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Thanks Max!

OSB is Oriented Strand Board. It's the cheap replacement for plywood consisting of flat wood chips squashed together into sheets under high pressure with adhesive. It's widely used in home construction in the USA in both sub-flooring and exterior sheathing. It's very strong.

It's about 1/3 the price of the same thickness of ply. I wasn't sure if it would be any good for model RR work, but my fears were without basis. There's a rough side and a really rough side. Best to build with the rough side out. But be aware that I call it "ISB" or Instant Splinter Board. If you handle it without leather work gloves you will get splinters...some quite large. Once I got the subroadbed in place, I painted it with my ground color to stabilize the grain and reduce the splintering. That worked well!

Al, if you're reading this... I was thinking... (dangerous... I know). All of these refinery units have just the piping detail. Has anyone simulated the power lines to all those motors with junction boxes for disconnects? How about instrument locations? On the substation model I included instrumentation wiring, switch boxes, and sensors. The same should be for a refinery only more so. Those pump stands just cry out for a switch box and some power leads going to the motors. I know, I know... AMS!

Well... here's the OSB in action.

With #1 out today, I had the perfect opportunity to make some sawdust and make lots of noise with the circular and saber saws, plus let's not forget the shop vac. I got the entire baseplate built and fitted.

The puzzle is made up of 8 pieces with lots of scrap OSB plates and screws (1 1/8" SPAX TORX Head). I swear by those screws, originally sold in Germany and now in selected Home Depots. They're the best self-threading wood screws I've used. The shank above the threads is narrower than the threads so once the screw penetrates the first piece, it's able to freewheel so it can pull the attached piece more tightly without having to strip the threads in the top piece. Even with that, I drill pilot holes since it's easier to drive them when you need a free hand to stabilize the drill/driver.

Here's the array of scrap OSB all screwed together to make a big sheet.

Baseplate Puzzle

I added some cleats on the layout edge to support that side so I could try in on for size and see how it worked. I added another couple pieces in the forward edge (as in this image) to give enough space for a parking area, flare tower etc. I'm also leaving real estate in back for more stuff. At first I was going to trim that off closer to the drawing, but had second thoughts and realized that this extra space will come in handy.

Baseplate fitting 1

I rounded the edges and will form a nice S-curve with the fascia on the far side so it will look more finished.

Final Fit

You can see in the above that I've added the extension joists. I cut them long enough to extend all the way into the layout to lie on the rear girder. They're pretty cantilevered, extending out about 2 feet. If this proves a problem, I might add a leg and some underpinnings to support the overhang. It only has to support a plastic model, not trains, but it may have to support a human (me) when I'm installing all the stuff or attempting to reach a train that's derailed. There is a switch back there that's hard to visualize from the control panel and I've had derailments there. The switch sometimes doesn't fully cycle. I've doubled the new joists next to the existing ones. If I need to, I can screw them together which greatly increases the holding power since these are all networked together through the large piece of OSB subroadbed above. There are at least 8 risers and cleats holding onto that OSB. As I write this, I'm probably going to do just that. I trimmed the joists so their ends are flush with the baseplate which greatly facilitates screwing on the fascia board.

Refinery Joists

This work really shows off the benefits of L-girder. Adding more benchwork is easy since everything is so open. Furthermore, there's nothing blocking getting wiring from one place to another. There will be lots of lights in this project since there are lights almost everywhere since it's a 24/7 operation (except in July when there's a 2 week turnaround). Monday, I'll get the risers made and installed. I don't think I'm going to mount the models directly on the OSB, since it will be unwieldy to attach all the stuff and get it to the layout. I may build the refinery on some Masonite or other thinner material and move it to the baseplate in sections. Just thinking out loud here. Perhaps Al, or other refinery builders can add to this discussion.

With this benchwork, there are now no open spaces on the layout. It was by design that a refinery was going there, and not knowing how wide it would be, I held off adding OSB until I had a plan to go by. I'm going to be very happy when the fascia is continuous from one end to the other.


Images (4)
  • Baseplate Puzzle
  • Baseplate fitting 1
  • Final Fit
  • Refinery Joists

Today was productive. I got the refinery sub-base fully attached to the layout. I employed 7 riser/cleat sets and one angle brace. I used every 1 1/8" SPAX screws I had. Before fastening it down, I traced it's shape onto a large piece of 3/16" Masonite that was left over from mountain building. This will be the surface upon which the refinery will actually lie, and it enables me to build the refinery in the workshop and move it to layout which will give me access to  parts that would be almost out of reach.

I used a combination of saber and circular saws to cut this out. The narrow strip between the track and the main part is where the loading rack will go, and that too will be fabricated in the shop and moved complete to the layout. I'll only have two pipes to connect the rack to the refinery proper.

Refinery Base Top

Here's all the underneath stuff. I felt that the front left corner was a bit spongy so I installed a diagonal brace. If I need to I can run another and tie it into the wall brace which will really stabilize the cantilevered nature of this. I took the belt sander and smoothed the curves and matched the Masonite layer to the that below it. The fascia boards were also cut, but won't be installed until near the end since there's wiring that will go below and fascia boards make it a little less accessible.

Refinery Base Supports

I tried the plans on for size. I also added a trim end to fill that space on the left. I may not be able to get the Masonite to curve as tightly as I want it so I'll possibly approach the fascia.

Plans on Base

I moved the Masonite piece into the workshop and cleared a table for it. I then carefully located the plans on the Masonite to correspond to the spacing that I measured on the layout. The plans extend out past the Masonite 6" to the center of the track. That will provide pretty good references for those two pipes that will merge with the loading rack's. I taped the plans in this position.

Planning Board

With this out of the way I got back to building pumps and assembled the last two. I ran out of check valves and faked a pair by using a modified gate valve. They're invisible when install on the base.

Cobbled Check Valves

Here's all five pump sets in their final position. I finally figured out the piping to the reflux drum and had to add another nozzle in the bottom center. It appears that the pumps have two separate feed lines to the vessel's bottom right and left sides.

Pumps Complete

More vessels tomorrow. There's lots of pipe racks to make and I have major work to do on the HP Spheres. The legs are a challenge. 


Images (6)
  • Refinery Base Top
  • Refinery Base Supports
  • Plans on Base
  • Planning Board
  • Cobbled Check Valves
  • Pumps Complete

Myles, The refinery is progressing nicely and will be a great addition to the layout when your finished.

