March 3, 2015

Cast Metal Trucks and Detail Parts

I had a chance to fire up the vulcanizer and spin caster this evening to try making some metal parts.

A few years ago, Eric Cox, of Panamint Models,  made some O scale truck parts for me in Shapeways. Our idea was to try using the 3D printed parts as masters in my vulcanizing mold machine. The first attempt was somewhat successful, but some adjustments were necessary.

So Eric redrew the parts and set me a revised set. In the meantime, I figured out that the silicone rubber mold material I had was beyond its shelf life. Thus the rubber would not vulcanize properly. So I ordered a new set of rubber mold blanks. This time I ordered a low temperature silicone rubber that cures at 190F. These are intended for molding 3D printed masters and other low temperature materials. The drawback is that the silicone rubber is not as strong as higher temperature rubber.

I put the revised trucks in the mold. I also put some of my 3D printed DODX brake detail parts in the mold. Shapeways has been somewhat unreliable lately. The have been shipping the parts after months delay or outright canceling my orders. So I though it would be prudent to make metal copies of the brake details.

The low temp rubber worked well with the 3D parts. The molds looked good. I cut the gates in the parts and started spin casting. As normal, the first couple pours did not work too well. But as the mold warmed up and I added some gates and vents, I got a pretty good yield. After about 25 pours the mold started to deteriorate.

The brake details came out very well. The truck parts had a lower yield, but I still got a pretty good set of parts with which to experiment. The rubber mold material in the axle holes and some other spots that had undercuts had problems with tearing after a few pours.

I assembled a truck using some of the new castings. The revised design has very close tolerances. That combined with some deteriorated axle holes, meant that I had to do some grinding and filing to get the parts to fit without interfering. The wheel sets seemed to spin smoothly, but in testing on the track I noticed some sparking due to shorts. I added some 0.010 inch styrene shims to  insulate the wheels from the side frames and that worked to remove the electrical shorts.

The cast metal trucks don't have working brakes. But they do have some nice detail. The cast trucks add weight down low, so they should help the cars track better.

Given I have to fiddle with them to get them to work well, there isn't too much labor saving. So the jury is still out on if I want to do the rest of my cars with cast metal trucks.







February 22, 2015

Unexpected bonus

The remnants of the foam layer of the layer makes a relatively small pile.
As I was taking the foam pieces to the trash, I noticed that I could pop some of the track sections intact from the foam scenery. I used 1/8 inch plywood sub roadbed glued to the foam.

I was able to salvage three turnouts from McCooks, a double crossover and a single turnout. Since I only need 9 more turnouts to finish my home layout, these will come in handy.
Three turnouts salvaged from McCook's Landing.


February 21, 2015

I came in like a wrecking ball....

There is a perverse pleasure in taking a wrecking bar to your layout.


Good thing I'm not a surgeon, look what I found under the foam layer!
A nasty snowstorm followed by icy rain was a good reason to stay home this afternoon. As I was doing some chores, I noticed one of the switch stands on McCook's Landing had a broken solder joint.  Instead of fixing it, I reached for my wrecking bar!

Catalyzed by the broken part, I started the recycling process for McCook's Landing. Several months ago I had decided to recycle its benchwork into a different layout. While I don't have my new design figured out yet, I went ahead with demolition.



Having thought about this for quite some time, it was very satisfying to actually being the work. Yes, I did feel a little like Sherman as he left Atlanta.

Please note that I am NOT dismantling my home layout, The USMRR AQUIA LINE, only the portable display layout called McCook's Landing. 

The shipyard got scrapped.
I did save as much as possible, so Haupt will not be upset.  As I removed the details, switch stands and most of the structures, I went around my home layout and looked for places where they might work. I think I can use just about all the structures. The figures will also come in handy. I did not bother saving any track. The turntable pit was solidly glued in and could not be removed. Unfortunately, the ship yard with the marine ways can not be used on my home layout. I was able to save the major assemblies, but the ship yard got scrapped.

