Next Step: Ballast!

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by prodigy2k7, Mar 25, 2007.

  1. prodigy2k7

    prodigy2k7 Member

    I believe my next step is ballast if I am not mistaken.
    After wiring my track is ballast right?

    I am doing modern era freight trains.
    What is a good color, I think im looking towards a gray ish color, something not too dark but I dont know.
    I am open 100% to suggestions.

    What color/size etc..
    About how much will I need to cover my entire layout? (Including sidings)
    About how much will it cost to cover my layout's track with ballast?


    I know somewhat how to lay it down, seems easy enough, and I hear you spray glue on it with a 50/50 elmers glue/water mixture...

    How do I clean the glue off the tracks? And how long after i spray? Immedieatly? 5 minutes after?

    I want the full specifics of this stuff :p
  2. steamhead

    steamhead Active Member


    I do ballast 'till last, after the scenery is in, I paint the rails & ties, and then ballast. So after ballasting I'm done. I suppose you could do it ballast first, but I don't want to mess with plaster, paint, turf and such, over ballasted track.
    As for the tecnique, there have been several tutorials here. Try a search for "ballast"
  3. steamhead

    steamhead Active Member

  4. jeffrey-wimberl

    jeffrey-wimberl Active Member

    This is the method I use for laying and securing ballast. The track is in place and you're ready for the next step. For HO, I recommend WS gray ballast, 80% fine, 20% medium.

    Now is the time to make sure that all your track is in gauge and all gaps between track sections closed. If you don't, you may have serious problems later on. These include derailments, uncouplings, shorted turnouts, blown power packs, etc, etc...

    For ballasting, I use an 80/20 mix of fine and medium ballast. If you use fine only, the ballast starts to look smooth and boring after a while. The medium ballast adds some bigger pieces and makes the ballast look better. For securing the ballast, I use a 50/50 mix of white glue and water. Don't use matte medium. You'll destroy your track trying to take it up later. Don't ask me how I know. With the water/glue mixture, you can reclaim your track by soaking the ballast with water. The glue in the ballast will soften and you can pull the track up. When putting the ballast and glue mix down, be very careful not to get any in the turnouts. This could freeze the moving parts solid. I suggest moving the ballast into place with your finger, followed by a light brushing with a small paint brush, like a brush for painting models. This moves the ballast away from the sides of the rails so your locomotives and rolling stock don't ride up on it and possibly derail. Be sure too, that the ballast doesn't lay on top of the ties. This could cause problems with coupler pins. when you've finished smoothing the ballast, spray the entire track with a solution of water and a few drops of dish washing liquid. This will insure that the water/glue mix goes through the ballast and glues it tight to the track. When you've done that, apply the water/glue mixture with an eyedropper or old glue bottle. Do the entire track, being very careful not to get it in the turnouts. Let this dry for at least 8 hours, better for 12. When the ballast is dry, clean the entire track with a bright boy or similar eraser. A rubber school eraser works well, too. If you don't do this, the glue on the track will insulate the rail from the locomotive. Be sure to clean the top and inside top edge of the rails. When you're finished, wipe the rails with a soft cloth that's been wetted with liquid track cleaner. Wipe off with a dry cloth. Don't use paper towels. Once you've done that, you're ready for the next step.
  5. prodigy2k7

    prodigy2k7 Member

    I do want to add grass and dirt to my scenery, should I do that first?
  6. steamhead

    steamhead Active Member

    I would...But you might want to add a little texture to the "ground" so your dirt & grass don't look like a golfing green. I put down a layer of plaster to break-up the flatness, givning it some little ups & downs and roughen it up a bit. Then I paint it with some sandy-like colors, and then I put down my gravel and turf. Don't forget to put some little bushes here and there...
  7. TruckLover

    TruckLover Mack CH613 & 53' Trailer

    I would also suggest that you wait for ballasting last. I did my ballast first and it is really hard not to screw it up then you are working in that area with plaster and other scenery stuff.

    My next layout I will work in small sections after I lay all the track down like you have. When that small section is done, I will then lay the ballast down.

    I use custom mixed ballast and I mix:

    Arizona Rock and Mineral Ballast
    Woodland Scenics Ballast
    and Play sand (available at Home Depot for like $5.00 for a 50 lbs. bag
  8. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    I like to run the trains a while before adding ballast. Get all the track problems out and the wiring sorted.
    I've been running mine for about 10 years; maybe I should think about ballast.
  9. prodigy2k7

    prodigy2k7 Member

    Mine runs fine, ive been running it for a few days it sems fine... Only problems I get are when the turnout points are pointing in wrong direction
  10. steamhead

    steamhead Active Member

    David, sounds like me...I ran mine for about that long before I did any ballastng. After I saw the difference ballast made, I quickly went about doing the whole railroad..!!
  11. bigsteel

    bigsteel Call me Mr.Tinkertrain

    i ALWAYS ballast last,since it sucks getting plaser on it and having to redo portions of it allover again if not all of it.and i couldnt let my RR sit that long undetailed!i would go insane deciding to run trains or ...WORK.LOL--josh
  12. TruckLover

    TruckLover Mack CH613 & 53' Trailer

    Well said Jeffrey :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: I took some notes myself sign1
  13. MadHatter

    MadHatter Charging at full tilt.

