September 19, 2014

I remember that, sort of...



I was searching through the MR and Train DVD collections doing research for a book project. As I flipped though an issue looking for something else, this photo filled my screen. "Hey, I recognize that!", though in truth I forgot about it. This was a photo submission for a MR Photo Contest that did not win. But it did appear in Trackside Photos. Michael Bencs owned the locos. I borrowed them for the photo shoot.  The bushes were Supertree sprigs, a new product at the time.

A different photo from that diorama did get third place in the photo contest.

I have the MR and Trains DVDs. They are well worth the purchase price. The search engine that comes with the DVDs is not very good, but you can use the Model Train Index on the Kalmbach site to help with searches. It is a lotos fun to read MR from the 1930s and 40s. Stories about guys scratch building locos with a almost no tools in war zones, and some sophisticated layout designs. Very cool.

Trains Magazine's early issues are pretty crude compared to today, but the info is there. Here is a neat story that popped up in my searches. I and heard about this bridge, but never saw any pictures.

There was another article that discussed the railroad that served the Washington Navy Yard. It is all gone now, but at one time there was a pretty incredible railroad operation there.

September 17, 2014

Happy, Happy, Happy?

Marty and I recently had a discussion about model railroads and happiness. Without getting into his specifics, which I am sure he will blog about at some point, we came up with this Happiness versus Layout Complexity graph.


Many model railroaders assume the red line is the approach to happiness. Bigger is better. 

Others insist that only a large complex layout allows them to attain  happiness. They ride the blue line. 

Some people are never really happy regardless of what they build. Those are the yellow line folks. 

I suspect that most of us in the real world of commitments other than hobbies walk the green line. Yes, a layout can be too big.

While you contemplate this, enjoy this cover rendition of the popular song "Happy" by the Canadian Group Walk Off the Earth and Parachute. 

September 16, 2014

MARPM After Action Report


Last weekend I attended the Middle Atlantic Railroad Prototype Meet in Falmouth, VA. Yes, that is the same Falmouth that is on my layout. This is an after action report from my participation at the show, not a full recounting of everything that happened. Overall it was a very good event. As the event grows it is likely to get even better with more clinics and models on display.

The event took place over Friday and Saturday at the Wingate Hotel in Falmouth. It was a nice hotel. The rooms were nice, clean and up to date. They had a pool and exercise room. The meeting areas were spacious. The main lecture hall had excellent acoustics for the speakers, though it was hard for speakers to hear the audience's questions (at least I had a hard time). The hotel provided coffee and water all weekend, a nice touch.

About 100-120 folks attended the event. Except for a slight overlap, it was definitely a different group than one sees at most local NMRA events. The average age was probably lower than at an NMRA event, but not by much.  Nonetheless, it is good to see younger people getting involved in the hobby.  I met a lot of new people as well as old friends. A group of vendors set up shop including the ACL Historical Society.  The vendors seemed happy with the meet, but took down their stuff late Saturday afternoon, earlier than planned. Possibly because the show wound down quickly on Saturday afternoon.

The clinics I saw were very good. I enjoyed them all, especially Ramon's talk,  "Military Trains You Never Heard Of." Marty in his clinic, tried to blame me for "making him build a double deck railroad." Hmmm, that was not my memory of the sequence of events.  I presented my clinic entitled, "The Model Railroad Goes to War."  My talk got a late start as I went to dinner with a large group Friday night and it took forever to get out. Thus, I ran out of time at the end and could not finish  the talk. I will do the talk again next weekend at the James River Division meet. Hopefully I will get through it then.

I brought my Ft Hood diorama to display. It  seemed to get a positive reaction. The diorama is very easy to move around even if it doesn't fit in the Alkem HSRV (High Speed Railfan Vehicle.)  I also had some of my Alkem Scale Models stuff on display, but I was not acting as a vendor. I had the pilot models of the new DODX Flat cars on hand and took reservations for them. They should be ready soon.

