Ballast size

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

  1. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    How about boiling the stuff? I think my wife would surrender a pot before she'd give up either her oven or microwave.:eek: :eek:

    Hmm, St. Vincent De Paul or the Salvation Army might have a old microwave for a few bucks.:)

  2. sapacif

    sapacif Member

    Very interesting subject. I have a 20 x 30 ft N scale layout that is all track and I have a lot more ballasting to do. But I do have some experience, so far.

    Fine is the size you want for N scale. I used Arizona Rock and Mineral for the mainline. It was expensive (24 bags), so I looked for an alternative for the yards. I settled on ordinary concrete type sand you buy at Home Depot/Lowes. It is silica, and after you glue it down, you can still see through it in places. But, this is not the color you want, it is only the texture. I air brushed it and I think it looks very real. You can no longer see the grains after you airbrush; everything blends in. But, I was doing a yard and sidings so for me, the ties were buried with no discernable roadbed. It was the look that I liked. The soil was painted a yellow clieche (sp..also called mud by some) color to match the San Antonio area soils.

    This sand had to be sifted to achieve consistent granular size. I came up with coarse, medium, and fine and achieved this by filtering through paint filters made for those professional high pressure sprayers. Each filter is a cloth like and there are many sizes. Some for spraying stucco (very coarse) and others for spraying final touches on fine furniture. All are available at the hardware store.

    I found no magnetic particles in this product. It was mostly silica, so maybe that is why.

    Finally, I will add that this worked for N scale. I have a little HO experience, and the different scale size causes detail to be more critical in the larger scale. That is obvious when working on a model engine or rollingstock, but it is also true when making leaves, bushes, apples, weeds, etc.

    I don't have a picture to post here, but you can see a picture of my layout and the yard ballasting in the latest N Scale Railroading magazine. About page 34, I think. I have the tiff photo of that here. Maybe I can convert it to a jpeg and post it. Would that work or would it still be too big?

    Once again, this is a subject close to my heart.:)
  3. Blake

    Blake Member

    What I did a couple of years ago was to dig up some nice looking dirt. Then I washed it (no lie) by putting it in a can and running water into it. I allowed all of the "floaties" to run off into the sink stuff like small twiggs, leaf bits and the like). Then I poured the water out, spread it out on a tin foil covered cookie sheet and baked it at 300 degrees for about 2 hours. Let it cool, added some icing and it was, no I broke it up and put it in a coffee can with a lid. Now when I need some, I just break a piecs off and sift it the size that I need it. Save the little rocks too, they're useful to.
  4. sapacif

    sapacif Member

    Here are some photo examples of the painted sand technique I wrote about in an earlier post. Here is the sand and track before painting. You can see how uniform it looks. I buried the ties in the sand so it is all level.

    Here is the painted sand. The unballasted two-track main line is on the right. All the color comes from the paint.

    Just one technique. If you use colors in the ballast, I am sure it would give similar appearance, but the sand is really inexpensive and plentiful. Color, using the sand, doesn't matter.
  5. Blake

    Blake Member

    Here is a 1/35 scale military diorama where I used that baked and sifted earth. Also made use of the small stones as well.

    Attached Files:

    • red1.jpg
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  6. Blake

    Blake Member

    Wow, nice railroad sapacif!!
  7. sapacif

    sapacif Member

    Blake: Very nice diorama. I always thought military models were the best dioramas because they paint everything. I think it makes it all look uniform like it fits together.
  8. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    Wow! Flash, Blake, neat stuff. Great layout Flash, I've got to see the rest. The same goes for the military stuff Blake. :)

    I'm going to try it. I went out back and found all sorts of sand ranging from just translucent silica to some that was black. Most of what's out there has been claimed by the wildlife and I didn't want to fight them on their territory, but what I got looks good and has some stuff that looks finer than MS fine. Hmm, maybe this is the same wash that Arizona Rock gets their stuff.

    Now if I get out that Julia Child's cookbook, maybe I can convince my wife I'm baking something French.:rolleyes:

  9. K.V.Div

    K.V.Div Member

    That is one fantastic looking yard Flash, The ballast and scenery look great. I look forward to seeing more pics of your empire.:cool:

  10. billk

    billk Active Member

    I've used ordinary window screen before. If use two (or more?) layers of it, oriented so the wires of one layer are at about a 45deg. angle to the other layer, you can get the hole size down pretty small.
    I think you would want a little variation in the size. Nothing huge like a boulder in the middle of the tracks, but if all the bits are exactly the same it starts to look like a solid surface instead of individual pieces.
  11. Matthyro

    Matthyro Will always be re-membered

    That is one awesome looking layout sapacif. What size is it?
    Nice use of dirt Blake.
  12. Drew1125

    Drew1125 Active Member

    Sifted Dirt Pt1

    Hi Don!
    I know I'm getting in here kind of late, but I like to use dirt from my yard too...both as ballast for sidings & industrial track, & as basic ground cover.
    1. I dried the dirt by spreading it out on my driveway in the sun...

