Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

play sand ballast

1789 views
20 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    August, 2006
  • From: Nashville, TN area
  • 474 posts
play sand ballast
Posted by hardcoalcase on Tuesday, August 06, 2019 8:22 PM

In the Blueberry Line article in the Sept. MR, the author says, "... I began making my own ballast from sifted play sand that I tinted with a wash of isopropyl alcohol and black shoe dye."

Interesting thought, I presume he glues the sand to the roadbed first, then applies the diluted dye, which would create variations in the color of the ballast.

Anyone else using this technique?  Perhaps over regular ballast? 

Jim

 

  • Member since
    August, 2003
  • From: Collinwood, Ohio, USA
  • 8,439 posts
Posted by gmpullman on Tuesday, August 06, 2019 9:17 PM

My guess is he dyes the sand first, maybe bakes it to dry the dye, then glues it. Once the matte medium, PVA or whatever adhesive you use seals the sand it won't take dyes very well. I've used a little India ink to simulate oil patches and it really doesn't soak in that well once glue has been applied.

YMMV, Cheers, Ed

  • Member since
    August, 2006
  • From: Nashville, TN area
  • 474 posts
Posted by hardcoalcase on Wednesday, August 07, 2019 8:28 AM

gmpullman

I've used a little India ink to simulate oil patches and it really doesn't soak in that well once glue has been applied.

YMMV, Cheers, Ed 

Good point Ed.  After I entered the post, I wondered if he layed out the sand, then sprayed on the alcohol/dye mix to settle the sand grains in, and promote glue penetration, then applied the diluted glue.

Jim

  • Member since
    November, 2015
  • 586 posts
Posted by UNCLEBUTCH on Wednesday, August 07, 2019 9:45 AM

I use fines from the driveway for ballest,and applyed india ink/alcohol wash, after it dryed. While I.m sure it didn't soak in, it did color the ballest.

To color the sand before hand, you would have to spread i out to dry, and not stick together.

When we use the ink wash on buildings and such, it dosen't soak in,but layes inthe recess,and cracks. Would this not be the same for glued ballest ?

  • Member since
    September, 2014
  • From: 10,430’ (3,179 m)
  • 1,014 posts
Posted by jjdamnit on Wednesday, August 07, 2019 2:32 PM

Hello All,

Here is a link to a thread that has to do with N scale ballast but it can be applicable to any scale regarding harvesting your own ballast.

Hope this helps.

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

  • Member since
    April, 2019
  • From: Pacific Northwest
  • 513 posts
Posted by SPSOT fan on Wednesday, August 07, 2019 3:27 PM

Wow, this is very interesting!

I am very interested in this technique as I live overseas in a country were model railroading is practically unheard of. I am trying to find a source of balast, but I don't know of any places were you can get crushed rock or gravel to use as balast. As the local dirt is quite sandy, this could work! It sure beats having to stock up on balast when I visit the states!

Regards, Isaac

I model my railroad and you model yours! I model my way and you model yours!

  • Member since
    March, 2002
  • From: Milwaukee WI (Fox Point)
  • 10,024 posts
Posted by dknelson on Wednesday, August 07, 2019 4:49 PM

Guys - I asked my friend Bob Wundrock (the author of the article in question) about the ballast question.  Here is his response which he asked me to post here:

"When I had to tear it down, it was a sad day.  A new layout is under construction.  ...  I have many more feet of track to lay.  I just can’t afford all the new Peco turnouts I need for the terminal yards.  I buy a couple a month. 

To answer the ballast question:  I first lay and shape the ballast (sand in my case).  Then I wet it with the tinted 70% isopropyl alcohol and then apply the 50/50 white glue.  I described this process in an article in the February 2014 MR."

Dave Nelson

 

  • Member since
    September, 2014
  • From: 10,430’ (3,179 m)
  • 1,014 posts
Posted by jjdamnit on Wednesday, August 07, 2019 5:09 PM

Hello All,

SPSOT fan
I am very interested in this technique as I live overseas in a country were model railroading is practically unheard of.

Screens or sifters can be found on Amazon in different "sizes".

Then it is just a matter of finding a source.

Here in Colorado there are many different sources for harvesting ballast from black Basalt to pure white quartz.

Good luck and as always...

Hope this helps.

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

  • Member since
    January, 2014
  • 909 posts
Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Thursday, August 08, 2019 9:11 AM

It sounds like the application technique is very similar to the usual 'spread dry ballast add wetting agent then dribble dilute glue' method used for common commercial ballast.

I'd suggest sifting the sand several times through multiple tiny sieves. The goal is to remove all the fines (especially dust and powder), leaving just the granular hard sand particles. If there are a lot of fines in the ballast spread dry on the track, when the glue mixture is applied the final result could end up with a smooth surface that looks more like concrete than gritty scale ballast.

