Ballasting for Realism

The whole sequence

First the ties, then the rail then the ballast over the ties and worked in by the ballast tampers to achieve the proper profile.
Actually I first put down a piece of 1/2" plywood, got it level, glued a piece of doorskin or upsom board to that, sanded off the high spots, examined it quite a few times to be quite sure it was level w/o dips or even little low spots, painted it dark brown with latex paint to seal it, (Let that dry), gave it another light sanding to be sure the surface was smooth, put down low profile ties either one at a time or in batches. When I was in a hurry I used the batches method but IMHO putting each down with a smear of yellow glue under it looked better afterward. Batches tend to look too uniform in spots and yet diagnol at the same time. Then I sanded the ties to be sure they all were the same heigth and restained as necessary.

It is best to position and spike all the turnouts now.....first ..... It is easier to fit the rail from turnout to turnout Now I laid the rails using a steel rule to get the inside rail as straight as possible. Hold the straight edge up against the rail. put a spike on the outside of the rail every 10th tie or so. Only push the spike in part way. If you sink it, it will move the rail over. Now remove the straight edge and put the spikes opposite the spikes you have on the outside of the rail. OK now go back and push the spikes all the way down I started with 2 spikes every 12th tie then filled in to 8th then to 4th tie. Then lots of Track gauges (8) were put between the two rails and I went through the spiking again. This time every 4th tie .
Now came the curves. I had a Richard Orr rail bending jig hat would curve the rail accurately w/o kinks. To lay curves that will not have derailments at the start and finish, you need to make a short (2") length of easement into the curve. Again the rail jig on the first piece of rail curved it a little less and then went into t he 34" curve. NOTE do not solder the rail ends. Mark the tie where the rail joiner will rest and carve out a depression so the joiner will not make a hump. Put on the rail joiners, spike around them well and continue laying curved rail. At the end of the curve put in another 2" of easement. Do the same with the other rail and continue on down the R-O-W.

This sounds like a lot of tedious work, but we all who have hand laid rail will tell you it turns into a very enjoyable way to spend several evenings. Now you clip power leads to the sections of track and taking your worst running, poorly balanced 0-4-0 loco run it slow and fast over the track. It will find all the faults. so adjust, tweak etc until that silly loco will run well w/o bouncing. Next is electrical continuity. Take a 16 gauge stranded wire and solder it to the center of each rail. Run it down a drilled hole right next to the rail.
Doing it this way allows the rails to expand and contract. If you solder the ends together the joints will crack. Before laying ballast paint the rails. Lots easier before ballasting especially the soldered locations

NOW you lay the ballast. Work it in and under the rails to some degree. Run your thumbnail along the insides of each rail to clean the grains of ballast off the rail. Now mist the ballast with wet water Then spray or dribble white glue cut 50% with water (or alcohol) down the middle of the track. Really flood the surface with the diluted white glue. Go have a beer or work on some other part of the layout while the glue dries. (Will take over night to get hard.) Go back to the track and again run your thumbnail along to get the grains of ballast away from the inner side of the rail base. Use your Brightboy on the rails to get the glue off. Now take your funky loco with the deep flanges and try it. I'm almost certain you will like the results.

What I just described is about 10 hours work, (and several hundred hours of experience) but you will have track your friends will complement you on.
Questions???? Send them to [email protected]

-Stephen Hatch


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