I also removed the lighting valance. Since this will not be an exhibition layout, the valance wasn't needed. It also interfered with many good photo angles. So I took it down. But the LEDs were a big success and I would consider using them again.

I intend to raise the revised layout about 6 inches. This means the legs will be folded up, or maybe even removed.  I have not decided what to do about the backdrop. It took some damage during the demolition process. Instead of fixing the damaged spots, it  might be easier to  replace it with two 8 foot sections.

Some things I noted during demolition. It took longer them I expected as I plan to reuse the benchwork. So I had to remove glue globs, etc. The Liquid nails glue pulled up fairly easily. Carpenter's yellow glue was much harder to remove. By the most difficult stuff to remove was the polyurethane water surface, especially where there was sand at the shoreline.

I started mocking up potential next layouts. This is an HO mock up using some of my military vehicles. I am not sure what the final layout will be yet. 

February 19, 2015

Alexandria's Witness to War and Reunion Lecture Series



Things have been hectic here in Alexandria. While work on the layout has been on hold, many other projects are moving forward. I will post an update later. In the meantime, I wanted to mention that the Lyceum lecture series on the Civil War continues.

As the 150th commemoration of the Civil War comes to a close, The Lyceum: Alexandria’s History Museum explores the end of the war and its aftermath through a series of lectures.

March 4: Iron Confederacies: Southern Railways, Klan Violence and Reconstruction, by Scott Nelson, The College of William & Mary

April 30: The Meaning of Freedom in the Aftermath of Slavery, 1865-1867, by Leslie Rowland, The University of Maryland

May 21: The Art of Memorializing the Civil War by Susan Cumbey, Director of Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site

June 11: Remembering the Civil War, by Caroline Janney, Purdue University

 Tickets for each individual lecture can also be purchased for $5 each. You can get tickets at this link

January 30, 2015

SMR Engine Washington Cancelled

Hiding among all the good news this week, I learned that the next engine I had on order from SMR trains, the flexible beam Washington, has been cancelled. According to the Dave Schneider, the owner of SMR Trains, the Korean manufacturer has increased the price beyond economic feasibility.

It's too bad because the Washington was one of the engines that actually ran on the Aquia Line. I blogged about it here and here.


So, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. This setback will help incentivize me to scratchbuild the loco. I have that task on my bucket list, so now is the time to try it.


January 29, 2015

Next Book Manuscript is Done - 45 Track Plans

This week I completed the manuscript for my next book for Kalmbach Publishing. This one has a working title of "45 Track Plans." Yes, the book contains 45 new track plans ranging from 18  to 2500 square feet. The subject matter is mostly in the United States, but there are some plans set in England, France, Peru, Iran in WWII, and even one in the future on Mars. The eras covered  range from the 1860s to the modern and beyond!

The Mars layout is a based on the scenario described in Robert Zubrin's book, "The Case for Mars." The layout looks at what  an iron hauling railroad might look like on the  Red Planet. The omnipresence of iron is how the planet got its name. The railroad is based on sound science and technology just extrapolated to the future.  I had a friend who is a geology professor at Arizona State (and a model railroader), as well as aeronautical engineers from NASA, Northrop Grumman and the FAA look at it for feasibility.

The Iran plan also bears special mentioning. The railroad across the Zagros Mountains is one of the more spectacular railroads in the world. There are hundreds of tunnels, thousands of bridges and a Tehachapi style loop under a mountain!  During WWII the USMRS operated the sections from the Persian Gulf to Teheran. It was a busy railroad in an important era in history.

For this book, I adopted some improved graphic techniques. So these layouts look "prettier" than my earlier efforts. I plan to update my home layout drawing soon to reflect these new techniques.

Look for the book sometime around next Christmas.

