August 4, 2020

So close...

The rain from Hurricane Isaias 2020 started around 8 PM Monday  and continued all night. I got up a few times at night to check and we were doing well. By 0800 the next day we had 4 inches of free board in the sump and the rain was abating.  I walked around the yard and block and the sewers were doing a good job of taking the run off away. I used my water tracing dye to further study the water drainage in my back yard. Yes, this is where the problem is. But, I left for a dental appointment thinking we were OK. 

But, when I got home there was about 1 inch of water at the deepest and about 80 percent of the basement had water.

Alicia decided to begin the clean up immediately and she did a great job. Meanwhile, I contacted my insurance company, but never heard back from them. I had to make a trip to Rockville, MD  to pick up a new monitor for my computer, so while I was out I got five fans and a dehumidifier at Home Depot.   

The fans are doing a good job. This evening when I checked, a lot of the walls are visibly dry, and the carpet on the first stair felt dry.  The decision to withhold the sheet rock and baseboard repairs until after the drainage contractors do their work was a good idea.  So, the damage is minimal. The real concern will be getting everything dry to prevent mold growth. 

I heard an interesting bit of news today. Many citizens in the city are upset with the frequency of flooding recently. Some of them took it upon themselves to enter the sewers to conduct an inspection. They reportedly found evidence that the sewers are not being maintained as they should be. I don't know all the details, but I expect we will be reading about it in the local paper soon.

The City government is blaming the recent spate of flooding on rare 50 - 100 year storms. But as the Alexandria Times said, "Clearly, if city leaders think these are one in 50- or 100-year events, then they need to revise their calculations." We have now had 4 such storms in less than 12 months. 


August 1, 2020

Not Mission Capable

The Aquia Line remains not mission capable as we await repairs from the recent floods. The contractors assigned by the insurance company and I agree that it doesn't make much sense to do interior repairs until we have completed the improvements to drainage and sump pump capacity.   They were nice enough to leave the fans and dehumidifier in the basement in case we have another flood. In the meantime, we added temporary extensions to our gutter downspouts to route water away from the house. With hurricane approaching, we may get another test.

We have a signed a contract with a company that specializes in drainage and erosion to make improvements to landscaping with respect to drainage, rerouting our downspouts away from the house, adding a second sump pump and some other minor things. 

We are in the process of receiving bids on installing a 20KW gas powered whole-house back up generator. That process is not easy as many permits need to be secured and boxes have to be checked. The first stumbling block is the lot line clearances. We may need special approval from the city to allow us to install a generator.  One surprising fact I learned. It is more cost effective to install the generator closer to the electric service than to the gas line. The gas line is much less expensive than an equivalent length of heavy duty electric cable. 

July 27, 2020

The dye is cast, It's not flowing to the Rubicon

Dye in the tank after  ten minutes
I did a test of the southeast gutter today using florescent dye. I poured two cups of water tracing dye into the gutter, then ran the hose into the same pipe. In about 10 minutes, the dye reached the sump. I happen to have a black light in my house from doing some experiments with simulated night photography. So I used that light to illuminate the sump.  This verified without a doubt that our downspouts are draining to the sump. I think we now know enough about our situation to proceed with repairs and enhancements to better control floods. Despite all this, our area is flood prone, so nothing is guaranteed. 

July 25, 2020

Flood Control Project

I have received a lot of comments off the blog about the flooding issues in our basement. So I thought I would post a note on what we plan to do.   Water in basements is bad, but for model railroaders it is even more of a concern as our railroads are at risk. 

Background. This house is 25 years old. It is located in an area that was first developed around 1900 to provide housing for workers at Potomac Yard on the RF&P.  Our street is located in a relative flat area that is about 20 feet above the level of the Potomac River and 35 feet above sea level. There is a steep ridge to the west. Water from that ridge drains through this area on the way to the river.  

Note there is no storm sewer in the alley or street by our house. 
We have a drain pipe buried in our back yard that exits to the south west.  Our sump exhausts to this drain. We assumed the drain went to a storm sewer in the alley. But, that is not true.  I recently discovered that the city has posted a map of the sewer lines in this area. When I looked at it I discovered to my surprise that there was no storm sewer in the alley behind my house.  Once the drain leaves my lot line I really don't know where it goes.  I assume it drains west toward the storm sewer three houses down. The ground actually slopes up as you go east toward the river in the alley, so  I doubt it flows that way. 

The basement walls are sound.  They don't leak. Water enters the basement through the the sump and the air conditioner drainage hole.

