Saturday, May 23, 2020


In O-Scale, I am modeling the Penn Central/Penn Central era (1968-1976).  What is available in O-Scale (O-Scale, scale, ie not Lionel Tinplate type products) in plastic is fairly limited, especially compared to HO Scale.  Weaver and Atlas both produced plastic 1:48 scale locomotives, and freight/passenger cars.   Weaver is out of business now, although Atlas has produced a few of their products under their Trainman line.   There is a smattering of other plastic kits and a few resin out there, but most are steam/transition era, leaving, scratchbuilding, or semi-scratchbuilding in the form of wood/metal kits made be Athearn/Reynolds, or the Quality Craft/Ambroid/Gloor Craft lines.   The later all seem to have produced the same products, I just don’t know the exact lineage/order of these companies.   Another manufacturer, Lykens Valley Models, also produced wood kits, abet, more primitive than the Ambroid-Gloor craft kits.   All these manufacturers are long out of business, but kits can be found at eBay and train shows.  On Ebay, especially for some reason in the past two months, sellers tend to list these at very high prices and the bidding is robust.   Shows are a better source and I rarely pay over $20 for one of these kits.   Since the heyday of these companies was likely the 70s and very early 80’s, the “modern cars” they were producing kits were, are perfect for Penn Central era.   Many of the kits are fairly unique prototypes that should add some nice diversity to my freight manifests.   A quick list of some of these kits I have -  86’ Trailer Train piggy back flat with trailers; 86’ high cube box;  C&O Coil car; 89’ auto rack flats;  shorty corn syrup tank cars;  the giant Publicker tank car; all-door boxcars; Railbox type cars; 63’ mechanical refer; bulkhead flats;  heavy duty well flat car;  and then there are the cabooses.
Small portion of wood kits.

I must admit, I also have been buying these type of kits in HO, “for my old-age”, but haven’t built any yet.   I have a half dozen O-Scale freight cars underway in various stages of construction, but for some reason I’ve grown an interest in cabooses of late, and am currently building four, along with a caboose like flanger.  Getting the wood pieces in the box to look like steel is the real challenge - lots of sealing/sanding, and you still have an imperfect surface.   Even the prototype wood sided cars are not great, as the scribes on the siding are too deep.   I’m experimenting with substituting styrene or acyclic for the wood parts.  The full size plans and metal castings, more than justify the cost of the kit, and the wood can be used elsewhere.    I decided to keep things cheap and fun, and I’m building the caboose kits with the wood and other parts in the box.  
Gloor Craft PRR ND four wheel cabin car,; Quality Craft Erie wood-sided caboose; and  Ambroid Nickel Plate caboose.    Various stages of construction.

Building these kits has been a bit of a learning experience, but hopefully mistakes are only made once.  I would highly recommend trying one of these.  Some patience is required, but many hours of fun, for low cost.    None are complete yet, but I’m in the weathering phase of the Erie caboose.   All these cabooses, even the four wheel PRR were technically still around during the early part of the Penn Central era.   Photos of the Erie (Erie-Lackawanna) caboose from the late 60s show a pretty weather worn, beat up car.  It looks like they had been relegated to MOW trains.  

I’m not happy with the Erie decals, but working on camouflaging them.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020


It’s been over a year since my last post.   Life has usual been a blur of work and other things, until the Coronavirus ground the economy to a very slow crawl.  My business has been affected severely since 90% of the work we do is residential.   For the first time in over thirty years of business I have had to lay off employees, all of them to be precise.   I can afford to keep the lights on for four months or so hopefully I’m back in operation by then, however, with the react to the stock ticker government response, I’m fairly worried we could be looking at a slow bleed for longer.  I’m sure all the billionaires and their corporations that pay slave wages will make out fine.   Small businesses like mine,  always get shit on.  With or without the virus, I’ll keep on paying forty times the tax rate that Amazon does.

Well, now that I’ve aired the dirty laundry, and as the boys from Monty Python say, “always look on the bright side of life”, there is an upside - more time for model railroading.

I think in my last post, I talked about my expansion into O-Scale.  I joined a local O-Scale 2-Rail club last winter.  The Cherry Valley Model Railroad Club has been located in the basement of the Grace Episcopal Church for 56 years.   I had never been much of a club person, preferring to do my model railroading in my basement, alone, or with the help of my son.   I’ve been presently surprised, and have been having a fun time with a great group of model railroaders.   Having a specific meeting night every week has more or less “forced” me to play with trains - not a bad thing.   With owning your own business, there always seems to be something you could be doing, especially when your shop has months of backlog, and it’s easy to just work more hours and forget about the fun things in your life.   With Cherry Valley, I almost always get in three to four hours of model railroading a week.  Sometimes its just running trains, sometimes working on the layout, and plenty of times just shooting the shit about trains, etc.   Those of you who know me personally, know I’m pretty skilled at the last item.  

