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I need to ballast a section of traditional O gauge tubular tracks on a hinged lift-up panel, and need to keep the weight to a minimum. Any suggestions? 

I have the excellent ballast products from Brennan's but I am concerned about the added weight. I crushed some lava rocks, but not sure that will be light enough (will crush into smaller pieces than shown in photo). I thought about just throwing some pink insulation board into a blender, then painting the remnants, but do not want to ruin the blender...or my marriage!!

I will also add this is my first attempt at any serious scenery.  I read Dave Frary's 3rd edition of his bible on scenery from cover to cover, and it has helped immensely.  My first attempt at the panel had too much yellow, orange, and brown in the turf mixture to mimic the fall scene, so I scraped it all off, and began over.  After many trial runs on a piece of insulation panel, I moved to the lift-up panel, and it actually became fun! Even engaged the grandkids, who insisted this lighthouse scene had to have farm animals, hence the corals.  I attached some photos to show the scene.

Thanks for any advice,


Panel closedPanel openCrushed lava rocks


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  • Panel closed
  • Panel open
  • Crushed lava rocks
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Thanks for suggestions. Went to Pet Smart and found lightweight kitty litter. Even the sales person was surprised at the weight.  Also looked at Scenic Express website, and saw lightweight ballast made from nutshells. Looked better than the rubber material on its website, and the kitty litter I purchased.  Ordered some of that as well. Will see which works better.

Many thanks.


Hi Pete,

Will certainly share the experience with the "new lightweight ballast" from Scenic Express.  Their website also includes the following: "Lightweight Ballast is made from natural Walnut Shell crushed and screen to exacting size. Persons with nut allergies may need to take caution while working with this style of ballast."  Just ordered it so will take a few days for delivery.



Since kitty litter is designed to absorb moisture (it's major job), I don't think I'd want it against track that has any possibility of rusting.  If you're using Atlas track or perhaps Gargraves stainless, it would be OK, but I wouldn't use it for any steel track.

It doesn't work that way.

MANY of the materials on your layout absorb moisture (i.e. are hydroscopic) --including things like paper and wood. They ABSORB water, they don't EMIT it. The water comes from the air. Any hydroscopic material in an open environment will remove water from the air until it is in equilibrium with the ambient humidity. At that point, it will make no difference either way.  In a CLOSED environment, it would actually REDUCE the exposure of your tracks to moisture (by removing it from the air). Those little hydroscopic packets that come in bottles of medicine aren't there to increase moisture exposure.

Kitty litter will not rust your track.

Dave, pleased to comment on the fall backdrop and a few others.  I attached some photos from years ago, when I was mounting the backdrops. The panoramic shot (a bit distorted) indicates that I want to show the 4 seasons around the room.  I worked with 2 agencies, and had excellent communication with each to customize their backdrops to my dimensions and needs. 

The fall scene is from Trackside Scenery: I worked with Joey Ricard.  The close up shows a creek that will end up in a waterfall (years from now!), and a road on the left close to the wall switch.  Joey placed each item right where I wanted them.  The backdrop came in a panel with sky, but I cut the edge of the tree tops with serrated scissors to blend with my painted sky and clouds.  The panel is not 3 dimensional, but I worked hard to blend the edge of the panel with the backdrop. Did some trail and error.  Ended up painting some real stones and a flexible Large Sea Wall panel from Chooch Enterprises (#8570).  (see close ups)  Had to keep a clear path in a certain area to catch a chain that grabs a hook on the panel when it is raised.

To the right of the fall scene is a winter scene. That comes from Larc Products: I worked with Bill Brown, who was also excellent with my customizations.  One of them is the huge rock formation that separates the fall and winter scenes.  The other is the beautiful photo of Mt. Hood in the middle of the back wall. I moved to Portland, OR about 8 years ago, and that view is characteristic and stunning. Also used a serrated scissors on those panels to blend the tree tops with the sky and clouds. That was tedious, but worked. 

Hope this helps. This entire process of scenery from backdrops to current landscaping is a new adventure, so I am doing lots of trial and error (lots of latter), but the end product is usually better than I expected.

Hope this helps.


Panoramic shot

Mt Hood

Fall scene rightFall scene left

Fall close up left

Fall close up right



Images (6)
  • Panoramic shot
  • Fall scene right
  • Fall scene left
  • Mt Hood
  • Fall close up left
  • Fall close up right

In response to Pete's interest in the lightweight ballast from Scenic Express, I took some photos to compare it in looks and weight to 2 other common products: Brennan's Ballast and kitty litter.  See photos.  I also used a sensitive kitchen scale to compare the weights of identical portions of the material (see cup on top of the container from Scenic Express). 

As you can see, although the appearance of the material is quite similar, the weight difference is considerable.  I will also note, that no where on the container from Scenic Express is there a warning for nut allergy. The warning appears in red on the website for the product. At first, I thought I ordered regular stone aggregate by mistake, but confirmed the product was correct.  I will add the product does not feel anything like nutshells; comparable to the stones.

This is my first try at ballasting. As with other first attempts with just about any scenery I've done, I'll do some practice runs. For this, I'll use with spare track.  Will also try a light weight filler (sawdust?) then the Scenic Express product on top. 

Hope this is informative. Enjoy!




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