We have lived here about 18 years. In the past we have not had flooding from rain as long as we had electrical power.  We did have an incident in 2011  where the circuit breaker to the sump popped off and we got some water in the basement. I was home when that happened and was able to flip the breaker and the water quickly drained.

When the basement flooded last summer, we were not home. So we didn't know what happened.  

Recent Observations   In the past three weeks I have been home during several heavy rain storms and have been observing and collecting data on how the water flows in and around our house in a storm. We also had a pipe inspection service check our gutters.  

We now know a lot more about what is happening when it rains. 

First, our gutters are not directing water away from the house. When we tested each gutter downspout with the hose, we can see water flow into the sump instead of away from the house. We had a plumber try to run heavy duty snakes in the underground portions of the downspout drainage and discovered that they are  either clogged or just end  about 6 feet below grade.  

By watching the water accumulate in my sump during a rain storm and doing tests with the garden hose and hot water heater over flow pipe, I have been able to get a better idea of the drainage under the concrete floor and around the footers.  The sump has two pipes that input to it. One is the footer drain. The other drains the A/C condensation pipe, which does create a lot of water in the summer.  These seem to do a good job of routing water to the sump. By the way, the sump is located in the front room of the house in the northwest corner under the  train layout. 

On July  22nd our power went out during a brief but intense rain storm. Our back-up battery-powered pump was not pumping, though it was spinning. The battery level was too low, despite no warning from the control panel. This battery back up system is several years old and needs to be upgraded.  I was able to jury rig the main pump with power from my car and watch it work. It took 2 hours to pump the sump dry. The pump has a capacity of 2600 gallon per hour.  

Water level near HVAC closet
The next day,  we had another massive storm. The power did not go out. We had about 1-2 inches of water in the basement. It was deepest in the HVAC closet. The pump ran for 4 hours and the water level did not change much. By the fourth hour, the water level started to go down. It took another hour to drain the water. That means we pumped around 13,000 gallons of water before the water level  dropped.   There are 7.5 gallons per cu-ft. Our basement is about 1,000 square feet. That means we had the equivalent of 1.7 feet of water in the basement. That is much more than the rain that fell on our house and lot. 

Two things could be happening. First, water is draining into the area under our basement from other sources. Second, our pump is working in a loop- that is, it is pumping water to the back yard where is accumulates and then filters back to the sump. I suspect both are happening, though the second seems more likely and problematic. The fact that water  level did not drop in the basement after rain stopped strongly suggests to me that we have a pumping loop.
Mulch tide line shows water flood level on back patio
I monitored the water outside and yes, the back yard was flooded with enough water to encroach onto the patio.  Oddly, the patio drained really well and dried very quickly.  Over the years, the landscaping in the back has gotten taller as we added mulch and plantings. I think we have interfered with the drainage pattern. 

The city sent out an email that said the storm on the July 23rd dumped 30 times the water that the city sewer system could handle.  There was widespread flooding. All the neighbors on my block had flooding in their basements to some degree. The good news is that even with this latest rain storm, the water level did not get deeper than 2 inches in the basement. My neighbor 3 doors down was not so fortunate. He got 3 feet of water as runoff from the street entered his basement though an external stair well.  He said the water at the curb was 24 inches deep.  The slight slope of the street from my house to his makes a big difference. 

I have ordered some water tracing dye to further test were the downspouts and sump are exiting. See the next post .

This evening I did an experiment. I put my garden hose in the sump pump output. After about 2 hours, the outlet got saturated and we started seeing a loop. The water from the garden hose was rushing into the sump and was getting pumped right back out.  This tells me that we need to reroute the exhaust from the sump to the front where the drainage will be better.  I also observed that water was rushing into the sump from both the footer drains and from the exterior of the A/C drain pipe. That means water is flowing from locations under my floor other than the footer drains. That is not necessarily bad, but it does mean that a second sump in the HVAC closet would help evacuate water. 

One bit of good news. The new ceramic tile floor was not affected by the flood. We are able to mop and scrub it back to like new condition. 

With this new data I have come up with the following plan. 

1. Redesign the gutter downspouts to ensure they drain away from the house. Drain to the front is preferred, and away from neighbor’s lot line. 

2. Regrade any landscaping that is not sloped away from the house. This is only an issue in the backyard. The front is well graded away from the house.

3. Install a second sump or enlarge current sump so that we have at least 2 @ 1/2HP sump pumps. One pump will exit in existing pipe to the back, one to exit to the front.  I am undecided on whether we need a new battery back up pump. It won't cost much to add and it would provide some redundancy if say the circuit breaker pops. The new sump pumps will be wi-fi enabled so we can monitor their performance and react if power goes out or a pump fails. 

