Saturday, January 31, 2009

Vacuum Forming

I've decided to scratch build all my tops, and bottoms in the case of the precipitators,  of any structure built using Rix water tank sections.    These include the stoves for both A and B furnaces, the precipitators (joint facility), and the B-furnace dust catcher.    Vacuum forming, for those not familiar, is basically taking heated plastic and forming it over a male mold, using a vacuum to draw the plastic into the mold while at the same time cooling/setting it.   It's good for larger parts, especially those with gradual curves/slopes.    You can buy a vacuum forming machine - they are slick but expensive, and most are designed to take large sheets of plastic.  For modeling HO scale this would be a waste since the scrap plastic from forming is really unusable as it has been stretched and the thickness at that point is variable and not consistent.    It's quite easy to make your own machine cheaply and easily.   The machine pictured on the right was built in literally 15 minutes.    I took a scrap piece of 3/4" birch plywood and ripped a 7" wide strip on the table saw.  Turn the strip sideways and cut 2 7" squares and then two 3" x 7" strips.  Cut two more 3" strips about 5.5" long.   Using glue and 2" brads (from a brad nailer) nail the four sides together and then nail on the bottom.  Take the top to the drill press and drill small holes about 1" apart or so and maybe 3/16 round.   No need to layout a grid or anything unless you need that perfection - just drill the holes - sand the top on both sides and clean out any plugged holes.  Take the bottom assembly and drill a 1 1/4" hole in one side - this is for a small Shop Vac.  Any vacuum should work so check your hole size first.  Glue and nail on the top.   Almost done - take some more scrap 3/4" plywood and cut two 9"x9" squares .  Then set the distance from the fence to the blade to about 1" or so and plunge cut the centers of the squares out.  If you are unfamiliar with this technique on the table saw it would be safer for you to use a jigsaw - remember it doesn't have to be perfect - the only requirement is that it clears your vacuum machine top and doesn't have an opening bigger than a 8"x8" sheet of styrene.    - You are done and ready to start vacuum forming - all you will need additionally, besides the vacuum is an electric stove or hot plate (heat gun is ok too) and four spring clamps, oh, and most importantly, you need to make your masters.  
In the picture you can see some of the masters I've made - one is for a McClure three-pass stove top, the other is a two-pass stove top, and then the third one is the precipitator top.  I also tried to form a conical reducer for the McClure flue pipe/stack, but the profile was too extreme and I couldn't get decent results.   All these pieces are turned on a small wood lathe from a 4x4 piece of cedar.  The cedar is soft and easy to turn, however, the grain can be a bit open on the ends - I will need to seal and fill these pieces, but before all that work I run a test just 
to check in the size is right,..etc.  

The vacuum forming process is simple - 

  • Cut a 8" square from .030 styrene
  • Clamp the styrene in the frames using a single spring clamp on each side - center the spring clamps as close as possible (this is so you can balance the assemble on two coffee mugs over the burner
  • Set the vacuum machine and vacuum up next to the stove (electric only)  
  • Place two coffee mugs on each side of the burner, turn it on to high
  • Place the mold master in the center of the vacuum form table
  • Take the frame/styrene and place centered over the burner, with two spring clamps resting on the coffee mugs - don't worry that the frame is wood, it won't be on long enough to catch fire
  • As soon as you place the styrene over the burner, turn on the vacuum so you won't be fumbling with this later, unless you have a helper, then have them turn it on just before setting the plastic.
  • Watch the styrene closely - DO NOT LEAVE THE ROOM, and always have a fire extinguisher close by.   Initially the styrene will begin to soften and the middle might first droop just a little and then it will rise a bit unevenly, as the piece begins to droop again, but this time consistently , get ready.  I usually let the plastic droop about 3/4" or so.  At this point pick up the frame and move over the machine and sort of just place the hot plastic squarely over the table top and - poof - the piece is instantly formed.  
  • Let the vacuum run for 15 seconds or so - this will cool the plastic and harden it
  • Turn off the vacuum
  • Unclamp the frame and remove the master.  
Now that I know I have the right size and know the process will work, I need to still clean up the masters.  I will fill the grain and any blemishes, add detail like rivets and panel seams, and then seal the piece and lightly wax it to make it easy to remove from the plastic.  