There were a lots good models on display, but I forgot to get any pictures. Fortunately, Shannon Crabtree posted a bunch here. Some of the RPM guys bring a very military modeler mindset to the hobby. By this I mean they strive for exact replication of detail on their models. This is a good thing IMHO. I like going to these shows to see the hobby envelope being pushed.  If a person can achieve this level of detail, and make a operating layout, then more power to them!

The RPM also showcases a subset of modelers that specialize in realistic weathering. They achieve good results, especially considering they frequently use ordinary RTR out-of-the-box kits as starting points.

On Sunday, after sinking a 76-foot putt for a birdie, I had a mini-open house for the Meet attendees. About 20 people stopped by to see the layout and eat some of AW's brownies. The layout ran great even though  I didn't clean the track before hand. Battery power, baby! Gerry helped by running trains while I chatted  with the visitors.

I am looking forward to next year's meet. Hopefully, more of my layout, especially the harbor area, will be complete by then.
Some of the visitors- John, Marco, Warren, Kim, Jeff, Ashley, Tom, and a smiling Gerry!








September 10, 2014

Up coming talks.


I will be giving this talk Friday night at the MidAtlantic RPM in Fredericksburg. See www.marpm.org for more info. I will do it again the next weekend at the NMRA James River Subdivision in Richmond. More info here. If you can't make either of those dates, I will present it again at the MER Convention in October at Hagerstown. More info here.

If you can't make any of these dates, the book will be available for sale on 1 Jaunary. One can pre-order it now via Kalmbach or Amazon.





From the primitive 19th century iron horse to the thundering diesels of today, railroads have played an important part in enabling, changing, and sometimes inciting warfare. This talk is an overview of how railroads served in wars, and how to apply this information to design and build operating model railroads. Starting with the Crimean War in 1855 and extending to current times, the talk features protoype photos, maps and plenty of examples of world class modeling. It puts special emphasis on the US military in the American Civil War, WWI, WWII and Gulf Wars. Hopefully it gives you a better understanding of the role of railroads in warfare and acts as a tribute to the men and women that served.

September 1, 2014

More Projects.....DODX 41000 Series Flat Cars, books and visitors


The past few weeks have been very busy here with lots of projects under way. The first bit of news is the pilot models of the photo etched HO scale model for the DODX 41000 series flat cars are ready. The pilot worked out well. There are few minor modifications to make and the car will be ready for sale. It includes photo etched brass, a laser cut acrylic core and 3D printed detail parts.



In the meantime, work continues on the Lincoln Funeral car and the Thurmond coal dock model.

If that wasn't enough work, I signed a new contract with Kalmbach Publishing to do a fourth book, tentatively called "45 Track Plans." This book will be a departure from my first track plan book because it will include many more track plans, but each layout theme will not be covered in as much detail as compared to my first book. The new book will tap my layout design notebooks from nearly twenty years of drawing designs for model railroads for railroads from Z to G scale.

Over Labor Day Weekend, the Aquia Line had some more visitors. Today Dave Olsen visited. He is a Duke graduate mechanical engineer now an Army Major (soon to be Lt Colonel) with an Armored Cavalry background. He provided me with dozens of prototype photos of the DODX car. He is getting ready to deploy to Pakistan as a Military Liaison. I gave him a copy of the pilot model kit to help him pass the time and to wish him well.

Yesterday, Joe and Carol Post, and Amy and Gary Spears visited. Amy and Gary are architects from Kentucky near Cincinnati. Gary comes from a long family of railroad men, mostly for the Southern Railroad. He quit school and worked as an agent operator for the L&N for a while. He decided he did not like it and went back to school to be an architect. He seemed to enjoy the layout, but advised me to play more golf!

August 8, 2014

"Model Railroads Go to War" Available for Pre-Order

Kalmbach Publishing has released a cover image for my next book. You can pre-order it  here.

