May 21, 2018

Module Frames Done

The module frames are done. John Drye helped me move them to the basement where I will continue to work on them. The garage is back to being a car storage room. It's a tight squeeze, but they do fit in my basement.

John posed by the modules at the lower height. We then changed the the module height to 50 inches.  The higher elevation allows me to push my portable Craftsman cart under the modules.

Note that the plywood surface is the street level. The tracks will be on an elevated stone viaduct abut 3.75 inches above the plywood surface.

Then I cut some foam core to mock up the main structure on the right side module, which will be a brick warehouse. The  warehouse  will be 24 inches along the track, while the back side angles for about 34 inches. I will have to truncate it to fit on the module.

Four Men and a Trebuchet

This was a crazy busy weekend. My wife has commented that since I retired I am actually getting less sleep than when I was working. I think she is right.

Now that's a wood shop - Colonial Hardwoods, Springfield VA.
The weekend actually started on Wednesday when I bought a car load of plywood at Colonial Hardwood, in Springfield, Va. This is a specialty lumber yard with a complete wood shop. I bought a total of 8 sheets of 5x5 Baltic Birch plywood. They ripped the 3/4 inch thick sheets into over 100 pieces  of 1.5 inch and 3 inch wide by 60 inch long strips, and the ¼ inch into 8 plywood tops.

About $450 of ripped Baltic Birch
These would be used to build modules for Marty McGuirk, John Drye and myself. The excess wood would be used in constructing Marty's home layout. Marty's module is a interim project.  He will be building a module to go along with the two that I am building for my book. John Drye is also building some modules, but these are a stand alone project that he wants to do. All these modules will be in HO scale and share a PRR theme, though JD's are not in the same locale as the other three.

Felix cutting plywood on 10-ft panel saw
Since the lumber yard used a panel saw to cut the strips, I did some checking at home to make sure all long edges of the strips were parallel. As the cutting progresses, the panel stock got smaller, so the chance for the panel tilting out of square was greater. Turns out that only 5 of the strips were off from about a 1/8 to ¼ inch. I trimmed these using my  track saw.

Michael Spoor (with his Army haircut) helps build the first
Friday evening Michael Spoor visited and he helped me build the first module base. It was 30 by 60 inches.
Andy uses a drill for his Trebuchet

Then, a diversion on Saturday. I spent most of the afternoon and evening helping a high school student build a trebuchet model for a science class. He did much of the work under my guidance. He did not have much experience with tools, so it was a good learning experience for him. And yes, we did get it to work, though it might not set any records.

I also cut some parts on the laser for a custom structure.

Mass Production - I cut the strips to length and Marty drilled the pocket holes. You can see some
completed frames to the left bottom of the image.
On Sunday Marty and JD arrived and we had a extended work session. We built 4 more bases and added legs to the first. We couldn't do all the legs as we didn't have the necessary hardware. We assembled the frames with different techniques. The first was to build a square frame with cross members and then attach the top. The second method was to build the frame directly to the plywood top once we insured that the top was square and the proper length. The latter was a bit easier to do.  I'll be covering the building techniques in my next book.

On Sunday evening my mom made for us dinner including a delicious blueberry pie.

May 13, 2018

Modified Extended Links for Prototypical Operation

The recent episodes where operators were poling cars on my railroad convinced me that I needed to do something about the extended links on my locos. Up to now, I had a rule in the operator's instructions that prohibited the use of the extended links. However, the USMRR Aquia Line, and railroads in general in this era, used the extended links on the pilot beams routinely for switching. To be true to prototype, I needed to have operating extended links on the front pilots.
New link on Fury

The problem with my model locos is that the extended links did not swing left and right enough to operate reliably on my railroad. The clevis and pintle of the stock models were true scale size. While they looked great they didn't allow reliable operation. Furthermore, the link of Fury had disappeared. So that was the first modified link I built. I used a piece of 0.032 inch phosphor bronze rod with parts made from 0.010 inch stainless steel parts left over from one of my photo etched frets.
I was able to use the existing pintle on the pilot beam, I just had to drill out the existing hole to accept a .015 inch phosphor bronze rod. The design gave me adequate left and right swing.

