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Ballast help

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Ballast help
Posted by SEC rail system on Friday, August 04, 2017 8:45 PM

I'm looking for help with ballasting track on a future layout based on the CSX and predecessor RR's I'm wanting to use woodlands Scenics ballast. HO scale what would be a good blend or mix I read some were using N scale ballast on a HO layouts.

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Posted by RR_Mel on Friday, August 04, 2017 10:09 PM

You might want to take a look at Arizona Rock and Mineral Ballasts.  They have both N and HO scale ballast in several CSX mixes.  I’ve used their products for 20 years and never disappointed.  Here is a link to the HO scale ballast page with three mixes of CSX ballest.
 
 
 
Mel
 
Modeling the early to mid 1950s SP in HO scale since 1951
 
My Model Railroad   
 
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I'm beginning to realize that aging is not for wimps.
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Posted by wp8thsub on Saturday, August 05, 2017 12:30 AM

My advice would be to not consider Woodland Scenics at all.  It's more difficult to get good results with it compared to a real rock product.  

I use a lot of Scenic Express #40, which looks just right for HO to my eye.  It's somewhere between the Woodland Scenics' HO and N sizes.  Since it's real rock, it's easy to work with and stays glued.

Rob Spangler

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Posted by doctorwayne on Saturday, August 05, 2017 1:48 PM

I've used bothWoodland Scenics and real rock ballast, and both work well.
Many folks have complained that the Woodland Scenics ballast floats when the diluted white glue or matte medium is applied, but that's simply because they've not used enough pre-wetting agent.  It may also be because the pre-wetting agent they're using is alcohol, which evapourates quite quickly compared to water.
I prefer "wet" water (ordinary tap water with a few drops of dish detergent added to lessen its surface tension).  If your tap water is especially hard, get a gallon of distilled water at your local supermarket, as the minerals in hard water can make it difficult to use for this purpose.


This subject comes up quite often, so I made a Word document outlining the procedure which I use - it works well with both Woodland Scenics ballast (actually crushed walnut shells) or real rock ballast:

I keep seeing comments about people dreading having to ballast their tracks, or, from people who've tried and not had success, about what a crummy task it is. What follows is my procedure for ballasting - there are others that work as well, but this one uses readily-available and cheap tools and materials.
The choice of ballast is up to you - I use Woodland Scenics Fine Ballast on my HO scale layout, but there are many other brands and sizes available, and plenty of colours. If you use natural materials, like sand, dirt, or decomposed rock, it's best to use a magnet to remove any magnetic inclusions that might possibly damage the motors in your locos.

