June 20, 2017

Ship Models versus Model Railroads as Art

Finished Model posed on the Aquia Line layout

I finished the model of the sub chaser.  Alicia and I delivered it to the Lyceum Museum this evening.  We did a test to ensure it would fit in the vitrine. While we were there Jim Mackay, the Director, showed us a sneak peek of some of the other items planned for the special exhibit. They have collected some really interesting artifacts. It is going to be a great exhibit of Alexandria's part in WWI.

As I was building this model I thought about model building as an art form.  I had recently finished reading a book called "Ship Diorama: Bringing Your Models to Life," by David Grifffin   In that book Griffin focuses on small scale water line models.  As I read the book and looked at the photos of the models in it, I realized that the dioramas that were most successful were those that had a strong story to tell. Usually, that meant having people in the diorama. But he had a few examples where the ship itself was the story.  The story contributes to the art.

While building the sub chaser was a treat, it was mostly an exercise in model building skills. And even though it is destined for public display,  it really didn't feel like art to me.

In contrast, designing a model railroad layout feels a lot more like art. There is more space for interpretation and story telling.  Selective compression, scene composition, backdrop integration, and historical narrative are all aspects of a model railroad design and build that contribute to the art. Furthermore, operations on a model railroad add a whole new level of appreciation and interpretation.

This static model has a much harder time telling the story, but it will be augmented with textual materials and photos to help in that aspect.

I enjoy ship modeling. However,  I like setting them in place in a diorama or layout to really bring them to life. So I am psyched to move forward build the ships for the Aquia Line and the PoLA expansion.

But, first I am headed to St Louis for the Railroad Prototype Meet in Collinsville, IL. I will be presenting a talk on Friday morning. Perhaps I will see you there.

Jim Mackay and I checking the vitrine for the sub chaser model

June 8, 2017

Model WWI Era Sub Chaser

Over the past few weeks I have been building a 1/35th scale model of a 110-ft wooden WWI era Sub Chaser. This is a static model destined for the the Lyceum Museum. It will be part of their display on Alexandria's role in WWI.   The exhibit is scheduled to open at the end of June 2017.

Many people today do not realize that Alexandria once had a thriving manufacturing sector. During WWI, factories and ship yards in Alexandria produced twenty wooden sub chasers (numbers 189-208), ten larger steel freighters, and several float planes for the war effort.  Now, those industries are gone replaced by law firms, lobbying groups, web advertising agencies, and tourist services.

The model is not yet complete. I have been posting build photos on my Facebook Page. Here are some in-progress shots. The model is mostly scratch built, but I am using some detail parts from the Dumas R/C kit. That kit is destined for use on ponds and doesn't really meet museum quality standards.

If you want to learn more about the WWI sub chasers, there is an excellent web archive at sub chaser.org

May 17, 2017

Wharf Tracks and Wye

Double Slip Switch on the wharf
Two legs of the wye complete.

I have installed the tracks on the wharf and have two legs of the wye installed. The two turnouts on the wharf are controlled by a single double slip switch.  The double slip allowed me to maximize the length of the sidings on the wharf. Each track can hold about 10 cars, or 8 cars and an engine. Since I only have 14 cars in total now,  I can fit the whole roster on these tracks.

All seems to be working well using a battery powered locomotive to test, as I have not added wires yet.

The transfer bridge to the car float will be added at the far end of the wharf, but I don't plan to move the car float during operations.

The last leg of the wye also includes three turnouts, so that track will take a while to install.

May 12, 2017

Maine Harbor Dioramas

I am making progress on the track playing at Aquia Landing.  All the rails are on the wharf and I am proceeding to install the wye.  I was able to test run trains on the wharf using my battery powered locos. Things are working well, but I still am in work-in-progress mode as evidenced buy the tools scattered all over the layout.

Just three turnouts to go, however, the last section of track is on Burnside's Wharf, so the progress will be slow.

