Monday, February 27, 2012


Was looking through my photographs and came across a few from a road trip we took a few years ago, exploring the northern Jersey waterfront around the Newark/Elizabeth area.  First, a shot of the old Singer Sewing Machine Plant in Elizabeth(port).  Just behind this structure were the shops for the CNJ, but are long gone now.
How About this for a backdrop structure?
If you try to build this let me know as I will buy some stock in DPM first.  

My port area remains unfinished, although the structures in it are getting close to finished.  One problem I am wrestling with is that my bulkheads look too plain right now - just concrete.  Another problem is that I can't figure out how to exactly render the water.  I know how to make it, just the colors I'm finding hard to pinpoint.  Here's a photo of the Elizabeth River - some food for thought.

Old bulkhead, Elizabeth River
Enough of the serious, now some funny, unless of course you are the owner of this excavator.
Avalon, NJ 2006 - Townsends Inlet  
I think they found a sinkhole.

Lastly,  the coolest toy ever made - Mighty Casey.
I wish I weighed 50lbs still - I'd be the one playing with it.
Mighty Casey was sold in the 1970's.  It was a ride on electric train.  There were a few different cars - a B&M Boxcar, a red gondola, a caboose, and yellow passenger cars.  I had the basic set way back in my childhood and then my mom picked up some additional track sections at a church rummage sale.  There were straight and curved tracks, and also a 90 degree crossover, but no turnouts that I can remember.  We pulled it out in the 90s for my son to play with.  The plastic track works well on hard surfaces or indoors on carpet, but not so great on grass.  No problem, I quickly fabricated some track out of 1x2s with 1x4 ties, held together by drywall screws.  The battery was dead but an old alarm battery worked fine, actually over powered the motor a bit.  Tell me that doesn't look fun.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


What's in the box?
A goodly portion of the turnouts on my layout will be thrown by Tortice switch machines - I'll use the contacts on these machines to power the frogs - but - what about all the hand-throws near the edges of the layout?  I could use the Caboose ground throws with the built in contacts.  I've installed these on our Free-mo modules and they mostly perform well, although they are a little fragile for my liking.  This gets a bit complicated on the layout as the throws are all mounted on the fascia on blogs that would be difficult to drill out and run wires for the ground throw contacts.

 The solution - Tam Valley's Hex Frog Juicer.  This small circuit board works like a charm and is about as simple to hook up as it gets.   The "Hex" means it's good for six frogs - you can also buy singles and doubles.  There is no real cost savings in buying the Hex board over six singles, but there is less wiring.   The Frog Juicer works sort of like an automatic reverser.  It senses a change in the polarity when the locomotive wheel sets cross the frog and adjusts accordingly.  It does this all faster than our DCC system can sense a short so there is no hesitation or cutting out at all.
Juicer #1 Installed
As to the wiring its a no brainer - there are two terminals for a feed from the DCC bus.  It doesn't matter which lead you hook to which terminal - I used 20 gauge wire as feeds but the instructions say you can go as low as 22 gauge.   The DCC terminal is the blue block on the bottom of the board.  The other blue terminal block on the upper left of the board has six lugs - one for each frog.  I used a Cat-5 cable to run a single wire to each frog.  That's it.  It took me less than two hours total, including drilling the holes, soldering the wires to the frogs, and making all the connections,...etc..

The LEDs on the board are indicators.  The one near the DCC terminal indicates DCC power, the rest alternate from Green to Red when the frogs change polarity.  There is also another LED in the center of the board that triggers when a frog has been "juiced".  The LEDs make it easy to be sure the board is doing it's job without pulling out a multimeter.

