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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Well, I’m working a small layout for under a small tree. Tonight I tried putting down some ballast before I do it on the circle. The two on the left were trial runs putting glue down, one with the glue with spreader device ( despise it) and the other with a brush. Brush wins. Two on right I used the ballast spreader. Like it, but wish it had a way to control the flow. But I guess “pouring out” is what is should do. Far right one looks better, just a little clumpy. The other photo is experimenting on some flex track, brush method and ballast spreader. Also was trying to spread some grass, another first. That should be done before ballast spreading, I’m guessing? I’ll gladly take any suggestions / critiques folks!
 

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I hate ballasting. I use a pump spray adhesive to bond the ballast after I have it positioned correctly. Indeed a neccessary evil of realistically modelling a railroad.
 

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I put down rolled roofing before the track. The granules look good for O gauge but probably not for HO. After the track is laid, I apply play sand (with the fines sifted out) using a teaspoon and spread it along the track with a brush. I dribble alcohol as a wetting agent and then matte medium to hold the ballast in place. Then I cover the tracks, sprinkle grass and ground cover. Then I dribble alcohol / matte medium over the grass. Both the roofing material and the sand is given a wash coat of dark gray and allowed to dry before the process begins.

In your case, I would apply a coat or two of brown latex paint to the rigid foam before you lay track. I would also apply the ballast after the track is in place.

Product Water Plastic bottle


Scale model Transport Train Railway Architecture
 

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There are several YouTube videos on ballasting Unitrack. Personally, I would just paint it since it already has a built up ballast-like road bed.
I’m not sure what Ballast Bond is made from, but if it is a white Elmers type glue it may not adhere well to the non-porous Kato roadbed.
These type glues do fine with flex track used with cork roadbed. As previously mentioned, ballasting is usually done after the track has been laid.
 

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You know the shingle idea seems inspired! I haven't put down ballast ballast yet. On plastic track I've just ignored it. But I've transitioned away from it. On my HO I have some micro engineering track. After quite a bit of fiddling with it (and this is not a permanent layout) -- I finally put it up on some that cork road bed. I think this looks pretty good ... I do have some gravel I bought to test out but I don't want to glue it down. I know that 9 out of 10 of you or higher glue it down though. I also tried a few strip of heavy grey felt as a kind of faux gravel look but it doesn't look good enough to me.
 

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Sand paper "ballast"

You know the shingle idea seems inspired! I haven't put down ballast ballast yet. On plastic track I've just ignored it. But I've transitioned away from it. On my HO I have some micro engineering track. After quite a bit of fiddling with it (and this is not a permanent layout) -- I finally put it up on some that cork road bed. I think this looks pretty good ... I do have some gravel I bought to test out but I don't want to glue it down. I know that 9 out of 10 of you or higher glue it down though. I also tried a few strip of heavy grey felt as a kind of faux gravel look but it doesn't look good enough to me.
Severn;

Since you like the shingle idea, and the shingles would likely be too big for HO-scale, you might try the same idea using sandpaper. You could spray paint the sandpaper ballast gray and slide it under the track, but above the cork roadbed. Then use scissors and/or an X-acto knife, with a brand new sharp blade, to trim the sandpaper to the general shape of the roadbed. The edges don't need to be perfectly even, real ballast isn't. Bend the projecting sides of the sandpaper down along the edge of the roadbed and you have a no-mess ballast profile.

Traction Fan :smilie_daumenpos:
 

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Well, I’m working a small layout for under a small tree. Tonight I tried putting down some ballast before I do it on the circle. The two on the left were trial runs putting glue down, one with the glue with spreader device ( despise it) and the other with a brush. Brush wins. Two on right I used the ballast spreader. Like it, but wish it had a way to control the flow. But I guess “pouring out” is what is should do. Far right one looks better, just a little clumpy. The other photo is experimenting on some flex track, brush method and ballast spreader. Also was trying to spread some grass, another first. That should be done before ballast spreading, I’m guessing? I’ll gladly take any suggestions / critiques folks!


charliem;

This is the ballasting method I have used successfully for many years. I use a 5 oz. Dixie cup as my "ballast applicator." Half fill the cup with ballast and pinch one side of the top rim into a spout shape. Drag the spout end along the ties between the rails, letting it click along the tops of the ties. This will deposit a long mound of ballast along the track. With practice, you'll be able to regulate the amount of ballast, but if you get too much don't worry. The next step will correct any mistakes. Iuse an old toothbrush as my "ballast spreader." Drag the toothbrush along the track. It will naturally tend to push some ballast over each rail and between the tie ends. The ballast left between the rails will be pushed down between the ties. On my N-scale track, I drag the toothbrush handle first. The width of the bristles is just right for N-scale track. For HO-scale track, turn the toothbrush 90 degrees and drag the brush sideways along the track. This should work well with the wider HO track.

