Monday, October 31, 2011

Free-mo ing at Timonium

We were back in Timonium this weekend with the Capitol Area Free-mo group.   The set-up this time included about 7 or 8 modules.  Most were in the semi-finished or finished state so overall I would say the   overall layout looked the best it has ever, and a far improvement from last October.   The electronics are improving and we are able to break the whole thing down fast - less than a half an hour.  With the snow on Saturday and the MER convention going on it appeared to me that the show had light attendance.   Also, along the lines of better organization, we had a run chief that arranged the modules and also set-up our first organized operating session.

Some photos from the weekend:

Mostly a straight line setup with a few minor turns.
Pipe Foundry Module in center, blast furnace off to right.
Moving a cut of bottle cars from the blast furnace to the BOF
Slag cars need to be moved to dump
Bottle cars holding next to large bag house (unfinished) on Pipe Foundry module

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Some More Bethlehem for Now

The trip was a nice break but right back into the work grinder.   So for now, just a quick post and a few more Bethlehem photos.
Machine Shop #2
A few corrections to my last post -

*The purple furnaces were for the cure cancer month
*The terrain around the Lehigh Gap I talked about it being more rocky and barren - thanks to years of emissions from the NJ Zinc company in Palmerton.   (Note- they make this stuff in PA far from NJ, but my home state still gets blamed anyway)
*No "jackhole artist" was responsible for the Chinese Character on the building but rather it was "Jackhole Hollywood" people when they were filming the transformers there.

Cranes near Steel Stacks Entrance 
Notable this month -

Randy Costanza's Coke Works was featured in the recent Great Model Railroads .  Congratulations Randy.

Also, both the November issue of Model Railroader and the November issue of Railroad Model Craftsman both had good waterfront railroading articles.  And the RMC had a good article on modeling Susquehanna RS-1's.

Blowing Engines from outdoor deck at Steel Stacks

Work continues on the railroad - wiring and scenery mostly, although getting back to a few steel things.

Holy Powerlines Batman!
Lehigh Heavy Forge

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Little Breather

Usually my wife and me take an early fall extended weekend trip (Pittsburgh last year) but this year that looked like a no-go due to work  - until - a hole opened up in my schedule that would leave me free this past weekend.  Since it was only to be a two night, two day deal we couldn't go too far.  Luckily, living in New Jersey, there are a lot of options close by.  New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore/DC are all within an short drive, as are the Pocono Mountains, the Jersey Shore, and the Eastern Shore of MD/DE.   We ended up picking the mountains - the fall colors would be out earlier,  my wife wanted to go to the Jim Thorpe fall festival, and I of course, would find the usual steel, railroad, and hobby store sites along the way.    A recent post on the Yahoo Steel Group had me thinking about Bethlehem and seeing how the Sands Casino on the former steel mill site had just opened up a hotel, we could use that as our base of operations.

We left Friday night and after a short hour plus ride to Bethlehem we arrived at Bethlehem just at dusk.  It looked like some stores were still open so we did a little shopping, trying to beat the 7pm closing times of most of the shops.   The Moravian Book Store has a nice Bethlehem Steel Section and also a neat local history section.  The ghost tours were just starting up and with the shops closing, we headed to the casino.

Hotel is to far left, followed by casino and taller parking garage 

We had been to the Casino, well the Casino parking garage to take some photos a year or so ago, so it was no problem finding.    The casino is basically built in the former ore yard of the plant and the hotel, while connected to the casino is on the other side of the Minsi Trails Bridge, approximately on the former site of the dual gauge yard and engine facility.  The driveway and lobby are just across from the eastern end of Machine shop #2, which is still standing.  The hotel parking lot is the former site of the forging plant and later Weldment.   The only thing that remains of the forging operation is Heat Treatment #3, the first high house heat treatment facility at the plant.  A larger more modern one also remains as part of Lehigh Heavy Forge - just to the east of the casino.