Jimmy's two EMD Model 40's are now happy little critters.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Paper Tanks - BTW, the backdrop color is a base coat and is going to be "hazed" over to dull the blue
Further experiments with paper.....    Last time I showed you a free download paper model that I built.  This time, it's one that I purchased from the same site, Scale Scenes.  Purchasing these models is as simple as paying for them and then getting an email with the how-to on downloading your model.  This "kit" was about 4 pounds, which worked out to be around $6 something in US dollars.  Since you buy the PDF file the number of models you can build is unlimited and only will cost you ink and paper.  This kit comes with all you need to make tanks in a black or a white color.  You can also print the white tank image onto a colored paper, they recommend silver for additional variety.  The kit also comes with concrete slabs, retaining walls, stairs, platforms, piping,...etc.  (10 pages of stuff)  I printed out the file. again at 87% reduction, onto a matt presentation paper.  A printing professional at my Friday night operators group, Diamond Bill, recommended always using paper that is the same brand as the printer, at least for high-quality prints.  The manufactures set their printers up using their paper so while other papers will work, the optimum quality will be with their paper.  Following this advice I am getting excellent prints.  When I adjust the paper options in the printer utility there is a check box for the exact paper that I'm using.
Using door jamb to draw a vertical line on a cylinder - don't use a good door for this as  it leaves a little pencil residue.
The nice thing about this kit is that the paper tanks are designed to be applied to a cylinder.  Any diameter up to maybe 5 or 6" can be used.  For my core I used PVC pipes with an .060 styrene top.  As I was building backdrop tanks I split the pipes.  To do this I first draw a straight vertical line on one side of the PVC pipe.  I use an old model rocket trick and set the pipe against a door jamb's stop molding.  You then use a pencil to run a vertical line along the stop molding.  To add the second line, 180 degrees from the first, I take a scrap of paper and wrap it from the first line, all around the tank, cutting it when it returns to the first line.  I then fold the paper in half and re-tape it to the cylinder.  The fold line should be exactly opposite the first line.  To cut along the lines through the heavy, Schedule 40 PVC, I used a dovetail hand saw.   After I glued on the half tops, I sprayed the tanks and paper wraps with an adhesive.  First you wrap the sides  of the tanks - cut to extend a little above the top of the cylinder.  This overhang is cut with a razor every 1/4" or so and the cuts are folded down onto the top.   Next the top piece is cut out from a larger circular print - center the tanks on it and trace and then cut - and then glued on.  Results are good for back drop structures and will blend in even better with the addition of ladders, walkways, and piping.

Split pipes - 1.5" and 3" PVC schedule 40 pipe

Saturday, February 18, 2012


A Very Old and Very Rare Baldwin VO-660 - Still in Service
Went to check on my sailboat today - spending the winter in the water down on the Chesapeake Bay.  It was nice to get away for the day, even with wires hanging off my chest connected to a heart monitor -  only one more week of this.   Stopped at Woodcraft  in Delaware and bought a very expensive European circular saw that I'd wanted for some time and then a nice lunch at the Bohemia Cafe in Chesapeake City.

On the return trip I persuaded my wife to take me railfanning.  I got this photo of a rare Baldwin VO-660 in the Pureland Industrial Park in South Jersey.  It still carries the paint scheme of it's former owner, Standard Steel.  Standard Steel is located in central PA and manufactures railroad wheels and axles - electric furnaces, forging, and machining operations.  I had a tour of the place back in the 1990's that the Society for Industrial Archeology had arranged.  Interesting operations in a mill that has been the site of continuous iron and steel making since the 1790's.   Watching modern CNC milling machines and forges inside stone buildings that dated to the 1800's was a strange combination.   SMS Rail Services acquired this locomotive around 2004-5 I believe.  I think there are less than a half dozen examples of this model still in existence and three of them are owned by this shortline, along with many other Baldwins - VO1000's S-12s AS16s,.....etc.   No doubt many of them originally used in steel mills.   I've read that Baldwins and Fairbanks Morse locomotives were preferred over the lighter EMD units in mills as there were usually steep grades, like for instance in the approaches to open hearth plants, that these heavy units could handle better.

