Sunday, November 8, 2015


Taking a break from trains, I immersed myself in the world of paper models this weekend, attending the International Paper Modelers Convention in Sterling, Virginia.    The work displayed there was quite impressive with themes across the spectrum.   It was a great group of people who shared techniques, information,...etc.. freely.    I'm posting a few photos of the work displayed.   It's amazing the level of detail and relief that can be done with just paper.  Some of the take away from the convention -

  • Paper modeling is overall much cheaper than other types of modeling.  You need few tools and adhesives, and practically no paint or other finishing supplies.    There are thousands of free models available online, and those that have to be purchased aren't nearly as expensive of comparable plastic models
  • From a time investment, I'm not sure - Because you are using layers to achieve 3-d shapes, more work is needed for sub-assemblies, however, once the model is complete, it's done - no painting required.  Between the NMRA convention and this weekend I worked on a plastic 1/35 scale mid eastern "technical" - a Nissan compact pickup truck with an anti-aircraft gun in the bed.  The model took me a week or so to build, and the painting just as long.  
  • Paper modeling is very portable - you only need a cigar box of tools and glue, a cutting mat, and the sheets of paper for the model.
  • The paper modeling I've been doing as part of my model railroading and the paper modeling I saw this weekend differ somewhat.  The ScaleScenes Models I've been building use a combination of paper and two thicknesses of heavy cardboard.  Most of the models at the convention were built from 100% heavy paper.  
  • There is no limit as to what can be done with just paper.
Of course I made a few purchases while there.  I was drawn to 1/250th scale ships and harbor scenes. This German or Polish company (most paper model producers seem to be from Germany or Eastern Europe)  makes a series of models that interconnect to make a massive port area.  I purchased a 1920s dry dock, some sort of German 1915 tramp steamer, a modern container ship, a container crane, and the USS Maine.   If I started working on them tonight, these models alone would probably last me a year or two - not bad for a stack of paper that fits in a small folder.    Jimmy was interested in the 1/25 armor and picked up a few WWII German tanks.
Yes, this is all paper.......

Monday, September 21, 2015


I took it slow for the weekend and spent significant time on the layout for the first time in maybe a year, year and a half.   In the past few weeks I'd been cleaning things up and getting organized, and built a few small kit things, but not much to layout.  This weekend I managed to attack many stalled projects at once.  
First coat of paint.  In background you will see one of my 1:1 scale projects - restoration of a Southern Pacific  Search Light Signal made by Union Switch and Signal 

In the waterfront area - I finished construction on the crane, primed and sprayed with two coats of a light green.   I will still need to weather it, add glazing to the cab and a variety of cables for boom hoist and bucket hoist.    I will probably revisit this model someday, adding working lighting and some electrical conduit/control box details.    I am working on a logo/sign for Raritan Steel to put on the boom.     Also in the waterfront I added a slab foundation and walkway for the yard office/tower, and finally installed the water surface.  The water was created with acrylic paints - blacks, greens, dab of dark blue.   Not 100% happy with result, but not unhappy enough to redo.   The surface is a high-gloss water based urethane.  Ok and very durable and easy to clean.  Not as cool looking as the resin, but could always go that route if needed.    Have a few more coats of urethane to go and then I'll start adding pilings, vessels, etc.    The pipe mill is also underway, but that will be a separate post in the future.  The pipe mill takes the place of the chemical plant.  I decided to eliminate the only non-Raritan Steel industry on the layout.

Coke Works - lots of almost complete items in the by-products plant - working on overhead piping and ammonia separator.  Primary washers need only minor work to be ready for paint.   coke ovens still need significant work, but cut the wood cores for the conveyors from the coal unloader to the oven bunker.

