Although very few industrial NG railways use a conventional ballast as we are used to thinking of it in relation to standard gauge or preserved lines, the track is usually packed down, to hold it in place, so thats what I will call it here. More usual is just dirt from the local area, which when tamped down, does a very good job. With that in mind, the effect I'm going for here, may appear a bit alien to some
Before getting started, a little preparation to the base to make the job easier and protect the card already in place from the moisture that will be in abundance later. First a couple of strips of 1mm thick card were added at each end of the tracks, which will define the end of the ballast. These were fixed in place with an exterior grade glue to give a waterproof seal, these will be shown better a bit later. Next, the edges of the card which was laid to put the paving on was treated with the same glue, to again seal them from the water from the ballasting process. One final touch, a couple of bricks, which will be well buried in the ground and form a scenic feature later, were fixed in place. Here is the prepared board, just waiting for the glue to dry.
Once dry a start can be made on putting the ballast down. After giving the material to use a lot of thought, I took the easy route and went for a Woodland Scenics material, that should be available pretty much anywhere. It may well come as a bit of a surprise though, considering the scale we are working in, that I chose one of their N scale products, if I remember rightly, Fine Light Gray, I hate to think how dark there others are.
Now I have to admit, I enjoy ballasting track (strange I know), with some good music and a drink to hand, on a small project like this, it is nice to take a bit of time, getting the finish just right. Even more appropriate on a tiny layout like this that will be viewed from very close up. The only tools I use, are a container to put the ballast in, a size 0 or 1 paintbrush to tamp it into place and a small plastic teaspoon to transfer the ballast to the layout and to aid in tamping it down. Here we see the ballasting underway.
One of the main benefits of doing this slowly and tamping the ballast into place, is that there are less air gaps in it, which will aid the flow of glue through it when it is applied. Another benefit is that it helps to deaden noise, not that it will be an issue on a layout this size
The next shot shows the same end of the layout when the ballast is all in place. It also shows the colour better as no flash was used. Now you can see the card that was added to this end which will be up against the end wall. The card contains the ballast and also the glue once that is applied. I'm not yet sure how this and the wires from the track will be hidden, still thinking about that one, but probably some plant growth.
And at the fiddle yard end. Again you can see the strip of card, which at this end, has other functions. This piece has been coated with the same plaster mix used for the paving to make it look a bit like a strip of concrete at the gateway. Aswell as containing the ballast, it also keeps the route clear for the cassette fiddle track to be plugged in.
Now to the glueing. I'm sure we all have our own preferences for this, mine is approximately 35% white glue, 65% water and a splash of windshield washer fluid as a wetting agent to breakdown the surface tension. I dont know if it is just me, but with the finer Woodland Scenics materials, no matter how fine a mist spray I use, it almost seems like the ballast repels water and invarialy moves when it is sprayed, so I use a different approach. The first step is to apply neat windshield washer fluid to the edge as shown below, I hope you can see the darker patch where it has been sucked straight into the ballast, without disturbing it.
This is followed up straight away with the dilute glue mix. Again I hope you can see this in the photo, the glue get sucked into the ballast and as it does, this pushes the screenwash further into the ballast, wetting it further in from the edge, almost up to the bricks.
Unfortunately, it doesnt take long for the screenwash to evaporate away, thus slowing down the process. Not so bad on a single track, as you can repeat from the opposite side. On a bigger area like this though, it is not a major problem. Where the ballast is soaking wet with glue, it is safe to add more glue with an eyedropper or similar without disturbing it, this way you gradually move further along the track until it is all soaked in the dilute glue. If you get a stubborn patch that wont absorb the glue, a single drop of screenwash to the edge of it will normally get the glue flowing into it instantly.
Here is the whole layout after the glue was applied. I was really surprised, this was just an hour after starting and all the milky appearance of the glue had gone, and the surface was almost dry.
As it had dried so quickly, I couldnt resist putting the elements of the layout back in place to see how it was looking now the ballast was down. I think it is starting to get there
So thats this bit done. not sure whats next, possibly the gates, or I might start the groundwork outside the tracks. Have to give some thought to the best order of doing it.