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Ballast in Train Yards - Yea or Nay?

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Ballast in Train Yards - Yea or Nay?
Posted by bigpianoguy on Saturday, January 28, 2012 10:43 PM

In setting up my train yard, I was struck with the question of ballast - should I, or shouldn't  I?  My yard is going to be mainly on a concrete base, so i can immediately deduce 'nay', but as the tracks aren't going to be embedded, it got me wondering. Lord knows it would, as always, go a long way towards covering up wiring & other imperfections, and even a quick check of Google images gives me no clear answer one way or the other. And I guess there might always be 'spillage' from the adjoining lines coming in, so maybe a bit, here & there...

Any suggestions?

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Posted by larak on Saturday, January 28, 2012 10:54 PM

One vote for yea. How else would you keep the ties and rails from sliding sideways? Bolt them to the concrete? You could embed the ties in the concrete but I don't think that's what you had in mind.

 

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Posted by twcenterprises on Sunday, January 29, 2012 12:21 AM

Most (if not all) prototype yards had something keeping the tracks in place.  Cinders were common during the steam and early diesel era. as was "regular" ballast when major yards were build/rebuilt over the years.  Over time, dirt, soil, grease, grime, and everything else might transform it into something looking as if there hadn't been any ballast to begin with.

Brad

EMD - Every Model Different

ALCO - Always Leaking Coolant and Oil

CSX - Coal Spilling eXperts

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Posted by Rangerover1944 on Sunday, January 29, 2012 12:47 AM

twcenterprises

Most (if not all) prototype yards had something keeping the tracks in place.  Cinders were common during the steam and early diesel era. as was "regular" ballast when major yards were build/rebuilt over the years.  Over time, dirt, soil, grease, grime, and everything else might transform it into something looking as if there hadn't been any ballast to begin with.

Brad

Wow do you bring back memories for me from the 40's-50's when I was a youngster and walking through the train yard, you described it to a "T". Yup I can still see the old caboose on a siding with a little coal stove in the middle inside where the switchman used to be when he wasn't switching or doing some other thing in the yard, nice old guy he was. Always told us young'ns to be careful, never hollered at us for walking through the yard on the tracks.

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Posted by doctorwayne on Sunday, January 29, 2012 1:00 AM

I agree:  you need ballast of some type, be it crushed stone, cinders, or dirt and weeds. 


Wayne

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Posted by tomikawaTT on Sunday, January 29, 2012 2:52 AM

In new construction or for repair work, the tracks are ballasted to yard/industrial standards - a lot less depth than mainline, since speeds will be low.  Then the spaces between tracks are filled in with smaller gravel to tie-top level to provide better footing for yard workers.  French drains are often installed for drainage, and there may be a manhole or two where the drain lines trunk together.

Over time, the ballast gets fouled with spilled lading and blown-in dirt.  Weeds begin to grow.  During the transition era and earlier, journal box drippings would slowly saturate the ground (poor man's tarmac.)  Cinders from the ash pit would be spread on the yard (gotta put 'em somewhere...)

Well maintained yards will be kept pretty clear of foliage and will occasionally get a ballast transfusion where needed.  Unmaintained yards will gradually change to muddy quagmires, sometimes with tracks submerged below the railheads in glop.  Tall weeds and bushes abound, and even an occasional sapling if the tracks are embargoed.

An interesting effect to model - the entire yard somewhat grimy with some weed growth, one recently changed out or realigned turnout with fresh, clean ballast.  Been there, seen that.

Chuck (Modeling Central Japan in September, 1964 - with well-maintained yards)

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Posted by richhotrain on Sunday, January 29, 2012 4:56 AM

I just recently confronted this issue as I built my passenger car coach yard.  I built the yard and laid the tracks directly on the plywood surface as opposed to my double main line tracks which sit on road bed.

After a lot of research and advice, I decided to lightly ballast the entire yard.   Since the coach yard tracks sit on the plywood surface rather than roadbed, the ballast is not deep and there is no real profile to it. 

Rich

Alton Junction

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Posted by EM-1 on Sunday, January 29, 2012 2:50 PM

Back in the late 50s to early 60s, the local B&O yard was a combination of regular ballast, maybe somewhat coarser than the ballast on a local Nickle Plate main, heavily discolored by cinders, dirt, spilled coal, spilled Taconite, spilled limestone, and the previously mentioned oil dripppings.  The coal and Taconite spills usually were in strips centered between the rails, with a minimal spead to the sides.  Where a couple spurs entered local lumberyards, there was also a sprinkling of sawdust and even some stripwood odds and ends.  Some lesser used tracks in the yards did show some weed growth along side the rails, just outside the tie ends. Also, back then, (it was not uncommon for us kids to walk along the track to go uptown or return) we used to find empty grease and other cans, lengths of air hose, sometimes with glad hands still attached, glad hands without hose, spilled track spikes and the nuts and bolts for rail joiners, tie plates, turnout frogs, new or used flairs, and some who-knows-what.  We once even found a couple unblown torpedos.  We put them on a caboose platform.

