This. Right here.

That air gap between the foot of the rail and the top of the ballast. That is a detail I want from ballasting or laying track. I can not achieve that in a smaller scale (maybe I have and couldn’t see it because my eyes are crap?). This little moment makes it worthwhile.

Monday screwin around

One of my favourite stories starts like: if you give a mouse a cookie.

If you stick down some ties you’re going to add rail. And if you stick down rail you’ll want to paint it.

So I did. I painted the rail then followed up with some dry brushing to pull that rust down onto the ties. Now that I know I can add a layer of dirt and gravel over glue and it won’t discolour so badly I added a fresh layer over this whole length of track. High on screwin’ around I stuck on some static grass. (That static grass is a bold colour but I can adjust that)

Today I dropped off the last of the HO scale models at the hobby shop. Included in that were a couple of things I was very fond of. It’s nice to have this little section of track to work on. I can sit here for a few seconds and putter around with it. Not only am I practicing a technique for the layout but I’m beating a sense of loss with a sense of progress – feeling like a decision that is moving forward.


We’re getting ready for Hurricane Teddy to touch down. Take care friends. Stay safe.

Screwin around

I couldn’t help it. I quickly glued some code 55 rail onto those ties and grabbed one of the dump cars “just to see”. Code 55 is really light rail in O scale – 25lbs I believe – so maybe not something I’d do on the layout but it looks super cool here.

And I ripped out the other track, stuck down some more ties, so more experimenting could happen.

CTRL+Z would be nice

The urge to do something irreversible and destructive is a part of being curious and, possibly, a part of being creative. “What would happen if I sprayed a light mist of water over the good looking ballast?”

That was almost two days ago. While it didn’t turn as dark as the previous examples it’s unacceptably so. Safer now, perhaps, to rule out the glue itself.

I’m disappointed but the purpose of a test is to create a place for open exploration. I’m at the workbench this evening and I’m going to strip the ties and ballast off this block of foam, scraping it back to bare canvas.

I’ll always have the pictures


There’s a lovely big mug of tea here at the workbench. Album-wise, the last three albums I listened to were:

The ballast update

Thank you for the comments on my previous post on the road grit ballast. My need to create with this remains great and I find it a perplexing material to work it. Sometimes model railroading is a puzzle to solve and, when it is, I don’t need a project just the challenge for my curious mind.

I’ll open with an apology. Calvin suggested I try a coloured wash or maybe dry brushing. His idea was terrific but I was resistant because, in the past, my efforts to paint were on ballast where its original colour was of lesser importance. I should have just tried. Then I did. The above is a length of the previously shown ballast, still dry but wet looking, with some very thin washes of cream and white. I’m quite impressed and, these days, embarrassed by my stubbornness.

Then Mike and I started talking. He reminded me, kindly, of the importance of thinking. Really thinking about what I was doing. Which leads to: if wet is the problem try something not as wet. In the above photo I painted on a coat of full strength (undiluted; no extra water and no ritualistic “drop or two of dish soap“). Over this I sprinkled mostly ballast with some of the finer dirt grade material. It’s dried perfectly.

I used N scale cork roadbed under the ties. On purpose, so in places the ties could appear to float. I didn’t smooth the harsh angle on the edge of the roadbed so that first layer of ballast needed more added to build up a profile. The beauty of Mike Cougill’s approach is building layers of texture. A desire to explore his method left such an incredible mark on my imagination – wanting to experiment with it is such a powerful reason to get back to the workbench. It might seem detailed and painful to ballast one tie at a time, as I have above, but it isn’t. Where previously I’d dump a cup over the track then sweep it into place and hope it all looked right I’m taking the time to build up that profile at each tie and considering each component part each were a series of individual compositions i- this is how I want to feel when I’m making models.

“I love how this is coming along”

I can’t suppress this attraction to the hobby but want to change how I approach it. I can’t blame an external source for affecting my experience. Engaging here becomes a function of finding a workflow and materials that have purpose or reason. Looking at that last photo, I feel that connection. I’m far from finished with this but I can see real progress and I can feel change.


Mike Cougill’s exploration of ballast technique is superlative. Certainly unmatched. These blog posts present the work and the reasoning:

https://www.ostpubs.com/modeling-oil-soaked-track/

https://www.ostpubs.com/mud-covered-track/

https://www.ostpubs.com/detailing-track-part-2-modeling-ballast/

https://www.ostpubs.com/oil-soaked-dirt/