Sunday, September 26, 2010


Free-mo is a HO modular railroad standard.  It differs from the NMRA HO modular standard in many ways -  the main line runs down the center of the module - there are no size restrictions other than the end plates  - the height of the module is higher than NMRA and thus a better viewing perspective - there is no back side or back drop, the module is designed to be viewable from both sides.      The standard tends to enable the portrayal of a more realistic railroad, however, some of the restrictions that create this tend to tie the hands of an industrial modeler.  The more I talk to other Freemoers and think about it, industrial modeling is possible but it is easier to build it in secondary modules attached to the module with the main in it at 45 degree angles or so.  
Or experience in Free-mo began in 2009, when we built our Pipe Foundry module for the 2009 Steel Mill Model Meet.  The year prior had featured three or four under construction Freemo modules with a steel mill theme  - we had hoped to connect to them, but for the past two meets we have been the only module in attendance.  Hopefully this will change for next year.   At this year's SMMM we did meet some folks from the Capitol Free-Mo group that stopped by to specifically take a look at our module.  These nice fellows were starting a group based in the DC area, including MD and Virginia.   Their first set-up was to be hosted by John Glaab at Peachcreek Shops in Laurel, MD.    Despite a two hour drive (which really isn't far in my book)  we offered to attend - partially as they seemed like a nice bunch of model railroads, partially to shop at Peachcreek, but probably mostly to actually hook our module up to another.    There is really no local group in the Philadelphia area that we know of.  The local NMRA was apparently trying to promote these modules and generate interest with seminars,...etc.   We offered twice to bring our module out to an event but received no reply - I guess we weren't wanted.   Every time I think about joining the NMRA,...well that's for another blog sometime.  
We loaded up a work van and headed south.  We arrived at Peachcreek shortly after 10am.  John Glaab, the proprietor was ready with coffee and donuts and Matt had already set up his module on the sidewalk in front of the store.   Matt has a semi-finished 2x4 module.  We quickly unloaded our structures and module and with the help of a few others that had arrived, had the module assembled and connected to Matt's in a short time.  Dave worked on the DCC setup and we quickly had power up and running.   Bob showed up a short time after with his module, which also set up quickly.  In a way we were lucky to only have three modules as we would have blocked the door of the Subway store next door with another.   A number of other folks from the group attended and many plans were developed for modules under construction and future setups,...etc.  Additionally, many of the store's normal saturday patrons stopped by for a chat,...etc.  I'm not sure we got any converts to Free-mo, but you never know.  I think it was a good turnout and this group has a lot of energy.  The next set-up will be at the Timonium Train show holiday weekend.  We are looking forward to attending.    I am putting up one photo from the Capital Freemo Yahoo Group -  I took a bunch but I guess the big-brother division of my work needs to review them before I can send them to myself - Ill update this blog when they arrive in email. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


There have been a few changes to the Bessemer Plant layout and modeling approaches since the last post.  The first is that I have abandoned my attempt to model a bessemer vessel.  I had considered purchasing one of Chuck Pravik's converter kits a little while back, however, when the first photos were published of this kit I was less than impressed considering the price tag.   At the last Steel Mill Modeler's Meet I was actually able to see one of these converters up close and my opinion changed - the detailing is excellent - the price was also a bit cheaper for the show, so I bought two.  One suggestion to Chuck would be to take a better photo, or pay someone to -  the original photo of the converter last winter or fall was totally washed out by the flash (use lighting and a tripod instead)  and gave me the wrong opinion of what is an outstanding model.      I have also changed the layout of the building a bit - I will post a graphic once I put one together - but basically,  the hot iron will enter the building at one end in ladle cars.  The car will be lifted in an elevator to about 35 scale feet high to the "pouring floor".  Here, the ladle will be tilted and poured into an Ensley type hot metal mixer.    From the mixer the iron will be poured into another ladle car on the charging floor - about 15' high - this car will be moved by a small electric or boilerless- locomotive to either one of the Bessemers and poured into the vessel.   Finally, on the ground level, the Bessemers will discharge their steel into teeming ladles and then onto ingots.    This, believe it or not, is all prototypical - the car elevator, the locomotive moved charging ladle,...etc.     It is based on the plant at the USS Ensley  works.    There are a few photos - Chuck Pravik's bessemer converter dry fitted and checking elevations - and then a few of my elevator mechanism under construction - oh yeah - the elevator will hopefully really work - a 5rpm gear motor just arrived in the mail to drive the whole mess.  

Friday, September 17, 2010


As promised, Part 4.    
It is day three of the meet, Saturday, and just when you can't take in anymore steel mill information, there is a day of layout tours.   Nothing like riding around the beautiful Maryland countryside visiting peoples layouts.   I really enjoyed all the layout tours this year for a few reasons - first, they either had a steel mill theme, or equally interesting for me, a hauling coal out of the mountains theme.   Second, they were all very well thought out and the track plans and geography of the layouts just seamed to flow well.   Thirdly, all the folks we visited were extremely gracious hosts (sometimes thanks to their significant others) and patiently took the time to answer every question, despite I am sure answering some many times during the day.  
Another neat thing about layout day is the opportunity to carpool with some fellow modelers.  We grabbed a work van this year to haul the module in one piece (in 2009 we split it in half and crammed it and all our other stuff into a Saturn Vue for the trip to North Carolina) .  The van only had two seats so we teamed up with Bill Wallace who just had enough room for us in his camper/conversion van.  Bill was at his first SMMM and hails from south Jersey like us - he is from Stone Harbor, NJ and has literally lived a few feet from the water for the past half-dozen years (ie no basement).   He had a large layout, the Lehigh Northern, at his previous house and he intends to build an exact/improved version at a new, slightly inland home with a large basement he has just purchased.  The few years without a layout hasn't slowed Bill's modeling down - he has built a few modules and numerous structures, including some steel mill related items.  (When you walked in the display room he had two tables full of beautiful models to the immediate right)   
The times that the layouts were opened varied a bit so we made the best route we could based on when we could get in and hoped for the best (that we could visit all five locations)    We headed south with the intention of being at John Glaab's home layout right at the 10am opening time.  John is modeling a West Virginia themed coal mining layout.  He does have a nice looking bank of beehive coke ovens, so there is a quasi-steel tie-in.   John has done an excellent job of portraying the hill and mountain railroading .  We also spent some time looking through John's extensive steel mill and railroading book collection.  I especially liked his conversion of his dining room into a library, complete with actually rows of shelves.  I have been trying to convince my wife to do something similar for years without success - John married a librarian so I guess that's the trick.  
From John's house we traveled a short distance to John's other home, Peachcreek Shops in Laurel, MD.  This model railroad shop houses the Magarac Steel layout featured in a Model Railroad Planning Magazine from a few years ago.  Although John had brought most of his steel mill related items to the show for sale I managed to find some Western Scale Models gears and pulley casting sets, after bumping into Vince Altiere also with a handful.   Jimmy picked up a gon and also a New York Central Bachmann GP-7 .  This DCC on-board loco with nice detailing and smooth running is a steal at less than $50. 
   From Peachcreek we headed north and west for a good distance to Bill Wolf's house.  Bill layout features an under-construction Tidewater Steel.  Bill has a well thought out layout design and very well built benchwork.  This bi-level layout with no doubt be something to see as he works on it in the years ahead.  Besides the layout Bill has a pretty nifty mancave, I mean workshop.  Complete with multiple work benches, bookshelves full of steel and model railroading books,  a large TV and several comfortable chairs - it's a wonder how he has the motivation to climb out of this well appointed lair and go to work.   
Leaving Bill's we had to make a dash for Howard Zane's layout as his 2pm closing time was approaching fast.  Fortunately we just made it in the door.  I don't really know where to start with this layout, just incredible.  No steel mill is modeled, but plenty of the just as exciting coal mining  hills and mountains of West Virginia.  The mostly scratchbuilt structures are beautiful and too numerous to take-in and appreciate in a half an hour.  Jimmy noticed Howard had a few of his books out for sale - he asked to buy "Howard Zane, My Life with Model Trains" .  Generally I stay clear of large photo books of model trains and especially self-published ones, but for $30 I relented.  In hindsight, clearly well worth the money - the pictures are all beautiful and plentiful so you can study the layout in more detail, however, I am enjoying the text, which is also plentiful, more than the photos.    With no editors,...etc., Howard just writes whatever he wants with some organization, but more akin to a blog than a highly edited book - but that is a good thing - I am a "too much information" kind of person - I appreciate all the minute details.    Howard also took the time to show us his substantial brass collection and his huge workshop.   
Next we ended our day at John Teichmoeller's under-construction B&O layout set in the lower Patapsco River Valley.  John is using prototype locations but giving it a fictional history - that the valley became sort of the Mon Valley of the east coast.  Again, sticking with the general trend of the day, a very well thought out, built, and conceived layout.   After skipping lunch we were more than happy to find that John's wife had put out a full spread of snacks and drinks in their lovely backyard.  Others must have felt that same as they could have probably opened up a bistro there were so many people sitting, eating, and relaxing.   
It was a very short hop back to the hotel.  We relaxed a bit and then headed downstairs for the group dinner.  It was the usual faire of perogies, kielbasa, kraut,...etc.  It wasn't bad in my opinion and I did finish most of my plate, although, there are some that take this food real serious.  I think short of having this event in Pittsburgh with a locally raised chef,  no one will ever be 100% happy with the food.   The diner ended with the Dean Freytag award, presented to the Canadian fellow with the N-scale electric furnace.  Well deserved.   And, then many door prizes.  My son was especially indignant that the last five  or so door prizes ended up in the hands of  "girls".  He suspects fraud.  Actually it was the first year he didn't win a prize  - one year he won an ore bridge and a locomotive, the other a locomotive.   I tried to explain to him that as the group grows his door prize odds drop - "but dad, they were girls".  Oh well.  
Unfortunately, some people have to head home early, so Sunday is always a little less crowded and the display room a little emptier of people and models.   After breakfast we went back to the amphitheater for the two remaining seminars.  Jim Diapola gave a very interesting seminar are building a BOF in HO Scale.  This is a pretty huge undertaking and Jim is moving along nicely and his modeling is first-rate.   The final seminar was on making segmented pipe elbows.  Mr. Duve built a jig for a miter saw to make this process easier.    Following the seminars is a brief wrap up session.  A big topic of discussion and one that will be revisited in the months ahead is that John Glaab is not going to take the reigns next year.  After six years of building this event into the success it is John is going to step back and enjoy the meet as a civilian - completely understandable.   As of now a planing committee will be getting together this fall to talk about the future of this event, but for the first years transition it sounds like the location might be kept the same to simplify things - and also it was a first rate location.    
Sadly we loaded our truck and set off for home, talking most of the way about our layout - new ideas and plans.   Besides for lunch we stopped at the US Army Ordinance Museum in Aberdeen, MD.  When Jimmy was little we visited here often as he marveled at there array of armor.  It was a nice little rest-stop and brought back memories.    I am including a photo from there of the rail-related "Anzio Annie"  - a WWII German rail mounted gun with a range of 30miles.  It was part of the barrage that pinned down allied troops on the Anzio beachhead for a few months - firing and then backing the gun into a tunnel for reloading.  

Sunday, September 12, 2010


As I mentioned in one of my recent posts, the SMMM, in addition to being a fun weekend, recharges our modeling batteries.   Seeing what others are doing in such a casual setting and an environment that is so facilitating in answering questions and proffering helpful information, no matter your pre-existing knowledge on the steel industry, you leave full of ideas.    My son Jimmy was especially motivated and has been down in the basement almost every free moment since the event, last weekend.  Jimmy, who usually takes a book or two with him on car rides or around the house, has been carrying around the  Morning Sun Steel Mill Railroad book,  Steel Mill Modeling, by Bernard Kempinski, and the Cyclopedia of Industrial Modeling by Dean Freytag.   Besides running trains, Jimmy has been building and painting some of the Rix Ingot cars.  These will mostly be used in our Electric Melt Shop.  He also has modeled a beat up mill gon from one of the ST&D kits.   He gets more skilled with every model he finishes and is far more advanced in the building and painting department than I was at age 16.   I hope it is a hobby he stays with for life.   At the meet last week there was a Mr Burnside that had a Metallurgical Coke Facility on his layout that supplied the Blast Furnaces on his son's layout - I thought that was real neat, and something to maybe look forward to in the future.  


Continuing,...    Day Two of the Steel Mill Modeler's Meet.   Day Two is usually my favorite of this event and I will say this year was no different.   The day is basically all Seminars.  This year's seminar topics were a really balanced variety, and all were well done and interesting, excepting for the first one, mine, which I can't speak for as to the well done part.  It seemed well received, all though when I offered to do a seminar way back in the spring I had envisioned getting more of a few of my structures done in time to photograph for this.   The next morning seminar was by Bill Wolf on his Tidewater Steel layout.   Bill has a very well thought out (a general theme among the layout visits the next day) layout with a sizable portion dedicated to a steel mill.  Bill is using Sparrows Point as his basis - Bill worked there at one time, as did his father. Bill also knows quite a bit on rolling mills - as I work on my rolling mills I will no doubt be contacting Bill with questions. 

   After a lunch on our own at the local Applebees we settled in for the three afternoon seminars.  The first seminar was by Dave Alley on his S-Scale Modular Steel Mill.  Dave brought his in-progress three section module to the show and it was set up in the corner of the display room.  Dave likes to use a lot of non-model railroad material for his modeling.  His uptakes are standard copper fittings and his buildings are laun plywood.  It was interesting learning of his different building techniques and uses of non-traditional materials.  I do have to take him to task on something he kept repeating in his talk - "you have to be a little crazy"   I hope he was just referring to himself or maybe modeling in S-scale, as in general I find my fellow Steel Mill Modelers far from crazy.  Quite the opposite, most of the guys I meet in the this sub-set of the hobby seam to be pretty sane, salt-of-the-earth types, the kind of guys you would want to be in a trench with when the shit hits the fan.    The remaining two afternoon talks both focused on the Steel Mill Modeler's favorite pin-up, the Hulett.    Although I am not modeling any of these on my layout I am still very interested in these machines.   And the reason for not modeling them is just lack of space - not the bs tidal issue that keeps getting brought up - the Lehigh Valley operated a Hullet in Jersey City without problems from the tides, as did the New York Department of Sanitation.     The first presenter, Mr. Slugg, built four of these kits, so he was able to give a nice talk on construction issues.  His four Hulletts were on display at the meet, quite impressive all in a row.    The second Hullett expert, Bill Day, actually took the Walther's basic kit and animated it with ten or so motors.  Again, this model was on display too.  Mr. Day's seminar demystified how he made this plastic kit work - something I truly appreciate as some folks don't like giving away their secrets.  

