June 27, 2015

Op session on Marty McGuirk's CV Layout

Not bad for iPhone 5S hand held with available light

Paul Dolkos (yard master), John Pagoni, Rich Steinman and Bob Sprague
are actual crew members doing real model railroad operations. (Doug Gurin,
Jeff Mutter, and Tony were also present but not photographed)

Since my wife has become a golf addict my typical Saturday has involved early morning golf practice at Goftec and then a round of golf at a nearby course, usually followed by a nap. That routine was interrupted this weekend by heavy rains. So instead of playing golf after practice, I took up Marty's offer to attend his op session on his CV HO scale layout.

Now when I say attend his op session, I really mean just visit. He already had a full crew. So my participation in the session was basically to distract the operators and dispatcher, and then eat a wonderful lunch that Chris prepared.
Marty gives dispatcher Doug some help. The window and wall behind
are where the layout will expand.

Shooting the breeze and eating ---now there are two skills in which I am very qualified.

It was fun seeing the guys and catching up. And I don't think I was too much of a distraction as the layout appeared to run well. We also witnessed another quintessential Doug Gurin moment when Beauregard (one of Marty's Basset Hounds) stole Doug's bagel from his knapsack.

Marty is making nice progress on the layout. He even is talking expansion plans.

Yes, the lunch was GREAT! Chris made a slow cooked pork BBQ with a special rub spice mix and plum sauce. Thanks Chris.

Alkem Scale Models coal dock in situ.

June 25, 2015

L'Hermione Visits Alexandria

Photo courtesy U.S. Navy

One of the nice things about living near Washington, DC is that a lot of interesting things happened and continue to happen here. The visit of the French Frigate L'Hermione is a recent example.

L'Hermione was the ship that carried the Marquis de Lafayette from Rochefort, France, to Boston in 1780 with the welcome news that the French were sending arms, ships and men to help the colonists fight the British.

The symbolic return of L'Hermione pays homage to Lafayette and this historic relationship between France and the U.S. The story of the replica L'Hermoine is quite interesting. You can read more about it here.

I saw the L'Hermoine when it stopped in Alexandria for a few days last week. I did not go on the ship. I could only observe it from the piers. It was great to see an authentic tall ship once again docked at Alexandria.

This nautical visit ties in nicely with a new project I am working on for the Lyceum, Alexandria's City Museum. But more about that later.

Docked at Alexandria, VA

June 23, 2015

Sneak Peek Next Book Cover

I received a sneak peak at the cover of my next book. Here it is.

As the title says, the book includes 45 new track plans from small shelf layouts, though 2500 square foot basement filling layouts.

The book is currently at the printers and should be coming out in a few months.

In other book news, Model Railroad News ran a two page review of my book, "Model Railroads Go to War." See their July 2015 issue for the full review.

June 5, 2015

Visit to France- D-Day 71st Anniversary

La nécropole nationale de Douaumont
I just completed a great trip to northern France with my wife, brother, his wife and two of my brother's in-laws. In the 8 days we covered a lot of ground. We visited several sites with military history significance. We did not see too many rail related sites, but one or two did sneak in.

Some of the highlights included the L'Hôtel des Invalides in Paris. It is a fantastic military history museum. It covers many of the eras of French military history. My wife found the WWII history section very intriguing. After reading how the Germans captured France in 40 days by moving through the largely undefended Ardennes, she commented, "Well, they really had some bad intel."

A WWI diorama in the Hotel Des Invalides
I also enjoyed the WWII section, particularly how the French museum was very honest and matter of fact about the early parts of WWII. But I also found the Napoleonic, Franco Prussian, and WWI eras very interesting.

I know very little about the Napoleonic era (by design - I know it is a bottomless vortex of fascinating history. So I try to stay away lest I be sucked in never to reemerge.) I know even less about the Franco-Prussian War. So it was interesting to get a bit more exposure to those subjects.

Impressive model of Mt St Michel in the Musée des Plans-Reliefs

Another of the 10 or some models on display at the
Musée des Plans-Reliefs
The model builder in me really was fascinated by the top floor of the L'Hôtel des Invalides where the Musée des Plans-Reliefs was located. This is a collection of 3D maps made hundreds of years ago for defensive planning purposes. The detail on these century old models was incredible.

