Sunday, April 6, 2008

Slowly Making Progress - April

I'm going to try to start blogging more regularly.   It's late right now and I'm just going to go for a quick update.    The benchwork on the steel mill portion of the layout is mostly complete.  I don't really follow any specific benchwork system - just years as a carpenter and cabinetmaker as a guide.  For me this is really the simplest thing in model railroading, but I'm used to building things level, with tight tolerances, etc.  One thing I will say that does bother me in all the model rr magazines is the heavy reliance on 1x pine framing lumber.  This material is pretty unstable, despite being kiln-dried and the quality varies, even amongst the better grade, D-select.   As far as home centers go, their selection is rarely straight.  Also, it splits easily without pre-drilling, warps after the fact,...etc. 
 I   use a birch or maple plywood, ripped on a table saw to 3" strips.   I just build this into a framework using drywall screws and most importantly - yellow wood glue.  I use a 3/4" plywood top as the price difference between 1/2" and 3/4" isn't much.  Glue the top on and you have an superior top - just add homesote or foam and you are ready to go.  One word on this material - again avoid the home centers - they sell a version they call birch plywood, but it's made in china and not very well at that.  Have a lumber yard order you shop-grade maple or birch 3/4" plywood from their distributor.   The shop-grade designates plywood with a small amount of surface defects - it is usually about 40% of the price of a perfect piece of the same material - it should run you about $40 or so a sheet, but you can get about 120 feet of material from that.   And before you say, well you need a big table saw to cut that - you don't.  Most of the time I use a light weight job site 10" Hitachi table saw, purchased for $194 from Lowes (see the home centers are good for something anyway) 
So the benchwork is complete, but we haven't started laying track yet.  We have been working on our small coking plant on another part of the layout right now (next blog will probably be on this)    Jimmy, thanks to a flood of money from helping his uncle work on his house as purchased a few more locomotives, plus some Atlas hoppers.  He purchased an Atlas New Haven RS-11 from Sattlers.  Something about the Atlas motors always sounds so much better than other similarly priced machines.   He also picked up two Bachmann GE-70 Tonners from Peachcreek Shops  .  These are to be used in the steel mill and came unlettered but painted in safety yellow.  The price was good and the locos look great - running quality is ok to good. 

Steel Mill -  We have started experimenting on building some of the cylindrical vessels in the mill - ie.  blast furnace, dust catcher, precipitators,...etc.   The pictures show us turning the Beth Steel A-Furnace dust catcher from a block of cedar.  Originally I thought that this vessel sat on a solid plate-steel platform, with the lower conical section projecting below, but an email to Mike Rabbit revealed that there was only some gusset plates so I will be redoing this anyway.  The results were pretty good in that I was able to maintain the scale dimension pretty accurately turning the wood by hand.  I do have a metal lathe, but choose to use a Jet Midi Lathe, which is basically a small, but very sturdy wood lathe.    

We are mulling using Rix Products water tank sections for the blast furnace stoves as they portray the rivet detail very closely, although the tanks themselves are two or three scale feet to big in diameter.    Plastruct 3" tubes would be around $25 each, compared to $32 for two kits.  PVC pipe would be much cheaper but is at least 3 scale feet too big, maybe more.  

Also, began work building two Walthers Rolling Mill kits to represent the some of the Open Hearth Furnace building.   These building are really about half as wide as an Open Hearth building should be but I am limited in space and I like the general look of these kits.  Ill write more on this in a future Blog on the open hearth

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Gearing Up

As I previously stated this blog will be primarily about the construction of my HO Model Railroad.  This will be the fourth HO layout that I have built since I was a youngster and the second one in this house.  The layout was actually started about 5 or 6 years ago but has sat basically untouched after the initial construction spurt of benchwork and tracklaying (about 60%)   This was not due to a lack of interest in the hobby, but rather a lack of time - I owned my own business up until this past August and usually spent about 90 hours a week working, which left little time for hobbies.  Since August I have been working as a Project Manager for Cipriani Builders.  This is a 40 hour - 5 day week type job (my first since the 80s) and has left me with a lot more time, and money, to pursue my hobby.    

Another reason for my renewed interest in the hobby is my fourteen year old son, Jimmy.  He has always been a train nut, but recently his interests and skills have been rapidly maturing.   I can't say how much fun it is to share this hobby with him at this age.   My own father, also a model railroader died suddenly when I was 11, leaving me with a half finished layout that filled our basement.  I have fond memories of the time we did spend together working on trains, but there is also a sadness about the times that we would have had, and probably still would have been having sharing our hobby.   To give you an idea about how deep railroading is imbedded in my DNA - both my Grandfathers were avid model railroaders.   It's funny that about a half an hour ago I was looking for my Walthers Catalog only to finally realize that my son must have taken it to bed with him.  