We also did a drive by of the refinery in Paulboro, hoping to catch another Baldwin switching tank cars, but it must have been deep in the plant.  I'm fortunate to have a wife that besides putting up with all my bad habits for the past 24 years is always willing to take the wheel on a railfan trip.  The trick was I think to wear her down early in our relationship......
1986 - Port Reading, NJ - Bet she was thinking then that this was just a  phase I was going through that I would outgrow - WRONG

Thursday, February 16, 2012


100% Paper and cardstock
You may remember back a year or two ago I experimented a bit with paper, building an O-Scale barn using techniques I learned about in Troels Kirk's postings on the Railroad Line Forums.   Essentially, this was a scratchbuilt structure and I used a heavy pastel paper for the clapboards and the roof shingles.  I thought the results were excellent and it was a fun break for me.   The same fellow also began using paper  with architectural features, like bricks,...etc.. printed on them.  I was more dubious of this technique as my nature tends toward realism and to me this was a scam, smoke and mirrors, that would be fairly obvious.  The photos he posted, by the way, looked pretty good, but I still wasn't convinced - until - Rick Bickmore, Steel Mill Modeler extraordinaire, started messing, or "futzing about", as he puts it, with this medium.  He has used these paper architectural prints in conjunction with traditional structure models in a very convincing way.

Smoke and Mirrors?  (Put office wall on backwards)
Rick gave me a link to a free online site that will generate brick sheets for you in any scale - You enter the scale, and then pick the brick color, mortar color, and bond pattern- then click and out comes your custom brick sheet.   This site is here.  From that site I stumbled onto another paper modeling site - Scale Scenes.  This is a UK site so some of the buildings have a European look to them, however,  many would  pass for American structures, and usually you have about 5-10 choices for what to use for your wall texture - a half dozen brick patterns plus stone and more, plus a choice of accessories, ie different doors, signs, ....etc.  .  The above structure is a free download on the Scale Scenes site - they have four freebees.   I figured I would give it a try, other than printer ink and a few pieces of cardboard I wasn't heavily invested in this model.
All the parts - printed and some glued to different thicknesses of cardboard
Whether you pay for it or not, you basically just download the file, usually a zipped PDF.  The Scale Scenes site also gives you detailed instructions along with your structure prints.  The next step, of course, is to print out the file.  Now if you are using the Scale Scenes prints you need to first adjust your  print utility to print out the file at 87% .  The structures are designed for OO scale (1:76)  and also they are designed to fit on an A4 sheet of paper.  Scaling the print down to 87% will give you the correct size for HO Scale, and also allow you to print on standard American Letter size paper.   I didn't know much about OO scale and actually just assumed it was an European term for HO as it uses the same track.  What a screwed up scale to model in, although it is very popular in England, at least.  From what I could gather the scale was created as British Steam engines were much smaller than American types so it was harder to fit the motors and drives into these engines in HO scale - things were enlarged a little to OO scale to allow things to fit better, but HO track was still used.  This scales out to 4'1" between rails, well off the prototype.

Make the effort to print out the files to the highest quality.  Then spray the printed sheets with a matte varnish  - a few coats - to protect the image during construction.  There are notes on the sheets as to the desired thicknesses of each part.  You will need to glue the parts to either light, medium, or heavy cardboard, but sometimes just the paper only.  I used a spray adhesive for this.  I sort of jumped a step and printed out the parts on a heavy presentation paper, hoping to skip a step.  Ultimately I would have some difficulty making small folds crisply using this type of paper.  Once I got the hang of things, the model was fun to build and took maybe four hours total.   In part two I'll detail some of the construction pitfalls to avoid and tricks to use.

There is also an American company - Clever Models that make paper kits.  They are all American versions and some look to be quite nice, but if I had to compare the two, I think I like the Scale Scenes better - They seem to have more layers to them, with varying thicknesses too.  Their interiors are also excellent.  Look at the interior of the massive train station model they sell and you'll see what I mean.  The prices are a little cheaper than Clever but not by much for individual kits.  I think the Clever kits don't give you a variety of surface textures to choose from.  There were two things the Clever does that bothered me more than a little - first, on their Freebie page they ask for donations.  What? So it's free, but we are going to guilt you into paying us for the model anyway.  And secondly, they charge less for n-scale and more for o-scale versions - what's that about? Aren't we talking about a computer file?  I assume they just draw this thing once and then adjust the scale, or rather the computer adjusts the scale, so why does it cost more?    Don't get me wrong, I will likely try a few of the Clever kits eventually, but a little bit shady on a few counts.

