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.


Vince Altiere said...

What about the possibility that the cooling towers were painted silver??

Jim Musser said...

Vince - I'm pretty sure the actual towers at Thomas Coke were painted silver, at least in their final days. Most of the period photos I've come across the towers are black. It's just a personal preference for me, although anything other than black or silver or maybe white for the 1950s period would look out of place. See my next post, which I'm about to write for more on color in the 1950's.