We took a dinner break - Jimmy and me had seen a sign down the road at a dinner advertising the "Worlds Best Fried Chicken" - well it wasn't and on top of that the service was slow and the place a bit dirty.    Returning to the seminar room we had the pleasure of an (always good) Mike Rabbit talk, this one on soaking pits.  I thought I knew a bit about the topic as I had just started to model these pits on my layout, however, as Sgt Shultz said, "I know nothing".  I learned a lot that will help me in my modeling.  Mike also build a beautiful cross section model of a soaking pit building to use as a visual aid and for display.    Mike's talk was followed by something a bit different - "Techniques for Research", by Rachel Ban Tonkin.  Mrs. Tonkin is an archivist/librarian married to steel mill modeler, Joe Tonkin.  Her presentation focused on a number of research techniques that a modeler could use in their quest for photos, drawings, or other resources.   She did a very good job of explaining how items end up in archives and how to find these items using the internet - she also explained a bit about how dealing with these various institutions differ and why and how.     Besides the seminars, the display room is basically open all day and usually we take our ten minute breaks between talks by walking down there and looking around.   We also find ourselves gradually buying things from the vendors there - it's kind of like walking around a store for three days.  By the end of the show we usually have both (my son and myself) used up the budgets we set for ourselves, right to the last penny.    One of the photos is of my acquisitions from this meet - A Blooming Mill and two Bessemer Kits from Chuck Pravik,  a few gondolas from Peachcreek and other vendors, and a handful of little odds and ends.   Jimmy purchased two locomotives from Peachcreek - a 0-6-0 and a GP-7.     Part 4 will be posted soon with the layout tours and Sunday presentations.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Part Two of the Steel Mill Modelers Meet report - 
Day One - Thursday -  We made good time from our New Jersey home and ended up arriving at the hotel early, 10:30 to be exact.    Despite the early arrival time we were able to check in.  The room was nice and clean and overlooked the large outdoor pool, with a small outdoor terrace.   The hotel has a bar, restaurant, outdoor and indoor pools, health club, two golf courses, tennis,..etc.   Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to visit many of these amenities as we were busy with the weekend activities.   We unpacked out bags, but no one in charge was there yet and the display room was not scheduled to be opened until 12noon so we ran out and explored the immediate area, picking up lunch.  Upon returning to the hotel,  the display room was open so we started lugging in our Free-mo module and display models.  The room was set up with mostly tables and since we were the only module coming, we set it up on two tables along with our model displays -  The Pig Caster, the ore transfer car, and a narrow gauge car and loco display by Jimmy.  See photo.   After, an afternoon in the display room talking and buying things - I purchased a Blooming Mill kit from Chuck Pravik, Jimmy bought a Bachmann 0-6-0, we had dinner in the hotel and then there were three seminars that night.   The seminars were in the hotel amphitheater - a perfect room for this purpose - tiered, comfortable seating, good sound system,...etc.      The first seminar was "Davies Works Progress" by Pete Scharf   - this was a continuation of a seminar last year about building an integrated steel mill on a club layout in Florida.  A very interesting work-in-progress talk from a fine model railroader that started out with little knowledge of the steel industry, but is become very knowledgeable on the subject and modifying his modeling accordingly.     The second seminar was by Vince Altiere entitled "Building a Ladle Repair Shop".  Once again a very interesting and well done how-to presentation by a master modeler.   The subject matter was a former Pig Casting facility at Bethlehem Steel that was converted into a ladle repair shop.   Vince spoke a lot about accurately measuring and squaring assemblies up as you build - something critical on a structure of this size - but also something that unless you've done it, it's hard to appreciate the difficulty in doing it right.   Vince also paints a lot of his sub-assemblies as he builds his models - something that I haven't been doing and am starting to regret, but something I will be changing in the future.   A photo of Vince's project is in Part 1.   I don't take a lot as with all the SMMM I have attended - you get a CD with all the presentations on it - so plenty of photos on that.   The evening concluded with a presentation by J. Burnside on his Metallurgical Coke Facility - This was a good primer for folks just starting in this segment of the hobby on coke works and also some good modeling to look at.

Monday, September 6, 2010


August was an extremely busy month for me.  For a number of reasons I seemed to be doing a million things all at once, and then near the end of the month was a quick get-things-together for the SMMM.    The actual meet, which took place this past thursday thru sunday, was actually the first chance I got to relax and focus on one thing for a few days - something I truly enjoy focusing on too.    
This was my third Steel Mill Modelers Meet, and for me, it was my favorite.  John Glaab once again had things perfectly organized.    The hotel was clean and comfortable, the display room had the largest array of models since I've been coming to these meets - every table was taken.  I believe the attendance was close to 80 - the highest since they began.    The speakers were outstanding and the range of topics diverse, and the home layout tours were enjoyable.  Surprisingly two of the layouts didn't feature steel mills, and two others we just a bit beyond the benchwork stage, however, for whatever reason I really enjoyed the tours -  I would have to say that despite the varying levels of finish,  all of the actual layout were well thought out and conceived, and to be sure, all will eventually be works of art.    Thanks for all your hard work John.
Besides making for a relaxing weekend the SMMM does a few lasting things for me as usual - It energizes me into stepping up a notch on my modeling and keeping things moving.   Jimmy had no sooner unloaded his bags before he was in the basement switching trains into and out of the incomplete Blast Furnace A.  He purchased a Bachmann Spectrum 0-6-0, and a Bachmann GP-7.  Both came with DCC on-board and the GP-7 is a beautiful built and running locomotive for only $50.  I unfortunately needed a nap, but later last night spent a few hours reorganizing my work benches and cleaning the basement.   Today we spent most of our time down there working on the layout.    The other thing I get from the SMMM is a lot of real good ideas or techniques to try.  The amount of information you can get from just chatting with people or listening to their presentations is incredible.    I'll continue this thread in a few days with some more photos of the meet,...etc.    Also, fear not, August was a pretty horrible month as far as blogging went - I hope to keep up on the blog better this fall.