To ballast your track, I find that a small paper cup (such as those kitchen or bathroom Dixie cups) gives you great control over where the ballast goes. I usually move the cup along the centre of the track, tapping it as I go, to keep the ballast flowing. Less than you need is better than too much, although a soft 1/2" brush is useful for pushing around the excess or levelling what's in place. Don’t use the brush to brush the ballast around, especially the WS ballast, as it’s very light and will fly all over the place.  Instead, lay the brush almost parallel to the ground and drag the ballast along.  Then go back and do both roadbed shoulders in turn. Use the brush to level and re-arrange things as required, making sure to keep the ballast away from the throwbar area and the flangeways of the guardrails. To remove stray ballast from the tie tops, lightly grasp the metal ferrule of the brush between the thumb and forefingers of one hand, laying the handle across the rail tops, then, as you move the brush along the tracks, lightly and rapidly tap the brush handle with the fingers of your free hand. The stray ballast will "magically" bounce off the ties and into place between them.
If you're also ballasting turnouts, make sure to keep the level of the ballast below the tops of the ties, and don't place any ballast between the ties surrounding the throw bar. To avoid gluing the points to the ties, place two drops of plastic-compatible oil atop each tie over which the point rails move, one next to each point rail, then flip the points back-and-forth several times to spread the oil. Parking the points in mid-throw will also help to ensure that they don't get glued to the stock rails, either.
You can mist the contoured ballast using either water and alcohol, or water with a few drops of dish detergent added. Either should work, although I prefer the detergent, as it's cheaper and works just as well. (I save my alcohol - not the denatured kind - for a nice drink after I've completed the ballasting.)  Use a sprayer that will allow you to spray a fine mist. To avoid having the force of the spray dislodge loose ballast all over the landscape, aim the first few spritzes upward, letting the droplets fall like rain. Once the surface has been dampened, you'll be able to spray it directly. Make sure to thoroughly wet the ballast right down to the base. Not doing so is probably the main reason that many people have trouble getting a decent-looking and durable ballasting job. To apply the glue/water mixture (white glue works just as well as matte medium and is way cheaper, especially if you buy it by the gallon. Those who claim that white glue dries shiny are not using sufficient wetting agent. The proportions should be about 50/50 water/glue, although a little heavier on the water will still work well). To apply the glue mixture, don't ruin a perfectly good spray bottle (and while doing so cover your rails and anything else nearby in glue, too): instead, use a dropper. An eyedropper will work, but a plastic squeeze bottle with a small nozzle will be much faster. Simply move along the track, as quickly as necessary, allowing the glue mixture to drip onto the ballast (or ties - you won't see it once it dries). You should be able to see it being drawn into the ballast due to the wetting agent. I usually do the area between the rails first, then the sides in turn. The glue mixture will spread throughout the ballast and down to the roadbed, so make sure to apply enough to allow this to occur. The result will be ballast bonded solidly in place, yet with the appearance of loose, individual pieces.
Where I have scenic areas adjacent to, but below the level of the track, I also apply the basic ground cover, which also helps to soak up the excess glue that spreads out from the ballast line.  If you're applying ballast (or ground cover) to steeply sloped areas, use a suitable-width brush to apply undiluted white glue to the slope before applying the ballast or ground foam, which will help to hold everything in place while you apply the wetting agent and the dilute white glue (these steps help to bond the top layers of material to those in contact with the unthinned glue, and also help to draw that glue up into the top layers).
Depending on how deep your ballast and adjacent scenery is, the glue may take several days to dry.  Don't touch it while it's still wet (you'll make a mess) and wait until it's dry before cleaning the rails - I used a mildly-abrasive block intended for polishing electrical contacts.

Wayne

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Posted by jjdamnit on Saturday, August 05, 2017 2:27 PM

Hello all,

Check out this thread on ballasting...

http://cs.trains.com/mrr/f/88/t/258968.aspx

I have had great luck with using the powdered Plastic Resin Glue.

As far as the type of ballast, Woodland Senics is made from nut shells.

I have heard of instances where the Woodland Senics ballast actually floated on the liquid being used to adhere the ballast to the roadbed.

Arizona Rock & Mineral Co. offers many different sizes of ballast in road and region specific colors.

The ballast I use is harvested from a sources outside of Central City and Buena Vista here in Colorado.

I pass it through several different sized sieves to separate into different sizes; ranging from sand to pea-gravel- -actual size.

For my HO pike I like the look of the sand size particles in yards and sidings.

For the mainline I use a combination of the sand size particles with the next size up sparsely mixed in. 

In ballast size terms this would be equivalent to using "Fine" and "Medium" size in HO scale. 

Hope this helps.

"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

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Posted by rrebell on Saturday, August 05, 2017 11:21 PM

People who have problems with woodland scenics ballast just don't know what they are doing and if you don't properly prewet the ballast, you get all kinds of problems.

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Posted by wp8thsub on Sunday, August 06, 2017 12:11 AM

rrebell
People who have problems with woodland scenics ballast just don't know what they are doing...

Yeah, I'm pretty much an idiot.

Rob Spangler

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Posted by gmpullman on Sunday, August 06, 2017 2:18 AM

wp8thsub
My advice would be to not consider Woodland Scenics at all.  It's more difficult to get good results with it compared to a real rock product.

