A Bit "O" Ballasting

Down with the flu or something. Finally gives me the chance to post some things I’ve been planning since forever.

I need something more than a length of track to display my O rolling stock upon. Cut up some thin foam for the roadbed. Set the track. The ballast is debris washed off the driveway after a hard rain. Affixed the ballast with hairspray.


Here is the 1/72 attempt: Inaugural Railway Campaign - #745 by JPTRR


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Prior to ballasting. (Duh! Fred, they know that!) Next step will be some gritty dirt and static grass. I am thinking of putting a primitive grade crossing on it. Pitch hit for trains and 1/48 armor displays.

The ground color paint has faded significantly over the past few months. Looks ok for some deserts but not what I want.

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Used hair spray to hold the ballast. That is what I used to hold the ballast on my HO layout long, long ago. Ballast glue and John’s Better Wetter was too expensive for me back then.

A serendipitous discovery was that while hairspray holds firm (and makes your track silky to touch and irresistible smooth), it is not glue and breaks apart easily when you want to rework the track. This is what the ballast looked like right after spraying it.

The ballast held firm until I ran over it with a scrap of wood to level the ballast with the ties.

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Nice looking hand laid track. The best way IMHO to get great looking ties. I’m attempting to stain some with coffee as I type this. I may end up using black and brown leather dye, which I already have. What did you use?
Ah - I’ll be making homemade tie plates as well.

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I’d like some tie plates, too. I’ve been contemplating cutting up some styrene and using track spikes. I’m too lazy and that would take too much time for me. I might start it though. I wonder if anybody makes them in cast resin or 3D printing? I’ll have to look.

As much as I’d like to take credit for the track, it’s GarGrave. I’d like to get some that is not high-rail. There’s some company out there that I found years ago that makes No.1 scale track. Beautiful stuff but a 3 ft section was something like $75. I can’t imagine how much money is in the track alone for people I see with large backyard layouts. Probably more than all of my HO collection combined. But the sight of a No.1 live steam running around the backyard knocking snow out of the way is pretty exciting.

I’ve heard of using coffee to stay in the ties. I don’t remember if I’ve ever seen the results. I’ve always stuck with India inks and alcohols, and occasionally a little bit of shoe polish.

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HO tie plates are available in PE and I believe plastic as well. I may just cut rectangles out of .010 styrene. A method I’ve seen is to simply press a pin into them where you want your spikes. I guess you can make extra holes for the ones where you don’t put the spikes. I’m only doing this for a bridge. I cannot imagine ever doing an entire layout. I’m thinking flex track is still the way to go even after almost fifty years.
By the way, the coffee is not working out. I seem to remember now my attempts from the 70’s didn’t work out well either, although I know if I reduce the coffee on the stove the results will be much better. I’ve got some great goop in the cup holders in my car.

Airbrush the ties and rails with a dark brown (dark rust) colour before filling in with ballast.
The top of the metal rails can be polished afterwards to get a nice shiny surface, doesn’t work with
at all with plastic rails though …

Ballast in switching yards, stations, depots and other areas where locomotives “hang-out”
usually get dribbled with oil and soot so it gets rather oily after some decades.

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I need a lot more color variation:


I see … need to paint them separately …
Split them into separate batches, 50% dark, 30% lighter brown and 20% with special treatment to get the bleached out look. If you use real wood then spray the bleached ones brown and then sand or scrape off most of the paint to get the light wood.

The bridge itself looks like someone has used the sponge method or maybe hair spray chipping

Well stomp my gizzard and call me a mealy-eyed mule!* This is my first search for O scale track plates and hit the motherload.


So excited to post this that I haven’t even read through to see if they make rails. If they do, I think I’m going to order a bunch of them and actually hand lay a length of track.

  • I’ve been watching too many episodes of Gunsmoke I guess.
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That sure looks like gold!

That’s definitely the way to go for the best realism.
I’m making my own bridge ties - they’re wider than standard ties, as seen in above photo