January 14, 2015

Lincoln Train is on its way

Dan Toomey from the B&O RR Museum stopped by last night and took delivery of the Lincoln car model. It will be part of the War Came By Train exhibit at the B&O Museum, which will open soon. They have had over a million visitors already. If you haven't seen it yet, this is the last year for the exhibit. In April they plan to reenact the Lincoln Funeral visit to Baltimore in 1865.

 This was a very difficult model to build, especially given the large scale. I am glad it is done and Dan was happy with it.

 With that project done, I will have time to get cracking on Aquia Landing, the next major phase of my layout. Well, actually,...I am wrapping up another book for Kalmbach, but I will start on Aquia after that.

 I know I am starting to sound like the Monty Python skit with the PLF from the Life of Brian (one of my all time favorites.)


January 13, 2015

John Hill Passed Away

John Hill passed away today of heart failure in New Mexico. Most known for his game designs such as Squad Leader and Kasserine Pass, John was also a die hard civil war historian, reenactor and game designer. He designed the wonderful civil war game Johnny Reb. 

I first met John at a game convention where I  played in a Johnny Reb game he hosted. We became good friends. We worked on many joint projects. I have many fond memories of those.   In large measure I can attribute my interest in the Civil War to his influence.  He was an amazing military historian. He had a knack of getting to the crux of an issue. He was brutally honest, but fair.

He was also an excellent model builder. He taught me many scenery and modeling techniques and tips. This photo of an N Scale diorama is one of the joint projects we worked on. Alas I don't have many other good photos. 

In his life he worked as a professional defense analyst, ran a hobby shop, owned a game publishing company, and had a beautiful narrow gauge model railroad But he really loved war gaming, especially the civil war. 

He is survived by his wife Lu, and daughter Stephanie. I will really miss him.

January 3, 2015

President Lincoln's Coffin and Veteran Reserve Guard

The last part of the Lincoln Funeral Train project was to make a model of Lincoln's coffin and one of the Veteran Reserve Guards.  References indicate that the coffin was only 6' 6" long, a tight fit for the 6'4" President.

The coffin is black with laser engraved details. It was hard to get a decent photo of it. I placed the coffin on a small platform that is cover with black drapes.

The soldier measures about 6 feet tall. The figure started as a Monarch Miniatures Gunner. I added the belts, epaulettes and other details to depict a Veteran Reserve Guard.


The platform and the figure are on a small section of wooden floor. I did not have any photos of the coffin on display in Baltimore, so I kept this simple.


December 31, 2014

Diary of Edwin B. Weist of Company A of the 20th Indiana Regiment

Gordon Bradshaw has posted a transcribed version of the diary of Edwin B. Weist, Company A of the 20th Indiana Regiment. The transcribed diary starts with the the regiment's camp at Falmouth and extends through several of the campaigns in which the Army of the Potomac participated including Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Mine Run.  Like most civil war diaries, the bulk of the entries describe  routine duties. As I read more of these diaries, I find the typical soldier focuses on his own comfort, health and duties and knows little of the actual events. There are several entries based on rumors, such as a report that Vicksburg fell in the early winter of 1863,  that would prove to be incorrect. Although he participated in several major battles, they get scant mention.

The Aquia railroad gets mentioned several times in the diary. He also gives a good record of the weather they experienced, including some heavy snow.  Here is a typical entry from his time at Falmouth and Belle Plain.
Sunday March 8. Got a good comfortable bunk up composed of small poles covered with cedar boughs. It resembles a bed more than that we generaly have. Our camp is said to be about three mile from Bell plains landing, and about five from the old camp. The railroad is within sight, so allso is the Potomac river. We are not as much in the woods as we expected to be.
        Monday March 9. The weather to day has been beautifull indeed, resembling a May day. The view from the top of the hills wich surround our camp is grand indeed. The sparkling surface of the Potomac river in the distanced; the neighboring hills covered with camps; a train of cars just crossing the bridge, 75 feet high, and a regiment of cavalry on drill in the valley beneath, is a subject for a painter.
        Tuesday March 10. Was very disagreeable raining nearly all day, wich turned to snow in the evening. Weesner and Marsh were on detail, Mr. Thorn was sick so I have to cary all the wood we used during the day no inconsiderable job.