4. Run an electrical line for a new dedicated outlet for the new sump pumps. While I'm at it, install a new wall switch and outlet so I can power my layout with one switch.

5.  Install a natural gas powered 16-22KW whole house generator with automatic cut in during power outages and whole house surge protector.  That way I can run trains in a power outage. 

6. Draft an annual service plan to check all systems and service as needed.

July 24, 2020

Another Flood

We had another massive storm last night. If you were watching opening day baseball game you saw some of it.  

This time our power stayed on, but the sump pump could not keep up.  In a way we are lucky repairs from the storm of a few weeks ago were not yet done, as they would have been in vain.

We have had several drainage and erosion contractors here in the past few days. We have some ideas to improve drainage and increase pumping capacity. None of them involve removing the Aquia Line. But if these measures don't work, we may have to strip the basement and install a whole new drainage system. 

Flooding at Nationals Park dugouts

July 21, 2020

Still Waiting

We are still waiting for the contractors to return to our house to finish the repairs to the basement. Last week they tore out the baseboards and drilled some holes in the sheet rock to dry them. But they won't be back until next week to finish up the repairs and clean up. Thus my basement has been left in a state of disarray. 

Since my model building shop and most of my Aquia Line expansion is not accessible right now for construction work, I decided to do some benchwork building in the garage for the HO layout that will reside in my office.

I built two 58-inch long by 30-inch wide frames with a 10 inch wide section that is recessed for  water front to hold the ship models.  These frames started out as game tables.  I converted then to my module frames. They don't have legs as they will sit on some IKEA shelves that I have in my office. 

Ten out of 30 inches might seem like a lot of real estate to devote to the ships that could be used for track. But displaying my ship models is one of the prime objectives of this mini layout/module. It will also be a show case for Alkem Scale Models products.  And reaching in 30 inches to uncouple cars is not good. So the track will be along the front with the ships in the rear. 

I had an idea to put a staging yard off the to the left. But now I am not so sure I will bother.  I need to come up with a track plan that is more self contained.  The track plan below shows  what I was thinking.

One issue I will have is maintaining access to the electrical panel.  In fact, I have had several foundation water contractors look at my house in the past few days to get quotes on how to reduce the flooding in the basement. Several have suggested the need for a separate circuit for an additional water sump pump That means my main panel will need to be expanded. Last year I added a secondary panel in my garage with 220V and 60 amps. That secondary panel used the last open spaces in my main panel. 

I also want to add a whole house surge protector as we have had problems with lightning damaging the capacitor on on air conditioner.   

The bottom line is the HO layout will need to be removable or at least not interfere with access to the panel. So no coved backdrop in the corner of this layout. I'll probably go with a hand painted sky and some cut outs. 


July 8, 2020

Not Again

We spent last week in Birmingham Alabama helping my daughter and son-in-law with home remodeling projects. They bought a 103-year old house. It is in a good shape in a great neighborhood. The home has a view of the city sky line to the west, including Sloss Works. In fact, the original builder of the home was a owner of a coke by-products factory.  The trip was a lot of fun, and we got several home projects complete. I made a short video showing some of the fun including some trains

We were home for a few days, when once again we suffered an intense rain storm. I don't think I have ever witnessed a lightning and thunder storm as long and sustained as this. In the midst of that, our air conditioner failed. Luckily that was a simple fix as it needed a new starter capacitor. But around midnight, our sump pump again was overwhelmed. I woke up in the morning to puddles and silty clay residue from about 1 inch of water in the basement.  

Fortunately, the ceramic tile was unaffected. and no expensive stuff was destroyed, just a few old pictures that were inadvertently stored on the floor in a closet. The restoration crews have installed dryers and fans. Tomorrow, we will find out if they need to replace any sheet rock or moldings.  On Saturday I have a contractor coming in to discuss how to reengineer the basement to prevent this from reoccurring. Obviously, the measures we took last fall were insufficient. 

Meanwhile, I starting hosting a play by email game for eight for my friends and family. The game is a conversion I  did of Johnny Reb III from miniatures to hex board game. Yes, I was inspired by the Gettysburg game that I am still playing. I actually started this project over 20 years ago while my friend John Hill, the designer of Johnny Reb I, II, II and IV,  was still alive, but never got it finished. Now John is gone, but his game lives on. My version of the game is tactical and based on the Battle of Brice's Crossroads in Mississippi. It was a decisive victory for the rebels, but was actually much harder fought than the result indicated. We will see how it goes in our replay. 

