Container Corporation Site Arrangement

Container Corporation, ca late forties

Container Corporation’s strawboard mill was the largest industry in the section of Circleville I’m modeling in 1938, and will also be the busiest industry on my model railroad. Since deciding that Circleville would be a focus of the railroad, I’ve gone through many design ideas for the mill’s site, structure, and track layout to best suit my goals.

Plant Siting

One thing that was never in doubt was the location of the plant on my model railroad. In the real world, the mill was located alongside the N&W Railroad and Canal Street at a point where the railroad makes a ninety-degree bend. This curve made a room corner the logical location to model this part of the railroad, which in turn made the same corner the ideal location for this plant.

So the general siting of the plant was easy. Sizing it turned out to be more difficult, with each attempt teaching me something that led to another attempt. In the end, the effort made me happier with the result.

Arrangement 1

When I first designed the layout using CAD, the Container Corporation’s footprint – in fact, all of Circleville – was relatively compact. The plant was tucked close to the room corner, with the remainder of Circleville’s industries extending down the wall to the right (north). As I learned more about the plant, I gradually stretched it’s footprint and moved it further from the corner. However, these changes were limited by the other industries in this stretch – the space available was finite.

After the benchwork was built, dad and I laid out the entire industrial stretch on tracing paper – this is dad’s preferred technique, adapted from his day job. Each industry was sized to fit the space, in proportion to one another.

Following the pencil-and-pen planning, I set about building a mockup of the plant. This raised the question of compression. I ultimately decided to size the whole plant using the coal shed/boiler room as the point of reference. The prototype shed was about 105 feet – or about long enough to house three coal hoppers. I shortened it to two hopper-lengths and applied the resulting 60-65% compression to the rest of the plant buildings.

Even with this compression, the full plant was bigger than I expected. It’s one thing to see a two-dimensional footprint, another to have a physical object as a hard reference. This more-imposing-than-expected building forced the rest of Circleville a bit north.

With the mock-up in place, I also realized that the close-to-the-corner siting would make it difficult to get track into the receiving yard without concessions in curve radius, track length and turnout locations. It would also have scenic impacts as it would leave no room for contextual buildings – specifically straw ricks and a small residential area on the south (left) end of the plant.

Over a couple of months, I started moving the plant to the right to address those concerns, which compressed the rest of the industries like a slinky.

Arrangement 2 and 3

After fussing with the compressed industrial stretch for several months, I decided to do a more comprehensive re-think of the entire Circleville industrial stretch, from Ohio Street (in the left corner) to Hargus Creek (right), in order to loosen things up.

After considering what was important to me – namely, operationally interesting or personally relevant structures – I decided to remove an entire block between Main Street and Hargus Creek on the right end. There were no rail-served industries at that end so there was no downside, other than the loss of a cool canal-era building. The upside was gaining an additional 31″ that the rest of Circleville could “grow” into. All of the industries gained more elbow room; CCA (at the opposite end) got a good chunk of that newfound space.

The additional breathing room more-or-less addressed the left-end track work concerns. There was now reasonable room to get trains in and out of the plant’s receiving yard. Details on that layout will be in a future post.

Plant Revision

During this same timeframe, I decided to revise the plant mock-up. The first mock-up was based on 1920’s dimensions and aerial photo, which I thought would be appropriate for my 1938-39 modeling time frame. Additional research unearthed information and photos showing that assumption was incorrect. The entire left end of the plant changed in 1936-1937.

I’d been itching to revise the mockup anyway, since the original had been constructed hastily to make the layout presentable for a neighborhood open house. This new information was just the trigger to get it started.

While building the new mock-up, I updated the dimensions of all of the buildings including shorter vertical dimensions and a more generous horizontal compression (70 vs. 60%). These changes made the overall proportions more pleasing and provided more room for the shipping trackwork at the right end of the plant. It also extended the left end of the building back toward the corner, though that did not impact the receiving yard’s usability.

There was one final move. For a variety of reasons, I decided to remove one industry (Enderlin Coal) altogether, freeing up more space. Again, everyone got more elbow room, and CCA got two inches of that.

That final move wrapped up CCA’s siting. It’s time to start some track work on on the Old Main.

Thanks for reading my blog. If you have any questions or additions, please share a comment in the section below. If you know others that might be interested in this blog, feel free to share the link.

Finalized List of Modeled Industries

Almost since the moment I decided to model Circleville, I was certain I would include three specific sites on my railroad; Circleville’s Interlocking Tower (VI Tower, the namesake of this website), Container Corporation’s strawboard mill, and Pickaway Grain’s elevator.

The inspiration for VI Interlocking Tower is twofold. Firstly, dad spent a lot of time hanging around the tower as a kid, getting to know one of the operators very well (Wink Wellington), feeding his interest in the railroad – and indirectly, mine. Secondly, interlocking towers are an iconic railroad structure – known by railroaders for their function, and by the public as a landmark.

Container Corporation was the largest industry in Circleville during the time I am modeling and produced an unusual product, making it an operationally busy and functionally interesting addition to my railroad. In addition, I remember the plant (albeit in a more modern form than my modeled period) and my uncle Gene worked there as a chemical engineer in the fifties. Both make it personally relevant to me.

Pickaway Grain was astride one of the doorways to Circleville (Main Street / Rt 22), making it a landmark to local citizens and travelers. It represents an industry that was (and is) ubiquitous in grain-growing areas – during my modeled time period, smaller elevators were a common sight along every railroad. Pickaway Grain is another personally relevant industry as I remember passing it every time we left Circleville for home.