Agreed— I have never liked the Walnut Shell Woodland Scenic "ballast" either. 

Between club layouts and my own I have used nearly every available brand of ballast out there.

There's an outfit actually selling rubber shavings as ballast. I'll pass on that, too.

Scenic Express used to sell ballast made by Smith & Son Ballast. Theirs was every bit as good as Arizona or the now defunct Highball ballast. The last few orders of ballast I bought from Scenic Express was not Smith & Son but another supplier.

It had more of a translucent "quartz" like look to it. Didn't look at all like limestone. Presently, IMHO, the best choice for me are the Arizona products.

rrebell
People who have problems with woodland scenics ballast just don't know what they are doing

OK, I guess...  Dunce  Dunce  Dunce

Good Luck, Ed

 

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Posted by bearman on Sunday, August 06, 2017 4:19 AM

I have used nothing but Arizona Rock & Mineral products, with alchohol as a pre-wetting agent.  Works great.

Bear "It's all about having fun."

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Posted by mobilman44 on Sunday, August 06, 2017 5:51 AM

Hi!

A few months ago I finished the ballasting of an 11x15 HO layout.  The process took place over a long time, and learnings came slowly but surely.

I started out with the roadbed (cork) painted a color similar to the ballast to be used.  This eliminates the "bare spots" that will result by not having perfect coverage.

I first used Woodland Scenics HO ballast, using grey for mains, dark grey for submains, and black or very dark brown for terminals, yards, sidings.

It worked out ok, but the WS ballast tends to fly around and is too light and sometimes I felt it was "too big".  So in the middle of the process I added N scale ballast of the same color - mixing it with the HO.   That was an improvement but still not satisfying.

Lastly, I got ahold of "real rock" ballast (Arizona and another brand which I can't recall) and this worked out great.  It's "HO size" was more accurate, and the weight keeps it from flying around while working with it.   The downside of "real rock" is the cost - but in the long run its well worth it.

BTW, I developed a method for laying the ballast that worked very well for me.  Over the decades and various layouts, I've tried a lot of methods, but this has worked out the best - by far - for my situation.

I use a small plastic spoon (from fast food places) and spoon the ballast on the outside of the rails first.  I find I have pretty good control of the application with that small cheap plastic spoon.  Kind of a surprise actually.

Then I squirt/drop on the white glue/water/alcohol mix.  Lastly, I do inside the rails, putting in just enough to cover the spaces between the ties, using a 1/2 inch brush to smooth it out.  I do NOT glue inside the rails. 

Of course extra time and care is taken around turnout controls and moving parts.  

ENJOY  !

 

Mobilman44

 

Living in southeast Texas, modeling the "postwar" Santa Fe and Illinois Central 

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Sunday, August 06, 2017 5:56 AM

I'm going to side with Rob Spangler regarding Woodland Scenics and suggest steering clear of it.  While there may be techniques to get it to work, especially for those old hands here, it is wiser, especially for beginners or inexperienced ballasters to use a real rock type ballast for the simple reason that it is easier to work with than the low density "floaty" Woodland Scenics.  Physics is on your side with a real rock type ballast.  You might as well "stack the deck" in you favor than set yourself up for possible frustration.

In my case I followed Rob suggestion of Scenic Express real rock #40 and the dark gray was a good match for the cinders ballast used by yhe DRGW.  And the Scenic Express was pretty easy to use and spread.  I had a bag of Woodland Scenic ballast but it remains unopened.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by bearman on Sunday, August 06, 2017 7:52 AM

Mobilman...if you dont glue inside the rails, does the ballast remain in place?

Bear "It's all about having fun."

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Posted by mobilman44 on Sunday, August 06, 2017 9:14 AM

Yes, assuming it is between the ties.  Of course the rock ballast, being heavier, is more secure.  That said, most of my mains are WS and I have yet to have a problem with ballast in the locos.

One other consideration for not glueing the center ballast is its easier to remove the track for repositioning or sale or whateveer.