What about steel mill modeling?  Unfortunately, I haven’t worked on my layout much - why?  Besides the time issue,  honestly, it’s covered with O Scale cars and locomotives that I am building, painting, decaling, and weathering.   To be fair, I went a bit overboard gearing up for O Scale, and have purchased at least 90 cars or car kits and probably a dozen locomotives over the course of a year and a half.   I’m also doing what I have never really done in HO scale - for each locomotive or car, I’m painting, decaling,  weathering, weighting, coupler height adjusting, decoder installing, before it gets brought to Cherry Valley.    As most of you know, my basement is really small, so the only place I can set my rolling stock is on my HO Steel mill layout.   O Scale cars and locos are twice as long, high, and wide as H.O., but that also mean four times the volume.    I’m building a work room/ O Scale shelf layout in an old garage attached to my house (not really a garage - 7’x20’)   When this is finished, I’ll be able to move all my work up there, and also have space to properly work on my large HO steel mill structures.

Moving on I am going to try to update this blog more regularly.  If I go back in it’s history, the times I was most prolific with the posts, were also the times I did the most modeling.   I’m also going to post some of my O-Scale modeling in this blog.  The techniques and methods are transferable to any scale.   I’ll title the posts with O-SCALE EXPLORATIONS, so if you don’t want to read, you can skip.  I’ve posted photos some of my O Scale freight car weathering projects.

Everyone stay safe and healthy.

Monday, January 28, 2019


I came upon a good resource for steel mill modelers, especially for those modeling the transition era like I am.  

William Gaughan Collection - Historic Pittsburgh

It's about 600 photos, mostly of the US Steel Homestead Works, and their associated, Carrie Furnaces.    The subject matter ranges from people photos, wartime events,  buildings, processes, equipment, a few aerial photos, ..etc..   Something for everyone.

It did solve one mystery for me.  When I had a tour of the Carrie Works six or seven years ago, I asked the guide, who had worked in the blast furnace department there, when they switched from the open top hot metal cars to the submarine or torpedo type.  He thought the mid 60s.    There is a classic railfan photo of a string of open top, Kling type 50 ton hot metal cars being pulled across the hot metal bridge while I think it's a B&O train moving under the bridge.   Based on the F units I figured it was a 1950s photo.   According to this photo collection, the first submarine car was put in service in 1958 at Homestead/Carrie.   Photo of the inaugural pour at the open hearth.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

UPDATE, Long overdue

On Saturday I hosted an open house layout tour for New Jersey Division of the NMRA.   As Jimmy and myself were vacuuming and cleaning the tracks of our layout, I realized that the last time it had run was two years previous at another open house - January of 2017.   The layout ran fine, abet without looking much different than the last time some of the people visited.   I’d been down in the basement about a half dozen or so times over that same time span, but just to build a plastic non-railroad model kit or two or three.   Of course I have stayed current as an arm chair modeler via the Facebook Steel Mill Modeler’s group of all the happenings in that world.  It’s been nice to see so much good modeling.

What’s been going on?  Well the short answer is life.   My business grew quite a bit, peaking in terms of number of employees and number of jobs we were doing at once, around this time last year.  Since then I have downsized, not for lack of work, but rather for my own sanity.  I’m running with a much smaller team.  During this “downsizing” I upsized my shop facility and invested in more equipment.    We moved across a parking lot, into an old factory building that originally made aluminum TV dinner trays and pie plates.   Our square footage tripled.   Not wanting to make some of the mistakes I’d made in several previous shops, I was careful with the layout to allow for maximum efficiency.  Moving our office, materials, and equipment took about two weeks via a forklift, however, setting up the shop, installing the electric, air, dust collection,....etc. and all the benches, shelving etc. has taken from August and continues, although the to-do list left is down to a page or two, and things are mostly fully functional.  Just when I should have had more time on my hands, hundred, but more likely thousands of hours were spent just setting things up, primarily nights and weekends.    The good news is that I’m recently feeling I have more spare time, or at least can take time away for myself without feeling guilty.  

My personal life has been equally hectic.  In the past year, both my children bought their own houses and moved out of mine.  My daughter got married almost a year ago, but as you can imagine, wedding planing, parties and showers, etc,  took up most of last fall.   Wedding went off without a hitch, despite a late January date.  My daughter wanted snow for it, but we got balmy 60 degree sunny weather.    My daughter, who is one of those people that asks, where we are going for dinner while eating breakfast, promptly got pregnant, and as of this past October 30th, I have a Grandson.   I’m sure the little guy is going to be into trains....  