I also cobbled together pieces of OSB I had saved in my cutoff box for use when filling in my open spaces between my sub roadbed. Once it's screwed together and covered with homasote or Sculptamold  you can't tell  it's not one solid piece.

Using the Masonite as The base for the refinery will also make it easier when adding all the piping and other details in you work shop.

Unless I'm confused, in the last picture showing the paper layout positioned on the masonite, it seems to be reversed from what you had shown on the layout.

Can't wait to see the finished complex when finally installed and operational on the layout.




Last edited by SGMret

My last layout was a mix match of scraps of plywood; if OSB was available then, I wasn't aware of it.  I scabbed in a small section in the front like you did when my track plan didn't work out quite as I envisioned.  The L girder does make it easy to support.  I am curious as to what is the depth of the layout at that point now in case you need to do something on the high line by the wall right in the middle of the widest portion.  I know you are up to the challenge of the supports for the legs!

Last edited by Mark Boyce

Gerry, the drawing is the same. In the shop pics I'm just looking at it from the wall side. All the piping will be running away from the viewer and therefore, mostly out of sight except for my pictures.

Mark, it's 4 feet and too far to reach. The high line has given me no trouble (famous last words), but the switch in front has been trouble and will be 42" away, again too far to reach. To make matters worse, there will be vertical things sticking up in the refinery to further block reaching in. I will be able to get onto the layout from the right side and lean into that switch. Because that switch sometimes doesn't cycle completely, I try and get a visual fix on its position. That will be harder with all of this stuff in front, but I'll manage. I may put a very visible block signal that will repeat the switch's aspect so I can see it from the control panel. The pushbutton on the panel also repeats the aspect, but it too is sometimes suspect.

Not you Gerry! I'm the one with the eye anomaly. In fact, my wife thinks I'm an idiot and shouldn't have answered you so quickly. Yes! I put the drawing on the Masonite upside down and yes, the curved portions are the outside and the flat side is the track side. Good pick up. Actually, this isn't the only thing where my wife has thought that I'm an idiot.

Here's the way it should look. It was important to get this right since I'm going to mark the panel through the drawing for all the equipment placement. I've left enough room on the right side to have a parking area. I need to find space for the building, cooling tower and flare.

Drawing Right Way Round

I decided that all the ladders and rails on the vessel platform before painting since all those joints require good gluing surfaces. The bottom ladder seemed high enough for a ladder cage, but the upper was a little short and is uncaged. After looking at the isometric drawing I realized that the lower level platform did not completely cover the structure. There was a rectangular opening under the vessels... probably to make piping easier. That ship has left the dock. I followed Al's practice and put diagonal braces not the railing ends on the top rail since it was very insubstantial and needed some other support.

Platform Railings

I then turned my attention to the large mechanizer horizontal vessel. I laid out center lines on top and bottom using the same technique as with the smaller vessels. I also decided to add the vessel supports before painting since it was necessary for support in subsequent operations. To further ensure that the two legs were parallel and in line with each other, I added some piping to tie the two together and ensure alignment. Drilling in the drill press on V-blocks ensured the two holes were perpendicular and in line.

Base Fitting

The last thing I did was cut some "concrete" bases and epoxy them to the legs. This was necessary since the elbow at a bottom outlet wouldn't clear the ground with the extra height. I could have glued the elbow directly to the tank, but I'm trying to us nozzles at each pipe outlet. Gravity clamps keeps the tank down until it cures.

Epoxying Tank Bases

Tomorrow tank work continues.


Images (4)
  • Drawing Right Way Round
  • Platform Railings
  • Base Fitting
  • Epoxying Tank Bases
Last edited by Trainman2001


Your no idiot, I have violated the "Measure twice, cut once" rule many a time. My scrap box is quite full of that OSB I mentioned in my previous comment.

My concern was that you might start drilling holes to locate the tanks etc before applying the "measure twice" rule.

This refinery project is  going to be another in a long list of accomplishments for your layout when completed.


Thanks. Ok... I'm not an idiot and I appreciate help from any quarter. Keep paying attention.

Interesting day today. I tackled two of the most daunting aspects of this build: the High Pressure Sphere legs and the curved stair up the liquids storage tank.

I first started by adding some piping for the relief valve line on the Mechanizer vessel. On some of the pictures they show this pipe going straight into the ground. I'm going to run the relief lines to the flare and they will be above ground. Again I added a small piece of styrene angle as a brace for this unwieldy line. This stabilizes it during all the handling that's to come. I also added the angle valves up top and finished up the man way. The angle valves were not included with this kit, but I'm trying to conserve by 1/8" 90° fittings. I had them left over from the boiler house project. Even with the elevated "concrete" bases, the bottom 90° fitting didn't clear the ground so I removed the nozzle and mounted the L directly into the vessel. 

Methanizer Fittings

Time for the big tank. There are four fitting on top: curved vent line, 2 valved fittings, and a man way. There's another at the bottom which appears to be an output since it connects directly to the pumps which feed the loading rack, and then there's the stairs, rails and platforms.

I used the drill press to put in all the openings so they were square to ground. I had to fill the gap below the nozzles with med CA since the tank curves away from them. Since the valves are "snap-on" fittings and don't have a pipe in them, you need to drill the vessel with 1/8" and insert that size tubing and clamp the valve onto these pipes. I trim the pipes flush and immediately install the 90°'s.

Tank Fittings

Next up, the ladder. The instructions say cut one side off the stair moldings and then glue it to the vessel. They don't say which side should be facing inward. Al seems to end up cutting bot stair side rails off and just has the treads extending from the tank. I chose to leave the stair side rail on the outside. I marked the start and stop points for the stair on the tank from the plans and taped the stair to the tank working to keep it perpendicular (which it didn't want to be in the worst way). It took a lot of fussing to get it in place and I resorted to gluing a part, then using CA to stabilize and not moving on until that part seemed to be holding. Eventually, I got it all glued and set it aside to dry.

Stair Gluing

While that was drying I started working on the HP legs. These need to be shaped to conform to the compound curve of the spheres. First I needed to cut 12, 3/16" ABS tubes for the legs. I took a quick measurement from the plans and cut the legs. I'm going to use 1/4" footings which the legs will actually enter so I measured from ground not from the footing top. I have a miter box screwed to my workbench. This is a god send since it frees up my left hand without it worrying about holding the miter box still. Further, it lets me install a bench stop to cut equal-sized pieces that extend out of the box. I used this a lot... really a lot! And the miter box is wearing out and will have to be replaced. The slots are getting oversized so square cuts are a crap shoot.

