What color ballast?

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by Rusty Spike, Jun 16, 2004.

  1. Rusty Spike

    Rusty Spike Member

    I'm sure many of you have eyeballed lots of model railroad roadbed. I'm ballasting a bunch of yard and mainline track and want to make a good choice for the color of ballast I use. The track is all Atlas code 100 flex that has been weathered a flat, dark brown. I would love to ballast my track like the local purple-ish granite used by CNW but have found nothing similar.

    So I'm willing to give up prototype accuracy for what just plain looks the best - makes the track look more real, is pleasing to the eye, etc., etc.

    Any suggestions? Pictures to support your opinions would be greatly appreciated as well.
  2. BDC

    BDC Member

    Have you tried any of the Arizona Rock ballast? I know they make several different kinds of ballast. I'm using it, mainly because of the colors available and it's actual rock rather than colored nut shells.


    A quick check of the website shows a CNW 'pink' and a Copper Range 'green'. HTH
  3. mykroft

    mykroft Member

    For yards, use a dark grey or black (looks like cinders, what was used to ballast many yard through the transition era).

    I'm fond of grey for mainline ballast, I'd prefer a slag look, but I've never run across something that looks like slag ballast (common on CN's Capreol Sub and CP's Nickel Sub).
  4. Pitchwife

    Pitchwife Dreamer

    Here is a related question that has been percolating in the back of my mind for a while. I remember reading a recent post (I apologize. I don't remember the thread, the post or the poster) that pointed out two different colors of balast on parallel tracks. Would it make sense for two different railroads to use ballast from seperate sourced and thereby having different colors on parallel mainlines or even sidings that were added after the mainline was laid?
  5. mykroft

    mykroft Member

    Different railroads would often have different ballast colours in the same area, depending on what the source of the ballast was.

    Sidings(And especially spurs) would often be ballasted with cinders or another cheap ballast while the main gets better ballast. This is also responsible for the elevation difference between the main and the spur, with the spur being lower, as less ballast is used and a less labour-intensive roadbed was used for the spur.
  6. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    That may have been my post. CN and CP at West Toronto: one has grey ballast and the other has black. Maybe Tingoat could confirm. I've seen the colours change at the junction.
  7. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    The Santa Fe's mainline here in So Cal is ballasted with an oxide red ballast. The yards & sidings get grey ballast.
  8. Pitchwife

    Pitchwife Dreamer

    I presume that it would be accurate to say that even along mainlines the ballast wouldn't be a consistant color.
  9. Fred_M

    Fred_M Guest

    India Ink in alcohol will shade and color ballast just like it does buildings. India Ink also comes in colors besides black. Try some purple ink on woodland scenics "nutshell" ballast for some color in your ballast. Fred
  10. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    I would assume that all aggregate is local to the railroad, just as it is in highway construction. On the larger highways (especiialy the 400-series here in Ontario) you can see evidence of "wayside" pits. They are temporary pits permitted to provide a local, cheap source of gravel or whatever to the construction of the road. Railways may be a little different, in that a somewhat constant supply is needed to keep the profile in good shape...?

  11. Fred_M

    Fred_M Guest

    That's a false assumption Andrew. The old mopac line here in Missouri is ballasted with purple granite, and there isn't any granite within 100s of miles of here, just limestone for hundred of feet deep and under that galena. I was told by a local guy who use to work for the mopac that it came from a quarry in Wyoming. Anyway it's odd looking and out of place here in Missouri. Fred
  12. Will_annand

    Will_annand Active Member

    Rusty, another factor to consider along with ballast is to weather the track.

    An old RMC article stated that the fellow used car primer spray cans in red, gray and flat black. He lightly sprayed the track with the the three colors to represent rust and grime, then sanded the top shiny again, giving the entire rail an "old but used" (his words) look.

    Another suggestion for ballasting turnouts was to apply electrical tape to the bottom of the track and ballast the turnout BEFORE laying it, this kept glue away from the switch points.

    I am in N Scale and will be starting these procedures soon. I have found some "Decorative Gravel" at the local Dollarama Store, it comes in 670g plastic bottles which are 3" in diameter and 5.5" tall. It is totaly non-magnetic and comes in black, grey and sand colours (they also have red, yellow green and blue which to my eye are not suitable). Each bottle is $1.00 CDN. I will be mixing the three colours together in some blend to simulate the ballast on my layout. I may even mix in some used and dried coffee grounds to give a blended ballast look.
  13. mykroft

    mykroft Member

    Andrew: that's not necessarily even true for highways. It depends on gravel availablility.
  14. RioGrande

    RioGrande Member

    For ballast, you have to check and see what your favorite RR used. It is often determined by the source the RR has for cheap ballast within the area. Rio Grande used slag for much of there ballast, so it appears black or very dark gray. I some places they did use other ballast too.
  15. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    A trick to keep in mind when ballasting turnouts is to use a few drops of LaBelle oil on the points and any place that needs to move before you ballast. The ballast won't stick to the oil, so turnouts remain free after the ballasting job is done.
  16. Pitchwife

    Pitchwife Dreamer

    Those are great ideas! You should post them in the Tips and Tricks thread. :thumb: :thumb:
  17. santafewillie

    santafewillie Member

    Ditto the great ideas Russ and Will. Rusty, I've gotten a light purpleish rock from Arizona Rock at my LHS. In this part of the world, most of the mainlines have a different shade ballast than the sidings. I observed this on ATSF, BN (old Frisco), UP (old MKT), and KCS, all run around here. I prefer to use mixtures of several shades of gray, and buff for mains and sidings, adding purples and browns for spurs and yards.
  18. Rusty Spike

    Rusty Spike Member

    I did get some Arizona "Pink Lady" ballast, both the fine and mainline. It looked a little too buff or tan for what I was looking for.

    Then I realized the granite on the tracks around here all comes from the New Ulm quarry - just 20 miles away. I made a trip and got boat loads of free "samples" - 50 pounds of bagged grit for poultry (rip rap in HO scale) and then was taken to a waste pile that was all purple dust mixed with rock fragments just the right size and the exact color I was looking for originally. I filled a few buckets and brought that home too. I had to sift the sand/small rock mix but had lots of help from my kids. In about an hour, I nearly 2 1/2 gallons of just what I was looking for.

    The folks at AZ Rock were extremely helpful and friendly but I just plain lucked out. I would have spent over $300 ballasting the yard and double mainline had I stuck to that supply chain at retail cost.

    I'll post some pics so you see for yourself . . .
  19. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    You hit the jackpot. As I was skimming through the thread, I was thinking you just need to sift your own from the actual ballast or it's source. The other alternative, if you were bent on helping hte WS owners retire early, would be to buy the lighted grey and dye it to suit.

    I have a coupole gallon zip locks full of ballast from when I had 10 tons of sifted crushed limestone delived a couple years ago. Always order with "fines" !!!

    :D :D :D
  20. Rusty Spike

    Rusty Spike Member

    Pictures as promised . . .

    Attached Files:

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