Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by OnTrack, Oct 19, 2006.
Thanks for the kind words doctor.
I'm not sure exactly where to go with this.
How much do you really want an honest response to your original question?
Okay; so you've guessed it will be negative... at east to start.
I'm going to post some notes I made before on ballast in the hints and tips section. There's a lot of stuff there but I believe it will give you a pile of ideas on what you are modelling under the deceptively simple term "ballast".
There is a big question for all of us about how much time, effort and cash we can put into our hobby. There is also a fact that we have different skills.
Allow me to stress this please... Those of us like Dr Wayne got their skills by starting out with something basic and being prepared to rip it up and do it again. This in no way detracts from Dr Wayne's achievement nor anyone else's.
The reason I'm saying this is that you say " I'm so anxious so i figured ive gotta do some thing. I decided to do a practice scenery". Well, it's a hobby not an exam or job interview. Plus... you're doing the right thing... having a go at it.
Okay, so if Dr Wayne will forgive my borrowing his first pic and using it as an example...
If you print it out and put it on one side... leave it... later come back and just look at it fast.
You will see the train, mainly the steam engine. I've just checked it out and I can't even tell you how many cars there are or if there is a caboose in sight.
Then there's some pretty big buildings in the background. Grain silos. How many? Haven't a clue!
Doing well aren't I?
Track? Well I have an image of some rather white track (not impossible) and some rather bright green. I'm going to put some of this down to photography. The scene is bombed with light. There isn't a single shadow... except straight down under the gon on the right. must be high noon... (Is that right Doc... er... sorry!)
None of this is anything wrong with a fine model that I wish that I could claim credit for.
The points that i am making are that our eyes see what we are interested in first and the rest is background. to be pedantic, our eyes see a whole bunch of stuff and our brains filter out most of it down to what we are (1) threatened by and (2) interested in. Usually in that order...'cos that's what keeps us alive. Simple proof of this order... when we are walking the main street we usually miss the street furniture... when we get distracted enough by someone interesting or a nice car we occasionally crash into the fittings... the eyes may be seeing it but the brain has gone walkies.
Okay, so this applies in a model and, specifically to our track and ballasting.
Ballast is relatively small in size and uniform when first laid. A sthe other notes show it is normally small enough to pass through a 2" ring when being screened and not much below 1.5" will be used originally.
In H0 that is a maximum grain size of about 1/3mm. That's 0.013"... or a tad over 1/100th of an inch.
Whatever colour ballast starts out as it does two things. (1) it gets dirty (2) it compacts down with the vibrations of passing trains and settles as a granular surface which reflects any available light in thousands of directions - which has a dulling effect on the colour as perceived by the human brain through the eyes. Add this on top of the fact that ballast isn't usually interesting and is very rarely threatening and it is dull and pretty much non-existent to our attention most of the time. this does not, however, mean that when we pay attention to it it is actually dull and boring or monochromatic.
I think that Dr Wayne already knows that I'm not going to agree with him about the cinders or the spilt coal. They are a matter of opinion.
My view is that cinders make lousy ballast with very few exceptions and that coal would not be left on the ground... it has a cash value... if nothing else someone would hop over the fence and collect up any useable lumps and keep warm with them.
In the steam days when times were hard loco crews in this country (UK) would deliberately over fill their loco tenders and run carefully to strategic locations where there were holes in the fence and then bang round the bends as hard as possible to "accidentally" shed lumps of coal - preferably down an embankment. The local kids would know what drivers were on what trains and when they were due so they would be waiting with buckets, sacks and even old prams to pick up the "freebies". They would usually have a young kid that couldn't carry much posted as lookout for the cops. I have never seen this modelled even on the best UK layouts. I would expect that it happened in the US... possibly with a bit more aggression from the RR cops. It did, after all, cost them money. It is also true for this country that stacked coal stores for both the railways and military were whitewashed so that any pilfering showed up.
Okay... so modelling ballast...
The first thing (as always) is to get to see the real thing if you can and always look for the specific detail in as many pics as you can find whether you can see the real thing or not.
It is a really useful practice if you have the time to go though lots of pics and edit cuts of ballast into a word document so that you have half a dozen pics per page of nothing but strips of ballast. It will help to segregate these by the sort of area they are in... main track, second track, yards, industrial and whatever else you want to model.
I'm not being rude... BUT... how do we expect to make a good model if we haven't taken a hard look at what we are modelling? We wouldn't do it for weathering a boxcar. So why just plonk down ballast?
