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  • Before 'doing any ballasting or scenic work it is important to do some research into the best way to achieve a satisfactory result. At CHUCK'S we get lots of questions on the best way, the right way, the right grade the right colour of ballast, etc,etc. If you are seriously interested in doing a good job and you want your handiwork to stand out, then there are certain interesting tasks you can do. However let's start with some of the don'ts.
  • Don't forget to paint your rails and sleepers. Some try painting after ballasting!

    Don't choose the wrong colour of ballasts, clays, dusts and sands. Once glued down its permanent.

    Don't put too much on. Particles will float and become glued to the web of your rails. The "big" railways don't have ballast up to the head of the rail so neither should we.

    Don't just pour 100% straight PVA on the ballast (yes, some so-called modelers do!!). Don't squirt the glue mix onto the ballast or ground cover and blast the ballast away. Don't glue your point blades (a regular complaint).

    Don't interfere with the wet ballast once it has been laid down. And so on

    Firstly let's assume that you have done your research and have chosen your era , ballast type, location, etc. The most effective way of understanding how ballast works, and more importantly how it will look on your layout, is to study the real thing. Two ways, hop in the car and find some 12 inch to the foot railway track (from the platform of course; and while there you may find a whole host of things to model,) or bury your nose in the plethora of good quality books and magazines available to the hobby. When you look at the photos forget for a moment the locos and rolling stock images. Instead look carefully at the track, the ballast, the embankments and the cuttings. Look carefully also for the smaller things such as culverts, speed boards and other warning signs such as home and distant signals. Look carefully how the bridge abutments converge with the embankments. All these things go a long way to making a good layout better.

    GLUEING OF BALLASTS AND SCENERY ROCK (or other large particles)

    Assuming that you have already painted your rails and sleepers spoon enough ballast on the track to-do, say, one metre. Having done your research into the shape of your track bed, ballast depth, etc, brush out the ballast particles until the tops of the sleepers are visible. (In some instances, especially branch lines, ballast may very well non-existent, or in the case of heavy, high speed track, deep with a wide shoulder width extending out from the rails. Generally the ballast will be of a large size unlike the scant coverage of sand and ash of light branch lines.

    If you are satisfied with the appearance of the track glueing down may proceed. Using a plastic spray bottle, (readily available from your local hardware store; mine cost a dollar) very carefully spray water containing a dozen or so drops of liquid soap on to the track. Don't worry about overspray. Mix up 20% PVA and 80% water (and a small quantity of liquid soap), shake well and very, very carefully apply the mix to your track. On larger open scenic areas I also use a spray pump bottle to apply the glue. You will notice that the glue soaks into the ballast almost immediately. That is because of the wetting agent in the soap. Keep applying the glue until the area between the rails has been flooded. To assist the glue to spread out more evenly, and to stop staining, squirt a very fine mist of water. The same procedure can be applied to open scenic areas. For heavy rock along embankments apply several glue mix several times. This will avoid shiny stains caused by single applications.

    Now, don't TOUCH the ballast or scenery material until dry.


    PVA glues are excellent for the work we modelers do. They mix well with a water/soap medium, are easy to store and have a reasonably long shelf life. If applied correctly to scenic materials use as little as 5%10% PVA. Your dusts, clays, etc will not stain and will retain natural colours. If you find that some areas are lifting simply apply a few puffs from your glue spray followed by a light mist of water/soap.

    If you have any useful hints or ideas on this fascinating facet of our wonderful hobby please feel free to send us an email. Happy modeling!!

    Copyright applies to this article. Not to be reprinted without permission of the author.


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