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Ballast for HO

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Ballast for HO
Posted by Big Boy Forever on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 10:22 AM

I have a few bags of Woodland Scenics HO ballast, but looking at Prototype ballast, I wonder if N-Scale ballast would be more prototypical. The HO kind seems too big when you get down with a camera.

Also colors:

Where I live, on the mainlines, I see that BNSF has a reddish ballast, while UP has a greyish ballast.

Why would different RRs use different color ballast.

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Posted by cmrproducts on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 10:33 AM

I generally use N Scale ballast (FINE) as I like the smaller look!

As for color - each railroad purchases Ballast from various local quarries - which will have differnt colored stone.

So - if one wants to be prototypical then - getting the same color of Ballast as the real RR uses will make things look the same

You don't have to - it is your railroad!

BOB H - Clarion, PA

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 10:35 AM

Railroads don't hire Martha Stuart to be their "ballast color coordinator."  They use local rock.  Around here in New England, that' mostly gray granite, so that's what our ballast looks like.

This is HO scale, using Woodland Scenics "medium" ballast:

For comparison, this is still HO scale, but the lighter ballast used along the road side is WS "small" ballast:

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

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Posted by wp8thsub on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 10:38 AM

Big Boy Forever
I have a few bags of Woodland Scenics HO ballast, but looking at Prototype ballast, I wonder if N-Scale ballast would be more prototypical. The HO kind seems too big when you get down with a camera.

I will again go on record that I don't care for the working properties of Woodland Scenics brand ballast as it's not real rock.  It's crushed nut shells that can float around when glued, and are affected by static when dry.  I know there are some fans of it hereabouts, but many find it hard to get satisfying results.  Good quality real rock ballast isn't necessarily more expensive and for most people it's easier to use.

When you get away from Woodland Scenics, other brands use different sizes and their "HO" may be closer to what you want.

Here I used Scenic Express #40 ballast for the main and siding, and some sand for the industry tracks.  I like their #40 for such purposes in HO, although secondary tracks may be appropriate locations for finer ballast like #50.

Arizona Rock & Mineral, Smith and Sons, Highball and others also offer real rock ballast in a variety of sizes.  Their HO may have a more appropriate size than Woodland Scenics "medium."

Where I live, on the mainlines, I see that BNSF has a reddish ballast, while UP has a greyish ballast.

Why would different RRs use different color ballast.

That's pretty simple - they get ballast from different sources.  In my area, the old D&RGW and WP used a lot of smelter slag that was very dark gray.  UP and SP brought in ballast from other quarries and it was often a lighter gray.  As UP took over and started doing maintenance on the former lines of the other roads, ballast changed over time.  Also, even the same railroad can change sources.  UP's ballast locally has varied from light to dark gray or sometimes brownish.  Our commuter rail system uses a color that's almost white.  The same stretch of track may have different colors as it receives maintenance.

Rob Spangler

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Posted by dknelson on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 10:46 AM

Ballast is an example of something that looks correct to the human eye when slightly larger than scale size (because our mind is aware that ballast is pieces of rock, and larger-than-scale ballast can be seen to be pieces of rock), but when photographed the same ballast looks far too large, almost grapefruit sized.  I have used ballast marked for N and even Z on my HO layout. 

There are of course different sizes of ballast on the prototype.  The old Milwaukee Road in the Milwaukee area tended to use a white rounded gravel that was small; when the Soo Line and then CP would reballast they'd use a darkish gray rock, presumably granite or bassalt, and in some places the white gravel and gray rock would co-exist, giving the track a very "pepper and salt" look.

I can recall as a boy that the older ballast on the Chicago & North Western was dark rock, with steam locomotive cinders still visible on sidings, but as track was reballasted in whole or in part, the newer ballast was the CNW's "pink lady" ballast from a quarry not far from  Baraboo WI.  As they dug into that quarry the pink color would change from a light maroon to very pink indeed -- almost the pink used for aquarium rock.  When a few ties would be replaced and reballasted, the hot pink of the new ballast gave a very peculiar look to the track.  

Dave Nelson

 

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Posted by cmrproducts on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 10:48 AM

I have to agree about the Woodland Ballast floating around!

I have had to resort to using a lot of ISO Alcohol to wet the Woodland stuff down and then I use a large meat tenderiser syrninge to apply the glue mix which is some where around a 50/50 mix.

With the large syringe I can cover a lot larger area and ot have to keep stopping to refill.

I like to keep the rhythm going.

I also use the Scenenic Express Ballast but as I model several Shortlines - they each had their own colors for ballast!

So using the different MFG of ballast workes for me!