So... you have loads of printouts of ballast and...
they will probably include all sorts of eye catching things like footwalks, spillage, oil drums, lengths of rail, ties etc etc.
All of which we want to ignore.
Seriously. First thing to look for is drain covers and/or open drains.
A huge part of what track formation is about is getting rid of rain and ground water. Ground water is what you get after rain... but it can come from miles away and come underground. Railroad track formation is an imposition on the natural landscape even when it is flat across flat land. As soon as we start to add cuts or fills we start to seriously mess with the environment and what water does in it if left alone. For our visual purposes this means that there is almost always some need for drainage. this varies from carefully maintained deep ditches with rip-rap lined sides to almost invisible. What is appropriate for your layout will depend on where you are modelling... which you find from your research into pics...
In the real thing the the formation will be built up in several layers. Modern track frequently has a synthetic membrane between the planet and the bottom of the formation. This is taken to site in huge rolls that look like thin carpet (without the pretty pattern). This is often design to stop soil particles rising into the formation with water rising into the ballast - which is one of the biggest problems that the engineers have to deal with.
If you do the research you will find the variety of layers that different RR have tried at different times over the years. You don't actually need to know this except that you might want to go for the specific ballast profile that specific RR used on their maintracks at specific periods. This is far more than I've found it to be worth doing.
What is worth modelling is the fact that the ballast profile usually sits on top of the surrounding ground. This also applies in the bottom of cuts and on top of fills.
To take cuts and fills seperately. Cuts... the base of the cut will be wider than the base of the ballast formation when constructed. The outside space is called the "cess" in the UK and is just an open way for water to escape in the most basic form. Fills... the flat top of a fill will also be wider than the ballast formation. This does two things... it provides drainage again... and it stops the formation ballast slipping off down the slopes of the fill... which is pretty important as, apart from anything else, ballast costs money. Over time some ballast will drift into the cesses on each side of the track blurring the outline. Equally (as we all know) plant life and/or local soil will infiltrate toward the ballast formation/track.
When track is very new (which isn't for long) the blurring will be limited but the emigration of ballast and invasion of th planet will always work to average out the border lines. Given enough time and little enough maintenance and the track will apeear to be one with its surroundings. You can add to this the fact that anywhere that road vehicles get near the track they need to be level with the rail head if they want to cross it and you have a lot of situations where the formation doesn't show.
What will show for most track though is that the ballast sits up as a level top with the ties in it and angled edges (more or less smoothed out or shaped by machines depending on era and/or maintenance).
How to model this...
(1) decide what era/maintenance you are going to model and where on the layout. different parts may have different features.
(2) design the space around the track as well as the track. this can be a lot easier than you might think. A lot of companies provide either cork or foam sub bases to lay your track on. these are usually available in ballast profiles. If you plan for your track on these and then lay it on them a huge chunk of your work has already been done for you.
(3)If you're going for more complex cess drains you may want to mark out where the track base gor=es and then do any drainage work before laying it. remember that if you cut into the baseboard to provide a drain you will reduce the strength of the baseboard to some degree. Given the amount of timber US modellers seem to use in their layouts i don't think that this will matter too much though.
(4) I would reckon that you want to colour the base before you lay track on it. I reckon that this is one time you can usually get away with a uniform colour - at least to start with. the reason is that most of the base is going to be hidden with later work.
(5) Track colouring is a different subject... divided into ties and rails.
(6) locate the track and test it. Then test it again.
(7) Make all the electrical connections and test them. Then test them again.
(8) If you've tested everything properly and it all works anything that doesn't work after the next bit could be down to your ballasting... but don't assume that it is...
(9) Depending on your track you don't need more ballast than will cover the base all over. this may be a single coating of ballast one grain deep. This will not come up to the full depth of the ties so, in this case, you will have had to pay more attention to you tie detailing. At the other extreme your ties may be covered... ensure that the flangeways are left clear. All levels in between may occur... go back to your pics for your local arrangement.
(10) The ballast may be uniform in colour if it is new or something in the environment is affecting it. More usually it will be both varied in colour and show a history of what has developed at site. This makes a whole subject (or subjects). If you go down the path of detailing the ballast you are likely to lay the ballast in several layers rather than a single hit.
Okay... that's a beginning.
