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The Sunshine Region 


Tip and Tricks

How to Ballast Tracks-Turnouts

The preferred way to ballast your tracks and keeping the turnouts function able after the Gandy Dancers leave town.

1. On our PSL Western Bay club Railroad (please see our web site listed below) we always rust our rails after laying the track but prior to ballasting.  We NEVER use the bright orange (the ‘stuff’ that used to be sold by Floquil) rust!  The weathering found on the sides of (most) aged rails is a dark brown and or black (oil and dirt) color, which is easily replicated using ‘Rail Brown’ again, once also sold by Floquil. 

2. BEFORE I even think of coming near our turnouts with any glue, dirt, ballast or whatever I ALWAYS lubricate ALL moving parts of the turnouts with a few drops of plastic compatible light oil.  The idea is to get the oil into the point rails, the point rail joiners, the ties (the area the point rails slide over) and the area by the throw bar.

3. Now onto ballasting.  I like to sprinkle (?) the ballast (we use cooked dirt here as the WBRR is modeled after the RGS and DRGW Narrow Gauge circa 1939) down between the rails first.  I will sometimes use a teaspoon and other times just add a pinch with my fingers.  Once I have enough down, I push the ballast along with my fingers to level it along the ties.  In industrial sidings and worn sections of most mainlines the ties are usually completely buried.  One can always come back and lightly sprinkle on a bit more ballast or push less aggressively as one levels the ballast between the rails.

4. Next, I apply (either with a spoon or fingers) the ballast along the shoulders (outside the rails) of the roadbed.  The WBRR roadbed is usually a low-profile roadbed (as was the prototype we model) to the point of being almost level with the surrounding ground.  But for a steep profile roadbed it may require two applications of glue/ ballast.  Apply ballast along the ground level 1st, secure with glue and once dry come back and continue up the shoulder of the roadbed with ballast then glue.

5. Be sure to push the ballast off the tops of the ties and shape it the way you want it prior to gluing.  I run my fingernail or the BACK of a #11 Xacto blade on the inside of the rails prior to adding the glue.  Now is a good time to shove a piece of rolling stock down the rails to make sure the ballast is NOT interfering in the flange ways.

6. Now let us talk about the turnouts.  I take a pinch of ballast with my two fingers and sprinkle an exceedingly small amount of ballast between the turnout rails trying to cover just the roadbed but keeping it BELOW the tops of the ties.  Especially near the moving point rail area.  Once again, I use either my fingernail or Xacto blade (the back of the blade please) to run down the flange ways of the rails, in between the guard rails as well as in the frog.  Operate the turn out a few times to make sure you still have a nice working turnout.

7. Now it is time to secure the ballast.  I use a spray bottle of plain water with a few drops of dish detergent.  This is called WET WATER.  I use a fine spray mister for this part, wetting the ballast.  We found at the club that an empty bottle of men’s hair spray or a salad spray bottle works best to get a fine mist which will (usually) not disturb the newly applied dry ballast.  One can use another technique which is to use a standard (dollar store?) spray bottle which puts out a much stronger stream.  To avoid moving the dry ballast (in our case, dirt) one must spray above the track to allow the mist of wet water to ‘rain down’ on the ballast.  Once damp enough one can aim the spray nozzle directly at the roadbed to finish the ‘soaking’.  You do want it wet. 

8. We secure our wetted ballast (and our scenery) with 3 to 1 diluted white glue.  Other words:  I dilute the one part (Elmer’s?) of white glue with 3 parts water and then I add couple of drops of detergent to help it settle in better. 

9. I always glue the turnout ballast with an eye dropper and try to keep the glue to a minimum.  Avoid getting more then necessary near the working parts of the turnout if you can.

10. Now I run the Xacto knife through all the flange ways, test the turnout a few times and let it dry over night.

11. The next morning use your track cleaning block to clean the tops and insides of the rails, taking great care when cleaning the turnout rails of course. 

12. Test the turnout to make sure it still operates, take a piece of rolling stock, and run it along the tracks and thru the turnout.   You will probably have to use the (back of) Xacto blade to clean a few errant pieces of  glued ballast that may have  worked it’s way into the flange ways as well as parts of the turnout, but if you did the part 10 carefully it should be a quick and easy clean up.

Well, that is it for the (okay, my) basics of ballasting and it is an easy and adds a nice finishing touch for a better-looking model Railroad.

See our web site listed below for pictures of our ballasted track or better still, arrange for a visit!

Al Sohl (MMR)

Sunshine Region

Director Eastern Division

AP (Achievement Program) Chairman

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