If you look closely you will see the scribed lines
Lower Works - Added some bunkers to the highline - need to build another 8 or so and core of this will be complete and I can start detailing track area - would like to get this in for tour next month so I can run some trains on it.  The reason this project is years in the works is that each bunker has many parts and boring to cut out and assemble - even when I complete a section, it seems I have so many more to do.  One thing I'm trying to break this tedium is to use my Cameo cutting machine to cut out the pieces for the bunkers.  The bunkers are built from 0.040 styrene, which the machine can't cut, but  can score and snap out the pieces -  absolutely consistent pieces.   I drew out two complete sets of parts - since bunkers are doubled, this will make one full bunker section and get me 3" closer to finishing this thing.   Since I am feeding the thick styrene without the cut sheet, I had problems when rollers ran off the edge of the 12x12 sheet, so I cut a 12x24 and just feed one side, and then reverse for a second bunker set - this keeps the rollers from going off the edge on the close to end cuts.
Pipe ends/joints - 1/4"-1 1/8" in 1/16" increments - as many as I could fit 

Speaking of the Cameo - while I was at it, I created a sheet of styrene disks in various sizes for pipe joints and ends.  I was able to fit a lot of pieces onto one sheet.  I also drew and cut some industrial window sash sheets for overlay on scratch-built industrial buildings.

Saturday, September 12, 2015


A recent antique shopping find - a 1962 US Steel educational packet with samples of raw materials and finished products, and a filmstrip.  I'd forgotten about the ubiquitous filmstrips from my elementary school days.    The color positive film has washed out to amber/red quite a bit, but pictures are clear enough.  I used an inexpensive Wolverine slide scanner to scan some of the photos from the filmstrip


Besides the iron and steel industry in Birmingham proper, the mountains immediately surrounding the city are full of the remnants of the many iron or and coal mining operations.    Red mountain was mined extensively for iron ore by US Steel, Sloss, and others.    US Steel donated much of their former iron mining properties for use as a park.  To date, a portion has been made into nature trails, bike paths, zip line courses,...etc...    I spent the morning of my second day in Birmingham exploring some of these trails

Number 13 Mine Portal

Number 14 Mine Portal

Wash House for #14 Mine

Looking down incline toward #13 Mine - the incline skip tracks would have passed under the  railroad bridge in photo.  Some distance behind me the incline continued to the tipple.

Map of mountain during mining days.
The trails have excellent historical markers describing industrial operations.    Most of the main trails are former railroad rights-of-way.  There are some connecting trails that are much narrower and steeper than the main trails.  Overall the mountain has reverted to nature, compared to the photo above.  There were a number of other mines and industrial structures I didn't have time to visit.  I spoke to a park ranger who said they were opening more and more of the property every year and there is extensive IA on the remainder.    The closest mine portals are at least a mile or two in from the entrance, so be prepared for some walking, with some hilly travel.   If you wanted to hit all the sites you'd be looking at a full day and probably at least 6-7 miles of overland hiking.

Closer to the city proper is Vulcan, the largest cast iron statue in the world.  Erected on Red Mountain  virtually on-top of  a mine, and overlooking the city as a tribute to the iron industry that built it.  

Sunday, August 30, 2015


Access to the five extant blast furnaces at Bethlehem Steel have been gradually been getting better over the years.  When I started modeling A-Furnace, the closest I could get was a limited side view from around 200 yards away, and that usually involved getting chased away from a security guard (despite technically standing on a public sidewalk).    But that was even a considered improvement over the 1980s when I bush-wacked through a wooded hillside and crossed a frozen canal just to get some photos from across the river of blast furnace row.  The plant was still operational then and any views from the opposite side were impossibly blocked by many other mill buildings.   My only regret later was that I hadn't walked down the bank further to photograph A furnace - most of my shots were of C and D furnaces, the two operating at the time.    I also went on a tour of Bethlehem in the 80s but photography was verboten.  When the Steel Stacks complex opened things got much better, with great views of A-C furnace, although D and E were still partially blocked by the blowing engine house.   About a month ago, the Hoover-Mason high-line stock trestle was opened as a walking path.
Entrance to Hoover-Mason trestle - stairs or elevator.  I should have realized from scratch building the trestle but was surprised at how high above ground level it was.   Even with this height, the tunnel under for the scale car is even lower than the level I'm standing while taking the photo.
The walking path on the trestle extends from A furnace through E furnace with outstanding views of all five blast furnace complexes.  Additionally they built an cantilevered viewing platform that offers a view of the blowing engine house that you could only probably have gotten from a crane inside the building.  The walkway is incredibly well done when we visited this weekend.    Between Sloss a few weeks ago and now the Hoover-Mason, August has been a stellar month for steel mill touring for me.

