Mixing up Ballast for the Layout

For the staging yards, I have been using up old ballast from past projects, no point in spending money on things when I have materials I can use sitting around taking up space. For the staging in the closet, I have been using Woodland Scenics medium size grey blend. Its maybe a bit big for HO even though that’s what it’s sold as, but I’m OK with that, as it provides a visual difference from the staging/fake yard area to the operating part of the layout.

For the operating part of the layout, I am again using Woodland Scenics ballast. I know it’s not well regarded for some of its behaviour (it likes to float away when you glue it because its not actually rock), but it works for me, and is easily obtained, so away we go. I’d love to experiment with the highly regarded Arizona Rock and Mineral Ballast real stone, but its hard to acquire in Canada, and I’m not going to the US anytime soon!

IMG_2350Working on a test ratio of cinder black and grey blend fine ballast.

For the main part of the layout, I am using fine ballast. the tracks in liberty were lightly laid, and the right of way was beaten up and overgrown. Even the ballast will get blended into the surrounding dirty landscape once its laid. My first passes of scenery and ballast are a bit separate just on work flow, but once its in place, then I can go back and add colour and more ground cover.

For the ballast, I want it to look dark, it will help to blend it in as being almost just in the dirt and overgrown as I go, so I am using black cinders with a bit of grey blend mixed in. Before going all the way in to mix, I made a small sample and tested the look.

Switching from medium grey to the blend as track enters the layout. I’m going to be going back to add more black/cover to blend the transition, the switch head stocks were just a convenient transition point.

Once I was happy, I’ve mixed up a big batch of ballast. It turns out, 4 Cups fills a shaker, and my mix of 3 Cups Black to 1 Cup Grey Blend has given me a healthy supply of ballast to move on with ballasting track. Now I need to get the airbrush back up to the layout room and get some more rails and ties painted before I do that!

IMG_2353Blended and filled up into an empty shaker for use on the layout.

I’ve been using a modified technique for ballasting, based on something I learned from my friend Trevor Marshall, and using thinned Weldbond Glue (why in 20 years of modelling has no one ever told me how much better this is than normal white glue before now!!). I’m actually, shock of shocks, somewhat pleased with my ballasting to date. Its going down, its staying in place when it gets wetted and glued, and I’m not having clumps of ballast float up and dry in all kinds of unwanted places. I’m not even messing around now with trying to put soap or rubbing alcohol in the water to break the surface tension. Using an olive oil misting sprayer for straight water, followed by the thin glue is getting me the best scenery I’ve ever done. I’m actually happy looking at where things are, and thinking about what I want to do when I go back to blend and finish the detail for the scenery.


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