Regarding the ink coloring . . . I would add a few drops to the 50-50 white glue solution, turning it into a 51-49 dirty gray solution.

Robert

LINK to SNSR Blog


  • Member since
    August, 2006
  • From: Nashville, TN area
  • 474 posts
Posted by hardcoalcase on Thursday, August 08, 2019 9:15 AM

dknelson

Guys - I asked my friend Bob Wundrock (the author of the article in question) about the ballast question.  

 

Dave Nelson

Bingo!  Thanks Dave, there's nothing better that going to the source!

Jim

  • Member since
    January, 2004
  • From: Canada, eh?
  • 9,424 posts
Posted by doctorwayne on Thursday, August 08, 2019 11:04 AM

A friend gave me a couple of large containers of ballast, one fairly coarse, the other much finer.  It was part of an order of several tons of crushed stone which he had ordered for his driveway.
There was a fair amount of "fines" with the stone, and he managed to sieve enough to ballast his entire layout - a large one in its own building, featuring a four track main line - the Pennsy, or at least a good representation of part of it, in HO.
While the main part of my layout was ballasted using Woodland Scenics ballast, I decided to give the real rock stuff a try on the recently added upper level.

Here's some views of it in place...

...and a close-up look...



Eventually, the free ballast was used-up, so I went to a nearby quarry where, in the past, I had bought and loaded such gravel into my own truck.  Unfortunately, that practice had been discontinued, and needing only a bucket or two, it was suggested that I go to a building supply outfit which sold screenings (the finely crushed stuff) in 50lb. bags.
Such screenings are often used to set paving stones, so might also be available at a landscaping place or at big box stores such as Home Depot or Lowes.

I bought two bags and set about running the material through successively-smaller screen - fine-mesh hardware cloth initially, then through finer and finer sieves.  (Do this operation outdoors, as it creates a fair amount of dust.)

Eventually, I had the size needed for the ballast I wanted, but, unfortunately, it included the fine dust - useable perhaps as ground cover on a road or parking lot, but not likely too good as ballast.
Baffled on how to get rid of it, I contacted my friend, and learned that he had used a "spatter guard" as the final sieve.  The mesh was fine enough that only the dust passed through, leaving useable the ballast.

My locally-sourced ballast is a slightly different colour than that from Ohio, which makes for a very prototypical situation as seen on a real railroad, where ballast often comes from different quarries.

Here's some of the locally found stuff...

To do the ballasting (this works for both real stone and for Woodland Scenics crushed walnut shells, too), I use a paper cup to distribute the dry ballast along the track....

Avoid putting any ballast between the ties of a turnout where the throwbar is located, then use a soft brush, like the one in the photo above, to "groom" the ballast.  Do not, however,  "brush" it, but rather use the brush, held almost parallel to the track, to drag the ballast where you want it. (Brushing will simply flick the ballast all over the place, especially the lighter-weight Woodland Scenics stuff.)

Here's the appearance after grooming...

If you're ballasting turnouts, place a small amount of plastic-compatible oil on the tops of all ties over which the points will move, then move the points back and forth several times to spread the oil.  Park the points at mid-throw, using a scrap of wood or styrene, if necessary, to keep them from touching the stock rails.  This will prevent the moving parts of the turnout from being cemented in place.

I use a good-quality sprayer to wet the ballast, using a few drops of dish detergent in distilled water (available at any supermarket or, if you have a dehumidifier, clean the collector bucket, and use the water that it takes from the air.)

Don't skimp on the water - the biggest cause of unsatisfactory results with ballasting or adding ground cover is due to insufficient wetting.  For the diluted glue to penetrate right down to the scenery base, the water must be of suffient quantity to draw it that deep.  I usually have water pooling alongside areas being ballasted or sceniced. 
Some folks prefer alcohol for wetting (I prefer it for wetting my whistle, but a different kind of alcohol).  While it will work well-enough, I don't use it due to the cost and to the fact that I usually do this work in fairly large areas, where the faster-evapourating alcohol might be gone by the time I get to some areas.

Here's the wetted ballast...

...and with the diluted white glue applied...

Note the diluted glue seeping from the edges of the ballast.  This indicates that it's penetrated right through, which will yield a good, strong bond.  You could sprinkle a little ground foam along the edges, if you wish, then give it a light spray of wet water to allow the glue to penetrate - a start on your trackside scenery.

I use a small dropper-type bottle to apply the diluted white glue...

- don't recall its origin, but squeeze-type dispensers for things like mustard or ketchup should work, too - don't, of course, squeeze them, but rather allow the diluted glue to simply drip from them - you'll see immediately how quickly the glue spreads due to the pre-wetting.

I don't skimp on the glue, either.  Here's a different area of the layout where I added some ground cover, showing the just-applied glue...

...and a little later...

...and again, the next day...

