November 23, 2014

Flat Car Recon Trip to Fort Eustis

On Saturday I made a hastily planned trip to Fort Eustis. The main purpose of the trip was to photograph and measure a DODX 42000 series car in order to prepare a future kit for Alkem Scale Models.  I was alerted to the arrival of the 42000s at Fort Eustis by a friend (who prefers to remain unnamed) that works there. He offered to guide us on a trip.

I drove down from Alexandria, while Norm Wolf, who now lives in the Norfolk area, agreed to meet us there to help out. While we were there, our guide took us on a tour of most of the interesting railroad activities there. Ft Eustis is an attractive post set on the James River. It is now a joint base but it still houses most of the US Army Transportation school and museum. We did not visit the museum on this trip, but I blogged about it here before. 

After a late lunch we visited the Chesapeake Bay and Western Model Railroad Club open  house. This is a long standing club with a massive multilevel, mushroom type layout. It spans two floors connected by a several helices. The mainline run is about 16 scale miles. It has a lot of nicely detailed scenes

Here are some of the shots I took on Ft Eustis.

The object of our attention, a DODX 42000 series flat car. There were several 42000s present. Note the difference in colors. 

Two GP-10s in the engine house

An old Magor heavy duty flat car that the shop guys at Ft Eustis restored and use on post. 

A new single slip switch installed at Hanks Yard

WWII vintage car with expanding trucks and euro-style links and buffers

80-Ton engine in shop.


November 17, 2014

Lincoln Presidential Car Work In Progress

Finally, some ACW era modeling. Here are some shots of the work-in-progress Presidential Passenger Car.  The model is 1/32nd scale. I posed it on McCook's Landing to have a nice background, even though the car is the wrong scale. The O scale boxcar next to it gives a sense of how big the Presidential Car is.

This car had a unique style of truck. The drawings we have are incomplete, so we had to imagineer some aspects of it. The model has working swing arm suspension and brakes. But I tied it all down since this will be a static model.


The model will be decorated in its funeral configuration with black bunting and one end having the railings removed to allow removal of the coffin. I also will build a coffin and Veteran Reserve on guard.

November 15, 2014

A Mystery Key

Terry Heilman of Stafford Virginia contacted me requesting some information about a railroad key he dug from a house site on November 13, 2005 east of Dumfries, VA. He sent me this picture of the key.  Neither he nor I have been able to find out much about this key. If anyone knows more about this key or keys of this type, please post in the comments here, and or contact him directly at  703-441-1794. (He requested I list his telephone number). Thanks.
Mystery key from the USMRy.

November 10, 2014

Back on the Chain Gang

I worked on some more military flat cars this afternoon. I used a some chains from a set of Alkem Scale Models Military Tie Down Chains to secure a HEMMT Fuel truck to a OTTX 60-ft flat car. The flat car is an Intermountain Company model. The HEMMT is Herpa model.

The back view shows how the chains are secured to a ring and then added to the tow pintle. The ring is included in the  Alkem Scale Models Military Tie Down Chains set.


I also built another DODX 41000 flat car using some of the left over pilot model etchings, no sense wasting them.  I tried weathering this car to match a photo of the same car from RRPicture.net

I used the sea salt technique to simulate the peeling paint on the deck.  If you are unfamiliar with the sea salt technique there are dozens of youtube videos that describe it, such as this. In a nut shell you sprinkle salt on the  a moistened model where you wish to depict peeling paint or rust. Then you spray the final color on top of the salt. When the paint dries you wipe away the salt and you get a rough peeling effect. Some people use hairspray too as it washes off with water. Lots of techniques out there.

I added chains to the deck as they stay with the empty car. The paint is very faded on this car.

Some tips on applying Alkem Scale Models decals. We suggest you use Future Acrylic Floor polish as the gloss coat and the setting agent. When using Future, the decals are nearly "fool proof." First spray or brush paint a thin coat of Future to the area you wish to decal. Let that dry for 15-20 minutes.

