Sunday, January 30, 2011


No work to report on the steel mill or layout - concentrating my efforts on our three new and one existing Free-Mo modules for next weekends set-up at Timonium, MD.   Of course we are behind, but hopefully we have a good week - pressure always helps.  The modules are built but track needs to be laid and scenery, well, that just might not happen.  The priority is to get the mains up and running so we can move trains on them this coming weekend.  We will probably have a few structures finished.  We might actually work on some of the buildings and scenery at Timonium, but most things will be a work in progress.  The good news is that this is the extent of the modules that I plan on building for a long while at least, so from now on any modular work will focus on finishing structures and scenery and detailing,...etc.     I have finished a few additional structures for the Pipe Foundry module that Jimmy will be painting and weathering this week.   If you are at the show please stop by and say hello.  We will be there both days, all day.  If you don't see either of us, we are probably walking around shopping but will be back soon.    Look for an blog update on the show after next weekend, followed by new blogs that will contain steel mill modeling subject matter -  I will be getting back on both blast furnaces after the show.  
Yesterday we took our annual father-son trip to Fort Indiantown Gap, PA for a reenactment of the Battle of the Bulge.  The bulk of this large WWII reenactment is not open to the public, with the exception of a few hours on Saturday.  They have a small well done battle (much larger ones take place over the four days they are there).  There is also a large flea market with every sort of militaria, uniforms, models, books, movies, ....etc.    The individual units are given old army barracks and in most cases are set up the interiors to look like you are in the 1940's - German music, food, magazines,....etc.  In addition to the German and American troops there are British units, Partisans, civilian women in period dress, and even Soviet troops???  Oh, and I forgot - a solitary Japanese soldier.   A few years ago I was standing next to a Soviet "Admiral" at the battle.  Most of the folks there are very friendly and very interested in showing off their equipment, uniforms, and weapons.   The battle this year featured a German anti-tank position with a 37mm and 38mm anti-tank guns supported by two machine guns and troops.  We we stood, a  Waffen SS security detachment was guarding the right flank of the overall German position.   The German position was assaulted by elements of the US 82nd Airborne Division using period fire and movement tactics.  The Americans were, of course, successful.   It is quite interesting too see and all the weapons are real and fire blanks (except for the artillery, mortars, and rocket launchers, which use a modified black powder charge for effect).   This years there was a foot of snow on the ground and it was snowing during the event, so the conditions were spot-on historically accurate.  

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


It's been a bit light on the steel mill modeling of late, unless you count the crane.  Not that I've lost interest, I've just been distracted by benchwork, trackwork, and wiring on the layout - and also - a last minute push to get two, maybe three, more Free-Mo modules together for Timonium in two weeks.    I did finish the house project mostly - surprising how long it took to build actually.  I need to pick up two more Tichy windows for the third floor this weekend and once I cut them in I'll start painting the thing.    

The cement plant Free-Mo project I'm working on features a free-lanced portland cement plant - By that I mean I am sticking to my Steel Mill Rules - while the overall layout and proportions are up to me, the individual elements within the plant all are based on an actual prototype.  I have a ton of primary research material as I used to be a professional historian and one of my jobs was documenting the former Universal Atlas Cement Plant in Hudson, NY.   And for a steel mill  tie-in,  Universal Atlas was owned by US Steel, and also, the plant, as did most cement plants, received slag for use as a raw material.  I don't think slag was ever used solely, however, it was mixed with the materials from the quarry.  (think operations - carloads of slag outbound)   The Universal Atlas Plant in Hudson was the only portland cement plant in the United States east of the Hudson River (east by a mile or so)  In addition  there are a few books on the cement plants and railroad operations in the Lehigh Valley - one, the recent very excellent, Morning Sun  publication on this topic.   Additionally I used, the title of this blog, virtual railfanning for prototype information.
Virtual Railfanning?  Well not railfaning per se but rather virtual research using Bing Maps.   I sometimes literally spend hours on this site.  Specifically I use the Birds-Eye map feature to zoom in on a particular industry or area.  Birds-Eye differs significantly from an standard aerial photo  -  you are looking at the ground from an angle, like being in a helicopter flying over a site.  The angle stays generally the same but you can rotate 360 degrees around a feature, looking at it from all sides.   With standard aerial you are just looking straight down, like a map - you will see roofs, but no walls.  I used this heavily when modeling the US Pipe foundry and for this cement plant I am primarily using Birds-Eye views of three compact cement plants located south of Catskill, NY.   For fun, I will sometimes use Bing Maps to follow a specific rail line - from the Birds-Eye view you can see all the sidings and industries and also old sidings and tracks can be discerned at times too.  For example, earlier tonight I followed the old PRSL (Pennsylvania Reading Seashore Lines) track from Woodbury, NJ to Millville - there were a number of industries hidden away I had never seen before, plus some I have, but never from the air.    One of my all time favorite virtual railfan "trips" was  a year or so ago I spent a few hours following the US Navy Earle Weapons Station Railroad  - This railroad, mostly hidden on secure bases, behind trees, on elevated structures,...etc., is pretty incredible.  The railroad moves ammunition - bombs, cruise missiles, and formerly nukes, to one of the worlds largest finger piers in Raritan Bay from bunkers on the base at the pier or to bunkers at the inland base. The two bases are connected by a two track railroad about 20 miles long  with a military road running along side the tracks.  There are a few places where the tracks cross public roads, but probably not a good place to be railfanning in person as train movements usually also consist of nervous heavily armed soldiers on board the trains and in Humvees with mounted weapons.   The Birds-Eye views are amazing - hundreds of spurs disappearing into underground bunkers - loop tracks - yards.  Again, something that would be impossible to take in from public property.   
There are two downsides to the Bing Birds-Eye feature - one it is not available everywhere - I couldn't get coverage of plants in Ohio and West Virginia - just your standard aerials.  (Also it is sometimes blocked out - like over Groom Lake AFB,...etc.,  surprisingly Earle isn't blocked, except for the very end of the ammunition loading pier (where the ships are actually loaded)  The second problem is that you can't print the birds-eye views.  I'm sure there is a way that some geek probably knows how to, but all the print-screen type ways I know, the images never come through or are substituted with a regular aerial shot.   The only low-tech way I've come up with is to just take a digital photo of my actual screen and use that - Ill post a picture.  Anyway, when you have some time try Birds-Eye view out - it can be addicting.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