Model Railroads Go to War is the only book that covers a large scope of model railroading wartime scenes. Written by veteran author Bernard Kempinski, it spans the American Civil War through Operation Iraqi Freedom. This guide provides detailed modeling information and historical insight, making it ideal an ideal choice for both modelers and history buffs. It also includes:
A rare combination of historical text and photos. 
Step-by-step instructions.
Track plans that illustrate how to model a military railroad from various time periods.

Softcover; 8 1/4 x 10 3/4; 96 pages; 200 color photos; ISBN: 9780890249536

Model Railroads Go to War is expected to ship 12/31/2014.

I will have signed copies for sale on my web site in January.



August 3, 2014

Martinsburg Roundhouse


On Saturday I gave two talks at the B&O Railroad Historical Society Eastern Mini-con at Martinsburg, WV.  I was first to speak, which meant a really early wake up in Alexandria to get to Martinsburg by 0830.  But it was a beautiful day for a drive in the country. Loudon County, Va has to be one of the most beautiful places in the US. Martinsburg is a nice town too. I had fun doing my talks and I think the audience enjoyed them.

Afterwards John Teichmoeler did a talk on  B&O’s Marine Operations on the Ohio River, starting in 1855. I found this talk very interesting as he explained how the operation worked in great detail. He also mentioned how during the move of XI and XII Corps in 1863, the river was so low that the engineers built a pontoon bridge to get the Army units across the river.  You can read more about the history at the article by Frank Dewey at this link.

John has developed a set of plans for one of the paddlewheel river tow boats that the B&O used. We may cooperate in the future to produce a kit for it. He also implored us to pick up a up of his book on Pennsy Hoppers as the funds go directly to Kathy's, his wife, cruise fund.

John at his dispatch desk. Photo by Paul Dolkos
from MRP 1998. Gosh was that 16 years ago already?
Next John King described the thought process leading to the design of his B&O Winchester layout. His presentation showed a nice selection of color images he shot during his not-so-misspent youth chasing trains in Maryland and West Virginia while hanging out at operator cabins and towers. He really likes winter rail fanning as he had a bunch of nice winter images.


John's layout was featured in MRP 2005. One aspect of John's layout that is really neat is his dispatcher's office. It includes full set of authentic equipment. At some point I'd like my dispatcher's area to be similar to this.

After the meet I stopped by the Martinsburg Roundhouse as it was open for touring. These structures were built right after the Civil War as the original buildings were destroyed during the war. There are two roundhouses there, but one burned a few years ago. There is an effort to restore the remaining roundhouse. See here for more info.











During one of the breaks between talks, David Bridgham, showed me the plans for a layout he is building. I was thrilled to see that he is using the larger HO plan for Sparrows Point that I included in  my book on Steel Mill Modeling. He has modified the plan slightly to fit the space he has.  This is an ambitious plan, and he expanded some areas, such as the skull breaker and coke works,  to have even more of the mill actively modeled.  I am excited to see how it turns out.

August 1, 2014

Updated Speaking Events and Book News

A friend recently alerted me that Amazon is now taking advanced orders for my new book, "The Model Railroad Goes to War." It is due 1 January 2015.  I do not have any further information, but will post any news as soon as it is available. I will offer signed copies from my website when the publication date approaches.

Below is an updated schedule of events where I will be doing talks in the next few months. If you are nearby please consider attending.

9:00AM Aug 2,  B&O Historical Society Mini Con, St John's Lutheran Church, 101 W. Martin Street, Martinsburg, WV Membership in the B&OHS may be required.  I will be doing two talks, One is the Intro to RRs of the Civil War. The second is on the B&O Armored Car project.

2:15 Aug 9, Capitol Limited, N Scale East Convention, Chantilly Expo Center. This is part of the N scale convention. Registration for the convention will be required.

Time TDB, Sep 12-13, The Model Railroad Goes to War, Middle Atlantic Railroad Prototype Meet (MARPM), Wingate by Wyndham Hotel, Fredericksburg, VA.  Registration for the meet is required. This will be a new talk I am developing to coordinate with my upcoming book about the role of railroads in warfare. The talk will include dozens of additional photos obtained from the National Archives and other sources not used in the book.  The convention staff asks that you register as soon as possible in order to reserve a spot.