Friday, January 30, 2009

Stoves for A-Furnace

I've been working on the A Furnace Stoves a bit as you can see.  The stove structures are built from Rix water tank kits.   For those of you unfamiliar with these kits, they come in three sizes - 25' 40' and 60' and in two different styles of tops - peaked and flat.  The kits are very easy to build, as are most Rix items.  The tanks are built in 8 or 9 scale foot lifts, with each lift comprising of 6 pieces.  The overlap between pieces are at rivet seams so the look is excellent.  Additionally, the overlapping sections have a lip that extends downward that aligns each section on top of the previous one.   One thing that you do need to know is that there are three different sizes of panels (heights) and within each size there are anywhere from two to three styles of panels.   A guide to Rix sections:

Smallest in Height - three rivet lines on vertical seams - 3 versions - no horizontal rivets, horizontal rivets on one edge, horizontal rivets on both edges

Medium Height - two rivet lines on vertical seams - 2 versions - with or without horizontal rivets

Large Height - four rivet lines - 2 versions - with or without horizontal rivets

The first stove I built I just grabbed sections until I hit the prototype height (tallest stove in photo)   If I had to do it again I would have put more thought into it as some of the sections don't come in the smaller packages so I end up buying just the 60' to match the existing pattern.  Also, I end up with extras.  As I said in an early post, the tank sections scale out at 24' diameter as opposed to the actual McClure Stove prototype diameter of about 22' - a sacrifice of scale for the awesome rivet detail on the Rix tanks.    While we are on the subject of these tanks - I also plan to use them for the twin precipitator units located behind A furnace and for the stoves on B furnace.  

I'm going to work on the tapered tops for the stoves this weekend.  I recently purchased Jeff Borne's DVD - Superdetailing a Walthers Blast Furnace Part 2     It turned out to be much better than I ever expected - he's an awesome modeler and the DVD changed my thinking on my approach to a few things.  The reason I started with Part 2 is that he has a section on Three-Pass Stoves.   For the stove tops I originally was going to use either individual wood turnings or resin castings of a wood master.  Borne used vac-formed Plastruct conical sections to good effect.   Not wanting to wait for a Plastruct order, I'm going to create a master, along with a master for the two-pass stove tops on blast furnace B and maybe a few other small parts and vac form these parts from styrene.  Hopefully there will be more of this on the next post.

I started to install my new NCE DCC system this week - for whatever reason after switching the Dynamis system out for the NCE I got a short.  I couldn't find anything obvious so I ended up disconnecting all my feeds and slowly putting them back on.  I still haven't found the short, but have traced it back to the inner loop rail.  The system is pretty nifty for what I have up and running.  Finally we can both control trains at one time since we now have two cabs, and hopefully more to come.  Of course Jimmy and myself got a bit immature (he's entitled, I'm 42) and started chasing each other back and forth until we slammed two $130 engines into each other pretty hard.  We also got a kick out of stealing control from each other of their engines.  Hopefully we will grow up a bit once it's all up and running.  

We also averted a near divorce with the wife earlier this week - just prior to last weekend's four figure spending spree at the Springfield train show I received a call from Bruce, the proprietor of Sattlers - one of the few remaining train stores in the area - that an order had come in - two Walther's Brownhoist cranes and the Plastruct Sintering Plant kit.   I pre-warned the boss(wife) that I would have to pick up and PAY for these items the monday following our jaunt to Mass.   However, by the time I arrived at Sattlers on monday, my other order for the Walther's Electric Furnace kit that was due in February or March was there.   After some shameful un-manly groveling via cell phone and Bruce's price reduction (Fall of Siapan Sale) credit was secured and the kit was mine.  