What would have been a great snowbound weekend for modeling turned into a bust thanks to a sore throat and fever.  I did get some reading done between naps and bowls of soup.  This months Model Railroader was so-so.  A few of the articles were good but others blah - I'm sorry to single out the one guy, although I think he was a staff writer or something, but that is the lamest scrap yard that I have ever seen and I've seen a lot of prototype ones.   First problem - the gondola was bigger than all the scrap in the yard, which I guess they only took grey iron as there was only one pile.  Second problem - maybe it's just NJ and PA scrapyards, but I've never seen an electromagnet rig on an $200k excavator with a brand new paint job.   They use claws and front end loaders and whatever other junk that they can keep running.    Then, the only real creative type construction he does - the fence - he uses Cambell siding, which I think has been discontinued - so that is probably bumming out a lot of new model railroaders that were going to try.     I don't mean to sound snobbish, and I really try hard not to be critical of any modeling, but - (1) I had my hopes up about "Modeling a Scrapyard" in the coming attractions and (2) - the article just seemed almost put together as filler.  Maybe MR can't afford to pay for articles anymore?   Someone, I think maybe Brandon Wehe or John Gallagher, and correct me if I am wrong, has an outstanding scrap yard Free-mo module that was on display at the 2008 Steel Mill Modelers Meet.  
Before my weekend resting, I did manage to hit the LHS to replenish some of my Tichy parts.  I can't say enough good things about this company or these parts.  Grandt Line has also produced nice stuff and a good variety over the years, but their supply and even catalog has been difficult to come by and not always something that could be counted on.  Tichy hands out their complete catalog at shows - which I keep next to my workbench for reference - and their supply seems to be excellent and consistent.  My LHS is also a distributor so I usually just go in with a list of part numbers and quantities and they go into the warehouse and pull them - I have yet to see them come back without something on my list.    One item I seem to buy a lot of is the coal chute pack - it is $3 and has some misc parts for two different coal chutes.  I've used some of the parts elsewhere on occasion, but primarily buy these packs for the two sheaves in it - they are smaller than any of Grandt Line sheaves but work perfect for the sheaves on large gate valves.  This time I'm using them on my port crane for the boom lifting cables.     I also grabbed some windows - these were pre-mulled together double hung windows that I am mulling into additional groups of three for the celestory windows on the R&H Chemical Works.  They are easy to join with just a little light sanding to remove half the trim.   Finally, I needed some windows for a styrene house I am building.  Most of the layout is a steel mill, but I have a few spots for residential housing in the hills overlooking the new yard.  This house will actually be a scale replica of my house.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Not much to show for the time I spent modeling tonight.  It took me the entire duration of the PBS American Experience R.E. Lee biography to build the two supports for the outer boom.   The supports were built using .060x.080 strip as the basis with various scrap strip making up the fittings.  I had to fabricate an intermediate coupling so the two pieces of each support bar could pivot, as well as the coupling connecting the support to the boom.  I used brass wire to pin most of the parts so that the outer boom would actually move.  You can see the pillow block supports on the top of the tower for the to be installed sheaves that will carry the cables to raise and lower the boom.  I probably shouldn't have bothered making the boom operational as the cables will have to either be permanently glued to the sheaves or else I'll have to reset them every time it was raised.  