View from our room on the sixth floor.  High House and Minsi Trails Bridge

We checked in and brought our bags to the room.  I'd requested a river view.  Our room was on the sixth floor with an excellent view of the #3 High House and of the former Lehigh Valley mainline.   This section of track is very busy - lots of mainline train movements east and west,  and the small, but very long,  yard along the edge of the parking lot is used by the Philadelphia, Bethlehem & New England to interchange traffic.  The PB&NE's SWs were busy with a lot of intermodal traffic from a facility elsewhere in the former steel plant.   I spent a decent amount of time just sitting by the window watching trains.  If you go, request the sixth floor or higher - probably the higher the better - hotel is I think 15 floors.   By the way, the hotel is clean and has modern stylish decor.  The rooms are large and set up for all your modern electronics.  The hallways of the hotel have numerous photos of Bethlehem Steel - only complaint is that it is slightly pricey for what you get and where - Bethlehem, PA.

It was late and we were hungry so we decided to check out the Casino.  We don't really gamble, a fact I proved by loosing $20 to slot machines in about 5 minutes and not even really understanding what I was doing in the mean time.  We watched a craps table and tried to figure out what was going on and couldn't so just never bothered the rest of the time we were there.  For those of you that do gamble however, the place was large and to me seemed cleaner than most Atlantic City casinos I've been in.  It was crowded all weekend (except for 7am this morning) but there still looked to be room to play if you wanted.  We figured the restaurants would be pricey but didn't feel like going back out so we settled on "Burgers and More" one of three of Emeril Lagasse's places in this casino.  I'm a bit of a food snob so I didn't have high expectations for this joint - just looking for a quick burger, however - BAMM.  I don't know how this guy makes a hamburger , cole slaw, chili, and cheese sticks taste so good, but he did.  Probably the best hamburger I have ever had.   The key seems to be all the sauces that go on everything and they were perfect.  

Now the casino is connected to the hotel by a long walkway - on one side I guess is meeting rooms and on the other is a shopping mall under construction.  The cool thing about this long hallway, besides the exercise is that every 20 feet there is a framed Bethlehem Steel Shop Drawing.  I spent more time in this hallway than in the casino.  My favorite was a plan of the Bethlehem Steel Sintering Plant - I photographed this drawing and have already printed it out for modeling purposes.

Breakfast with my lovely wife - note high line just over her head and blast furnace row

We got some deserts in the casino and brought them back to our room and called it a night.  We got up early saturday and had breakfast in the Foundry Room at the hotel (free continental breakfast)    The view is was pretty sweet from our table - looking straight down the former High Line with Machine Shop #2 on the left and the end of E-Furnace on the right.

 After breakfast I left on foot from the hotel with plans to meet my wife in the parking lot on the side of A-Furnace.  You can wall all the way from the hotel, along the High Line, crossing under it, and then between the end of Machine Shop #2 and the Blowing Engine House, emerging in front of blast furnace row.  All this on a public sidewalk.   While all the structures are fenced in, you are literally only feet from them.    While I was out that early there were at least another half dozen photographers taking photos - probably not steel geeks,  but more arty type photos.   The new arts center there, Steel Stacks, has used two older craneways to sort of form a portal.  My only objection to anything  here was some jack hole "artist" painting some large Chinese characters on the exterior of one of the old buildings - like pissing on someones grave.
A, B, and C Furnaces - You can get as close as the Highline
By the time I got to the car I was totally photographed out and we headed north to Jim Thorpe.    I always like this drive, heading through cement country up into Anthracite Coal Country.  Passing the lonely bridge abutments of the former Lehigh and New England RR's bridge across the Lehigh always moves me for some reason.  The terrain seems different here, with more exposed rock than elsewhere.

Jim Thorpe was pretty crowded by the time we arrived.  The "fall festival" proved a bit of a sham with only a dozen or so vendors and half that many food people.  Still my wife managed to find trinkets here and there throughout the various shops in town.