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cha Ching

I've just returned from the train show in West Springfield - It was my first time there and I think I'm suffering from major model train overload.  There was so much to see and to spend money on.  Figuring this would be the case, we brought a big wad of cash, opting to leave the cards at home.  Something about handing cash to someone gives me anyway, a bit more self control than just swiping a card.   Also, I went with a purpose - to secure a new DCC system for the layout.  I figured there would be show specials that would offset the cost of driving to Mass. a bit.  Going to the show I would say I was 99% committed to buying the Digitrax Super Chief - In reality, I ended up with the NCE system.

What happened?  Well basically I talked to a lot of people at the show.   Here is a list of what changed my mind:
  • At least 50% of the layouts at the show were using NCE - didn't see one using Digitrax
  • The NCE handheld throttle was much easier to use and it's fit and finish was generally nicer.  I had never actually used either and picking both up for the first time and operating trains I was able to pretty much figure out the NCE right off the bat - I had to ask for a lot of help with the Digitrax - it seemed a bit complicated for no good reason.   To be sure, we would have mastered the Digitrax and since we aren't really going to be handing throttles to people and expecting them to learn them this isn't that big of deal, however, it goes to the overall design in my opinion - why make things overly complicated when there is an easier way?  Also, again it partially boiled down to the controller was just nicer for lack of a better word  - both the display and the housing.  
  • Cost - The NCE was more expensive than the Digitrax system was, however, the NCE has a built in serial port for computer interfacing, which we plan to do using JMRI software.  So when you factor in purchasing the Digitrax computer interface separately the difference in costs was only around $30 or so.  
  • I had recently heard quality control issues surrounding Digitrax related to a move - may or may not have been true
  • The NCE system can be updated - the Digitrax cannot.
The system I purchased was the NCE Power Pro - 5amp.  I also purchased an additional controller - the Cab04p,  DCC Specialities Magna Force power supply, DCC Specialties PSX Intelligent Circuit Breakers for  creating power districts, and four fascia panels.  

In addition to this system I bought some more Rix Tanks for building the stoves for the blast furnace, a bunch of detail parts from Tichy and Crow River and others, a GE 44 tonner, and a few other little items.   I could have spent probably twice as much on other good deals or hard to find items, but I'll wait till next year.  Oh, almost forgot - I bought a Miller Engineering sign - General Electric - I was a little hesitant to purchase one of these until I actually saw one in person.   They aren't perfect in that the none graphics portions of the sign are clear plastic, but in the dark they look awesome - I plan to add lighting to most of the layout as it is built.   I'll probably get a few more of these, but they aren't cheap - $45 for the GE one.    This week, I talked to an old friend of mine, a toy designer and inventor, about using this material inside the cast house to simulate the hot iron - he didn't think it would be workable due to the space available in the runners. 

I did get some work done on the layout -  I laid most of the track for approaches to Blast Furnace B, and for the pig casting machine and possibly an electric melt shop.  I've refined my plans a bit and I believe I can fit the pig caster, electric melt shop, blowing house, and boiler house all in the space behind the furnaces, without looking too crowded.  I've also been working on the Plastruct Steel Mill building kit that I was given for Christmas - it's about 75% done and slightly modified from the plans.  By the way, calling this a "kit" is a bit of a stretch, it's basically a set of plans and directions and a pile of scratchbuilding materials.  

Monday, January 19, 2009

Blast Furnace Complex Begins to Take Shape

The picture on the right shows the current status of the Blast Furnace - A.  When working on my trains I tend to get bored if I spend too much time on one thing, so I keep things interesting by working a little on this, a little on that,....etc.  

Since my last post I have:
  • Started constructing the steel framework around the gas cleaning equipment.  The vertical supports are 3/16 H-Beams, which just coincidentally are the longest structural steel pieces sold by Plastruct.  The horizontals are 3/16 I Beams with smaller angle bracing.  Still to be done are three more frames, plus horizontals, x bracing throughout, platforms and stairs, and a service crane at the top.  I also still need to build two larger thermal expansion goggle valves just for this portion of piping.  
  • Three pass stoves -  To the right of the blast furnace you can see the emerging stove structures (black)  the furthest left one is full height.  Originally the prototype Bethlehem Steel Furnace had five of these McClure three-pass stoves, the fifth one being slightly smaller than the rest, however, it was removed at some point after the 1930s so I have opted to only model the four, shown in an l-shaped configuration.  I am using Rix Oil/Water Tank kits to build the stoves - they are 24' diameter tanks, while the prototype stoves were 22' feet.   Unfortunately, the extra two feet or so per stove added up and caused problems with the track clearances, so I am reworking the track in this section.   The Rix kits actually are assembled in steps - six pieces make up a ring and then the rings get stacked.  You need to pay attention as there are actually 7 different types of rings pieces in the kits - they vary in size and rivet pattern.  I make sure I repeat the pattern that I used on the first stoves so they all match.   I will also used these tanks for the two precipitators.   The base plate is 0.08 styrene
  • Casting house.  I originally cut this out from a block of two inch styrofoam but had height problems with the Walthers Torpedo cars.   I had a layer of 1/4" foam board to the bottom and an 0.08 base.  I am forming the hot metal and slag runners from .125 square styrene strip.  I intend to fill in between the runners with a putty or plaster to give it that rough uneven look.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A-Furnace part II

I didn't mean to do a part two, but I guess I can only post two pictures at a time on here.  Or maybe it's the length of the post.  Anyway, here is the completed A-blast furnace body.   It is shown on Mike Rabbit's plans of the prototype.  There is a HO ruler in there for scale, although the plans are HO scale, which makes life real easy.   I still need to drill the holes for the tuyeres - they will go around the second band from the bottom, with the iron and cinder notches below.  The break about a third of the way up is for the steel supports for the furnace.  Four uptakes will be also added to the conical section at top.    For all this work to replicate the prototype, as you can see from the plans, only about an inch or so near the top is outside of the enclosing structure. 

A-Furnace Construction Underway

Furnace A is meant to be a scratchbuilt replica of Bethlehem Steel A-Furnace.  Where possible I am trying to recreate the prototype exactly.  This wouldn't be possible without the plans of this furnace drawn by Mike Rabbit.  I am using the set that shows this furnace after a rebuild in the mid-1950's.  The original furnace was constructed in the 1920's.  The 1950s updates appear to have been mostly related to the gas cleaning systems, but I believe that the top works were redone, as well as some reconfiguring of the stoves.  I chose to model this blast furnace for a number of reasons:
- I've always been a big fan of Bethlehem Steel
- The furnace is small so it will fit under my low basement ceiling
- The furnace used the older 3-pass stoves till it ceased operating - they are more interesting for me to model.  
- There are a fair number of historical and present day photos of this facility
In fact, it is the only Bethlehem furnace that you can partially photograph in detail without needing permission to go on the former plant property.    Despite 
all this information, there are still elements of this structure that I don't have 
any pictures of.  Also, the plans don't include water piping, electrical conduits, steam lines,...etc.    The photo above shows the raw material for the blast furnace body sitting on the floor, Mike Rabbit's plans at the ready for measuring, and the piles of shavings that results from turning these blocks of wood on the lathe. 

  The block was roughly 5.5"x5.5"x14.5"  It was made using five 5/4x6 boards glued and clamped with yellow wood glue.  I glued up blocks for A and B furnace at once, separating the stacks with wax paper.  I allow the whole bundle to dry for two days and then I run the blocks through a table saw to remove the edges and give the block 8-sides.  I do this to save some time turning, but also because even with the edges removed I'm at the limit of my lathe's capacity.   Until the block is turned into a perfect circle the off-center block will cause the lathe to wobble and jump - the more mass and the larger the diameter, the worse the wobble.    To control this to some extent I start turning at 500 rpms, until I get the block round, and then move up to 800 rpms, and then eventually 1200 rpms.  In the picture above you can see the partially turned furnace body  - I was working left to right, so the right side is just rounded, but not shaped yet.  

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Port

The port section of our HO layout is one of the older sections.  It represents a portion of a much larger port facility, only depicting two piers.  The track in this section is all code 70 and will probably remain so, unless we start getting major shorting issues.   The one pier is a coal loading facility, shown in picture on right.  The other pier is a general merchandise pier for loading freighters.  

Both piers are loosely based on prototype practices.  Inspiration for the coal pier is from the New York Ontario and Western facility in Weehawken, NJ, the Norfolk and Western Piers in Virginia, and a facility in Brooklyn I believe originally operated by the navy.  Again, I said loosely based - this structure is obviously the Walther's Ore Dock Kit.   Sometimes Walther's comes out with pure crap, other times, like in this case, a pretty awesome model.   So much so that I had to figure a way to put it in my fictitious northeastern port.   The structure is built, painted, and partially weathered.  It also has rail.  I need to build a connecting line still, which will go through the backdrop to a staging yard and then from there on a long d
owngrade run to the main yard section of the layout which has yet to be built.   I also am going to mount a large sign, the Lackawanna logo looks good for  this on the end of the pier as was the prototype in New York harbor.  I am also going to add lighting to the pier and to add some detail to the backdrop.  You will notice the very intense blue - this might be changed to something more subtle.  At the time I was going for that Kodacrome blue 
that my older slides all have.  

The other pier is based on the "Long Pier" at
the Lackawanna facility in Hoboken, NJ.  It has two tracks and a port crane.  A lot of products from the steel mill will be loaded here onto ships - such as steel beams, rails, coil steel, slabs, and pig iron.   It will allow for a lot of on line freight movements.   At the land side of the facility will be a cement transfer facility (water to rail) that is based on a prototype on the Passaic River in Newark, and several other industries will be partially shown.  

You can also see the primitive form of a freighter.  I've formed the basic shape from foam and will be laminating most of the hull with .020 styrene sheets.   I also hope to fit in a coal barge and a tug.  

The Ore Yard

Even though the prototype, Bethlehem Steel, had their ore yard at a location remote from the blast furnaces, we have chosen to model the traditional ore yard arrangement on the skip hoist side of the furnaces.  

In the photo you can see the preliminary work on the ore yard.  The bridge crane is from a Walthers kit that Jimmy won as a door prize at the Steel Mill Modelers Meet.  He built the kit entirely on his own - not too bad for a 14 year old.  We are going to augment the out of the box kit with scratchbuilt stairs and platforms on both legs, railings along the bridge platforms, and other details.  

 The walls of the ore yard can be seen in the early stages.  Additional buttresses are to be added on the outside of the wall.  The wall is made out of 1/2" MDF.  I use this material a lot.  MDF is basically a particle board with smaller particles and a higher compression.  The thing that is nice about it is that the cut edges can be left as is.  To be sure, they need to be sealed properly and primed before painting.  We will be using 120 grit sandpaper to round over the sharp edges and then using awls to scribe in cracks and other defects.  It will then get painted with a concrete paint and weathered.  Rails will be added to the top of the wall for the bridge crane.   This portion of the yard itself will be modeled using 2" foam that is removable.  

To the right of the ore yard will be the high line.  I have made a prototype section of this already.  It will be a big undertaking involving about 8' of styrene scratchbuilding.  Not extremely complicated, just repetitive.  More on this in a later post.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bethlehem Steel A Furnace

Shown in the photo t is the prototype for my A-Furnace.  It is the left most furnace with the three pass stoves (the ones with stacks on top).  There are actually four stoves - the fourth is next to the furnace, behind the others.  You can see the high-line in front of the stoves and the furnace.  In most cases the photo taker would be standing in the ore yard, but in this case, Bethlehem located the ore yard elsewhere and shuttled the coke, ore, and limestone from there on the high-line.  To the right of the furnace you can make out the downcomer and the dust catcher.  Beyond this is the cylindrical elevator serving A and B Furnaces and then B-Furnace proper.  Although I will have a B-Furnace on my layout, I am not using this B-Furnace as the prototype for that.   

I have started modeling the dust catcher and gas washing equipment related to A-Furnace.  
The photo at right shows the partially built dust catcher and gas washing structure.  The dust catcher was turned from a cedar block using plans purchased from Mike Rabbit.  Portions of the wood were covered in .010 styrene with some minimal details added.  Holes were drilled using forstner bits for the downcomer and gas pipe out.  I applied I-Beams to the outside of the dust catcher in a manner similar to the prototype.  The structure is supported by styrene H-Beams and has a small platform with a simply modeled pug-mill and electric motor (Plastruct M-3) 

The partially modeled gas washer structure is shown in the foreground.   The venturi piping (conical section), drop out chamber unde that, and then the gas washer/cooler were all turned from blocks of poplar.  They are on a base constructed of 1/2" MDF with brick veneer.  The foundations for the venturi and washer are constructed of .040 styrene.  The base and foundations will be painted concrete and a brick color.  I still need to add doors to the foundation structures as well as an elaborate steel framework around the structures and additional piping.  The wall seems to have been built to protect the gas cleaning structure from the slag being poured very close by.  The smaller pipe extending from the top of the washer is a blow off device/tower.  It is 1/2" OD pipe.   

Progress Made

We've made some progress toward the objectives that I stated in an earlier post.  Of course, you never get as much done as you would like, but I'm satisfied.    We spend most summer weekends as well as some fall and spring at the New Jersey shore or on our sailboat, so usually the modeling slows a lot during that time period.  In early September we were reenergized by our attendance at the annual "Steel Mill Modelers Meet"  in Lancaster, PA.  This annual event is organized by John Glaab, owner of Peachcreek Shops in Maryland.    The photo at right shows Jimmy in the display room next to the Magarac Steel Module.  This was Jimmy's favorite room - he spent pretty much every spare moment in it perusing the many items for sale or looking at the excellent model displays.
  I really can't say enough good things about this get together -  the presentations on thursday night and all day friday were excellent, and the layout tours on saturday were equally well done.  We are looking forward to next years event, which I believe will be in North Carolina.  We hopefully will be contributing with a free-mo mo
dule, depicting a modern pipe foundry - look some construction blogs on this in the spring.  

Summarizing the progress on the layout since last spring -
1.  The additional benchwork for the steel mill section is mostly complete and about 75% of the track is down.  We need to go back and substitute curved turnouts on the approach tracks to Blast Furnace A.  We cheeped out and used standard LH/RH/and wye #4s and the flow just doesn't look right.  We still need to lay all the service tracks for Blast Furnace B and extend the main switching lead in this area.   We have modified the plan slightly and this 
area of the layout will include two blast furnaces, a partially modeled ore yard with bridge cran
e, a portion of a rolling mill,  a high-line to service the blast furnaces, a heat treatment shop, a pig casting machine,  and many auxilliary structures.    We are modeling the Open Hearth Furnaces on a different part of the existing layout.   
2.  The steel mill staging yard is mostly complete.  All that remains is to build a connecting line to the high-line.   This yard will serve as the destination for all freight transfers from the main line.  From there cars will be sorted for different trains serving various parts of the mill.  The yard will also serve as staging for the remainder of the mill not modeled.  For example, we are not modeling a slag dump, so slag from A Furnace (B Furnace will have a slag pit) will be transfered to this yard, representing the move to the dump.  The recent book on Bethlehem Steel Railroads was a valuable source of prototypical operation info.  
3.   The connector line from the main, thru the mill, to the staging yard is complete.  This is one part of my layout that I'm pretty unhappy with because of the extreme grade.   I have
two basic choices - lower the entire rest of the layout or live with it.  It functions fine, actually much better than I ever thought, but it just looks bad visually.  I don't have the room for a loop or helix so I'll have to live with it.   (If you don't remember, the steel mill portion has to be lower so the blast furnaces will clear my low ceiling)
4.  I've been working in spurts on Blast Furnace A.  (this in the next few blogs)
5.  Coke works partially built.
6.  More work on the port section of the layout.

So Much for blogging more regularly

Despite not updating my blog in over half a year, progress on the layout and steel mill has continued.  My New Years resolution is to update this blog regularly, so we will see how long that lasts.  I'll start tomorrow with a series of updates on the steel mill and our other activities.