BOB H - Clarion, PA

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Posted by Big Boy Forever on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 11:31 AM

MisterBeasley

Railroads don't hire Martha Stuart to be their "ballast color coordinator."  They use local rock.  Around here in New England, that' mostly gray granite, so that's what our ballast looks like.

This is HO scale, using Woodland Scenics "medium" ballast:

For comparison, this is still HO scale, but the lighter ballast used along the road side is WS "small" ballast:

 

I don't think "Local Rock" answers the question with UP and BNSF where I live out West.

Red for BNSF and Grey for UP are seen side by side on the mainlines here in California; same locality, same rock sources.

My guess is that they contracted with Martha Stewart.

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Posted by joe323 on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 12:34 PM

Ballast does not have to be uniform.  On my layout I used a mixture of Grey and black ballast on one part and medium Grey on others. There are some areas where the Grey replaces the mixture thus showing repairs (and that I ran out of the mix)  I used woodland scenics gluing the side slopes with full strength white glue.  (Laying down a bead of glue and sprinkling the ballast over. I used a 50/50 glue/wet water for the center after pre wetting with 70 or 91 percent Iso. Never had the floating issue.

Joe Staten Island West 

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Posted by Southgate on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 5:51 PM

I like the look of Rob Spangler's ballast. My layout is now at the point where I can start the scenery.

MAKE YOUR OWN BALLAST!!!!   Sorry I got exited there. Follow me here:

Last week, by coincidence, I went out into my well worn gravel driveway and literally swept aggregates from "thin spots" into a dust pan. I screened this with assorted sizes of mesh and screen, and came up with 7 different sizes of gravel and "sand"  I washed the gravels by flushing it in a bucket until the water ran clear. I sun dried it on plywood. The sand will probably go in the oven to sanitize it. I like the various sizes I ended up with for ballast, gravel roads, industrial yards, wharever calls for it. I can elaborate further on the sizing techniques if anyone is interested.

I made LOTS of this stuff, and it's kinda fun to do. And how can it not look like the real thing when it is in fact the real thing, just screened.

Then this week I went to the beach (live in Oregon) and gathered more sands and gravels from varying areas out there, and did the same process. These look different from those from my driveway, they look like river rocks mostly, which was what I was after, and will have their uses. They have far more color variences from gray to tans, beige, darks.

Just keep your eyes open wherever you happen to go, look at the ground with youre "scale" eyes and see what's where. If you don't mind looking wierd to some people (when did that ever stop a model RRer) while gathering, you can build up a very nice assortment of aggregates for every use. How hard is it to keep a stash of freezer baggies in the car?

If someone wants to do this the easy way, get a bag of paver sand, a tube of "traction" sand (they carry in the back of vehicles in winter to add weight for traction) or sand for making concrete, and screen that.  Compare that to manufactured ballasts and such. The price? free, or cheap at worst.

By the way I do this with dirt too, and have different colors for different areas. It is reccomended that this be pasturized in the oven especially if it comes from an organic rich area.  I feel safe with a good washing of my gravels, but dirt, and dust fines will have to be treated differently. Probably best to get your own oven cookie pans for this, wives won't approve using theirs!

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Posted by Antoine L. on Thursday, June 26, 2014 10:22 AM

Southgate, 

Very interesting post. I am not satisfied with the ballast from woodland scenics so far, I'm not sure it looks real.

My question is: what about "sanitizing" the gravel you find everythere and here? I am not familiar with sanitizing these things, how and why and all the process?

 

Thanks. 

 

Antoine

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Posted by wp8thsub on Thursday, June 26, 2014 10:28 AM

Antoine L.
My question is: what about "sanitizing" the gravel you find...

I don't.  I use mass quantities of natural sand and rock, and don't do anything to sanitize/sterilize it before use.  I've never had problems with bugs or other stuff that would give me reason to treat the materials.

Rob Spangler

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Posted by peahrens on Thursday, June 26, 2014 11:38 AM

If you're interested in some older ballast threads:

site:cs.trains.com ballast

site:cs.trains.com ballast size

In my case I have only ballasted about 2' of track at tunnel entries but I decided on my ballast type and color.  I liked the Highball HO gray mix, but it was still too uniform in color for my likling.  So I make a mix of that plus lower proportions of limestone and a little of cinders, plus some "UP strata gray" from a local TX outfit.  I like the blend.  I will use cinders in the yard but maybe add a touch of others to soften the color uniformity as desired.

Paul

Modeling HO with a transition era UP bent

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Posted by cuyama on Thursday, June 26, 2014 11:46 AM

Big Boy Forever
I don't think "Local Rock" answers the question with UP and BNSF where I live out West. Red for BNSF and Grey for UP are seen side by side on the mainlines here in California; same locality, same rock sources.

