Wednesday, April 29, 2009


By now you probably have come to realize that I don't just work on one project at a time.   For me, part of the fun of model railroading is researching the prototype and the coming up with a plan to model it.  These ideas usually come in spurts, and I usually want to get right into the project.   I'm not big on developing an elaborate set of plans.  I build things for a living, I always have other than a brief foray into the office world, so I am used to jumping right into things.  That being said, you need to have another skill to be able to make that quick jump - you need to be able to visualize a project 20 steps ahead, otherwise you are usually in for a disaster.   What's my point here?  Two things - if you can visualize that way, go for it, get your hands dirty as soon as possible, however, if you can't, make a set of scale drawings, triple check all your dimensions, and use these drawings as templates and guides for building.   The other point is you will see me jump from a nearly completed Pig Casting Machine, to the preliminary work on another model, and then back.  Don't be alarmed, I don't think I have ADD.
Heat Treatment #3 is a building at Bethlehem Steel, in Bethlehem.  It is a unique building in that it was built to allow the heat treatment of very long narrow pieces of steel.  Initially I believe it was built to specifically treat large gun barrels, but from what I have read it also was used to treat propellor shafts and maybe other things.  The building houses two furnaces, an oil quenching tank, an assembly bay, and a transport bay.  The building is 155' tall, however, the furnaces, assembly bay, and quenching tank extend another 35' into the ground.  For all this height it is less than 50' wide.   There are two smaller bays on each of the short ends.  These are only 56' tall - one houses the hoist for the unique, 100 ton crane, and the other housed gas producers to fuel the two furnaces.    The proportions of the building work out well on a model railroad as the footprint is relatively small, for a steel mill, but the vertical effect is interesting.  
I will be modeling this structure pretty much to scale.  I have to reduce the size of the hoisting bay by half to fit the structure where I want it on the layout.  I had thought about reducing both bays equally but the hoist only used up the first half of that bay anyway (I'm not sure what the rest was used for)  and the other bay was filled by the gas producers, which I might model. (I'm pretty sure the building was eventually converted to use clean blast furnace or coke works gas.  By now I guess you can tell I plan on modeling the interior of the structure too.  I am locating the building on the edge of my layout and plan on leaving one wall completely off.  

The first two issues that have come up in my planing are - 1) there are no commercially made window castings that will match the prototype, and 2) the building framing is very unique.
You can see from the photo that I am experimenting with using Tichy parts to build up larger windows.  They match the prototype size very closely except for not having an arched top.  Many of the windows in the prototype building were actually replaced at one point with smaller units but I am trying to stick with the original design look.  
The framing issue is a bit more complicated.  The method used to build this building was only used in the construction of a half dozen buildings at Bethlehem Steel - that's it.  It consisted of unique columns (which are mostly buried in the brick walls and thus don't have to be modeled) and trusses made of built up angles and flat stock, and these unique stamped steel pieces.   In the picture you can see my first truss - The verticals and diagonals are .020x.125 strip with .100 half rod applied to each side.  These are sandwiched between two .020x.188 strips top and bottom, and then two .060 angles.  Finally, I added a top and bottom plate of .030x.188 strip.  So there are a total of 10 horizontal elements and probably around 60 vertical and diagonal.  This truss took at least 2 hours to build and probably $8 in plastic.  I will need to make 6 of these and then some much longer ones for the crane supports.  I have thought of spending another few hours adding rivet detail individually and then making resin castings of these, but the half round shape tapering off at the top and bottom of each structural cord will make a weak point and also a tough spot for the resin to pass thru while casting.   At this point I think I will just press ahead and spend the time building styrene versions, without the rivets.

Monday, April 27, 2009


Work last week focused on the upper building of the pig casting machine.  I've added some interior detailing - motor, transmission, electrical relay box, some electrical conduits and a control stand.  The motor is a Plastruct unit and the electric relay box is from Details West  The rest is styrene.  I'm not sure of what exactly the inside of one of these buildings look liked - just guessing.  I have some pictures of the machine and the transmission, but not much as to controls,..etc.  
The door is a Tichy product and the windows are f
rom SS Ltd.  They have tilting sashes, which I will add after painting and glazing them and the structure.   The chute for the finished product was added.  I'm working on the staircase and some additional detail items on the conveyor.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Just a quick update on the pig caster as it is late.  
I've done some more work on what I call the upper building.  I removed the heavy diagonal braces I put in originally - they just didn't look right.  They did square up the legs but instead I'll glue the finished model in place and that should keep everything square.   I am only loosely following Mike Rabbit's plans for the upper building as my trackwork is different than that of the caster in his drawings so I had to make the building longer, to bridge both tracks.  I did had some new angles as diagonal bracing.  Using .060 square stock and .100 channel I've built the framing for the roof over the conveyor section.  So far so good, except for constantly running out of Evergreen materials.   The angle formed by the roof over the conveyor simply extends above the upper building forming the same angled roof.   
You can also see that I've added the spout for pouring the hot iron - made of styrene and brick sheet scraps.  And I've framed and sheathed the roof over the conveyor in the lower building.    Getting close with this structure - I still need to:
Finish the upper building, stairs,..etc.
Finish the conveyor belt - details, roof, railings
Install the lime spray box
Control booth for lower building
Crane for lower building.
Paint and weather

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A week away from Modeling

I've been away from the model railroad for the past four days or so but should be back at work tomorrow night and hopefully have something to post.   
I was on a four day backpacking trip with my son's Boy Scout troop to the Adirondack Mountains. Had a great time.  Still snow on the ground in the woods, but the temperatures and weather was mild for the trip, except for some rain on saturday.   The photo is a view from the top of Treadway Mountain 

Monday, April 13, 2009


Short night in the basement tonight.  I wanted to attach the elevator structure permanently to the foundation but first I needed to add the doors and platform while I could work on things flat.  Let me preface the following by saying that I don't have any real prototype information on these elevator structures.  Some are round and others are square and that is about the extent of my knowledge.  I assume the outer structure just houses a basic construction type elevator.  So basically what I am getting at is that if you see this and my door placement is wrong,...etc., I'd be interested in learning more, but I probably won't go back and correct things.  I am trying to maintain a balance between adhering to the prototype exactly and getting my blast furnaces built.  I could spend another year or two researching things and gathering every detail, but short of actually walking through the prototype (which is gone) and taking a million photos and measurements, Ill never be 100% accurate anyway.  I want a believable, interesting, and well modeled structure when I'm finished, but I also want to finish and run trains.  
On my elevator I've installed four doors - three elevator doors, each one a double door totaling 4'x7' and then a single 3'x7' door for accessing the hoist equipment, near the roof.  The first 4' door is on the ground and the other two are on each of the two platforms on the small stove.  The 3' door is located on a platform reached by a caged ladder from the highest elevator door level.   The doors were made of .020 styrene, with scale 2x4 styrene trim and a piece of styrene rod to represent the door handles.  For caged ladders I like the Plastruct units.  There are others that have a bit finer lines but are difficult to assemble.  The Plastruct ladders are easy to build and durable.  For platforms I usually use at least .030 styrene but sometimes .040, both with .040 square strips under for reinforcing.   For railings I scratchbuild them entirely.  I have used Plastruct or Tichy railings in the past with good affect, however, I always had to compromise when it came to the spacing of the verticals, unless by dumb luck, things worked out perfect.  I saw Jeff Bourne building his own railings and at first thought it was crazy to try that, but, I've found it to be easy and fast.   I use .030 square stock for the verticals, which in real-size  would be around 2-3 scale inches.  For the horizontals I use .020x.040  - this will bend into a tight circle, something impossible to do with manufactured railings.   The picture shows some of the doors and rails on the elevator. You can also see the scribe lines simulating panels in the corrugated siding.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


It's late and I'm running out of blogging steam so I'll just post a picture of the pig casting machine - I've added some more steel framework to the lower buildings and I started building the upper structure which is shown in the picture.