Despite having a fair amount of layout built we intend on expanding the trackage significantly.   It will involve the following:
  1. Completing all the structures, lighting, and scenery on the present portions of the layout.  
  2. Adding a 8x9 section to the layout that will solely be a Steel Mill
  3. Adding a 3x14 section to the layout that will be a yard, passenger depot, and city 
  4. Adding a connecting line to the elevated coal dock on the existing layout's port district
  5. Adding a connecting line from the main to the steel mill
  6. Switching the entire layout over to DCC 
The latter task, DCC will involve reworking a fair amount of the track work on the existing section as it is mostly Shinohara Code 70.   The connecting line for the steel mill will be a 20' track with a 2% grade - this is necessary as the existing layout surface is only about 18" from my low basement ceiling (old house)    The steel mill will have a blast furnace about 28" high so I need to build that section 10" lower.   A note on prototype - my previous railroads have all followed specific railroads and locations, however, with this layout, the locations are fictional, although at times inspired by real locations.  The era modeled is the late 1950s.  There is no specific railroad modeled as I didn't want to place to many constraints on this layout with my son involved.  We are keeping our rolling stock prototypical as far as the era but running locomotives from a variety of roads.  New York Central dominates, although there is a smattering of Anthracite railroads and also the dreaded Pennsy.  

STEEL MILL - Although I'm looking forward to all the work on the layout, I am most looking forward to modeling the steel mill.  This has been a dream of mine since college.   As I refine the design I've come to the realization that it will be better to limit the mill to portraying parts of the hot side of the mill, namely  one, possible two blast furnaces, and some open hearth buildings.   There will also be a variety of ancillary structures.   Much of the mill however will be represented by staging tracks.   The showcase of this portion will be the Blast Furnace.  Originally I was going to get a Walther's Kit and use that, however, as I am not about to pay $500 on ebay for one, I'm going to scratch build it.    The prototype in this case is Bethlehem Steel's A Furnace at there Bethlehem plant.  This is a smaller furnace that fits better on a layout - it was originally built in the 1920's and then rebuilt in the 50's and used well into the 60's.   It's an interesting, compact structure.   I began to scale the furnace from photos I took and online photos, I was close in my measurements, but the photos didn't show much of the furnace, so that would have been a guess.  I ended up purchasing a plan set from Mike Rabbit for around $60.  While initially hesitant because of the price, these plans are well worth it.  

WEEKEND UPDATE - No work on the layout, but Saturday we stopped in a Sattler's in Westmont, NJ.  Jimmy purchased an Athern Genesis F-7 (New York Central) a nicely done and nicely running loco.   I spoke to a fellow model railroader about DCC - he told me to look into the system he used, Easy DCC .  I like what I saw and I am considering it.  Two other customers chimed in that they used Digitrax but both said the system is very complicated and the manuals are difficult to understand - something I'd heard before.   Currently it looks like we are trying to figure out what to use - Easy DCC, Digitrax, or the MRC Prodegy Squared.   After Sattler's we headed down to Cape May to help my brother remodel his house.  On the way down we stopped at Tuckahoe Station and took the above photo of some of the equipment there.  We also stopped at the South Jersey Railroad Museum, also in Tuckahoe.  This is actually a model railroad type club with at least a half dozen operating layouts - One standard gauge Lionel, two O Scale Lionel.  One American Flyer, One N-Scale, Two HO layouts, an O-Scale scale layout, and a few assorted module sections here and there.  Most of the layouts are semi-complete and the emphasis is on toy-trains.    Never the less, a nice bunch of guys.  I picked up two older magazines there I had been looking for.  One of the modules at the club portrayed a highway overpass bridge that carried the line to Cape May from Tuckahoe over a highway at Woodbine - I'd never seen it before so we located it about ten minutes from the museum and took a few pics.  It's another busy week, but we hope to get to some benchwork by the end of the week.  

Friday, March 14, 2008

Welcome to my Blog

Hi and welcome to my blog.  The topic of this will generally be model railroading - primarily HO scale and usually about the construction of my layout.  The emphasis will be on scratch building industrial structures and complexes.

Additional topics will vary to other scales - On30 and G, and sometimes railfanning and whatever I happen to feel like talking about