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    We moved across a parking lot, into an old factory building that originally made aluminum TV dinner trays and pie plates.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.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


 Three recent purchases with short reviews

SMRR Volume 7  by Stephen Timko

Ok, as usual, the cover photo got me and since they are wrapped in plastic......  I'd sworn I wasn't going to purchase another of these based on a disappointing last few Volumes, but with some time past I took the leap again.   The cover photo was one of the few interesting shots in this book.  Once again, diesel money shots predominate, along with the lineage of each diesel.  I guess when I was in my 20's that sort of thing used to interest me.  I've since grown out of it and am looking for more information about things other than the machine that lugged the cars around - I want to know more about the cars being lugged around and why and for what purpose.   If you like diesels, specifically steel mill diesels, pick it up, but if you are looking for detailed information about the steel industry you aren't going to find much of use.   And if you are going to email to call me fat or an asshole for writing a bad review about this specific author, don't waste my time, I already know I am both.

THE STEEL, by Joseph Elliot

This is an expensive ($60) photo book of Bethlehem Steel's last days (the Bethlehem, PA plant)   Photos are very nice.  Book was a must buy for me, but only because some of my primary modeling prototypes are pictured in the book.  The photos are from the 1989 thru 1997, when the plant closed.    My biggest criticism is the arty nature of this book, i.e.. the photos are presented without any captions or text.  There are captions for the photos in an appendix at the end of the book, but they are awkward to use - I copied them to have handy while looking at the photos, but still a bit of a pain.  Also included is an essay by the author about photographing the mill.  There is  second essay by Lance Metz, Bethlehem Steel and canal historian - his usual history/propaganda about how "The Steel" was the center of everything important that happened in American steel making.  

Not exactly anything to do with steel making, but Pennsylvania Railroad Eastern Region Trackside with Frank Konzempel by Robert J. Yanosey  is a recent Morning Sun book well worth purchasing.   Frank Konzempel lived a few towns over from my home, an avid railfan, he started taking color photos in the mid-1950s.  The photos are mostly from the Southern New Jersey/Philadelphia area, but range up to North Jersey out to Harrisburg/Altoona.   There are very good and interesting captions and lots of things included in the photos besides just the locomotives - rolling stock, infrastructure,  operations, etc.   If you model the transition era get this book.   Something I didn't expect was mixed steam/diesel motive power for a period in the 50s on the Pennsy line that runs by my house - and by mixed I mean steam/diesel lash ups (diesel in front due to smoke).    A bonus are photos of the Fort Dix narrow gauge railroad.  This line was built using equipment and track shipped back from Europe after World War One ended.  It was originally part of the United States Army 60cm trench railroad network (There is a good book which I also own on this war zone railroad called Narrow Gauge to No Mans Land)    The primary purpose of the Fort Dix line was to transport soldiers to the rifle and artillery ranges on the base - I believe one of the locomotives is on display there in a museum (I should check sometime as it's 15 minutes away)    Also covered is the last steam on the Pennsy System.  In 1958, the Union Transportation Company, a Pennsy subsidiary that operated from Pemberton to Fort Dix and beyond, still used a small steam engine - the last on the Pennsy system.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


Museum Entrance - Note the 3' Narrow Gauge track in foreground

Greetings all.  Still around.   It's been many months since my last post.  Roughly zero model railroad during that time period, really nothing since last Fall to report.  No prison stay, no insane asylum, just overwhelmed with work.   We opened a new shop in March, which, besides all our general construction work has taken beyond crazy hours to get up and running.  A big chunk of my time was spent building a large CNC machine, and learning the five CAD/CAM programs I'm using to build things on it.

I did host an open house for the local NMRA Division last month.  I realized then how little model railroading I've done this past year.  Usually I end up spending a long night cleaning all the junk off the railroad that I've left there while working on it.  Since no work was done since the previous open house in October of 2015, it was just a matter of cleaning track and vacuuming.  Sad.

The seven day weeks, working 7am to between 12-3am (not an exaggeration)  have lately just began to take a physical and metal toll - I'm stubborn so put up with a lot for much longer than I should.   I resolved last week to make some changes at work - namely take on less than I have been - so I can get back to doing some of the other things I enjoy, like model railroading.   Note, I say "other" as I do enjoy what I do for a living, well the making sawdust part.  The spreadsheets, insurance, contracts, etc... not so much.

I took off a weekend - the first since I think January - and visited Bethlehem, PA to see the recently opened National Museum of Industrial History.   For those of you not familiar with this museum, it's origins date back to the 90s when Bethlehem Steel was closing.  I was involved with the Society for Industrial Archeology back then and within that group there was a proposal to open this museum on the sight of the old steel mill to house large industrial artifacts from the Smithsonian and presumably Bethlehem Steel.   An office was opened and funds raised.  Soon after corruption and nepotism took over the operation and I believed it would never open.   I was surprised when I heard it did.
3' gauge mill engine

The museum is located in the former Bethlehem Steel Electrical Repair Shop.   There is plenty of parking next to the old iron foundry ruins (formerly 19th century Bessemer Building)   You can also walk to the Hoover Mason Highline and walk along the five extant blast furnace complexes - beyond outstanding views if you are a steel mill fan.    Admission to museum is $12. (High Line is free)  

Initial impression - disappointing.  I guess if those scumbags hadn't criminally squandered money for years it could have been better.   The museum houses a mis-mash of industrial machinery and other artifacts.   When you first enter there is a very large Corliss Pumping Engine (neat) and a dozen or so smaller steam engines and industrial wood and metal working machinery.   There were two very fancy woodworking machines from the H.B. Smith Company.  The ruins of this factory are a few miles from my home.   Next are three very cool models of Bethlehem Steel Coke Works, Blast Furnaces, and Open Hearth.  A foundry or open hearth teeming ladle and just a small quantity of Beth Steel artifacts.   Following the steel section, are a few textile machines and artifacts.  Then a sizable section of propane industry models and displays (I think some gas association donated a good chunk of money.  And that it, well inside anyway.  

Outside there is a small fenced off yard with some ladles a winch, a Beth Steel narrow gauge loco - can't get close to any and no signage for anyone to know the significance of what they are looking at. My verdict is to give this museum a chance and see if any outside displays materialize.  My thoughts are this might be as good as it gets.  While the building is "large" it's probably the one of the smallest in the steel complex - too small to house a decent collection of "large artifacts"    Go and see for yourself, but again, the Hoover Mason Highline is worth the trip by itself.