I hope this is useful
Dave, a well-thought out reply, and as usual, filled with useful observations and information. I'm well aware of the over-filled tender trick, as it was done here, too. I plan to model this in Dunnville, if I can ever find time to finish the neighborhood north of the station. As for the cinder ballast, it was quite common in the engine terminals that I'm familiar with, although I find the Woodland Scenics stuff that I used is too coarse. As for the spilled coal, it is actually spilled: I just haven't got around to cleaning it up. Also, there must be something in the water here, as all of my little plastic citizens are childless, which explains the lack of young scroungers. You're right about the lack of shadows, too, and it's been mentioned before. It's one of the trade-offs when using fluorescent lights. I have, on occasion, positioned a trouble light to act as the sun, thereby casting a few shadows, although to be realistic in most of those scenes, the shadows would be on the side of the viewer, who is facing south.
I too am not overly fond of the light buff-coloured ballast: it was chosen mainly to provide a contrast to the ballast in the last picture, as these represent two different railroads. Perhaps when I get around to weathering it, it can be toned down a bit.
Your points about ballast profiles, roadbed, and drainage are well-taken. While I've tried to suggest some of those things, it wasn't a major consideration when the layout was built, and were I doing another, I'd certainly consider using extruded foam as a base. A suitably-shaped hot wire foam cutter could do the roadbed, subroadbed, and drainage ditch profiles in one pass.
I hope that everyone following this thread takes the time to read Dave's post, as not only is it full of useful information, it also makes an important point about taking the time to "see" what we're looking at: a very useful aid when trying to replicate it.
I feel pretty sure that you know that I was using your pic as example and not finding fault. I certainly wish that I was that far advanced and not still pulling stuff out of boxes after moving!
May i suggest adding an ordinary tungsten lampor a daylight lamp to your lighting? It would help your eyes as well as give better colour rendition... on which subject I reckon that just the fluorescent strips will account for some of the colour effects in your pics... subject to what film you are using (if not digital0... but that's technical stuff that I only know exists.
Thanks for the nice remarks.
Hey, Dave, absolutely no offense taken. While I enjoy getting favourable responses to my pictures, I'm always a bit surprised that so many seem to enjoy them, especially since I agree with your assessment. I hope that each time I try something, I'll get a bit closer to achieving the effect that I'm after. I'm learning as I go along with a lot of this stuff, too: my trees are improving, but they're not quite what I'm hoping for, although I was quite pleased with my first attempts at modelling water. One of the most important things that I've learned is that scenery, after it's been analyzed, requires a hands-on approach, and a realization that it's not life-or-death. Sooner or later, you have to "just do it." If it turns out well; great. If not, tear it out, or live with it. Sometimes you have to make the mistakes before you can understand them. And I've always been aware that I seldom see the parts that make up a scene, only the total scene. It explains, at least to me, why I can meet a person for the first time, then not even remember their name only 10 seconds into a conversation with them.
On Track, Good start. All the comments above should help you do a great job with your track. I wish there had been a Gauge when I first tried my hand at ballasting my track...!!!
Great pictures of some excellent modelling!!! Question - How did you come by those stacks of lumber? I'm about to set up my lumber distributor & of course need lots of it.
Thanks, steamhead. The lumber stacks are built-up from strip styrene, with the centre of the piles being hollow to conserve material. The higher piles with the "stickers" separating the sections are similar in construction to the lower piles, with hollow centres but fully-modelled tops. All of the part-piles are cemented together, but not to each other. That way I can remove or rearrange stacks as I see fit. I mixed up some Floquil paint to get a "new wood" colour, then went over the boards with a small brush and some heavily thinned orange paint, adding a few knots here and there. I need to build more of these to make the yard look a little more prosperous.
Some impressvie information here!
Not bad for a first try. Can't really comment too much, since I haven't even attempted this much yet
Now Thats the Gauge I joined many years ago.
Ya'll have renewed my faith that this is STILL the friendliest most helpful Model Railroading Forum around...........The Thoughtful Replies and helpful directions are nice to see.
Sometimes those who have been around in this hobby forget what it was like when they were first beginning............Having a forum where you feel comfortable sending your son or nephew ,daughter or niece to knowing they will get helpful & friendly advice is what I always liked about the gauge.
Thanks guys for showing me that ya'll havent forgotten.......:thumb:
Well thanks again guys for ALL the information provided. I appreciate it and you guys never let me down.
OnTrack, read a lot and go to sites that have a lot of info on them. Your idea to practice is great and commendable. Mostly though have fun and don't fret the small stuff as it were. You may be in this a long time and have many layouts so relax and take your time. I Didn't run my first train for weeks after I started simply because I was taking my time and finishing laying all the track first. But that is MY way, most people run trains long before that.
Find your own way and settle into it but be prepared to chnge as the years go on.
In the meantime, it is all practice for all of us because [hopefully] we ll get better
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