Rob and Alicia survey the view of from one of the
German Bunkers on the golf course. That is Port
Bessin-du-Huppain in the distance.

One of the few surviving guns at Longues-sur-Mer
A view of the Omaha Beach area from the German Battery at Longues-sur-Mer. The terrain was much more
rugged than I expected. I can see why it was such a bloody fight.

Next we visited Normandy where we played golf at the Omaha Beach Golf Club. This course has 36 holes that literally sit on the edge of Omaha Beach, one of the toughest fights on D-Day. The sixth hole of the Course la Mer has former German bunkers next to the green.

I was happy to birdie two holes, but got a bogie on Gen. Patton's hole (I wonder if he would have slapped me?) All the holes are named after leaders, heroes and battles in that campaign.

We also got to see the German artillery battery at Longues-sur-Mer and the remains of the artificial port at Arromanches. Some of the Mulberry cassions are still visible at the port.

Panorama of the remains of the artificial Mulberry port at Arromanches
Later in the week we toured the Verdun Battlefield especially le Fort de Douaumont and the memorials there. The shell pocked ground and 16,000 graves provide a sobering reminder of the folly that is war.
View toward the northwest from le Fort de Douaumont near Verdun.

Craters still pockmark much of the ground in this area.
One of the gun turrets at le Fort de Douaumont

Overall, we had great time, despite all the somber battlefield visits. Just about everyone we met was friendly and gracious. My high school French came in quite handy, as our French hosts were very appreciative of our attempting to speak in their native tongue.

May 20, 2015

150th Anniversary of the Grand Review of the Armies

General Humphreys and Staff lead units of 2nd Corps on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC, in the Grand Review of the Armies on May 23, 1865. Over 80,000 men marched on the first day and 65,000 on the second day.

Over  two-days in May, 1865, the victorious and reunited Union held a review to honor its soldiers. Three Union armies- the Army of the Potomac, Army of Tennessee, and Army of Georgia- nearly 150,000 men, participated in the review. Sherman later called the experience, "the happiest and most satisfactory moment of my life."See this link for more information about the actual event.

Last weekend over 1,000 civil war reenactors commemorated the 150th Anniversary of the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, DC. I regret that I did not attend the event. However, the video provides a nice summary, especially with regard to righting an injustice done to the United States Colored Troops that fought for the Union but were not permitted to march in the review.

May 9, 2015

Battle of Chunuk Bair Diorama

Peter Jackson of WETA Workshops fame has been involved in a massive historical figure modeling project depicting the Battle of Chunuk Bair in WWI in 1/32nd scale. Check this blog for more of the interesting story about how a major movie studio and hundreds of figure painting volunteers collaborated to build this massive 3D diorama.


Many of the figures for the WWI diorama were sculpted by the Perry Bros of Perry Miniatures. I have many of their ACW figures on my layout.
Some Perry 28mm ACW figures on my layout.

May 8, 2015

WWII VE Day 70th Anniversary Commemoration

Today was the 70th Anniversary of the surrender of the Germans in WWII. The United States Park Service Service and the Friends of the WWII Memorial co-hosted a great service to mark the date. I watched part of the ceremony at the WWII Memorial on live web cast. The speeches were good if not  overly memorable. At an early point I thought they had omitted the Russians as allies, but that was because they were introducing a particular set of guests. Later they did a formal roll call of all the allies including the Russians. Many of the allies nations were represented by officials or attaches and veterans from that country. It was very appropriate and moving event. I felt like I was experiencing  VE for the first time.

Once the ceremony ended, many of my coworkers and I headed outside to watch the planned fly over. About 56 WWII vintage airplanes flew over the Capital. From my vantage point on the ground just south of the Capitol Building, it was tough to get good photos. That was because the planes flew right over my head and I was shooting (photos not guns) into their shadowed underbellies. Still I got a few nice shots to remind me of the event.

Next time they do this, they should also have a parade with soldiers and ground vehicles.

May 1, 2015

Time Book of Running Trains

Henry Freeman sent me a copy of a B&O Railroad Time Book of Running Trains from 1864. It was to take effect on Nov 6th, 1864.

It is an interesting document that is similar to modern employee timetables.

This document cites a "rulebook" in several places. I do not have a copy of that rule book, but I will be on the look out for it.

Here are a couple sample pages.

