Nightmare on ballast street!

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by vilefileman, Mar 23, 2005.

  1. vilefileman

    vilefileman Member

    Ok, I will start from the begginning.
    I am doing a 4 x 8 NYC rural scene. I have down the track (on cork) Ive laid down about 60% groundcover, and I have planted about 10 Woodland Scenics trees, hand made and a barn scene and hobo house scene. It was all perfect. i was very impressed with myself.
    SO I decide to take on ballasting.
    Here is how my day went yesterday.
    I pick up some medium dark grey ballast. I spend the afternoon in work reading, re-reading, comparing about 10 different techniques for laying ballast.
    I decide on how I am gonna do it and I head home.
    Here were the steps I took.
    I created a 1/2 water, 1/2 white glue, couple drops of detergent spray bottle and let that gel.
    I open the shaker of ballast, and start by pinching it between the tracks, to be followed by each side of the outside rails, and then outside slope down.
    Problem #1 - either too much or too little, but the in between track ballast was just movin around, kicking up so to say. running my finger down it, or taking a fine brush to sweep it off the rails was fruitless. But I moved on.
    Problem #2 - The ballast kept spreading to my ground cover, it was like a fungus.
    Problem #3 - I put the ballast bottle on the edge of the track, and sure enuf as I turned to grab it, (slow motion) as it tumbles to the floor. Arghhh!
    My wife comes down, and here I am ont he floor, scooping and slicing a white powder off the floor. She turns her head to the right, and in the top of a shoebox is ground up dark green lichen. Its a wonder she didnt pack up the kids, call me an addict and run away screaming!
    Anway, so eventually I finish about 100 scale yards of track, and I break out my spray bottle. As I begin to spray, I suddenly realize its not mist, but stream. everything between the track was saturated. I tried running my finger through it, but it just kept clumping up. Argggg!
    I just put everything down, and went to bed.
    this morning, the ballast outside the tracks is still there sitting pretty, the ballast inside the tracks in clumped up like little beebee's all over the place.
    Any help or hints or thoughts or solace would be appreciated.......

  2. Matthyro

    Matthyro Will always be re-membered

    Ohhh man, I sympathize with you. Ballasting can be such a chore but really worth it in the end. It seems you were on the right track until the spray bottle sent a stream instead of a spray. Sounds like you have a clean-up job to do before you start over again. The whole mess can be removed if you saturate the ballast then use one of those shop vacs to suck it all up. When you are ready to go at it again, just spread new ballast (I use a brush) then lightly spray it with that water with a drop of detergent. Then use a squeeze bottle with a 50 50 mix of white glue and waterto saturate the ballast then go away for 12 hours to give it the chance to set. Hope your next attempt goes smoothly.
  3. TomPM

    TomPM Another Fried Egg Fan


    Here is what I do.

    Spread out the ballast like you did. Do not over worry about the ballast floating up from between the ties and onto the ties. In the real world there is always some ballast on top of the ties. The thing you want to do is keep it away from the rails when it is on top of the ties. Nothing worse than a wheel hitting a piece of ballast sitting next to the rail.

    I then mix up a solution of rubbing alcohol (1 part) and water (3 to 5 parts). I then place the mixture in a cup and using a dropper I apply this mixture to the ballast. I basically wet it down. This will help prevent the ballast from absorbing your glue mixture. I know some folks just mist the ballast with water. A word of caution; be careful with the alcohol water solution near anything you used Dullcoat on. A little splash can turn into a white mark.

    Give the alcohol water solution a few minutes to be absorbed by the ballast.

    Now saturate the ballast with the glue and water mixture.

    Give it a day or so to dry and reapply glue water mix at areas that are loose.

    Some time in the next month or so I will be doing some ballasting. I will try to remember to take pictures when I do.
  4. emt49

    emt49 Member

    I spred the ballast with a brush then use a spray bottel with water and a drop or two of dish sope then i ues a medacin dropper and apply the glue
  5. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    I follow TOM's method except:
    I have a hair spray bottle for the alcohol that always delivers a fine mist.
    I use Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement, whch I think is artist's matte medium. I deliver this with an eye-dropper, sometimes diluted.
  6. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    The dropper is the key... I use it for all steps - can't "overspray" with one...! ;) The method TomPM describes is pretty much what I do, except I use straight alcohol. It is from the dollar store, and is already a 50% solution (compared with about 90% from the drug store) so i do not mix it with water...

  7. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

    I use those 29 cent 1 inch wide paint brushes made with hair sold at Wal-mart in the crafts section.

    I pour the ballast down between the rails and push it down the center. The overflow starts to naturally apply a shoulder to the ballast on either side. I then apply my ground cover using plain dirt, demagnatized and mixed to varying degrees with Woodland Scenics ground foam. I'll add grass and foliage clumps as I move away from the track. DON"T SNEEZE!!! :eek:

    I then mist it---this is key, do not do this until you've found a bottle that mists properly---heavily 'til it's good and wet. If it balls up, it's because the water isn't misting enough most times. My bottles come from the cosmetics section in most dept. stores. My "wet" water is a mix of water and a cap full of rubbing alcohol.

