Walthers coke oven complex is the latest in the "Ashland Iron & Steel" series of kits.
Product Review: Walthers Coke Oven Kit in HO
by George Riley
Coke is almost pure carbon created by heating bituminous coal in an oxygen free environment. Since the early 19th Century Coke has been the main fuel source in iron and steel production replacing char-coal in this role. Initially coke was manufactured using the same techniques and structures used in making char-coal. Conical bee hive ovens would be charged with coal. Once the coal was ignited inside the oven would be sealed allowing the coal to smolder gradually driving off entrapped gasses and contaminates. This process did yield coke, however, it proved to be fuel intensive since a significant amount of the coal charge was used to heat the oven and the quality of the finished coke was inconsistent. This method of production continued in use well into the twentieth century despite its short comings.
As the steel industry gathered momentum following the Civil War, demands for coke increased exponentially. The next stage in the development in coke manufacturing was the invention of the Coppée or Belgium oven. This system used banks of rectangular sealed ovens that were heated by an external source located separately from the oven bank. This system yielded higher production with more consistent results while using less fuel in addition to operating at lower temperatures. An added advantage was that the waste gasses were vented through a central chimney making the actual production site a bit more pleasant. By the 1880s the Belgium oven was the standard for high volume coke manufacturing.
Even with the venting of the waste gassed through a chimney higher into the atmosphere the environment surrounding the coke plant was caustic and the area devoid of vegetation. More importantly, to the entrepreneurial mind of the late 19th century was the loss of potential profits made by the capture of the various volatile gases, solvents and tars useable by the growing chemical industries.
The capture of these materials led to the further refinement of the Belgium ovens culminating in the development of the By-Products oven which is the subject of Walthers’ model. By adding a capture manifold to each oven in the bank the waste materials could be captured and further processed. In addition some of the volatile gases could also be used to supplement the fuel used in the coking process. This process came into wide use just prior to the First World War and continues to be the standard coke manufacturing process in use.
From a modeler’s perspective, coke production provides an excellent means of generating traffic on their railroad. Even a small plant uses a lot of rail traffic for both inbound and outbound movements. While usually located near their main customer, the steel industry, many mines produced coke in their own facilities and shipped the finished product to the mills from their sites. Rolling stock used in coke transport was varied ranging from the use of inbound hoppers and older boxcars to specialized slat sided coke hoppers and gondolas.
In operation coal arrives and is dumped, then sent to the coal crusher. There it is crushed and sized to the specifications of the end user. From the crusher the coal then is transferred to the storage bin adjacent to the ovens. The pulverized coal is then loaded into the Larry car which rolls over the ovens and charges an oven. Once sealed the ovens are heated to 1800 degrees F for 18 to 36 hours. Once the coking cycle is complete the oven is opened and a ram pushes the completed red hot charge into a quench car. The loaded car is then moved into the quench house by a dedicated shielded locomotive where a shower of water slakes the coke thereby completing the process. Finished coke is then either stored or transshipped to an end user.
Walthers’ latest release of the Coke Oven Kit in the "Ashland Iron & Steel" series provides the modeler with a complete coke manufacturing complex that can be used on layouts set in the early twentieth century to present day. In addition to the 18 oven bank with a pulverized coal storage bin, the kit also includes a crusher, quench house, Larry car for charging the ovens, quench car, coal dump grate and covered conveyors. All one has to add are some tracks, perhaps a dedicated locomotive and some rolling stock to build a complete and believable industrial location.
Since the main structures are large, it is recommended that before beginning construction the builder constructs a base. This will aid in the alignment of all of the interconnected buildings as well as provide a degree of protection for the finished project. The review sample fits easily on an 18” x 36” base with room for four service tracks.
The kit is comprised of injection molded plastic parts to build the main components of the model. Also included are metal hand rail details for the quench car and a sheet of industrial themed decals. The modeler will need to supply a couple of sections of rail for the Larry car to run over. A couple of 9” pieces of Atlas code 83 rail from the scrap box were used. The instruction sheet is illustrated with a series of exploded isometric drawings that detail each sub-assembly. For the most part they are easy to follow and intuitive for anyone who has a few plastic structures under their belt. The coke oven kit should prove to be an easy kit to build. One should not be intimidated by the kit’s size, since there are only around a hundred parts involved in construction and most of them are large.
Many large injection molding suffer from their size. Often times the molds fail to fill completely leaving voids in the parts and frequently parts are warped significantly due to improper cooling prior to being ejected from the molds. Happily, this kit does not suffer from incomplete molding. All of the sprues completely filled and there was no significant flash on any of the parts. There was some minor warping on several of the parts; however, by careful clamping during assembly the warps were straightened. The secret with this or any similar kit is to take adequate time when building. The coke oven project was completed in a week's worth of evenings working two to four hours a night. The kit was constructed in sub-assemblies, painted and each assembly was allowed to dry over night before proceeding.
As the kit was being assembled it was painted similarly to the box illustrations. Finishing was accomplished using standard commercial spray cans available from the home improvement store. Flat Oxide Red, Gray Primer and Flat Black Sprays were used in addition to Rustoleum’s Rust Kit. This kit features an orange colored textured solvent spray base coat over which an acrylic blackish-brown patina wash is applied. This wash can be thinned with water and makes a great overall weathering wash as well. The quench car in particular used this system to full advantage. The entire car was given an overall rust base coat before a light over spray of flat black was applied. Finally the patina was brushed over the entire car. The results are dramatic. The bins and conveyors made use of this system as well, although to a lesser degree. If you are unable to find the kit use Floquil’s solvent based Rust under a Polly Scale Roof Brown wash. Polly Scale Concrete and Rust applied with an airbrush were also used for the cement and fire-brick sections. When using water based paints on plastic one can get excellent results by first priming the assembly to be finished with spray gray primer.
Coke manufacturing is a dirty grimy business. Weathering is the key to making this model realistic and a standout on the model railroad. The brick work was first shaded with a rubbing of Paynes gray oil paint straight from the tube. The entire plant was then given an overall wash using the patina from the rust kit. John’s light cinder mix available from Scenic Express was the dusted over the models and then brushed in all of the nooks and crannies. The cinders were fixed with flat spray. John’s #20 Coke was then applied to the base and quench car. The coke was secured with dilute white glue to complete the project.
The Coke Oven Kit proved easy to build and complete. The model is well though out and accurately represents an industrial facility that is not often considered when building a model railroad serving the steel industry. While Walthers chose to offer a small scale version of a prototypically massive structure it will loom large in any setting and offers numerous operational possibilities.