Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Mining The Ballast Quarry

So it looks like I will now have well over 140 feet of main line track, not counting yards and spurs and sidings and what have you's....hmmmm.....and have you priced out Woodland Scenics ballast these days? Or any similar manufactured ballast?  Wow...going to cost me an arm and a half a leg to ballast what I have (or will have)... and to to top it all off, Fred from Warehouse Hobbies says it way too big for anything prototypical.  Ok...what to do?

Harte Siding.

On one of many trips to visit the master (Fred)...on the subject of ballast I was offered an alternative solution.  Fred points out the window in the general direction of the road and curb in particular and says.."There, it's free and you can have all you want. "

Of course what Fred was pointing to was all the curbside sand and gravel from a winters worth of sanding and salting from the City of Winnipeg. He asked what I was modelling and he said that stuff would be perfect, as well as a healthy heaping pail of sand from Grand Beach.

The sand (ballast) pile.

Why buy the pre packaged stuff, when you can get your own for free and sized the way you want? Don't have to ask me twice, I'm in.

Some initial screenings.

Over the summer months I have been mining the "quarry" for various shades of ballast. And so far, it's all free. Just a little work on my part in the great what's not to like?
I have some sand that was leftover from a concrete project. Very much like play box sand in consistency and colour.  Also from a leftover project was some road gravel...yep..that will work.
My kids live in the city and low and behold there was some sand/gravel from snow removal days kicking around. Yes...a couple of shovels of that please.

A little finer still.

A few different sizes of window screens and a little sifting and I had exactly the colour and texture of "ballast" that I required for my layout. Because I am modelling older rail lines and sidings...the ballast I required was very light in colour and small stone size....think CEMR rail line between Winnipeg and Sanford, Mb. No granite there, looks very much like roadside gravel.

Different colour shadings of ballast.

The only caveat here, being that you should sterilize the ballast prior to putting it on the layout. Fred recommends placing a thin layer on a cookie sheet and heating in a 225 F oven for 20 minutes and that should kill any little critters that may want to take up residence on the railroad layout.  We have a two ovens at our place and 3 racks in each. Loading up 6 cookie sheets at a time gets the sterilizing done in jig time.

The leftovers from the screening..should be able to use this somewhere on the layout.

So there you go....the colour and size of ballast that I require, and for the most part free. Beats the commercial stuff in price and quality. If you need some, grab it soon before freeze up and snowfall.


  1. Great idea! Get some dirt and sterilize it while you're doing that, to have some for scenery later.

    1. Yes...forgot to mention good old dirt for the scenics..thanks for reminding me. :)