Sunday, August 30, 2015


Access to the five extant blast furnaces at Bethlehem Steel have been gradually been getting better over the years.  When I started modeling A-Furnace, the closest I could get was a limited side view from around 200 yards away, and that usually involved getting chased away from a security guard (despite technically standing on a public sidewalk).    But that was even a considered improvement over the 1980s when I bush-wacked through a wooded hillside and crossed a frozen canal just to get some photos from across the river of blast furnace row.  The plant was still operational then and any views from the opposite side were impossibly blocked by many other mill buildings.   My only regret later was that I hadn't walked down the bank further to photograph A furnace - most of my shots were of C and D furnaces, the two operating at the time.    I also went on a tour of Bethlehem in the 80s but photography was verboten.  When the Steel Stacks complex opened things got much better, with great views of A-C furnace, although D and E were still partially blocked by the blowing engine house.   About a month ago, the Hoover-Mason high-line stock trestle was opened as a walking path.
Entrance to Hoover-Mason trestle - stairs or elevator.  I should have realized from scratch building the trestle but was surprised at how high above ground level it was.   Even with this height, the tunnel under for the scale car is even lower than the level I'm standing while taking the photo.
The walking path on the trestle extends from A furnace through E furnace with outstanding views of all five blast furnace complexes.  Additionally they built an cantilevered viewing platform that offers a view of the blowing engine house that you could only probably have gotten from a crane inside the building.  The walkway is incredibly well done when we visited this weekend.    Between Sloss a few weeks ago and now the Hoover-Mason, August has been a stellar month for steel mill touring for me.

View from walkway looking west.  A-Furnace skip hoist is visible in center of photo, along with three pass stoves and the dust catcher (of A-furance).  To the right are the stoves of B-Furnace.   On the left you can see the #2 wide gauge materials transfer car and the dual gauge trackage over the bins.   They did a great job snaking the walkway back and forth to mix up views and also strategically placed dead end extensions here and there to get in closer or just to linger without blocking the main path.  

Blowing engine house - half of an end wall of this building has been (for awhile) removed, however, with a platform extended from the walkway the view is, well,......

Transfer car line-up - behind the blowing engine house there are an additional 5 transfer cars parked -  #3, 5, and 6   plus D and F.  D and F, with are of a different design, were I believed used specifically in the ore yard for moving materials between the yard and sinter plant so never really made it up this far on the Hoover-Mason, but who knows, and they were filled with taconite pellets.    At Bethlehem there were only two stock tracks, the dual gauge ore and stone track  on the outside and the standard gauge coke track on the inside (under where I'm standing taking this photo)    The ore tracks were primarily served by the wide gauge transfer cars powered by overhead wire (note poles) , although diesel engines and standard hoppers could have been used also.  The coke track was strictly standard gauge diesels and hoppers.   

E furnace cast house on right, E and D furnaces beyond.   These two furnaces were closer together than the others as the E furnace stock house was oriented along the high-line with its stoves perpendicular to the high-line.  The other four furnaces had cast houses that extended toward the river with the stoves along the high-line.  

End of the walkway - massive #2 machine shop on right.  Hoover Mason extends toward the tall building, which is the Sands Hotel, where it has been removed beyond.   Notice there is a short dead-end siding on left and a standard gauge crossover just beyond the small structure.    The stock bins I am standing over while taking this photo are disconnected from the bins for A-E furnace.  I forget but there may have been an additional furnace at one time for which these bins were used.

Friday, August 21, 2015


As a teenager I saw photos of the preserved Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama.  Along with the Model Railroader article on the the Severna Park model railroad steel mill they sparked my life long interest in steel mill and industrial archeology.   Needless to say they have been on my to-see list for quite some time.  Finding ourselves with a free weekend, we flew down to Birmingham and had a great weekend in the "Pittsburgh of the South".  
USS Fairfield Works
We flew in late Friday night and after a early breakfast hit the road.  I quickly realized that a fair number of my scratch building projects were based on structures in the area, thanks to extensive HAER documentation work in the early 90's.   We were staying in the Homewood area which is over Red Mountain from the city proper.  We headed south along the rear of Red Mountain (more on this later)  and into Bessemer, Alabama.  Bessemer has seen better times - the downtown town was beyond depressing.   US Pipe has it's plant in Bessemer, although it's a hard facility to photograph or see much of - several structures on my former module we based on structures from here.    Going north from Bessemer we drove by the operations US Steel Fairfield Works.  This facility is soon to close - November.  I was able to get a few photos of the blast furnace and some railroad equipment from a nearby highway bridge.
Blast Furnace at Fairfield

North of here we passed the overgrown ruins of Tennessee Coal and Iron's Ensley Works, later USS.  I could make out through the vegetation the Ensley mixer, another of my almost complete scratch building projects.   Shortly thereafter were at the Thomas Coke Works, again overgrown and inaccessible, however, I could see some of the structures from my coke works I have been building.   Everything is close together in Birmingham, so this took us only an hour or so to visit all these sites.
Thomas Coke - both structures are found on my model railroad.  
By then Sloss was open (10am).   Sloss was better than I expected, by far.  The tours are self guided so you can look at things at your own pace - in mine - extremely slow.   Access to the site is excellent.  The blast furnace stacks are about the only locations you can't climb up to.  