In the meantime, I would like to point out two wonderful dioramas that are for sale American Marine Model Gallery.  These charming waterfront dioramas built by William Hitchcock depict waterfront scenes in Maine where rail cars interchange with steam and sailing ships.  The first is based on Rockland and the second at Frenchmans Bay.

I've always liked the Rockland Branch of the Maine Central RR. It had a lot of interesting activity  including waterfront scenes, numerous industries, and interchanges with narrow gauge railroads. I understand Bob Hayden's new layout is depicting that branch.  I listed his old layout in my top ten that I have visited, so I eagerly await development of his new project.

Where rails meet the Sea - Hitchcock's Rockland, ME Diorama 

Frenchman Bay, ME  Diorama by Hitchcock

May 8, 2017

Tracks on the Wharf, Finally!

Last Saturday a group of O scale modelers visited the house to see the Aquia Line. Yes, the Aquia Line finally got some love.

The O scale group is an informal association of people that model in O scale or are interested in O Scale. They are largely from the Middle Atlantic area. The guests included Gary Eames, Eugene J. and Carolyn Nash and their son Gene, Jr. (who was dressed in a Union Overcoat), Ted Rabusseau, John Sethian, Terry Terrance, Karen and Jim Kinder and their daughter (she didn't record her mane), Doug Gurin, Nick Kalis, and Rick Wright. John Barry helped out by running trains for the visitors.  Alicia and my mom helped out with snacks. Not everyone signed in so I may have missed a few guests. If you want to be listed be let me know.

Later Brad Trencamp stopped by to pick up some etchings and we fired up PoLA for a few minutes.

On Sunday I proceeded to lay the track on the wharf. Yes, eight years into the project tracks are finally on the wharf.

Instead of two turnouts on the wharf, I decided to build a double slip switch. I used Alkem Scale Models photoecthed switch stands for this. I designed the etchings to allow the stands to be used in double slip and three-way switches, but this is the first time I used them in such as application. This will be a good test.

Track spacing for the float is very tight as seen
by the three side-by-side cars in the photo

I decided to space the tracks on the wharf at double the normal spacing.
This was due to the close spacing of cars on the car float. If the tracks were close enough to serve adjacent spots on the float, the gap between the cars would be very small,  too small for operator fingers. By gapping the tracks this way, operators can get their fingers around the cars without trouble.  I can change it back if I decide it doesn't look right after cogitating on it a while.

As of Monday morning, I decided after checking prototype photos to move the tracks closer together. I don't have any photos of the transfer bridge at Aquia, so I will probably replicate the design that the USMRR used in Alexandria, but for two tracks instead of three. There are photos two other examples of USMRR transfer bridges I have seen. Both of those are one track transfers, but the wharf at Aquia Landing definitely had two tracks.

May 5, 2017

USMRR Aquia Line Instructions Updated

Instructions for Operators on the USMRR Aquia Line Model Railroad

1.       General

1.1.         Please read this complete document so you understand yours and the other players’ roles.
1.2.         If you notice a problem, please bring it to our attention. If you derail a car, please re-rail it carefully.  If you are unsure about something, please ask.
1.3.         Have fun.

