Saturday, August 4, 2012


I've been trying of late to split my time between layout type items - trackwork, electric, scenery, control circuits,..etc..  and building models to inhabit the new, much improved, coke works branch.   The trackwork is in, wiring well under way, and the landforms (lots of hills) are almost complete.  I hope to paint the tracks tomorrow (sunday) and then ballast and scenery to follow.   At some point I'll maybe talk about scenery methods, but for now, basically, I used wire screening as the forms for my hills and then cover this with plaster gauze.  Since the layout will be operated, I want a little more strength than the gauze confers, so I trowel on a layer of Structolite and sculpt it wet as needed.

 Structolite, for those of you that haven't heard of it before, is a plaster base coat sold in 60 lb bags.   It's primary stated use is as the "brown" or base coat of a traditional plaster finish.   In renovations of older homes we do occasionally use it as the base filler for a patch in a plaster wall, and in new homes with large curved staircases with an open bottom (ie compound curve) - the undersides of these stairs can't be drywalled as the sheets won't form to the complex curve, and need to be plastered traditionally.   Another very common use for this material is to set a fiberglass tub or shower.  This is actually a pet peeve of mine as it is something that most homeowners and unprofessional contractors miss - we mix up several bags of this stuff and just dump piles of it on the plywood subfloor and then press the tub or shower base into it.  The result is a rock solid base, as opposed to feeling like you are standing in a cheap canoe.  Since the Structolite is infused with perlite granules, the material is relatively light as compared with an equal quantity of concrete - an important factor when considering you might also have two adults and 90 gallons of water in one of those tubs.   This perlite in the mix allows thick build up of material on your layout without worrying about extensive cracking or weight for that matter, but because it has portland cement in it, it is solid, not crumbly like Sculptamold.    The bags are cheap and I used only about 3/4 of one to scenic over half my layout.

Today I realized how many buildings are actually part of my coke works.  I'll list them in the order that a train entering the branch from the main will pass them -

Gas Holder - Benzol Plant (one building and several stills) - loading platform - tar tanks (2) - final cooler and benzol washers - additional storage tank(s) - coke works office - acid storage tank - ammonium sulfate storage building - ammonium sulfate production building - flare tower - ammonia saturator - tar extractors - exhauster building - primary coolers - coke ovens - coal bunker - quench tower - coke wharf - three conveyors - conveyor transfer building - coke loading building - coal unloading building - and then three or so misc industrial type buildings to conceal main entering behind backdrop (instead of a hill and tunnel)

There will probably be some additional tanks, electrical substations, utility buildings,...etc..  but that is for the detail stage.  The only finished structure are the final coolers/benzol washers - the remainder of the buildings are in various stages of construction.
Gas Producer House "Parts"
Speaking of the "miscellaneous" buildings - to hide part of the main and backdrop I needed a narrow, tall, and long building.  I could have just built a rolling mill type building and covered the tracks, but I thought about it and decided a gas producer house would work well for that purpose.  Most likely it will represent a recently abandoned gas producer building for an open hearth complex located off layout.   I didn't want to get too distracted with this structure and also wanted to try out so new construction techniques, including my continued experimentation with paper.  The core of the structure was built from 1/2" MDF (I ran out of this while cutting the walls so there are two piece of 1/2" maple plywood)  The dimensions of the structure are from the HAER drawings of the Pittsburgh-Wheeling Steel Mill in Monessen, PA.

The wall pieces were held together with yellow glue and the occasional brad.

For the siding I used paper - specifically a Scale Scenes "texture" (rusted corrugated siding).  Scale Scenes is hands down the best paper model railroad company out there.  There graphics are the best, the support and instructions are excellent, and the prices reasonable.  To boot, instead of selling the actual paper as some other companies do, or encrypted CDs, you buy a PDF file.  You can print this file out as many times as you would like.  Another thing that is really neat is the instant gratification factor - you do a pay pal transaction and a second or two later you get an email with a link to download your file.  Originally I'd planned on just gluing on full sheets of the paper, but then thought that the linear seams would be a noticeable distraction, so I cut the sheets into strips along the printed panel seams and then applied them in rows, slightly lapping the next higher row.  This maybe added an hour to the project but the results I think were worth it.   The strips were adhered with a glue stick.  Since the glue is clear you can smear a few rows at once (on the MDF) and apply the strips.  Occasionally you will need to apply the glue to the strip, like on the angled gables, but for the most part your can just fly with this stuff.  You only really need a glue stick, pair of scissors, and occasionally a single edge razor blade to trim an edge. (you can overhang the edges and just cut in place, instead of measuring and cutting)  Just be sure to stagger your seams.
Adding the mat board roof
I used mat board for the roofs, coloring the edges, and installed with white glue.  The strips were then applied in the same manner.  At the peaks I cut a narrow strip of siding and folded it using a metal straight edge, to form a ridge cap.  I forgot to mention that when building the core of the structure I cut the base a 1/16" smaller on all for sides, creating a slight overhang on the structure, representing the divergence from the foundation (the base) to the corrugated siding.  Instead of painting this base a concrete color I used a Scale Scenes concrete texture, cut in strips and glued to the MDF.  The foundation didn't stick that well with a glue stick - something to be aware of that is a problem with adhering things to the very porous edge grain of MDF.  Seal it first or use a white glue.

The semi finished product - I added some Rix Ventilators, but still need to add some doors, piping, platforms, and other details.    To get to this point, about four hours of work - two building the core, and two installing the siding and roofs.

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