For the most part the ballast work is now done. I had a lot of self-doubt when I started ballasting and I’m ever so pleased that things are working out, even more that everything is still nicely stuck in place. In fact, thanks to a lot of patience and care I think this might be some of the nicest ballast work I’ve ever completed. Before I started ballasting, I painted and weathered the track with some coloured washes and with the ballast now stuck in place, I figured I’d have a go at weathering the trackwork. I was also hoping to arrive a colour range that looked a little bit rusty but not too redish. I like the effect so far. Just as I was wrapping up I figured I’d try picking out some of the ties with some greyish tones. Unfortunately this colour wound up on a few tieplates and rail and I’ll need to correct that.
As pleased as I am with the ballast on the main module, I wish I had noticed that I hadn’t done any weathering of the ties and rails before ballasting the second module. I had sprayed some colour onto the ties and rails so at least I’d made a start. Unfortunately there is a stronger contrast between the dark brown and monochromatic ties and rails compared to the lighter grey ballast. I’ve started experimenting with some subtle washes and dry brush work to try and soften the look. The above photo shows things as they are now.
Throughout this project I’ve remarked on how pleased I am with how things are progressing. It’s been a really long time since I’ve done any of this kind of work and it’s fun to re-introduce myself to things I remember doing before. It’s terrific to have a generic layout underway to act as a place to play around with everything. More than anything I would or wouldn’t do again in the future, having a space like the one this layout provides is something I hope I’ll always have access to.
It’s raining here in Charlottetown and everyone seems to have found a book to read, a craft project to work on, or some other pursuit to indulge in. My effort has been to get the rest of the track ballasted on my layout.
I spent a lot of time tamping and dressing all this fresh ballast around so none was on top of the ties and absoloutely none was going to wind up glued to the sides of the rails. I always think it funny to have so diligently invested patience into getting it all ready and then I start fogging it with water and glue. The photo above was taken only a few minutes ago and it shows things as they are right now. I like to keep the area I’m working on quite wet so everything is saturated and eventually the glue soaks in nicely. However, there is always a time like the one right now where I’m raising my mug of tea and saying a quiet prayer that once again I get away with this approach.
After a lot, even for me, of fretting I’ve started ballasting the track on my layout. I wasn’t getting anything done while I worried about a couple of simple things:
I still haven’t settled on a prototype of time period
Throughout this build I’ve nurtured a few themes and have kept them in mind while working. Given the shape of the benchwork and choice of scale and gauge, many of the decisions regarding track locations and the style of operations I want to feature were almost pre-determined. However as I move toward scenics it’s a little more important to know where on Earth this thing is supposed to be set and during which time period so I can decide if that ballast is dirt and cinders or fresh crushed rock.
I’ve been wanting to use something finer than Woodland Scenics and real rock
I’ve always used Woodland Scenics “fine” grade ballast. It’s readily available and familiar. During my no-layout-at-home hiatus I’d read a lot about ballast based on actual crushed rock such as that from Arizona Rock and Mineral or Highball. Unfortunately, I can’t find a supply of either close to the Island and, as expected, sending a couple of bags through the mail is just going to cost more in postage than I feel like I want to spend right now.
Wait a minute…
I’m doing a lot of surfing the web and fretting instead of working on the layout and getting something done. So, last weekend I picked up a jar of Woodland Scenics fine ballast, their generic grey blend, and set to work. After a few evenings, I’ve got ballast glued in along about half of the line and I think it looks pretty alright. I’m getting something done and that feels terrific. Since this layout was supposed to be all about having something to occupy myself with while I settle on what I’d ultimately like to work on, I think this is a great step in the right direction.
I found that box with the Woodland Scenics stuff inside and this evening I have decided it’s time to ballast the track on my layout. I think we all have some part of the hobby that we just don’t enjoy and for me, it’s ballasting. It’s not so much that I dislike the entire act but more that I’ve had some bad experiences with ballast that didn’t glue down properly or turnouts almost permanently glued in one position (I think we all suffer for that last one right?!). So, I made some tea, took a couple of deep breaths and set to work.
The ballast I’m using is from Woodland Scenics. I have their “buff” coloured ballast and their fine grade to get a stone that’s about the right size for HO scale. With a collection of paint brushes and fingers I moved the ballast around the rails and think I’ve actually produced a pretty nice effect for all. Since the layout is so small I just don’t have much track to actually work with and that means that there’s really no rush to get through this. A personal pet peeve of mine is ballast grains on the top of the ties so I carefully worked around each tie carefully feathering it all into place. Satisfied with my handywork I poured another mug of tea for myself and thought I’d just enjoy how nice it all looks. I’ve been promising some photos to update progress so figured I’d break out my camera and take some shots before I wet everything down and try glueing it all into place.
I glue down ballast the same as just about every other modeller does. I first spray a light mist of water over the whole area to lightly wet the ballast. This breaks any surface tension in the glue and keeps it all in place when it’s time to start spreading glue. My glue is the traditional sixty-forty blend of white glue to water. I had an small old glue bottle and find it easiest to just mix the glue and water in this and use the fine tip to drop the glue into place rather than dribbling it off using a brush or eye droppers. Okay, so it’s deep breath time and time to start trying to glue everything into place. If ever there was an event where the whole layout can wind up a disaster I think this is going to be it. Either the glue just doesn’t hold everything in place nicely, or it doesn’t soak in well enough and I get a film over everything. Of course the outlier here is that I’m working over foam core so there’s always the chance that all this water is going to get things to warp.
Too late now. I’m glueing.
As I write this post the glue is soaking into the ballast. I dusted a little green ground foam along the track edges and have put the layout away to dry. Man I hope this works.
Tonight is pretty quiet around the house. We’re watching some really excellent nature documentaries and I’m scrolling through some more Department of Railways and Canals Reports on the archive.org website. I’m gradually working through these reports to extract PEIR details as part of a project to develop a timeline establishing how the railway evolved. Each year’s reports include sections for new rails laid and also a section detailing sidings added to the railway.
1907’s report mentions the Conway ballast pit spur for the first time:
At Conwat a siding of steel rails and fastenings, 6,080 feet in length, was laid into the ballast pit.
This not only establishes that the siding existed but it’s length and when it was built. The pit would have been busy. As I read each year’s reports it’s always interesting to note how much ballast was being laid annually. 1907 saw the railway ballast 2.5 miles of track, all of which would have been dug at pits like this one or from elsewhere on PEI. For the modeller this pit provides yet another source of car loadings. The size of the PEIR’s freight car fleet never really changed so cars used for ballast would have been taken from the revenue fleet.
Speaking of sidings, Conway’s wasn’t the only new trackage this year, a new siding was laid to the new engine shed in Summerside (162 feet).
Click here to read the report online at archive.org: