Tuesday, April 27, 2010


I intend on detailing my coke works/steel mill with extensive piping throughout just like the real thing.  To get an idea of extent of the "real thing"  the black and white photo is a HAER photo of the Beth Steel Lackawanna plant.  I'm not sure I'll be able to hit this level of detail, but I can try to get close.   Of course the largest piping would be the blast furnace and coke gas  mains.  Then you have the hot and cold blasts.  Followed by water, steam, other gases,...etc. plus electrical distribution.   The coke plant, specifically the by-product component is a bit less complicated than the steel mill proper, but there are also lines that aren't found in the steel mill - acid, tar, ammonia liquor,..etc.    Since the by-product works are squeezed between two tracks, with less than a foot of space in width,  the gas and other utilities will have to run down over the railroad track.  It is a spur for the plant itself, so not something unrealistic.   I designed a "bridge" type structure to support the piping and carry the electric on even intervals for a portion of the plant. It is made using the smaller Central Valley lattice girders, 3/16 I Beams, and .060 square styrene bracing.  I used some .020 to cap the girders and .100 as a foundation for the same.  The last picture show two of these bridges in place with some initial piping.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Working overtime on the piping in the by-products plant.  The photos show some of the new piping on the tar extractors and the ammonia absorber.    Most of the piping is Evergreen 3/8" / 7/16" or 1/2" tubing.  I like working with evergreen in the smaller diameters as it's thin walls make shaping odd intersections and creating segmented bends easier.   

Friday, April 23, 2010

30" Gauge?

I've just started sorting through my extensive photograph/slide collection, most taken during my younger industrial archeology years.  These photos and slides ended up in a few boxes in my old third floor office -  after moving my office and shop to a commercial building in a local industrial park, my wife sort of took over the third floor and buried my research files under layers of clothing, shoes, pocketbooks, and other female errata.    Growing concerned that the third floor of our house would collapse onto the second floor and then onto the first, we finally got around to jointly cleaning the floor (I also had a half built On30 shelf layout up there too)  Well, it looks great now and I think we both finally kicked our pack rat ways, trashing a ton of useless stuff, and finding a half a ton of cool stuff - old research files/photos/maps,..etc.
I have to start aggressively scanning my photos and slides, and hopefully posting them online for anyone to see/use.  Starting on this trail are a few historic photos from the United States Metals plant in Carteret, NJ.  Taken in the early 1900's both show elements of the intra-plant narrow gauge system - one taken of the wharf, loading lighterage barges with copper ingots, and the other of the yard.    The reason I'm posting these pictures is to illustrate the gauge - 30" as in HOn30 or On30.  Over the years I've heard more than one person refer to this gauge as a compromise between 2' and 3',  made up to suit the constraints of either n or ho scale track.   The fact is, it wasn't an uncommon gauge in industrial situations.  To be sure, three foot was probably the most common, but on the NJ waterfront, host to maybe as many as a 100 or more industrial and short line narrow gauge lines, 30" was the second most common.   

So, be proud HO or O n30 folks and remember, somewhere between Colorado and Maine, there exists the land of New Jersey and their 30" railroads.  

Down the road a bit (after I get a slide scanner), I'm going to mix things up a bit more and talk about the narrow gauge railroad for the Crucible Steel Works in Newark, NJ - the OUTSIDE FLANGED railroad.  (Yes, the wheels are on backwards)

A quick edit - Right now a bunch of treasure hunters are using sonar to look for a sunken barge of silver ingots from another copper plant just down the Arthur Kill from the one in the photos. Forget Spanish gold in New Jersey, we have the lost treasures of the American Smelting and Refining Company.  Good luck. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Operating Night

Over the past year or so we (me and my son) have been occasionally operating trains as part of a Southern New Jersey round-robin group.   One of the layouts we operate on is Dave Skinner's KADE.  Dave, a master model railroader, has a superbly detailed layout that is essentially complete.  Dave's is a credit to the hobby as he is very hospitable, always willing to take the time to explain something, and is active in encouraging others in the hobby.  
There was a rare wednesday night operating session scheduled this week.  Jimmy was tied up with school work, but since I don't have any homework I was able to go.  The railroad normally takes around 3-4 hours to operate, but some trains were eliminated tonight and the last of us left around 11pm.  Dave uses the car forwarding system of operations.  It was not a system that I was ever very interested in, but it has been growing on me quite a bit.  What I especially like about it is that it randomizes things very well -  repeat moves from one session to another don't happen and cars recycle at different rates so no switching is ever really the same.  The only deviation from this system is with coal hoppers - these are moved in blocks sometimes and also use a simplified color code system.   I'm not sure this system would work for the movements on our layout, as they are by their industrial nature, somewhat cyclical.  It is something I will be investigating more.   The picture is a small portion of Dave's layout that I took from my phone this evening.  