The stove tops vac-formed in the previous blog were attached to the top of the Rix water tank stove bodies.  For the most part they fit well but a little filler and sanding was needed to smooth the transition.   The shape looked very close to the prototype, however, they were of course, too smooth looking, lacking in rivet detail.   Some people have taken to scribing lines in the tops to represent panel lines, however, I thought rivets were needed given all the rivet detail on the stove bodies.  I thought of using Tichy individual rivets, but that would have taken many many hours.  Instead I used strips of styrene, .010x.080 with rivets embossed with a pounce wheel to represent the riveted panel seams.  It is not perfect, but I like the overall look of it.  The grey primer was to check the look of the rivet strips.  
You will also notice that I sided the elevator using Evergreen corrugated siding - .040 thick with .040 spacing.  You will see me go through a lot of this material in the coming months.  Unfortunately for me it isn't cheap - about $5 for a small single sheet.  The elevator, which is a smaller structure used two and a half sheets.    I still
 need to add - four doors for the elevator - the door at the base, doors at both of the stove upper walkways, and a maintenance door near the top of the shaft.  I am waiting on these until I get all the walkway heights set.  Oh - I attached the sheets of corrugated material with Walthers Goo and then used liquid solvent glue to adhere the corners to each other, incase the Goo ever were to fail.   I also scribed horizontal panel lines about every 10'.  Since a full sheet of corrugated material wasn't enough to do one side in one piece, I made sure to line up the seams, and start measuring for the scribed lines from that.  

Saturday, April 11, 2009


In an earlier post I talked about vac-forming plastic.  I had made three molds or plugs - tops for both two and three pass stoves, and a top for a precipitator.   Since I am re-building the three pass stoves with a smaller diameter I will have to modify that mold and the mold for the two pass stove (pictured on top of a stove in the last B-Furnace blog) just didn't look right when comparing it with the historical photos.    The mold that I made was essentially a half sphere, similar to the Plastruct parts.  If you look at the prototype photo, the tops are spherical but, not fully half of a sphere, more like a third.  
So I took the mold and put it back on the lathe and turned it down a bit more until I got the shape I wanted.  I set up the former next to the kitchen stove and went to work.  It's quick work as there is no dry time or anything, about 15 minutes to set up and make five pieces.  I made five - four for the stoves and one for the top of the unique dust catcher.   The dust catcher top appears to be basically identical to the stove tops.   I used .040 plastic for forming these parts.  That is a little thicker than I normally would use but I am happy with the results and should have a nice durable part.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


All the details for the stove foundation have been worked out pretty much to my satisfaction.  The base is constructed of 3/4" MDF which I sealed with shellac.   The height of this scales out to about what I can guestimate from the pictures - I counted the steps going up to this level.  This of course will be painted to represent a concrete foundation.  In looking at stove configurations at different furnaces it appears that two pass stoves are almost always on a raised foundation as they have flues underneath connecting to a central stack.   You can see from the picture the basic layout - from left to right - two stoves close together, the stack, another stove, the skip hoist (not shown), a smaller stove (not sure why this stove is shorter than the others, but it adds some interest to the scene) and finally the elevator.  I also used MDF for the core of the elevator.  I placed the mold for the stove tops on one stove to see how it looks.  In comparing it with the photos I think I will have to re-turn this or make a new one as the shape needs to be changed slightly.  I'm excited to get going on this assembly so look for more on this in the near future.  
It's the four eyed blast furnace.  I was in a Michaels and I remembere
d someone talking about using teddy bear eyes in modeling.  Lately I've been trying to find materials in unconventional places.  The last picture shows what $6 will get you - a bunch of teddy bear eyes and woodend disks in all sorts of assorted sizes.   