2.            Conductor

2.1.         You are in charge of the train. You will instruct the engineer and brakeman on what to do. We normally run 2-man crews, but can go to 3 if people are available. If using 2-man crews the conductor is also the brakeman.
2.2.         Movements on the layout are controlled by early 19th century Time Table and Train Order rules, which are simplified versions of the currently used rules. You will find some train orders and a schedule for the trains in the packet you receive. The train orders will provide any special instructions. You should consult the schedule to understand any meets with other trains or other events you must consider.
2.3.       In the packet, you will receive a replica copy of the USMRR Conductors Report.  Please fill out the top with the names of the operators on the train. This form will act as your switch list. It will tell you how many cars are in your train (probably 4-6) and where they should be spotted. It will also list cars that you must pick up. You should verify that the cars you are pulling are correctly listed on your sheet. Make any corrections as needed.
2.4.       Any cars not listed on the papers but found at stops along the railroad must remain in place, though they can be shuffled around if necessary as long as they end up where they started.
2.5.       As you work you may mark up the switch list and add notes. When you are done, please turn in the switch list for our records.
2.6. Maximum length of train is 6 cars plus locomotive.   Longer trains may be allowed if you have no scheduled meets. Check with the dispatcher before deciding to haul more than 6 cars.
2.7 Conductor cars (also known as “way cars,” or rarely in this era, “Cabooses”) are not yet available. You will notionally ride on the engine with the engineer.
2.8. Do not use the extended link on the cow catcher for switching. Make all your switch moves from the rear of the tender. They are not designed by the model manufacturer to operate and I have not built operable replacements.
2.9.        Your train should display proper signals. In daylight, white flags for a single scheduled train, or red flags if an extra is following. At night, colored signal lights will be used instead of flags. Note this is somewhat reversed from later practice. Yes, it will be confusing if you are used to modern practice.
2.10. Pusher or double headed engines are not used in normal operations.
2.11. The clock operates in real time. There is no fast clock.

3.            Engineer  

3.1.         You are in charge of the locomotive. You will control the throttle, bell, head light whistle, and engine servicing. Please familiarize yourself with the throttle and the special functions. There is a cheat sheet on the back of the throttle with the controls appropriate for the loco.
3.2.         Do not run with the headlight on in daylight. Whale oil was expensive and reserved for night time use.
3.3.         Ring the bell when passing or near depots. Ring bell when stating the loco from stop.
3.4.         The engine decoders have momentum programmed in, so be aware of that when starting and stopping.
3.5.         The brakeman will signal you when to move during switching with hand or verbal signals
3.6.         Use the appropriate whistle signals when moving the engine.
1 Short - Apply brakes2 Short – Release brakes3 Short – Backing train4 Short – Call in flagman (McCook’s Landing is in terminal limits, so you need not flag your train.)5 Short – Wood up1 Long – Danger.
3.7.         To service the engine you must park by the wood rick and water tank to replenish water and fuel. Use the sound effect function to simulate the water filling operation. You do not need to move the hose or lever on the tower. Wood loading is simulated by a 2 minute wait by the wood rick. You do not have to actually load the wood. There are water towers and wood ricks at Aquia Landing, Brooke and Falmouth.
3.8.         Do not exceed 5 miles per hour when crossing the bridge. Do not use excessive speed when switching.
3.9.         You will turn the engine when necessary on the turntable. It is manually operated and aligned. Ask if you need help with it. It has an automatic reverser circuit.
3.10.      Please turn off the throttle and return it to us when you are done.
3.11.      If the engine stops running during operation, it could be a dead battery. Please let us know if that happens. We have a spare engine in case this happens.

4.            Brakeman

4.1.         You will couple and un-couple cars, set the switches, and operate the brakes in accordance with instructions from the conductor. You will guide the engineer during these moves with hand or verbal signals.
4.2.         The cars use link-and-pin couplers. We use magnetic pins and laser-cut resin-impregnated paper links.  They will take two hands to operate. You will be given a brake staff to use. It has a rare earth magnet on one end to grab the pin and a taper on the other to help manipulate the link.  Use the magnet end to pull and place the pins.  If you are careful the magnet will only grab one pin when you go to pull the pin on adjacent cars. If you accidently pull two pins, replace the one you did not wish to pull.
4.3.         It may be necessary to use your fingers to set the links. That is OK. Just make sure they don’t get crushed when coupling the cars.
4.4.         Place the unused pins and links in the plastic bag we provide. Try not to lose them, but we do have extras.
4.5.         You will throw the switches using scale sized switch stands. Do not force them. They should operate smoothly and lock in place. Visually inspect each switch to insure it is properly set.
4.6.         Some of the cars have working brakes. Make sure these are all released. We will not use the working brakes in these operation sessions.
4.7.         Please make sure you return the brake staff when you are done. We do not have many extras.