Even before we’d become empty nesters, I’d been talking to my wife about possibly moving to a bigger basement, with a house on it, or alternatively, an apartment in the city of Philadelphia.  This put work on the layout on hold.  Also, even if we stayed put, I’d considered ripping everything out and starting over with a better planned layout.    In the end we are staying put.  I think I was duped by my wife with the offer of a second train room (after I relocate the laundry room that takes up part of it, and renovate about 60 percent of the rest of the house).    This new train room will feature an O-Scale 2 Rail (ie not Lionel)  Penn Central switching layout, set in the early 70s in the swamps of New Jersey’s Chemical Coast.   More on O-Scale later.      Besides staying put in our house of 27 years, we bought land on the side of a mountain in Jim Thorpe, PA for a family vacation house.  The construction of this, which Jimmy and myself will be doing the bulk of.   Jim Thorpe is a beautiful little town in the Lehigh River Gorge.  It was originally named Mauch Chunk, before the town purchased the body of the famous athlete Jim Thorpe and changed the name of the town,  and was one of the commercial centers of the American industrial revolution.   Anthracite coal mined in the mountains to the west of the city was moved through Mauch Chunk to market, using canal and railroad technology developed to do so.   The Central Railroad of New Jersey and the Lehigh Valley Railroad ran through town on alternative sides of the river, and the Lehigh Valley had a large coal marshaling yard in town at one point.   The railroads through town are still use for freight and a fairly busy, year round tourist railroad.    The town is an outdoor sports Mecca of sorts today, with whitewater rafting on the river, bike trails on abandoned rail beds,  hiking on mountain trials, and nearby ski areas.   The tourist railroad has a dedicated gondola for transporting bicycles north twenty miles, where the riders disembark and ride down the side of the gorge back into town.   The CNJ pulled out of Pennsylvania in I think the 70s and the LV altered their main line to use the parallel CNJ where more efficient.   Fortunately for hikers and bicyclists, the abandoned main sections could only be placed close to the river due to the steep sides of the gorge, making for some nice scenery.   We are hoping to start building in the spring or summer.

Looking over my layout Saturday I started making a list of projects.  Besides the obvious, “when are you going to finish some structures”.   I need to take some time to properly wire the layout, and make some track improvements in a few locations for smoother switching.    Hopefully there will be some blog posts in the near future on this.    Also, I’ll be including my O-Scale adventures.   Stay tuned.  Jim  

Friday, March 17, 2017


Not much to report on the steel mill front, but I was doing some preliminary work on my future sinter plant and thought the technique involved might be useful.   The sinter plant is going to occupy a sliver of real estate against a backdrop and essentially cover up a hole that is needed for access to a concealed section of track.   I'm using the Bethlehem Steel sinter plant as a lose prototype for the structure.   One of the elements of the Bethlehem Sinter plant was a bank of storage silos for raw materials.  Storage silos always make for good backdrop structures as there is rarely a single silo - usually a half dozen or more.  Prototypes can range from glass making, grain, portland cement, coal, sand mining, and more no doubt.     Of course, for the budget minded modeler, PVC piping offers a cheap material modeling and comes in a variety of diameters.    Cutting PVC to length is simple on any chop saw - cuts easy and you should be able to get nice smooth, receptive cuts.    The trick is when you need a half section of pipe.  Cutting this can either be very tedious or very dangerous.    Besides the obvious alignment problems (cutting perfect halves) there is a serious danger of kick-back if you try to cut on a table saw.   There is a bit of tension in the plastic and cutting it can cause it to press against the blade excessively.  

Cutting halves can be a breeze on a table saw.  The trick is turning the round pipe into something with a square section.    The first step is to use a ruler, tape, or easiest, the pipe itself to set the fence of your table saw to the exact outside diameter of the pipe.   Take some scrap 3/4" plywood and cut square pieces - two for each piece of pipe you are cutting.    Using a hot glue gun, glue one of the blocks to the end of the pipe, fitting it perfectly onto the end.  Then place the block and pipe on a flat surface and glue on the other block, using the surface to ensure exact alignment with the level plane.    Now you have essentially turned a pipe into a square block of wood.  