    2. I sifted the dirt through a metal window screen onto sheets of newspaper...

    3. I discard what doesn't go through the screen.

    4. What does make it through, I place in a plastic container.

    5. I run a strong magnet through the dirt to extract any magnetic particles...

    I use this dirt as is for ground cover, but for ballasting, & other situations where I need a really fine dirt, I sift it again, this time through a nylon stocking stretched over a metal can...

    Attached Files:

  13. Drew1125

    Drew1125 Active Member

    Sifted Dirt Pt2

    What I'm left with are 2 grades of dirt...
    The dirt on the right has gone through the window screen, & the dirt on the left has been sifted again, through the nylon stocking...

    Attached Files:

  14. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    I went to Wal-Mart today and picked up a 2 1/2" food strainer and a tea strainer, both made by Elko. I sifted the sand I got out of the washes first with the fppd strainer, then with the tea strainer. The first one gave me grains up to a bit larger than WS fine, and the tea strainer gave me grains smaller than WS fine. I haven't tried it with dirt yet, but I think this is going to work out. I'll clean it up before I use it and check for iron particles, and hey, I might even find some gold in there considering that there are gold mines in the area.:D

  15. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    I was looking at ballast in the CPR yard in Hamilton today (see Interurben's post on 2816) and noted that the ballast generally had a large dimension of 1.5 to 2". There was also a lot of smaller stuff mixed in.
  16. Greg Elems

    Greg Elems Member

    Great thread going here. Ballast, like rivets tends to be oversized to be seen. From the prototype stand point; there is need for both large and small sizes. Having spent almost ten years on the ground as a brakeman or switchman, the smaller the ballast, the better for walking. In the yard, the smaller ballast is called screenings. The ballast on the mainline tends to be bigger for drainage purposes. It doesn’t take long to tear up the soles on boots walking on ballast.

    Greg Elems
  17. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    Yeah, this thread has a lot of good stuff in it, and it has helped me tremendously. I said when I came to this forum that I'd be asking a lot of basic questions and people here have responded graciously and generously to them all. :)

    One thing, with the limited experimenting I've done, I would have to agree with Greg that ballast should be a bit oversized otherwise it could wind up looking too smooth, but I'll try to screen some as fine as I can and try it before I start putting the ballast on my layout.

    The point about larger ballast being hard to walk on makes me wonder why BNSF used the larger stuff on both sides of some of its crossings here making it difficult for pedestrians to cross any place but on the roadway.:confused: :confused: Especially since some of these are extremely busy with traffic. :eek:

  18. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    Pumping iron

    Thanks to some of the comments here, I have been spared a lot of grief. I went out back and picked up a bucket of nice-looking sand and spotted some really cool black sand. I came back and got a small bucket of the black stuff, but thought it was strange that it seemed to be a lot heaver than the first stuff, even though there was less of it in the bucket. Based on what you guys said, I put a magnet into the black sand and wow! Pure black iron oxide, all of it; :eek: :eek: :eek: (I thought iron oxide was red). I went and did the same to the other sand, and there is so much iron mixed in it will take way too long to get it all out.:( This stuff has to be washing down from some hills out in the desert. Hmm, I wonder what iron oxide is going for on the open market? Nah, it ain't worth all that work.....

    This time when I go back there I'm gunna have a magnet with me to save me hauling bad stuff up a steep hill. That is if I can find a patch that isn't full of iron.:D

    D:cool: N
  19. SD90

    SD90 Active Member

    I have a friend who uses childrens sand box sand, for ballast, then goes back and paints it. Has anyone else ever heard of this, or done it themselves? It is only $5 for a 25 lb bag, so the price is right, but I'm just wondering if it is more trouble than it's worth?
  20. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    One of the things I looked at was "play sand", but thought it was too course for N scale. Besides, the sample I got at Loew's was contaminated with iron oxide, and believe me, I have plenty of that. Even the dirt around my house has it in it, so I don't need to go buy any.:eek: :eek: :eek: I'm concluding like you, maybe it is "more trouble than it's worth" and I'm just going to stick with what I get at the LHS for now.


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