New link on Fury showing how it
connects to a freight car
On Haupt, and Whiton I was able to use the existing links. I just had to modify the hole for the coupler pin by drilling it with a 1/16th inch bit and I drilled out the pintle and clevis to accept the 0.015 inch rod.  On McCallum, the clevis had a different design. All I had to do was bend the clevis jaws by using my fingers to achieve adequate swing.

The video above shows the new extended links in operation. These new links will improve the operational flexibility on my layout allowing operators to switch from both ends of the engines. This will also make the layout operate in a more prototypical manner. The only caveat will be when pushing long cuts of cars off the nose. We will have to do more testing to find the limit, but initial tests show 6 cars is not a problem.

May 11, 2018

Model Railroads and Art: Paintings as Inspiration

Tuschman's Photo
Edward Hopper's Original
I recently came across the work of photographer Richard Tuschman. He did a series of photos that were inspired by American Artist Edward Hopper. Here you can compare Tuschman's photo  to  Hopper's original "Hotel by a Railroad."

I like Hopper's work. It has is what I call near photo realism, but usually spare and stark. He really focused on painting sunlight and shadow. Tuschman's photos capture Hopper's style especially the use of light. I find it interesting that Tuschman uses doll house miniatures in creating some of his work. I recommend you take a look at his website (the link is here and above). His work with dollhouses is also intriguing. See his website for more.

Armstrong's model above and Hopper's painting below.
Photo from the late Carl  Ardent's web site

Hopper has inspired many model railroaders to recreate his scenes. It's understandable since Hopper painted many images that had a railroad theme or included a railroad as part of the composition. Perhaps the most famous modeler inspired by Hopper was the late John Armstrong, who built a O scale model of the cafe depicted in Hoppers "Nighthawks" painting.

To get the best comparison between Armstrong's model and painting, one needed to make sure the lights in the cafe model were on while the  room lights were off. A casual visitor to the layout could not get the right lighting in a snapshot.

Another great example of painting inspiring a model railroad is John Ott's "9:45 Accommodation." In this case, Ott's specific objective was to replicate a  E.L. Henry's 1867 painting.  Check out his website to see how well he did. You'll be amazed.

In my Aquia line layout, I've been using prototype photos as inspiration. Once I get the layout more complete, perhaps I will go back and try to replicate some scenes from famous paintings. Winslow Homer has several potential scenes that could be inspiration.

2018 Railway Modelers Meet of British Columbia Wrap Up

We are back home after a week in British Columbia that included attending the 2018 Railway Modelers Meet of British Columbia. The meet was a lot of fun. We managed to add in some golf, gardens, hiking, and rail fanning around the meet. For a video summary of the whole week see this link.

Just one of the beautiful scenes on Mark Dance's layout
Mike Chandler and his gorgeous layout
 Our trip started with a ferry ride to Vancouver island where we stayed in beautiful Victoria. After a few days on Vancouver Island, we returned to Vancouver to operate on Mark Dance's N scale Columbia and Western layout. Due to a hiccup at the hotel, we arrived a bit late to the op session. Thus, I was assigned the task of switching the isolated branch in the mushroom portion of the layout. This branch is served by a car float, and I got to switch it. It was a lot of fun. Mark's layout is chock full of interesting ideas and beautiful scenes.

Afterwards we got to visit Gary Hinshaw's N Scale Tehachapi Loop layout and Mike Chandler's freelanced HO scale rocky mountain railroad. Mike's wiring is just a impressive as the structures and scenery on the layout. There were other layouts open for tours, but we had to skip them to get some rest.
(L to R) John Socia-Lehoia, me, Gary Hinshaw,
& Mark Danceat Gary's N Scale layout

Blog readers (L to R) Ken Rutherford, Greg Kennelly
& Rick Lord
More blog readers (L to R) Rene Gourley, Steve Starke,
Scott  Lamoureux, John Socia-Lahoia
For me, the meet kicked off Saturday morning by presenting my clinic "Down to the Sea in Trains" twice in quick succession. The clinics were well attended. I also got to meet several blog readers (see photos), which was a treat.

