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what can I use to ballast my flex track?

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  • Member since
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what can I use to ballast my flex track?
Posted by nostalgictraingirl on Tuesday, August 2, 2011 9:15 PM

I have a train layout with about 100 feet of flex track and I need to ballast the track.  My husband suggested kitty litter to save money.  I read several comments from people who are opposed to it and also suggest it won't work with an HO train layout.  I am not opposed to buying ballast, but the price for 32 oz is $10 and I would like to get a lot more for my money.  I don't think the 32 oz is going to go very far.   Any suggestions would be most helpful.  Thank You.

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Posted by CTValleyRR on Tuesday, August 2, 2011 9:56 PM

You can get a bag (18 cu inches) of Woodland Scenics fine ballast for $4.69 from Model Train Stuff.  Depending on your ballast profile, one of these bags will cover about 10 linear feet of track.  There are higher quality ballast products available from Highball Products and Scenic Express, to name two, but they cost more.  Shop around on the internet, and you can do pretty well on pricing.

Now, let me say up front:  Your Layout, Your Rules.  You are free to do whatever you want, no matter what I or anyone else says.

That said, I agree with those other folks.  I wouldn't do it.  For one thing, kitty litter contains baking soda, scent crystals, and lots of clay dust to promote clumping and kill odors, and this stuff will likely cause all kinds of issues when you try to apply diluted glue to lock it in place.  Secondly, it is too big -- instead of 1" - 3" rocks (real ballast size) it's more like 6" to 10" scale size.  It's your layout, so if you don't mind the large ballast size, then that's not an issue, but the composition still would be.

Some alternatives that do work are aquarium stones from a pet supply company (if you can find any that are naturally colored), or colored sand for crafts. 

If it were me, though, I'd just get the commercial ballast, and look to save money elsewhere.  The best way to do this hobby on the cheap -- relatively speaking -- is to be on the lookout for sales, and to use generic craft store (Michaels, for instance) stuff as opposed to name brand specialty hobby products whenever possible.

 

Connecticut Valley Railroad A Branch of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford

"If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right." -- Henry Ford

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Posted by nostalgictraingirl on Tuesday, August 2, 2011 10:41 PM

Thank you for your reply.  The crushed aquarium gravel looks like a good option.  Do you know if crushed aquarium coral would be a good option also?

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 6:37 AM

That big jar of ballast will go a long way.  I've been building my layout for 7 or 8 years now.  I've got more track than you, and I've just started my third jar.

You'll use less ballast for Code 83 track than for Code 100, because the ties are lower.  You'll also use less ballast if you don't use "high profile" roadbed, or if you use no roadbed at all.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by mobilman44 on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 7:23 AM

Hi!

Lots of good info here so far, and may I add...................

Don't mess with the kittly litter, it is not meant to be ballast.   You could use aquarium gravel, although it really is too big for HO scale.   If you do use it, wash it thorougly first and let it dry.   For grins, after it dries I would run a magnet through it to assure there is no metallic substance that could be attracted to the locos motors.

That being said, you really should just use model train ballast.  There are a lot of discount sellers out there, and if you go that route I would buy whatever else you need at the same time.  Otherwise, the local hobby shop is your best bet.

As indicated earlier, a little can go a very long way.  It really is hard to determine ahead of time how much you will need, however.   So if you do buy from the hobby shop, make sure they have some extra packages of the same type/color in case you need more.

ENJOY !!!!

ENJOY  !

 

Mobilman44

 

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

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Posted by cowman on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 7:45 AM

Just recently I saw a post on using builders sand on a layout.  This morining I can't find the post for love nor money.

By sifting it using different size strainers, down to as fine as one made from a nylon stocking, the poster was able to use it for many different things on the layout.  The coarsest made rocks and tallus, one size they used for ballast and the finest they used for their dirt roads.  I have several size strainers that I have picked up at yard sales, so don't have to ask the wife to use the kitchen variety.  Since you probably do the cooking, then it's up to you whether to use the kitchen ones or find some yard sale specials.  Seems to me they said a 50 pound bag cost under $5 and his wife had bought it for him.

