Ballast-Scenery Conflicting Info

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by Gary S., Sep 16, 2007.

  1. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Okay, I always thought that ballasting track is done AFTER most of the ground cover and such is done. But last night I was going through a MR magazine from a couple years ago, there was an article on scenery that said the ballast should be done first.

    Any opinions and advice?
  2. TrainNut

    TrainNut Ditat Deus

    I do my ballast just like in the real world... last. Plus, if you do it last, you don't get any scenery accidentally on top of it. Plus, I also do it last because if I have any track changes I want to make while I am building, it give me more time to make up my mind. And, if I were to ballast first, in a lot of places I don't have anything up next to the tracks whereas if I wait until I have plastercloth and other scenery "stuffs" up to the track, I get a more realistic look as I lay the ballast down. Can you imagine trying to plaster up next to your track when there is already ballast in the way? What a mess.
  3. jimh

    jimh Member

    The only advantage I could see in ballasting the track first is that you would not have to fight any landscaping, buildings, etc. Other than that IMHO you should do it if and when you want to.
  4. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    In the article, the guy did all the plasterwork and such first. Then he did the roads and ballast. Then he did the ground foam and then bushes, trees.

    So assuming all the plasterwork is in, all the landforms are in, and it is all painted a nice earth tone... what would be the next step? Get the "greenery" in first, ground foam and grass and stuff, or do the ballast first, then the ground foam?
  5. platypus1217

    platypus1217 Member

    I like doing the ballast before the greenery. I did it the other way around once and some of the loose ballast got caught in the greenery. It is easier to brush a ball of ground foam off the tracks then it is to pick grains of ballast out of the bushes.
  6. Santa Fe Jack

    Santa Fe Jack Member

    This is a good case for experimentation. On part of the layout, or on a separate piece used for experimenting (I have couple of these little dioramas for just that purpose) try it both ways and see how it works. I expect each modeler will develop his/her own preferences.
  7. steamhead

    steamhead Active Member

    Hi...I do track painting and ballast last...Just like TN in the real world. Since it's such a pain in the...(read as "neck") to do, I don't want anything messing it up. If there's any greenery or whatever that comes up to the ballast, I'll do that after ballasting - real carefully....
  8. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    I don't think that it really makes any difference, Gary. With mostly open grid benchwork, I had to do the basic landforms first (plaster over window screen), and that was given a coat of thinned paint to diminish the "fresh blizzard" look. I then used a brush to paint all of the rails: this goes pretty quickly and is a good job to tackle, in stages, when you don't have enough time in one block to really get into a big project. In my opinion, painting the rails, followed by ballasting are the two improvements that give you the most visual "bang-for-your-buck", and for the least investment in time and effort, too. I ballasted first, although there were several areas where the fill and sub-ballast had to be installed along with the ballast, and that just naturally segued into the lineside scenery. Unless you're modelling a Class One line, with manicured ballast edges, there's always going to be areas where the ground cover creeps into the right-of-way, and places where the fill and ballast tumbles down an embankment to mix with the weeds. And secondary lines can be somewhat overgrown, and sidings: well, the "ballast" is more ground cover than true ballast - doing both the track and the immediate surrounding area ensures that there'll be some continuity of colours between the two. There aren't very many "finished" areas on my layout, but except for the Highline through Dunnville (awaiting backdrops) and the grade to Park Head (awaiting the screen and plaster) all of the track and most of the immediate environs were ballasted and sceniced at the same time.
    In the photo below, so much glue/water mix ran down the hills that the trackside scenery inadvertantly spread out some distance. I thought it best to not let it go to waste, so I applied some ground foam to soak up the excess. When I finally get around to finishing this area, most of it will be covered in trees. Both bridges are removeable, and I'll be doing the "water" first.

    The mainline at Port Maitland, which runs through the GERN complex, is all on plywood, with no cork roadbed, so I had to simulate the sub-ballast by spreading cinders alongside the ballast edge, and that just naturally flowed into the groundcover.

    At GERN itself, what little ballast there is is mixed with dirt and weeds, along with quite a bit of spilled flux.