View from walkway looking west.  A-Furnace skip hoist is visible in center of photo, along with three pass stoves and the dust catcher (of A-furance).  To the right are the stoves of B-Furnace.   On the left you can see the #2 wide gauge materials transfer car and the dual gauge trackage over the bins.   They did a great job snaking the walkway back and forth to mix up views and also strategically placed dead end extensions here and there to get in closer or just to linger without blocking the main path.  

Blowing engine house - half of an end wall of this building has been (for awhile) removed, however, with a platform extended from the walkway the view is, well,......

Transfer car line-up - behind the blowing engine house there are an additional 5 transfer cars parked -  #3, 5, and 6   plus D and F.  D and F, with are of a different design, were I believed used specifically in the ore yard for moving materials between the yard and sinter plant so never really made it up this far on the Hoover-Mason, but who knows, and they were filled with taconite pellets.    At Bethlehem there were only two stock tracks, the dual gauge ore and stone track  on the outside and the standard gauge coke track on the inside (under where I'm standing taking this photo)    The ore tracks were primarily served by the wide gauge transfer cars powered by overhead wire (note poles) , although diesel engines and standard hoppers could have been used also.  The coke track was strictly standard gauge diesels and hoppers.   

E furnace cast house on right, E and D furnaces beyond.   These two furnaces were closer together than the others as the E furnace stock house was oriented along the high-line with its stoves perpendicular to the high-line.  The other four furnaces had cast houses that extended toward the river with the stoves along the high-line.  

End of the walkway - massive #2 machine shop on right.  Hoover Mason extends toward the tall building, which is the Sands Hotel, where it has been removed beyond.   Notice there is a short dead-end siding on left and a standard gauge crossover just beyond the small structure.    The stock bins I am standing over while taking this photo are disconnected from the bins for A-E furnace.  I forget but there may have been an additional furnace at one time for which these bins were used.

Friday, August 21, 2015


As a teenager I saw photos of the preserved Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama.  Along with the Model Railroader article on the the Severna Park model railroad steel mill they sparked my life long interest in steel mill and industrial archeology.   Needless to say they have been on my to-see list for quite some time.  Finding ourselves with a free weekend, we flew down to Birmingham and had a great weekend in the "Pittsburgh of the South".  
USS Fairfield Works
We flew in late Friday night and after a early breakfast hit the road.  I quickly realized that a fair number of my scratch building projects were based on structures in the area, thanks to extensive HAER documentation work in the early 90's.   We were staying in the Homewood area which is over Red Mountain from the city proper.  We headed south along the rear of Red Mountain (more on this later)  and into Bessemer, Alabama.  Bessemer has seen better times - the downtown town was beyond depressing.   US Pipe has it's plant in Bessemer, although it's a hard facility to photograph or see much of - several structures on my former module we based on structures from here.    Going north from Bessemer we drove by the operations US Steel Fairfield Works.  This facility is soon to close - November.  I was able to get a few photos of the blast furnace and some railroad equipment from a nearby highway bridge.
Blast Furnace at Fairfield

North of here we passed the overgrown ruins of Tennessee Coal and Iron's Ensley Works, later USS.  I could make out through the vegetation the Ensley mixer, another of my almost complete scratch building projects.   Shortly thereafter were at the Thomas Coke Works, again overgrown and inaccessible, however, I could see some of the structures from my coke works I have been building.   Everything is close together in Birmingham, so this took us only an hour or so to visit all these sites.
Thomas Coke - both structures are found on my model railroad.  
By then Sloss was open (10am).   Sloss was better than I expected, by far.  The tours are self guided so you can look at things at your own pace - in mine - extremely slow.   Access to the site is excellent.  The blast furnace stacks are about the only locations you can't climb up to.  

Stoves at Sloss
Under the stock trestle - tracks for the scale car
Inside the blowing engine house
150 Ton Hot Metal Car - Pollack 
Next installment - Red Mountain

Sunday, August 16, 2015