I also attended several excellent talks during the rest of the meet. Scott Lamoureux's talk on how he modeled the Cisco Bridge area of the Fraser River Canyon in N scale really impressed me. His small layout  was featured in the May 2017 issue of Model Railroader magazine, however the article focused on the bridge construction and didn't show off much of Scott's incredible scenery work. The layout is not only beautiful to look at, but it depicts the geological features with high fidelity. His layout deserves more coverage in the national hobby press.

On Sunday I presented the keynote talk on how I am using high-tech techniques to model the 19th century Aquia Line.  It was fun to discuss this topic with a group of mostly Canadian citizens. They had a lot of interesting questions.

Rene Gourley thanks me for presenting the keynote talk
There appeared to be a lot of interest in the Civil War. Steve Starke, an N scale modeler who now lives on Vancouver Island,  brought an N scale diorama to the meet. He also plans to add a civil war scene to his N scale layout.

The model room had a nice display of models, including Steve's diorama and a cool model of a rail ferry.

Steve Starke's N Scale ACW diorama

April 30, 2018

ProRail 2018 Finale

Bob and Kai on the mooring train out of Aquia Landing
The last sessions for ProRail concluded today. Bob Willer, Kai Slovei, Don Ball and Don Wetmore arrived to operate. Thomas Pierpoint also stopped by to help out.  The sessions went extremely well. After a brief introduction to the layout, they went to work. They hardly had any questions and did extremely well. In fact, I was able to take a nap and prepare lunch since they were working so well.

The Dons, Ball and Wetmore, pull into Aquia Landing
Bob and Thomas were still running trains about 1610, making them the last operators on duty for ProRail 2018.

Thomas and Bob were the last crew members on duty for ProRail 2018. 

Overall, ProRail 2018 was a great event. It really was fun to host everyone.

However there is hardly time to reflect on it, as Alicia and I are heading to Vancouver to attend the Railway Modelers Meet of British Columbia where I will be the Special Guest Speaker.  Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in North America and we are excited to be going. Yes, we will sneak in some rounds of golf and garden tours in addition to an op session on Mark Dance's railroad (yes, the inventor of the "Pole Dance") and the rest of the meet. If you are in the area, please come to the meet to say, "hello."

April 29, 2018

ProRail 2018 Update

The first visitors 
ProRail 2018 is almost over. Most layout hosts are done, but a few of us are hosting one last session on Monday morning. Over the last three days the USMRR and PoLA each hosted 4 operating sessions and one open house where we had 50 visitors.

Operators having fun
While it is not yet over,  I can say that this has been the highlight of my model railroading hobby experience. Over the past 3 days some of the most experienced model railroaders from the United States, Canada and Norway visited and or operated my layouts. Just about everything went well. Two crews reported zero derailments throughout the whole session.

Watching the operating sessions come to life with such experienced crews was a joy to behold. They even discovered new techniques, such as poling cars to extricate from a tough spot. We will now call this technique "Pole Dancing" in honor of Mark Dance, the first person to try it on the railroad.

Photo Line
Nearly everyone had positive things to say about the railroads and encouraged to me keep at it. Overall, I'd say that the Aquia Line was the railroad that really captured everyone's imagination. One said, "PoLA is nice, but the Aquia Line is art." Another said, "The Aquia Line is a unique railroad." "Beyond expectations," said one operator.  It is truly satisfying to hear your peers say such nice things about your work.

Special thanks to Michael Spoor, Joel Salmons, John Drye, Marty McGuirk, Doug Gurin and Tom Pierpoint for helping me out.

Pole Dance
I put together a video summary of some of the action for the first 3 days.

April 25, 2018


I have reached GICOD*. Prorail 2018 officially starts Friday, but I will be having some visitors tomorrow. So it's time to stop working on the layout and prepare for 4 days of back-to-back op sessions

I installed the small shack next to the Provost Marshal building. The actual PM building is not permanently glued down yet, as I plan to add interior detail to the top floor.

I also added a couple building flats to the rear wall including two warehouses and sutler's row.

 The large brick warehouse was actually pretty simple. The small shack took almost as long to make as it did.

