Modeling the Ontario & Western: O&W Colors?

EDITOR'S NOTE: In lieu of his usual column, Don Spiro suggested we use the following commentary from Bob Mohowski, calling it "BRILLIANT....typically Mohowski." We've added a piece by John Taibi on a similar subject.

   Ah ha, a chance to be philosophic! Here are some thoughts on finding correct colors for railroad structures and rolling stock.

   I think that colors are very, very subjective. Just as we may understand a written or spoken statement in a number of ways, so too, do we see colors. It's very possible that some colors cannot be exactly matched because environmental concerns have precluded the use of certain elements such as lead which were used in earlier paints. I recall trying to match Floquil colors years ago only to find they had made some changes in pigments or vehicles to carry them because of EPA regs. Also consider that buildings and rolling stock are seen in natural (outdoor) light while most models are viewed in artificial lighting conditions. I once put in time trying to create Erie diesel greens for passenger power and used a plate with the actual colors which came from one of their shops. The models kept looking too dark because of indoor light.
   When labor was cheaper and more plentiful, railroads established standards which they took greater pains to follow. That cost time and money. Supervision became more lax in various areas over the years and human individuality was easier to express although this was often in subtle and not necessarily in insubordinate ways. An excellent example here is the way EL diesels received heralds in different areas and lettering was moved up or down upon the whim of the painter or shop foreman. As railroads came close to bankruptcy, who was going to make a fuss about moving a herald or lettering a couple of inches either way?
   On the L&HR Ed Crist laughed when modelers came up and asked for the correct shade of caboose red or lettering yellow used. He said, "It's whatever color I decide since the shop foreman sent me to the hardware store to buy and mix the paint. If I like the shade, that's what goes on."
   I like to look at a few photos, maybe see what some modelers whose work I like and respect have done, and then give it my best shot. Often I think we look for a truth with a capital T when there are only lower case t's about. - Robert E. Mohowski

   Concerning the depot paint colors: All of the original Oswego Midland depots built on the northern division (as well as those put up by the Utica, Clinton & Binghamton and the Rome & Clinton) were painted by mixing "Linseed Oil, Venetian Red, and French Yellow so as to make a yellow drab color. All of the trimmings, brackets, sash, and doors shall be painted white." This information comes directly from the railroad's specifications for the construction of the depots and is indisputable.
   Later, on the Northern Division, the O&W adopted as standard the two tone green exterior colors, utilizing red for the under eaves, window sash, brackets (if any), and decorative moulding such as on my depot at Munnsville. Still later, the main building color was changed to a mustard yellow, similar to but not exactly the same as the "yellow drab" color of Midland days. Again, red was the accenting color.
   These colors apply only to the board and batten frame depots on the Northern Division, not the other architecture styles such as the new depots at Oriskany Falls and Bouckville. Whether these colors hold true for Southern Division buildings as well will have to be investigated further; however, it is very likely that all of the wood frame depots were similarly painted.
   The construction specifications for the NY&OM, UC&B, and R&C depots will be the subject of my next Northern Division Bridge & Building Dept. article on the O&W RHS website, as well as my future book "Rails along the Oriskany" which deals with all three railroads. - John Taibi

Bob Mohowski also notes that one of the hardest colors to match is Burlington Northern Green. Kermit the Frog even wrote a song about it: "It's Not Easy, BN Green."