Fastening the box down is important for another reason. Most razors saws cut on the pull stroke which would pull the miter box off the edge of the workbench making it very unstable. The screws are countersunk below the miter's low point so they don't interfere.

Miter Box Setup

I needed to create some footings. I'm using a left over piece of 1/4" scrap MDF left over from the 2nd distillery building. It was a wall that I had designed wrong and needed recutting. I laid out 12, 3/4" squares and pilot and final drilled them with 3/16", the tube size. Using the drill press insured that the holes were perpendicular to the face and would keep the legs facing north. The scroll saw kerf is very narrow so it doesn't change the layout very much.

HP Tank Footings

I cut them all apart with the scroll saw and touched them up on the belt sander. The legs are a nice push-fit into the footings. I then set them up on the plans to decide how to go forward. The plans had a missing slice and were not accurate so I took the compass and completed the circle. I then marked out six equal spaces using the radius setting on the compass. Amazing that circumference doesn't go into the diameter equally, but the radius can perfectly define 6 equal parts. Isn't geometry wonderful!

HP Legs Setup

I decided to make a base with holes spaced exactly the same as the plan, and put the legs in there. HP Jigs

I guesstimated the leg junction angle and set up a guide on the belt sander and chopped them off. I then inserted them into the bases. They're not glued... just sitting there. I have two thoughts. One is to epoxy the legs into the bases so they're solid before using sand paper stuck to the spheres to put a final shaping to the legs. The other is to install all the cross-bracing (more about that in a moment) and see how stable it is. If it's rigid enough where I can shape the leg tops, I won't need the bases and can put them aside.

The plans call for 4" (scale) channel for the X-bracing on the HP legs. The outside braces are longer than the inner. I was able to cut 3 pieces from each length of channel included in the kit. There are 12 inner and 12 outer pieces needed equaling 8 pieces of channel. Unfortunately the kit included 6. I tried to glue scraps together, and got two more, but I'm still 2 pieces short. Annoying. I'm finding other shortages... check valves, Nozzles. I can order them, but their shipping costs are steep. I'm going to call and see if they'll replace parts since this is a kit. I glued the pieces together using scrap ABS as a spline.

Cobbled Channel

I stopped work on the HP tanks and got back to the big tank.

The stair glued reasonably well and I fixed any loose ones with med CA. 

Tank Stair

Again, I'm annoyed by the kit. It did not include any specific stair railings where the stanchions are perpendicular to the treads, not the ground. I installed the rails I have which are horizontal rails. I'm not happy with this. Naval "ladders" have this kind of railings, but I'm not so sure about refinery tankage. It also makes terminating the rail at the tops and bottoms more troublesome.

Tank Stair Rail

The tank stair starts and ends with platforms. I'm making them conform to the tanks curve by again sticking adhesive sand paper to the tank and sanding the final curve there. I'm putting an ABA angle frame underneath and holding them up with diagonal braces. There will be railings on both. I notched the ABS angle to get it to curve.

Stair Platform

Here's the finished bottom platform waiting for the railing. I may need a step or two the platform bottom since that looks like a pretty steep first sep.

Stair Lower Platform comp

Tomorrow (after exercising) I'll finish the big tank and get back to putting legs under the HP spheres. I have to build a lot of pipe racks, add details to the heat, build the flare, figure out how to build a cooling tower and then design and build the ops building. For fencing, I'm going to use brass wire with bridal tulle, AND the jig that came with the Brennen Chain Link Fence model I bought and built for the substation. Brass wire is much easier to handle than the steel included with Brennen. But there's light at the end of this tunnel and it's not a headlight from on an onrushing 4-8-4.




Images (12)
  • Methanizer Fittings
  • Tank Fittings
  • Stair Gluing
  • HP Tank Footings
  • HP Legs Setup
  • HP Jigs
  • Miter Box Setup
  • Cobbled Channel
  • Tank Stair
  • Tank Stair Rail
  • Stair Platform
  • Stair Lower Platform comp


You are correct - you need the angled stair rails. I would suggest the white sytrene since these are easier to bend in a curve (SRS-8). You will need to reinforce the ends with cutoffs from the railing. A problem with curving the railing you will see is that it tends to bend in or out (not sit straight up and down). First see how the railing fits. You may need to sand the stairway ?ledger? a little.
Another method is to use Alan's procedure. Glue angles and Tees to the stairs. When dry glue railing. I am not sure what sizes Alan uses. I would guess:



Well... wrote an eMail to Plastruct detailing what was shorted or missing and then followed up with a phone call. Talked to Customer Service, but she said that the eMail would go to the office manager who would just get the parts pulled and mailed out. She transferred me, but I got voicemail. So... no further input to that discussion.

Really got into the Hi-Pressure Spheres.

I needed to drill three 1/8" holes in the spheres. One on the very bottom. There's a injection mold lug there which facilitates finding that. I didn't file these off knowing that I would use them for the bottom outlet. It also has two, vertical, off-axis holes for the two relief valves. It's tough to drill vertical holes in a sphere, so after spotting them with the awl, I milled two flats that were horizontal with the ground line to give a purchase for the drilling that followed. I used a 0.032" carbide drill in a pin vise to start the hole, followed up with a #50 also in a pin vise, and then took it to the drill press. I put the sphere on a role of masking tape so it sat still and then maneuvered it so I could drill the two holes. Worked good and the drill did not slip.

I had enough braces to do one tank. After getting them all glued and set, I put a wire around the legs to prevent them from spreading outwards, stuck some coarse adhesive sand paper on the sphere, put on a nitrile glove so I could get a good grip and then swiveled the sphere back and forth until each leg shape conformed to the curve better. All of them didn't come in precisely, but as you'll see, gluing and CA solved that problem.

HP Leg Shaping

Here's the fit after shaping.

HP Leg Fit pre-Glue

Since I had already drilled the sphere for the two relief valves on top and the bottom outlet, and mounted the valves, I had to make sure that the valves were vertical and this meant that the seam line would be horizontal prior to gluing. I set it all up on the surface plate and fussed around with the sphere until the surface gauge showed a level seam line. Judicious use of Tamiya tape held that position so I could apply glue to each leg, only removing the next piece of tape when the leg showed it was adhering.

