NEB&W Guide to South Troy, NY

From NEB&W Railroad Heritage Website
Jump to: navigation, search
Troy Table of Contents
NEB&W Layout Table of Contents


  • The industrial muscle of Troy was mainly in the south end. Henry Burden made national fame in 1851 by building the world's largest water wheel to power his iron plant up on the Wynantskill. It was 60 feet in diameter and 22 feet wide, and was known as "The Niagara of Water Wheels". By the 1890's, the plant was abandoned, and the water wheel was exposed. Rensselaer students made field trips to study this marvel, and one of them was so influenced by what he had seen, after graduation, in 1893, invented the carnival ride that bears his name, the Ferris Wheel.

As rail transportation developed to bring coal up from Pennsylvania at a cheap enough rate, Burden built a second plant down along the shore of the Hudson, starting in 1862. He invented a process that could turn out a horseshoe a second, an astonishing rate for the Victorian world, and Burden's plants supplied most of the Union Army's horseshoes during the Civil War. At its peak, the Burden Iron Company turned out 50 million horseshoes a year. They also produced railroad spikes (Burden invented the hook-headed spike), rivets and other iron products. Over 1,400 men were employed.

Of his early facilities, only the horseshoe warehouse, a few adjacent casting buildings and a gatehouse stand. Our model of the warehouse is shrunk to about two feet to fit the layout space. If built to full scale length, the model in HO would be 6 feet long. Inside the building were bins to hold the various sizes of shoes (eight sizes of "fore" horseshoes, eight of "hind" and five sizes of mule shoes). They were shipped in kegs of one hundred pounds each.

After his death, his sons continued to run the business, and during this period, the ornate office building was built. In 1940, the plant was taken over by Republic Steel, which also bought the Witherbee-Sherman plant and operations in Port Henry. The Troy furnace was the last to operate in this area, closing in 1968. The ornate office building is now the headquarters of the Hudson-Mohawk Industrial Gateway, which seeks to preserve this area's industrial heritage.

There was a station on the banks of the Wynantskill, labeled "Ironworks," and was still in use close enough up to our era to include it on the model.

The Menands bridge, which still stands, was opened in 1933. A model of the bridge is used to disguise the hole through the backdrop at the south end of the scene. Aerial views which show the coke plant under construction also show the approach to the bridge being built at the same time, hence we know the date when the coke plant was built. This in turn leads to some tentative conclusions. The blast furnace we are modeling in South Troy was rebuilt in 1925. Prior to coke plant, there was no known nearby source of coke. One can infer that the older blast furnace, dating from the Civil War, was an anthracite furnace.

A blast furnace heats iron oxide (alias iron ore, also known as rust) mixed with limestone and a source of carbon. The carbon is part of the chemical process, but also provides the heat to drive the reaction. Blast furnaces can be subdivided into three types. The oldest furnaces used charcoal. Charcoal is made by heating wood so that the volatile substances are driven off, leaving mostly carbon. (The volatile chemicals cause impurities in the iron, so you can't use wood in a blast furnace.) The stone blast furnace at Tahawus was fueled by charcoal. Anthracite coal is purer carbon, made by nature from bituminous coal, subjected to eons of heat and pressure, again driving off the volatile chemicals, such as the coal tars, methane and other hydrocarbons. Coke is made from bituminous coal by cooking it, like charcoal, in the absence of air, and is the most modern form.

Modelers are most familiar with the beehive coke ovens, which are available as plaster casting models. By 1950, this means of producing coke was as archaic and primitive as a stone blast furnace would be for making iron. The beehive ovens made coke in a wasteful fashion. A charge of coal was placed in an oven and set on fire. By regulating the draft, enough air was admitted to keep the temperature up, but not enough to simply burn the coal up. The violates merely burned off.

Modern coke ovens work like kitchen ovens, by using heat generated outside the oven. In a coke oven, coal is burnt separate from the coal of the charge. Another important reason for not using beehive ovens is that by the 1890's, the value of the by-products became as great, if not greater, than the coke. This includes dyes, coal gas, and many other chemicals. Much of the apparatus of a coke plant is given over to separating and collecting these chemicals, including enormous tanks such as the one with the face now painted on its side.

By 1951, the coke works were purchased by Niagara-Mohawk, and are now owned by King Fuels. The ovens and coal handling buildings have been torn down, but the tanks are still being used. The blast furnace was in operation until 1968, when stricter emission standards forced its closing.

Original or "Upper" Burden Works

  • Topographic map of the area of the original or upper plant. (Note the Wynantskill stream makes a semicircle just below the dam and Burden's plant in this area was thus shaped like a horseshoe, besides making horseshoes.)

The "Lower" Burden Works

Burden Office Building

Republic Steel Blast Furnace

  • A D&H "camelback" switcher (so called because the cab sat astride the boiler like a camel's hump) works the slag piles with the Republic Steel blast furnace in the background.

  • Richard Hutter sent us this c. '53 photo of the blast furnace, looking due west from the tracks. In the foreground on the right is an oil tank, and the concrete wall visible is the containment dam surrounding it.

  • Republic Steel used a Whitcomb diesel to switch the plant. (Don't know if this engine dates back to c. 1950.)

Coke Plant


First & Polk

Public Bathhouse

Workers' Houses

Gas Station

Wynantskill Creek

  • Wynantskill Creek, with horseshoe warehouse to the north and Niagara-Hudson Coke Plant to the south.
By the way, the creek was named after Wynant Gerritse Van der Poel, who in 1674, purchased a sawmill there. (Be glad it wasn't named the Wynantgerritsevanderpoelskill.)

Ironworks Depot

  • There was a small depot on the east side of the mainline where the Wynantskill cut across. The depot was for workers for both the iron company (hence the name) and the coke works.

  • The only photos we have are from a long distance. I used an IHC depot kit as a stand-in until we know more about the prototype. (In the above photo, the depot is pretty plain and once we know more, won't be hard to scratchbuilt - but this kitbash was fun.)
    For my tastes, there wasn't enough overhang on the ends. I cut the two long walls shorter to make them sit under the roof, but you could also fabricate a new, slightly longer roof. I then painted the building in the Central's standard colors (as far as I can determine) of gray and olive green for the trim.
Next time I'd look long and hard for a suitable Grandt Line casting to replace the kit's windows. (If I remember correctly, the windows come cast in place, but it isn't too hard to carve them away.)

Menands Bridge

  • The Menands bridge was built as a lift bridge in 1933. Since steam days, it has been raised so the clearance underneath is greater, made a fixed bridge, and then the lift towers removed.

On the Layout

South Troy, Not Modeled

More Info