Those three obviously weren’t the only three rail-served industries in Circleville. Dad suggested three more from his memory for modeling consideration. Esmeralda Canning Company was on Canal Street immediately north of Container Corporation (CCA). Esmeralda was probably still operating during my (early) lifetime but would have been long out of business by the time the building was torn down in 1996. Enderlin Coal (later VanCamp), north of Esmeralda, was once a very busy retail coal yard with an unloading trestle spanning a concrete pit. It’s not clear when it stopped selling coal – I suspect shortly after VanCamp bought the property since that company’s focus was road work. Maizo Mills was on the north side of Main Street, across from Pickaway Grain. It burned down spectacularly in the 1950’s.

Beyond these initial six, I learned about additional sites/industries of the period from a variety of sources (mainly period Sanborn Fire Insurance and N&W Right of Way maps) that I also considered including. They were (from south to north):

  • Purina Feeds on S. Court and W. Huston.
  • Two canal-era houses on Canal street between the CCA and Esmeralda properties.
  • N.T. Weldon Coal and Building Supply at the corner of W. Mound and Canal streets, between Enderlin Coal and Pickaway Grain
  • A bulk oil company owned (I think) by Weldon at the same location as above
  • The Ohio and Erie Canal warehouse (re-used by a host of other industries later) on the site of today’s Pickaway County Health District building.
  • N&W’s Freight House at the corner of North Western Avenue and Water Street
  • Highway Department site north of Ted Lewis Park (at the same location as today’s ODOT facility).
  • Sturm and Dillard sand and gravel’s spur on the west side of the N&W, across from the north end of Forest Cemetery

Ultimately I had to make some choices since I don’t have space for the entire city. After a year or so of planning, building mock-ups to check for fit, research trips to the Pickaway County Historical and Genealogical Library, advice from friends in the hobby and lobbying by dad – with my list growing, shrinking and changing from month to month – I finally decided on the following list. From north to south this time, the champions are:

  • N&W Freighthouse
  • Maizo Mills
  • Pickaway Grain
  • Esmeralda Canning
  • Container Corporation
  • Purina
  • VI Tower

I chose these based on relevance to my family (i.e., what we remember), interest from a visual, train operations or historical standpoint, recognizability and (very importantly), space available.

I tried very hard to work Enderlin/VanCamp in. It checked the interesting (coal trestle) and relevant boxes and dad lobbied hard for it. In the end, I couldn’t make the track layout work in the space available and removing it freed up enough space to mitigate problems elsewhere. If I can fit it in a different (incorrect) location, it will be back.

The Ohio & Erie Canal warehouse is certainly interesting, but since it wasn’t rail-served, it missed the “operationally relevant” check. I pulled N.T. Weldon because of redundancies with Pickaway Grain (both sold coal and building supplies, and in fact, Weldon was later purchased by Pickaway Grain). It also presented some track layout issues.

I will most likely add Sturm and Dillard to the list in the future, though more design work is required before committing to it. Also possible (though less likely) is the Highway Department. There may also be a few items added east of South Court Street, once I get to planning that area.

Over time I will add new posts about each of these industries, and for those that have enough information, a stand-alone web page.

Thanks for reading my blog. If you have any questions or additions, please share a comment in the section below. If you know others that might be interested in this blog, feel free to share the link.

Steam – The Ubiquitous Power Source of the Past

In today’s world, electricity is a ubiquitous power source – we use it for everything from running factories to cooking to powering model “steam” locomotives. In the vast majority of cases, that electricity is purchased from a utility. While doing research on the various industries along the N&W in Circleville, it became clear to me that steam was the ubiquitous power source back in the day – and that power was generated at the plant site.

The Circleville industries I model, circa 1939, used steam generated in the plant to power a variety of processes necessary for their business. From north to south, they were:

  • Maizo Mills – Steam used to power an engine that drove the corn cob grinding machinery
  • Pickaway Grain – Steam powered a steam engine that operated the elevator leg machinery
  • Esmeralda Canning Company – Used steam in the cooking process prior to canning, and to power the canning machinery.
  • Container Corporation – The most extensive operation in size with the widest variety of steam uses, “The Strawboard” used steam under pressure in the straw cooking process, to power turbo-generators that supplied the plant’s electrical needs, other turbines that were mechanically connected to pumps and other peripherals, heating the paper drying rollers and finally, to heat the entire mill complex.
  • Norfolk & Western Railroad – The railroad, of course, used steam for transportation services.

What got me thinking about this were three Circleville Herald articles I came across using Newspapers.com. All reported cases in which local plants needed externally generated steam to replace their on-site production due to emergency or maintence situations. In all three cases, that external steam that was provided by the mobile steam generating plants of the N&W (i.e., steam locomotives) .

August, 1942

In August of 1942, Esmeralda Canning Company experienced a boiler failure during the canning rush. A call to an N&W official in Portsmouth (where division headquarters were located) led to a locomotive being dispatched from Columbus. The locomotive’s boiler was then tied into Esmeralda’s system to allow their canning work to resume.

August, 1952

Problems struck Esmeralda again in May, 1952 – another boiler failure shut the plant down. Like in 1942, the plant’s management called the N&W, which again dispatched a steam locomotive from it’s closest terminal (Columbus) to get Esmeralda up and running.

January, 1955

Finally, in January 1955, Container Corporation – a strawboard mill – leased a steam locomotive from the N&W to supply steam for heating the buildings while the mill’s main boiler was down for planned maintenance.

Unlike the two Esmeralda incidents, this was not an emergency so probably did not require a frantic call to the local railroad agent. This particular article lists two interesting details; the steam locomotive was capable of producing 10,000 pounds of steam per hour compared to the mill’s boiler capacity of 90,000 pounds per hour.

It appears that, prior to the 1960’s, steam locomotives could serve the same purpose as flatbed-mounted diesel-generators do in today’s world. They both provide a source of energy compatible for the energy consuming loads of their times – emergency or planned.