Some Thoughts on Paint Colors of Early Machinery in America.

edited August 2018 in Painting Castings
Being a professional artist, and an entirely self-taught artist, I put some effort into researching paint. So I know a bit about artist's paint. Today I began researching paint on early automobiles, tractors, and machinery. Not much on the last, but I figure there is a major correlative between the three.

Two cool bits of trivia: Henry Ford had no obsession with black paint, it was simply the only practical cost-effective paint at that time, but by 1925 he could've opened his mind to brighter color, if people wanted to pay for it. This color chart from 1925 gives us an idea. Before 1925, and the discoveries of new car paint, these colors would've been very expensive and they would've yellowed and faded. Thus deep reds and yellows made sense, since the discoloration would not ruin the appearance of the body. The chart:

[The chart insists on appearing below last]

The other cool bit of trivia is early metallic paint was made from fish scales. It took sometimes 40k fish to paint one car. Very expensive, very beautiful, not very permanent. In 1951 my father (Marshall S. Green) ordered a 356 Porsche directly from Ferry Porsche in Stuttgart. His color: Fish Silver Grey! But my dad wouldn't call it that because he didn't like the word fish in there. Funny! I doubt he knew why it was called that. He called it: "Silver Blue Graw." This from memory since my father died in 1982.


So, I think some of this information might lead to knowing which colors we might try on the AMAZING machinery castings from Brett. Here are some visual possibilities for ideas, although I'm not sure of the era validity of any of them. PLEASE chime in and help out. I can tell I might have to build saw mill machines without a saw mill. I've already ordered some of the steam engine models. I blame Karl A. 100% as a demonic enabler! Do not put out rare single-malts in front of a Scotsman alcoholic. HE WILL DRINK THEM ALL!

Cheers, lads.



  • Very interesting!
  • Color is a personal preference. If your preference is to be as historically accurate as possible, then I say go for it. If you like a hunter green or a stone gray for your machinery that will look good also. From your pics above, I prefer the green/gray of the bottom vise grip, but that's just my personal preference. You make yours appealing to your eye.

    You are going to really enjoy building the machinery.
  • I guess what I'm suggesting is personal preference within the parameters of what would be possible paint-wise within the era being modeled. I would not want a color that only became possible in 1965 say if I was modeling 1956, and I knew the machinery (weathered) was made around 1935.
  • Personally, I believe some of the colors above are impossible for the era of the machine.
  • It should be interesting to read more comments and thoughts from some of the other SW Saw Mill machinery kit builders.

    I worked during a few summers in a machine shop in Cicero, IL around 1960. As I recall the colors of both American and Swiss manufactured machines were very close to: [] The image just above the yellow wheel.

    Robert, any thoughts on the subject?

    Later, Dave S. Tucson, AZ
  • Tried the link, page not found. Cut and pasted into Chrome browser and it worked, not so successful with Firefox.
  • MikeM said:

    Tried the link, page not found. Cut and pasted into Chrome browser and it worked, not so successful with Firefox.

    You only need to scroll up Mike, the link goes to an image on this page.

  • edited August 2018
  • I found this discussion interesting because I have a few Western Scale Models machinery kits I want to practice building before diving into the Sierra West machinery kits. Finding the proper color to paint the equipment has been difficult. So far I have not been able to find any documentation on what color the equipment was from the factory. I found some discussion on original paint colors on vintage machinery restoration forums but nothing definitive. On those forums I learned that as used equipment dealers bought machinery it was often cleaned up and repainted. The repaints may have been in whatever color was popular at the time. So any color photographs we see may not be representative of what the machinery looked like from the late 1800's until about WW II.
    Advertisements from my era of interest, 1920's - 40's were all in black and white, no luck there.

    I was able to find this website with some great pictures of old machinery in use:

    I'm assuming the color photos are later than my era but they are the best I have to go on. The photos on that site not only give you ideas for the paint color but what parts of the machine were bare metal, weathering and the general clutter around some machinery. Such as this one:

    I'm going to pick a suitable green color and go with it. On the Sierra West page for the CHB machinery there are eight different pieces listed. I'm thinking maybe using several different shades of green on various pieces and possibly gray on a couple. This would make sense since the prototypes are from different manufacturers.

    A poster on the vintage machinery forum noted that some machinery, in the late 1800's and early 1900's, came from the factory black or gray. For modelling purposes I don't know if black would be a good color. But gray with an oily black wash might bring out the detail.

    I'm curious to know what colors others on the forum have used for machine shop equipment they have built.

    If you search on the web site above for vintage sawmill you'll see some nice pictures of old sawmill equipment and get a feel for the general look of the interior of a sawmill.
  • Karl, That lathe picture was interesting but what a mess looks like it wasn't cleaned in 20 years. I have a complete set of western scale models and CHB machinery and I to was wondering what colors I would use to paint them? this post made me think about It?............... I know ill never take them out of the Boxes and build them been Siting on my shelf for years.
  • CraigH: If you do build them I think green is a safe color to use, possibly a battleship gray color also. If I find out more info I'll post it here. If you don't think you'll ever build them and want to part with them please let me know. I don't have a complete set of the CHB machines. I'll have to look and see which ones I need.
  • You can't go wrong with green or gray. The shade would be the one that pleases you most.

    I saved the reference link you provided in hopes that someday I will get to build another set of machinery. Had so much fun the first time and would love to build them again.
  • brownbr: I agree. I can't spend too much time researching this. I'll pick a few shades of green and a gray that look pleasing and use them.
  • building that machinery kinda terrifies me. can you guys recommend a manufacturer that sells machine kits i won't mind screwing up a time or two before i try and tackle brett's?
  • edited August 5
    Crow River Products sells a few machine kits. Just from looking at the pictures on the web site they look like very nice kits for the money but not as detailed as the Sierra West reissues of the CHB kits. I have a few of the old Western Scale Models machine shop kits I plan on building before diving into the Sierra West kits. Western Scale Models has been out of production for a number of years. The line was purchased by Wild West Models but their web site lists the kits as "coming".
  • I put in a order with western scale models years ago before he sold the company to fill in a couple machines I was missing. Wild West Models told me they were going to put out the machines soon after they bought the company? That never happened.
  • Scale Structures Limited sells machinery kits
  • thanks guys. i'm hoping to work my wat up to brett's.
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