    I use the empty Elmer's Glue bottles as droppers, a little practice and you'll never go back to an eye dropper. I use a standard 50/50 mix with a dibble of alcohol in it, then just pour it on carefully, starting between the rails and working out.

    Hope that helps, BC

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  8. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    The other thing I forgot to mention is that if you want the ballast on the sholder/slope to behave, you can run a bead of white glue (full strength, and spread it with your finger) before you put the ballast on. This will help trap and hold ballast as you apply it and prevent the "creep" you talked about. you will still need to add more, and secure it with the glue solution.

  9. TomPM

    TomPM Another Fried Egg Fan

    Thanks for bring that up Andrew. I forgot that part. :oops:

    One more thing I do is I weather the track and the ties before I do the ballast.
  10. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    My procedure is composed of bits of everything already mentioned. I spread the ballast (I use a teaspoon to lay it between the rails, avoiding putting too much down makes life easier) with a finger. BTW, real ballast can be seen in many different conditions and also is varied by time period, if you care about that. I like to keep the ballast a bit below the tie level, so applying small amounts ins more important to me. When the ballast is in place as desired, I use a very fine mist of alcohol (water will not saturate as well and balls up the ballast) with either some india ink or acrlic paint added as weathering. Then the white glue/water mix is applied with either a pipette (eye dropper) or a white glue bottle, depending on the size of the area to be done.
  11. brakie

    brakie Active Member

    I use a table spoon to place the ballast,then I use a 1" brush and spread the ballast..I then stand back and spray a light mist of rubbing alcohol-if you stand to close you will end up with craters in your ballast..I then use Woodland Scenics matte medium with a eye dropper to glue the ballast down.
  12. Matthyro

    Matthyro Will always be re-membered

    I am curious, many of you mention using alcohol. Other than having a sip, what good does the alcohol do? I ave always used a spray of water with a drop of detergent in it to wet the ballast then 50 50 white glue and water and it works fine so the addition of alcohol must do something EH!
  13. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Robin, alcohol soaks in much more easily than water, even water with some detergent. The purpose of the detergent of course is to make the water "wetter", or flow more easily. Alcohol is way "wetter"! Just last night I decided to pull up some homasote which had been glued to plywood with white glue. After prying up the homasote, there was of course some "skin" of homasote left on the plywood. When I applied some hot water to soften the homasote/glue, it beaded up and sat there. On another section I applied alcohol, it spread instantly, and then I could put a few drops of the hot water on.
  14. Matthyro

    Matthyro Will always be re-membered

    Thanks Gary, I will have to try it.
  15. Skammer

    Skammer Member

    I've been ballasting all week, and it's coming out pretty well. I distribute the ballast with a teaspoon, spread it between the ties and along the sides with a very soft artist's brush, then apply first rubbing alcohol and then Scenic Cement with an eyedropper.

    But I feel your pain... my first attempts at ballasting my first layout were disastrous!
  16. robt46

    robt46 Member

    Very interesting subject. I'm going to start ballasting soon and this came along just in time. Hope I don't screw this up. Hehe. Anyway, the Scenic Cement and Matte Medium mentioned ,Is that better than white glue/water mix. Or is it more personal preference. Just wondering. Also eyedroppers, I'm looking at all this track and I'm havig a hard time seeing how I can get all this done with an eyedropper. I guess it will be spray bottle. Anybody know if there are a specific type to use. Guess a fine spray is required. Robt.
  17. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Robert, I haven't used Scenic cement so can't comment on it, but it probably costs more than white glue, which has no disadvantages I've ever found. Regarding the eyedropper, I use pipettes, same concept but larger. For large areas put the glue/water mix in a white glue bottle and dispense from it. Sprayers which deliver very fine mists of alcohol or wet water do not deliver the same fine spray when spraying the glue/water mix. And control of where the glue goes isn't as good. The bottle is what I would suggest.

  18. robt46

    robt46 Member

    Gary, thanks for the tip. Sounds like the way to go. I laid a piece of flex track on some scrap homasote. Figure I'll hone my technique before I tackle the big stuff. If I don't mess up too much mabe it could be my programming track or something. Hehe. Thanks again. Robt.
  19. Skammer

    Skammer Member

    One mistake I made early on that you should avoid is using too much ballast, especially between the rails. If you have too much, it's hard to brush it away and keep it off the ties or away from the rails.

    I've used both white glue/water and Scenic Cement. SC is a little more expensive (though not horribly so), but it's worth it for me. I've always had trouble getting the glue/water mix right, and I've found SC to be less messy. It also seems to dry faster. Next time I might try the matte medium, which is probably cheaper.
  20. brakie

    brakie Active Member

    I like the Woodland Scenic cement and I find that it drys faster and very easy to work with.Then there is the mess I usually end up with while mixing white glue with water..So,in that light its worth the extra money to me.

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