Once you have the general shape the way you want it, make several more passes with the brush. Next drag the brush handle first, (regardless of scale) with the bristles spanning the rail. Some bristles inside the rail and the others outside it. This should distribute the ballast fairly evenly along both the inside and outside parts of the tie strip. Then, do at least two passes with the bristle tips sliding along the inside web part of each rail. This will knock out any ballast particles that might interfere with the wheel flanges later, when they roll along inside the rails.

Take your time, and ballast only a foot or two of track at a time. Get the ballast shape as perfect as you can.
To glue the ballast in place, first do a very light, very gentle, spray of tap water with a bit of alcohol in it. Spray from a simple household trigger pump spray bottle held at least a foot above the track. The idea is to simply get the ballast a bit damp, not wet. We just want it to stay in place when we add more water and later, dilute glue, instead of clumping up, or washing away. I use 8-10 parts water to one part alcohol. Note: The 70% alcohol you see at the store is 30% water while still in the bottle, so take that into account. If in doubt, use more alcohol, rather than less. Extra alcohol will only help the water spread more easily, and then evaporate. No harm will be done.

Now you spray again, a bit heavier. This time we want the ballast wet, but not blown all over the place, or eroding away from too much water sprayed too close to the track. Maintain that 12"-18" distance between the spray bottle and the track. Once the ballast is wet, I drool some dilute white glue (Elmer's type) onto the track between the rails. An old plastic water bottle with the pull-open/push-closed top is what I use for the dilute glue application. An eyedropper can also be used. Let the glue dry overnight. The next morning check a small section of ballast to see if it's well bonded down. If necessary, repeat the wetting and gluing steps.

With some practice, you will be able to lay down a good-looking ballast profile. The toothbrush makes this much easier than any other way I've ever used.

good luck, have fun;

Traction Fan :smilie_daumenpos:
 

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Definitely, ballasting track is one of the "no joys" of the hobby for me. I hate it more than I hate wiring. Nevertheless, if you want something that looks even close to realistic, it must be done.

I pretty much do it like Traction Fan does, with a couple of minor differences. Definitely work in short sections.

For flex / non-roadbed track:
Spread ballast using a dixie cup pinched into a spout -- that's the best spreader I've found. Do the track center first, then do the shoulders. I use a soft 3/4" paintbrush to spread the ballast (it's about 18mm wide, just a little wider than the track gauge in HO) to smooth the center, making sure to get most of it off of the tops of the ties, then smooth and shape the shoulders. Most of the end of the tie should be buried in ballast. Once it is shaped, I dribble 35% isopropyl alcohol (70% store strength diluted 50/50 with water) on to it until it is saturated. The best way I have found to do this is use a pipette or eye dropper to drip it onto the ties between the tracks -- this both helps clean off the ties and keeps it from washing the ballast between the ties away. Once it's wet through, dribble dilute matte medium (1 part medium to 3 water) onto the ties, until you see the adhesive oozing out at the bottom of the ballast mound. Because these liquids will wick through the ballast, you can usually just dribble it in the center of the rails and let it flow into the ballast. If you make any craters in the ballast, add a little more to that spot, rewet and add more adhesive if necessary. I use a foam brush to touch up the shape of the shoulders if necessary. This piece will need to dry at least overnight, maybe longer, but you can go ahead and move on to another short stretch of track in the meantime.

For Roadbed track:
Paint the shoulders with full strength matte medium and sprinkle on ballast. Let dry for an hour or so (again, you can do an adjacent stretch of track while it does). Ballast between the rails and touch up the shoulders as before.

When the ballast is dry, run a small vacuum over it to get anything that didn't adhere (if you put a piece of a stocking or other fine mesh where the nozzle connects to the hose, you can reclaim this ballast for later use). Touch up any holes that turn up.

As far as grass vs ballast, I usually ballast first. Why? Because except on the most meticulously maintained mainlines, grass will start to grow in the ballast pretty quickly, so having a little grass overlapping the edges of the ballast pile is normal and realistic.