One really cool aspect of it is that my friend Don Ball converted my graphics to a VASSAL module. That means we can play the game using a map and counter on our screen versus using paper and pencil. Don has lots of experience with VASSAL and he did the conversion in a very sort time. He is also playing one of the Union commanders.

If we like this game, it would not be hard to develop other scenarios.

Example of what a portion of a typical game might look like.

June 24, 2020

Eagle Rock Milling and Mfg Co. Inc.

I just finished scratch building this structure for a client. It is a small mill located on the C&O RR near Eagle Rock VA. It is no longer standing. The client had only a few low resolution images, but they were enough to build a model. It had to fit an existing space, so that constrained the dimensions.

I think it came out pretty well and I am considering adding this to my line of kits for Alkem Scale Models. If you would be interested in this kit, please let me know.

June 15, 2020

New Flag for the Dispatcher

I received a new 34-star United States flag for my dispatcher's office. The new flag is 100% cotton with embroidered stars. It replaces a cheap nylon flag that I had previously.

The 34-star flag was in use in March, 1863, the time that I simulate on my model railroad. West Virginia would join the Union a few months later making 35 states and stars. If you are wondering about the star pattern, many variations were in use at that time.

The lantern is replica. The telegraph instruments are not yet connected, but we are working on that. 

I suppose I need a period coat rack for the brigadier general frock coat.

My bother painted the portrait of Lincoln. The Engineer Castle was also a gift from my brother that he acquired in Korea for me in the 1980s. He and I were officers in the US Army Engineer Corps. The Engineer castle insignia was in use by Union engineers in the civil war.   
"The Army unofficially adopted the castle to appear on the Corps of Engineers’ epaulets and belt plate in 1840. Soon afterwards the cadets at West Point, all of whom were part of the Corps of Engineers until the Military Academy left the charge of the Chief of Engineers and came under the charge of the Army at large in 1866, also wore the castle on their cap beginning in 1841. Subsequently, the castle appeared on the shoulder knot, on the saddlecloth, as a collar device, and on the buttons. Finally, in 1902, the castle was formally adopted by the Army as the insignia of the Corps of Engineers. Although its design has changed many times since its inception, the castle has remained the distinctive symbol of the Corps of Engineers."


June 9, 2020

The Man that Shot Bernie's Valance

Who really shot Bernie's valance?
Paul visiting the new section with COVID mask
Today marks the first time since lockdown I had a visitor to the Aquia Line. Up to now, any social visits we hosted took place on our front porch with appropriate distances maintained.  But, today Paul Dolkos stopped by to borrow some scenery items and to check on the layout progress. Our COVID Response Coordinator,  Alicia, AKA CINCHOUSE, deemed it acceptable that Paul could enter the house if we were all masked and did not get too close.

Paul got a chance to look at the new stuff, run some trains, and comment on additional planned expansion.  But, the big question of the day was about an extension of a valance above Stare's Tunnel.   On the left  is the view I am trying to restrict.  When folks enter the door to the front room, if they look right, they see the bright lights over the new part of the layout. This is something that always bugged me, even before the expansion.

I took a few photos of the mocked up valance and showed my friends via text. They were of mixed opinions. Brian Brendel in particular voted down the idea.  Alicia initially liked it, then changed her mind and then swapped back to her original opinion. So Paul's opinion would be the deciding vote. He said, "do it."  So Bernie's valance will survive the bullet wound. I mounted it by tension only, so if I need to, I can easily remove it.
New valance section painted and installed. It restricts the view of the lights above Stares tunnel as you enter the room, but opens up as you walk in.  I'd like to say the curve was carefully calculated, but I just eyeballed it.

View of the valance from inside the layout room is unobtrusive. 

One thing I am noticing on the layout is that I need to do a thorough cleaning. My track and wheels are dirty. Not surprising as it has been at least 9 months since I ran the layout. Even the scenery seems to have a fine coat of dust. I think the dust source was either the new plaster scenery, or the disk sander in the work shop or both. I have a dust evacuator for the sander, but sometimes I am too lazy to hook it up and put on hearing protection. The dust evacuator isn't too loud, but the air whistling through the disk sander is very loud. I cleaned the wheels of Haupt and Fury, but a complete maintenance session is needed.  I probably should wait until all the building is done though.

June 8, 2020

Farewell Jack

Jack (in the turntable pit) holding court. Sadly, three folks in this image have now passed on.

Last week, noted rail, prototype and model, Jack Ozanich passed away. It was rather sudden as he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer just a few weeks before passing.

