Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Homemade HO Ore Car Loads II: Metalliferous Ores

Last post was all about coal loads.  This one is more about ore cars for heavier rock - the metals iron, copper, and manganese (manganese?  Really?  Well, no, not totally, you'll see in a minute).

I'm pretty new to the hobby and hadn't seen (as of January, 2015) an ore car yet.  I was out near Silicon Valley on a bit of a Protea viewing/nature trip when I stopped by a train shop in Santa Clara.  The place had a really nice assortment of rolling stock from the major brands (Athearn, Walthers, etc.).  I saw this taconite Burlington Northern ore car and fell in love:


That is a Walthers Gold Line car - Gold Line stands for quality, and, more importantly, price.  The Train Shop in Santa Clara had things priced well below MSRP, so they did a good job.  Still, I read somewhere on the internet (I don't have the link) that Walthers increased the price of these cars (especially the of 6 or 12) considerably after seeing their initial favorable reception.

The short is that I wasn't going to be able to put together any kind of unit consist of these beautiful cars because they're just too damned expensive.

Happily there are plenty of good ore car deals on ebay and in train shops all the time.  I assembled a little fleet, many without loads.

As a geologist I work around a fair number of rock samples, ones that I or someone else originally thought would be attractive, then later thought better of it.  These are great for smashing up and making into loads.  My first attempt was with some rocks from Morenci, Arizona that a friend of my late wife had given her when she left town for Phoenix.  I high-graded this with some rocks I brought back from the Congo that I also high graded (Only a geologist would go all the way to the Congo, the home of some of the most beautiful malachite specimens in the world, and come back with an ugly, ordinary ore rock from the pit.  My core splitting tech friend from Nevada Gary frequently called us "goofy <MF's>" - he may have had a point :-(   ):





I liked the way the malachite (green) and azurite (blue) looked against the black of the ore cars - no matter that there are to the best of my knowledge no carbonate/oxide based copper mines in the vicinity of the historic Chesapeake and Ohio train lines (they did go through Michigan's lower peninsula, so it's possible they carried the Michigan style native copper loads - I don't know) - it's my layout and I'll bastardize if I want to - besides, for realism it gets weirder, if not worse below.

Also, in addition to being wildly high graded, the loads are kind of chunky.  Getting rocks to break nicely down to 1/87 HO scale can be tough.  If I had more patience I may have done better.  What bothered me is that as the azurite and malachite turn to dust, you're left with a gray-green, unspectacular mush that I just couldn't abide by visually.

I did try to make the high-grading of my ores less extreme by breaking up the dolomite/silica ore bearing rock from Africa as is and running it through a makeshift sieve (a desk organizer with a mesh outline - it worked well enough).  The results were OK, but I wasn't too keen on it - still chunky too (it looks like I mixed in some of that azurite from Morenci - the blue stuff - huh, I don't even remember doing that :-\   ):



This is where I started getting probably a bit too creative, although honestly, I am pleased with the way it looks.  The blue and green looked so good (to me) against the black, I wanted to go with pink.  I picked up a chunk of raw rhodochrosite in a rock shop in the Denver airport a little while back.  I actually polished it with a dremel tool, but I wasn't happy with the result.  Rhodo, meet crack hammer and voilá, a load:


Somewhere I read that rhodochrosite is "rarely" used as an ore of manganese.  I can guarantee that it was even more rarely found in a Pennsy ore jenny in humongous chunk format.  You know, cellophane flowers of yellow and green towering over your head don't exist either, but the guy who wrote that has a freakin' airport named after him, so there.  I found it pleasing to my eye.

There was a rock someone was throwing out from the office.  I think it was from a property in Arizona - it was a granite or something like it shot through with specular hematite.  Hematite shows up usually as red staining in rocks or less often in its "specular" habit.  As a way of remembering the word "specular" we used to call it spectacular hematite as a joke in our undergrad mineralogy class because it was shiny (see Gary the core tech's goofy MF moniker above).  I snagged it and kept it in my office for a while as a curiosity.  It looked like granite with some veins in it but it weighed a ton because of the iron.

I decided to check out the other hobby shop in Tucson (the Ace Hardware near Kolb and 22nd is the place to go - this wasn't that one).  They were weak on train stuff, but they did have this used Bachmann ore jenny for about $6.  I found my hematite guinea pig:


The picture doesn't do it justice but in the right light it really sparkles going around the track.  It's wayyy  too chunky.  I should have broken up the rock more, but I wanted to see what it looked like.  Plus, I have a bad attitude when it comes to Bachmann stuff - a love/hate relationship, as it were.  I love to hate their stuff (ba-doom-boom-kshhh).  So I had the "I hate this car; I'm playing with house money" attitude toward this load/project - too bad, really, because it actually kind of sort of turned out.

The baby bear jusssst rigghhht rock I found in a float boulder I collected when I lived in Morenci (Arizona).  I used to walk around the hills near the townsite looking for agates and other pretty rocks.  One day I stumbled on a strange looking boulder about the size of a small loaf of bread.  Turns out it was almost all chalcocite, a very copper rich sulfide.  I broke it in half and polished it by hand with sandpaper.  My late first wife used to call it my worry rock.  Here's what the polished half looks like:



The first copper load was a little chunky:


. . . although it is pretty nonetheless.