In fact, sometimes mixed in with the ballast at one spot or another would be spilled raw pickles.  That yard would occasionally actually have a pickle tank car for a day or two.  And one day, sitting on a general purpose spur, there was a ventilated box surrounded by spilled watermellons.  Someone had raided the car and opened one of the doors.

One of the winter activities for us at a local park that ran along side the tracks was to walk the track picking up chunks of spilled coal for the old pot-bellied stove at the ice rinks shanty.  Great social event, that.  Gather the coal, bring it to the custodian who watched over the rink during skating hours, do some ice skating, then sit around a red hot stove warming and drying, and just talking.  That ice rink, and others around town, sort of became unused when the city converted the pot bellies to nice efficient gas fired heaters.  Just wasn't the same.  Maybe the advent of diesels contributed.  There was a kind of spirit and life to an EM-1's or L-1'swhistle, compared to the air horns of the Baldwin RF-16s or GP-7's.

The 4 miles of yard was definitely not a dull monochrome lifeless color.

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Posted by gabeusmc on Sunday, January 29, 2012 3:04 PM

The second part of my signiture says it all. Smile

"Mess with the best, die like the rest" -U.S. Marine Corp

MINRail (Minessota Rail Transportaion Corp.) - "If they got rid of the weeds what would hold the rails down?"

And yes I am 17.

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Posted by bigpianoguy on Sunday, January 29, 2012 10:42 PM

gabeusmc: what?

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Posted by markpierce on Monday, January 30, 2012 1:53 AM

 

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Posted by EmpireStateJR on Monday, January 30, 2012 6:27 AM

The train yards I have worked at or visited all had ballast as a way of keeping the tracks in place. Pictures below are from a visit to Sunnyside Yard in Queens NY. Note asphalt roadways and crossings.

Good Luck on your Yard

John R

 

 

 

John R.

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Posted by mobilman44 on Monday, January 30, 2012 6:28 AM

Hi!

Having roamed around RR facilities since the late '50s, I can honestly say I've never seen one that was not ballasted or otherwise had the ground covered with whatever. 

I will say that the older yards of less well to do RRs didn't maintain their yards - or other facilities - and the ballast was pretty well sunk into the ground.   So if you are modeling something pre '50s and less affluent, barely covering the ground would be OK - IMHO.  But anything of recent years would be decently ballasted.

BTW, when most of us think of "ballast" we think of rock or cinders or the like.   Well, down in southeast Texas at the various refineries, the "ballast" of choice - actually groundcover of choice - is ground up oyster shells - typically less than 1/2 inch in size.

ENJOY  !

 

Mobilman44

 

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

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Posted by gondola1988 on Monday, January 30, 2012 7:28 AM

I've put my yard on homasote and plan on ballasting it also,I got my ballast from our rain gutters. It is a mix of different colors of the grit on the shingles and it was free and the right size. Just be careful on the ladders, mine is a single story so it was not much of a chore, it was damp when i scraped it out and I  put it on the sidewalk to dry it out. I got about 10 to 12 lbs of it, enough to do my yard which is 5 feet wide and 32 feet long. Jim

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Monday, January 30, 2012 7:56 AM

I kept the tracks even with the ground level here, no elevated roadbed.  I used light ballast and added a lot of turf and other ground cover.

 

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Posted by dknelson on Monday, January 30, 2012 8:23 AM

When the BN rebuilt the yard in Galesburg IL there was good visual and photographic access by way of the Thirwell Street Bridge, and it was evident the yard was being ballasted very much to normal mainline standards with fresh new rock ballast.

At the C&NW's Butler Yard north and west of Milwaukee WI I recall that after some track was redone the primary ballast was normal CNW "pink lady" but not crushed to normal size -- more like chips of stone, and perhaps it was left over or unusable remains from the mining process.  Because the chips were small they could be compacted and i remember they came right up to the tops of the ties.  Thus a crewman could walk the track at night and in poor light and not have to worry about tripping. 

By contrast at C&NW's Mitchell Yard on Milwaukee's south side the ballast was mud and old cinders for the most part, except where turnouts had been replaced and there and only there was fresh rock ballast.  Cinder ballast is a relic of the steam age -- it had to be replaced often but back then there was an endless supply of "free" replacement material, and reasonably cheap labor as well.  So how a yard is ballasted is partly a function of your era, and whether the yard is important enough to warrant reballasting and new track.

I have replicated cinder ballast on my layout using sifted fireplace ash.  You can read how I did it in this Frugal Modeler article from the NMRA Midwest Region's Waybill:

http://www.mwr-nmra.org/region/waybill/waybill20103fall.pdf

Dave Nelson

 

 

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Posted by gabeusmc on Monday, January 30, 2012 8:38 AM

bigpianoguy

gabeusmc: what?

that means weeds, man, weeds Big Smile

"Mess with the best, die like the rest" -U.S. Marine Corp

MINRail (Minessota Rail Transportaion Corp.) - "If they got rid of the weeds what would hold the rails down?"