I leave you with another project -  My wife interrupted my modeling (and dared to enter the man cave) to have me dry brush her shoe.  There was a very small scuff and I had to restore the leopard spots to their glory using some acrylic paints. I don't think I'll do a full blog on this one....

Monday, February 13, 2012


Weathering of Towers Under Way
Quick update - Spent some time weathering the final coolers/benzol washers this weekend.  Getting very close but not 100% where I want them to be.   With a base coat of Floquil Grimy Black over gray automotive primer, I first applied multiple washes - black first and then some rust colors.  I used gouache paints mixed with water, blending the colors from mostly black, white, and raw sienna.   Gouache paints when thinned work well for building up subtle coloration.   They work well on freight cars, however, on larger surfaces like the subject of this blog, it is harder to keep the washes consistent and uniform.  To eliminate some of this variation I got out some weathering chalks and first, using black to mute the colors a bit, and then a variety of rust colors.   These vessels would be hot and thus when wet, rust pretty quickly, especially in the lax maintenance environment of the Amboy Coke Plant.   The lamp shades are a cream color and there is some silvery gun metal Vallejo paint on the valve handles,..etc.   The base is a concrete color - I am trying out a new mix -  Testors Model Master,  White, Gull Gray, and Sand in even proportions.
Another View - You can see the scale of these things by comparing them to the Atlas  Tower just behind them

Sunday, February 12, 2012


This has been a subject that has come up a few times in the past month.  I was born in the later 1960's, but I model the 1950's.  My sense of color runs more toward the modern era and I find myself at a loss sometimes when I try to figure out appropriate colors for my model railroad structures.   As most of the photography of that era is black and white, my impression is shades of gray.   Even my earliest childhood recollections of the 60's and 70's I remember lots of blacks and muted colors.  Trips down the NJ Turnpike to our shore house bring memories of lines of black tank cars and sooty refineries.  The local New York Central infrastructure was all greys and blacks, with the occasional jade green boxcar making an appearance.  As the years went on, the blue and yellow Penn Central brought the era of bright colors to the railroad in terms of locomotives and rolling stock.  (Pump your breaks railfans - Penn Central locos were indeed black with a white logo, but in Westchester County New York on ex-NYC trackage they were indeed blue with yellow noses and a big yellow PC logo.)   Industries also became "cleaner", and subsequently more colorful looking as the EPA began dropping the hammer on old practices.   Obviously there were also improvements in coatings and pigments that enabled more of a color variety on an industrial scale.

Chicago Steel Mill in Color - early 1940s - fireboat in foreground

So what do I use for reference if most photos are black and white from that era?  Indeed black and white was still the film of choice in the 40's and 50's, however, Kodachrome color transparency film was released in 1935 by Kodak and slowly found a following.  These color photos can be found in the beautiful Morning Sun books released on almost a weekly basis it seems.   If I was a hedge fund manager I'd probably buy every title released, but they are for now, an pricey item that I splurge on only for titles that are truly important to me - Steel Mill Railroads, Critters,...etc.     For the budget minded there are a few online sources for color photos of this era.  Truly the most outstanding photos in terms of resolution and composition are those on the National Archives site - I don't have the link but they are in the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information collection and date from 1935-1945.  There are plenty of railroad and industrial shots, including a few dozen steel and coke photos, and browsing through the collection will give you a good feel for the colors of the time.

East Chicago, IN Steel Mill - Check out the B&O E Units

Another source came to me via todays New York Times.   Charles W. Cushman, a traveling salesman, financial analyst, and most importantly, an amateur photographer, started taking photographs of virtually every subject conceivable in the 1930's using Kodachrome film.  His travels took him throughout the United States and overseas.  He donated 14,500 of his slides to his alma mater, Indiana University.  They have digitized the collection and lower resolution images are available online .   There are many industrial, marine, and railroad related photos in this collection, but sometimes just the mundane street shots are just as interesting in terms of colors of the 1950's.   All the photos in this blog are from that collection.