Brick Warehouse building flat

The passenger track next to the Provost Marshal has some scenery now
Madame Violets Fruit and Oyster House
I  added a sutler's row to the back wall.  Two of these buildings are recycled from the McCook's Landing layout, but they work well as flats on the layout here.  The Post Office is based on a prototype in Cairo, IL, while the Graham building was in Chattanooga.

I know there was a restaurant at Aquia Landing, but I don't know what  the name of it was, or what it looked like. So I borrowed ideas from several sources. The building is similar to one in Chattanooga, the "Fruit and Oyster House" name came from an actual sutler restaurant near Petersburg, VA. The "Madame Violet" borrows from a 19th century restaurant in New York, but I used my mom's name instead, since she loves to cook for  my crew.

Another milestone achieved was that I finished all the ballasting of track. That was a big job.

Check back in 5 days to see if I am still sane, which assumes I was sane at the start.

* " GICOD"  = Good Idea Cut Off Date.

April 22, 2018

The USMRR Flag at Aquia Landing

 Several years ago I found a letter at the National Archives from W.W. Wright to Ada Anderson describing a flag and pole the USMRR wanted to erect at Aquia Landing. I blogged about it here.

Today, I decided to build it. I started with the flag. Due to a math error, I made the flag about half as big as the letter specified. But I got the math right and made the pole the full 100 feet tall and configured as a ship's mast.

It took a surprising long time to get all the parts made, the lines run and the flag installed. In looking at it, the flag seemed out of proportion. Then I realized that I had made an error with the flag. It was too small by 50 percent!

 A 30 foot flag is larger than a box car. I had to print it as separate sheets and glue them together. I used a 30 percent  cotton rag paper as it holds up better in handling and folding. I used spray adhesive to glue the two halves. Then I spayed the ink with Matte Clear acrylic to seal the colors, in case I needed to wet the paper to better shape it, which I didn't need to do in this case.

The trick to making a paper flag hang more realistically is to make it a parallelogram and not a rectangle. Paper flags are too thick and stiff to hang like a real cloth flag. By making it a parallelogram you can better simulate the way an actual flag hangs. In a real flag the fabric distorts on the bias.

For woven textiles,  the bias is at 45 degrees to its warp and weft threads. Every piece of woven fabric has two biases, perpendicular to each other. Woven fabric is more elastic as well as more fluid in the bias direction, compared to the straight and cross threads. This property facilitates garments and garment details that require extra elasticity, drapability or flexibility, such as bias-cut skirts and dresses, neckties, piping trims and decorations, bound seams, etc. It also helps determine how a flag drapes from a pole when there is little breeze.

I decided to embellish the flag with the text "United States Military Railroad" since many flags in that era were customized in some way or another.

The flag dominates the wye at Aquia Landing. 

As printed and before shaping. Note, it is not a rectangle. 

April 21, 2018

Provost Marshal Building

I am almost finished with the Provost Marshal building. This was a fun structure to build. I need to add the smoke stacks for the stoves.  I used the actual signs from the prototype image to make the signs for the model. I also built the model so that the roof can be removed to allow a look at the upper floor. I think this will be the Provost Marshall's office and perhaps living quarters.

However, it is possible that the small shack next door is the PM's actual living quarters.

April 20, 2018

The Florida Connection

Dead Bonsai Society
Sam Ogranaja, from Ft Meyers, Florida, visited the Aquia Line today. Sam (aka Saimir - his Albanian and much cooler name) is a professional photographer who specializes in architectural and interior photography. He was in Virginia to shoot photos for a hotel. Sam is also a bonsai artist and friends with my brother, Rob. When coordinating the visit beforehand, Sam asked if there was any thing he could bring. I asked for dead bonsai trees. He scoured his local network and brought a nice assortment of dead trees with him that can be used as armatures for trees on my  layout.

Sam was also very interested in learning about how I shoot videos and photos of miniature scenes. Most professional photographers that don't shoot model railroad shots are surprised to learn of the myriad tricks and tips we employ to get realistic images. He also wanted to test out my Rhino slider. So we ran trains, shot video,  and generally had a great time.


  The mail also brought my new Civil War era flag. This is a replica of  the Ft Sumpter flag with 34 stars. West Virginia entered the Union in June of 1863 and became the 35th state, so this is the correct flag for my time period.