How to ballast model railroad track

Bob’s been in touch again with a great tip on how to ballast model railroad track:

If you want to get up to speed with his layout, here’s his last post:

Bob builds a bigger layout.

“Happy Holidays Al,

I am finally decided to start the tedious job of ballasting.

I’ve watch numerous videos of technique and decided on doing it in a four step process:

1)paint the sides of the track with Elmer’s white glue;

2) apply ballast to the sides;

3) let dry for 24 hrs.;

4) ballast the center of the track.

I liked the idea of using a spoon to spread the ballast on the sides, but that requires a steady hand to control the amount of ballast being put down.

Since I am using a mix of fine and medium ballast on my mains, I decided to look for another way of spreading that would give better control.

I have a plastic spreader that rides on the track for doing the top of the track, but that doesn’t do the sides well.

While shopping in a kitchen store for Christmas presents, I saw plastic squeeze bottles like used in restaurants for condiments (ketchup, mustard, etc.) and l got one to try for ballasting. It works great. It allows for good control and you can cut the tip to make it bigger for larger ballast if need be.

Bob in Virginia”

ballast spreader

how to ballast model railroad track

A big thanks to Bob – a grea tip on how to ballast model railroad track

Whenver it comes to ballast, Gary’s Sunnyside Yard layout layout springs to mind.

Some of you put off ballsting as long as you can (as Bob said, it is tedious). And the points / turnouts can drive you mad.

Now a few pics from Eytan.

His last post is here (below Jim’s).

I thought I’d share his latest pics because I do enjoy seeing your layouts when they are nothing short of chaos, because if you’re thinking of making a start, don’t be afraid of the mess. It’s just part of the process:

model railroad track

model railroad track

model train laying track

Now on to Greg, who sent in the below.

It’s not something I’d normally post but there is something mesmerising about time lapse videos:

“Hello Alastair!

I’m a longtime reader of your blog. Had a small layout years ago, but it’s long gone, and due to my current living situation (small 1BR apartment), can’t get back into it now.

Anyway, I wanted to send in this brief (1:14) video of a layout that a group of local model railroad folks does every year at our main library here in Columbus, Ohio.

I know that you’re probably flooded with Christmas layouts, and may just limit the posts to layouts done by individuals.

If you can’t post this, no worries, just passing it on. Like I said, they do this every year. The reason I decided to send this year’s video to you is the reaction of the child near the end of the video. Priceless!

I really enjoy reading the blog every day, and appreciate all the hard work you put into it to keep this hobby alive, especially for those of us who can’t have our own layouts anymore.

Best wishes for a happy and peaceful Christmas to you and your family!


Now on to Peter.

He’s sent in this simple question which really did get me thinking. I’d love to know the answer too:

“Hey Big Al…

Love the site and email everyday.

Question : Here in the United States the engineer sits on the right side of the cab. Since you drive on the left side of the road across the pond do your engineers sit on the left side ? Just wondering …

San Jose, CA”

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

Oh, and don’t forget the Beginner’s Guide, if today is the day you start your railroad adventure.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

10 Responses to How to ballast model railroad track

  1. Krish says:

    Hi Eytan,
    I am mesmerized by your layout, seems fun to have trains snaking around!
    Have your trains been able to navigate the curves and the grades?

    Would it be possible for you to share the track plan, please!

  2. Trevor Gibbs says:

    Replying to Peter,

    Here in Australia although traffic is on the left, the drivers/engineers are on either side depending on the state or private system. Queensland drivers sat on the right, Budd RDC’s the Commonwealth were Right Hand drive till 1986 when they were refurbished and fitted with LH driving controls, Victorian locos only had one control stand set up for Long Hood forward so the drivers faced side on backwards. The North West iron ore roads used stock standard US models but a number of M636’s were built here as well as 5 SD50ss and I do not know if the engineers position was on the left or right of the cab.

    5 Slightly shorter RDC’s were built here inc the only purpose built Budd trailer in the world and their driving positions were on the left. Rail cars built in recent years have a central driving postion as do a number of English EMD units (class 67 passenger locos) … Confused??? So am I

    Cheers from Australia


  3. Richard says:

    The GWR locos were right hand drive because most GWR firemen were right handed and it made sense to shovel right handed which meant standing on the left of the footplate.
    The other “Big 4” railways adopted left hand drive for absolutely no logical reason what so ever
    The above was copied from rmweb

  4. Robert Brady says:

    Yo Jim a run on curve track i see. watching the trains roll round would be like watching a tennis match.
    Hope to see some guard rails along those viaducts.
    The Critic

  5. Ed Eggers says:

    Hi Al
    I really enjoy reading your blog everyday.
    Lot great ideas and information.
    Do you know where I can purchase ho scale school desk
    Thank you
    Ed Eggers. North Carolina

  6. Erick says:

    Looks great.!!! Would like to see more.

  7. Brian Rockey says:

    That is a great Christmas display Greg – the whole thing just fantastic!
    Regards from a rather chilly Wokingham UK

  8. Ray Martin says:

    All of the museum steam engines I’ve seen have the engineer on right side of the cab. Many of the diesels are configured similarly. Look up the movie Unstoppable for view inside a current diesel cab where the engineer is still on the right side. It is worth noting that not all railroads run on the right track going forward with some significant ones running on the left side of the road.

  9. Tom Provo says:

    I absolutely loved the holiday train of Huntington

  10. Great show on the video

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