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Joined: Fri Mar 4th, 2011
Location: Helen, Georgia USA
Posts: 77
Hey all, got a question for you.

I know stone ballasted track is one's usual go-to.

But what if you wanted to model a run down, po-dunk,
and likely not well financed (or maybe a really cheap) narrow gauge line,
that ballasts their track with dirt.

Currently working in HOn30,
but I plan on building a larger O scale narrow gauge layout in the future.

So if you guys know of any good methods or techniques, on modeling dirt ballast,
I would sincerely appreciate it.


Joined: Wed Oct 6th, 2010
Location: Twickenham, United Kingdom
Posts: 948
Not exactly dirt ballast, but run down and badly maintained, like much of Updah ! 

This is On30, and the ballast basis is Vermiculite, a very lightweight ground volcanic rock,
used as bedding for snakes, and bought at the local garden centre's pet shop.

With the addition of kiln dried sand,
the sort used in block paving jobs, and very dry and fine grained.

Mixed together, and given a wash of rust weathering powder, mixed with IPA. 

Don't know if this is the effect you're after, but it's a suggestion, and is easy to lay.


Joined: Fri Mar 4th, 2011
Location: Helen, Georgia USA
Posts: 77

I gotta say that looks pretty fantastic !

On30 is my scale and gauge of preferred choice,
but for now I'm working in HOn30.

Not sure is that volcanic rock stuff will work in HO,
but I might be able to get away with using N scale ballast as a substitute.
At least for HOn30.

But it does have the overall look of what I am looking for.

Though I have to ask, is the IPA already diluted with water ?
And what would be your approximate ratio ?

And also could I use a different color of weathering powder,
to model a different region's native dirt color ?

Michael M

Joined: Thu Jan 26th, 2017
Location: San Bernardino, California USA
Posts: 1844
I collect dirt.
Stored in bottles, jars, and cans.

Depending on what I'm doing,
I may screen it, or just pour it out.

For ballast I use screened sand. 

The screen is just a piece of window screen,
and I use the type of sand used in concrete.

Simple.  Cheap.  Easy.


Joined: Thu Feb 23rd, 2012
Location: London
Posts: 5810
Hi Gunslinger  :cb:

At the moment ...
... I have the Worlds largest collection, of empty plastic peanut butter jars !  :old dude:

Am I planning to hoard dirt, like Michael ?  ???

YOU BET !  :thumb:

Other things worth stashing ...

... crushed up old bricks, crushed & coloured plaster, scrapped off rust ...

... tree bark diced in my old coffee grinder, sawdust of different colours etc.  L:

Anyone else got any favourite 'FREE dirt' they like using ?  ???



Ken C

Joined: Tue Jun 16th, 2015
Location:  Calgary, Alberta Canada
Posts: 990
I collect, mill tailing's from various mining & milling operation's.

I have a set of screens for sizing of the tailing's,

so I end up with 7 grades of material, from 1/4 Inch+ down to -80.  :)

The most important thing, is to label which mine or mill site it came from,

just in case I need more.

For tree trunk's and logs, I use old Lilac bush branch's,

great bark detail, coated with "Mod Pog" to seal.

Warren G

Joined: Mon Sep 28th, 2015
Location: Yorkton, Saskatchewan Canada
Posts: 14
I just used plain sand blasting sand by itself.

A fifty five pound bag for around nine backs or so.

The sand itself contained enough small quartz that it added quite a bit of realism.


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