull this off and (for now) I don't have any other projects in mind. So for this one, I'm thinking I use Testor's spray cans (instead of an air brush) with primer and matte black or royal blue. Will also need white water transfer decal paper and sealer. As the link I had saved for white water transfer decal paper is long dead, any suggestions for a preferred white water transfer decal paper would be helpful.

So any advice for a first timer to make it easier? Less likely to screw up? Any hints or tricks I need to know? Any and all advice is appreciated.

Thanks in advance!


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My favorite White and clear water-slide decal paper came from World Paper EDIT UPDATE: I see that their website is no more but you can buy their product on EBAY - made in the USA

INKJET Waterslide Decal Transfer Paper 10 sheets mixed 5 CLEAR and 5 WHITE #1 4861583164314 | eBay

You can also buy just white or just clear packs

Instructional video are still all over   Just search "Inkjet waterslide decal" there.

Last edited by Lionelski


Based on my limited experience:

1.  If you plan to use different colors of spray paint on large and small areas of the engine, I prefer to tape off (cover up) the large areas first, and spray the small areas first.  If you paint the large areas first, then you are going to have to put alot of tape over alot of new paint when you tape the big areas off to paint the small areas second.

2.   When you spray paint, spray with the can 14 inches back from the model, and never point the nozzle straight at (90 degrees to) the model.  Very light gentle swishes from side to side, like you are just dusting it with paint, with the nozzle slanted slightly away from the direction in which you are moving the can.

3.  Spray three very light coats.   Let them dry thoroughly, at least a day between coats. If you spray the paint on too thick, then it will run and "fill in" all of the small details, like the rivet heads, board creases, etc. etc.  All of the detail is lost.

4.  Before you paint, make sure the can is at room temperature, and shake it a full minute before spraying.

5.  Open the danged window before you spray!!!

Hope this helps.


Make sure to wash all your parts to be painted with dish soap before doing anything else. After washing do not handle the parts as oil from your hands can cause the paint not to stick in those areas.

If item was run on a layout that had any engine running smoke it will have an oil film on it that needs to be removed for the paint to stick.

redrockbill, sounds to me like you're referencing some variation of the Lionel Industrial Switcher. If it is one of the early DC model versions with the "Hustler" motor, it might not be worth the effort as parts for that one are hard to come by. The later version introduced around 1993 is a much better model.

First off, you need a glossy surface for decals to properly adhere to. So you want to wash the loco shell thoroughly in warm soapy water to get any grease off the shell, which will interfere with paint adhesion. Obviously remove any headlight lens, etc. that you don't want to be painted. Use a plastic safe primer paint first and do the whole shell inside and out. Testors paints are slow drying so I prefer Krylon, though that is now becoming harder to find. Many spray paints now claim to be plastic safe. Years ago Rustoleum was one of the questionable brands in this regard (see PC photo below), but if you use a plastic safe primer first with complete coverage, you can then use something like the Rustoleum. Though as I said, Rustoleum is now made in plastic safe spray cans.

Also, clean the spray paint nozzle after every usage with isopropyl alcohol to prevent clogging.

I would search to see if any decal maker has any Ford logos. I've had less than desired results making decals on a laser jet printer. And in order to get white print, you need the white decal stock, by which you print the background color around your desired decal logo and print. On the upside there, black is certainly the easiest color to match.

Once you have your project complete, you then can use a matt surface clear spray to seal everything and help to hide any decal lines. I no longer prefer Testors Dull Coat as it yellows over time... you really notice that on something that is painted white in color.

There's a lot more I could say here: I've been repainting now for 32 years, using spray cans and also working outdoors. Yes, that is possible even in cooler temperatures... Use a cardboard box and one of the cheap plastic "lazy susan" plate spinners. Spray on a quick coat and then bring it quickly inside to dry.

Also, though you didn't mention it, yellow and orange colors are tough to get good opaque coverage and require multiple coats. I prefer to use grey primer to lose any translucent effect, especially on illuminated train items. But if the color is going to be yellow or orange, I will often spray on a quick coat of white primer over the grey to help with the process.