HP Glue Align

After gluing I went back and added med CA to any obvious gaps. One needed some granular filler with the CA to close the gap. But they were all glued and strong. The bottom outlet has a nozzle, a #4 pipe and an elbow. The relief valves are attached using a piece of #4 pipe, but no nozzle since it would fit against the severe curve.

Here's what the glued leg looks like. I'm happy with the fit. Again, the instructions on this critical step were very skimpy. I don't know how to get the legs positioned without having an assembly jig.

I pulled the assembly jig off to see it was still all stable and it was. Therefore, I can mount the tanks directly on my baseboard, AND I can use the templates to drill holes in the baseboard to insert the legs and further stabilize the assembly. I forgot to mark leg 1 on the tank and template so I went back and kept turning it until all the legs lined up. On Tank #2 I marked leg 1's position for going further. Live and learn.

HP Template

Oh... and one more thing. I dropped HP Sphere #2. It hit the concrete bounced twice and then on the third bounce blew apart into two hemispheres as the glue line let go. I had to re-glue, re-fill and file it all over again. I added more filler and will finish sand tomorrow after it all cures.

I took this pic this morning for inclusion in the Plastruct eMail. It shows current progress before the completion of HP #1. Question for Al (or other refinery experts). The overhead line from the distillation tower goes to the top drum on the platform (reflux drum?), but instead of the line going directly to it, the distilling tower line goes to the pipe rack, T-s into the a #8 pipe with the ends blocked. The line runs the entire length of the pipe rack, and the reflux line T-s off this same long line. It wastes a lot of #8 piping with I want to use for the relief valve lines going to a flare knock out drum. What is the reason for running this long line that's blocked at both ends? (See the arrows).

Refinery Status June 22

While waiting for Plastruct's response, tomorrow I start building pipe racks, mounting pumps and other stuff onto faux concrete bases, and then get started building lighting systems. I have the silicone mold used in making the lampposts for the distillery, but the mold's not great and I'm going to re-mold it before casting. There was a bubble in the area where the pole interfaced with the light housing and required handwork to remove the resin the filled the bubble. I also have to finish up the details on the heater, build the cooling tower and a flare, plus and ops building. So I have a lot to do. I think my LHS has the #4 Plastruct channel which I need to finish up HP #2 leg assembly.


Images (5)
  • HP Leg Shaping
  • HP Leg Fit pre-Glue
  • HP Glue Align
  • HP Template
  • Refinery Status June 22
Last edited by Trainman2001

Went to Scale Reproductions Inc. (LHS) and bought some of the Plastruct material that I've asked Plastruct for. If they send it to me, that's okay since I'm going to need more material for the flare and cooling tower. It will go to good use. I bought the needed C-4 channel so I can finish up the #2 Sphere's legs, the stair railings since I wanted to get that big tank done, and some more piping #4 and #8.

First I built the upper platform using the same routine as the lower. It also has a larger curved rail. In this case I attempted to heat the ABS with a hot air gun. It got a little distorted, but I'll take it. In some ways, I actually like making rails out of drilled brass angle and brass wire. I have much more control of shaping and how rails terminate to each other. If I was to do this again, I may fab them out of brass.

Upper Platform

I was able to peel the old railing off the stairs and put the correct stair rail in place. I cobbled together a patchwork of pieces where the stairs meet the platform rails. It was this area specifically to which I was referring in the last paragraph where a brass rail would have come out much better (and stronger).

Tank Railings On

I added angle braces under the upper platform and and angle brace from the top right railing's edge to the tank body. After painting it will look okay.

I then added the rail to the bottom platform now that the correct railing was on the stairs. Again, bringing the straight and stair rails together was less than optimum.

Lower Platform

Weekend means no shop work, so I'll see y'all on Monday.


Images (3)
  • Upper Platform
  • Tank Railings On
  • Lower Platform

After buying C-4 channel and trying to use it to complete Sphere #2 only to find out that even though the bill of materials called for C-4, the channel that was included in the kit AND what I used on the spheres up to this point was something larger. Probably a C-6. But I didn't feel like going back to the LHS and killing the rest of the day so I used them anyway. They were the inside braces, and again... and I know I sound like a broken record... it's so far from the viewer that no one other than me (and you dear readers) will know the difference.

HP Spheres Mounted

Then I decided to actually look at the plans and found that the relief valve lie above the catwalk that extends from the top of one sphere to the other. I pulled them apart, drilled out the remains of the 1/8" pipe and glued in some extra long pieces that will be trimmed after the catwalk is installed.

Then I started building the catwalk itself. It's 11" long and 1" wide. It has a larger C-8 channel frame.

HP Catwalk

Only after building this frame late this afternoon, did I decide to check the plans again and see that the platform wides where the relief valves are. So I made it completely wrong. I assumed (you know how that works) that the upper walk was the same geometry as the lower and the that relief valves would penetrate the platform. They do penetrate, but everything else about the build was incorrect.

HP Plans

I'm going to try and modify what I've build so far without destroying the entire thing. Also, I'm orienting my tanks different than the kit's plans so it may or may not further affect the size and shape of the top platform. There's also an intermediate platform. There's a stair from ground to that platform and then a ladder (caged) from it to the top platform. The elevation drawing shows this mid platform being connected to each sphere and not supported by any independent means. This seems a bit troublesome since the sphere's mass is so much more than the small surface area to glue the platform. I may put some structure under it to support it and not just relay on the glue join. Only if I could have a base that connected both tanks to stabilize the bottom, I could glue the platform between the tanks.




Images (3)
  • HP Spheres Mounted
  • HP Catwalk
  • HP Plans
Last edited by Trainman2001


The Plastrruct Refinery is based on a petrochemical process and not a refinery process that uses crude oil. I did not look at the piping drawings for this kit but I have built one in the past and read the instructions . I think the plant is actually based on producing styrene.

For most people, it is easier following the directions of the kit but, I would not worry too much about modifying the piping configuration to your liking.

I think you have been doing a meticulous job on this project. You have also run into many of the problems that are encountered constructing craftsman-type kits.

Alan Graziano

Al, it seems that the kit implies that it's an ethanol plant (or some other light liquid). Having spent time in Styrene monomer plants, this doesn't seem to be one of them. There's more reactors with that process I believe.

