September 3, 2018

A Pittsburgh Potty, Yinzers an 'at

The finished table
We just got back from a trip to Pittsburgh, PA to help my daughter with some household projects. She and her husband just moved there. They purchased a house in an older neighborhood that is undergoing urban renewal. Her house has been thoroughly renovated and  is quite charming. The rebuilders added a modern bathroom to the first level, as the house previously only had a  small  full bath in an other wise unfinished basement. Turns out this is a quirk of many Pittsburgh homes, called a Pittsburgh Potty.

Top after cutting molding away. Some of the
 old molding strips are on the floor.
There are two theories about why this was a popular design. One was sewer problems were common  in the older cities, so a bath in the basement limited damage from a sewer back up to just the lower floor. And, my daughter and son-in-law did have a sewer problem as soon as they moved in that required demolition of part of the basement floor. The second theory is that mill workers could change their dirty clothes and wash up in the basement before coming up stairs into the rest of the house.  Alas, there are almost no mill workers left in Pittsburgh. Either way it is an odd quirk and part of the charm of Pittsburgh homes.

The basement is clean and dry, though relatively unfinished, just painted walls and joists. A nice layout could be built in it. However, they are not interested in a layout. Instead we built a kitchen table. The table was originally a thrift store coffee table that she and I customized with a new top and trim when she lived in Denver. The top has a layer of pennies secured in place with casting resin. She wanted to repurpose the top into a kitchen table.

Just like building a module
Disassembling the legs of the coffee table was fairly easy, but the trim on the top was not coming off. We had used a piece of PVC molding for the trim and it was securely attached to the resin. After some cogitation, we decided the only solution was to use a circular saw to cut through the table top, the pennies and resin. That worked pretty well as the saw cut right through. But to our surprise, the resin pulled away from the table surface in a few places and chipped in two others.  In addition, some pennies popped loose. We had used CAA to glue them.  I never would have expected that.

Now that we had a nice clean edge on the table top it was a relatively simple matter to add a mitered wood frame around the top. We used 1x4 oak, so the table became 7 inches wider and longer, which pleased the owners.  Building the legs and shelf underneath was very similar to building model railroad bench work, so the job went well.  The finished table is above.

While in Pittsburgh, we had a chance to visit Neal Schorr's O scale layout. He uses 3-rail track and equipment, but designed the layout is an otherwise scale manner.
Barn built board by board

 It's a hybrid approach 3-rail trains in a prototypical design. For example, his Duncannon Bridge scene is closely based on the prototype.

He has many detailed realistic structures, and an impressive backdrop. The layout is essentially a large folded loop built like a shelf layout. There are a few deep scenes to add realism too.

Neal cites the reliability of 3-rail equipment as the rational for the layout. He once had an extensive HO layout, so he has a good basis for comparison. But lets face it, big O scale trains are cool.
Bridge over Sherman Creek near Duncannon based on
prototype measurements

Engine terminal at East Altoona
The massive appearance, impressive sound, and even smoke that looks almost realistic, all add to the charm. 
 Check out video at the bottom for an example.

Nice detailing on a narrow shelf portion

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