Idea for Ballasting; Wondering Will it Work

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by 91rioja, Dec 22, 2006.

  1. 91rioja

    91rioja Member

    Is it a true statement that in the prototype world the ballast is used as a bed for the ties and track? If so, I was wondering if this would work out OK.

    When I lay my track on top of the roadbed (HO) and then ballast, I get a really thin layer between the ties, and sometimes you can see through to the roadbed. So what if I used, say 1/8" shimms, to raise the track off of the roadbed and then put the ballast down. Would this not give the appearence that the track and ties are sitting on top of the ballast, like it is in the prototype?

    What do you think?
  2. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    Yes it is true. The ballast supports the ties and rails, but also allows for proper drainage. This is especailly important in climates where freeze-thaw would move the track around.

    You can paint the roadbed (cork) a darkish colour to help mask any areas where you might see through. In my experience though, filling the gaps between the ties up to the tops of the ties is enough to cover the cork.

    You can always go back and add more after the first round if the results are not to your liking. The solution you propose above seems like a lot of extra work to me...

  3. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    I'm wondering if you're not using too heavy a grain for ballast. For N scale, I use fine, for HO it should be medium I would think. I see few gaps between the ballast and ties, and I've just finished ballasting about 75' of N scale track and roadbed.
  4. 91rioja

    91rioja Member

    Mason, nothing like trying to find ways for me to spend even more time in my train room! sign1

    Ez, I am using a mixture of medium and fine. I tried the large, but didn't like it.
  5. zedob

    zedob Member

    Funny that you brought this up. I was looking through the August MR's "How to build Realistic Layouts" and on page 17 there is an article about Bill Alrich's NYNH&H Shore Line Layout where he describes how he did exactly that. The ballast actually holds the track up above the subroadbed. He claims that it looks realistic and makes superelevation more prototypical. The track is some of the better ballasted track that I've seen.

    I assume that the amount of ballast used if far more than what is normally used, but the cost and effort may be worthwhile if you are interested in taking it that far.
  6. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    I can't speak for n scale since I model in ho, but the medium ballast sold by Woodland Scenics is too coarse for ballast in ho scale. I use fine exclusively for ballast. The medium works for rip rap, like the large rocks the Santa Fe used to protect the ballast on the surf line from washing out to sea.
  7. kitsune

    kitsune Member

    Since the roadbed ought to be hidden, it should make no difference in how it looks later. So while you could do it like you lay out, it would just take more ballast that way. It's also likely that it would change the way the layout "sounds" as cars run over it. Plus it's possible that it might not get good glue penetration, which could result in the track shifting or the roadbed cracking.

    In short, it's probably just easier to do it the traditional way, and it shouldn't look any worse once it's done, if you get enough coverage.
  8. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Just a guess here, but I think that you may have misunderstood how the prototype ballast functions, which has led to the replies not addressing your situation.
    While the prototype does lay the ties on top of the ballast, it also fills in the spaces between the ties and around the ends of the ties with more ballast. Usually this is up to the tie-tops, although it can be less, or even sometimes more. While the ballast below the ties is there to aid with drainage, the ballast between the ties is to keep them from moving every time a train passes. On our models, we use a roadbed (usually) like cork or foam to represent the ballast that's supposed to be supporting the ties, but because it is not actually seen on the prototype, there's no need to actually use ballast for that purpose on our models. What we do see on the prototype is the ballast that holds the ties in place, and that's the ballast that we need to model. So, don't be afraid to add more ballast to cover up those bald patches. The one place where you don't want too much ballast is at turnouts, especially in the space between the ties where the tiebar/throwbar is located: in this space, there should be no ballast, and in the areas beneath the moving parts (points), the ballast must be kept below the tietops. I usually paint the aforementioned areas with black paint before ballasting, as this area is usually quite greasy on the prototype anyway.
    Here's a photo that shows the ballast around a turnout, and how it differs from that on the track under the locomotive.

    I hope this answers your question.


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