Spent a lot of hours working today, but don't have as much to show for it as I'd like. I came to the conclusion that in order to fit and connect the platforms between the spheres I would have to stabilize their position vis a vis each other. To do that I decided it needed a foundation that would tie both together. A piece of 1/8" Masonite is serving that purpose. After determining the center-to-center spacing, I laid out the Masonite and and drilled a 1/8" hole in the center of each sphere's position. I did the same on the templates. A piece of 1/8" pipe served as the pin to hold them in center. I then rotated the templates so they were oriented properly and taped them into position. I drilled out the holes with the 3/16" drill in the drill press.

Creating the Foundation

I tested the fit of the tanks into the foundation and it worked. Too well. The holes were such a snug fit that I had trouble removing them. Then tank #1 slipped out of my hands and ended up on the floor breaking 2 legs loose and all of the cross bracing holding one of them. After regluing the legs, I repositioned the little individual leg footings and re-installed the tanks into the new foundation.

I then spent about an hour adding additional catwalk to the top platform. I framed it with more of the large channel, and added more styrene reinforcements to all the joints. I located the holes for the relief valve piping and started fitting the legs that would tie this platform to the spheres. I mistakenly thought that all the support legs (made of some I-beam stock) were the same length. After gluing on many of them, it became clear that this was not true since the platform is not centered over the sphere's crown. I had to remove three of them and cut them shorter. I measured their length using the depth measuring feature of most digital calipers. I attempted to sand a better curve fit with another piece of adhesive sandpaper on the sphere. I used all the tools at my disposal to cut these parts: Chopper, Precision Sander, Dremel, etc.

Upper Platform Fitting

With the top platform fitting correctly, I built the middle platform. Here I used a hermaphrodite caliper (a caliper with one pointy leg and one curved contact leg) to scribe the sphere's curve onto a piece of ABS cut to width. After sanding the curve, I used an inside caliper (two curved contact legs facing outwards) to measure the width right across the narrowest approach. I again scribed the curve with the Hermaphrodite.

I added I-beams underneath and added more styrene stock at the contact points. Pic shows where I fitted it up. I finished up the curves on the added thick stuff using the Dremel. I won't glue this in yet. I have to paint the foundation and footings, and then glue the tanks into the foundation. Then I add the railings to each platform. I will then glue them into and add the ladders and stairs. Fitting shapes to spheres is challenging.

Mid Platform

I realized that the direction the tanks were facing was backwards from the plan so I popped off the little elbow on the bottom outlet to reverse the direction it faces. I also starting building the rest of the underneath piping. The outlet splits into two pipes and valves leading to the loading rack. It answers the question, "Why is the outlet pipe aiming directly into one of the legs?" It's because it splits into two pipes that exit on both sides of the leg.

Heading out of town for a short vacation... "Vacation? Are you serious? You're retired! Everyday is a vacation!" Right! So let's say, going to Nashville for a change of scenery. So work will resume after the 4th. Everyone have a fun and safe 4th!





Images (3)
  • Creating the Foundation
  • Upper Platform Fitting
  • Mid Platform
Trainman2001 posted:

I tested the fit of the tanks into the foundation and it worked. Too well. The holes were such a snug fit that I had trouble removing them. Then tank #1 slipped out of my hands and ended up on the floor breaking 2 legs loose and all of the cross bracing holding one of them.


I love reading this post; not only because I get to see a master modeler at work and all I can learn from said modeler but it also reminds me that even the best modelers have "Oh ----" moments like I do. Thanks for the candid description of your work.

Thanks Pat and Gerry. I try to do my best in reporting the good, bad, ugly and very ugly. 

I recently read a long thread on another site about building a 1:200 model of the USS Yorktown. Massive model with tons of aftermarket PE. The builder showed finished pictures of each subassembly, but never discussed any problems or techniques in getting there. I've built models with intricate PE and it's a real pain. I find that CA can be very difficult, and yet this guy shows assemblies that were entirely built with CA and doesn't say a word about how he did it. While I find those kinds of builds fun to look at, there is very little learning to be gained and it's more about praising the builder. While I like the praise like anyone else, I'm much more excited when I get feedback (like yours) that I imparted inspiration and skill to others. That's what advances the hobby. The fact that my finished projects are good in no way is proof that getting there is often very tedious and trying.

Miles, you are the poster child for what I consider the ONLY necessary skill for great modeling: the discipline to consistently tear down any work that isn't right. Anyone who can resist the often very strong temptation to think "not perfect, but good enough" can do great work. Most of us fail at this on a routine basis, but you almost never do. 

Well gang, I'm back. We had a really nice three-day trip to Nashville. It's nice vibrant city that seems to be a boom town. There were tower cranes it seemed on every downtown block. According to the valet parking attendant at the Homewood Suites, the city is at full employment. So much for the bad economy. We visited (didn't stay at) Gaylord's Opryland Resort. We went there to check it out and have dinner there. It's remarkable. If you've never seen it, it's a hotel complex with 2,900 guest rooms. The property is essentially three atriums surrounded by the building. The atriums are covered in vast quantities of glass with almost 9 acres under glass. It's botanical wonderland with 13 restaurants. The food we had at The Cascade was very good and exceeded our expectations. We may stay there the next time we go to the Music City.

Got back to "work" today. Missed being in the shop.

Spent the entire full work session working on making the railing for the HP Sphere platform. I decided that due to the spacing and the difficulty of butt gluing those very thin rails on the Plastruct molded railings that I would make them from ABS angle and brass (0.032") rod. I cut the stanchions to be longer than the Plastruct ones since I wanted them to reach to the bottom of the I-beam frame.

I measured, marked with dividers and drilled 0.0315" with the micro carbide drill. The wire was a little bit of a tight fit. If I wanted to insert the wire into something (like a grab iron), this drill would be fine, but I needed to thread the wire through all these posts and if it was a tight fit, I'd have trouble. So before gluing them on I opened them up a bit with a 0.033" drill which worked perfectly. 

I also needed to add some more surface area to the glue locations since there's a strain on some of these posts and the top and bottom of the I-beam was an insufficient area to ensure a good joint. The first stanchions I dealt with were the two inner corners. Wire was approaching from two directions so it needed four holes and it had to be installed with the angles facing in which even made less gluing surface. In this case I packed out the angle so there was a solid gluing surface presented.

I didn't have the exact dimension styrene so I layered it in one direction and then sanded it in both directions to square it up with the angle.

