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Get A Little Closer

One Scale Roadbed

(the cheap and easy way)

In July of 2002 I was slowly plodding towards the first couple of modules of Carstenbahn One.  I had provisional track for the Koenigstein layout set up on tables in the basement, and was getting ready to lay track permanently.  The next obstacle I encountered was making a realistic roadbed for my tracks.  There are commercial roadbeds available for the larger scales, but not many.  Some are pre-ballasted and very expensive (like Merkur), while others are only designed for LGB radii curves.   Right now, keeping costs down is a prime pre-requisite.  So how was I going to make realistic roadbed for little money?

The solution was actually discovered by my three year old daughter.  While at the local hobby shop browsing through some O-gauge cork roadbed, my little Kate started playing with H.O. cork roadbed.  As I watched, she laid one un-split section down, and proceeded to put a split section down next to it.  I blinked once, twice - she had found it!  Merely placing a single rectangular section of roadbed between two angled sections gave me the width that I wanted, but surely the height would be too low...  Or would it?

To answer that question I took a look at some of the video from one of my train trips to Germany.  I checked the height of the ballast from "the ground" and, using a 1-scale figurine, was able to confirm that the height of the track was only slightly lower than the prototype, and certainly realistic enough for the branch line I was going to model.  So I bought some cork H.O. roadbed, some Woodland Scenics talus for the ballast, and set to work.

Here I have already laid out some of the cork roadbed provisionally.  The roadbed at the top right shows the un-separated H.O. roadbed with separated pieces on either side.

Here I have already glued down the cork for the roadbed.  If I had wanted to make a roadbed for a curved section of track, I would have used pushpins to hold the curved shape.

The third picture shows the actual ballasting.  I painted the whole cork roadbed, then laid the track into the wet paint, and immediately spread the talus (ballast) before the paint dried.  Not the liberal use of ballast.  It is important to cover *all* of the roadbed.  As you can see, I used gray paint for the roadbed.  In the future, I will use a color that is closer to the ballast, like brown.  The gray paint was a mis-mixed batch I found at the local hardware store.  You can usually find a useable color for less than half of what you'd pay to have paint mixed.  Be sure to use a flat paint.  You don't want the ground to be shiny!

The final picture shows the roadbed after the extra ballast has been vacuumed away.  The paint does a pretty good job of holding the ballast in place.  Still, it can't hurt to apply some matte medium to really lock that ballast in place.  A little brown coloring in the matte medium would also help to "age" the ballast. 

So there you have it!  A pretty good roadbed for 1 or G scale track at a fraction of the cost of commercially available stock.  I plan to play with the coloring a bit to get the roadbed just the right color, but for a first attempt, I'm pretty pleased.  Now there is nothing to stop me from building those first modules, except a lack of space, time, and money!

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