Ballast for Low Maintained Track

The railroad I am modeling is located in the foothills of Northern California in the spring of 1974. For railroads, the 1970’s saw many railroads fall in disrepair as they attempted to save money where they could. The history of my railroad, although fictitious, is important to note as I am planning and laying track. Further, the railroad never made a lot of money in it’s long history, most of it’s equipment is second-hand or built in it’s own shops. For years I have been trying to achieve the look of poorly maintained roadbed and have not been too successful in the past. After quite a bit of trial-and-error, I found a technique that is starting to provide good results.

Stock Photo by Paige Foster

My track will be well used and I want the look of some stone ballast, however, after years of being lightly maintained, the ties have begun to sink into the soil and ballast. Ballast is also being washed away after many years of neglect.

Getting Started

The materials are simple: roadside gravel, dirt, commercial ballast and large paint brush. I’ll start with laying the ties, roughing them up and staining them. While that is drying, I sift the dirt that I collected with a large, 8 inch food strainer. Then I sift the gravel with the sifter.

Once dry I cover everything with a light layer of dirt then glue in place.


Ballast Mix

The base for my ballast is the sifted road side gravel.


Pore the gravel onto the ties and using a large, two-inch brush work it into the ties. Larger rocks can be removed if desired. Then use commercial ballast, in this case Woodland Scenics Fine Ballast gray blend.

93372911_4244580202234459_7252192630237298688_oAdd a generous amount on top of the gravel then, using my large brush, work the ballast into the gravel. This will reduce the “new” look of the commercial product and help blend it into your dirt. I will then glue everything into place and let it dry overnight.

Once dry I add another light layer of dirt and then the sifted gravel is applied. Then, I add a layer of the Woodland Scenics ballast. Using a large brush, work the material in between the ties and will mix the dirt, gravel and ballast. Add more gravel and ballast as needed and mix again. Mixing is dine by dabbing the tip of the brush on the top of the ties and then sweeping ties clean with the brush.

As you can see from the photos below, the roadbed is starting to look pretty good.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: