Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I made my mind up to go for broke on the pig casting machine - after heating and reclamping and then glueing on braces and the legs of the mold belt, I figured I might as well mount it to the lower building as the foundation construction, made out of .080 styrene was going to go a long way in bracing about half the belt.  With all this done, the belt is pretty straight, the only problem being the upper 25% - I might have to weight down the upper structure or glue it down to get this slight warpage out.   It's late and I'm tired so pictures will suffice for the results.  If you look real close you will see that I'm putting a small disk punched from .020 styrene at the joint between every two molds.  It's a bit tedious - have about half done.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Not really reporting much progress on this furnace - actually in a way I'm loosing ground.  I've decided to give the almost finished stoves to B-Furnace.   The reasons? - Primarily scale.  I've been trying to stay as close to the prototype on A-Furnace as possible (The prototype being Bethlehem Steel A-Furnace).  One thing that has been bugging me has been that the Rix Tanks that I used for the stove bodies scale out to around 24', however, the prototype stoves were around 21'-22'.   Now you are saying - 2', give me a break, however, when you layout the stoves on their foundations, all other issues start to creep up.  These structures were very close together in the prototype, so when you add 2' to each, you need to re-space everything, and then you start running into clearance problems in an area that was already tight.  Another problem was appearance.  I had started working on a test mock-up for the stacks - my plan is to finish the top of the stoves with a .060 styrene disk and then glue in the center the base of the stack with a hole drilled for the 5/8" pipe.  Then I will cut a hole in the vac-formed top and slide it over the whole thing.   This would make for a pretty sturdy stack which I figure sooner or later might get bumped.   See picture of assembly.  When I temporary placed this on the finished stove body, it just looked a little off - not like the pictures I have of the prototype - it's amazing what a difference 2' will make.  
So what's the alternative - Plastruct tubing?  well, I like the rivet detail on the Rix tanks.  Then in an email correspondence with Vince Altiere he tells me he used 5 pieces to form the stove instead of the 6 the kit calls for.   Thankfully someone was thinking a bit creatively.   So I try it - it works great - you just need to let the glue set up on the five sections before closing the ring.   This assembly scales out at around 20' or so - looks much more appropriate for stoves that were built in the 1920's.   So I've been going back and forth about scrapping the whole mess - using it for the B-Furnace stoves,...etc.  - I finally decide to shift these stoves to B-Furnace and start over on the A-Furnace stoves - then I start thinking some more - about hitting that 22' dead on - so tonight I tried 5 sections plus one half a section - scales to a perfect 22'.  I loose the rivet detail on the seam with the half piece, but I'll position the stoves so that the cut pieces face each other and aren't that visible.  It's a bit of work, but I think it will be worth it.    Just to check on the 24' stoves for B-Furnace I pulled out my 1930 copy of the "Directory of the Iron and Steel Works of the United States and Can
ada"    Just under Bethlehem Steel - the Bethlehem plant had all 22' diameter stoves, the Steelton Plant had a mix with some 24' and 22'.  Sparrows point had 20' and 22' stoves.  So all three variations of the Rix tank - 5 , 5.5, and 6 sections will give you prototypically correct stoves.    


Once again work is progressing faster on B-Furnace than A.  I took a break from the pig casting machine problems and did just a little work on B-Furnace.   Started to build the stairs in the top works.  I've decided to build most of the railings throughout both structures from scratch after seeing Jeff Borne's DVD "Superdetailing a Walthers Blast Furnace Part 2"  - I skipped part 1 and went straight to part 2 as it had more things that interested me.  At first I thought this might be difficult, but a pair of tweezers and some glue and a steady hand make it relatively simple.  It's actually fairly relaxing.   I've also decided to use the mostly built A-Furnace stoves for B-Furnace instead.  I'll talk more about the reasons for this in the following A-Furnace blog.  The picture shows them in temporary place next to the furnace.  I will need to fabricate a foundation for them.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Thanks to all those who have suggested solutions for the warpage problems I've been having with the Pig Casting Machine's mold conveyor belt.  Especially thanks to the yahoo steel group.  
I still haven't quite figured out what is causing the problems, although I have been having many similar problems with other structures.  A big problem I think is recreating the prototype using beam sizes from the original plans.  These beams are small and very flexible - I might need to start to compromise a bit on sticking to scale in return for a more solid structure.   What I have learned - 
  • You can use heat, despite many warnings on this, to readjust the assembly.  I used an electric stovetop burner -  set on high and I moved the assembly back and forth over the heat with the bow facing up.  Doing this allowed the weight of the structure to sag the center - I quickly put the assembly on a flat surface and weighted down
  • Heat is only a temporary fix - eventually the warpage started to return.
The heating did allow me to flatten the structure enough to join the upper and lower belt assemblies using clamps, spacers,...etc.  See the picture for the details.  I'm hoping that by the time I add all the bracing,...etc.  the structure will be rigid enough to hold its own shape.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

TRACK PLAN Part 1 - Lower Works

While I work out my styrene issues on the pig caster I took a break and finally put together a primitive track plan of The Lower Works.    I apologize in advance for the poor quality, but I have no drawing program that I have mastered enough to accomplish a decent result in a short time.  

The red lines are tracks in the mill, the blue lines represent the mainline, which just briefly pass through the mill.  As I have said before I have a small basement so this should serve to show what can be done in a small space - Most of the track shown, other than the high-line is installed.  Most of the buildings are either under construction or in the planning phase.  This is just a portion of the layout - in addition to the main snaking around the main room in the basement, I also have a small port section, a long narrow section with the coke works and later, some non-steel industry.  A third addition,  3'x14' has yet to be started.  Originally this was supposed to be a large yard with a passenger terminal and city.   I am going back and forth on this right now as to whether to just add some steel mill structures -either partially or entirely.  At the minimum, an EAF (electric arc furnace) will be located there.  

Back to the Lower Works - As of now the following structures are under construction or planned - 
  • Blast Furnace A - Replica of Bethlehem Steel A-Furnace - Scratchbuilt - under construction
  • Blast Furnace B - Semi-replica of USS Duquesne #3 Furnace (also will produce ferro-manganese - Scratchbuilt - under construction
  • Pig Casting Machine - Single Strand - Scratchbuilt - under construction
  • Ore Yard - Modified Walther bridge crane - under construction
  •  Rolling Mill - Walthers Kit with Pravik Resin castings and scratchbuilt rolling mill interior details
  • Heat Treatment #3 - Replica of Beth Steel Heat Treatment #3 (the High House or Gun Shop) - Scratchbuilt - planning phase
  • Blowing Engine House - waiting for new walther's kit to evaluate - maybe scratchbuild
  • Boiler House - either kitbash or using modular sections
  • Other structures - the will be numerous other small structures.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Work continues on the mold conveyor belt section of my pig casting machine.  It has been extremely tedious work, building each idler wheel assembly and each pig mold.  I also have been having problems with the styrene warping.  Most of the basic framework was relatively flat after being built, however, after I glued on the separately assembled pig mold belt, the entire assembly curved badly - to the point I am worried about getting it all flat ultimately when I assemble the return belt section to the upper belt section.  If anyone has experienced this and dealt with it successfully I would like to hear all suggestions.  I might be hoping for too much that the assembly will square itself upon final glue up.   The picture shows the upper belt assembly - rear on an angle, and the return belt assembly, flat and weighted down by glue bottles and other things.  The pig molds are made from 1/8" Plastruct deep channels with .030x.100 sides - I will go back later and add small round punch outs at the joint between every two molds.

Monday, March 16, 2009


This will apply to basically any type of tubing, however, I have mostly been using wood dowels for fabricating bends and tees.  Plastic can be cut using the same saw, but the blade should be changed to a plastic cutting blade. 
Creating these parts from wood dowels isn't hard.  You just need to make a jig to hold the piping to be cut - and - you need to establish a reference line that you can use to align the piece in the saw and drill, and later, use these lines while gluing up the pieces.  
The Jig -

As you have seen in some of my earlier posts,
I don't believe in spending a lot of time or money building jigs or tools.  The jig for piping will wear out pretty quickly.  You will need to make one for each size pipe you wish to cut. 

  The jig is made from a scrap of 3/4" plywood and two hardwood fences -  The rear fence is about 1"x1"x the length of the jig (which is about 12" in this case but it doesn't really matter)   The inside fence needs to be exactly half the diameter of the tubing in thickness, in this case, 3/8" x 1".  

To assemble the jig - first, glue the rear fence in place along the edge of the board, use spring clamps to hold.   Then, using a scrap dowel as a gauge, install the inner fence using glue and spring clamps.  I don't use any metal fasteners, as they might damage the blade or drill bit.  

Reference Line - this is a simple thing, but important in terms of creating consistently sized parts and for aligning these parts while glueing them together.  Basically, just put the dowel in the jig and draw a pencil line across it,  using the inside fence as a guide.  Also mark the rear fence of the jig using a ruler, again at the half way mark. Rotate the dowel until the line across it lines up with the mark on the rear fence, and then drag a pencil across the front fence - at this point you should have two lines, directly on either side of the tube.  Whenever you cut or drill, always align one of these lines with the front fence.   When you glue up the tubing, align the reference marks and you will end up with no twists in the elbow


I've been making more progress with B-Furnace, primarily in the top works department.  

I added reducers to the uptakes to go from the 3/4" Plastruct tubing to 5/8".  I also added the two
 upper platforms and some of the structural steel framework.   This furnace, based on US Steel's Dusquesne Works #3 had a single skip car.  I've decided to keep this configuration to make things interesting.  The sheave is a Grandt Line O-Scale mine sheave that I had lying around for an 0n30 project.  It scales in HO to almost a perfect match for the prototype.  I also started the bell assembly - the bell was turned from a block of mahogany I had lying around and the receiving hopper was built from .040 and 0.30 styrene.   I also started to build the downcomers.  

You will notice that I am using both Plastruct tubing and wooden dowels to represent the piping.   There was some discussion at the last Steel Mill Modelers Meet about using wood in models and problems with styrene.  Styrene can be frustrating sometimes, especially when using the smaller structural shapes.  
While the Plastruct tubing isn't styrene and seems to be a little more stable than styrene, there are two problems - it is relatively expensive, especially given all the piping I will eventually have, and more importantly the elbows they sell don't represent prototype practices.  Remember, we are talking about 8' diameter pipes in some cases - not something you can pick up an elbow for at the plumbing supply house.  The turns of these large pipes were done in segments, welded together.  I'm using 15 degree angles for my segments, which look about right.   

Some other benefits to using wood are that you can use wood glue to stick the pieces together - this glue is super strong once dry and the joints are unlikely to fail; and wood is easy to fill and sand to ease any sharp edges.    For a $2 wood dowel you can fabricate about $30 of Plastruct parts.    Of course there are cons too - namely the weight of the material; the bond between the plastic and wood; more prep for painting (ie sealing and filling); and you can't really use it to represent any type of stack that you can see the top of.  You will see me mixing and matching materials.  The second photo shows glued up, but not sanded piping segments.    A word of caution - it's not as easy as it might appear to make these wood parts, but there are a few simple jigs and techniques that will make it simpler.  I'll cover these in a future blog - TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Shifted gears a bit on the pig casting machine and began work on the actual machine part of the complex - I'll be back working on the lower building soon.   Essentially a pig casting machine is a conveyor belt of pig molds - hot iron is poured into these moving molds on the low end and, with the help of water sprays, the pig sets and is dumped out of the mold and into a waiting gondola on the high end.  The electric motor and drive system is on the high end.   

 The conveyor is primarily a bunch of I beams and angles with rollers for the pig mold belt and then the molds themselves.  Originally I'd been thinking of using some sort of large scale corrugated siding to represent the molds, however, this would have been a poor representation.  I also had thought of making a master and casting the individual molds and rollers in either metal or resin - this would have taken forever to make tha
t many castings.  In the meantime I came across Plastruct U-channel structural shapes. These are only manufactured in a few sizes but they would solve both my problems - the smaller size (3/32) I used for the brackets for the rollers - the rollers themselves are made from .040 styrene using a punch.  The larger U-channel, (1/8) will be used for the actual pig molds.  I spaced the rollers per Mike Rabbit's plans on 1/8" H-columns with 5/32 I Beam cross members.  There are walkways on both sides made from .030 styrene.   Next - the pig molds and links, the lower return belt, and the supports and roof for this structure.  

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


A little more work on the hot iron end of the pig casting machine.  I've added some additional diagonal bracing, mostly .080 or .060 Evergreen angle, the crane rails, and some of the corrugated roofing/siding.  I intend on leaving the one wall of the building without siding  so the interior of the structure is visible.   I still have some diagonal bracing above the crane rail to do and also the framing for the structure enclosing the actual pig machine.  

My son Jimmy turns 15 tomorrow (actually today, it's past midnight) and I have been working on a present for him the past few nights so the steel mill structures were put on hold a bit.  Besides model railroading, one of his other hobbies is wargaming.  Specifically he plays a game called Warhammer 40,000.  It is science fiction themed wargame that uses 25mm scale miniatures (that is the equivalent of S-Scale).   There are hundreds of commercially available miniatures for building your army - all either in plastic or metal, and all unpainted.  Besides playing the game it takes a lot of time to build and paint your army.  Jimmy plays with an Ork Army.  The Orks are large ugly green creatures that rely on numbers and brute strength.  They are not very intelligent and thus have no technology of their own, but are masters at taking captured machines and other junk and turning them into weapons.  The results are usually not very sleek machines.  This model I build for him is of an Ork Dreadnaught - basically a large armored fighting suit.  I didn't use any plans to build this but just based it on some pictures I'd seen and free lanced things.  Ork machines don't come off an assembly line so there is really no standard, which makes things fun and easy.  It's mostly made of .060 and.040 styrene with some Evergreen structural shapes.  The only commercial parts are two pieces from the Walther's industrial tank kit.  It was a lot of fun to build and a nice break from building things off plans.  I'm giving it to him unpainted - he will finish it and I'll post another picture.  


Sunday, March 8, 2009


I've made a little bit of progress on the pig casting machine.   The machine is based on a prototype machine from Chester, PA, although I am making a few minor changes.  I am using plans that I purchased from Mike Rabbit.    Although its a relatively small and simple structure, the framing is taking a bit of time - the main support posts are 5/16 Evergreen I-Beams that have been modified for the crane on the one end.  There are also an additional 4 styrene strips per piece.   The crane beam is also made out of 5/16 Evergreen material.  The roof trusses are made from .060 and .080 angles with .020 gusset plates - there are 21 individual pieces in each truss.  

 The next step is to finish this structure - I still need to: finish the post supports,  add more diagonal bracing, add crane rails, wires, and bumpers, build a control booth, build the well for the actually casting machine, and install siding on the building.

Also left is the entire upper structure, the crane, and the casting machine.  

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Some more pictures from a recent research trip.  
The bridges of Linden, NJ -  two neat little lift bridges on the Elizabeth River between Linden and Elizabeth, NJ -  not railroad structures but would still make nifty little models, especially the bascule bridge.  Believe it or not the bascule bridge is still manned - it appears the only boat traffic are a half dozen small motor boats just west of this bridge (the bascule) - the remainder of the river is devoid of any sort of marine facilities.    The Elizabeth River starts just to the east of the Bascule bridge at the Arthur Kill.  (The Arthur Kill runs between Raritan Bay and Newark Bay with the east shore being Staten Island and the west shore, New Jersey.  The main channel into New York harbor actually parallels the Arthur Kill, but on the eastern side of Staten Island.)    
The other photo is of a I have no clue locomotive.  It was taken at a junkyard just south of the Bascule Bridge in the Bayway section of Linden, NJ .   The hood looks sort of GE 44 tonner but Im not sure about the headlamps.  Also the trucks?  Someone said maybe a military 44 tonner that has been modified - help.  Please email me if you know.  If someone made a model version it would be right at home in a model steel mill

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


The coke works that will supply fuel to my furnaces is located on an older section of the layout.  Because of space constraints it will only be partially modeled.  I'm using a kitbashed New River Mining kit as the basis for the coal/coke crusing/prep building, a Walther's Gas Works for the coke ovens, a Vulcan Manufacturing kit for the Ammonia Sulfate/byproducts building, and a Walther's gas holder kit.  Most are modeled and are awaiting paint.   I am also scratchbuilding a number of details.   

The first photo shows my guide car, built out of styrene per plans and instructions published in Model Railroader Magazine as part of an article by Dean Freytag.   I am only modeling the one side of the coke ovens where the coke comes out - so I will need to build the guide car, a door car, a quench car, and the larry car for the top of the ovens.  I do not need to build the pusher as it won't be visible anyway.   I thought maybe Walthers would issue the quench car that is part of the new coke works kit separately, but it doesn't appear at this time that will happen so I plan on building it on a flat car body, again per Dean Freytag's article.  

The other photo shows the ammonium sulphate building which would have been part of any by-products recovery at the prototype.  I am lighting the interiors of most of my buildings so I wanted some interior  details.  As they are only going to be barely visible - nothing perfect, just representative of the overall flavor of what would be going on inside.  In this case I used parts from an old Vollmer Oil Refinery kit.

DETAILS - Part 1

Just received a scrap bucket (left) and teaming ladle from Brandon Wehe.  They are very nice resin castings with some plastic details added.  I plan on purchasing many more of these items to detail the electric furnace and open hearths.   Included with the order were some very helpful sheets on detailing these items, which I plan to do in the near future, so stay tuned for more on these.   

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Began work on my pig casting machine today.  This will be located behind the blast furnaces and will be a destination for the hot iron from them.  The first photo shows the pig caster at Bethlehem Steel.  For those not familiar with these machines, they are basically a conveyer belt system of molds.  The hot iron is poured into the molds on the low end and as the belt makes it way up to the high end, the iron cools, sometimes with the help of water sprays, and as the belt turns, the pig falls out and down a chute into a gondola usually.   The machines in the pictures are what is know as double-strands - in that there are two separate mold belts.  Actually this facility was two double strands, so four belts of pig molds could be running at once.  At some mills, especially merchant iron plants, all the iron was cast into pigs using these machines, which is some cases were directly connected to the cast house so the hot iron didn't need to be transported in railcars.  At other mills, like Bethlehem the machines were used as needed.  If there was a need and market for pig iron, and sometimes because there was no need for all the iron coming out of the furnaces - excess iron was cast into pigs and stored for sale or use later.

My machine will represent a small, single strand facility.  It is based on a prototype that was in I believe Chester, PA.  I purchased a set of plans from Mike Rabbit that he drew of this facility.  The prototype was attached to the cast house, however, I am making mine a stand alone facility.  I am trying to stay true to the plans as much as possible.

I am starting with the construction of the low end of the caster - I've inverted the arrangement from the plans and simplified and modified the foundation just a slight bit.  It is built on a base of .060 styrene with balsa wood for the foundation.  The main supports, which I need to build 6 (four are shown) are built from 5/16 styrene I-Beams with .020 styrene strips added to the one flange to model the arrangement at the prototype.  The upper part of the beam is cut back to allow for the crane supports.  

The roof truss, one shown out of five I need to model is built using .080 and .060 angle with .020 webbing.  The .080 is a little larger than I would have liked but I was concerned about going smaller and having the plastic deform on me.