Ballasting trackwork.

“lay down the tracks and tear up the trails!”

This week I painted the trackwork for the dock yard and got ready for some ballasting. I gave all the track and the plywood roadbed a quick wash of stain first, so painting is easier. Once dry, everything was painted with a blast of Floquil Rail Brown. I used some Railroad Tie Brown on the rails, (I know, a bit backwards) and then drybrushed the ties with a light grey.

And forgot to take any pictures, so you will just have to imagine an image of someone painting trackwork with an airbrush.

Once dry, I cleaned off the top of the rails using a 2″ square of cork roadbed soaked in lacquer thinners, and followed up immediately with a dry piece of cork. Works great! Since the cork is flat it only cleans off the top of the rail, and it is absorbent enough to soak up a bit of thinners. Again, no pictures.

Last night I got ambitious and ballasted all the trackwork.

Click on picture for larger view….
Image Copyright 2005 Tim Warris

I used Woodland Scenics fine ballast for the majority of it, with some fine dark ballast for the siding. A bit of sifted playground ground sand was also used to create a bit of texture.

Everything was glued in place with Woodland Scenics scenic cement.

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

I love this stuff! I used to mix up a batch of diluted white glue with water and soap, but found the results hit and miss, and a little bubbly too. Using the pre-made stuff speeds things up nicely.

I use a spray bottle with some isopropyl alcohol in it and give everything a good soaking first, this really helps to glue to flow into all the ballast, which is critical. I then spray on a liberal amount of the glue, with a spray bottle. I finish up by applying even more glue using a glass tube, the kind found in a lab (or in my case a surplus store). This tube holds lots of glue, you just put your finger over one end to hold it in the tube, slowly removing the finger will allow the glue to flow quickly out.

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris
A soupy mess. Dries up nicely though, the glue is completely invisible, in fact it is hard to tell anything is actually solidly adhered in place, once dry.

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris
Taken the following morning after everything has dried up

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

Next I think I will bet back to work on the apron for the car ferries, then I will finish up the scenery around the yard.

Image copyright 2005 Tim Warris

Posted by: | 10-29-2005 | 12:10 PM
Posted in: Uncategorized


  1. Hi, I really enjoyed reading the part about how you painted the track and laid the ballast. That is the final thing I need to do with my layout before I start putting on the structures and trains, and I’m quite apprehensive – I totally botched my last attempt at ballasting on my previous layout. Never could get all my tracks completely clean again either. Thanks again for sharing about your techniques!

    -Ken L.

    Comment by Ken Larsen — 10/30/2005 @ 5:40 pm
  2. In the past, I have glued the ties down to the roadbed, then painted roadbed and ties overall with a dark gray. Then I would sand the ties until the paint was off the tops and stain them gray. Then I would ballast, which is easier to do before the rail is in place. Once the ballast was dry I would lay the rail, and paint the rail after gaps were cut, feeders were dropped, and the track checked out operationally and electrically. But now that I am building turnouts using the FastTracks templates, I can’t follow my old procedure precisely. Your procedure obviously produces nice looking right of way. Over time have you changed your routine? Any drawbacks to this procedure?

    Comment by Mark Chase — 10/31/2005 @ 8:27 am
  3. Hi Mark,

    The procedure is a bit different when using fixture built trackwork, more in line with using ready to run turnouts when it comes to ballasting. Personally I have always ballasted after laying the trackwork, but I know many prefer to do it before laying the rail.

    With fixture built trackwork, or even using the TwistTies, I found it is not necessary to sand the ties level, as they are already level and providing the roadbed is reasonably flat the resulting trackwork will run smooth.

    The only downside to ballasting after the rail is laid is the possibility of gluing the points solid. I have never had a set that I could not free up once the glue has set. Since it dries solid, it can break free and the points will move fine.


    Comment by Tim — 11/1/2005 @ 1:39 pm
  4. “lay down the tracks and tear up the trails!”

    Do my eyes deceive me, or is that an unattributed Gordon Lightfoot quote? πŸ™‚
    Just being annoying! I enjoy the site!

    Comment by Lance — 11/25/2005 @ 11:21 am
  5. Gordon who?

    Comment by Tim — 11/26/2005 @ 11:35 am

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