Then cut the desired decal film close to the lettering, but you dont have to be too close. The less extra decal film the better, but don't make the decal too small to handle. The extra film will disappear later.
Then put a drop of Future where you wish the decal to go. Apply the decal with tweezers or a toothpick. Once it is set, blot with a lint free rag. The Future dries in about 10 minutes. After waiting an hour or so, apply dullcote to the finished model. There is no silvering and the decal edges disappear. It is almost magic!

Note on the DODX decals there is white lettering that gets applied over black decal backgrounds. Apply the black decal first as described above and let it dry for about 10 minutes before doing the next layer decal.





November 3, 2014

Baltimore Burger Break

I took a few hours break last weekend to hook up with Paul Dolkos, Marty McGuirk and Fred Scheer at Paul's Baltimore Harbor layout and have a burger at Chadwicks in Old Town. Paul lives about 2 miles from me, so it is an easy trip. In spite of that I had not been there for awhile, so it was fun to check progress on the BHRR and hear about Paul's recent travels to Europe.
New tug boat on the WM car float 

The three guys were conducting business exchanging some new back-lit CVP radio throttles (Note - these are not Kansas City Approved).

Marty and Paul had an extensive discussion about
Marty's favorite car on Paul's layout. Turns
out it is a B&A gondola  This is my favorite. Any guesses why?
While they were conducting business, I checked out the layout. Paul's work is top quality and it is always a treat to see it.

My wife asked me to take some snap shots to show her what Paul has been up to. One of my favorite model railroad stories is when I took her to see Paul's B&M layout for the first time. As she walked down the stairs she said, "Ohhhh, so this is what they are supposed to look like!"  Bazinga!

Paul's new layout is built to the same level of craftsmanship, though the subject is not as scenic and charming as his old New England based B&M. This one depicts the gritty side of the Baltimore waterfront.

Marty blogged about his take on the same visit here.





October 30, 2014

DODX 41000 Series Flat Cars Available for Ordering

We are now accepting orders for the DODX 41000 Series Flat Car Kits, along with the decals and military style loading chains. The latter two are available separately.  See this link for ordering info.   You can also download a copy of the instruction manual at that page.  Kits will ship next week.

Military style loading chains are available separately.
These are photo etched.

Decals available separately. These can letter one each 40000, 410000 (our kit)
and a 480000 flat car. The 48000 series is a forner TTX 89-ft flat car.



October 26, 2014

DODX 41000 Series Flat Car Production Kits on Hand

The production parts for the DODX car are in. I will work on the instructions and this will be ready to sell. It sure would make a great Christmas present.

Here is the finished model with a M1A2 tank loaded. The tie down chains and shackles are included with the kit. The models on the back track are the pilot models made with laser cut parts. The production model uses photo etched parts with a laser cut acrylic core.

 Here is a close up of the car end.

October 22, 2014

Trail to Freedom Heritage Tour

Hasmel Turner and I at the presentation.  I was not in uniform
as I did not have time to get changed before heading
through traffic to the event. 
On 21 October I gave a talk about Civil War Railroads and the USMRR Aquia Line at the  Stafford Public Library. The audience was quite large and very engaged.  This library is in the very area that my model railroad depicts. Several of the audience members live along the route and were very familiar with it. I had a great time presenting the talk and getting their questions and feedback.

One the of attendees was Hashmel Turner. He was dressed in the uniform of a Sergeant 23rd USCT, 4th Division, IX Corps. Reverend Turner is the unit Chaplain.  He alerted me to the Trail to Freedom Heritage Tour that will take place on 1 November. Here is the link.   If I have time am going to attend.

As I have discussed in previous posts, such as this, this and this, 10,000 slaves used the Aquia Line to attain freedom. This unique reenactment will recreate some of this history from the African American perspective.

