Ballasting Two

I had an idea to weather the ballast, and did some research online. I figured that for the time modeled (late 40’s) there would be a considerable amount of grunge on the track and ballast. I started with India Ink washes and then used a direct application of Model Master Aircraft Grey to the ballast to simulate grease and grime. This did not go as planned.

Ballasting 2


I wanted to simulate the general griminess of well-used track, but the color came out darker than I expected. The ballast is now darker than I would like, and there are no easy fixes. It’s just going to have to stay the way it is.

I have gotten better at controlling ballast. Main line ballast is generally wider than most people think, and I’m OK with the spread on the main line. I’ve used other techniques on the secondary lines, like painting thinned white glue on the roadbed and then sprinkling ballast. This actually works rather well.

I reviewed dozens of stills and video of Northern Pacific trackage around the time I’m modeling, It appears the NP used the same ballast for all tracks in a given area, but track maintenance falls off dramatically as the tracks get further from the main. Some spurs appear to be laid directly in the dirt.  I’m looking to replicate that on the spurs, so what you see in the photo isn’t the finished product. Expect more dirt and weeds.

Unexpected Problems

After painting the ballast, I ran a train around to check for problems. I found that the section between the uppermost turnout in the photo, and the turnout on the furthest left side was dead. I removed everything from the table and flipped it up. Checking the terminal strips, there was power, but checking the rails: nothing. This meant that one or more of the track feed solder joints had come unshipped. Fixing this with the track ballasted was more than I wanted to take on. But because the dead section was at the heel of a turnout, I soldered the joints. I was thankful for the time spent soldering dozens of track feeders. Using a minimum of solder, and with artful application of a cutoff wheel in the motor tool, I restored the rail profile. The section is live, and no derailments due to track irregularities.

And speaking of track irregularities, I found that I had a major one. I take a close look at track prior to ballasting, as ballasting really locks the track in place. I discovered on the diamond that I’d somehow neglected to put rail joiners connecting a turnout. Operations over this junction hadn’t turned up a problem, but a problem there was. The sections were floating with no way to maintain continuity.

I tried for the better part of an hour to put rail joiners on, but it was an exercise in frustration. I decided that since the ballasting process would lock the track down, I’d shim the rails and let the ballast do the rest. This appeared to work. The track is locked in place, and the rails are level.

track gaps


There are no rail joiners between the turnout at bottom and the diamond. Not the preferred method, but it works in this case.


The railroad has been operational since track and wiring were completed. I’ve operated nearly every day as construction has allowed. I’m pleased to say that the modified Inglenook plan has performed as expected. Switching is fun and challenging. As scenery progresses, operations are even more fun. I’m looking into four-station waybills, as well as modified Android apps for operations. Yes, it’s a small layout, but it was designed for operation.

Pump It Up

While ballasting the main line, pipettes worked well for laying down ‘wet’ water, As I got into the track that had less or no roadbed, a problem appeared. I built some sections of track on a scrap piece of foam to test weathering, and I found that the standard ‘wet water’ and diluted glue method didn’t work on ‘flat’ (no roadbed) track. The combination caused the ballast to wash off the track. Another method would be required.

After reviewing video on the Net, I painted diluted white glue on the slope of the roadbed. This was all well and good for the sides, but what about the center of the track? I needed a water mister that wouldn’t create droplets.

Pump sprayers were common before trigger sprayers took over the market, but are now hard to find. Pumps create a fine mist without droplets. After trying the local art store, hobby shop, and craft store, I headed to the dollar store (Everything’s a Dollar!) Lo and behold, there were bottles of Hydrogen Peroxide with a pump sprayer for $1. Score! I saved the H2O2 in another container (why waste?), and have had good results with the pump.



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