April 19, 2015

B&O Museum Commemorates Lincoln Funeral

The B&O Museum had a special event this weekend to commemorate Lincoln's Funeral. I did not attend the event, but this link
 had an article about it.  The article did mention the model I built.

The photo at the left shows one of the B&O's locomotives decorated as one of the locomotives that hauled the funeral train.

April 17, 2015

Aquia Line in the Media

Paul visiting the layout for a work session a few years ago
This month Model Railroader ran an article about battery powered locomotives in model railroading. Veteran author and model railroader Paul Dolkos wrote the article. Paul is not a battery power user so he brings an unbiased perspective to the issue. In fact, one could even say he was skeptical about the need and utility of battery power. He interviewed several model railroad battery users and presented a nice overview of the subject.

In reading his text, one could get the impression that my battery conversions have not been that successful. That is not the way I feel about it. He quotes me as saying words to the effect that, "sometimes the locos don't charge due to dirty pickup or other issue." While I may have said that, I have since learned how to avoid that issue. As proof, I can say that my battery locos have not run out of charge since they returned from the NMRA show at Atlanta. That is over two years ago. Admittedly, I have not had any extended op sessions in that period, but the batteries have performed well.

As I mentioned last month, I am looking at the keep alive circuits as an alternative to battery power. The main reason is ease of installation and packaging. Trying to cram the required components of the Stanton system including a BPS, battery, DCC decoder and speaker into a O scale 4-4-0 is not an easy task. I am hoping the keep alive equipped decoders will fit more easily. Since I already have DCC on my layout, it is not much more expensive to add the DCC decoders with keep alive circuits to a loco.

On March 13, Tim Harrison of the Model Railcast Show interviewed me for two hours about my model railroad escapades. It was a fun interview, though next time I need to check some of the things I say, as I made several factual mistakes mostly due to faulty memory or just talking so fast I got tongue twisted.  Here is a link to the podcast.  The podcast is also available on itunes. I suggest you get a beverage of choice and take a swig every time I make a mistake. Just don't drive afterwards if you select an alcoholic beverage.

Here is some errata I picked up:
Malcom McLean - started container revolution
Maersk Triple E is 400m, not 440m
Britain and Russia invaded Iran in WWII, not Britain and France (I misstated this a couple times. I was getting Russia, Germany and France mixed up.)
Russo-Japanese War was 1904-1905. Japanese casualties were high but not 600,000. Estimates are about 50,000 -70,000 Russian and 80,000 -86,000 Japanese losses.

April 16, 2015

Tidewater Trip

USNS Dahl, a 950-feet Large Medium Speed RoRo  (LMSR) ship used to move military vehicles
I made a road trip to Norfolk and Newport News last weekend. Norm Wolf set up a tour of a USNS MSC ship as part of the research for my next book. It was really interesting to tour and see some of these rapid deployment ships that the United States has to move our military forces to hot spots around the world.

Watt Farm at Gaines Mill
On the way home I stopped at Cold Harbor and Gaines Mill Battlefields. This is another spot in Virginia where multiple battles occurred in the same area in different years.  I was particularly interested in Gaines Mill and the Watt House because I plan to build a model of that farm house for the Brook area on my layout. I have a copy of the architectural drawings from the HAER.
Some of the extant earthworks at Cold Harbor
Killing field at Cold Harbor

The National Park Service has a small visitor's center at Cold Harbor. It overlooks an open field where the Union launched part of their futile attack.

It was interesting to see many remnants of the earthworks still exist. The works survived partly because they were so extensive, the local farmers felt that it was too much work to try to reclaim the land. Note that none of the trees in the photos existed at the time of the battle.

The Gaines Mill battlefield was really well preserved and or restored. The NPS has created a great place to visit. It was deserted when I was there so I had the battlefield park to myself.

They have an extensive recreation of the worm fencing in the area, as well as the restored farm house and barn. I really enjoyed my visit and hike around the battlefield on a beautiful spring day.

In general the terrain at these battlefields is relatively flat, but the Watt Farm lies on the south side of Boatswain's Creek. It has quite steep banks and ridges coming out of the creek. I am glad I never had to attack up that slope.

Watt farm house

Position of the 5th Massachusetts Battery at Gaines Mill. Boatswain's Creek is on the left side of the image.