The 23rd USCT is a reenactment unit from Spotsylvania County.  It was one of the first USCT units to engage in direct combat, fought in the Overland Campaign and was at the Battle of the Crater. You can learn more about them here. It should be noted that at the time I am modeling, the USCT had not yet been formed. So I do not have them represented on my layout. However, we do have a unit of USCT on McCook's Landing as they were frequently assigned to guard missions as they were newly recruited to gain military experience, before being sent to direct combat. About 300,000 African Americans served in the USCT during the war.

USCT Artillery unit drilling on McCook's landing.

October 17, 2014

John Ott's Miskantonic Railroad

I have been super busy with my fourth book and customer models. So I don't have much layout progress  to report. While I work on those, I suggest you check out John Ott's web page. It is quite possibly the nicest model railroad website, period. His 19th century models and layouts are incredible. His latest project is a layout set in a dreary New England town based on the H.P. Lovecraft horror novels. Trust me, you will be slack jawed when you see this (and his earlier layouts), even if you are not a Lovecraft enthusiast (which I am not). Enjoy!

October 13, 2014

U.S. Naval Academy Museum

After a wet round of golf today in Queenstown Harbor, AW and I stopped at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum on the way home. It had been more than 17 years since my last visit there. I had heard they did a renovation about 4 years ago, so a trip was due.

Overview of the Dockyard models
Readers of my blog will know I have a strong interest in ship models. My layout will eventually house several ship models.  My models will be essentially structures set in water. Though I will try to make them as accurate as possible, they will not compare to the models the Naval Academy's collection of Admiralty or Dockyard models. These were model ships built by the ship contractors of the time, probably as gifts to naval leaders they needed to impress. Since so few ships from this period survived, but several hundred models did, these are the best look we have at ship construction in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Many models dockyard models did not
 have rigging, but some, as this one, does.
The ship models in the Naval Academy museum came mostly from the Col Henry H. Rodgers collection. He was the son of a wealthy American oil magnate who collected ship models from antique dealers and private individuals. He bequeathed them to the Academy in 1935.  He also had a collection of prisoners of war bone models, also very impressive models. For more info see this video about the museum's collection .



Note the intricate carved gun ports and the female figures carved in the poop deck supports.

An example of the craftsmanship, 40,000 tacks used to copper plate the hull of HMS Minerva.

Close up of the bow



The museum also has a nice collection of other ship models, though their collection of ACW era ships are somewhat sparse.

The USS Syren, a fine looking brig.

October 10, 2014

Weathering ACW Era Rolling Stock and Structures

A frequent topic for discussion among ACW RR modelers is how much weathering should we apply to our models.

I believe the answer is, as always, it depends. Freight cars and structures are no different than today.
The older the structure, the more it should be weathered. Locomotives are a special case.

On my layout, most of the structures are newly built by the USMRR, so I need to go easy on the weathering. But I have some older buildings that I can add more weathering, such as the water mill.


Freight cars were made mostly of wood. Furthermore, their paints and stains were not as long lasting as today's. In the civil war the cars experienced hard service. They should show signs of weathering. In some cases battle damage or vandalism by soldiers should also be depicted. Soldiers were known to “ventilate” box cars using their bayonets or spades during transport.  Notice the cars in this photo at Alexandria. Some shows signs of having boards taken out by soldiers. Note the wear onthe roof of the car onthe left without the roof walk. The roofing material seams are very visible.


In this photo even these recently repaired freight cars show extensive weathering. The foreground car has had some of its sheathing replaced.

The locomotives were a different story. In the 1860s locomotives represented the highest in technology. The owners were proud of their machines. They had numerous brass parts, colorful paint and gold leaf lettering -  that is part of their charm. Nonetheless, they saw hard service over rough, dusty or muddy track. The engines mostly burned wood, some of it quite green, and thereby were exposed to lots of sticky soot.  

Although engines in service were well cared for by crews, they still showed signs of being in use. I look to prototype pictures for hints on how to weather.

The tender of this engine shows signs of dust and soot. This photo shows the depot at Warrenton, VA during a time when the USMRR operated there. Note the dilapidated fence and the weeds growing along the embankment. 

