dirt ballast postscript

In the previous post I shared some photos of a sample of dirt ballasted track I’d made up in HO scale, standard gauge, as an extension of my general study in how I approach modelling this. That sample was made on a block of foam and the track (plastic tied flex track from Atlas) couldn’t be more simple. The ballast itself is a mix of Woodland Scenics fine grey and then two shades of Polyblend non-sanded tile grout. This ballast is applied as a mix and to glue it all down I’m relying only on the adhesive properties of the grout itself–just like it would in real life around tiles in a house. I’m pleased with how well it’s stuck together but was curious about comparing it to actually adding glue into the mix. So I made another sample based on the same combination of components.

I made that sample last week so feel confident it’s probably about as dry as it’s ever going to be and this colour and effect is about what it will likely always look like.

  • The previous sample dried looking dry and dusty and “loose”
  • This looks more like wet ground after snow melts or after the rain

Some of the clumps are just the material itself and can’t be attributed back to anything I did in either sample piece. I also find it fascinating that in the sample that used only the grout as the adhesive the grout itself remained evenly distributed where the version where I used diluted white glue in addition to the grout, the grout appears to have run away or maybe settled beneath the Woodland Scenics ballast from the mix (see those areas between the ties). While this second sample doesn’t look the way I wanted it to, it may be useful as a reference for future work, and it’s part of learning how the materials and methods interact with each other and no time invested into learning is ever wasted.

When I originally started down this path I would lay down ballast first (Woodland Scenics only) and then, when that was dry, I would brush on a heavy layer of the non-sanded grout. This felt like it allowed me a lot of control over where the grout landed and still felt like it would allow me to build up the appearance of track being lost back into the earth it was once built over. I created this new series of samples to actually explore if the dirt could be deeper and this has been rewarding work to explore that question. I’m grateful the blog is here to store these notes because Future Chris will remember he did something but not how or what it worked out like so he’ll probably reread these notes.

I love the look and feel of the road grit that accumulates along the edge of a street after the winter. When I’m out for a walk I often catch myself looking at it as a creative medium for model railroading and contemplate how to employ it. Looking at this “it’s still wet looking” latest study of grout mixed into ballast reminds me so much of first samples of the road grit exploration:

I can’t imagine not having grout in my box of scenery materials and was thinking about how this is all part of learning to work with it. Spreading it like we would regular model railroad ballast isn’t exactly how I want to work with it because it’s so fine that it leaves a lousy residue that obscures details carved into ties or in the paint and weathering I might apply to ties and rails before ballasting. This was from an N scale layout I was working on almost ten years ago:

Sometimes “continuity” between our work in model railroading feels like its contained into particular layout projects and disconnected studies like this feel, well, disconnected. I like these as practice and from them I’m learning how things work but also from them my imagination sees new bigger projects when I look at something I’ve done and instantly my imagination suggests a real railroad that looks like “this” so I have this theory that future bigger layout statements might be reverse engineered from a series of “well I liked how that worked so let’s do more of that”. Who knows, it’s all fun and it feels so much better than another few hours on eBay looking for a model that was produced years ago for a layout I’m thinking about building if I can find it.

Categories: Coy Paper (HO) model railway, How I think, Trackwork and Handlaid Track

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