I first met Jack at an op session in Michigan in 2003 at Bruce Chubb's layout.  I was assigned a tower operator job at that session. So, I pretty much stayed in one place the whole time. After a while, I heard a man running a train on the other side of the peninsula where I was sitting. The man was making diesel engine sound effects with his mouth, much like a kid would when playing with a toy train. So I looked up,  and who rounds the curve, but Jack with his train. I had to chuckle to myself as here was a professional railroader that drove an engine for his career just having a grand time with model trains.

Jack was a great guy. He was somewhat of a legend in model railroad circles because he ran his HO and live steam layouts like  prototype railroads. His op sessions did not take meal breaks and could run for multiple days. I had two chances to operate the HO layout.  During a session, he would patrol the layout and provide on the spot corrections (also known as ass chewings) to  people that were screwing up.  I was lucky in that I escaped his ass chewings. He did try to get me one time for leaving a car while I switched, but when I explained what I was doing, he said, "awww, OK."

However, Jack made up for that by giving me an ass chewing on my own railroad. He showed up late for an afternoon op session and was taking his time filling out his log book, while his train was over an hour late. He chewed me out for rushing him. He being my guest, I didn't have the heart to tell him, the Aquia Line  is a Union railroad but not a union railroad. He could have been dismissed on the spot.

Jack was very interested in the Civil War among other subjects, and he was always very supportive of my attempt to model the Civil War. He participated in two op sessions on my Civil War layouts, one on the road show and one on the Aquia Line.  You can see him in the video at the right at about the 5:25 minute mark.

We operated together on several other railroads over the years. He was funny, full of energy and just a blast to hang out with. He will be missed.

June 7, 2020


We have all seem the internet meme with a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln about not believing what you see on the internet. However, there is this little story about Lincoln from the book, "Lincoln in the Telegraph Office; recollections of the United States Military Telegraph Corps during the Civil War," by Homer Bates, that reminds me of internet craziness. It was a portent of the future.  But first, I want to discuss this remarkable book and some other books a bit more. 

The Bates book is fascinating. You get a detailed look at what happened in Washington, DC from the perspective of the clerks that saw every telegram that came in. It makes the shenanigans that go on now look like kids play. I tell people, "the  more I study the Civil War (and Revolution) the more I realize very little has changed in Washington politics."

For example, at times the clerks edited messages that came in from senior officers, or even withheld some to avoid trouble. One time they deleted a paragraph that contained an insubordinate remark that McCellan sent to Lincoln after the Seven-days campaign. The clerk freely admitted he could be shot for doing it, but he thought it was the right thing to do.  

There is another incident described where a Norfolk doctor murdered a Union officer, who was in charge of a colored regiment,  on the streets of Norfolk because the idea of African American soldiers incensed him. The doctor was quickly captured, tried and sentenced to death. First the doctor tried to escape prison by exchanging places with his daughter. That didn't work. Then the defendant appealed to Lincoln, but he did not grant clemency. The allies of the doctor tried to bribe a telegraph agent to write a false message of clemency, but the bribe was not accepted. The doctor was hanged.

The book covers a series of incidents where Democratic supporters were trying to organize military officers to become political opponents to oust Lincoln. Then they would end the war and let the south secede.  The plot failed when General Rosecrans and others did not support them and their plans were upended.  However, later they did get former General McCellan to run against Lincoln, but Lincoln defeated him in the election.

Of interest to my railroad, there is discussion a rebel spy who was tapping the telegraph line on the Aquia Railroad. The union telegraph clerks actually heard him but could not physically find him. The telegraph operators used ciphers so that the spy couldn't understand what they were saying. He eventually did give up and they later found where he had tapped the line.  

The book goes into great detail about ciphers that were used to encode messages. The telegraph lines around the nation were not secure and could be tapped anywhere. At one point, Grant's men intercepted several messages near Vicksburg. The messages where in a crude code used by the rebels. Grant's men sent the messages to Washington. There, the telegraph staff decoded them and sent the clear text back to Grant.    

In addition to eavesdropping, the opposing sides also used to send spoof messages. These were often not effective because the operators could recognize each other by their telegraph key technique (what we would call electronic signature now) and could tell when messages were from others. 

Union telegraph operations were much more sophisticated that the rebels. By 1864 Grant's signal corps was laying telegraph line at a rate of two miles per hour. Not only was Grant in constant communication with Washington, DC and hence the rest of the United States, but he also had lines from Army to Corps HQ for more tactical communication. The rebels had no such capability.

You can download the book for free from the internet archive.  