BTW these are amazing photos loaded with detail. I suggest you follow the links and look at the high resolution .tif files to examine all the detail in these prints from 8x10 negatives. 


This engine shows streaks on the smoke box. The brass boiler bands have dust or soot  accumulated against them. The walkway has scuffing. The smoke stack is sooty.  The cab roof shows some textures, possibly waterproofing sheets. The vertical surfaces of the tender are dusty. But most of the brass is shiny.

Also note that the water tanks are brand new looking, with no signs of water seeping despite full tanks.

Another shot, this one from Nashville, shows the in-service locos with sooty smoke stacks. The cab roofs are dusty and show stains. The tenders look dusty. The top of light box looks dusty. Yet, the brass is gleaming. 
On the other hand, the rusty hulk in the foreground is quite weathered. The tender to the left is also looking dusty and weathered. 









Boiler is painted, not actual Russia iron
When looking at modern replica locomotives one needs to be aware that the boilers are not made from Russia iron. Instead they are painted to look like Russia iron. The weathering treatment may vary depending on the effect you are looking for.








The other factor to consider is the "scale effect" on colors. If you never heard of it see  this link  for an explanation, or google scale effect on color. I don't believe you can use fixed formulas to achieve the scale effect, you should use your own judgment in implementing it. But you should definitely consider it when painting a model.

As part of the scale effect, at a minimum you should dullcote your models, including those that are right out of the factory. Even if the prototype used high gloss paint, in scale it should not look as glossy. Nothing makes a model say “toy” than a full gloss paint job.  I dullcote all my scale models, taking care to cover all glass I want to look transparent.



For my well maintained locomotives, I tend to go easy on the weathering. After dull coating, I apply chalk dust to the smoke stack and smoke box, cab roof, and tenders. I add black wash to the crevices, but then wipe most of it away. Then I add streaks to the smoke box, and oil stains to the journals. 






















My freight cars get a heavier weathering treatment. 

October 3, 2014

Book Update

My latest book is at the printers. It should be released by 1 January, but if you pre-order it you may get it in time for Christmas.

October 2, 2014

Large Scale RC Sailing Ships

There is frequently crossover among the modeling hobbies, both in techniques and the people that practice them. This is a tale of such a nexus.

 I read several armor and ship modeling magazines. I occasionally look at radio controlled (RC) armor, ship, and airplane websites  to see what they are up to. That is where I first learned how battery power is revolutionizing their hobbies and its spill over to RC trains. However, I was unaware of the large scale  (RC) square rigged ship modeling hobby until my friend, Brian Kammerer, started sending me emails about the model he was building.  Brian is the fellow who helped me with the camp scenes for my backdrops. He is famous for his animated movie called , "The Other Great Locomotive Chase."

The image at the left is the ship Brian built last summer, a four foot long model of the HMS Surprise. The hull is plastic extruded foam covered in vinyl siding and putty.  He used an RC motor boat inside for power. The sails and rigging do not work... actually that is not true. Lets say they work, but not in a way that allows one to actually sail. They do catch wind and move the ship!

The most amazing thing is that Brian built this ship model with scraps, odds and ends, and craft store supplies. It is an incredible demonstration of scratch building. I helped in a tiny way by laser cutting some detail parts like the windows and the bowsprit. Here is a link to a forum with more photos.

Once he had his ship done, he connected with Ray Grosser, a name familiar to many model railroaders. He and his wife are serious model railroad enthusiasts with several amazing layouts on their resumes. But, Ray was also a serious RC ship sailing hobbyist. Here is a sample of Ray's 1/24th scale HMS Surprise sailing in brisk wind. It really is amazing.




I have several ship models planned for my layout, but they are going to be static models. Basically they are structures that happen to rest on water. But when you see these ships in their moving in their intended element, it is much more interesting and exciting. Perhaps this will be my next hobby once the layout is done?

September 19, 2014

I remember that, sort of...



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

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

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

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

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

September 17, 2014

Happy, Happy, Happy?

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


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

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

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

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

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

September 16, 2014

MARPM After Action Report


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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