    Also, to be over precise, on the prototype there's first the scenery, then the tracks and then the ballast.

    I find that first laying the tracks down, then doing scenery and then the ballast works well for me, though there's no wrong way of doing something ('cept wireing of course), I just don't like messing scatter over my ballast either, since ballast is over the scenery (Of course it could denote weeds).

    In the case of colours: I mix my ballast with fine light and dark greys. Maybe one of your sidings can be done in just light grey to propose that it was
    "newly laid", you could even put down brown ballast in another siding to say that it's quite old.
  14. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    My preference is to put in the Homasote roadbed, but no track, and then put in the scenery basics. Don't want real detailed scenery at this point, but the shell with some of the water effects, trees that aren't too close to the track, etc. Also bridges, trestles, and maybe some cardboard mockups of key structures are considered for installation at this point.

    Then, if I'm hand laying track, put in the ties and ballast. This looks great, even without rail. Then, as I'm spiking rail, I feel like the real thing extending my tracks into pre-existing terrain. Later, I can go back and finish the scenery, and add the more fragile details that would not survive track laying.

    Obviously, this technique does not work for hidden track or tunnels. Track there must go first (but you don't need ballast where the track can't be seen!).

    To keep the realism up in this scheme using flex track, the ballast and track weathering must come shortly after track installation. Then touch-up the scenery near the track, followed by touch-ups of the track weathering and ballast (one tends to disturb the other no matter which order).

    My inspiration came from photos of Ben King's and John Allen's layouts, which showed scenicked areas with roadbed and ties, but no rails in place. Also, Model Railroader's project layout, the PH&C of the early '60s, showed track being taken up and the track plan changed after the initial scenery was in.

    just my thoughts, your choices
  15. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Ahh, but then time passes, and budgets to run branchlines shrink, and the weed sprayer doesn't make as many passes, nor the MOW section gang...

    And before you know it, you've got "scenery" again.

    It all depends on the look you are going for.

    My next step here would be to run the layout for a good while (you decide how long that is) to work out any electrical problems or "logical" problems. Now is the time to change the trackwork, or add extra feeders, or another siding. NOT after ballasting...! ;)

  16. Gil Finn

    Gil Finn Active Member

  17. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    I find that at least roughing in scenery before laying track, or especially ballasting, will reveal changes needed/desired in the track plan much better than simply running trains. Roughing in scenery shows whether your cliffs and hills are too steep to be realistic, and/or your waterways too small with perpendicular banks. Putting in bridges as you lay the track makes sure they will fit (unless you scratchbuild to fit). The same with structures - cut up and glue a cardboard box to the templates or size of your planned industry and make sure the planned track arrangement works. The cardboard mockups will serve nicely in temporary operations until you get around to building the real mode. Finally, set some cars right on the roadbed and see if the siding and spur capacities are what you wanted.

    Revisons to track plans are even easier before you glue the track down. But I do agree with Andrew's suggestion of an operational test period before you pronounce your creation "very good". Wiring, trackwork, and car switching issues will only be revealed in operational testing. If using flex or sectional track, these issues are easier to fix before ballasting.

    my thoughts, your choices
  18. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    As far as color for your ballast, are you modeling a prototype railroad or freelancing? If your modeling a prototype, check the real thing or pictures of the real thing. Here in the Southwest, the Santa Fe is known for using a ballast that aparantly has iron ore in it or something because it is kind of a red-brown color, almost pink. In Cajon Pass where the Santa Fe tracks run near the U.P. (ex-S.P.) tracks, you sometimes see the pink ballast and the S.P./U.P. grey ballast mixed in a sort of salt & pepper look. Also Santa Fe only used the red ballast on mainlines, at Hobart yard in Los Angeles, the 3 mainline tracks going by are on red ballast, but the yard tracks are on grey ballast. In some parts of the country the ballast may be almost black, other places it may be buff or tan colored.

    A trick to keep ballast out of turnouts is to use a few drops of plastic compatible oil in the points and on any ties where the points slide to keep the ballast glue from sticking. When you are done, just vacuum up the excess from around the points.
  19. J. Steffen

    J. Steffen Member

    The ballasting subject is like whipping a dead horse but I can never get enough of it.

    How deep should the ballast go? I can't seem to hide the roadbed outside the track.

    What's the foot per container of WS ballast be? I might have to find an alternative source for ballast. Me thinks it may get too expensive...
  20. prodigy2k7

    prodigy2k7 Member

    Plaster looks too messy.
    What the thing with news paper?
    I never did it before but I assume you use glue water and newspaper..

    Then maybe put grass n turf over it

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