I also recommend, "The Northern Railroads in the Civil War, 1861-1865, " which I reread this past week. I am in the middle of "Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage by Noah Andre Trudeau." It's a highly readable account of the campaign and battle which combines great prose with a nice assortment of original quotes.  

Another book that I just finished and recommend for anyone interested in the Aquia Line is "Seizing Destiny: The Army of the Potomac's "Valley Forge" and the Civil War Winter that Saved the Union," by Albert Conner Jr.,  Chris Mackowski. The book goes into great detail on the reforms that General Hooker introduced to re-build the Army of the Potomac into a war-winning force. Some of Hooker's reforms still persist, such as the wearing of unit patches on uniforms, and a centralized military intelligence staff. 

Now, back to original story I cited at the start. Here is some background. Maxwell, an ordinary citizen from Philadelphia, would constantly telegraph President Lincoln with criticism and complaints about various political issues. Lincoln would often respond to them out of courtesy. This message came in after the Battle of Chickamauga, where General Thomas earned the nickname, "Rock of Chickamauga." The following is an extract from the book. 

"...The next Maxwell telegram of record was as,
New York City, 1:30 p.m., September 23, 1863.His Excellency A. Lincoln, President: Will Buell'stestamentary executor George Thomas ever let Rosecranssucceed? Is Bragg dumb enough to punish Thomas severelyand disgracingly ? Robert A. Maxwell. 

The President held this impertinent telegram until his evening visit to the War Department. Meantime, no doubt thinking that some defense of General Thomas by the Administration might serve to allay the already evidently wide-spread distrust and anxiety, he wrote the following despatch at the White House and brought it to the telegraph office and handed it to Tinker for transmission: 

"Cypher"Executive Mansion, Washington, Sep., 23, 1863.Robert A. Maxwell, New York: I hasten to say that inthe state of information we have here, nothing could bemore ungracious than to indulge any suspicion towards Gen.Thomas. It is doubtful whether his heroism and skill exhibitedlast Sunday afternoon has ever been surpassed inthe world. A. Lincoln. 

But the message had been in Tinker's hands only a few minutes, when Lincoln came over to the cipher-desk and said, "I guess I will not send this; I can't afford to answer every crazy question asked me." 

Thereafter, adopting Lincoln's description, we always referred to these officious despatches as "crazygrams." 

Tinker, of course, did not send the message which Lincoln had written, and deeming it of curious interest as a memento, preserved it carefully with a copy of the message from Maxwell. Several years afterward, he met General Thomas in Washington, and thinking he would be especially gratified to see and possess the documents, he had the pleasure of delivering them into Thomas's hands at Willard's Hotel, Washington, with a letter, of which the following is a copy.  

May 27, 1867.Major-General George H. Thomas,General : I have had in my possession since the day it was written, a telegram penned by our late beloved President. Its history is this. Robert Maxwell, a quixotic individual, residing in Philadelphia, has during the war, and since, humored a propensity for addressing dictatorial and sensational despatches to the President, his cabinet and prominent officials of the Government. By those who were familiar with his character, no consideration was accorded them. On receipt of one of these, a copy of which I enclose, the President wrote a reply, which he handed to me for transmission, but afterwards concluded not to send.I have preserved this precious autographic document, hoping some time to be honored with an opportunity to present it to you in person, to whom it justly belongs—a priceless tribute to a noble hero, whose dauntless courage on that fateful day saved the Army of the Cumberland.Very Respectfully Yours,Charles A. Tinker, Cipher Operator,War Dept. Telegraph Office.

June 4, 2020

Phase I Video

A short clip of trains running on the new Phase I section of the layout expansion.

June 2, 2020

Phase I is Complete

I finished the last punch list items for Phase I. I never officially defined Phase I, but it was the section from Stoneman's Station to the south end of Stares Tunnel. There are always more details I could add, but for now, I will move on. The Belle Air farm scene was to have a summer cook house. But I thought the scene was getting too cluttered, so I added a water well and omitted the summer cook house.

I will take a few days to reset, put away the scenery stuff, and work on some client models. Then I will move on to Phase II.  Phase II goes from Stares Tunnel to Falmouth. I have some time to think about what I want to do with Phase II before I pull the trigger. The current plan is to build as shown in the track plan at the right. But, I need to make sure that is the approach I want to take. There is also some work remaining at Aquia Landing.

I was planning on hosting an op session in early October. But now I'm not so sure that will happen. So it's good to take a pause.

May 30, 2020

Horny Cows

The farm scene is coming along

The finished barn
The internet hive mid is a tough mistress. I am making good progress on my farm scene. The barn is done and I have been adding livestock paddocks outside.

