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Improving The Appearance Of Marklin Catenary

Reprinted from September/October, 1999, Volume 5, #5 issue of Ztrack Magazine, Copyright 1999, Ztrack, all rights reserved.

by Robert Kluz

Let me preface this article by stating that I am not one to weather and detail Z scale equipment. I take the cars and rolling stock for what they are, including their just out of the paint shop finish. I always thought this acceptance would carry over to all aspects of my modeling, but I found I demanded more.

When plans were being made for the first stage of my dream layout, I knew I wanted catenary over the main line. It was also very important that the catenary was fully functional. I wanted to use those pantographs on Märklin's electric locomotives!

As the layout progressed, track was laid and the catenary masts started popping up along the rails. One of the first items I noticed was how the masts with their stark gray plastic stood out on the layout. This would not do. Weathering would work to subdue the plastic sheen and add some realism

The first step was to gather a number of the single masts (#8911) and attach them to a foam board (any board will work, the board is meant only to hold the masts in place.) I then began the weathering process. I prefer pastels in the orange-brown range for rust and blacks and dark browns. I apply these generously brushing on the color and then sealing with a coat of Testor's Dullcoat. Repeat with a second light coat of pastels and seal. An airbrush will work wonders and is much quicker than the pastel method, though a little practice is needed to place the correct amount on the masts. Turn the mast over and repeat the steps for the reverse side. Place the masts aside and let dry.

Once the mast were dry, I found that they still looked like they need something. I noticed on each arm of the mast, there are small detail pieces which are reminiscent of electrical contacts. Using a fine paint brush, I painted these a metallic green (Testors #1530 Jade Green). Usually one coat of the green will be more than enough. Place aside and let dry

For the larger masts used for the cross spans (#8914), only step one is needed. Since these masts are square, try to weather all four sides evenly. Place the finished masts on the layout

I must admit, I thought I was finished after these initial steps. As the years went by and the layout progressed and grew, so did the tangle of catenary that covered the rails. I was quite pleased with the performance, but I still was not happy with the mass of shiny silver that gleamed above the trains. I found that I was distracted by the intensity of the catenary wire. I needed to find a way to tone the wire down.

The inspiration came from the European Railway Server ( on the internet. In looking at photos of prototype electric locomotives, I started looking more closely at the catenary above. The first thing I noticed was how filigree the wire was. Unfortunately, the filigree would not be easily duplicated in Z scale, especially for operating catenary. The other item of note was the color, a simple dull black.

The answer came in the way of the Micro-Mark catalog. Listed in the catalog was a blackening solution call Blacken-It® which stated it would still conduct electricity after application. I was intrigued and an order was quickly placed.

I found preparation was needed for the wire before I attempted to blacken them. I soaked the wires in isopropyl alcohol to remove oils, I then used a pair of tweezers to move the wires to the solution, being careful not to touch the wire. Blacken-It® comes in a plastic bottle and is labeled as poison, so be cautious when working with the solution. I poured the bottle into a small plastic tub and soaked five wires at a time for slightly less than a minute. That is all it takes to blacken the wire. Using tweezers, I then placed the wet wire on a paper towel and patted the wire dry. I then used a black 'Sharpie' marker to touch up the wire in places. When done, I carefully poured the remainder of the solution back into the jar for storage.

Though the solution stated it would conduct electricity, I found a bit of clean up work was needed to ensure smooth operation of the electric locomotives. I used a track cleaning erasure and ran the erasure along the bottom of the wire where the pantographs would make contact. I continued to run the erasure on the wire until a little silver was showing through the blacken.

I attached the wires to the masts and was utterly amazed at the results! The once shiny wires suddenly disappeared! The weathered masts suddenly looked ten times better. The locomotives appearance also improved as I was no longer distracted by the gleam off the catenary. What an incredible difference.

At this point, I started de-constructing approximately fifty feet of catenary in preparation of blackening. If I only had thought of this a few years sooner I did experiment with brushing the solution onto the hanging wires, but I found this was more work then simply removing the wires and dipping. As for the masts, I found blackening the arms is not needed. When viewing prototype photos, I found the arms of masts are often silver!

If you have ever hung catenary, including the cross spans, you will have used the plastic clips (#8921) which hold the wires onto the cross span wires (#8924, #8925). These come in two colors, a gray and white. You will need to weather these pieces. I laid the clips on a piece of foam. I then lightly sprayed them with black and dark brown spray paint. After they had dried, I attached them to the blackened wire.

Okay, you're done right? Not quite, but almost. Take note of your masts placement. I add foliage running up some of the masts. Small signs and track numbers can be added for further detail. Now you're done.

In summary, weathering and detailing your catenary improves the look tremendously without effecting the performance. In talking with a number of subscribers, I have found many are intimidating when it comes to adding catenary to a layout, especially if it is to be operational.

Do not fear, it is actually quite easy. In the following issue of Ztrack, we will go into length on stringing catenary in preparation for operation. So, you have two months to blacken your wire, weather those masts and prepare to add catenary to your layout!