Wayne

  • Member since
    January, 2003
  • From: Dover, DE
  • 1,311 posts
Posted by hminky on Thursday, August 08, 2019 11:20 AM

The sand can be colored by mixing it with latex paint.

Have an article which I mixed grout sand that didn't contain glue with latex paint to make roads.

http://www.pacificcoastairlinerr.com/scenery/clods/

It works with any sand, here is paver sand colored to match spray bomb khaki paint.

The unsifted paver sand and the latex colored.

Thank you if you visit

Harold

  • Member since
    January, 2014
  • 909 posts
Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Thursday, August 08, 2019 11:50 AM

I agree with everything DrWayne posted (just now and all previous posts), including the terrific photos.

Here are a couple photos of the smallest opening sieve I have access to. It is a #200 and can separate the dust and powder particles. Can be used for dry-sieving or wet.

The screen is so fine that it feels like a silk bedsheet stretched taut. Translucent in an odd sort of way.

This particular one is brass, but also available in stainless steel. Here's a link to one of those giant online shops (Note: providing the link in no way indicates that I support one shop or another. For info only.)

https://www.amazon.com/0-074mm-Aperture-Standard-Sieve-Stainless/dp/B074NNX343/ref=asc_df_B074NNX343/?tag=bingshoppinga-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid={creative}&hvpos={adposition}&hvnetw=o&hvrand={random}&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=e&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl={devicemodel}&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=&hvtargid=pla-4583795260903216&psc=1

If I had 6 tons of play sand, the fifteen bucks this sieve cost (about the same as a 32-ounce container of commercial ballast) would be insignificant.

Robert

LINK to SNSR Blog


  • Member since
    July, 2007
  • From: Yorkton, Sask , Canada
  • 191 posts
Posted by wvg_ca on Thursday, August 08, 2019 11:55 AM

abut six years ago i used sand blasting sand from princess auto, maybe seven dollars for a fifty poung bag ....  the sand was rough and sharp, not smooth at all, and had quite a bit if variety of color in it ....

i still have three quarter of it left over , but never added darkening to it, didn't have [or want] to ..

  • Member since
    April, 2003
  • From: Clinton, MO, US
  • 3,977 posts
Posted by Medina1128 on Saturday, August 10, 2019 10:42 AM

As an aside, I wondered how clean this sand was and stuck a strong magnet in the sand. I was amazed at how much metal was in the sand. I made that a regular process of commercial sand. Now, that I have all the track laid and ballasted, I'm not too worried about the sand I have left. We used to use the leftover sand in coffee cans to make butt cans when we smoked (never in the apartment).

My girlfriend and I are starting our 2nd month smoke-free! I always wondered what meals tasted like!

  • Member since
    August, 2002
  • 15 posts
Posted by crzink on Thursday, August 15, 2019 12:45 PM

I'm one of those "find it, don't buy it" kind of guys that prefers natural, "found" materials.  Sources of ballast I have used include:

  • roof gutter scrapings from asphalt shingles.  A limited size range, but great for ballast and "fine rock" applications
  • residential road gutter scrapings in the neighborhood.  A wider size range, great for ballast.  Especially after an ice storm, when the city spreads sand on the slick areas.  I live at the crest of a hill, and the melt puts lots of sand in the street gutters, especially farther down the hill.
  • yard dirt.  Our neighborhood is built on sandstone formations, so there is a wide variety of particle sizes to sift out.  Mostly red, but some yellow, and includes some black 'iron formation' material.

I bought a set of plastic nesting seives from Ward Scientific years ago, and get 5 "cuts" from the materials:

  • #5 (in bottom cup) is almost dust, very, very fine;
  • #4 (on 4th screen) is good for simulating asphalt roads;
  • #3 (on 3rd screen) gives about a 1/32" particle, good for ballast;
  • #2 (on 2nd screen, about 1/8" opening) gives great "boulders & cobbles" for stream banks, talus slopes, etc., wherever a coarse material is needed; 
  • #1 (on the top screen, +/- 1/4" opening) gives me large "rip rap" type stuff.  (A 1/4" in HO = 21.7" in reality.)

I used to work at a place that received steel forgings for our products in large tubs.  The tubs always had bunches of different colored loose rust in the bottom, yellowish, orangeish, reddish.  I scraped up probably 10 pounds of the different colors, and sift the rust through the smaller screens when I need to give a "rusty" look to something.  I've gotten several complements and "how'd you do that" questions on a fleet of ore jennies I used real rust on to 'model' rust.

Look around and there is a LOT of materials available at zero cost.