This is the one where I got closest to having a realistic load.  That amount of concentrated copper sulfur in blasted muck could only come from an underground operation.  Still, that sort of high grade ore does show up in deposits throughout the world.

That's it.  Thanks for stopping by.







Sunday, April 26, 2015

HO Rolling Stock Homemade Coal Loads

It's a sad story with some ugly missteps, but it has an acceptably happy end.

Original plan:  I wanted to buy a bunch of loads from JWD in Maine over the internet.  I had purchased a couple sulfur loads for gondolas from them and was really impressed.  When I looked at them, my first thought was, "Wow, everyone is their own little Michelangelo . . ."  The order came with a hand written thank you note.  I wanted more from JWD . . . but . . .

Problem:  I ran out of money.  Yes, I overextended myself.  A quick google search showed me I wasn't the only person to ever do this.  The former child actor Gary Coleman had a bit of a model train thing and went just about bankrupt with it.  I feel your pain, little guy.  My hope is that you're tooling around with heaven's coolest layout as we speak.

The Solution (or so I thought):  homemade loads!  Get some styrofoam, shape it a bit with sandpaper, paint it black, and voilá, coal loads for my gondola rolling stock.  How hard could it be?

Well, hard.  My Michelangelo analogy above should have clued me in to the fact that there's a process, real skill, and an art to it.

My first attempts (and subsequent ones) looked like the cocaine bricks in that Johnny Depp movie:


When I painted them black they looked like hash brownies baked in a gondola:



Being stubborn, I kept trying and trying only to end up with more cocaine bricks that turned into hash brownies.  DAMN!

Enter an Angel:  I was talking to my sister on the phone and she suggested getting some anthracite coal on my next visit home to Reading, Pennsylvania, my hometown (yes, THAT Reading of the Reading Railroad).  Whereas I spent almost my entire childhood in Reading, she had a greater memory of Pottsville in the County immediately to the north whose name I frequently misspell and won't attempt here.  There's coal in the waste piles from the mines here and there in the Anthracite Coal Regions.

We took a trip up to the abandoned town of Centralia and went rock collecting.  The place is kind of bizarre - all but abandoned except for one beautiful Ukranian (?) church.  A bunch of high school kids were hiking up and down the abandoned stretch of highway.

In spite of my profession, I had never done any field geology back East where I'm from.  This was a fun trip.  There are a bunch of terrigenous (a fancy name for deposited on land) rock layers that have been folded, some tipped vertical or overturned.  They go from pebbly to sandy to silty and to the carbon-rich paydirt in specific layers of anthracite.  We found at least one tree limb fossil impression - they're pretty common - it is after all ancient bogs and forests that get compressed and lithified to make the coal.

When I got back to my sister's place near Reading, I sealed the few pounds of coal in a tupperware-like container and put that inside a two gallon bag.  It didn't trash out my luggage but the cheap plastic container didn't make it.  Thank God for that sealed bag.

On the flight home I met a mining engineer from near Pottsville who still works in the anthracite business.  It turns out that anthracite is still used a great deal for water filtration.  Our flight was from Philly to Phoenix.  He was headed out to Arizona to work on the Colorado River project.  I had had no idea and I lived in Arizona on and off for 17 years.

Let's try this again:   my process is fairly simple.  I go out to my garage and just tap the coal pieces with a sledgehammer until they get reasonably small.  This is the one place where I could probably stand to take more time and care, but I just didn't have the experience or patience to get it perfect.  My rock chips are nowhere near the HO scale 1:87 of the real life size.  I can live with that.

For the rolling stock I don't worry about overweighting them too much.  Before I try to put a coal load on them I've already weighted them to the NMRA standard.  This guarantees that they are going to end up being considerably overweight.  My rationale goes that I need the weight near the bottom of the cars to stabilize them so that when I put more weight at the top, they are not top heavy.  Disclaimer:  I am a newb and may well be full of it.

Rather than try to perfectly shape the styrofoam like I was trying to do before, I just put enough styrofoam into the bottom of the car to raise up a flat surface (a piece of cardboard) toward the top of the bed of the coal carrier - I don't want to fill the whole car.  I then put down layers of Elmer's glue and sprinkle coal on top of it and repeat until it looks all right.  I could do better, but these sure beat those awful first cocaine brick attempts with the styrofoam.


That white goop on the lower right part of the car by the brake wheel is the Elmer's glue that hasn't dried yet.  I am making these loads semi-permanent.  To the best of my knowledge, you can separate Elmer's glue from plastic, but it might get messy and damage the car.  Then again, how could one call putting anthracite into a Reading Railroad anthracite coal car model train abuse?


Another coal icon in Peabody.  This is a bit of a mismatch because, I believe, Peabody specializes mainly in bituminous coal that comes out of Wyoming and the Four Corners area on the Navaho Res.  I worked with a Peabody metallurgist about 10 years ago in the mining industry.  He was a genuine member of the extended dynasty.  Nice guy, helped me out a lot.  In his honor, I shall call this car "Mark."

That's about it for the homemade coal loads.  Thanks for stopping by.