A few photos. First is a K-Line Alco FA. Rustoleum made a color some years ago that was by my viewing, very close to the correct PC green. The paint wasn't labeled as plastic safe, but the other coatings I used were. I also use regular masking tape, but a more premium type that will have sharper edges. Put on the tape and then "seal it" with a quick coat of the older base color, before putting on your new color.

The next couple photos are Lionel Industrial switchers I've repainted. If this is indeed your project engine, the circuit board reverse unit is held in the loco via a thick piece of self-adhesive foam tape, which you will need to remove completely. For me, I remove the board and run my locos on DC current. Not having the board gives me more room to add weights inside the loco shell. My switchers can easily pull more than 10 train cars with ease: Out of the box as is, they can't do that.

Imaginary PC scheme Alco FAIndustrial Switcher Conrail repaintLehigh Valley industrial switcher


Images (3)
  • Imaginary PC scheme Alco FA
  • Industrial Switcher Conrail repaint
  • Lehigh Valley industrial switcher

redrockbill, a cool project! I have have had similar plans to custom paint a Ford caboose (based on a K-Line searchlight caboose) but not having any printing experience, the challenge has been finding a source for Ford decals. Please post a photo of your finished switcher and can you shed light on the decal process. If you decide to use pre made decals, can you please let the group know where you were able to find them. all the best!

Just like the OP, I too have a small locomotive and tender that I would like to repaint as a project engine.  One thing that hasn't been mentioned is if the original paint (if any) should be removed first.  There are some road names that I want to cover but I'm afraid that if I just try to sand off the paint it will leave scratches on the surface.  Should the paint be removed first or should I just apply paint and use decals to cover the original names or is there another approach?


Loco and Tender


Images (1)
  • Loco and Tender

@CA John, here's a very recent project of mine...

Lehigh Valley dockside 2

This was previously the all red Rock Island docksider. You might want to use some very fine sandpaper with some isopropyl alcohol to remove the number from the cab, but I don't think that number will show though once you get to a couple coatings of new paint. The "Lionel Lines" wording on the tender would be another story, since it could be heat stamped: Just use some very fine sandpaper to keep the scratching to a bare minimum. Or as you mentioned, re-decal right on top of where the old lettering was.

The main thing before you start painting is to get the shells clean. Use some warm water with dish soap. You may want to use a tooth brush or a small scrubbing brush to get into all the  details of the engine body.

I decided to do a partial red body since the wheels were already red, I only wish I had sanded down the pipe detail where the decal lettering was going to go. You can see the "H" in Lehigh is over some of the cast in pipe detail. I would have rather had that lettering sit flat. Sanding down the detail there wouldn't have bothered me as much as having the lettering sitting over it as it does. But at the time, I didn't realize how I was going to decal the engine.

I hand brushed the coal load in the back of the cab, and installed a working headlight. The engine is still DC only - but I have the option of running my layout on either AC or DC. I packed the inside of the shell and chassis with added weights, so this little critter will pull some trains cars.

It's funny how many people consider these inexpensive plastic Lionel engines to be "throw aways." But this engine uses the same basic DC motor used by Lionel in many locomotives. I consider many of the newer made engines to be far more of a throw away product. Sure they have more features with the remote control, sound, etc. But the technology changes so fast, that it becomes obsolete in no time at all. And then you can't get the parts needed... if you ever could at all. And if you can't get parts you can't fix it.

Any ways, good luck with your project.


Images (1)
  • Lehigh Valley dockside 2

Hi Brianel027,

Thanks for posting.  What you have accomplished is exactly what I had in mind.  I was thinking about something along the lines of this color scheme. 

Color Scheme R1

Thanks for the tips on preparation and painting.  I will definitely follow your advice.

The little steamer actually has some sentimental value to me.  Back in 1994, my father was in the hospital.  I was able to get back to Michigan in time to see him before he passed away.  I found the engine on the dresser in the spare bedroom.  He must have picked it up at a garage sale.  Dad always liked a bargain.  At the time I had a carpet layout.  I added a rectifier so it would run on my AC powered track.  You are correct about these little guys.  By itself, it takes off like a rocket and flies around the track.  Add a little weight and it will pull three or four 027 cars at a reasonable speed. 