I based the barn on images of a barn at Appomattox, VA that is part of the National Park there. I omitted one of the side sheds to make it a little smaller to fit my space.

The model barn has interior details. The interior of the barn is hard to see as it is dark, but it has hay, a ladder and the framing of the barn visible.

Tools from Alkem Scale Models for the shop.
In the side shed, I added a workshop using a set of tools from Alkem Scale Models and some metal castings I have on hand. The tool kit is such a fun little detail to add.

I laser cut split rail fences and made two paddocks. One for cattle and one for horses.

I need to order some bareback horses, presumably for the officers that are staying at the farm.

I have one pack of cows from Woodland Scenics. I have another pack on order.

Being from the south, South Brooklyn, NY, that is, I know nothing about farming except what my brother and I watched on the early morning TV documentaries on TV in the 1950s and 60's.  Thus, I needed some help on how the barn yard should be set up. So I posted a picture to Facebook and asked for some help. And help I got.

I did get lots of relies from folks with good suggestions for water troughs, hay feeding, etc.  So I have a good handle on how the livestock would have been fed and watered. One thing to remember, this cattle pen is a holding area just before the animals would be slaughtered. So the accommodations would be pretty basic. The animals came in by rail, or were walked from Aquia Landing.

Apparently the horns are not a delicacy.
Scrawny cows at City Point, VA
One of the more interesting tangents we got into was whether cows in the civil war had horns or not. If you look at most photos or pictures of cows from the period, you see cows with horns. Of course, my O scale cows do not have horns. The hive mind was happy to point that out.

My options, buy cattle from Aspen Modeling Company. They sell properly horny cows but for a price of almost $9.00 each. Or, I could add horns to the Woodland Scenics Cows. That is the approach I will take.

Now, civil war era cows were scrawny, especially compared to the plump Herefords that Woodland Scenics sells. I do not plan to put my model cows on a diet though. There are some places where you just have to say, "good enough."

May 28, 2020

Serendipity - more tools!

I was reading through the Official Records of the War of Rebellion, or just called the OR. I was looking for examples of Corps level movement orders. Why you might ask?

A few weeks ago, one of my friends, who is a former colleague at IDA and a serious war gamer, invited me to participate in a multiplayer, play by email wargame. The subject of the game is Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania during the Gettysburg Campaign. The game is at operational level, so that units are brigades and divisions and each turn is one day. He is loosely basing the game on a commercial board game called "Long Roads to Gettysburg," which is a highly detailed simulation of the campaign. The photo below shows the starting positions.  But, he is running the game more like a traditional Kriegspiel, where he is is the umpire and the players represent individual commanders on both sides. We submit all our orders to him in writing.  He then forwards the orders to the appropriate commanders, delaying them if necessary or even losing them on occasion.

The game includes the usual movement and combat, but it also includes rail and sea borne movement, supply, force marching, fortifications, troop fatigue, terrain effects. All of those are standard fare in most wargames. The coolest thing about this game is that he is simulating the fog of war via a double blind system. That is, not only do the friendly players not know where the enemy is, you also don't know where your own units are, unless your units can see them or they are less than five miles away, which simulates runners going back and forth with information. There are opportunities for scouting, spies, telegraph lines, and balloon observations to add to the mix. In addition, we can detach sub units to picket a line or do raids. The game master/umpire is also taking communication delays into account. For example, reports from cavalry unit a long distance from the nearest telegraph line might not arrive at HQ until a day later.

The game has just really gotten started as we are in turn three. Approximately 25 players, most are in the local Washington DC area, but some as far away as United Kingdom, are playing along. I am playing General Winfield Hancock, II Corps commander. I have three infantry divisions and an artillery brigade under my command. I have 6 aide de camps that I can use for scouting and sending messages.

I am also playing the role of Herman Haupt, the USMRR superintendent.   This role is mostly for color  as the railroads are not active players, but they do factor in the game. In fact, many of the games victory conditions involved destruction of railroad facilities. Whether we abandon Aquia Landing during the game, like the Union did in the actual campaign,  remains to be seen.

The main victory  condition is the capture of Washington. If the rebels capture the capital, they automatically win. If we hold Washington, then victory will go to the side that causes the most damage to the other. There is a complex list of ways to accrue points for damage. Losing a major battle is one of the best ways to lose the game, but not the only way. It is possible that we never fight a major battle in the game.

So far, I have to say that this is the most "realistic" wargame I've played. Using multiple players and very limited intelligence of the situation, really captures the feel of civil war maneuver. The game includes some mechanics that make coordinated attacks very difficult, which was also a feature of civil war combat. I don't know if he will randomly make our units get lost, another event that happened all too frequently. Anyway, I will let my readers know what happens as the game progresses.