Time TDB Sept 20, James River Subdivision of the NMRA. The Model Railroad Goes to War. See http://jrdnmra.blogspot.com/ for more info as it comes available.

Time and October date TBD, Porter Branch of the Stafford County Library.  This library is just a few miles from the location depicted in my model railroad. We haven't nailed down the date yet. I'll post it when it is available. This event will probably be free to attend.

July 27, 2014

Trucks for the Presidential Car

I am just about done with the design of the trucks for the Presidential Car, United States. It took more than seven iterations to get the design right. I still need to add the brake linkage, the bottom bar  under the pedestals. Once I have two trucks complete I will work on the trundle truss that connects the two trucks.  I went with black and gold paint scheme, as red wheels that some others have used seemed out of place on a funeral car.


July 21, 2014

The United States - Lincoln's Funeral Car in 1/32nd scale

The United States with black bunting during Lincoln's Funeral
I have started work on a 1/32nd scale model of the United States. This was a unique passenger car built in Alexandria, Virginia to serve as the Presidential car. The car took about 18 months to build and was complete in 1865.  President Lincoln never rode in the car when he was alive. However, it was was used to transport the bodies of  he and his son for their final interment in Illinois. The story of the funeral is well documented in various locations such as here and here.

This model will go on display in th B&O Museum as part of their last year of the "War Came by Train" series.

The car no longer exists, and no official plans for the car survived. The best period description of the car construction was in Railroad Car Journal (Volume III, Number 15x, date unknown) by W.H. Price.  This source provides a sketch of the unique double truck arrangement used by the car. However, the drawing cannot be correct in all details as the angled truss element as shown would interfere with the interior brake beams of the trucks. The drawing also is not to scale as the overall wheelbase in the diagram is much greater than shown in photos.

Model Railroader published a set of plans for the car about a dozen years ago. The plans were largely based on research by Dr. Wayne Wesolowski. Wayne is a well known to model railroaders and others as a custom model builder. He has built 3 copies of the United States, and several copies of the engine Nashville in 1/12th scale. They are on display at museums across the United States.

I got to know Wayne about 12 years ago when we jointly participated in an exhibit of civil war railroad models at the Lyceum, Alexandria's City History Museum. He has graciously been providing me with information and plans for the United States. Wayne has spent many years chasing down surviving pieces of the car. He also worked with historic railroad experts to develop plans for the construction details based on best practice at the time. Based on information he has provided, I am working on the 1/32nd scale model.

Using the Model Railroader plan as a base, I drew this plan in color. This plan will be used to develop the laser cut parts I intend to make.

  I started construction with the trucks as I reasoned they would be the trickiest part of the project, but the decorative trim is also going to be very challenging. The trucks are a swing motion design. If you are not familiar with swing motion design, this page has a good description. There are elliptical springs both transverse for the swing arm and lateral inside the pedestal. The pedestals have a very intricate design. Even the journal cap has decorative flourish that appears to be a man on horseback, or perhaps a rearing lion.

The two trucks are connected via a truss beam to a central drum called a trundle. The trundle is the pivot point that connects to the usual bolster. Price's description mentions a Ward patent bolster. Drawings of that are available, but it will be largely hidden when the car is assembled.

The trucks have pins that connect to the car that ride in curved slots, similar to the way a pony truck rides under the firebox of more modern steam engines. Wayne's plans for the truss show a single wood beam with iron truss rods providing stiffness.

The image at the left is the second test model at designing the laser-cut bolster. The main frame is 1/8th basswood. Wayne's plans called for 3 inch members, but they looked too flimsy to me when I made the first test model. So I bumped up to 4" (1/8th inch basswood) for the main members.

To simplify construction I am incorporating some details integral to the laser cut assemblies. For example the transverse elliptical springs are integral to the bolster instead of making them as separate parts. The pillow blocks on the truck bolster beams are integral to the beam. Even with these compromises, the truck suspension will function almost as originally designed - a moot point as this is a static model.