This regiment was one of the group that got sent to New York to stop the draft riots. Along the way, the rode a number of trains. That section is worth reading if you are interested in railroad operations behind the front line.

December 28, 2014

Gauge 1 Lincoln Funeral Car Finished


Here are some photos of the finished 1/32nd scale models of the Lincoln Funeral car. The model is posed on my O scale layout, so the tracks are too close, but the customer requested some photos on the layout.

December 20, 2014

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Haupt's Car Float


An empty ferry off Aquia Landing. Box cars can be seen on the wharf, but the loading ramp is not visible.

Joel Salmons recently alerted to the some fascinating information regarding a letter about the USMRR Alexandria-Aquia car float operation that was posted to the National Archives Blog. Here is a link that includes all four pages of the letter 


The NARA blog post discusses a letter from Herman Haupt to Quartermaster Meigs. It is what we in the defense industry today would call a "cost-benefit analysis" of car ferry operations at Alexandria to Aquia. He analyzes how operating a car ferry could save money for the Union treasury. There is lots of good data in the letter.

I thought it interesting that Haupt says that even with a single loading track they can load or unload the ferry in a half hour. That seems very quick to me. I suspect it actually took longer than that, and that is why the added the extra two ramps at Alexandria. There are several photos showing the triple ramps at Alexandria. There must have been a comparable set of ramps at Aquia. Unfortunately, I can find no photos showing those ramps at Aquia.






Although Haupt proposes using  the ferries to haul all supplies, they never did completely convert to only using car ferries. Ships continued to bring a lot of supplies direct to the wharves.

The NARA has copies of the USMRR Report of Operations at Alexandria Railroad Wharf. While I did get some data from that document, my review is not complete. I did note that in most days in April they shipped one ferry a day,  but on May 1st, three car ferries departed Alexandria. I need to revisit that document and completely tabulate the car ferry operation. Also this log shows that the USMRR shipped barges  from Alexandria to Georgetown, Norfolk and even North Carolina.

From a model railroad perspective, having both car ferries and warehouses to serve with direct-from-ship  (break bulk) cargo will make the switching at Aquia more interesting. But it is fun to think that the USMRR Aquia Line could be considered the first use of containerized shipping ever. Chalk up another great idea to Herman Haupt.





December 18, 2014

Number 1 Best Seller!

"Model Railroads Go to War" is the number 1 best seller in Model Trains Books on Amazon. 





December 13, 2014

A USMRR Hail and Farewell

The military has a tradition of hosting  periodic events to welcome newly assigned members to the unit and to say good bye to departing ones.  They call these "Hail and Farewells." Tonight the USMRR Aquia Line had a "Hail and Farewell." Sadly, Brian Brendel and his lovely wife Michelle are departing Northern Virginia for the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. They are moving into a dream house with an even dreamier basement at the top of Weber Canyon, just east of Ogden. It's a shame that Brian will have to walk about 100 yards to watch the UP transcontinental mainline from his new home. Brian was a force in NVNTRAK and has been a good friend. Michelle is one of the sweetest persons, and  most understanding wives in the world. She also makes the most awesome cookies and cakes. We will miss them.

On the plus side, we are gaining two new model railroaders to the Northern Virginia area. John Barry and Paul Catapano. Both are moving to this area from California. John plans to model the ATSF on the San Francisco Bay Area, though the exact area is not yet clear. Paul is a big time model railroader operator. He had a massive Appalachian Coal hauling rail road in his old Burbank, CA home. He plans to build a new version of it in his next house in Winchester, VA.

Also  attending the event were John Drye, Joel Salmons and Doug Gurin.  The boys are itching for a work session on the layout, so we plan to start back up in Feb once the next book is done.