But back to serendipity and my opening line, In the OR I found a message from Herman Haupt to General Burnside that I don't recall ever seeing before. Here it is,

November 17, 1862-11 a.m.
Major-General BURNSIDE:
I have just returned from Aquia Creek. Some stores were on transports yesterday afternoon, ready to be landed at Belle Plain. Several companies of the Engineer Brigade on transports are probably now ashore.
The wharf at Aquia is not entirely burned, but is worse where the track was laid. I have ordered the track to be moved over, and reconstructed on the side least damaged. Cars and engines will be loaded immediately, and sent to Aquia to be unloaded as soon as the track will bear their weight. Eight small cars will be sent to-day, landed by lighters, loaded with tents, tools, and rations, pushed by hand to the broken bridge, and accompanied by carpenters with escort of engineer troops, to have bridges repaired, if possible, by the time cars and engines are landed and put on track. As soon as bridges are repaired, and even five or six cars landed, we will begin to run in supplies to Falmouth, to relieve wagons to that extent, and increase daily. The construction of a floating wharf, or new pike wharf, at Aquia is not a question for present consideration, when time is so much of an object. No new construction could be made in double the time required for repairs of former structure.
A machine-shop will be extemporized at Aquia by sending lathes, planer, portable, small tools, and shafting. Army forges will furnish smith-shops.

The last line is what caught my attention. Haupt describes a machine shop at Aquia Landing. This may have later been moved to Fredericksburg. But, I will assume it is back in Aquia Landing in the time I model. This means that I can build a nice machine shop scene with all those cool tools that are available as O scale castings. There are several sources for these kind of parts.  For example, these from Wild West Models. The key will be to have belt driven machines powered by steam, vice electrical machines that would be anachronistic. If you know of any other sources of these parts, please let me know.

I have an engine house inside the wye at Aquia Landing. Now I need to figure out a way to add a machine shop extension and fill it with tools. As a tool junkie, this excites me no end!

May 26, 2020

It's a Barn Raising

A look at some finished scenery

I started building the barn at Belle Air farm. I am assuming the Union Commissary has set up a cattle depot at the farm. So the barn will be surrounded by fences with a fair number of cattle.

I also added a small loading platform alongside the tracks. This will not be a timetable stop, just a flag stop for unloading forage and feed to the cattle depot.

Loading platform for the cattle depot.
Barn frame is ready for siding and floors.

May 24, 2020

Photoshop Phun - Museum Aircraft

Ultimate Burning Man
Flight of the Valkyrie
This one was from a photo of a SDB Dauntless dive-bomber at the WWII Museum in New Orleans. It was a
difficult job because of the different color light falling on the aircraft

Last year I visited the National Museum of the USAF. I took a zillion photos of the aircraft on display. In the past few weeks, when taking breaks from the working on various projects, I did a little photoshop work on a few of the photos. I think the  F-102 came out the best.

Here are the original photos so you can see the differences. It's hard to get a clear photo of most of the planes because there are so many crammed in there.

I can see the forest through the trees

I finished up the forested area by Drye's Curve. The last batch of trees are smaller because they line the edge of the woods.  I also added more static grass and ground texture.

After a quick clean of the tracks, I ran a test train through the scene. This scene is difficult to photograph as the edge of the aisle is close to the tracks.

May 22, 2020

The Magic of Model Railroading - A Pecha Kucha Talk

On Friday, June 5, 2020, I, along with several others, will present Pecha Kucha talks for the Alexandria chapter of Pecha Kucha.  What is Pecha Kucha you ask?

PechaKucha’s 20x20 presentation format shows your 20 chosen images, each for 20 seconds. In other words, you've got 400 seconds to tell your story, with visuals guiding the way. PechaKucha means "chit chat" in Japanese. This creative outlet began as nighttime get-togethers in Tokyo in 2003 by two renowned architects. Since then, three million people have attended PechaKucha events worldwide.

My subject is called, "The Magic of Model Railroading." It fits the theme of this years meet, "I Made This."  My brother is also slated to do a talk on Bonsai trees, while a neighbor is doing a talk on the poetry wall she created.

The June 5 meet was supposed to be a live gathering. But, with the pandemic concerns, the organizers moved it a Zoom style meet. Attending is free, but they do ask visitors to register before they get a Zoom link. Here is the registration link 

They are not charging admission like they would normally, but are asking for donations for the PechaKucha organization:

It should be a fun evening.