Sunday, January 2, 2011


I replenished my plastic a bit and pushed onward with the crane.   You've probably noticed by now a little ADD when it comes to sticking to building one model at a time, however, I am trying to finish the majority of the work on the crane in one continuous shot.  Although this model is based on a prototype machine, I am essentially freelancing it so most of the design is in my head.  I'm afraid if I put it down I won't be able recall the elements of the design later on.   With the legs done, I built the trolley assembly from some sort of rectangular tubing scrap, styrene strip, and styrene round punch-outs.   Once complete, these two assemblies were fastened to the legs and the legs fastened to the inner boom - oh yeah, in the meantime I'd also finished the inner boom - same type of construction as the outer boom, including .060 angles as diagonal bracing.    I did had some strip to pack out the channels on the sides of the inner boom to give the legs a good gluing surface.  Remember - KEEP EVERYTHING SQUARE AND TAKE LOTS OF MEASUREMENTS TO CHECK.    As I was on a roll I kept on moving forward with engineering an attachment pivot point for the outer boom - I want to be able to raise this as the prototype would do in order to clear a vessel super structure.  I did have to add a beam to the outer boom and cut back the top diagonal bracing as it was interfering with the operation of the outer boom.   And then finally I started constructing the tower that carries the boom support members.   There is still a lot of work to go, but it's starting to look like something.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Happy New Year to all.   I'm hoping that 2011 will be a better year.  I' a glass half-full guy but it's been hard as heck to keep a smile on my face and a positive attitude through this past year.  Whether you still have a job or not the economy has affected everyone - except maybe those folks at Goldman Sachs,...etc.  that were behind much of this mess - define irony anyone?  Our foreign wars linger on, a mega oil spill in the gulf,  and politics in this country have taken as nasty of a tone as I can ever remember.   On the model railroad front, we lost a giant, Dean Freytag, on Christmas Day.   For railfans, the last processor of Kodachrome Slide Film in the world,  shut down on Friday.  
The were a few positive things to remember from the past year - 
For us New Jerseyans, it was the year that all things Jersey became cool, thanks to an MTV show featuring a bunch of out of state 20 somethings getting into all sorts of debauchery at the Jersey Shore.  And don't believe any of that PR generated by the local politicians, chambers of commerce, and Sons of Italy,...etc.  what you saw is pretty much how things go during the summer in Seaside and probably Wildwood too to the south.     What I think struck a cord was the brutal honesty of their own ridiculousness.   New Jersey has always been an honest (excepting the local politicians) what you see is what you get type of place.  
For us Steel Mill Modelers - the turn out at the annual Steel Mill Modelers Meet was the largest ever.  
On a personal note, I was finally able this past year to visit a number of the Pittsburgh-Ohio-West Virginia Steel Mills that I had wanted too for years.
Looking forward, ie New Year's Model Railroad Resolutions - 
Continue to press forward with the remaining ancillary trackwork on my layout - staging yards, engine facility,..etc.  
Build three more Free-Mo modules this winter, finish scenery and structures on existing module.
Update blog in a more regular fashion 
Join the NMRA 
Get insurance for my layout
I'm going to include some photos in this post of Chesapeake City, MD taken on New Years Eve.  If you have never been there it is an interesting "city" to visit.  It is located on the western end of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal - this canal is operated by the Army Corps of Engineers and connects the top of the Delaware Bay with the top of the Chesapeake Bay.  It is a wide canal used by both pleasure boats and commercial shipping.  There are no locks, however, the current varies depending on the sequence of the Delaware Bay tides and the much smaller Chesapeake Tides.   There are a half dozen very high bridges over the canal and one railroad drawbridge, over which all the rail traffic to the Delmarva Peninsula must pass.    There is an anchorage basin at Chesapeake City that I've used a number of times when sailing from the New Jersey Atlantic coast, up the Delaware Bay, and to the Chesapeake.    The Delaware Bay is notorious amongst sailors due to it's size, lack of usable harbors, shallow depth, extreme tides and currents, and large exposure to southerly ocean winds and waves.   Things can go from calm to Washer Machine fast with no where to run to - with about an average of an 12-18hr transit for a sailboat from Cape May to the canal entrance, Chesapeake City is a usually a welcoming site.     From a modeling standpoint, the city offer many HO pre compressed housing, most dating to the early and mid 1800's.  I'm not sure I could even stand up straight on the second floors of many of these houses.    If you visit there be sure to check out the C&D Canal Museum and have lunch at the Bohemia Cafe.


I've run out of some Plastruct channels and I-Beams needed to complete the inner boom so I jumped around that an started to work on the legs.  The basis for the four legs are Plastruct pre-fab Warren truss sections - 1/2".  That is where the easy part ends - I didn't like the initial look when you use two of these truss sections to form a box girder type thing - the flanges ruined the look so off they come - just the outer flange overhangs on all four corners.  It's not the easiest thing to do, but a little patience with a razor and file and it will be done.   I used I think .030x.060 or .040x.060 for the cross members and will also use them for  the diagonals that aren't installed yet.  I guestimated the angle of the leg and drew it on a scrap piece of wood.  The important thing is to use your first leg as a guide and just build the rest using that.   I've used some channel to stabilize the top and bottom ends where the leg will attach to the inner boom and the wheel assembly respectively.  Also at the top I've used some angle to form the edge that I will use to attach the legs too the boom.   After all four legs are built (I'm at two right now) I'll add all the remaining diagonal and horizontal structural members.