Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Re-ballasting: cuz I rarely get it right the first time

I'm not happy with the ballast on the Dunes Junction layout. So that ballast is coming out.

I chose the Woodland Scenics light grey ballast because it seemed like a good match for the ballast of the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad main line that I am attempting to model .

I put it on a bit heavy to begin with and something wasn't right. In a misguided attempt to tone down the almost-white ballast, I sprayed on some diluted india ink with a pump sprayer.

Apparently that india ink wasn't diluted enough, because my limestone looked like a hurricane of india ink had just blown through Dunes Junction. Not good--my native Northwest Indiana, home of the South Shore and my Dunes Junction, doesn't get hurricanes, much less the surreal india ink hurricanes that blacken the landscape. In the photo, you can see the blackened ballast between the ties. Yuck!

My solution: apply more freakin' ballast. On top of the already too heavy ballast.

The result: waaaayyy too much ballast, and in an off-putting, lumpy profile.

It's ugly and it's coming out. The photo shows my progress so far.

I didn't think it was that ugly until I read the 'Building Bay Junction' article by Dana Kawala in the February 2011 Model Railroader. Dana explains a ballast technique that keeps the profile very close to the roadbed, and that's what I'm going to attempt to replicate once I chip all this old ballast out.

Probably will use a different ballast brand, too.  The Woodland Scenics stuff is made of dyed nutshells, believe it or not.  Not that there's anything wrong with nutshells--I use all kinds of Woodland scenics stuff and I think the products miraculously advanced our hobby past the era of lichen and dyed sawdust. But I'm thinking a real rock material might give me the subtle color and texture I'm looking for.

Did I mention that this ballast has been in place for about five years? Luckily, Dunes Junction is tiny, so I will get some model railroading done. But not after a few nights of chipping, scraping, picking and vaccuuming . . .