The one thing I would do is go over it with a strong magnet.  Using regular sand I have found that there is a conciderable amount of magnetic material in it, something you don't want to pull up into the motors on your locos.  Since I haven't used this particular product, it may or may not be an issue.  I choose to err on the side of caution, especially with the cost of some of todays locos.

If I fall over that post again, I'll come back and tell you where it is.

Good luck,

Richard

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Posted by nostalgictraingirl on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 8:01 AM

Thank you for the tips about straining and  I didn't realize that ballast went so far either.  Very helpful.

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Posted by eaglescout on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 2:20 PM

I used the coarse sand available at Michaels.  It comes in black, white and a redish.  Purists will say it is too large for HO scale but I like the look.  They have a fine sand also which I thought was too fine.  Use a 40% off coupon and you get a bag to do 20-30 feet of track for under $4.00.  I tested it with a magnet and it came out fine.

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Posted by nostalgictraingirl on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 2:23 PM

Thank You all.  I think I have solved my problem  now.  I found a guy on ebay who sold me 20 lbs of HO ballast for $17, so that worked for me!!  Thank You for all your suggestions though. 

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Posted by mobilman44 on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 3:01 PM

Good for you!

I am curious as to how far that 20 lbs will ballast.   As I wrote earlier, it can go a long way - or not - depending on the application.  

Enjoy!

ENJOY  !

 

Mobilman44

 

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

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Posted by nostalgictraingirl on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 3:08 PM

Hi Mobilman44,  I have code 83 flextrack as you mentioned and am  not using roadbed either, so I am actually hoping the 20lb is more than enough.  I appreciated your tips!

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Posted by mobilman44 on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 5:43 PM

Hi!

I just finished the track/wiring/structure on my 11x15 HO layout.  It is similar to the one I built in 1993/4.  I'll be ready to ballast soon and picked up a couple large containers of Woodland Scenic grey mix ballast - HO medium.  

As it has been so long since I last ballasted, I really don't know how much I'll need.   I've got cork roadbed for the mainlines and cork sheeting for the loco facilities and yard and sidings.  The mains will be the grey ballast, the loco facilities black/brown, and the yard probably a mix.  The sidings will get what's left, which may be what the real RRs do sometimes.

ENJOY !

ENJOY  !

 

Mobilman44

 

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

  • Member since
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  • From: East Haddam, CT
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Posted by CTValleyRR on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 8:18 PM

NIce find.  I hope you will be happy with the size of the stuff.

My experience on e-bay is that most people will advertise stuff on e-bay in a manner that optimizes their chance of a sale, not that truly describes their product.  What manufacturer was it?  Or is the seller making his own?

I agree with Mobilman, though.  I think you'll have a lot left over.

Connecticut Valley Railroad A Branch of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford

"If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right." -- Henry Ford

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Posted by nostalgictraingirl on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 8:34 PM

Its just someone that makes their own.  He claims it ho scale ballast.  I reckon I will find a way to make it work, even if I have to sift some.  At least it won't be dusty, which was my concern with the kitty litter and I didn't want to mess around with cleaning and drying.  This is my first layout, so we will see!

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Posted by nostalgictraingirl on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 8:37 PM

Based on one someone said, I figured 2 lbs of ballast could cover about 25 feet of track, but I could be completely wrong.  Anyway, Goodluck!  You probably now better than I do.  This is my first layout and my first time ballasting!

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Posted by CTValleyRR on Thursday, August 4, 2011 8:19 PM

nostalgictraingirl

Based on one someone said, I figured 2 lbs of ballast could cover about 25 feet of track, but I could be completely wrong.  Anyway, Goodluck!  You probably now better than I do.  This is my first layout and my first time ballasting!

That was probably my note that one 18 cu in. bag of Woodland Scenics fine ballast will cover about 10 feet of track.

If you're right, you will have 12 pounds left over, or more than half your bag.  We're not putting you down; we're hoping you didn't get snookered.

But you know what? You're going about this in the right way.  Step up to the plate and take a swing at it.  If it doesn't turn out right, figure out where you went wrong, rip it out and do it over.  We've all done that.  Got the T-shirts to prove it!

Connecticut Valley Railroad A Branch of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford

"If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right." -- Henry Ford

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