Ballast. What I tried so far.

Last summer, when I was all about Canal Street road grit, I made up the above test section. Balsa ties and code 55 rails and I created it as a preliminary study in On30 expressed the way I wanted to use the scale. Having now confessed that am now expanding on that unwritten verse and that I am currently “at” ballasting I wanted to write a post about ballast. Trevor has commented before about how useful maintaining a blog can be as a diary of notes to refer back to in future. Since the only things I remember are often that I forget, I do reread Prince Street’s posts and they are useful. This post is for Future Chris who will forget.

As a baseline, the ties are On30 pine ties from Mount Albert Scale Lumber/Fast Tracks. These are beautiful. You need only to touch these to sense how good they are going to be to work with. “You don’t have to. You get to.” Screw that: “You’re not going to be able to sleep. Your hands, your heart, your imagination, your creative soul will cry out with a creative energy that rivals James Brown’s voice when you have these and find yourself begging to work in a medium this nice.” I’m staining them mostly with artist acrylics thinned to a vague wash reminiscent of a fading memory. What is the colour of an aging railroad tie that was never preserved in the first place?

Experiment 1: sieved road grit. The hardest part I find about working in On30 is letting my instincts adjust in terms of the size of things when they feel right. This feels like it’s still a bit too coarse but the colour variation in this natural material inspires me.

I had read how some O scale modellers liked using Woodland Scenics fine cinder ballast to represent, well, cinder ballast. In the smaller scales I find that it still looks too defined to look like real cinder ballast but in O, I had to try it. I’m glad I did. It really feels right to me. Experiment 2 was a win. I don’t think my railroad uses cinder ballast but this combination works so well I have to think long and hard if maybe we do.

I have a long history of using Woodland Scenics buff ballast as my signature colour but I find, this time, it’s really bright. As shown in the photos it’s not so stark when I brush some non-sanded grout over it to represent dirt being worked into the ballast but I think it’s still too (bright? stark? not the feeling I’m trying to share?).

I had some Woodland Scenics grey, not their “grey blend” but just grey. On the HO scale Coy I actually used this everywhere and I loved how it looked. I don’t mind it here but…the distance between those ties is just that much wider than in this larger scale (naturally!) so you can’t help but notice the blueish tint to it. I thought I had taken more photos of a section of ballast done with this colour but I don’t have that. I did have this one photo of a section that was a mix of buff and grey. The contrast is too much and I can’t create a story here that I like so it’s unlikely I’ll proceed with this colour.

The base layer of ballast is primarily to create a basic form over which more textural detail can be constructed. I like how uneven ballast has little valleys in which I can grow tweezer-loads of static grass in or how non-sanded grout “dirt” accumulates in them. That dirt stains the colour of whatever ballast I use underneath it so the choice of colour isn’t so critical but still something I’d like to settle sooner than later.

Categories: Victoria On30

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3 replies

  1. Blogging for the future and the past. Reminds me of the movie, ‘The Land That Time Forgot’!


  1. Happy little accidents – Prince Street

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