HP Railing Corner Post Pack

Here's the post installed and you can see the packing.

HP Railing Corner Post

I previously located all the rest of the stanchions using the same spacing as Plastruct to make it a little less obvious that I've changed railing types. I then added a piece of 0.040" styrene stock to fill the space between the I-beam flanges. The .040 stock was slightly thicker than the space so I sanded them all down flush with the flange.

HP Railing Packing

Since terminating the rails at each corner at a stanchion seemed sub-optimal I elected to bend the wire 90° at the corners. This, of course, presented another set of challenges; you can't prebend the wire before installation or you can't get it assembled. Instead, You need to thread the stanchions ahead on both sides of the corner, fasten those on the fixed side and bend the wire in place.

My wire was not long enough to form the entire rail so I had to cheat by using some K-S brass tubing with an i.d. the same as the wire. These were CA'd with thin. I thought about soldering, but was worried about melting the stanchions. In the past I've done these kinds of rails with brass angle, but in this case didn't want to mess with getting the brass to hold onto the ABS. It would have required brass pins soldered to the stanchions and epoxied into the ABS. So the connectors are a small concession to going with the hybrid method.

HP Railing Connectors

By quitting time I got all the rails in place and held at each stanchion with a drop of thin CA.

All of the stanchions were first secured with solvent cement and then reinforced with medium CA and accelerator. Once the CA kicked I was able to thread the rails onto the next stanchion.

I'm going to put a styrene kick plate at the bottom inside of the rail all the way around and then I'll finish up the little bridge platform tomorrow. I actually like the way these rails look better than the Plastruct ones. They have more dimensionality. Notice that I had to leave a space for the ladder from the bridge platform. It would have been easy to forget this. I almost did.

HP Railing

Getting close to finishing this assembly. This was the most challenging unit op in the entire "kit". I think the channel that Plastruct instructed to use as cross bracing under these tanks are too big. Many pics I'm seeing of actual HP spheres show steel round bars and not channels. I may change them. Or... I may not. depends on my mood.

P.S. Plastruct has agreed to seen me all of the parts I requested.



Images (5)
  • HP Railing Corner Post Pack
  • HP Railing Corner Post
  • HP Railing Packing
  • HP Railing Connectors
  • HP Railing

I glad you had a good trip!  We only passed through Nashville on our way to Fort Smith, Arkansas where my father-in-law worked his last  10 years.  The last trip was in 1995, so I'm sure there is a lot more there now.  They even have an NHL ho key team that really gave our Penguins a run for their money!

The platform looks great!!  Your chemical workers will be safe up there once you put it in service!  Angle, round?  I would think there are ones out there of either variety!

Thanks Mark!

Today saw the completion of the HP Spheres. I woke this morning thinking about how to properly fasten the small mid-platform to the two tanks. Just having a butt joint concerned me and it needed reinforcement. I thought about putting diagonal bracing underneath, but settled on using 3/64" brass rod as pins on both sides. 

I also decided to scrap the Masonite foundation since I figured if the two platforms were properly fastened to the tanks it should be stable enough to sit directly on the refinery base without additional layers. Besides, the foundation was interfering with my use of the surface gauge to layout the hole locations on the tank.

I scribed the contact point at the same level on both tanks, the drew a vertical line from which I spaced the two holes with a divider. Using the same setting, I located the holes on the packing pieces on the mid-platform. Here was where I test fit the pins on both sides.

Mid-Plat Attach Scheme

When it was fit correctly, I spotted the location of the stairway, and then installed stanchions in prep for a railing like the top platform's. I used the homemade variety here for the same reason as before; being able to customize the stanchion spacing.

HP Mid Plat in-process

I used epoxy to hold this piece in and it worked as it should. 

I measured and cut the stairway stock and only had stair railing for one side, but UPS said my package from Plastruct was arriving today. I got it a 4:45 p.m. and was able to quickly as the second railing thus finishing up the steps.

All the pieces I requested from Plastruct were shipped free-of-charge. Nice company with which to do business. They sent me a larger tubing from which to make man ways. I now have to decide if it's worth it to take the small ones off and re-make a more scale-looking larger set. Jury's still out...

Plastruct Replacements

While the epoxy was curing I went back to work finishing up the heater. It needed a ladder that conformed to the stepped design of this unit. I used the Plastruct ladder supports, but wised up and cut the clip tabs off any where there would ladder cages since the cages interfere with the clips. I notched the ladders where the bends would be and then filled the little notches with med. CA to reinforce them. There's a valve at the bottom which accepts feed and a damper valve at the top. I modified a valve for the top and drilled out the hand wheel to give it more shape. I added the last 12 NBWs at the base to dress it like the distilling tower's. The plans don't show any caged ladders since when it was created in the 90s, it may not have been as prevalent in industry, also it was HO scale so caged ladders are pretty tiny.

Heater Comp.

With the epoxy cured well enough to handle I attached the upper platform, first with solvent cement and then med CA to fill in the many gaps that still existed in the leg fit. It's Gorilla Glue 5 minute, but it doesn't reach full strength for much longer. 

The results were gratifying considering how many variables there are in this assembly. It's interesting that Plastruct gave no details whatsoever about how the upper platform was to be held onto the tanks. They were just sitting on the tanks' crowns. I don't believe this would have worked in practice.

HP Spheres Comp

Finally, here's the stair just sitting in position. It can't be fastened yet since it requires attachment at the bottom to the refinery base. I realize when looking at these pics that I forgot to install the kick plates at the railings' base. I will be able to do that tomorrow, but it will be a bit more awkward now that it's all glued up. 

HP Stair Fin

I'm doing the working drawings for the cooling tower. It's all flat pieces so it doesn't need laser cutting or anything fancy. I'll need to go to a fabric store to get bridal tulle and other fine netting for the screens and the looonnng chain link fence that's going to surround this site. 

After situating the SketchUp drawing so it was non-perspective and square to the viewing surface and then after screen printing each view, imported them into Illustrator and scaled them to 1:48. Comes out to about 3.5" wide. I put the imported images on the bottom layer and then lock it. I draw the parts directly over the imports setting the color at half opacity so I can see the image underneath.

Cooling Tower Drawing

The Frame on the left is made of three layered parts that I will separate in another file before printing out.

