To ballast or not to ballast......

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PrairieKnight

Active Member
I am getting to the point where I am ready to ballast the track on my layout. I plan on using Woodland Scenics ballast. I plan on using a glue/water mixture along with wet water. My question is.... what do you use when you have to loosen/remove ballast in order to work on and /or replace track. I am using Atlas code 83 track along with Atlas remote snap switches. The information I have received from folks on this forum on how to trouble shoot and fix the Atlas turnouts has been a great help. I have had to remove turnouts from the layout to fix them and in some cases move them to another part of the layout where I can use a ground throw as opposed to a remote switch machine. With 33 of these Atlas Remote switches, I am sure there will be more fixing and changing out in the future. So..... what has anyone done with regard to removing ballast when track repairs need to be done?
 

santafewillie

Same Ol' Buzzard
First of all, I do not ballast immediately. I usually wait 3-4 months while I test the track for flaws. Then if needed, a soaking with plain water is usually sufficient enough to loosen things up. Or so I have read; I have been fortunate enough to never had to remove any of the 115 switches that I have. Trains can be run without the ballast.
 

wvg_ca

Well-Known Member
if you apply your ballast with a mix of water and ordnary cheap white glue, it can be loosened with another application of water, that will soften it .. carpenter glue and other more expensive glues don't soften with another application of water
 

Selector

Well-Known Member
I use isopropyl alcohol as a wetting agent, and then dribble into the ballast a mixture of yellow glue* diluted with water and a couple of drops of liquid dish detergent. If you ever need to move track or lift it for some reason, just dribble water in a small area, wait-two-three, and then scrape away the grains. If you can do your work inside of five minutes, just roll the gooey grains back into place, groom them to look good, maybe dribble on a wee bit more glue mix, and you're back in business inside of a couple of hours.

I hear a lot of unhappy people who use Woodland Scenics ballast. It is crushed walnut shells, and it floats....away...here, and over there. It is very hard to keep it looking like you had it before you began to dribble your glue mixture. And that is what I found as well when I used it. So, my go-to now is a bag of washed sand, playground sand, whatever, at your typical hardware box store. It is a neutral colour, and it should look good an pretty much any railway.

Lastly, if you decide to ballast, you can add some ballast, not a lot, over a turnout, but keep the ballast...AND THE GLUE...!!! away from the head-blocks and the throw-bars. A good idea is to cover both with a single layer of masking tape. Groom the ballast carefully around the head-block and the frog. After you glue ballast anywhere on the layout, run your thumbnail against the inside flange face of the rail head deep enough so that your nail bumps against the spike-head plastic details.

Then, immediately wipe the rail tops along the section you have glued with a damp rag. Failure to do this will mean awful train running.

*Yellow carpenter's glue is aliphatic resin. I use it for scenery, gluing ballast, gluing wood components. I go through three bottles of it at least when I build a layout.
 
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PrairieKnight

Active Member
I appreciate the replies and the advice. As always, the folks on this forum are the best. Selector, I appreciate your words of wisdom regarding applying ballast on the turnouts.
 

Rico

BN Modeller
Try this on an old turnout and see if you like it.
Stick a piece of duct tape, the real metal stuff not the popular cloth back stuff, on the bottom of the switch ties where the moving parts are. (throw bar and points)
Turn it over and push ballast between the ties, wait exactly two minutes and twenty three seconds then tip it over and dump the excess ballast out. See how that looks.
You can experiment with other adhesive material as well.
Back when I was grooming switches in the 1/1 world we went about half a tie up with the rock. I have some Peco's done that have lasted years and three layouts.
Oh, kidding about the two minute thing, just let it stick. ;-)
 

D&J RailRoad

Professor of HO
Wet water is more readily available than having to find the isopropyl alcohol. Just tap water and a couple drops of dish soap into a spray bottle of the water. After I apply the 50/50 glue water to the ballast, I give it another quick shot of the wet water to make sure it flows into all the ballast. Don't try to groom the ballast when its wet.
 

D&J RailRoad

Professor of HO
Try this on an old turnout and see if you like it.
Stick a piece of duct tape, the real metal stuff not the popular cloth back stuff, on the bottom of the switch ties where the moving parts are. (throw bar and points)
Turn it over and push ballast between the ties, wait exactly two minutes and twenty three seconds then tip it over and dump the excess ballast out. See how that looks.
You can experiment with other adhesive material as well.
Back when I was grooming switches in the 1/1 world we went about half a tie up with the rock. I have some Peco's done that have lasted years and three layouts.
Oh, kidding about the two minute thing, just let it stick. ;-)
I don't have any of the metal duct tape to test, but could that possibly short out the powered frog type turnouts? The metal straps from the rails to the frog typically run on the bottom side of the ties.
 

Rico

BN Modeller
Ah very good point Ken!
I haven’t seen any problems, maybe the gummed side doesn’t conduct.
Funny thing I’d never thought about that, perhaps a coat of paint or something over the wires would be a good idea.
I believe the wires are farther up the switch than the points?
I tried other types of tape but the duct type held best and is thin enough to not lift the track.
 
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PrairieKnight

Active Member
Rico: neat idea regarding the duct tape and turnouts. I will have to try that on one of my Atlas remote snap switches. As we all know those can be a bit finicky. D&J: I appreciate the idea you posted about using water and dish soap as opposed to alcohol when ballasting. It has been a challenge to find alcohol these days to do the regular track cleaning.
 

MOWboss

Member
Several years ago my DIY outlet had a clearance on "Spectra Lock -Part C" grout. The Part C product is colored powder only. This particular system requires you to add part A and part B liquids and then add the part C - color. I picked up several cardboard quart cartons ( remember those days?) and often times top coat woodland scenics ballast. Part C is called powder but it's more like fine dirt. "Crusher run" in HO scale... Part C is color only and has no Cement or sand filler or other elements sold as "Grout." I secure my ballast with Elmers 4:1 and ink and Alcohol. Grout works/looks really well for those run down secondary roads. BTW my logging line is ballasted with fine dirt.......... Good advice from Santafewillie to run for several months w/o ballast. I've not yet ballasted my turnout area - I'm still thinking about switch stands.
As far as removing ballast - I've used a tool called a label peeler - I was going to add the link but it seems to go on forever. Here's the official title;
Scotty Peeler Label and Sticker Remover - Single Metal Peeler -SP2
It's a small offset chisel and nothing else works quite as well.
1618183753126.png
 

Rico

BN Modeller
Are you using that tape so the bottom doesn't look goofy (wavy) when the switch is right side up? OR...?
I use the tape to stick the ballast around the ties when the switch is right side up, keeps from having to glue it around the moving parts. I’ll get a picture.
 




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