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Buy cheap plastic funnels in the size you need.  Cut the spouts off and close them up, then sand the ribs off.  Pour thick semi gloss latex paint over them to get a "sliding surface" affect.  Might take a few coats to get it to look right.

Now a question for the rest of you:  how is salt transported by rail?  I would think covered hoppers would be ideal but can't find any reference to how it is actually moved.

When making piles of anything granular, I am a big believer in making a REAL pile of the stuff and then dribbling dilute white glue on it to preserve the shape. This is the only easy way to get the correct angle of repose. Without great skill, anything else will look fake.  If the glue doesn't penetrate all the way to the bottom of the pile, so much the better--your pile will be hollow and you will save some material.

I wouldn't recommend using real salt, as it is corrosive. Encapsulated in paint, or glue might eliminate its corrosiveness, but I would recommend using crushed marble. It can be found at building supply houses that sell brick, stone and other masonry supplies. Crushed marble is used as an alternative to white sand, and looks very similar to real rock salt. If you only want to make a pile, you may be able to get a baggie full for nothing. If you want to make loads for hoppers, you can get a plastic pail for around 5 bucks. I've attached some pics of a salt load in a Lionel Post War 2 bay hopper.

Salt load 001Salt load 002Salt load 003

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Images (3)
  • Salt load 001
  • Salt load 002
  • Salt load 003
@rail posted:

I wouldn't recommend using real salt, as it is corrosive. Encapsulated in paint, or glue might eliminate its corrosiveness, but I would recommend using crushed marble. It can be found at building supply houses that sell brick, stone and other masonry supplies. Crushed marble is used as an alternative to white sand, and looks very similar to real rock salt.

@rail,

Those piles look awesome. Totally convincing. Thanks for the crushed-marble tip.

I agree not to use real salt. When I said "real", I meant real piles, not real salt.

Last edited by Avanti

Another suggestion for building a salt pile: you can use a piece of carved foam and use paint or white glue, or on a piece of wax paper build a pile gradually using a spray bottle with water base urethane clear finish. Start by making a small pile and spray, and add another layer and spray until you have the desired size and profile. When dry, (may take a few days, depending on the size), cut the wax paper around the base if it doesn't release from the pile. Another method would be to use modeling clay, or play-dough to make a pile profile and add the material with paint or white glue. Good luck, and post some pics.

@rail posted:

Another suggestion for building a salt pile: you can use a piece of carved foam and use paint or white glue, or on a piece of wax paper build a pile gradually using a spray bottle with water base urethane clear finish. Start by making a small pile and spray, and add another layer and spray until you have the desired size and profile. When dry, (may take a few days, depending on the size), cut the wax paper around the base if it doesn't release from the pile. Another method would be to use modeling clay, or play-dough to make a pile profile and add the material with paint or white glue. Good luck, and post some pics.

Using urethane finish is a great idea. But, I would skip spraying the inner layers. Just build a loose pile slightly smaller than your target, and build up just enough layers to make it strong enough.  This produces a hollow pile which is lighter, uses less material, and makes no difference visually.

Last edited by Avanti
@Avanti posted:

Using urethane finish is a great idea. But, I would skip spraying the inner layers. Just build a loose pile slightly smaller than your target, and build up just enough layers to make it strong enough.  This produces a hollow pile which is lighter, uses less material, and makes no difference visually.

Pete, that is a good idea. I would spray an additional coat to the underside of the pile after removing it from the inner pile to seal it.

John, the cone construction a great idea.  I might experiment with the glue and salt idea.

Scott,  One advantage of the cardstock cone and salt is it is inexpensive.  Second advantage is you probably have the items in your home.  Third, salt is NOT corrosive to paper products.  Fourth, it is a ten minute job, you can make a small pile this evening to test the concept.  Like a lot of things in life, acting on an idea will accomplish far more than spending a week planning.  John

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