I ordered additional wheel sets from NWSL. In the meantime, I am using the one wheel set I have on hand to test fit, etc. Note the actual car had compromise wheels to allow running on different gauge track. Thus I ordered the 236 wide wheel treads from NWSL. The set shown here has 172 tread.

The pedestals are three layers. The bottom layer is integral to the truck side frame. This is the same design I use on my HO and O scale trucks. On this truck, the top layer is laser engravable plastic with a thin layer of gold over black. It is normally used to cut name plates and similar items for trophies etc. It can be very tricky to cut fine detail in it. You have to experiment with the laser settings to get the right power, speed and frequency without melting the parts. Even in 1/32 scale the engraving on the trucks is so fine that it almost disappears. The laser dot size is about 0.005 inches, so any detail smaller than that is hard to capture.

Next step is to add the brake details and all the truss rods and NBWs.

July 15, 2014

Model Railroad Influences?

Marty McGuirk recently mentioned to me who had influenced him the most in his model railroad hobby. This got me thinking about my own entry into the hobby and who influenced me. Hmmm...

Chase and Danica play with "Hidden Valley,"
 the layout under the bed,
I do recall seeing John Allen’s layout in Model Railroader at the public library when I was in high school, but the person that influenced me most to get into model railroading was my son Chase. He loved trains when he was a kid and he infected me. My dad claimed some credit as he built an HO layout for my twin brother and I when we were about 6. So I guess Dad planted the seed, but Chase got it growing.

Prior to Chase and I building a layout together, I really was not that interested in trains. In fact, I had a job offer when I got out of the Army in 1984 from GE Locomotive Group to do thermodynamic modeling of their prime mover diesel engines. That would have tied directly with my master thesis work entitled, "Thermodynamic Modeling of Engine Knock based on End Gas Temperature and Pressure." This was the time period when GE had converted their locomotive factory to robotics. I got a tour of the robotic assembly plant. It was an interesting juxtaposition of a brick steam era facility with modern robots moving about.  But I took a job in the defense industry instead as I thought at the time that, "trains are boring." Hah! Little did I know!

I built a couple layouts for Chase, and then Danica when she came along. I had such fun building them for the kids,  that I built an NTRAK module for myself. That module was heavily influenced by Bob Smaus’ Port of Los Angeles module in Model Railroader in the early 1990s.   My module was called Chase Marine Terminal. It was a 2x4 NTRAK module with an 18 inch long container ship and a Paceco 40-Ton container crane. Both models were scratch built. I got rid of the module, but I kept those two models. I still have them.

I built a second Chase Marine Terminal as a part of a home layout in the mid 1990s.  And I have plans for a third one at some point.

My first NTRAK module, "Chase Marine Terminal."

Chase Marine Terminal 2

John Hill and Matt Schaefer were both good friends that had a big influence on my modeling.

John is well known as a war-game designer (Squad Leader and Johnny Reb are two of his most famous games). He is one of the most astute military analysts I have known. But he is also a fine model railroader and model builder. He excels at designing scenery for war games.    We had many great times researching and building scenery for massive - 40 plus player - miniature war-games in the late 1980s. He is introducing a new civil war game to be published by Osprey Publishing at the 2014 Historicon Convention this weekend.

Matt was a great friend who introduced me to the C&O. We spent many a late night building joint projects, usually C&O related. We also did a lot of photography together. Alas, he passed away about 4 years ago.  I, and many of our mutual friends, really miss him.

July 13, 2014

Dog Days of Summer

The hot steamy weather has descended on Virginia with a vengeance. Usually this is perfect weather to escape to the cool basement and work on the layout. Alas, many other demands on my time have prevented much work on the layout. But there is some news to report, some of it even ACW related.
Example of Rob's Backdrop Painting

To escape the heat, we headed to Park City, Utah for a long July 4th weekend of golf and R&R. I managed to sneak in an op session at Rob Spangler's gorgeous HO Western Pacific layout in Syracuse, UT.  This is Rob's third layout, and possibly his biggest yet. The layout has a great operations scheme, single track, time table and train order operation with telephone communication to the dispatcher. While Rob's layout is very well done in all respects, he is really famous for his backdrop painting and scenery.