1940's Johnstown, PA - Lots of black, grey, brick tone, and earth tones

And there was also some vivid colors,....

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


I might be having a celebration soon - the final/benzol cooling towers are almost complete.  I sprayed them with a primer and then a few coats of grimy black.  I have to cut in the concrete color and then start weathering things.   I'm pretty much sticking to grimy blacks in my mill.  From what I can tell from older, abet black and white pictures, most of the tanks and vessels in the coke plant and the mill for that matter where blackish back in the early 50's.   Interesting colors started appearing in the years that followed, but things looked pretty bland back then.  Lots of soot over everything too as we are talking pre-EPA days.  The prototype was a whitish-grey color I think, but I'm not sure that was the original color anyway, and besides, I'm not modeling Thomas Coke, just using the prototype as a basis for my models.

I pulled out the photo of the prototype that I was working from - I'll post here again, although I might have done so earlier in this string of posts. It was a mistake as my obsessiveness took over - the gate valve body castings I made are too large;  I forgot some access hatches; I missed a small pipe that probably fed a sprayer in the outlet pipe of the final cooler (the one on the left), the top of the coolers was recessed more than I've done it; maybe the diameter of the towers is a little less than what I portrayed, ...etc.  Uhg. My wife then pointed out that my model had a circular walkway on the left tower and I had to point out to her the supports in the photo, evident of a walkway once upon a time.    As my daughter would say, "You need to get a life."     All in all I guess I should be pretty happy with it as I didn't use any plans and just scaled everything from the photo.

The Prototype - Thomas Coke
Almost Completed Model
Another View

One new find -  In steel mill modelers circles there is always a lot of talk of the USS tome, The Making, Shaping, and Treatment of Steel.   To be sure, this is an excellent book and for me, the reason I got interested in steel mills in the first place.   Hours perusing the multiple editions on the reference shelf at Rutgers Library of Science and Medicine back in the 80's hooked my interest.  (This wasn't technically a distraction as I majored in the History of Technology)   I have a copy now, I forget which edition, but it dates from the early 50's, my modeling era.   This wasn't the only book USS Steel published.  I don't know how many titles are out there, but one, the USS Methods Engineering Manual , 1951,  I recently stumbled upon in my filing cabinet.   It took me a second or two to remember that I had picked this up off the floor of the abandoned power house at the Universal Atlas Cement Plant in Hudson, NY. (Universal Atlas was owned by USS)   I was there as a Professional Historian/Archeologist back in the earlier 90's.   The plant was slated for demolition to make room for a new cement plant, that ultimately was never built.  I was documenting the structures.  

It was a heady time for me as I was handed the key to the plant, which was actually three industrial complexes - A ship loading facility and former production facility on the Hudson River (between the New York Central Mainline and the River),  the main plant about two miles up the valley from the river, and the quarry, another mile inland from the main plant.  The first two were connected by a 2 mile long company owned railroad with very steep grades, the later two by a long conveyor belt.  Tales of my time exploring this plant, and getting paid for it too, will be told in a later blog - back to this book. 

At the time I had leafed through it and the lack of drawings or photos probably caused me to file it away, but the neat thing about it, after actually reading the thing now, is the detailed information about specific steel mill operations.  Essentially the book is a how to book on improving the efficiency of plant operations, but in doing so they use specific steel making processes as examples.  These process all take place in the fictional ABC Steel Company, but a good historian of USS plants should be able to pick out the real locations.  The information is very detailed and includes a significant amount of railroad operations info.  Enough to be helpful in planing operations for our equally fictional Raritan Steel.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

HQ Part - 4

I've sort of stalled building the concrete walls that create the elevated area that the headquarters building of Raritan Steel sits on, but I suddenly got an urge today to build the elevated walkway that will conceal where the double track main ducks into the backdrop.  It was hard enough creating the justification for the one tunnel that I do have as my mill and railroad is set in the coastal New Jersey city of Perth Amboy.  (The justification for the tunnel between Arthur Kill Yard/State Street Pier and the remainder of the layout is that the railroad had to run under the built up city center.)    Using an elevated walkway, hides the transition to concealed trackwork in a reasonable manner, while at the same time it conveys a connection between the HQ building and the steel making part of the mill.    It also will add some additional detail to the main building.   Essentially the walkway connects to a small three story brick building made using DPM modular pieces.

