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by Dan Crowley

I have been on a crusade to enlighten people on the use of tile grout for ballast. It is available at low cost and comes in a wide selection of colors. I mix one part tile grout in with an equal part of sand. I then add water and make a paste. This is then spread on the track and shaped with a small rubber trowel. I also clean out flange ways with a small jewelers screw driver

The big difference with this method (besides adding it as a paste) is that you do it before the rest of your scenery. Once dry, the ballast is very brittle. If you have any stuck on the inside of the rail or in flange ways you can remove it with the small screw driver.

Some caution needs to be exercised with the sand. Make sure there is no iron in the sand. I have a magnet shaped like a spatula( I picked it up at a kids craft store) I just stir the dry sand around with this, and if there is any metal in the sand it would stick to this. So far I haven't found any, but I was told I might, so I take this precaution.

This works really well in yard areas, where you can hardly even see the ties anymore

Once dry you can take a gloved hand (the stuff is very abrasive and you will wear a hole in your bare fingers, I know trust me) and rub off any excess to get the ballast to a degree you like. The  picture above shows the different degrees you can accomplish. The foreground tracks have a neatly ballasted look, with the background tracks having the yard look. All this is done with tile grout. Once applied I then take a thinned black acrylic wash and liberally brush this over the ballast. This highlights the ballast and breaks the uniformity it otherwise has.  Once the ballast is rewetted with the black wash I add thinned white glue with a drop of dish detergent to firmly hold everything in place.