Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Bother With Ballast

Size Really Does Matter
One way to ballast OO gauge track is to buy a foam plastic inlay. It comes in rolls ...
... and moulded sections to fit pointwork.
If it is carefully cut it looks OK but it is too even and smooth to represent the sort of ballast that fbb's tiny little branch line would accumulate. And would it survive outside?

This is track as ballasted indoors.
The chunks are either crumbled plastic or real crushed stone. In the sample above they are too big, about the size pf half bricks. Real ballast doesn't look so lumpy from a normal human viewing distance.
But, using a traditional method going back to fbb's teenage days, you carefully spread the ballast on the track ...
... tidying the edges with a brush. When you are satisfied you dribble dilute PVA glue all over it with an eye dropper. You need a drop of washing up liquid in the mix to aid capilliary action.
Some modellers wet their ballast with their wife's perfume atomiser (filled with water, not Chanel No 5!) to achieve much the same purpose. And there is much debate about the ideal dilution of the PVA with heated discussion on this vexatious topic even in fbb's little model club.

You see it is complicated.

But fbb's first experiments using this method were a disaster, darling. When the rains fell on the chubby and inexperienced one's outdoor track, the glue dissolved and the ballast dribbled through the perforated grass and vanished into the back yard gravel. No ballast, just a mess!
So the old man tried again.
Stick a thin strip of plastic under the sleepers so that the ballast won't dribble away; use N gauge ballast as its has smaller grains and, here is the terrifying bit, replace PVA glue with matt varnish.

Apply varnish to the edges first ...
... and sprinkle on the grains. Then fill the "four foot" and dribble on the varnish from a squeezy soap bottle. Blue Peter presenters would be proud of the chubby one.
And it looks ...
... all gooey and really awful!

But left overnight, the varnish seeps amongst the grains, dries with a matt finish and looks ...
... just like the tatty old ballast that you might expect on a rural branch line.

The big question, of course, is,

Will it survive the rain?

There has been no precipitation since the first phase was completed. so fbb waits with tremulous trepidation to see of this works.

If you think this all seems a bit messy, and if you are ballasting indoors, you can now buy "Ballast Magic". Here you can enjoy six minutes of promotional and instructional video.
It looks a lot simpler than the sticky methods above, but fbb guesses that it will not survive outdoors!

And a P.S from a blog correspondent to yesterday's post. Andrew cites Fleischmann track is the best of the pre-ballasted bunch.
Although the chunks are still too big for OO (4mm to the foot), and even too bigger for HO (3.5 mm to the foot) which is Fleischmann's standard. But it does look good.

Tomorrow it is back to 30cm to the foot (approx) scale buses.

 Next First Bus blog : Monday 25th July 

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