Shopping on the streets of Jim Thorpe
We left Jim Thorpe and headed east toward the Delaware, spending much of the remaining afternoon on back roads working our way down through the country back toward Bethlehem.  Just outside town I stopped at a decent hobby shop I had been at once before, just off Rt 33? north of Easton.  Mixed hobbies but lots of trains, in all scales.  I picked up a few Walther's  Modular building panels and also some NCE Block Detectors for an upcoming signaling project.  From there I stopped at a weapons store in Easton, PA called SARCO - I needed a new flash suppressor for my AR-15 - just kidding, but they do sell parts for pretty much every machine gun ever made.  I wanted to look at the large collection of military collectable they have.  Quite a few very interesting things, but too pricey for me.  Arriving back in Bethlehem we stopped back at Steel Stacks to check out the interior now that it was open.  There is a nice gift store there that I bought a Bethlehem Steel Shirt and a book called "30 years under the beam."  The fourth floor open deck as nice views of the blast furnaces and you can see down into the open end of the blowing engine house.      We had mostly skipped lunch and were craving some more of those Emeril burgers so we headed back to the casino for dinner.
Purple Blast Furnaces for Halloween I Guess
Following dinner we drove back over to Bethlehem (the part on the north side of the river) for more shopping.  I found a figurine from one of my favorite childhood movies, Jason and the Argonauts.  There was some sort of fashion event going on so the streets were filled with well dressed models -  I had to really concentrate on where I turned my head in order to avoid a slap to the back of my head.   We got some ice cream and called it a night.

We slept in a bit on sunday, although, I made an early morning foray through the casino and then to the upper levels of the casino parking garage for some nice shots of Lehigh Heavy Forge.  Breakfast looking at the Highline, and then we checked out.  We drove past the furnaces one last time and headed south, taking back roads and hitting some prime shopping areas through northern Bucks County, PA.   In all, a very pleasant weekend.   I know there has been a lot on the internet unfavorable as to what is going on in Bethlehem, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised.  When I was 18 I took my life in my hands walking across a frozen canal just to get a photo of the Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces from across the river - and then a few years later going on a tour of the plant, but not being able to take any photos - this is for sure much more fun, just walking right up to them.

Lehigh Heavy Forge from Casino Parking Garage

Monday, October 3, 2011


I've had a spot designated for the Bessemer Plant for some time, although, I never really had worked on developing a plan for the actual physical layout of the facility.   I've gone back and forth a few times, and up until just recently was thinking of doing an outdoor type plant like Lorrain.   Space as always is an issue, but by scaling down a bit and loosing one track I can fit a smaller version of Mike Rabbitt's Bessemer Plant in my space.  I've always liked Mike's plant, and at the same time having his plan set eliminates having to generate my own working drawings to use for the build.

A vertical 2x6 helping to support my ancient 1st floor framing is right in the middle of the Bessemer plant and will ruin some of the sight lines and photo angles, even after concealing it in corrugated material and painting it black.    The plans call for five tracks within the Bessemer building, but I have reduced it to four and that will be tricky using store bought turnouts and track.   I have Track 1 in and hopefully by later this week will have 2-4 installed too.

The building supports are spread out along mostly 24' intervals with 40' at the individual converters.  The plans appear to call for a combination of a 1/4" H-Column with an older lattice type box girder supporting the crane rail beam.  I'm not sure if they would have mixed styles like that, however, it works for modeling as I need to build the box girder sections from Central Valley kits- these are a bit delicate when adding a few lengths together, so the uniform Plastruct 1/4" H-column adds some rigidity to the structure. For these longer vertical posts I always try to use Plastruct as the similar Evergreen profile is much finer and therefore a bit weaker.    Extending the Central Valley box girders is simple but will take some time.  I try to alternate the joints to make things a bit stronger.  You also have to take the time to cut back the ends to get the lattice to line up - some filing is usually needed to get this just right.