Images (1)
  • Color Scheme R1

Something I stumbled onto in the last few years is to paint the unit with some sort of grey first.     This is not needed if it is already one color, but if it is more than one color, paint it medium grey.    then when you put on the final color, it will be uniform over all the other colors.     The grey does not have to be a primer, just a neutral color.

I have done quite a bit os painting and had the best luck using ScaleCoat II. It is safe for plastic. Usually I will strip a model using 91% alcohol (Walgreens). Some locos may take some time, 1 or 2 days. I also have used ScaleCoat stripper that works well, too. I have used brake fluid but not so much now. You have to use new fluid and try a spot on the loco to make sure it won't craze the plastic and wash, wash, wash it. I prime with Tamyia primer as well as        Rust-oleum 2 that is made for plastic. Both are gray. Let it dry several hours, Overnight is better.

I use either a Badger or an Iwata airbrush, the latter for fine work. I have a small Senco compressor that works really well. Light coats are always better than a heavy coat that may run on vertical surfaces. Work light to dark colors and if you need to mask wait a day.

The main reason I have used ScaleCoat is because it dries to a good gloss. I didn't use Floquil because it was flat so I had to spray gloss so application of decals could be done, then spray the decals with flat. Too many steps.

I know there are a lot of new types of paint in the market place. I like ScaleCoat II and it is still available.


I have been painting about a model a week for the past year of model trains O Gauge and a few vehicles. While I have an airbrush I mostly use Tamiya for plastics spray paint cans. Normally when I repaint a model train engine or freight car I sand off the old paint and decal colors edges then give it a base coat of Tamiya paint after a good cleaning as mentioned above. I find that with these Tamiya paints I am able to give a light coat of paint every 20 minutes leave it to dry for an hour before masking for the next color. Really difficult to get the masking tape to stick and cover over the large rivets, grills, doors and ribbing etc. depending on the model. After masking with trim masking tape and then masking over other areas I spray a coat of the color I have just masked off to seal the edges of the masking tape to reduce the chance of paint bleed. Then I spray on the next color I am using. After an hour of the final coat I can decal then when dry spray with Tamiya clear coat matt or semi gloss.

On the decals I print from my home ink jet printer I use Experts Choice decals by Bare metal foil.

After printing I give them a light then 2 heavy coats of Tamiya semi gloss clear coat. Once the model is decaled another clear coat.

I find the Tamiya paints are excellent go on smooth as silk dry very fast, I do not need to clear the nozzle after use. The Testors paints take for ever to dry, do not go on even and nozzle always clogs of leaks.

Good luck and have fun with your project. About a 1/4 of my train fleet I have custom painted engines and cars I really enjoy running my custom paint creations! Just heading off to start repainting  a new engine pair I got today!

@D500 posted:

Now, that's just all kinds of striking.

A Green Bonnet? Or, it makes me think of mint chocolate chip ice cream.

That loco was one of my earliest repaints, nearly 30 years ago. K-Line had made several starter sets powered by single unit Alco FA's: There was a Western Pacific, a Southern and a Pennsy set. The Southern and the Pennsy were both the same unpainted green molded plastic color. I don't remember which, but it was from one of those sets. There was also a brown PRR Alco FA, though still molded plastic color.

My premise was along the lines of "What if the Penn Central hadn't been so cash-strapped? What might they have done to liven up the paint schemes on their locomotives?" My thinking was that whatever scheme that might be, it would still be fairly simple and not too complicated... cost savings.

So that's what I came up with. A fantasy scheme made well before the current slew of manufacturer fantasy scheme locomotives models. Still one of my favorites to run. To me, it doesn't seem so outlandish or ridiculous that it couldn't have been a potential reality.

Also at that time, in the early days of the internet before so much prototypical railroad line information was at our fingertips, I would come up with road numbers based on friends birthdays, house numbers, phone numbers, etc. All my Penn Central items had road numbers based upon ex-girlfriends who I should never have had anything to do with, and luckily didn't end up any more seriously. In the same way many historians view the ill-fated PC merger: As something that should not have happened and might have been better if it hadn't. I now don't remember, but I'm certain the 4 digit number on that engine is also the last 4 digits of some ex-girlfriend's phone number... a little bittersweet humor. Today I'd try to put something close to a prototypical railroad number on it.

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