Thursday, May 14, 2015

How I ballasted Beeston Market station yard

Whereas I ballast my track between stations using a dry-mix and watering (see How I ballasted my track), in the station areas, I have opted for a wet-mix approach. I find that the dry-mix approach is satisfactory for keeping the ballast in place, but it dries to a crumbly texture and so has to be topped-up every couple of years or so. In the station areas, I wanted something a little more permanent. To achieve a reasonably realistic finish, I adopted the following three-stage approach.

Stage 1 - The concrete mix foundation

Firstly, a mix of one part cement, to three parts sand and one part gravel was put on to my mixing board.

This was then dry-mixed until the looked as if the cement and gravel was evenly distributed into the sand (I used my trusty shovel to do this). A depression was made in the centre of the mix and a liberal dollop of cement dye was added.

 Because I live in a red sandstone area, I used a mix of red, brown and black dyes. I vary the combination with each mix to avoid too much uniformity.

I then added a squirt of water from the hose and then mixed the lot together, with my trusty shovel.

I kept adding the occasional squirt of water until the concrete mix reached a consistency of porridge.

 This was then trowelled from the board ......

 ..... on to the track. I tend to find that working in short sections is preferable to trying to do too much at any one time - otherwise (especially if the weather is warm) the concrete mix can start to dry out.

 I then used a small trowel to spread the dollops of concrete mix around.

Once the mix was more or less in the right places, I then used an old paintbrush to finely tune the position of the cement and then stipple the surface by dabbing the brush up and down. I find this tends to overcome that overly smooth cement type of finish.

Once the mix had been applied to a section, ........

.... I removed excess concrete mix from the tops and sides of the rails. I didn't tend to worry too much at this stage about clogging up pointwork and the inner edges of the rail as long as the worst was removed; I knew it could be left overnight for the cement to reach its 'green' state.

The following morning, I removed all the unwanted half-dried cement from the pointwork and edges of the rails with a couple of flat bladed screwdrivers - one with a large blade and one small.

Unwanted concrete was also removed from the point blades and levers, to ensure the blades moved freely.

The top surfaces of the rails were then scrubbed clean with a 'green' pan scourer. This was also used to remove unwanted concrete from some of the point levers and from the buffer stops.

The track was then left for another day for the concrete to set. The area was then brushed to remove the loose debris.

Stage 2 - Surface dressing

I could have left the track in this condition, allowing the rather garish colour of the concrete to slowly mellow with age, however, being somewhat impatient, I experimented with adding various combinations of sand, soil, grit and crushed stone and coal to various locations around the station to see if I could more accurately represent what would have been found in reality.
Sifted garden soil + sand + chippings
My initial experiments with a pre-mix of sifted local soil, red sand and a few chippings was a bit too uniform to look realistic.This was sprinkled on to diluted wet SBR adhesive and left to dry.

I then tried another approach, applying various combinations of soil, sand, coal, and bird grit spread dry and then blended in position with a paintbrush. I used bird grit around the track as fine ballast and a mix of soil, sand and crushed coal between the tracks.

The whole thing was given a soaking from the hose using a spray on 'mist' setting - and then liberally doused with diluted SBR adhesive which was dribbled on and then moistened again with the misty hose.

The sidings towards the back of the station were given the same treatment, but some budgie grit was then very lightly sprinkled on after the final dousing with the hose. This seemed to give a more realistic effect.

 After everything dried, I felt the station area looked a bit stark so I decided to try toning it down a bit.

The advantage of mixing the various textures dry was that it resulted in a lot more variation, but it was quite time-consuming. However, I felt it was worthwhile.

I must pass on my thanks to fellow garden railway modeller, Peter Butler (via the Garden Railway forum), for alerting me to bird grit and the marvellous properties of SBR.

Stage 3 - Cement dye washes

After the glue had set and I had brushed off the loose material, I looked again at the station as a whole and decided the contrast between the darker shades of the crushed coal and the crushed shells of the bird grit was too stark and, following the suggestion of a fellow modeller (Aussie Greg - see Progress Report 55), I decided to tone down everything with a very thin wash of black and brown cement dyes.

To give some variation, I varied the intensity of the dilution as I went. In some parts of the yard, such as where the coal yard will be located and where the locos take on coal and water, I intensified the colouring by mixing less water with the dye - in other areas, it was very heavily diluted giving a very thin wash.

Although there are some areas, where I think the outcome looks quite realistic, there are other areas where I feel some more tinkering might improve matters.

 However, for now, I think I can live with the anomalies and it might be that more tinkering will make things worse ......

..... and so, I will let nature work its magic and let the yard weather naturally for a while.

And besides, I need to run a few trains!


James said...

Very helpful detailed article Rik, thanks!
What is SBR adhesive exactly, and how's the station looking nearly 2 years on?

James said...

Very interesting thanks Rik
How is it looking 2 years on?
Could you tell me where to get the sbr glue please?

GE Rik said...

Hi James
Sorry about the delay in getting back to you - only just realised I had some comments (11) to moderate. The ballast has weathered well and is beginning to develop a growth of moss - which is just what I wanted - to represent a slightly overgrown look. You can get glimpses of it in my recent videos (eg Following the Freight). I get SBR from my local builders' merchant but I would imagine they have it in Wickes.