Like I said, this has worked out very well for me and my situation, but someone else might think otherwise.  

Gee, I'm tempted to say "My RR, My way, My fun" but I won't.............. 

ENJOY  !

 

Mobilman44

 

Living in southeast Texas, modeling the "postwar" Santa Fe and Illinois Central 

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Posted by rrebell on Sunday, August 06, 2017 10:26 AM

wp8thsub

 

 
rrebell
People who have problems with woodland scenics ballast just don't know what they are doing...

 

Yeah, I'm pretty much an idiot.

 

Not calling you an idiot at all, it is just, as with a lot of things, that it takes a little more finesse. The real rock ballast is easier to use for many as it is more forgiving and don't think I haven't made a mistake or two like the time I thought I had prewet an area, but didn't. On my currant layout I had the option of going with either real or WS and went WS as the color was more consistant, less odd pieces that just jumped out at you and when you are going for relistic look, those pieces just take away because up close they look great but remember you are accually looking from far away, scale wise.

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Posted by joe323 on Sunday, August 06, 2017 10:27 AM

I ballasted using 2/3 Scenic Express and 1/3 WS shells. The rock was easier  to work with but either will do given enough patience.  I suppose beach sand would work too had I been in the mood to drag home a jar full Probably too large for HO though.

Joe Staten Island West 

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Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Sunday, August 06, 2017 10:49 AM

I've used the WS ground-up-and-dyed walnut shell ballast before with pretty good results, and I intend to use it again on my current layout build.

A friend used Arizona Rock "real rock" ballast on his HO layout. The results were a bit less than stellar (IMO, of course). Not horribly bad. It seems like there was a lot of rock dust and ultra-fine clay particles in the commercial mix. When applied and glued into place, the ballast had a smooth, almost glossy, finish kinda like concrete or plaster. The colors were good, but it did not have the lumpy, gritty appearance of loosely packed ballast. I suppose he could have spent (and maybe should have spent) a lot of time and effort sifting the mix.

Not being judgemental; just reporting what I've experienced.

Robert

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Posted by RR_Mel on Sunday, August 06, 2017 12:20 PM

I’ve haven’t had any problems using WS Ballast or Arizona Rock Ballast and their colored Powders for roads.  I use Elmer’s All Purpose White Glue at a 6 or 8 (water) to 1 (glue) ratio.  I use 70% Alcohol as pre-wet agent for ballasting from a two ounce dropper type bottle, no pre-wet needed for roads.
 
The white glue dries super flat and I can’t see any glue residue in my black ballast after it dries, where I grew up in the early 50s the SP ballast was black.
 
I also use Arizona Rock CSX Ballast (#138-2) for gravel and Tan Granite Powder (#123-0) for dirt roads and again no sign of any glue.
 
For my roads I apply the ballast or powders thick down the center of the proposed road and add the glue until it is a mud mix and trowel it with a 1" to 3½” putty knife to form the roads.  Before the glue is fully cured you can add ruts or what ever to the road surface to create vehicle use or road decay.  I roll a Matchbox 1:87 vehicle down my dirt roads to form ruts.
 
The Arizona Rock colored powders work great for concrete (Yard Mix #1222) or  asphalt (Asphalt #1030) roads too.
 
One thing I didn’t plan on was my asphalt highway was done over a Plaster of Paris base and over the years the plaster cracked a bit here and there and now I have very realistic looking road cracks.  
 
 
Mel
 
Modeling the early to mid 1950s SP in HO scale since 1951
 
My Model Railroad   
 
Bakersfield, California
 
I'm beginning to realize that aging is not for wimps.
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Posted by doctorwayne on Sunday, August 06, 2017 1:01 PM

wp8thsub

rrebell

People who have problems with woodland scenics ballast just don't know what they are doing...

 
gmpullman
rrebell People who have problems with woodland scenics ballast just don't know what they are doing
 
OK, I guess...
 
rrebell
wp8thsub rrebell People who have problems with woodland scenics ballast just don't know what they are doing...
 