0.060 styrene core
I started with an 0.060 styrene core and cut out two window openings.   The arched part at the bottom will represent an arched steel beam supporting the enclosed walkway.   I didn't have any masonry windows this size so I am just flipping and reversing two wood framed Tichy windows.
Fabricating the arched beam
I made the beam using .030x.080 strip glued to the face of the sheet styrene core and then added .010x.080 strips, flat, with rivets embossed in them.  The bottom flange is a .030 x .156 strip.  I also added some doubled verticals at both ends.
Finally I added some Plastruct brick sheet, some .010x.060 headers and sills, and a simulated standing seam roof of .030 sheet and .030 square strips.


If you remember from back in the fall or summer, I reworked a portion of the lower works trackwork.  One of the additions to this branch was spur that led to the highline, the iron foundry, and a hole in the benchwork for a future ore dumper.  I plan to make this fully operational, maybe, and a big maybe, even make it fully automated using an NCE Mini-panel, or maybe an Arduino micro controller.  For now, I'm just in the planing phase, but will probably start glueing things together tomorrow.

I've done plenty of research into these machines and gone back and forth as to what type of design to use as the basis for this model.  I like the older style machines where the whole cylindrical section actually rolls, as opposed to rotates.  While this would look cool, there is too much chance for error while operating.  The more modern rotary dumpers would be easier to engineer, but the operation of the machine would still be dependent on the proper meshing of the large ring gear.   While leafing through that latest Bethlehem Steel book I came across a few dumpers, one of them, for coal, struck me as a good prototype to model, abet, for ore not coal.  This dumper, pictured below, has a car cradle that pivots on fixed trunnions and would certainly be more likely to not malfunction.  

Machine at Bethlehem Steel

Sketching it out - working out the geometry

Friday, February 3, 2012


Shortly after my last post, the winters blues I was talking about got a bit worse.  An old heart rhythm problem that I thought was in my past, came back, and I ended up spending a few days in the hospital.   I took this photo of my monitor in the ER

Houston We Have A Problem

 That is not how your EKG should look, and it shouldn't have a little red label next to it saying ATRIAL FIB.  The rate of 114  bpm was a low number, which is the only reason I was steady enough to take the photo - it was averaging in the 140s and going as high as 170.  Besides the speed, the real problem is the irregular rhythm.   The skillful application of some high-voltage, or maybe high amperage - not sure, restored things to order.  No, I wasn't awake for it - they slip you a mickey first (the Doctor said it was the same stuff Michael Jackson shot up every night - I didn't really know how to take that statement).   But, after a short stay in the hospital I'm back home and doing fine physically.  The episode was a wake-up call to make a lot of changes in my life.   Most importantly I need to reduce the amount of stress in my life as the best I can figure this was the cause of this malady for sure in the past and lately I had been feeling similar levels of stress.  For me, nothing better for easing stress than working on trains, unless of course  you are trying to mount a Tortice switch machine from under the layout - trying to get the actuator wire through that little hole in the switch throw.

 Doctor's orders to take at easy until monday are blowing our weekend plans with the   Capitol Free-mo group at Timonium, MD.  Jimmy is especially disappointed, but understands.  On the up side we will still spend the time model railroading, just working on our layout.

I decided to install non-operational lights on the benzol washers.  To make these I started with some 0.019 brass wire, Grandt Line lamp shades, and a special pair of pliers that will bend the loop needed for the light post.
Grandt Line Lamp Reflectors
I bent the wire and attached the Lamp Reflectors with CA glue.  After drying I cut the stems of the lamps so they were 9' tall overall.  I then glued the lamps to the washer complex.  In the end I added about 20 lamps to the structure.

Lamps Ready to go

Lamps added to stairs and tower tops