Cooling Tower Parts

I'm also thinking about the lighting. I had the molds for the ones I made for the substation, but I think I can do better. I'm going to need a lot of them. I also need more information about how the lights should be fastened to the units and how (or if) I should hide the wiring.


Images (8)
  • Mid-Plat Attach Scheme
  • Plastruct Replacements
  • Heater Comp.
  • HP Spheres Comp
  • HP Stair Fin
  • HP Mid Plat in-process
  • Cooling Tower Drawing
  • Cooling Tower Parts

Exercise day so not as much time...

Started working on the flare tower. Tried to cut some alignment rings that were punched out of ABS using my hollow punches. I was not happy with the heater. I put an alignment ring on the top of the base, but did didn't align the upper stack with a lower hole. Therefore, it ain't square and it's annoying. For the flare tower I wanted alignment rings on the top and bottom of the wider base piece. The rings didn't work well so I went to plan B. This time I scribed the circles using dividers with styrene so the circles were highly concentric. The top ring works well. For the bottom, I decided to make a hexagonal "concrete" base out of the 1/4" MDF. I didn't have a 5/8" drill and wanted a perfectly square, nicely fitting hole in the center.

First I roughed out a circle on the scroll saw, trued it up a bit on the belt sander and then went to chuck it in the lathe to bore the 5/8" hole. But my lathe is too small to grab a 1.66" circular piece. What to do?

Then I remembered that my lathe has soft jaws in the chuck... meaning you can machine them for special jobs... like this one.

I reversed the jaws so I would mess up the normal gripping section. I then clamped a piece of the same material in the chuck to space it out properly and make the jaws rigid, and then carefully machined a step that would grip the O.D. of the MDF base. I drilled a starter hole in the drill press to fit the boring bar and then clamped the round stock in the chuck and bored out the hole to a perfect 5/8" inch hole.

Creative Lathe Work

After de-chucking I sanded off the 8 flats on the belt sander. I then made a styrene base flange that will receive the faux anchor bolts like the other units in the project. The base and upper rings are perfectly in line and the flare tower is plum. Each job I do I learn more about how to do it, but I only have one each to make.

Flare Base 2

I will make a transition piece between these two diameters. I had to do a little research in my very old Engineering Drawing text that I used at Michigan State to re-learn how to draw a cone in the flat that can be folded into a funnel shop. I'll lay that out tomorrow and make the transition piece.

It's a nice tall flare and will need to be supported with strategically placed guy wires... probably E-Z Line. I may have trouble finding enough room to run the 120 degree-separated guys without fouling the tracks or running off the edge of the table. Need to go to the LHS to get some more resin True Details NBWs.

Flare Progress

I put this aside and got back to putting the kick plats on the HP platforms. I put them all on and then realized I made a mild booboo. I mounted the mid-plate wrong-way around. When I was fitting it I ignored that the vertical ladder needs to lead up on the side opposite to the stairway exit. I was looking at mounting the ladder and realized I had the platform reversed with no way of fixing it. I tested the epoxy joints and they're not coming apart. So I mounted the ladder at a slight angle with enough clearance for the stair exit. It works but it isn't right.

Ladder Problem


Images (4)
  • Creative Lathe Work
  • Flare Base 2
  • Flare Progress
  • Ladder Problem
Last edited by Trainman2001

For some reason, I may or may not have actually posted yesterday's work. So it's now re-posted. Only had a short time today, but did get more done on the flare. First of all, real flares are ridiculously complicated. Like every other real-life prototype, there's always more complexity than we wish or need to model, but it's good to know what's going on. Here's a typical flare head that has upper and lower steam jets to produce a smokeless flame. 


There's no way I am going to attempt to model that! It looks like the rocket outlet of some sci-fi fusion powered rocket ship. You won't be able to look into the flare tip on my model. It will be way too tall, so I'm just going to have the exterior steam and pilot piping and that's it.

I bought some more NBWs at the LHS today along with more primer, Tamiya Bare Metal spray. I bought two kinds... the True Details ones that I've previously used and some new ones by Meng. The Meng seem to be easier to saw off with less clean up (and therefore less tiny parts entering the alternative universe.) There are 3 sizes on the sheet. I'm using the largest size for the flare anchor bolts.

Meng MBWs

After reviewing my engineering drafting text I re-learned how to do a conic projection of a truncated cone so I could lay out a transition piece for the Flare.

Using the same compass settings, I scribed the shape onto thin ABS and punched it out. I added a reinforcing tab to hold the seam together and used solvent cement and then CA held with some hemostats.

Flare Transition Flat

Here's the glued up cone.

Flare Transition Glue-up

After curing I glued it in place on the flare. As it did with the heater transition cone, the cone extends past the end which I filled with med. CA. Next session I'll grind away the excess. You can see the NBWs in this pic also.

Flare Transition Cone Glued

For the flare top, I had some left over water pipe from the boiler house vessel project. I cut off a 2" piece and squared the ends. I chucked it in the lathe and thinned the walls for the upper end where the burner heads will be, and attempted to shape in in the lathe with my ball-turning attachment. Didn't work and piece was ejected from the chuck so I tapered it by hand on the belt sander and then sanded it to a curve in the lathe. I cut a styrene piece to fill the bottom. I'll bore the 5/8" hole for the flare pipe next session so the top will be nicely centered on the pipe. This is looking at the bottom.

Flare Burner Head 1



Images (6)
  • gallery-flares-steam-assisted-hcl-3
  • Meng MBWs
  • Flare Transition Flat
  • Flare Transition Glue-up
  • Flare Transition Cone Glued
  • Flare Burner Head 1

Myles,         The level of work and detail in your vessel and structural fabrication is to be greatly admired.  I spent many of my younger years in heavy construction in chemical and petro-chemical plants, both new construction and plant maintenance.  As for your question of the top davits and pull line attachment/running:  The end of the davit would have a plate steel clip welded to the bottom, and a hole in the clip correct sized to accept a shackle or clevis.  From this you would hang a snatch block of proper capacity rating and your pull or hoist line runs through this.  Many times I would have to carry wire rope cable twice the length of the tower's height, along with rigging and the snatch block.  This allowed for the cable to be attached to a winch or air tugger on the ground level to assist the hoisting of materials.  Hope this is of some help.

Jesse      TCA 

Thanks Jesse!

