Ballast size

Discussion in 'N / Z Scale Model Trains' started by ezdays, Jun 8, 2003.

  1. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    I need an opinion. I've done a few samples of painting and ballasting track, and I've looked at a lot of track pictures that have been posted here, but I can't tell for sure what size ballast most people use for N. I've tried both "fine" and "medium", and either look like they'd work, but just to get your ideas, what would be the best and most prototypical size to use?


  2. jkristia

    jkristia Member

    I have used Woodland fine, but find it a little oversized, so next time I will try the 'fine' sized ballast from Arizona Rock & Minerals.
  3. Tyson Rayles

    Tyson Rayles Active Member

    Hi, I use the Woodland Scenic Fine. However I model a rundown shortline so it goes like this. On the connecting R.R.'s mainline I use straight ballast. On my mainline it's 50/50 ballast and dirt. On yard and industrial track no ballast only dirt. Of course I also add weeds and trash.
  4. Matthyro

    Matthyro Will always be re-membered

    Don, I looked for and found a section of abandoned roadway. At the bottom of a hill, I found where silt had built up from rain drainage. I brought a bucket of it home and put it through different size kitchen sieves. My railroad is N so I use the finest sieve which gives an almost sand size which I put between the track with a slight overflow. Next I use the next size grit on the embankment. It looks good and the best part is it's free for the taking and just involves a bit of work to put the dirt through the sieve.
    I know this photo has been posted already in a track painting post but show it again as a picture tells a thousand words.

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  5. K.V.Div

    K.V.Div Member

    Hi Matthyro,

    The home made ballast looks great, however, have you ever had problems with magnetic particles?
    I have known more than a few modellers on this side of the continent who suffered moter damage due to magnetic particles (Mainly Iron) being picked up by passing locomotives passing over home made ballast that was not properly screened with a magnet prior to application. :(
    I have used Woodlands Scenics fine for my N Scale work and, while oversized it still looks good.

  6. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    Can anyone tell me what size Woodland Scenic's "fine" and "medium" scales to in N? One problem I'm having is adjusting my prototype size eyeballs to get a better idea of what looks right. If I could only teach some of those little plastic guys to talk I wouldn't have this problem. :D One thing that probably contributes to that is that I'm using code 80 track. Since this is my first layout I am going to go ahead and finish it in 80, but my next one will be code 55. I've been to Verne Niner's layout and I gotta say the smaller rail makes a world of difference.

    As near as I can measure with calipers, it looks like the fine is about 3.5" and the medium is closer to 6". I have tracks about 1/2 mile from me so I'll go down there later today and see what they are using, but as I seem to find from a lot of posts here, accurate scaling doesn't always mean it will look right.:rolleyes:

  7. Jim Cullen

    Jim Cullen Member

    I used a mix of WS fine ballast on the last layout and though it looked pretty good. I was in a hobby shop last weekend and ran across some ballast from a company called "Smith and Son Ballast". Anyone hear of this company?

    I purchased a couple of bags of the Penn-Ohio Limestone #50, which apprears to me to be finner that the WS. I got it for possible use on the new layout, but I haven't even opened the bags yet.
  8. K.V.Div

    K.V.Div Member


    Your measurements are fairly close to the mark.
    I'm not sure what size of ballast is used on the tracks in your area, however, on the Canadian Pacific mainlines in western Canada, the standard calles for "Granite Float, Crushed to 2 Inches", although I have seen it as small as 1 1/2 inches.
    Here on Vancouver Island, they use what is called "Pit Run" which means it comes straight from a gravel pit and can be anywhere from 1-4 inches.
    The Woodland Scenics fine is still large for N Scale, however, using the medium will be like ballasting your track with large boulders.

  9. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    I was checking out the tracks between here and Phoenix and most of the ballast there appears to be equivelent to WS fine or even a bit larger, and is all reddish in color. One major crossing had a stretch on both sides of larger white crushed rock that appeared to be a bit larger than WS medium.

    Robin, you gave me an idea. On the back half of our property are several "washes". These are natural routes for runoff during the flash flooding that hits the desert once or twice in the summer. Tons of free sand and silt, I just have to hike back there to get it:p

    Thanks to all of you for your input, I'd still like to hear from anyone else if you can add to this discussion. This may be very basic, but it is helpful to me and I'm sure there are others out there that can use this advice to keep us from screwing up a layout.:eek: :eek:

    I see such good work out there and I guess I've got my goals set high enough not to embarrase myself.:D :D

    D:cool: N
  10. Matthyro

    Matthyro Will always be re-membered

    I guess I have been lucky Terry as no problems with my locos so there can't be any iron in my ballast. I also make sure it is well glued in place with a mix of water and white glue. I then vacuum off any residue.
  11. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Last year I was looking at the ballast on the CN line through Brampton station, and noticed that while the stuff between the rails was largish (a couple of inches), the ballast approaching the platform was down to pea-sized (1/4").
    I once used some ballast in N that ended up looking little different than plaster, it was so fine. I think you should have it just large enough to give some texture. Buy a bag each in the smallest sizes and try some out (maybe where you're going to put a tunnel). You can always sell the largest stuff to an HOer.:D
    When I was re-cycling old ballast for my new railroad, I stirred it with a magnetic rod and found grains of ballast sticking to it. I magaged to get a few ounces of magnetic lumps out of about a quart of ballast. (I finally went after it with one of the big Kadee magnets.)
  12. Blake

    Blake Member

    Campbell's made some nice ballast, very fine. The number is #791 Dark gray for Main Line. I don't know if they make it anymore.
  13. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    Yeah, I tried some Cambell's, but found it was kinda soupy...:rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

    Sorry, I couldn't resist that.......:D :D

    From what I see on our local tracks, the WS fine looks close to what BNSF is using. I have found heavier stuff on the sides of crossings, but on about 50 miles of main line between here and Phoenix, they are using the equivalent of WS fine. I think a mix of red and brown will get me a good match. I'll post something as soon as I get it down.

