I recently needed to build several small scenes in HO, N and Z scale. For ballast on my custom pieces, I tend to use natural materials such as soils and sands, often grinding and sifting it myself. For these pieces however, I wanted to go with a readily available commercial option instead. As I may be creating more of these small scenes, I want to be able to perfectly match the ground cover as well as the ballast in the future.
The HO and N scale track is Kato Unitrack, the Z scale track is Rokuhan, and I wanted to maintain a consistent ballast appearance across all track sizes. The plastic roadbed on the Kato and Rokuhan track is a fairly standard gray color, with the Kato track having small black flecks of color mixed in to simulate weathering or cinders.
I put together a small three-track test board, really more for some airbrushing practice than for ballast testing. I played with several brands of ballast before I tried Kato’s own brand (Kato# 24-039). Not sure why I tried Kato last, I suppose I just didn’t initially think “Kato” when I thought of ballast. You could make the argument that the Kato ballast is too small for HO and too large for Z, but if you look at the molded-in ballast on all three track sizes, they are surprisingly similar in size. As important, the Kato ballast is a pretty good size match on all three roadbeds. I also used this Kato ballast on Micro-Trains Z scale track and had the same good results!
As important as the size are the color variations in the Kato ballast, there is gray, light gray (or white) and black in this color mix and it works well on all three tracks. This Kato ballast costs about $6.50 for a 7 ounce bag, while it does cost more than some other commercial ballast, it goes a long way and I think the size and color is a pretty good match for the molded ballast in HO, N and Z scale. Now I just need to work on my track airbrushing a bit more.
Category: Useful Tools