Excellent information on the davits and life in the air at a refinery. While I spent quite a few days in pedro/chem installations working with ARCO Chemical and Henkel, I was always at ground level in the pump alleys. I did get up into some installations where some serious things like 50,000 psi hyper-compressors resided. That was at an old process low-density polyethylene plant. I would someday like to model those machines. They were driven by either 5,000 hp synchronous motors or uniflow steam engines.

Today was a rare Saturday session specifically because I had to clean the shop. I just got the word that Heaven Hill is sending a photographer next week to photograph me, the Bernheim 2 model and my railroad. They really are going forward with the publicity piece on what I've been doing.

So while cleaning up the mess, I also snuck in a little bit of work. I fitted another disk to the other end of the flare tip and then bored both ends out to a perfect sliding fit on the flare stack. I also cleaned up the transition piece first on the belt sander and then by hand sanding.

Flare Boring

I slipped it onto the flare stack to take the picture. I didn't have time to glue it today. I will also have to run some steam and pilot gas piping up to the top. Theoretically, there should be a caged ladder and rest platforms going up the entire flare. I may or may not do this since I don't think I have enough ladder and cage stock. It would look cool though...

You can see how nice the fit is after the boring operation.

Flare Head Test Fit

I'm probably not going to put guy wires on this since on of them is going to fall off the edge of the layout. They wouldn't be all that visible 10 feet away. So to help keep it upright (it will be glued to the base) I drilled a 1/2" hole in the base, plugged the bottom of the flare tube with some clay, and filled it with lead shot to weigh the base a bit. I then inserted a piece of 1/2" Plastruct tubing which will form the tube of a man way. I'll finish that up next week.f

Forgive the terrible exposure. This was the correctly size man way stock that Plastruct just sent me. Transition came out well.

Flare Man Way

After the fun was over, I got down to some serious shop cleaning. Here's some evidence.


Clean Shop 1

The cork-topped roll around table to the right was purchased at IKEA in Venlo, The Netherlands. It was some sort of artists work table and was perfect for model building. I bought it in early December 1999, and used it in our house in Germany when I was first building the layout. I put the cork tiles on it so I could pin plans to it and make a better cutting surface.

Clean Shop 2

There's a funny story about this purchase.

My wife was in the USA visiting our daughter for the holidays since I had to work and Germans didn't celebrate Thanksgiving. It was a Sunday and all the German stores were closed, but Venlo stores were open one Sunday per month. Venlo was a small town just across the Dutch border. It was a 45 minute drive from Düsseldorf to Venlo. I got to the store at about 4:00 and the parking lot was so jammed it took me 45 minutes to get a spot. The store closed at 5:00. I had 15 minutes to find the flat-pack product in the warehouse and check out. I found it... it was heavy since it's all furniture grade plywood.

I got into a check out line and got to the cashier just about 5:00. I took out my credit card... "No! No! No credit cards!" Took out my debit card. "No! No! No debit cards!" Here was an IKEA that sells entire kitchens that only took cash. Dutch Guilders! There was a jewelry store in my German neighborhood that only took cash too. Imagine that, buying a diamond ring for cash!

I pushed my cart aside and asked if there was an ATM nearby. "Nope!" Was there any in the complex where this big box store was located. "Nope!" I got in the car and headed to the "Centro" of Venlo assuming there's got to be an ATM somewhere. I was not going to lose this purchase! It was a 45 minute drive. They weren't open again on the weekend, and I needed that bench. I found an ATM and took out the 250 Guilders. We didn't keep very much money in our German bank account since ATM's all over Europe could directly access our money from the USA and there was no exchange rate fee. Drove back to IKEA which was now closed, so I went to the loading area where mobs of people were still loading their cars, went back into the story, found my cart and ended up in the same line with the same checkout person, who had this look of disbelief when I reeled off the Guilders just 15 minutes after I had no cash. I got my bench! 

It was always an adventure buying stuff in Europe. As a tourist you never experience this level of fun.




Images (5)
  • Flare Boring
  • Flare Head Test Fit
  • Flare Man Way
  • Clean Shop 1
  • Clean Shop 2

Myles,        From 1975 on for 25 years I was a heavy rigger, iron worker, crane operator (up to 300 ton capacity).  In the years of working such, I was involved in building Exxon, Lyondale, Shell, Arco, Gulf, Texaco and Rohm & Haas facilities.  Also worked as foreman up to supervisor of crews in plant turn-arounds, some lasting as long as a month or more.  As such I "got up close" to every piece of equipment in all plants I worked in.  In the 17 yrs spent in Rohm & Haas plant maintenance/turnarounds, learned what all chemicals smell like and can do to you, particularly cyanide, as it is an acrylic acid/plexi polymers production plant, along with other products.

In time I would really enjoy the build of a petro-chemical plant for my layout.  It is "on the list".........

Jesse      TCA  


Jesse, there's lots of us guys who envy people like you.

As the training coordinator/director for chemical companies, I got to see a lot of the equipment and was directly involved with evaluating the capability of the people at those facilities to work safely and effectively, but I was always looking at it from a distance. I understood the processes well and wrote, delivered or coordinated programs on switchgear, bearings and seals, alignment, even locomotive operation. That last one was a hoot. At ARCO's Port Arthur, TX plant they were destroying the two Alco locomotives they had (an RS3 and a RS2). I was assigned to develop a training program on their operation. What I found was on night shift the "Certified" loco driver was letting warehousemen run the trains. They didn't hook up the air and were hauling way too many cars for the switcher to safely handle. The plant had Cholrine and Butane cars inbound and airflow hoppers with polyethylene pellets out bound. They blew the main generator up (literally), when they were unable to start a string of cars, had the engine on notch 8, burned a 1/2" deep crescent into the rails and then slammed the throttle shut. The back EMF generated blew apart the generator's windings. Lots of changes were made to how and who operates engines after the program was introduced.

In order to write the program, I spent a day at Contrail's yards in Morrisville, PA learning how to drive a locomotive. I was then actually piloting a GP-20 in the yard learning about starting and stopping distances. Without train brakes hooked up, those Alco's didn't stand a prayer to stop 20 loaded 100 ton hoppers. They also had derailments where a tank car sliced open one of the hoppers. If it would have been the reverse, the chlorine release would have been a national catastrophe. My boss couldn't believe, "That he was actually paying me to spend the day living out a boyhood fantasy... driving a real train."

I didn't directly train plant personnel. I supervised all the plant trainers throughout the company.

Last edited by Trainman2001

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