Sunday, February 1, 2015

Industry profile: Afgritech Watertown NY

Looking for a unique industry for your model railway? Forget the time-worn standards: the corner scrap yard that can load only one car, the tiny box-shaped factory that couldn't even load one car. Think modern. And close to home. Look for nearby, successful businesses that are actually shipping or receiving carload traffic. These do not have to be huge, far-fetched nor credibility-straining. Check out CSX-served Afgritech in Watertown, NY, about an hour south of us into the US.
Located at 200 Willow Street in Watertown, the location was a Blue Seal Feeds mill until 2008, and the plant underwent an expansion -adding a large unloading shed, tower and additional stainless steel tanks (at left - above). Here's a pre-expansion view for comparison:
Now billed as 'the most technologically advanced plant in North America ' [wow!] the plant produced a new protein-based feed component that uses soybean meal and canola meal as feedstocks.  See more technical detail on the plant here, including the yucky of business taking place inside cows' multiple stomachs.
During drive-by visits to Afgritech such as May 2013 (which invariably occur during my wife's shopping junkets to the Salmon Run Mall in Watertown, or Black Friday!) I've observed an interesting mix of CanAmera, CP, Cargill or CSX 100-ton covered hopper cars. A pre-expansion [historic!] satellite view of the spur reveals two interesting facets of the still-used spur: the feedstock cars are spotted where there is a switch to the rail unloading shed, then the spur continues a lumber unload. In the satellite view, there is a centre-beam bulkhead flat car, plus stacked packaged lumber. 
I made a point of visiting the end-of-track during our November, 2014 visit and this post also reveals two interesting facets of Watertown that I've overlooked: it's a viable trainwatching spot (since I actually observed a Montreal-bound CSX train at the Coffeen Street crossing), and the backstreets of Watertown house some interesting industrial archaeology and trackage that bears further exploration. Just to the south of town is the former Conrail Massey yard, parallel to but largely invisible from Interstate 81. I shall return. A zoom view of the rear of the plant and covered hopper unloading shed:
Irving was here. Unloaded lumber awaits customers in easy-to-build-in-scale lumber sheds:
Cows gotta eat in winter, too, including high-yield food, at least that's what the sign says:
Close-up of truck dock, switch-stand and covered hopper waiting to be unloaded, spotted fouling the switch. These cars would have to be moved to allow a car of lumber to be spotted - operational interest! I don't think this Afgritech unloading spur will be lengthened due the building location. Which makes it that much more modelable - only a short spur is needed, plus one turnout, for two industries.
Main line access is gained where the spur meets the mainline under the Arsenal Street overpass. There has been some track realignment and simplification, as the ballast belies the presence of more sidings formerly located here. Looking north, beyond which lies the bridge over the Black River:
Looking south, with mainline at left, spur diverging to plant at right:
CHS covered hoppers await unloading:
Some of the lading can be hard to dislodge, resulting in scrapes showing through from the cars' interior:
CP/SOO covered hoppers show results of some of the trackside rehab work:
Bucolic. Pastoral. Spotted across the plant parking lot awaiting unloading, these cars have extra-large car-bottom hoppers to handle DDG, dried distillers' grains:
Running extra...

I'd like to dedicate this post to PEI's Chris Mears and Trackside Treasure blog partner. Chris is a master of the less-is-more school of model railway layout design. The simplicity and utility of this seemingly out-of-the-way spur is of tremendous interest to Chris, and I am also a believer. The dock-to-dock loading and unloading of individual cars is what railroading is all about. Forget your shiny, streaking Limiteds! Be gone, ye mile-long trains of energy-producing coal in coaldusty bathtub gondolas! This is an example of where-the-rubber-meets-the-road, as the saying goes. Or more precisely, where transportation of lading by steel wheels on steel rails joins railway customer to railway customer!

Chris has been producing a plethora of useful detail parts in scale, using the revolutionary, innovative Shapeways process, when not shovelling snow delivered by blustery nor'easters or musing model railroading over a fine cup of coffee. This family man knows how to live, and I hereby renounce any Facebook comments I recently made that alluded to his squirrel-like attention span. Interests can be esoteric while exoteric; specialized at the same time spectral; shotgun not sniper; prolific approaching plethoric.

Fellow islander Taylor Main kindly sent a photo of an Agway feed mill, similar in many ways to Afgritech. The module was displayed at the recent Springfield, MA train show which Taylor attended. Even the track arrangement is similar:
From followed blogger Seth Godin - The End of Geography: Some of the most important inventions of the last hundred years: Air conditioning--which made it possible to do productive work in any climate Credit cards--which enabled transactions to take place at a distance Television--which homogenized 150 world cultures into just a few Federal Express and container ships--which made the transport of physical goods both dependable and insanely cheap The internet--which moved information from one end of the world to the other as easily as across the room Cell phones--which cut the wires If you're still betting on geography, on winning merely because you're local, I hope you have a special case in mind.

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