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Rowlands Mix

Written by Andy Watkins, 2001-2015.

Rowlands Mix, as many 16-millers know, is a mixture of peat, sand and cement, used to bind track together and encourage moss. It is particularly useful for hiding plastic track, or track which doesn't "look right" under a layer of vegetation.

The idea was first mooted a long time ago, and gets its name from the gentleman by the name of Dave Rowlands who came up with the idea. Here is his original quote:

"As many people know, my n.g. line has had plastic based track set in cement-peat mixture for 12 - 13 years now (bits of it for 15!). The peat mix is one part cement to two parts each of sand and fine peat (no roots!) and I have laid my track onto stone slabs or brick courses. The cement-peat mixture takes pins well and will of course set to hold the track in place. It is also porous and drains well. It can be swept with a stiff broom and thanks to the uniformity of factory produced track a damaged piece is easily replaced by fitting it exactly into the cement base impression."

Dave Rowlands
Steamlines No.8, p.22

Dave played a significant role in the 16mm arm of the hobby, and in telling others about it.

More recently, a number of Garden Railway owners have suggested the quantities which have worked on their own lines. The precise mix may depend on the desired result and the climatic conditions.

Dave Watkins suggests:

I have used a mix of 2 parts sieved peat, 2 parts coarse sand and one part cement. I normally mix with enough water to make it fairly wet and runny.

With current ecological views that we should be preserving peatlands, you can use peat free compost instead, but do check what you are buying. It should be fine and not coarse. It needs to resemble peat in texture.

I normally lay the track in place and dump the Rowlands mix over the top. If doing just a few yards I normally press the mix into place with bare hands, but be warned cement does funny things to your skin. Best to wear rubber gloves if you are doing a longer stretch of track.

Brush surplus mix off the rails, using an old paint brush, a piece of wood, hardboard or even cardboard. If you leave the mix to dry for a day or two, you can clean up with a wire brush if you like to see the sleepers clearly.

Dudley Hubard suggests

I've laid Mamod track into Rowlands mix (2 sand, 2 cement, 3 peat- this last one should be ash but I don't have access to any). Ensure that the mix is not too runny otherwise this will weaken the mixture. Water/ moisture should come to the surface when you drag your trowel over the mix. I chalk out the intended 'path', dollop the mix down, do a rough level and press the track into same. A small spirit level and two short pieces of ply enables a check along both planes of the track,each piece of track (yes each Mamod panel) being levelled to suit. I have also been able to introduce slight super-elevation to the curves to compensate for 'crazy steamers'! One day later I go round the new track with a toothbrush to remove muck from the rails. It all takes time but remember that a good job relies on good preparation. My Mamod points are screwed to 12mm x 12mm hardwood which is set into a similar mixture. By doing away with point-to- track joiners (ie. using none at all) I am able to unscrew & remove the points for maintenance. Again, a job well prepared will ensure that everything meets up okay. After around one year I am just starting to get some good moss growing aided by yogurt, veg water and anything else that is organic & natural!

Other suggestions have included: There were at least 2 recipes from Dave Rowlands.
Ken Baxter said

Why on earth would you want to grow moss on your railway?