Monday, April 19, 2010


Worked a bit more on the final cooler/benzol coolers tonight.  Primarily, I am adding the piping to the structure.   I want to get as much as this big stuff on as possible before working on railings and supports,...etc.    I started by messing around with the injector piping for the final cooler.  It started with a good idea - curving 3/32" tube into an oval/circle and drilling for .50 brass rod ejectors every inch or so.  Unfortunately, the drilling gave the styrene tubing weak points that snapped when the tube was curled around the tower.  I gave up on this after about three tries and instead of drilling the holes I used styrene tubing to make a connector to the main pipe.  I also fabricated the two tees out of larger tubing.  Eventually the pipe that goes on to the top of the tower needs to be connected to a manifold at that location.   I hesitate to call these pipes water injectors as I am unsure as to whether water was used, or a cooled ammonia liquor.  
I went on to fitting some of the primary gas piping for the coolers.  Most of this piping is 3/8" Evergreen styrene.  Evergreen makes this tubing in long length packages that are economical and handy for bigger runs.  I use 7/16" tubing to cut various sized rings to use as sleeves and to represent a flange.  The Plastruct rings made for the same purpose are much too large.   As you can see from the photo, the gas piping burned through my supply of cast gate valves pretty fast - six so far, with three more needed.  I also need to add the sheaves and control chains to these valves throughout.  I'll have to get casting.  

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I started adding some detail to the final cooler/benzol towers.   I started building the stairway from the top down.  Even using the pre made Plastruct stairs and railings you need to pay a lot of attention to spacing and straightness otherwise the stairs will end up looking sloppy.   I also added the platforms and a walkway to the final cooler.  This walkway was for accessing some sort of injectors (water?) and was removed at some point, but I am using it.    I am also still busy casting valves, narrow gauge car bodies, and now, plumbing fittings.   I made a new mold for 3/8" diameter elbows and tees, with flanges.  First castings were a little foamy looking and of course there were a few air bubbles on the large flanges.  Trying again overnight - see tomorrow what we get.  

Monday, April 12, 2010

Out of the Basement

Sorry for the brief hiatus in posts.   I've been working nights building an oak bar and then went on a cold, tiring four day backpacking trip to the Adirondack mountains in upstate, New York.  
A few pictures from that trip. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Making valves -  Seeing the need for many more gate valves in the 3/8" to 1/2" sizes to finish the by-products plant I turned to resin casting as noted in a previous post.  

I am by no means an expert on casting techniques and everything continues to be a learning experience for me.  I most cases I try to use one part molds - they are easy to make and easy to fill and get good results.  You will note, many commercial car kit makers also try to use one part molds.  

For the valve bodies I opted to cast everything, including the operating mechanisms and stands for these mechanisms as one casting.  We will still need to add a brass operating rod and a sheave from a Tichy sprue.  After multiple failures I am on track and producing valves as I find time to get down to the basement, empty the molds and fill them with new resin.   These castings are not perfect - they have some air bubbles here and there to fill, but I am generally pleased with the results.  

Here are some tips:

  • When building the master and setting up the mold, make sure you build in plenty of channels to release air and prevent bubbling, and also orient the main fill sprue to hook around and enter the mold from the bottom.  I learned this from an older Fine Scale Modeling article - it helps maximize the vertical pressure on the resin and thus push it into the crevices of the mold better.  
  • Avoid small pours if possible - when I started with just one valve, I was mixing 1/2 teaspoon of each part of the resin and still had a lot of extra.  In quantities this small, one drop here or there too much and the resin will not cure right.  If you look at some of the defective valves to the far right and also one or two of the good ones, the color is yellower.  To avoid this I pour multiple molds at once - in the picture I am pouring the 3/8 valve, the 1/2" valve, and the narrow gauge ingot car.  For overflow I have a flat mold with access hatches that I use.  These four molds use 2 teaspoons each of both parts of the resin, an amount that is better for consistency, but still not that much liquid in the scheme of things.