May 6, 2017

1. Do not use the curved turnout that is north of Falmouth behind the engine terminal. It is scheduled for removal.
2. The switch stand to the rear siding at Stoneman’s station is prone to stick. Visually inspect it to make sure it operated properly.
3. The siding at Potomac Creek is on a slight grade. Use hand brakes, or derail to hold cars if necessary when spotting cars there.
4. The rear siding at Stoneman’s Station is dead rail. Operating non-battery locomotives (Haupt, McCallum, Osceola) on this track may result in a stall.
5. All locomotives have DCC and sound. The back of the throttle has the number assigned to each engine.
6. Fury is battery powered. It has been running well lately. Use the Stanton controller for this loco. Its battery is getting weak and may not make it through a full session. New batteries and Power Supply are on hand, but not yet installed.
7. Haupt is DCC with a keep alive. It’s headlight in non-operational. Otherwise runs well.
8. McCallum is DCC without a keep alive circuit. It may stall on dead frogs in Aquia Landing. Otherwise runs well.
9. Osceola is DCC with keep alive. Osceola is an 1846 design and is a small locomotive. As such it has less pulling power than the other locos. Plan on a 4-car maximum train.
10. Whiton’s is battery powered. Use the Stanton controller for this loco. Its battery is weak and may not make it through a full session. New batteries and Power Supply are on hand, but not yet installed.

May 4, 2017

All decked out and no place to go

I finished adding the deck to the wharf at Aquia Landing. I sanding it lightly to smooth some of the bumpy planks. Then I wiped it with a rag with Minwax Golden Pecan stain. This gave the wood the look of a new structure. I had previously stained the planks with various shades of alcohol and inks and stains before gluing them on the joists. So the deck of the wharf has a nice variegated look.
The model wharf is 8 feet long and 2 to 2.5 feet wide.
I dropped a piece of flex track on the wharf and test ran a loco just to see how it will look.
Next step is to lay the track on the wharf and install the wye where the wharf meets the shore.

May 2, 2017

Busy Lumber Mills

UP manifest freight heads east bound near Morgan, UT on April 30, 2017

Second batch- almost done
The USMRR lumber mills have been very busy lately.  I managed to cut, stain, and install about a zillion deck planks to the wharf at Aquia Landing in between rail fanning Denver and Salt Lake City. Just two feet more to go and the wharf deck will be ready for track laying. This has been much more tedious work then I expected.

First batch of planks

Rail fanning from the Denver Rapid Transit Station at 38th and Blake.

April 29, 2017

Steam Quest

I've been traveling out west the past week. I am in Utah this weekend for ProRail 2017.

We were lucky enough to catch UP 844, a 4-8-4 Northern, as it headed east from Ogden to Wyoming.

I have also been helping Brian Brendel with painting backdrops on his layout. Thanks to help from Rob Spangler and Jeff Weymouth, we were able to get it all finished.

April 17, 2017

Talk on Railroads of the Civil War

This Wednesday at 7:30PM I will be presenting a talk entitled, "Introduction to Railroads of the Civil War" at the Fairfax Station Museum in Fairfax, Virginia.

Civil War railroad iron on display at Fairfax Station Museum
 The museum is in a restored depot. It has an interesting collection of artifacts and displays, including some samples of civil war era railroad iron.

I also had a chance to briefly visit with reenactors for the 54th Mass and the 23rd USCT at Fort Ward a few weekends ago.  They set a camp scene for the day and were practicing drilling and camping.

Reenactors portray the 54th Massachusetts Inf  and 23rd USCT at Ft Ward two weekends ago.

April 6, 2017

Pocket Terminal - Brooke Ave, not town

Aerial view showing how the wharves were crowded with ships and barges.

One of the most popular track plans I have had published was the Southgate Terminal Corporation at the former C&O Railroad Brooke Ave Yard in Norfolk, Virginia.   The terminal was an isolated switching district that was only served by rail via a car float from Newport News.  The C&O yard was surrounded by interesting warehouses, factories, a brewery,  a concrete freight depot, and a large molasses tank. In the steam era there was a small coal dock to service the 0-6-0 locomotive that worked it.