I also visited the Heber Valley Railroad after a round of golf at the Homestead course in Midway, UT. The RR runs regular excursions down Provo Canyon. They have two diesel engines in current service and steam engines under restoration that are due to be ready next year.
This engine will not run again, but the Heber Valley RR uses it as a "billboard."

Back in Virginny,  I am building some custom models for clients. The first is the Thurmond coal dock in HO scale. I built one last year for a client in NJ. Now, a second model is underway for a client in Michigan. I also plan to offer this as a limited run Alkem Scale Models kit. It is nearly ready  but I need to get the instruction manual complete. Believe it or not, making the instruction manual is about as time consuming as designing the kit.

I am also in the process of building a model of the Chattanooga Train shed in HO. That project is on hold awaiting some feedback from the client.

Another major project is scratch building a model of the Lincoln Funeral Passenger car in 1/32nd scale. This will be for the B&O Museum for their 2015 The War Came by Train display.

Dale's Group
On the USMRR Aquia Line, I have had a couple groups of visitors in the past month. Dale Lantham and his regular operations group stopped by for a look at the layout. Dale has a fantastic HO layout that was featured in Great Model Railroads a few years back.  Afterwards, Ron Schmidt, one of the visitors, offered to give me a telegraph sounder. I had mentioned to them my plan to add telegraph to the layout and he generously offered it. More on that later.





Mike Kanazawich, Dave Donahue, Bob Kise, Rich Kohr
 and Bob Etchberger (L to R)
Yesterday, Rich Kohr escorted a group of 4 other Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides to see the layout. They had a great time and stayed for several hours, even though they did not want to try running the trains. I think some of them were inspired to try some ACW modeling on their own. That would be great.

Mike Kanazawich has a book about stories relating to the Lincoln's assassination. You can order it here.











Today, I was in southern PA and had a chance to visit the Steam into History train in New Freedom, PA. I arrived there in time to catch the 11:00AM train. Alas, it was annulled. The next train was due to leave in 2 hours, but I could not hang around for that. So I got a couple snapshots of the train in its pen and headed home.

I drove along a parallel road to the tracks on my way into town. The terrain that the railroad runs through is very pretty but heavily forested and hilly. It looks like it would be hard to find decent spots in summertime to get good shots of the train in motion due to the trees.












Telegraph System
I have been thinking about adding telegraph communications to the layout. I was unsure how to do it. My thinking was that the telegraph would just be a sound effect. I recently acquired a railroad morse sounder from Ron Schmidt. I was planning on using it to create sounds of the actual messages that the dispatcher wrote. The dispatcher would type the messages into a computer that would translate it to railroad morse code. The sounder would play the message.

Ron's Telegraph Sounder
Since I do not plan to have an operator position on the layout, the dispatcher would carry a hand written copy of the message to the appropriate station on the railroad.

I hadn't quite figured out the OS side, as I didn’t think I wanted the conductors typing messages, a job that the operator would normally do. One oddity on my layout is that all trains stop at all stations to check for orders. They did not use train order boards in my time period.

However, thanks to an interesting on-line discussion with Trevor Marshall and his friend Skip Luke, I learned about the simplified US Military Telegraph Dot Code.  You can learn more about dot code at this web site.  Armed with this information, I think a simplified telegraph system and code can be used to send OS messages.  

The telegraph OS will help keep the conductor/brakeman busy. I need two man crews for my short trains as the brakeman needs two hands to operate the link and pin couplers, while the engineer operates the throttle and whistle (there are a lot of whistle signals). The conductor/barkeman will also handle the couplers, TT&TO, switch lists and telegraph dispatching. More on this as it develops.






