Dave Alley's Steel Mill

Dave Alley's Steel Mill Photo Gallery

Above: An overview of Dave's S Scale Steel Mill layout. Photo Credit: Dave Alley

Above: Soaking Pits - Ingot molds will be removed by an overhead crane in the foreground of the photo. The red hot ingot will then be placed in heated pits under the building to reach the correct (uniform) temperature for rolling. Photo Credit: Dave Alley

Below: Ore Yard/Blast Furnace Corner - The foreground of this photo is the ore yard. The pink mounds will eventually be covered with iron ore powder, coke dust, and limestone dust. The plywood “rails” are for an ore bridge. This may be eventually replaced with a modified HO scale styrene model. Toward the rear of the photo is the blast furnace complex. The stoves (white cylinders) are to the right. The dust collection system is in the center and the blast furnace itself is in the rear. Photo Credit: Dave Alley

Above: Soaking Pit Corner - The blast furnace is at the far left. The open hearth furnace is at the near left. The soaking pit is in the center. A portion of the rolling mill is visible at the far right. Photo Credit: Dave Alley

Below: Blast Furnace - The cast house is in the foreground. The blast furnace itself (with the gas piping on the top) is in the center and the stoves are in the left rear. Photo Credit: Dave Alley

Article By: Dave Alley

The Prototype

This layout represents a steel mill in about 1940.  The key components which are modeled are the ore yard, blast furnace, open hearth furnace, soaking pit, and rolling mill.

Ore Yard

The ore yard is a storage location for iron ore and, in the layout, limestone and coke (processed coal).

Blast Furnace

The blast furnace is where the iron ore is converted to pig iron.  Iron ore, coke, and limestone are fed into the top of the blast furnace and hot air is fed into the bottom.  These materials react to produce pig iron, carbon monoxide and molten limestone slag.  Also associated with the blast furnace are the stoves where the blast air is heated, several dust collectors and gas cleaners and the cast house where the molten metal is poured into rail cars.

Open Hearth Furnace

The pig iron coming from the blast furnace is a very useful material from making castings but it is not steel.  It cannot be rolled into shapes and it will not bend like steel.  To make steel, the pig iron from the blast furnace is placed in shallow open hearths and a controlled amount of air is blown over its surface.  This reduces its carbon content and makes it steel.  When the transformation is complete, the steel is poured into ingots and transported to the soaking pit.

Soaking Pit

At the soaking pit the ingot molds are stripped off the now solid but red hot ingots.  The ingots are placed in a heated pit until their temperature is uniform and correct for rolling.

Rolling Mill

In the rolling mill the ingot is squeezed between many rollers and is ultimately shaped into the steel products with which we are familiar, for example, strip, sheet, rails, or I beams.

Layout Construction


The layout is constructed on 8 modules which are 4 feet in length and about 28 inches in width.  The height of the modules is about 34 inches, which is substantially shorter than most modular layouts.  This height was chosen as it is ideal for the main audience at train shows, children.  It is also a good height to be viewed by adults (me) from a rolling chair.  The modules are constructed from half inch exterior grade plywood.  There is no reason to use fancy high priced plywood for module construction.  The modules sit on banquet table legs which have been modified to include height adjustment mechanisms.  The modules are joined using door hinges which are quick and easy to use and ensure perfect horizontal and vertical alignment of the trackwork.


All the trackwork in the layout is hand laid using code 100 rail.  All curves including turnouts have a radius of 28 inches.  In retrospect this is a little small.  Turnouts are stub turnouts which were built in place.


Train control is provided by a now obsolete Dynatrol system.  This is an analog command control system which predates, and in my mind is far superior to, the current DCC systems.  I have considered switching control systems to Rail Lynx.  This is an infrared system which has the potential benefit of eliminating the need for all track power through the use of batteries in the locomotive.


At this point the buildings on the layout are representations of their final forms.  Most buildings are constructed of half inch plywood using standard wood shop tools.  The stoves are made from PVC pipe and couplings.  The pipe work at the top of the blast furnace is copper tubing (plumbing).  The cone of the blast furnace is turned plywood (a very nasty job) coated with several layers of auto body filler (bondo).  The buildings will eventually be replaced or receive appropriate exterior surfaces.

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