The car ferry was a 370 long monster that could hold 28 40-ft cars. All of these highly modelgenic features fit in a very compact space.

Over the years I have had 5 different versions of the track plan published in N and HO scale. But if you had the room, the whole thing could be built in a space of about 17 by 12 feet in HO, without compression, although some provisions must be made for access. The Sanborn map below has been has been marked in 100 ft grid to show the over all size.

Sanborn map marked in 100-feet increments

C&O Tug (COHS)
The car float was not self-propelled but relied on tugs. The C&O had a small fleet of tugs for this purpose.

The molasses tank stood right in the middle of everything near the car float apron.
There was an additional yard located where the cars are parked in the 1950's era photo. (COHS)

The car ferry had a steam powered steering system, but was otherwise unpowered. Note the variety of freight cars on the flat. (COHS)
C&O 0-6-0 switcher in Brook Yard (COHS)
ICC valuation map from the 1930s.

March 25, 2017

Meanwhile....check this out

I just started a new project for the Lyceum,  a model for their WWI commemorative display. It is on a short deadline, so I have to get moving on it.

So while I am distracted working no that, check out this cool model from Ocre out of Spain. They actually have kits for both the Jupiter and the Rogers 119. Both of the locos that were at the transcontinental golden spike.

These kits are 1/32nd scale. They utilize mixed media, including a steel chassis. They are normally intended as static kits. Some folks on the internet say there are motorization kits for them, though I have not been able to find those motor kits.

This locomotive models have been out for about 2 years now, but this is the first I have heard of them. They are actually reasonably priced too.

They are perfect to haul around my 1/32nd scale Dictator and Lee-Brooke Gun.

Ocre has a short video showing some of the construction with Pink Floyd soundtrack.

Benny Modelbau has a video series showing unboxing and construction.

March 22, 2017

"Go big or go home" - Auto Racks Test

"Go big or go home," is a popular saying these days. It really doesn't make sense because who would n't want to go home? It is a nice place where the layout is. I like to go home.  So how about going big at home? That is exactly what is going on here. PoLA is going big. This photo shows a test run of a train of auto racks on PoLA.  I am looking at another expansion of PoLA, but before I proceeded, I needed to verify that auto racks will fit on the layout. The visible part of the layout is no problem. It's the 19 inch radius and 54 inch vertical clearance under the stairs that had we worried.

So I ordered up a batch of auto racks from Mainline Hobby, with the intent of doing the test. If it was a no go, I'd sell the cars on ebay. Less than 24 hours later the box with the models, a very large box, was waiting at my front door.  I opened the box and set the models on the layout. The Atlas articulated sets required some assembly. One of the screws was so tightly inserted that it stripped when I tried to unscrew it. So I drilled it out and replaced it with a screw from my stock.  When Alicia saw the cars on the layout she asked, "are those the same scale?"

Now the big test. Ta daa -- All cars made it through the staging track curve both backing and pulling. Pulling gives more clearance between cars as the couplers stretch out, but they can back through too, even though the inside ends of the cars touch.  So, we can proceed with the expansion plans. Whew!

Don't worry the Aquia Line is still here. The new PoLA expansion is basically 2x8 feet, but it will double tank car siding capacity and add a whole new industry with capacity for up to 14 89-foot auto racks.

March 21, 2017

Layout Design and Operations Meet Tulsa, OK

Vintage SD-60s in BN green on Tiger Hill
I just returned the the Layout Design and Operations Meet in Tulsa, OK.  It was a great weekend.  Special thanks to Jim Senese, Robert Simmons, Chris Atkins, Dan Salamon, Chris King, Cary Stevens, and Mark Montray for their taking time to shuttle me around to the various layout and venues. Special thanks to Mark for giving me a guided rail fan tour of Catoosa and Tiger Hill on the way to the airport on Sunday.