    Most industrial sidings have more ground cover than ballast, and with the relatively narrow areas between tracks, it's easy to do the whole area at the same time.

  9. Ralph

    Ralph's for fun!

    I did my ballasting after creating basic scenary. I added some weeds and other foliage close to the ballasted tracks later.
  10. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    I've already got about half of my track painted. After reading all of the above, I am seeing that ballasting and doing ground cover doesn't necessarily have to be two distinct steps. I'm going to work on painting the remainder of the track this evening, maybe tomorrow I will start on ballast.

    Thanks for all the replies!

    DocWayne, the photos are very helpful and I'll be refering to them as I go.
  11. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Gary, for you, and anybody else who might be interested, here's a link to my Albums in the Gallery. There are a lot of pictures there, but many have been broken down into categories to aid in finding stuff, although even I have trouble remembering where everything is. :confused:

    My Albums

    You may find something of use there without having to track down specific threads, although most of the longer threads do have their own album.
    For those on dial-up, the pictures show as thumbnails, so you won't have to spend so much time waiting, and if you do see anything appealing, simply click the image for an enlargement. Most of the enlarged images can be clicked a second time, too, which will yield a really big picture that shows-off the flaws and mistakes that you'd otherwise miss. ;)

  12. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Wayne, thanks for pointing out the gallery. I suppose I have been too lazy to check it out up to this point. But now that I know you have a lot of photos over there, I'll use them for inspiration.
  13. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    I guess it depends in part on how you want the finished result to look. Ground cover first + ballast last = freshly done ballast and RoW maintenance. Ballast first + ground cover last = Looks like the ballast has been down for a long time with little or no maintenance, since there are "weeds and grass" growing up through it.

  14. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    I've done both but just lately I've preferred doing the ballast first. I have about 1/3 of my layout to complete and when I get the ballast down first, I can neatly place the ground scatter along the ballast. I find this neater and easier to do than the other way around.
  15. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Robert, that is what I was thinking too in my original post.

    Andrew, I am trying for the "less-than-well-maintained" look so I am going to do ballast first, but I will keep an open mind as I go, looking for places where I can combine greenery and ballast as I go like DocWayne mentioned above.
  16. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Gary: I think this is another place where there is no fixed rule; just try what seems right to you.
  17. nachoman

    nachoman Guest

    I think I work like wayne, but agree in philosophy with Trainnut. I'm just too impatient and can't stand running trains through unscenicked benchwork. Adding some landforms, painting the landforms an earth color, and painting rails and adding ballast are the first things I do when I get the track down. The rest of the scenery can wait until I get time!

  18. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    My old boss, who was very scientifically-minded, liked to say that in science, the opposite of one truth could very well be another truth.

    I think the parallel in model railroading is that there are almost always several "right" answers to any given question. The key is to find the right answer for you. ;)

  19. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Andrew, on that note, I am of a mind to put down some ballast tonight. I've never done it before, and it is about time that I did!

    Over the weekend, I did put some powder/sand/gravel for the shoulders along one of my roads. I used water/alcohol mix as a wetting agent, then diluted white glue over that, similar to how ballast is done. That seems to have turned out alright so I suppose I am ready to go.

    Can't wait to get home!
  20. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Here's a couple of shots of what I did tonight. I did manage to mess up. After I had put the thinned glue on and let it sit for awhile, I got to thinking that maybe I hadn't put on enough glue. So I decided to add more. And for some reason, the ballast floated up and got on the ties. DARN. I messed with it a little, but then decided the best thing to do is just let it dry and tenderly scrape them off lately.

    Another thing I learned is that with ballast, less is better. what I mean is that ifthe ballast is deep and comes up to the top of the ties, then it is also up to the bottom of the rails, and it just didn't look good to me. I think it looks better if there is a little space between the bottom of the rail and the top of the ballast. It just looks "realer" to me.

    These photos don't show much and the ballast is still wet. I also did some rocks down the ditch.

    Oh.... would appreciate constructive criticism. Seriously. Help me out before i go any further, if there is something needing improvement, let's talk about it.

    Attached Files:

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