Thursday, 3 September 2015

Using different ballast colours

Using different ballast colours when ballasting our model railway track is perhaps the easiest way to convey the setting and era of our model railway layout. Sadly, it is often the most overlooked aspect in our rush to see trains running on our rails. I've seen many fine model railway layouts let down by a rushed, she'll be right mate, all-over one-colour ballast application that only makes our trains look like they are passing over toy train track.

Ballasting your track is the final step when completing your model railway setting, so choose wisely and don't rush it.

After 30 plus years of getting my ballasting techniques honed in N scale, working in HO scale for the first time since I was a 9 year-old lad has only made me further realize that tracks are models too. After already explaining how I hand painted Peco track in 50 shades of grey, detailed my concrete sleepers so they didn't appear all white and the importance of adding some ground cover to give my layout a sense of time and place, it all came down to the final selection of what colour ballast I should use on my model railway.

My modern mainline has been relaid with concrete sleepers, which also meant it needed much newer ballast.

Philden may only be a fictional railway station, but its roots are firmly set in New South Wales. Whatever era or location you are modelling, by now you should have spent countless hours flicking through colour train magazines or watching DVD's of your favourite railroad. Did you make a note of what colour ballast was used between the sleepers or railroad ties? Or were you too distracted by all the trains? My model railway has historical roots, but is also set in the modern era. It's meant to represent a station approaching it's 100 year anniversary, yet have a mainline that is well maintained and has been extensively upgraded. I had already used Chuck's Ballast Supplies Marulan fine for the goods shed siding, but to complement the concrete sleepers I had used for my mainline track, whatever ballast I applied would also have to appear freshly laid compared to my goods siding that has probably received very little maintenance since the last steam locos were phased out in the 1960's. My choice was Woodlands Scenics B88 coarse light grey ballast. Not only a different colour, but also a different size to force the perspective even further.

I use a teaspoon to measure out the amount that needs to be applied, and work my way along the track by lightly tapping the rails to get the right amount to spill off in-between the sleepers. Then using a fine haired artists brush, I lightly dust to stones into position, being careful not to have any stones stuck between turnout blades or frogs on my points.

The glue should saturate the ballast as shown above, but cleaning up as you go will save a heck of a lot of work later.

Once I am happy with the overall appearance, I then turn to a tried and true recipe for gluing the ballast into position. The simple equation is; I mix 50% white PVA wood glue (in my case I use Selleys Aquadhere), 50% warm water (as it speeds up the drying time), and finally a few drops of dish washing liquid which helps the solution penetrate through the dry ballast. A near empty plastic bottle of PVA wood glue makes an excellent mixer and applicator in one. I always give the solution a good shake before getting to work, and simply control the flow of solution to a drop at a time applied to every sleeper. Not only does this reduce the disturbance to the ballast, but it also provides a protective coating to the hand painted sleepers I put so many hours into. Finally, make sure you clean up as you go. I use a damp, throw-away Chux cloth to absorb any excess glue that has pooled up on my sleepers, or railroad ties if you prefer, and also dab away any loose stones that may have splashed up onto the rail sides or tops of the sleepers.

Three tracks and three different ballast shades and sizes. Now to clean the track and get some trains running.

Once the glue has saturated the entire ballasted area, use a paper tissue held over your finger to wipe the surface of the rails dry, and check that your expensive points move freely without any glue having come into contact with the turnout blades. If it has, poke the Chux cloth or tissue between the blades to absorb it away. I then wait 2 days to be sure the entire area has dried and hardened before giving the track a rub back with a track cleaning block and vacuuming up the dust along with any loose stones. Finally, I go over the entire rail surface including the turnout blades with a cotton earbud dipped in methylated spirits to ensure the electrical continuity of the rail is spotless.

As you can see by the photo above, the 3 tracks in my station yard not only have 3 different shades of ballast, but 3 different sizes of ballast stones. The siding on the left is a mixture of Chucks Ballast Supplies Marulan fine, Karuah crusher dust, Woodlands Scenics T44 burnt grass and B74 fine light grey ballast. The No 2 road in the middle is Chucks Ballast Supplies Marulan fine, while the mainline and platform road to the right is Woodlands Scenics B88 coarse light grey. Together, I think they tell a story of a modern railway line that has been around for almost a century. But maybe that's just the writer in me. What do you think?

See also; Adding some ground cover or Hand painting PECO track and Detailing concrete PECO track

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Thanks for taking the time to visit Philden. I hope you'll book a return ticket soon. Cheers, Phil