    Thanks again for all the input. Be advised, it has kept me from screwing up big time.:eek: :eek:

    D:cool: N
  14. RailRon

    RailRon Active Member

    I don't know if this helps you much, Don, because you might have different materials in the USA than we have here in old Europe.

    When I wanted to ballast my former N scale layout I was shocked to see what model RR firms took for small bags of ballast. So I looked elsewhere. Finally, in the pet sections of some supermarkets, I found what they called "bird sand", used for ground cover in bird cages. Best of all - this bird sand is dirt cheap! (a 1 pound bag was about 2$) :cool:

    I was lucky that I found two qualities: One seemed ideal for ballasting my N scale track - I guess it was crushed granite, mixed light and darker gray 'grains' of about 0.3 mm diameter (that scales to about 2" size ballast).

    In another shop I found another quality - bright beige and much finer, which I used as ground cover in industries, ballast on sidings and also between the yard tracks.

    The added pic shows the general impression of the coarser ballast below the train, while a mix with the finer ballast is visible in the background.

    Perhaps you are lucky to find a store which sells bird sand in a size which pleases you.


    PS: Since you live in Arizona - did you ever try to get some sand out in the desert?

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  15. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way


    That's a good tip, worth looking into. And yes, as I said in another post, I have a rather large "wash" running behind my property and there is tons of sand and silt there for the carrying. The difference is that the stuff you're talking about in pet stores is both graded and clean; the stuff in these washes are not. I'm going to look out there later today and see if I can't find a pocket of good stuff the the quail, rabbits, coyotes, deer and javalina haven't messed up too badly....:eek: :eek:

    Just in case you're wondering what a javalina is, here is a picture I took a few weeks ago of three of them crossing the street by our house. They live in the desert and are about the size of a pig. They are often refered to as "wild pigs", but are not. Some people hunt them, but there's something about making a meal out of an animal that lives off of the land and eats garbage that I can do without ..:rolleyes:


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  16. billk

    billk Active Member

    EZ - Are javalinas (javalini??) also called peccaries?? (I'm not sure how any of this is spelled!)
  17. RailRon

    RailRon Active Member

    Don, this is really a beautiful place where you live!

    Never heard of Javalina before - my first thought also was: "Hey look, wild pigs directly behind the house!" :D (Should know better as a Zoologist... :eek: )

    Just another little hint: When you are using 'dirt' directly from mother nature, of course you'll have to sift it first (just to get the bugs, worms and whantnot else out). But then there are still lots of microscopic critters in the silt and sand. :eek: :eek:

    You can get rid of them by drying the sand completely - and this you can do very well in a microwave oven. This is a method we always use for soil analysis. We heat the soil on full power for about 5 minutes (in an appropriate container). All organic parts, tiny plant rests etc. will be burned off. Be warned however - sometimes it really stinks! In a laboratory this is ok, but in the kitchen??? Decide for yourself... (Perhaps you should do it in a moment, when the missus is away...:D :D :D)

    The remaining sand is pure anorganic stuff, so you won't have any tiny inhabitants on your layout...

  18. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way


    No, a peccary is tropical, and more than one javalina are javalinas; but more likely, we think of them as pains in the butt. They usually come through at night and eat anything in the yard that grows, push down fences and make a general mess. It was unusal that day to see them come through during the day, but they were out back doing things that two people usually do in private and at night.:eek: :eek:


    Temeratures here in the shade will soon be in the 115 range and it can push 150 inside a car that's been sitting out. Maybe spreading the stuff out in the direct sun will work. A pity, because we gave away two microwave ovens for a church sale a while back.

    I write a column for a newspaper about what it's like to live in the Arizona desert. I'd post a few of them, but they are in pdf or doc format and I can't post them as an attachment and are too long (around 1000 words each) for me to put them in a post. They're fun to write, and I hope, fun to read. At least that's the intent.:rolleyes:

  19. Blake

    Blake Member

    Looks like "hogg wash" to me.:D :D :D :D
  20. Mike R

    Mike R Member

    Ron's right about 'cookin' that stuff to kill the cooties off, but you can also use a regular oven, that way you can use steel or aluminum trays or pans to put the dirt in.
    Don't know if it's long enough, but I usually go with about 400F for about an hour. Depends how much moisture is in it.

    Note on sizing the's a very valid observation that true scale size is often not feasible for such items as ballast, as exampled by: screening through about 1/8" mesh, [ that's 3" in 1/2" scale] , might still look a bit too fine for some G scalers...It seems to look pretty good with Lionel though, due to the code 300 rail and wide tin ties.

    The best looking O scale trackwork usually uses a coarse HO ballast, as 2" stones in O are close to 3/64" [0.047"]across.

    For HO, this 2" stone size is about 0.023" across.and in N, the 2" stone is .012" across..quite a bit less than 1/64 of an inch.
    Where do we get screen or mesh in these sizes anyway, even if some of our chosen material would actually pass through them ?:confused:
    regards / Mike;)

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