Stoves at Sloss
Under the stock trestle - tracks for the scale car
Inside the blowing engine house
150 Ton Hot Metal Car - Pollack 
Next installment - Red Mountain

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


The z-scale coffee table project is to be split diagonally creating two separate dioramas or scenes with a simple loop of track and a few switches.    A blast furnace complex will occupy the one side and an open hearth furnace the other.    Despite the diminutive z-scale, space is tight since I'm creating larger industrial scaled scenes.   I came up with a rough plan but in trying to copy the prototypes exactly I needed to build some of the structures so things could be adjusted before gluing down the track.

Z scale is 1:220 scale.  I have an inexpensive large format printer.  The difference between 8x11 and 11x17 is significant for me in modeling, in terms of being able to decipher details and take off measurements.  The trick is to convert the HABS/HAER drawings I use to exact scale.  Once exact scale I'm able to simply take off measurements and even cut out sections of the drawings to use as templates.    HABS/HAER drawing files are sized to print out full sized plan sheets - you could always take the files to Staples,..etc. and have them print out, but you will still need to use the scale on the drawing and convert to HO scale or whatever.      For example to print the open hearth drawings I first just print as is to 11x17 - most print drivers will scale the drawing down to "fit the page"  - make note of the percentage it's scaled to.   Then measure something on the drawing that has an actual measurement noted on it - HAER drawings usually have a 30 foot scale.   You can determine what that measurement should actually measure in any scale by dividing by the scale - so for example in z-scale - convert the 30 feet to inches - 360 inches and then divide by 220 (remember z-scale is 220 times smaller than real life)    So in z-scale the 30 feet on the drawing should actually measure 1.636 inches.    You could start adjusting the scale of the print out and measuring the results until you get to what you want - 15 sheets of paper later, or you can go one more step and use algebra to determine the exact scale to tell your printer.    I'll use abbreviations -

A= % Scale from initial "print to fit page"
B= Measurement in inches of 30' HAER scale on the "print to fit page
C= Measurement in inches that 30' HAER scale should measure in the whatever scale you are modeling in.
X= % Scale to be determined to print to a specific scale

The computer will tell you A; you can measure B; and C you can calculate - X is the unknown.

A/B = X/C    take this to (AxC)/B and you will get X

Ok sorry to bore with math - some photos.
Blast furnace and high line bases

Ripping open hearth roof profiles - The open hearth is a z scale exact duplicate of  the Pittsburgh Steel Plant at Monessen, PA
Buildings will be covered with paper siding and other details.  Large building is the open hearth proper, the smallest depth building is the scrap prep plant, the narrow t-shaped building the gas producers, and the longer one on the right is the stripper building.  
Z-scale steel mill rolling stock and a Sharpie 

Thursday, August 6, 2015


My wife has been urging me for some time to build a z scale coffee table layout.  Given my cold feet with modeling of late, I figured this might be a good way to get back into model building.    I purchased a basic Marklin Z-Scale set - a locomotive, a few cars, a transformer, and an oval of track. The entire thing comes in a nice little box, about 6" square.   I also purchased an expansion set of track - two switches and some more straight track.   Typical German organization - they use a system called SET -  The starter set (S) and then various track expansion track sets (E and T)     Surprisingly, a variety of steel mill cars are available.  I purchased some slag cars and a set of two beautiful 18 axle torpedo cars.
Rails and corner posts - grooved for glass
Base, lower frame and corner posts assembled
For the table, I had some mahogany left over in my shop from a recent work project.   I designed the case to have four glass sides and a glass top.   Figuring the potential for a piece of glass to break in the future, there is a top frame that can be removed.  All the side glass is contained in grooves.   The top is a separate mahogany frame, hinged off the top frame, with a single large piece of 1/4" glass.   I'll let the photos speak for themselves.
Upper frame and top added

Turning a z-scale blast furnace stack on the lathe - to be continued

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Hot Metal Car in Pittsburgh.  Smaller 4 axle version.  Not going anywhere by looks of it - track has been cut off from main and recently it looks like someone stole the journal box covers on the opposite side.    Also looks like homeless using it as a bedroom.  Sad sight.
Interior of Hot Metal Car

Shenango Cokeworks Neville Island

Chambers McKee Glass    Jeanette, PA

Saturday, August 1, 2015


Blast Furnace at Weirton Steel

 Armco Steel unit B-73  - A Baldwin Westinghouse locomotive built in 1930.  Still operational, located at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, PA.

Back to Weirton - Blast Furnace Cast house 
GE Critter at Trolley Museum

Porter Critter