As you have to do for introductions like this, I selected some pictures suggesting an exciting lifestyle doing questionable things around old industrial buildings.
Of course most of the time this is greatly inaccurate as I am a modeller before everything else, so usually you’ll find me in front of a desk covered in dust, paint and glue. I would even describe myself as a passionate modeller (which sounds nice but mostly means I will yell vulgar things loudly when things refuse to go as planned) and have been since primary school days, since then it has been gradually getting worse, through a steadily growing skillset, vocabulary and budget. After some maniacal revell and airfix glue sniffing I got my hands on some flea market treasures on 16.5mm-track and after these had been modified plenty of times things got serious when I started building my own cardboard models of dutch steam locomotives, later switching to plasticard.
As meanwhile the rest of life had pretty much come to a standstill it was really pleasant I found a job at Miniworld Rotterdam (called RailZ miniworld at the time), recreating quite a number of rotterdam landmarks in miniature, getting a proper taste for broodjes akong with sambal and learning the first steps of 2D CAD and CNC milling. Also, it’s really interesting to see what happens to model trains when they run 60 hours every week.
As the work at miniworld was mostly buildings, so relatively coarse, the hobby stuff concentrated on rolling stock, first still dutch, later switching to indonesian and polish. Also, a friend got me into urban exploration around that time, it’s always been a secondary hobby for me but a very interesting one.
After 5 years at miniworld I got the opportunity to switch to Artitec, where at the moment I write this I’ve been working for about 7 years now? maybe 8. don’t know. It’s fun so I haven’t been counting the days. Since the work at artitec is mostly on small really accurate stuff, the buildings-and-layouts-part of me started getting itchy again, well, basically that landed me this project. More about that below.
How I got into this mess….
I first visited the seraing area around 2008, and was highly impressed. A lot of old stuff was still there, blast furnace 6 blew some impressive orange clouds right in the middle of town, and there were many intriguing open spaces surrounded by crumbling factory walls. Sadly, at that point, because everything was still more or less active there was no point trying to give it a closer look and circumstances and budget prevented further visits for a while. In late 2013 we went to chertal for the first time and that was where things seriously started going wrong.
During the following years the more often I went there on urban exploration missions with 2 friends, the more we got hooked on seraing steelworks and we visited many sites, like the two remaining blast furnaces, the steelworks at chertal, the coking plant, the forge and electric arc furnace in seraing and many smaller buildings like workshops, pumping stations, offices…
Meanwhile, we did some attempts to find out more about the area but publications about the industry in the area are surprisingly scarce, especially considering how important this industry has been in Belgian history. The lack of publications meant a new hobby was rapidly born to fill the time we were not in seraing risking life and limb with the camera: finding scans of old postcards and other old pictures from the area on online auction websites and bickering about where exactly the picture had been taken, using an ever growing collection of pictures and maps. Slowly this started escalating towards ideas for a group modelling project, as not only urban exploration was a common hobby, we had all originally met through railway modelling.
After some brainstorming the plan finally stabilized on 3 scenes:
- The ateliers centraux/rolling stock workshop with the unused liquid iron railway through downtown Ougrée, with level crossings and pipe bridge in between houses. We really wanted to model the level crossings and the rolling stock workshop would be a nice excuse to have basically every type of rolling stock on the cockerill sambre network on the layout
- The old Cockerill blast furnace department as it looked like in 1988, partly demolished but blast furnace 5 and 7 and the charge silo still standing, with the adjacent power plant and forge.
We had been able to explore the last Ougree blast furnace and the last Esperance-Longdoz blast furnace but the last Cockerill furnace had been gone since 1988. After finding a series of really awesome photos taken during demolition I figured making a model would be a nice chance to explore it anyway. (yes, I will be all cheesy and model our little urbex team on one of those blast furnaces.)
- The dead end of Rue Philippe de Marnix north of the state railway tracks. I’ll leave it to the reader to find out why that part has to be built.
It was already clear this would be a rather serious undertaking (understatement) even between the three of us, as I was the only one who had built full layouts before. Standards were set suitably high, all buildings homemade and rolling stock as accurate as possible, bought when available (which of course means at least half of it at least partly handmade as well)
As I was already working for Artitec at the time I could make use of the company facilities so serious amounts of resin and etched brass parts could be made for the project without becoming excessively expensive, greatly reducing the amount of work, making the whole thing seem slightly less impossible. (only slightly, though) In return, some project parts have made it into the artitec catalogue.
At this point one friend already started to feel a bit shaky about the whole thing and decided to quit. Well, a most sensible thing to do I’d say, and as said friend still offered to help hauling layout woodwork around the country, who am I to complain.
Meanwhile me and the other mate soldiered on, I started designing and making masters for all resin facades and after castings were made mate started on the buildings for the ougree part while I had a go at the cockerill part and some locomotives.
After a while progress on the ougree bit slowed more and more as my mate was going through some unpleasant times, so we decided I would just continue the build on my own to relieve him of the constant feeling of impending doom such a project instills in sensible people. He would still help me with all sorts of side jobs like being chief layout crew at shows, donate free opinions, brainstorm about all sorts of light and sound related stuff, organising show visits, designing Le Bassin stickers, successfully ordering things that actually get delivered and that sort of thing that would just not happen if left to me. Some day I might even trick him into some miniature gardening.
So… that leaves me here merrily slogging on, strangely somehow enjoying the ever growing endless project just as much as I did years ago when we started! I guess Seraing syndrome is like Stockholm syndrome but slightly worse.