July 3, 2014

McCook's Landing on Trainmasters.TV

Trainmasters.TV has posted the video they shot of McCook's Landing at the Atlanta NMRA show as part of  one of their free sample videos. Click on this link and go to the 18 minute mark to see some nice professional video of the McCook's Landing layout.  If you like it, I am sure they would appreciate if you sign up.

Miles Hale (l)  interviews me (r)  about the layout

June 25, 2014

SS Transcolorado - A Forest Gump Moment


I have been very busy lately with custom models for clients and have not had much time to work on the Aquia Line.  I will post info on those projects later as some do relate to ACW Railroading

I have been recently doing a lot of research on maritime subjects for a couple projects I have underway. In this post I would like to share a story about from my high school days that  has been enhanced by some additional information I recently learned.

I, Frank, and my twin brother
Rob during Army commissioning ceremony
in 1978.
My uncle, Frank Gustav, was an engineer in the U.S. Merchant Marine. He was not a blood uncle. He and my dad were friends from childhood, so we kids just called him uncle. He was a quiet, modest,and generous man with a lifetime of amazing experiences. He joined the U.S. Merchant Marine as a teenager during WWII. He started at the bottom of the ladder as an engine wiper and progressed all the way to chief engineer during his career. During WWII he made numerous convoy runs to Russia and other locations. One convoy he told me about was heading to Russia when all of their escorts were diverted to find the German battleship Bismark. The defenseless convoy then got hit hard by U-boats. While his ship made it through, many others didn't. He said many of his buddies were mad at the British for that, but he never seemed to carry a grudge.

He continued with the merchant marine for many years. During the Vietnam War, he received a commendation for heroism when his ammunition carrying ship was attacked by Viet Cong mortar fire.

When I was a senior in high school, Frank was making  regular freight trips to Puerto Rico.  He called it the banana run, as they were frequently hauling bananas to New York. It was about a bi-weekly cycle. He had a car and an apartment in NYC, but he didn't like leaving his car there. So he made me a deal. I could use his car while he was gone, as long as I picked him up in Brooklyn when he returned from a trip. He would usually stay at our house during his shore time.

One weekend, I arrived at the dock in Brooklyn to pick him up. He was on the ship, Transcolorado, a converted troop ship. He said to me, "we can't leave tonight, as I have to be on watch. Why don't you go to my room and go to bed. We will leave in the morning."

I said, "OK." I Called my parents to let them know what was up. Then I went to his stateroom in the upper superstructure,  and  since it was late, I hit the rack.

The next morning I got up and dressed. When I went on deck, I was shocked to learn that they put the ship in dry dock while I was asleep. I had breakfast with the crew. They gave me a detailed tour of the ship.

Transcolorado in Vietnam
One of the deck officers asked if I could give him a ride to the union hall in Manhattan. So Frank and I did that. I was amazed he gave me $20 for the ride, which I refused to accept, but he insisted.  In 1974 minimum wage was $1.80 an hour!

Frank passed away several years ago, but I frequently think about him and that night, and many other pleasant memories.

A few weeks ago I was curious if any pictures of the Transcolorado existed. So I did a search, and sure enough I found several.  The Transcolorado started out as a USNS Troopship called Marine Adder. It was a bit late for WWII, but participated in the Korean and Vietnam wars. After the Korean War it was converted into a US flagged merchant ship, with a set of distinctive cranes.  About a year or so after I was on the ship it participated in the Vietnam Refugee operation.

I was very surprised to learn that the ship I spent a night on was involved in that operation.  It turns out the Vietnam mission was very well documented with text and videos of the operation available on line.


This website has a good description of the overall mission. The comments are also worth reading.


The book, "The Lucky Few", has a section describing the tragic conditions on the overcrowded Transcolorado during the evacuation. It was a chaotic time.

I know several Vietnamese people who were rescued after the war,  including one of my sisters-in-law. While it would make an incredible coda to the story, she didn't come here on the Transcolorado.