Ken, Robert, and Allan (l to r) operate the
Pandora and San Miguel
I got to operate on three layouts, Ken Ehlers's beautiful Sn3 Pandora  and San Miguel (a freelanced version of the RGS), Dan Salamon's  impressive N Scale Deep River Southern (a freelanced Pacific NW themed RR) and Jim Senese's Kansas City Terminal railroad.  All three featured great operations on excellent scenery.

On the Pandora and San Miguel, I ran a through freight across the railroad from Rico to Ridgeway.  The route crosses gorgeous scenery and impressive bridges. Once at Ridgeway, I was the yard switcher, building trains for subsequent sessions. The layout is a double deck design, but doesn't feel like it. The upper decks are set back in many places making the lower level very accessible.  It's a beautiful layout.

Dave's outdoor RR
When I got to the Deep River Southern I volunteered to be the branch line operator. This job entailed switching a town, a large lumber mill and a cement mill. The branch was located on an upper deck. To get trains between the decks, Dave uses a train "elevator." It can hold 13 cars, plus 2 engines and a caboose. It worked quite well. I had to make two round trips on the elevator during the session to handle the switching chores. Dan also has a 7.5 inch railroad in his backyard, that some others got to take for short rides.

Dave's N Scale Deep River Southern

Jim Senese uses a random lottery to assign layout poistions to operators. I teamed up with Rick Sester, whom I first met last year at Charlie Taylor's op session in Memphis. Jim asks that layout operators adopt the corporate persona of the railroads there are assigned. In each assignment packet there is a sheet describing the corporate character of the railroad you are assigned to operate.

One of several grain elevators on Jim's KC Terminal RR
We drew the KCS railroad with Rick as the conductor and I as the engineer.   Our packet said that the KSC are the "nice guys." So we tried to be very cooperative with the other operators as they came and went over our track.  We had lots and lots of switching to do over a large portion of the layout. In the three hours we were there, we had just finished making all the pulls and were starting the set-outs.  While we were doing our pulls, other crews dropped off two more trains worth of cars to switch. The yard was full. It probably would have taken another three hours to sort all the cars. Whew!

In addition to operating on three layouts, I got to see Tom Fauser's South Brooklyn Terminal RR and Steve Davis's KCS 3rd Sub layout.
Tom's South Brooklyn Terminal RR
Tom's layout was a what-if rendition of the terminal switching along the Brooklyn, New York waterfront.  I really liked the concept.  He has dozens of structures to finish, but the layout has a very clean, trim and professional looking appearance. It should be a lot of fun to operate. I suggested that he include a blue Plymouth sedan with two twin boys in it to simulate my dad, brother and I during my childhood in Brooklyn.

Steve and his automated staging yards

Steve's KCS 3rd sub is a massive project housed in its own outbuilding that was formerly a commercial business. Tom Vanden Bosch, Steve's step dad, built many of the structures on the layout. He also gave me a tour of the layout as Steve was losing his voice! It is hard to believe that Steve and his helpers have accomplished so much in just 4 years, including building finishing. Steve is a software engineer and his layout reflects that. It is loaded with automation and high-tech features including RFID car identification with automated switch lists, automated staging yards with detection and train movement, signals, Tom Vanden Bosch and CCTV. The design of the layout is prototype based and uses a partial mushroom. Yes, it's all very state-of-the art.

The talks on Saturday were very good. Chris Atkins talked about prototype research and his plans for a massive layout in a former RR section house. Riley Triggs explained his PoNY layout design and philosophy, which I can summarize as KISS. On the other side of the KISS spectrum, Gert "Speed" Muller described his RFID and artificial vision systems he is developing for his N Scale Namibian Railroad. My talks went very well. The short demo video of the working brakes on the Aquia Line flat car was especially well received.

Great ribs at Albert G's.
To top it all off, we got to see a few BNSF trains as we travelled from site to site. And we had some great BarBQ!

Tulsa is a hot bed of fantastic model and prototype railroad activity. I'd gladly go back if I get the chance.