Yeah, it's a tedious PITA... but you gotta do what you gotta do.
 

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that all sounds... horribly complicated. i was just thinking of pouring out my bag of rocks onto the track, and using small paint brush to move it around as appropriate. but since i haven't tried this -- i can't say whether it'll work or not.
 

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Loose ballast/rocks

that all sounds... horribly complicated. i was just thinking of pouring out my bag of rocks onto the track, and using small paint brush to move it around as appropriate. but since i haven't tried this -- i can't say whether it'll work or not.
Severn;

I suggest trying the sandpaper method first, since you find glued ballast "horribly complicated." You're not alone, as you can see from some of the other responses. :(
While I don't find it spellbinding, or entertaining, it's really not that bad, once you practice a bit. But, to each his own.

Your loose ballast idea will work, though I'd use very small rocks, or commercial ballast made from finely crushed real rocks. That lets out Woodland Scenics brand ballast which is made of crushed walnut shells. Even when using the fully glued down method that CTValley, and I, just described, I choose not to use W/S brand ballast because it's so light it tends to float all over.
Using loose ballast, as you would like to, the lightweight W/S ballast would quite possibly blow out of place from nearby breathing, or even more likely move with the slightest touch.
Highball, and Arizona Rock & Mineral, are two brands that use actual rock, not walnut shell.
Some "roadbed track" fans, (Kato Unitrack, Bachmann EZ-Track) have used loose ballast, especially for temporary setups.
I prefer to glue mine since I want to be able to clean track, or re-rail errant wheels, without moving ballast out of place, each time I do.

Good luck with whatever method you choose.

n Traction Fan :smilie_daumenpos:
 

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that all sounds... horribly complicated. i was just thinking of pouring out my bag of rocks onto the track, and using small paint brush to move it around as appropriate. but since i haven't tried this -- i can't say whether it'll work or not.
Sounds a lot harder than it is. Tedious, yes. Hard, no.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Ballast... BAH HUMBUG!

After some more practice, I’ve come to the conclusion this track isn’t meant for ballast! So, for this year, we did upgrade to “real” grass (first attempt) instead of a mat. And added trees with one structure. Ya gotta start somewhere! This will be in my Sunday school room during the holidays, next to a small tree with Hallmark train ornaments. All the kids, and adults, enjoy it. Some say it makes em feel young again. I’ve done my job. But next year, we’re going bigger- mountain, water, a turn out or two, two trains and..... BALLAST!!!
 

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Roadbed track and ballast.

After some more practice, I’ve come to the conclusion this track isn’t meant for ballast! So, for this year, we did upgrade to “real” grass (first attempt) instead of a mat. And added trees with one structure. Ya gotta start somewhere! This will be in my Sunday school room during the holidays, next to a small tree with Hallmark train ornaments. All the kids, and adults, enjoy it. Some say it makes em feel young again. I’ve done my job. But next year, we’re going bigger- mountain, water, a turn out or two, two trains and..... BALLAST!!!
charliem;

Well, in a way, you're right. "Roadbed track" like the track in your photos has that gray roadbed piece attached to represent the ballast used unde real railroad track. Some roadbed track users do put ballast on overtop but most don't.
You're also right that each modeler has to start somewhere, and it looks like you have done that successfully, congratulations!
For that next, "new & improved" layout you have in mind for Christmas 2020, I've attached some files I have written for new modelers. Along with some photos of my shelf layout for possible inspiration. There are also several excellent books available, One is "Getting Started in Model Railroading" by Jeff Wilson. You can order a copy through your local hobby shop or from https://kalmbachhobbystore.com/products/books You may want to try building something bigger and better, perhaps a shelf layout along one or more walls? In any case, you're having fun, and that's all that really matters.

Traction Fan :smilie_daumenpos:



Mountain Tree Landscape Hill Plant


Historic site Landscape Soil Rock


View attachment WHERE DO I START rev 4.pdf

View attachment 1 How to build a better first layout.pdf

View attachment 2 How to build a better first layout.pdf

View attachment 3 & 4 How to build a better first layout.pdf

View attachment 5 How to build a better first layout.pdf

View attachment 6 How to build a better first layout.pdf

View attachment All AboutTurnouts rev 5.pdf

View attachment MODEL RAILROADING ON A BUDGET.pdf

View attachment Model Railroad Terminology 3.pdf
 
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