With a bundle of code 40 flex track on the way and the two turnouts built anticipation for getting track stuck down and a layout underway is certainly building. Of course, with track laying comes ballasting and that’s one area that I’ll admit makes me nervous.
Like any seasoned model railway guy I’ve glued a fair number of turnouts shut and sworn I’m not going to do that again.
Also like many of my fellow modellers, I’ve always done it the Model Railroader way, repeating each step like I’ve read in so many articles over the years:
- Spread ballast along track
- Mix glue and water and that magical drop of soap
- Spray track with light mist of water “to break surface tension”
- Dribble thinned glue and water mix along the line
Four simple steps right? For me, right around step number four I begin to excitedly look forward to freeing up turnouts I’ve just finished glueing shut and picking little N scale rocks away from places they had no business being. Every time I’ve wondered if there was a different way. Maybe even a “better” way.
I feel like I’ve read a number of articles in the British model railway press in which the author advocates for a slight reversal in the process. With roadbed in place and track at the ready, spread glue out along the roadbed and press the track into it. While the glue is still wet simply spread a layer of dry ballast. The glue dries as glue does and the track sticks down and ballast joins in on the party. A day or so later you come along and sweep or vacuum up the ballast and find that most of it has nicely stuck down in the now dried glue. It sure sounds like a way that makes one heck of a lot more sense than my current approach. I had some scraps of old Atlas flex track, some Woodland Scenics ballast, and a piece of foam. I figured I’d give it a try. Here’s how it turned out.
I used a thinned PVA glue. I thought thinning the glue would encourage more of it to wick up deeper into the ballast. I was concerned that as it dried the ballast might shrink and in a few places it did. On version two of my test, I’ll try the glue full strength.
So far, I do think this is something I am going to continue to pursue.
I think I may patiently attempt a variation though where I stick the track in place first. Sticking down the track first will allow me to wire everything properly and also get the track detailed, painted, and weathered before ballasting. Instead of attempting to ballast all at once I’ll just try for a few inches at a time painting thinned glue in between the ties and then spread the ballast over top. Obviously this is a little more labour intensive but I’m not working with a huge amount of track.