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


I continued working on the casthouse, adding the foundation piers and steel column supports under the pouring floor.  The concrete piers were made from 3/8" and 1/4" square tubing.   The steel is 3/16 H-Columns with .060 angle diagonals.   I also cut holes in the floor for the hot metal and slag runners.  Again, I have deviated from the prototype a bit and developed my own layout based on the rolling stock I will be using.  There are four hot metal spouts - I can spot 4 ladle type cars, which were actually used at the USS Central Furnace prototype; or 2 torpedo cars.  I can spot 5 slag cars.  
Have you ever just sat down to test out a technique and end up building a whole model?  Well that is sort of what happened with the stack for the B-Furnace stoves.  A
s I don't have a scale drawing of the Central Furnaces prototype I am guessing on a lot of the sizes.  I bought a 1.25" piece of PVC pipe to use as the stack thinking that the outside diameter of a little over 1.5" would look right - it didn't , so I ended up using a 1.25" diameter wood dowel as the core for the stack.  I wrapped it with .010 styrene with embossed rivet details.  The pieces of styrene were about 1.25" wid
e - they are alternated so every other sheet is directly glued to the core and the other sheets overlap both edges.  So, on the one sheet I only emboss three rivet lines on the short vertical edge, but on the other sheets, the top and bottom horizontal edges get a row of rivets too.  I use a cheap (less than a dollar) pounce wheel I picked up at Joanne's Fabrics to make the rivets.  I need to go back and clean up a few 
of the joints - .010 plastic melts real fast if you aren't careful with the joints.  


Not much to report in the way of progress on this model or any others for that matter.  I spent most of the weekend down in Maryland getting my sailboat ready for launching later this week.   I used to think model railroading was a cheaper hobby than boating, but lately they are leveling out.   
It's a little off topic but I'm posting a picture of my b
oat - it is a 28' sloop manufactured by Cal-Jensen in 1972.  It weights about 5300lbs, which is relatively light for a sailboat of that size.  About 2000lbs of that is in the keel (the big fin on the bottom) which is a solid lead casting.  It is attached to the boat by 3/4" stainless bolts, and hopefully never falls off.  The primary propulsion is of course the two sails, with an auxiliary engine.  The engine was originally a 9 hp two cylinder Volvo diesel.  In the event of a complete failure of the electrical system, this engine could still be started using a hand crank.  Unfortunately, the galvanized fuel tank behind the engine was leaking and the only way to take it out was to remove the engine.  Given the age of the engine and the fact that it had been cooled by salt water for 35 years I decided not to reinstall it and now use a 9.9h
p four stroke outboard motor when needed.  I have kept the boat in Avalon, near Cape May, NJ for the past 8 years and sailed it primarily in the Atlantic Ocean, up the coast to New England and over to the Chesapeake.  In November I sailed it over to Maryland where I will keep it for this summer, sailing out of the Sassafrass River onto the Chesapeake Bay.  Yes - I will be sailing it over to Baltimore for some waterfront viewing of Sparrows Point.  
Back to the pig casting machine - I did cut a hole in the layout for the subterranean conveyor assembly.  You can see how it will look in place and also it will allow me to make some precise
 measurements for the upper building.  I will have to deviate from Mike Rabbit's plans in the construction of this structure as my trackwork is more compact than what was shown on the plans.  I will have to extend the structure so I can place supports without interfering with the trains, and it will have to span both tracks.  

Saturday, April 4, 2009


As I explained in the previous blog, I'm now using a combination of two prototypes for my B-Furnace.  In the process of researching the historical photos showing Central Furnaces in Cleveland, I took a liking to the boiler house at this furnace.   There is only one end view of the actual building and a few shots from far away that just show the unique stack arrangement.  It appears that this structure was built sometime between 1940 and the mid-1950s.  
It is basically a large corrugated steel building.  It should be a simple project if I can figure out the window arrangement on the side I can't see.   To both save money and prevent spending a lot of time on interior bracing, I've opted to build the core of the building from 1/4" MDF.  I will simply laminate Evergreen corrugated styrene to the building.  Any window or door openings will be made quickly with an oversized drill and then the styrene will be cut to the precise size.  I used the picture I had to scale off dimensions the best I could.   - I figured about 84' wide and the length I just did by eye and was a complete guess.  I spent about 20 minutes cutting out the pieces - one foundation, two end walls, two side walls, and four roofs.  I also cut out a 3/4" piece of MDF to use as an internal brace and also as a platform to rest the stacks on. 
The building was assembled using yellow wood glue and blue painters tape.   The roofs are what we term in construction a 6/12 pitch - for every 12 inches horizontally there is a 6 inch vertical rise.  This works out to be about a 27 degree angle - I cut this angle on the side wall top, the edge of the lower roofs, and both edges of the top roofs.  I do this so I had nice tight glue lines that will be strong enough to maintain the shape of the structure.  As far as cost - the MDF was bought in a 2'x4' sheet from Home Depot for about $5 - I used only a little over half for this building, a bit more for the casthouse floor for b-furnace and I still have a bit left over.