They are not the same quarry sources.

BNSF, as Santa Fe before them, primarily uses ballast from Newberry Springs, CA, near Barstow. This is an area with a lot of red in the rocks and soils due to volcanic formation. The rock is conveyed from the quarry to track side.

The UP (former SP) uses a couple of different quarries in So Cal, as I recall. I think (not certain) that they are primarily working with alluvial gravel deposits as the rock is more gray in color.

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Posted by Big Boy Forever on Thursday, June 26, 2014 6:09 PM

cuyama
 
Big Boy Forever
I don't think "Local Rock" answers the question with UP and BNSF where I live out West. Red for BNSF and Grey for UP are seen side by side on the mainlines here in California; same locality, same rock sources.

 

They are not the same quarry sources.

BNSF, as Santa Fe before them, primarily uses ballast from Newberry Springs, CA, near Barstow. This is an area with a lot of red in the rocks and soils due to volcanic formation. The rock is conveyed from the quarry to track side.

The UP (former SP) uses a couple of different quarries in So Cal, as I recall. I think (not certain) that they are primarily working with alluvial gravel deposits as the rock is more gray in color.

 

OK

That explains it then.

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Posted by Southgate on Friday, June 27, 2014 2:47 AM

Antoine L.

Southgate, 

Very interesting post. I am not satisfied with the ballast from woodland scenics so far, I'm not sure it looks real.

My question is: what about "sanitizing" the gravel you find everythere and here? I am not familiar with sanitizing these things, how and why and all the process?

 

Thanks. 

 

Antoine

 

Some people are adament about sanitizing their natural materials. As far as sands and gravels go, I just flush them in a bucket to clean them up. A lot of debris does come floating out of it, usually pine needle fragments. 

As far as dirt goes, well, some of our high desert dirt is pretty devoid of much organic material, so I don't worry about it. Especially considering how much I am exposed to it anyway in my yard and such, without problems. I used it on a large doirama in 2000, and never saw any reason for alarm as it gets saturated with white glue-water and dries completely.

Some soils do contain a higher level of organic material, depending on where it's collected. That can be an advantage for scenery.   Just to be on the safe side, I'd heat it in the oven if in doubt.  Especially if anyone around has alergies. (I don't)

I know that a lot of folks who use narurally grown weeds, (I like the local silver sage here)  will bake those too to kill any kooties, spiders, mites whatever may be lurking within. All the more if it's from the wilds and can have ticks in it from deer.

For screens, look at automotive speaker grills, they vary in size. Collenders (Strainers), spatter screens for frying pans, Wal Mart sells aluminum ones that have fantastic looking expanded aluminum (for model uses), esp for larger scales.

One thing I did recently to remove fine powder dust from some smaller fines was to set up a strong fan, and get about 8 feet away but still in the breeze, and slowly pour a stream of screened soil throuh it into a large box, letting the breeze carry off the fine dust, leaving a nice very small gravel mix.

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Posted by JimValle on Friday, June 27, 2014 4:47 PM

Ballasting philosophy can be very individualistic.  I was faced with the prospect of ballasting hundreds of feet of mainline, yards and sidings.  It quickly became apparent that commercial hobby grade ballast like Woodland Scenics would be prohibitively expensive!  My solution was to get a hundred pound sack of medium grit sandblasting stone.  My suppliers had it for around $10.00 per bag and that yielded a lifetime supply.  They also had six different grit choices so I could pretty much choose what seemed best. The ballast was gray stone color and I wanted a ruddy red coloring simulating the stain the ballast took on when the rails bled rust on it.  To get that color I purchased ruddy brown masonry stain.  I filled a big bucket with water and stain, dumped in the ballast stone and let it sit, stirring occasionally.  When the stone took on the color I wanted, I drained the bucket, put the ballast on a cake pan and baked it in the oven ( the Wife was gone for the day! ).  The material shaped well, took wetting well, and dried hard with diluted white glue. I needed to exercise care around switches, of course, and clear any stone the got on the inside rail web.  The results please me and I saved money for what really counts, locos and rolling stock!  

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Posted by SANDY SAMUELS on Thursday, December 18, 2014 11:48 PM

I travel regularly from LA to western AZ on I-40. About two years ago I noticed that the conveyer from the pit, about 2 miles south of the BNSF mainline to the ballast loading facility had been removed.

I tried inquiring about it with a couple of BNSF engineers at Needles one day but got no response.

BOTTOM LINE: The mine appears to be closed and there is no more ballast loadout activity in Newberry Springs, CA. 

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