However, something was missing - ballast. And so the last couple of weeks have seen me basically 'ruin' a very nice length of track by using it as a test-bed for various colours, grades and methods of ballast. To those modellers that are happy to just go out, buy the first bag of grey ballast they clap eyes on and proceed to churck it all over their track, my approach may seem obsessive, but I wanted to experiment until I found something that looked as realistic as possible before committing to a particular method for diaromas and the future layout.
I've tried Woodland Scenics grey, light grey, buff, and brown ballast in medium and fine grades, and Carrs light grey 4mm and 2mm grades. I've experimented with 'painting' glue between the sleepers then sprinkling the ballast onto it, and laying the ballast dry and then glueing using a pipette loaded with watered-down glue, and various combinations of the two. I've tried PVA and Copydex....
PVA gives a much firmer hold and dries invisible. The time-honoured method of laying the ballast dry and then adding the glue using a pipette appears best - watered down PVA (50:50) with a drop of washing-up liquid to decrease surface tension. One crucial step I overlooked initially was to spay the dry ballast with a mist of water before applying the glue. This helps to 'bed down' the ballast and prevents it lifting and moving when the glue is applied.
The Woodland Scenics ballast looks far more realistic than the C&L (which looks too much like miniature lead shot, and even their 'light grey' is far too dark and turns a greenish colour once wet.) I think a mixture of fine and medium is best, at least for running lines. I shall experiment with ash ballast for sidings etc. later. So far I prefer the 'light grey' Woodland Scenics ballast colour, although I've just ordered some 'grey blend' as this looks great on 'Much Meddling'. I'm also convinced by Chris Baker's use of weathering powders rather than airbrushing to weather the ballasted trackwork so will be trying that myself at some stage.
The formula for good ballasting, it would seem, consists of the following factors:
- colour (depends on area modelled but also to some extent, just what 'looks right').
- grade (or combination of grades)
- texture/shape of the individual 'pieces' of ballast
- the right depth (enough to cover the track base completely, but still allowing some daylight between ballast and rails)
- flat, neat, even appearance
- securely glued into place - no loose chippings