Box girder section, extended and 1/4" H-Column cut and ready to assemble

Once I had both vertical posts cut to length, I added some 1/4" I-beam pieces, cut to about 3/8" long as spacers between the two columns.  I blocked in the bottom and top of the lattice work with 1/4"x.030 styrene.

Assembled Posts, one down 17 more to go.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Well, you probably have noticed that I've gone quite a while without a post.  I am usually able to squeeze a quick update in, but the past month has been extremely busy.  Thanks for the concerned emails, but everything is ok and I have actually done some model railroading, however, I have been working quite a bit lately and haven't had the energy left for my typical late-night blogging.    Things will probably continue to be busy for me until December, but I will try to do a little better.

Usually after a Steel Mill Modeler's Meet I hit the scratchbuilding hard.  This year is a little different as I left the meet inspired as always, but also with a sense of urgency in regards to the actual physical plant of my railroad.  Next years meet will be held here in South Jersey and I am involved in a lot of the planning. I also expect my layout to be on the tour list so, for the past month, and for the immediate future, the focus is on getting my bench work, soffit and fascias finished, track laid, and wiring semi-completed.  I would say the final trackwork plan is about 95% complete, at least in my mind, with only a few areas left with some thinking involved.   That being said, I need to get the track down, wired, and switch machines up - a big task.  Not to mention so basic scenery and maybe finish a structure or two by next September.   So as you will see from the photos, the work of late, involves these sort of tasks.

Inside of partially finished control panel for "PORT".  A DCC Specialities PSX circuit breaker board and track feeder terminal strips.
These control panels were originally much larger, however,  operating with smaller panels elsewhere I realized that I could fit what I needed in a smaller package, leaving additional space on the fascia for card-card holders,...etc.  Fortunately I was able to throw the old panels on the chop saw and turn one into two by some creative cutting and the addition of a single new side.  The cuts also created a opening in the back for wires to be routed through.

Black Fascia in "PORT" area - note control panel on far left, followed by card card holder, DCC jack, and DCC controller and holder.   A New York Central FM unit sits on the paved commodities pier.

I'm also trying to start adding some landforms as I'm sick of looking at plywood.  I don't use any one method, but rather a mix dependent on what appears to be the easiest .    You can see in the next photo a mix of foam, and plaster.  The "plaster" is actually Structolite, a plaster basecoat that works well for landforms - it has perlite mixed in that makes it light but also harder than straight plaster or hydrocal.  It is very cheap, available in 50 or 60lb bags from masonry suppliers.   I use hot-glued cardboard strips and plaster cloth for the base and then trowel on structolite on top.

Structolite over plaster cloth and cardboard strips
If you just looked at the above photo you will notice three turnouts.  All three are controlled by Caboose ground throws.  My original plan was to use Tortice machines for everything, but the cost for that would just get out of control.   However, I also realized that for most of my layout there will be a lot of overhead piping and other fragile structures that would get in the way of an operator reaching for a ground throw.  Therefore, all turnouts need to be controlled from the fascia, either by ground throw or control panel switch.  For the ground throws I mount a small block of wood on the fascia and build a linkage from piano wire and a 3/32 plastic tube, connecting the turnout to the throw, mounted on the block.  These tubes get buried either by hardshell scenery as above or by notching the tube into the homesote or foam.  As I mount the throws perpendicular to the turnouts, sometimes the tubes will even cross each other - the the throw for the right turnout above is actually to the left of the throw for the center turnout.

Even getting this work done, I still occasionally get the itch for building - I threw together a classic Atlas Signal Tower kit and added some lighting to it too.  This tower will control the wye area in the Lower Works, undoubtedly the busiest section of trackwork on the layout.

LW TOWER, maybe

Finally -  RIP Griffen Pipe Foundry, Florence, NJ -  only the cupolas remain, but not for too much longer.