From L to R Joel, John D., John B., Brian, Paul, and  Doug.


December 4, 2014

"Model Railroads Go to War" is Now Shipping

My latest book, "Model Railroads Go to War" is now shipping from Kalmbach Publishing.

Amazon has the lowest price that I am aware of, but they may not have it yet.Model Railroads Go to War (Layout Design and Planning)

 Kalmbach has them in the warehouse now.

If you want it signed, you can order from www.alkemscalemodels.com as I have copies in stock.

December 2, 2014

Creating a Kit Builder Exchange


 I occasionally get requests from people to build our kits. Unfortunately I am not set up to do that myself. If you like to build kits and want to make some money, I am going to set up a kit building exchange. This will hopefully allow builders and buyers to get together. Kit builders can provide me with you name and contact info. I direct requests for kit assembly to that list of folks. It will be up to the buyer and builder to arrange terms etc. Although intended for Alkem Scale Models kits, you can do what ever you wish including other kits or jobs. I have had people ask about DCC installs too, so if you do those, we can add them to the list.

I will set up the list of kit builders on my web site at the link here. If you send me your name, contact info and some samples of work you wish to show off, I will post it there. You can post your name here, or send to me via PM. I hope to get this set up in the next couple weeks. So please spread the word. The first builder has volunteered his info.

November 23, 2014

Flat Car Recon Trip to Fort Eustis

On Saturday I made a hastily planned trip to Fort Eustis. The main purpose of the trip was to photograph and measure a DODX 42000 series car in order to prepare a future kit for Alkem Scale Models.  I was alerted to the arrival of the 42000s at Fort Eustis by a friend (who prefers to remain unnamed) that works there. He offered to guide us on a trip.

I drove down from Alexandria, while Norm Wolf, who now lives in the Norfolk area, agreed to meet us there to help out. While we were there, our guide took us on a tour of most of the interesting railroad activities there. Ft Eustis is an attractive post set on the James River. It is now a joint base but it still houses most of the US Army Transportation school and museum. We did not visit the museum on this trip, but I blogged about it here before. 

After a late lunch we visited the Chesapeake Bay and Western Model Railroad Club open  house. This is a long standing club with a massive multilevel, mushroom type layout. It spans two floors connected by a several helices. The mainline run is about 16 scale miles. It has a lot of nicely detailed scenes

Here are some of the shots I took on Ft Eustis.

The object of our attention, a DODX 42000 series flat car. There were several 42000s present. Note the difference in colors. 

Two GP-10s in the engine house

An old Magor heavy duty flat car that the shop guys at Ft Eustis restored and use on post. 

A new single slip switch installed at Hanks Yard

WWII vintage car with expanding trucks and euro-style links and buffers

80-Ton engine in shop.


November 17, 2014

Lincoln Presidential Car Work In Progress

Finally, some ACW era modeling. Here are some shots of the work-in-progress Presidential Passenger Car.  The model is 1/32nd scale. I posed it on McCook's Landing to have a nice background, even though the car is the wrong scale. The O scale boxcar next to it gives a sense of how big the Presidential Car is.

This car had a unique style of truck. The drawings we have are incomplete, so we had to imagineer some aspects of it. The model has working swing arm suspension and brakes. But I tied it all down since this will be a static model.


The model will be decorated in its funeral configuration with black bunting and one end having the railings removed to allow removal of the coffin. I also will build a coffin and Veteran Reserve on guard.

November 15, 2014

A Mystery Key

Terry Heilman of Stafford Virginia contacted me requesting some information about a railroad key he dug from a house site on November 13, 2005 east of Dumfries, VA. He sent me this picture of the key.  Neither he nor I have been able to find out much about this key. If anyone knows more about this key or keys of this type, please post in the comments here, and or contact him directly at  703-441-1794. (He requested I list his telephone number). Thanks.
Mystery key from the USMRy.