Set the saw blade height just slightly higher than the wall thickness of the PVC pipe and set the fence so blade is exactly centered on diameter of pipe (and width of wood blocks)    All that is left is to turn on the saw and run the assembly through once and then flip it and run it through again.   Since you are only cutting slightly into the wood, the glue and the block will maintain the structural integrity of the pipe until all the cutting is complete.    Just knock the blocks off with a hammer and you will have two perfect half pipe sections.  NOTE - knock sideways with hammer.  Hot glue has a decent amount of tensile strength (pulling object away from glued surface) but not much sheer strength (hitting it sideways)    The blocks should pop right off.

Sunday, January 1, 2017


My favorite paper model company, Scale Scenes, recently issued a Clyde Puffer kit.  This small steam ship is clearly a British prototype, as are most of their kits, but it's a neat looking and it's small size will fit nicely in my harbor.  If I had to justify it as being prototypical, it could be used by one of the many small brickyards along the  Raritan and South Rivers to supply their kilns with coal and move their products to market.  A little further stretch would be the vessel plied the Delaware and Raritan Canal between New Brunswick and Trenton, perhaps hauling pig iron or steel ingots from my steel mill to Roebling Steel in Trenton.
Sealing ink jet prints

These kits are relatively inexpensive - less than $10 usually.   Purchased online, you receive a digital file - PDF format.   On some of the structure kits, you will need to select the type of masonry exterior.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The PDF are in OO scale (1/76).  This English version of HO can by converted by printing out at 87% (just a coincidence)
A typical sheet 

After printing out the sheets, and the instructions too, I first spray everything with a clear mat varnish.  You might be able to skip this step with a laser print, but always seal ink-jet.    The pieces are organized in groups - some will need to be glued to different thicknesses of cardboard.   The instructions are very well done and include photos.
The core of the vessel

I was pretty happy with the final result.  It's entirely paper with the exception of styrene rods for the mast and boom, and I added handrails around the stern from the Central Valley Fencing assortment.   The model was weathered with  chalk.

Finished vessel, weathered with chalk - hold filled with lump coal..
This was another fun Scale Scenes kit, with a fairly realistic result.  Some of the printed details will jump out on close examination.  The weathering helps a little.   If you are thinking about trying paper modeling, Scale Scenes has a few free kits - try one first.  

Sunday, December 18, 2016


The first review is another recent book by SMRR author Stephen M. Timko.  Surprisingly this appeared in my local hobby shop at the same time as the latest SMRR Volume (Reviewed in Previous Blog)    This is a paperback and not like the usual Morning Sun products with it's landscape format.   The books content is along the lines with what I'd hoped to see more of in the SMRR books - mill photos, equipment, and more, along, or course with the standard locomotive shots.    There are many pieces of unique equipment in the book that shout out to be modeled.   The photos are organized by mill, however, at least the first half of the book are Canadian steel mills.   Morning Sun or the author appeared to obtain a large collection of photos from the Steelco Plant in Hamilton, Ontario.   Overall with the cheaper price and higher percentage of photos useful to a steel mill modeler, it's worth it to purchase for your library.

In another coincidence, the second book is written by the author of another book I reviewed it the last blog.   This book, Palazzos of Power is by Joseph Elliot, the author of The Steel.   I liked how this book, about the second generation power plants of the Philadelphia Electric Company,  was organized much more than The Steel.   Besides the arty photos, there is a very well done section of text, by Aaron V. Wunsch,  on the history of these visually impressive plants.   A lot of the photos were taken as part of the HAER documentation of three of PECO's generating stations.    The hardbound book was a very reasonable $30.

A Sunday drive to nearby Bucks County, PA, to look at a house, led to a leisurely drive home along the Delaware River on back roads.   Despite the foul weather we passed a few rare locomotive finds.   In Morrisville, PA, the last remaining operational EMD NW-3, still switches a chemical plant.  There were less than 10 of these locomotives produced in the late 30's - very early 40's.  Most or all were purchased by the Great Northern.   The longer frame than most EMD switches was to allow for a steam generator and a larger enclosed cab.   Not exactly a steel mill locomotive, but would look at home at a mill.

Just down the road from the NW-3, sitting in the yard just at the entrance to the former USS Fairless works was a Fairbanks Morse  H-12-44.  This former USS locomotive was leased out to a few different local industries after the mill was closed.  After breaking down in the mid 2000's it was purchased by an individual who aimed to repair it and put it back into service as a leased unit.  Given it's location just outside the former mill, it might be about to be moved.    The locomotive still has a remote control system attached and one side of the cab is covered with steel plate.   Somewhere I think I read that Fairless liked FMs as they had better traction for the steep incline into the open hearth.    Fairless had no BOF and used open hearths right up to closure in 1991.