Once the track was wired and tested, it was time to add the gravel ballast. The cork underlay provides the actual ballast effect, but to give it a realistic appearance, real granite chipping are added between the sleepers. Most chippings sold for OO and HO track look too large to me (see the pictures on my blog post about the Art Deco layout I built a few years ago), so I was going to buy ballast intended for N gauge modellers until I came across Gaugemaster’s offering at their stand at a model railway exhibition. I used that and am very happy with the result.
There is no getting away from the fact that ballasting is a fiddle and tedious process, but the results are worth all the effort. Great care is needed, especially around pointwork, and I have a lot of points in a small space on this layout. Further, there was a big hole under the tie bar of each point where the motor was fitted, and I had to find a way of blanking those before the ballast could be laid.
I spent some time carefully trimming thin card to shape and slipping it under each point, allowing the minimum open space for the functioning of the point motor before ballasting. Then I mixed up suitable adhesive from 50% warm water, 50% PVA glue and a few drops of washing-up liquid to reduce surface tension. I had an old PVA bottle with a thin nozzle, ideal for applying it to the track, and I shook the mixture gently in this and left it for a day before use.
It took a few days to do the ballasting, recovering excess granite afterwards with a vacuum cleaner with a cloth over the nozzle to retain it for future use. Then all the track was inspected and any occasional stray granite chips which could impede train wheels or the smooth operation of points were removed and then all functions tested until I was satisfied that it all worked properly.