CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Collecting real "authentic" dirt

There are several substances you can use to model dirt on your layout, including many commercial ones including some that are just packaged real dirt. I decided to go a step beyond and only use "authentic" D&H dirt on my layout. Part of the reasoning was that I needed some quickly for my ballasting project, and I didn't have time to research various brands. Plus, I had some nice weather in store for the weekend and thought it might be fun.

So, armed with a shovel and an cheap aluminum baking pan in my trunk (I didn't dare use our good baking pans for this project!), I drove over to a place in Menands that is both close to the D&H tracks and pretty much a pile of dirt. There, after examining the ground for the best place to dig, I took a couple of shovelfuls of the brown stuff. At home, I baked it in our oven at 350-degrees for an hour to kill anything living in it that came along for the ride. If you read various forums online, there is a big debate over the need to bake it at all. I said "are you crazy, why not?" and just did it. It didn't smell weird, it was hands off, and it went quickly.

Then, the sifting began. Over the years I have purchased lots of sieves, screens, funnels, and other various sorting devices in preparation for this moment. After seeing Mike Confalone do it on one of his "Scenery Outside the Box" DVDs it looked easy and fun, and so I found three screens that got smaller/finer in size and went outside. The dirt easily broke up on the large metal screen, and the leftover stones and leaves were dumped onto the lawn. Then, two more screenings left me with three different sizes of dirt and rocks. I packaged it up in my cheap food takeout containers and went inside to clean up and watch football. It took less than 30 minutes total.

Some lessons I learned: 
(1) it goes pretty quick but the dirt must be absolutely dry;
(2) a slight breeze is desirable to blow any dust raised up by the process away from your face;
(3) if you overload the filter and it spills into your bowl below containing finer material, you get to start over again;
(4) half of what you gather will be too large, or grass, or leaves, or stones, or blown away; and
(5) pick the right color of dirt. I couldn't get more authentic than real D&H dirt, but if you need red dirt or dark brown dirt you might need to go find it somewhere else than your backyard.

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