“Solid number 2”

Just a peaceful Friday evening and I need to work on the layout. It’s not like a professional need but something deep inside me needs this. So I’m ballasting. As James and I both agree, this is good meditative work. Brushing the little “rocks” into place I thought about how enjoyable it is now that I’m using this nice little brush. It’s the same inexpensive paint brush I’ve been using to paint the ties, the rail, glue for the grass, and here to spread the ballast. I work one tie at a time. The brush head is about the size of one tie and the control is superb.

I’ve always really enjoyed ballasting but know others. I wonder if it’s the choice of tools? Impatience?

Number 2 synthetic hair brush

Woodland Scenics fine ballast

Grand Pré NS Red

Categories: Coy Paper (HO) model railway, handlaid track, How I think

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13 replies

  1. A different process, but also slow and methodical … cutting and glueing thin strips of 150 grade sand paper painted to match my roadside ballast between the ties. I may never finish, but I hope to avoid wayward grains jamming turnouts for all time.

    Mark in Maryland

    • That sounds fascinating. Thank you for sharing that. Because I handlay turnouts using a mix of PC board and wood ties I’m planning on ballasting most of the turnout before the “skeleton” of PC board ties and rail is glued into place for exactly the same reason. I’d like to see photos or hear more about your technique.

      • As a novice, I was looking for safe, consistent way to ballast turnouts. The 60 grade (correction) paper was meant to be a foundation so I could add less loose ballast. It turned out well enough that I won’t add any loose material to the turnouts. I’m carrying this tedious technique throughout my narrow 10′ HO shelf layout. I am using finer grades of sand paper as a base for ground ‘in town’. Have also experimented with asphalt shingles as a foundational ground cover – adding some turf and eventually static grass as needed. Super pleased with that technique. I bet that earth tone and black shingles could stand alone in O-scale for quick ground and yard surfaces. Have been less successful using the back/smooth side of the shingles for asphalt road. But it shows promise. Improving my painting and weathering skills will help. Happy to share photos (How?)

      • I see your technique as being a powerful method to communicating the textures and colours of ballast. Plus, it would be a clean installation and I’m intrigued by its potential. When I worked in N scale I was so damn tired of glueing points shut (no matter how carefully I worked) I started not ballasting the region around the points at all. Just black paint on the roadbed and done. To a degree that works and I felt it reminiscent of a time when the railroad approached weed control with gallons of waste oil so even if there was ballast there it would read much the same way.

  2. Love this post.
    I tend to spend evenings in front of the fire, with a book and a good beer, but the medative effect can be similar!

    • Fireplace channel on the TV, Oscar Peterson on the hifi, wine in my glass, and stray grains of ballast on a layout. That we find a meditation is the beautiful thing. Where or how was just when.

      I love your imagery of the fireplace more.

  3. I don’t enjoy ballasting but I enjoy the results!

    • As I worked through that session of ballasting I contemplated why I might not have enjoyed it before. Sometimes it was probably the tools and sometimes it was me and my impatience. That small paint brush and also just plain not caring how fast I work so long as I’m doing something really made such a difference. It also underscores how glad I am this layout is as small as it is because I would have collapsed on anything larger – I get so easily overwhelmed when I look at what’s left compared to my progress.

      • I find that on my current layout – room sized – working on just one section of it really helps to keep me from being overwhelmed. I’ve been working on the area that will be above my relocated office desk, one corner of the room. Over the past month I’ve been finishing the track, wiring, ballasting and now scenery and I now call it “done”. I’ve never finished any model railway before… so to be able to call something on my layout done is a new feeling for me. I like it.

      • And I like the idea of working on sections that we understand and leaving the rest until it starts to sort itself out. In the magazines they’d present construction as complete phases (all the track, all the wiring, all the scenery) with defined and contingent start and end points. I worry I’d be lost trying to sort everything out and them nothing gets done.

  4. Have you every used any other ballast then Woodland Scenes?

    George Anderson

    • I have, in the past used: sanded and non-sanded grout, actual sand, seived gravel (“fines”), cat litter, dirt, and have several buckets of road grit on hand too.

      For model train company product I have only used Woodland Scenics. In our area it’s the only product hobby shops stock (anywhere east of Ottawa). I like it as a product and enjoy the formula I have for using it. I wish their “grey” was less blue than it is but after bedding in that fades.

      Great to hear from you. Thank you for the comment.



  1. What else have I been doing wrong? – Prince Street

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