KEEPING UP APPEARANCES

WEATHERING & BALLASTING
ROKUHAN Z SCALE TRACK

 

Any commercial products mentioned here are purely bona fide indications of what I have been using myself.
I have no connection to any manufacturing companies nor do I profit from listing any products or brands.

 
Rokuhan (which means "6.5" in Japanese, refering to the Z Scale track gauge of 6.5mm) track was introduced in 2011 and features an integrated trackbed which simulates ballast, similar to Micro-Trains' Micro-Track in Z and Kato's Unitrack in N and HO. The rails are nickel silver and have an H profile, aimed at providing better wheel to rail contact and thus current pick-up.
 

  Rokuhan track has become popular amongst Z Scale modellers due to the large and varied track geometry avilable; standard track pieces even come with either wooden or or concrete sleepers.

One criticism voiced with all makes of track with integrated roadbed, regardless of scale, is that it looks "toy like" straight from the blister pack. One could however argue that all model track looks anything but realistic as long as it is used in its original factory look and not weathered.

Rails on the prototype always display a variation of rust, dirt, grime and other residue from trains; colours depend on the location, season and weather conditions. In a larger modelling scale, time and effort spent in adding different shades and hues of colours pays off, but in Z Scale even a basic coat of rust or dark colour (easier applied before the track is put down permanently) makes for an incredible change in appearance.

Improving the visuals is even more important for modellers of North American railroads using Rokuhan track, because it is modelled on Japanese permanent way, which is closer to the European average of 2,640 ties per mile of track rather than the up to 3,000 ties on North American track (which Micro Track seeks to replicate). In 1:220 scale this means 7 ties per inch on Rokuhan track (as compared to 10 on Micro-Track). This difference is visible but it can be toned down with weathering - and additional ballasting.

 
 
 
Ballasting can take many forms and goes a long way in making the Rokuhan sleeper spacing less obtrusive.
 

 
For regular modern mainline track I use Woodland Scenics light gray ballast in "fine" grade (B74). It is just a bit lighter in colour than the Rokuhan trackbase, so for even more convincing visuals a very thin wash of e.g. india ink would be the solution.
 

I use a small food storage box about half filled with Woodland Scenics light gray "fine" ballast (B74) to provide a portable "ballast hopper" from which small quantities are spread out along the edge of the moulded ballast base of the Rokuhan track, using a regular size teaspoon - the back of which can be used to tamp down the ballast in a nice even slope to the height of the sleepers.

Again, because Rokuhan's trackbase is a lighter colour than Micro-Track's, it doesn't blend perfectly under closer scrutiny.

 

 
  The ballast is then fixed in place using the etablished method of applying a 1:1 mix of white glue and water with a drop of washing up liquid (to break the surface tension) from a syringe - which makes everything take on a "soggy" look. After 24 hours, all will be dry and set.  
 
This end result is also the reason why ballasting around switches should only be done in a very careful and restrained manner. Both the underside of the switch as well as the edge of the plastic roadbed should be sealed prior to applying any diluted glue in order to prevent the switch mechanism from clogging up permanently; this can be done e.g. by some tape (for the underside) and a line of paint (running alongside the edge of the roadbed).

In Z Scale it is even more important than in larger modelling scales to make sure that the ballast stays put where it is supposed to. One alternative way of ensuring this is to lightly mist some rubbing alcohol from a spray bottle over the dry ballast rather than use a syringe with "wet water".

 
Some modellers fully ballast Rokuhan (i.e. between the rails as well) even though it has a premoulded ballast base, while others put operational reliability above visual appearance. In any case, close-up pictures of Z scale track always look cruel, when in reality the track is always viewed from a distance which tends to blend the whole scenic setting for better.

For most modellers, ballasting is a tedious job - possibly even more so in Z than any of the larger modelling scales. The trick is to do it in steps over a certain period of time. Patience and diligence invested here will pay off big in the end when the ballasted track is blended in with the surrounding terrain.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

page created 6 June 2015
last updated 16 December 2017