And yes I am 17.

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Posted by bogp40 on Monday, January 30, 2012 10:52 AM

richhotrain

I just recently confronted this issue as I built my passenger car coach yard.  I built the yard and laid the tracks directly on the plywood surface as opposed to my double main line tracks which sit on road bed.

After a lot of research and advice, I decided to lightly ballast the entire yard.   Since the coach yard tracks sit on the plywood surface rather than roadbed, the ballast is not deep and there is no real profile to it. 

Rich

Another Yea, here. one problem w/ ballasteing yards has been that if you do run all yard tracks on, same, roadbed, you do need quite a bit of fill to level the yard. Rich's method places the yard tracks prototypically lowered and reduces the amount of ballast material needed. You only need to be comfortable w/ transitioning the yard lead off the sw to the lowered tracks. Some will use N scale roadbed, thinner sheet cork or foam board.

My club still will carry the 1/4" pine roadbed throughout. The lowered areas are filled w/ strip pine, ply etc. Other times we have used "playsand" as a base and then ballasted or applied cinder on top. This still allows for some drainage and other scenery contour w/o having to "dig/ gouge out these spots. By controlling the mainline ballast profile  as you continue into the yard, by slight drainage or other contours, you can gain the effect of the lowered yard surface.

Even if the entire yard was done w/ the cheaper material, washes and weathering brings it to that filthy dirty/ cindered oiled look.

This is stained/ tempra washed sand top dressed w/ ballast and cinder.

Ballast in progress, ready for the filler material

Another spot nearing completion, ready for washes and added staining

Modeling B&O- Chessie  Bob K.  www.ssmrc.org

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Posted by bigpianoguy on Monday, January 30, 2012 12:20 PM

Dave Nelson: Loved your how-to article, I've saved it for future reference. But while I don't have a fireplace, I do have a steady supply of cigarette ash (let's not get into that...); it certainly looks fine enough, so I may give that a try & let you know of my results.

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Posted by richhotrain on Monday, January 30, 2012 4:38 PM

bogp40

 richhotrain:

I just recently confronted this issue as I built my passenger car coach yard.  I built the yard and laid the tracks directly on the plywood surface as opposed to my double main line tracks which sit on road bed.

After a lot of research and advice, I decided to lightly ballast the entire yard.   Since the coach yard tracks sit on the plywood surface rather than roadbed, the ballast is not deep and there is no real profile to it. 

Rich

 

Another Yea, here. one problem w/ ballasteing yards has been that if you do run all yard tracks on, same, roadbed, you do need quite a bit of fill to level the yard. Rich's method places the yard tracks prototypically lowered and reduces the amount of ballast material needed. You only need to be comfortable w/ transitioning the yard lead off the sw to the lowered tracks. Some will use N scale roadbed, thinner sheet cork or foam board.

My club still will carry the 1/4" pine roadbed throughout. The lowered areas are filled w/ strip pine, ply etc. Other times we have used "playsand" as a base and then ballasted or applied cinder on top. This still allows for some drainage and other scenery contour w/o having to "dig/ gouge out these spots. By controlling the mainline ballast profile  as you continue into the yard, by slight drainage or other contours, you can gain the effect of the lowered yard surface.

Even if the entire yard was done w/ the cheaper material, washes and weathering brings it to that filthy dirty/ cindered oiled look.

This is stained/ tempra washed sand top dressed w/ ballast and cinder.

http://i151.photobucket.com/albums/s158/bogp40/train%20club/trainclub2053.jpg

Ballast in progress, ready for the filler material

http://i151.photobucket.com/albums/s158/bogp40/layout%20march%202008/_DSC0007.jpg

Another spot nearing completion, ready for washes and added staining

http://i151.photobucket.com/albums/s158/bogp40/layout%20march%202008/_DSC0009.jpg

Bob,

Those are great photos and a beautiful looking layout.

You are, indeed, correct about the need to use a lot less ballast when the yard tracks are laid directly on the surface of the layout.

Rich

Alton Junction

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Posted by grizlump9 on Monday, January 30, 2012 6:06 PM

back when pikes peak was still a pimple, i worked at the big four yard at Harrisburg Illiniois on the old Cairo division.  it was just about all coal traffic.   the bottom of the hump and a ways into the outbound yard tracks got covered with coal from the impact of cars coupling when they came down the hump.

the coal got so deep the railroad had a contractor come in on a regular basis with a front end loader and dump truck to haul the spilled coal away.  otherwise, it would soon be over the tops of the rails.   he got paid for the clean up and got to keep the coal which he sold back to the mine.

grizlump

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Posted by tsgtbob on Monday, January 30, 2012 10:38 PM

Here's a reference for trackwork, and how to do good looking track.

Masterclass Modeling Series #2 Detailing Track.

It's written by an O scaler, however, track modeling is track modeling. 

And, yes, I ballast my yard trackage, as well as my industrial switching areas. The track has to be anchored, and housekeeping was (and is) paramount for  safety.

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