Yeah, I'm pretty much an idiot.
 
Not calling you an idiot at all, it is just, as with a lot of things, that it takes a little more finesse.
 
As has been mentioned, Woodland Scenics ballast does require thorough wetting to get good results, and that's probably counter-intuitive to many - pooled water on the layout and drying times sometimes measured in days certainly don't suit all. 
I definitely didn't take rrebell's remark to imply that those who didn't like it or who had poor results were somehow lacking, though. 
Real stone does seem to wet more readily, and it also locks together much like real ballast (which sometimes makes it a little more difficult to spread evenly).  However, good results can be had with both types.  All of the lower level of my layout was done with Woodland Scenics ballast and much of the newer upper level was done using real stone, a gift from a friend.  I will be using both WS and the gift ballast, along with some real stone of my own to finish that part of the layout, though, as I'm representing two different railroads and several classes of track, from deep, well-ballasted areas to track on/in dirt. 
 
Woodland Scenics ballast on the lower level...
 
 
Rock ballast on the upper level, probably 1/2" deep mid-way down the slope...
 
 
Wayne
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Posted by wp8thsub on Sunday, August 06, 2017 1:47 PM

I don't think "finesse" or technique is always a determining factor in ballast success.  There are a lot of variables, inlcuding humidity and static, that can affect "lightweight" scenery materials, and things like relative hardness of the water may affect how the ballast gets wet and how any glue will soak in.   The same methods can succeed in one situation and fail spectacularly in another.

I do know this - ballast remains one of the major problem areas for a lot of modelers.  I've come to recommend using materials that, from my observations, are less likely to cause frustration for the widest cross-section of hobbyists.  I've noted that rock products seem to yield more consistent results than those derived from crushed shells, rubber, or other substitutes.  I steer newcomers to rock accordingly.  That doesn't mean other products can't be used successfully, but I tend to go with the averages.

My layout uses multiple types of materials depending on what's being modeled.  This yard was ballasted with sand.

Most locations require several different sizes and colors.  This one has an embankment of larger rock and dirt, with a layer of dark sand for compacted cinder fill, and a final application of Scenic Express blended gray.

My mainline uses Scenic Express dark gray to represent smelter slag that was common on the eastern end of the WP in my era.

For the cuts and fills I like to model, several different materials may have to be utilized and glued at once.  To ensure consistent results, having materials that work with the same application, wetting, and gluing process is a real benefit.

Rob Spangler

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Posted by doctorwayne on Sunday, August 06, 2017 10:32 PM

Definitely great looking results, Rob! Thumbs UpThumbs Up

Wayne

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Posted by wp8thsub on Sunday, August 06, 2017 10:35 PM

doctorwayne
Definitely great looking results, Rob!

Thanks, and likewise to you my good sir.

Rob Spangler

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Posted by HO-Velo on Monday, August 07, 2017 12:45 AM

I also favor Arizona Rock & Mineral products.  While AR&M N scale ballast is likely close to HO prototype size I prefer the definition of their HO size.  They also sell samples.    

Keep in mind that a mfg. sometimes changes materials which can affect color and blend, drops a product, or goes out of business.  If you desire consistency in ballast color and size throughout your layout it might be a good idea to acquire all that you will need in one batch.

Rob,  Always a pleasure seeing your fantastic work.

Regards,  Peter

  

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, August 08, 2017 12:43 PM

I think Rob's work speaks for itself.  I also agree with his logic that when people come looking for advise, it makes the most sense to recommend products and methods that will have the best chance for success and be the least frustrating to put into practice.  As many have noted, the WS ballast is low density and has a tendency to float.  While it's obvious some modelers have had good success with WS ballast, that doesn't mean everyone will, especially beginners or modelers with little experience.  So how much sense does it make to say "I got good results" therefore you, Mr. beginner should do what I do"?  Instead, offer a new modeler suggestions which are a little less difficult to impliment and more fool proof.  Just saying ...

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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