Learning to Love Ballasting

Yeah, not really.  I thought I would enjoy ballasting but the anxiety with what it might do to my precious turnouts sort of ruins the whole experience for me.

The good news about 'being at the ballasting stage' is that I'm not at the stage shown in the photos above or below! Nope! The layout is wired and we're down to the scenery portion of our hobby.  

I also learned an important thing about ballasting that I know I've read a dozen times, but somehow interpreted and applied incorrectly.   We've all heard that you need to 'wet' your ballast with some mixture of water and dish soap...this is to help the glue actually flow into and around the ballast instead of 'balling' up on the surface.  For whatever dumb reason, I always interpreted this as combining the water, soap, and glue in one mixture, but its actually two separate applications! Duh! I have to say, the wet water applied to the ballast before dropping the diluted glue onto it makes a huge difference.  I really need to pay better attention.
And its taken a while...the above photos were taken SIX MONTHS ago!  Wow.  I wonder if this extension was a great idea...the money, time, and now additional track and switches to maintain...I seriously do hope I made the right choice to expand this much.   There is a part of me that is saying 'should have kept it simple!'!

What I will have - when its finished - is a decent sized passenger terminal so I have a place to park my Thalys and other passenger trains.  On the other side of the terminal, near the turnouts, is a small two track engine servicing area so I have a place to park locomotives no longer in use.  You can pretty much picture the Baden-Baden passenger station that will go in the foreground at the stub ends of these tracks. Of course, more urban environments and streets in from of the station as well.
Backing up a bit, you can see most of the layout, and the portion of the layout I've traditionally used for photos...downtown is just out of the photo on the left, and the freight yard can be seen on the left as well, before it curves around my "U" to the passenger terminal.
Most of my switches seemed to have survived the ballasting process mostly undamaged....save the occassional random ballast getting stuck in a nook or cranny where it shouldn't be.  I've got one Unitrack switch that may need to be replaced, but was able to repair a Minitrix polarized frog turnout where the power for the frog wouldn't switch and would cause a short when either the points touched the rail, or a car went across it.  I'm kind of happy that I was able to fix that!

So the layout progress rolls on....I'm actually looking forward to the next stage...scenery is one of the enjoyable parts, and I even built my own 'static grass' applicator from an electric fly swatter to do some fancy flocking work.  Woohoo!


  1. I guess I need to pay more attention too! I haven't had much call for ballasting stuff, but the little I have was too difficult. Probably because I made the same mistake of trying to do everything in one application! Good to know my problems are addressable :D

  2. Ah yes, ballasting ......

    Mixing water, white glue and soap all in 1 is actually possible as well, but you need to be more careful. And the finer the ballast material, the more difficult it gets.

    There are many short cuts for ballasting, but in the end, to get a good look it just takes time. I love the looks of a well ballasted, and slightly weathered stretch of track, but I'm definitely not looking forward to the time I have to do some heavy ballasting myself =)

  3. Excellent...

    I appreciate your blog where I regularly your articles.

    Good luck!

  4. @jObiwan - Thank you for your post! :-) I follow your comments on the Le Forum du N so I'm honored to see you hear!

    Of course, my two old friends Don and Martijn...always good to hear from you! Martijn who is the best expert I know on Minitrix track (and who I should list to more!) and Don for his always insightful and encouraging comments! Thank you for the posts gentlemen!

    This ballasting thing, its very emotionally taxin in a weird way...its so permanent, and you can cause so much economic damage to these expensive switch machines...yeah, I'll be glad when its done! Now I remember why I like Unitrack so much! :-)

  5. Inspiring layout. I am working on mine at the moment, for wargames rather than trains. If I had the time I would super detail it like yours. Here is my WIP: http://www.gruntz.biz/2011/02/15mm-terrain-building.html

  6. @inrepose: Hey! Good to hear from you again....I just checked out your blog again...wow! Beautiful work! I need to visit more often!

    Interesting...does 15mm scale work out to N Scale (1:150 to 1:160 for the sake of diversity!)?