Best,

Minetrain

  • Member since
    February, 2002
  • 197 posts
Posted by andychandler on Thursday, August 22, 2019 7:25 PM

I recently cut up a large water heater in our attic, that had died.  It was too big to get through the access door.  The inside produced about 5 pounds of exquisitly colored rust.  Smashed this with a hammer an now how so great material that is real rust.  But I hesitated to use it because it is still iron.  Was a bit concerned about motor magnets picking it up.  But guess it is not a problem, once a fixative is applied.  Cheers, andy

Tags: real rust
Andrew D. Chandler
  • Member since
    January, 2004
  • From: Canada, eh?
  • 9,424 posts
Posted by doctorwayne on Friday, August 23, 2019 12:17 AM

andychandler
....I hesitated to use it because it is still iron. Was a bit concerned about motor magnets picking it up. But guess it is not a problem, once a fixative is applied....

I had an ABBA set of Globe diesels, in which only one truck in one of the B-units was powered.  It was a Lindsey /Lindsay power truck, a combination motor and gearbox in a Blomberg-style truck.  The unit was pretty-much sealed, but because it was so close to the track, it often picked up trip pins which sometimes dropped out of the K-Type Kadees in use at that time....

However, I don't recall ever having any other motor pick up ferrous material unless both were laying in proximity to one another on my workbench.  Even those rare earth magnets that are capable of lifting small anvils don't seem to be a problem in the open frame motors where I've installed them.

I run "live" loads in most of my open cars, and for gondolas, a lot of that is scrap made mostly from...what else?... but metal...

This one's metal, too, but it's copper wire from old open frame motors....

...a friend had a number of brass locos which I re-motored for him.  The stuff in the car below is from those motors, too, and it's definitely attracted to magnets...

For some hoppers, I use Black Beauty blasting medium to represent Anthracite...

...and, like real hoppers, some of it falls alongside the track as the cars move around the layout.  Some of it is ferrous, and could be picked up by a magnet, but I don't have any locos with motors close enough to the track to do so.

Wayne

  • Member since
    June, 2007
  • From: Grew up in Calif, left in 84, now in Virginia
  • 6,878 posts
Posted by riogrande5761 on Friday, August 23, 2019 7:19 AM

hardcoalcase

In the Blueberry Line article in the Sept. MR, the author says, "... I began making my own ballast from sifted play sand that I tinted with a wash of isopropyl alcohol and black shoe dye."

Interesting thought, I presume he glues the sand to the roadbed first, then applies the diluted dye, which would create variations in the color of the ballast.

Anyone else using this technique?  Perhaps over regular ballast? 

Jim 

 

Seems like an awful lot of work when you can just buy a jar of real rock ballast from Scenic Express or one of the others and be done with it.  It isn't all that expensive and will go a long way.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road  - Focus 1977-1983

  • Member since
    April, 2009
  • From: Staten Island NY
  • 1,545 posts
Posted by joe323 on Friday, August 23, 2019 9:59 AM

riogrande5761

 

 
hardcoalcase

In the Blueberry Line article in the Sept. MR, the author says, "... I began making my own ballast from sifted play sand that I tinted with a wash of isopropyl alcohol and black shoe dye."

Interesting thought, I presume he glues the sand to the roadbed first, then applies the diluted dye, which would create variations in the color of the ballast.

Anyone else using this technique?  Perhaps over regular ballast? 

Jim 

 

 

 

Seems like an awful lot of work when you can just buy a jar of real rock ballast from Scenic Express or one of the others and be done with it.  It isn't all that expensive and will go a long way.

 

That depends on how much you need I suppose.

I have thought of taking a couple of cups of sand from the beach a few blocks a way, sifting it to remove junk and applying it.

One thing I definitely, don' want to do is lug home a 50 lb bag of sand or other material that could go all over and put me in divorce court.

Joe Staten Island West 

  • Member since
    June, 2007
  • From: Grew up in Calif, left in 84, now in Virginia
  • 6,878 posts
Posted by riogrande5761 on Friday, August 23, 2019 10:46 AM

joe323
That depends on how much you need I suppose.

A 32 oz bottle of Scenic Express ballast is about $12 - not a model train budget buster and will ballast quite a bit of track.

And here is the thing about beach sand (coming from a geologist by education/career).  Even if you go to the trouble to get seives and "screen" it to get it the right size for your scale, and then get it dyed or colored appropriately, it still may not look right as beach sand tends to be rounded and railroad ballast is usually angular.

If appearance matters ...

I have thought of taking a couple of cups of sand from the beach a few blocks a way, sifting it to remove junk and applying it. One thing I definitely, don' want to do is lug home a 50 lb bag of sand or other material that could go all over and put me in divorce court. Add Qu

You won't need a 50 lb bag unless you plan to fill an aircraft hanger with trains.  I do hope you aren't on such thin ice with your spouse that a bag of sand won't push your marriage over the edge.  Surprise

Back when I was a starving college student, I might have considered beach sand, but it seems otherwise there are better options.  Your RR of course.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road  - Focus 1977-1983

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Search the Community

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Model Railroader Newsletter See all
Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter and get model railroad news in your inbox!