Friday, April 3, 2009


You can make yourself crazy trying to refine a plan to every last detail before starting to build.  This is something I deal with frequently in my work and in my model railroading.  For a number of years I owned a woodworking/cabinet shop.  I'd find myself in situations where I could spend 20 hours making working drawings of something we were going to build, or I could make some quick sketches and start building, keeping things organized more in my head than on paper.  In most cases I did the later - just start cutting wood and get building, which, after all was the reason I chose that profession.   Does that work for everyone? - no.  Did I make mistakes and have to rebuild things? - yes, but in the long run I probably never spent as much time correcting mistakes as it would have taken to prepare detailed plans.   And again, I didn't aspire to be a draftsman, but rather, a woodworker.  Now a smart guy, which I am far from, would have hired a draftsman/cad person, but I'm stubborn too, which is a story for another time.  
The same behavior applies to my model railroading.  I've become an expert at pulling up track and relocating it.    Thankfully, I don't hand-lay track anymore.  When it comes to the steel mill, well, you can probably see if you have been following this blog, how I change my plans a bit.  I'm a night person, always have been.  My best work and thoughts usually occur after midnight.  I frequently find myself standing down in the basement in my pjs staring at the trackwork, the layout of buildings,...etc., and then the brain finally kicks in after being on standby most of the day, and I spend the next two hours or more running between my office computer/walthers catalog, and the layou
t with a HO ruler in my hand.   Well I've had a few of those moments lately, usually after finding some new HAER drawings or photos.  There were a few hours spent last night trying to figure out a way to fit a third blast furnace along the high line - can't be done without looking like it was jammed in there.  There is room for the furnace, just not room for the requisite trackwork for the casthouse and dustcatcher.   
So, after this long-winded intro, what's up?    First - my B-Furnace as morphed from a loose representation of USS Duquesne B-Furnace to an amalgamation of that furnace and, my new favorite of the moment, USS Central Furnaces (Cleveland) D-Furnace.   They both have similar top-works, and I will keep the single skip car and hoist house arrangement from Duquesne and use the stove layout, casthouse, and dust catcher (which is very unique) from Central Furnaces. The photo is of the real D-Furnace - notice the stove arrangement - three, then a really interesting stack, then the skip hoist, and then a shorter fourth stove.  Also, the interesting dust catcher and piping arrangement.  
I had a preliminary styrofoam base I was using for the casthouse.  This was ditched in favor of an MDF foundation.  MDF is a wood product - basically a very dense particle board.  It is incredibly stable.  I used it in the cabinet shop for raised pane
ls that were to be painted.  It is also cheap and best of all, the cut edges can be sanded and finished just like the other surfaces, so, for foundations, which is where I am using them here - I can seal the mdf and then paint it aged concrete without putting a styrene veneer on the edges.    Now at this point, some of you are going, here he goes with the wood again - well with all the problems I have been having with styrene lately, I almost feel that wood is the only thing I can trust to stay flat for larger surfaces.  I am getting some very minor deflection on the foundation for A-Furnace, which is sheet styrene and styrofoam.  The sheets were either .080 or .125, and there is a slight curve to the overhang for the storeroom, not enough to cause problems yet, but just enough to bother me.   I did use MDF for the base of the A-Furnace gas cleaner framework foundation and its still dead flat.  
The casthouse footprint is 60'x whatever 17" works out to be (the length of the sheet of paper I drew the base out on)   I used three pieces of 3/4" MDF to form the solid foundation under the furnaces and then a single piece of 1/4" MDF to represent the elevated casthouse floor.   The stove foundation is 3/4" MDF.