August 1, 2014

Updated Speaking Events and Book News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 27, 2014

Trucks for the Presidential Car

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


July 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 15, 2014

Model Railroad Influences?

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

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

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

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

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

My first NTRAK module, "Chase Marine Terminal."

Chase Marine Terminal 2

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

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

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

July 13, 2014

Dog Days of Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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











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

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












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

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

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

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

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






July 3, 2014

McCook's Landing on Trainmasters.TV

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

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

June 25, 2014

SS Transcolorado - A Forest Gump Moment


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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





June 6, 2014

70th Anniversary of D-Day

The destruction of the Gare Maritime at Cherbourg left by the Germans


Unloading engines at Cherbourg
The 70th anniversary of D-Day is today. It is a good time to reflect on the devotion to duty and sacrifice of the men and women involved.

Most people are familiar with story of the invasion and hard fighting. What might be lesser known is the role that railroads played, not so much in the initial invasion, but in the subsequent campaign. The battle to capture port of  Cherbourg and its railroad assets was a major component of the D-Day campaign. The utter destruction left by the Germans made the  task even more difficult.

 I included a chapter on D-Day and the fight for Cherbourg  in my upcoming book, "The Model Railroad Goes to War." It is one of the most interesting chapters in the book in my opinion.


May 28, 2014

Depth of Field in Macro Focus Range Videos

A recent discussion on the Prototype Railroad Modeling Yahoo Group got me wondering about the effects of f-stop on depth of field when shooting videos in macro focus ranges. I made this short video to investigate how the sharpness varied at three different f-stops, f4, f22 and f29. I shot all using a Canon 70D, with 48mm focal length at the minimum focus distance.

I used a scene on my 00/009 Scale WWI layout, as it was already set up for lights and camera.  The camera was about 6 inches from the layout edge with the 18-135mm zoom. If you want to read more, I included an updated discussion of aperture and depth of field below the video. I recommend you watch in HD so you can see the effects of the parameters better. Note this is a new upload, the original upload did not allow HD. This one does.




Depth of field is probably the single most important parameter in model railroad photography. It is also important in model railroad videography. It is useful to understand why.

Two primary factors affect depth of field, aperture and focus distance in model railroad photography. A third factor, image format, is fixed by the type of camera you use. If are you comparing across different film or sensor  formats it usually means that the same image framing or composition will be at different focus distances.

The brackets in the middle row of
numbers represent the depth
of field for each f stop of this lens.
(source Wikipedia)
When we a photograph a prototype railroad scene with a locomotive, we usually need to stand well back from the subject to make sure that it can be fully captured in the frame. As the focus point of the subject moves away from the camera the effective depth of field increases. Most DSLR camera lenses have a scale engraved on the lens body to show how the depth of field changes with aperture and focus (see image at left from wikipedia). Eventually the focus point reaches the hyperfocal distance, the point of focus where everything from half that distance to infinity falls within the depth of field. Usually prototype rail photographs have the subject and background scenery in the hyperfocal region. The bottom line effect is that most of the scene is in sharp focus.

If we attempt replicate the same composition in a model railroad setting, we find that we are not in the hyperfocal region. In model railroad photography and videography depth of field is only a few inches deep. It is a property of camera lenses that the depth of field region shrinks as the focus point moves closer to the camera. This region shrinks faster than the scale distance diminishes. Therefore, not all of the image will be in sharp focus. This is particularly severe in N scale models because the camera must typically be placed very close to the models to replicate a prototype shot, such as a three quarters trackside view of a passing train.

The shallow depth of field one gets at these macro distances makes even the most realistic scenes look like miniatures. Furthermore, prototype scenes can be make to look like miniatures by manipulating the  depth of field either in post production  or with tilt shift lenses. For example see this tutorial on Vimeo


The Sandpit from Sam O'Hare on Vimeo.


To increase depth of field to simulate the hyperfocal region we use as small an aperture (also called f-stops) as possible since the smaller the aperture size - the greater the depth of field. Pinhole lenses were popular because the small aperture of the pinhole allowed for great depth of field. Unfortunately, pinhole lenses were hard to come by, tricky to make and difficult to use because of the dark image in the viewfinder.

Furthermore, there is a limit to the sharpness obtainable from small apertures. There is a point where the aperture gets so small that the light diffracts as it passes through the hole and the overall image loses sharpness. It is the size of the aperture that governs depth of field. Aperture sizes associated with an f-stop vary from camera lens to camera lens. In other words, f22 on one camera may not have the same size aperture as f22 on another.

To understand the process requires the use of the simple formula, f-stop (N) equals lens focal length (f_l) divided by the actual aperture size (D), N = f_l/D.

The table below shows aperture sizes for the two cameras that I have tested. You can see that the Canon Rebel XT at f29 and 27mm focal length has the smallest aperture at 0.931 mm, and therefore greater depth of field than the 50mm macro lens at f32.

f-Stop
Lens focal length (mm)
Aperture diameter (mm)
Camera –Lens Combination
32
50
1.563
Canon 5D with 50mm macro lens
29
27
0.931
Rebel XT with kit zoom lens

You can compute the aperture size for your camera by applying the formula. Be careful in comparing lens and f-stops as some manufacturers report equivalent focal length when describing their lenses and not the actual focal length, especially for the compact digital cameras. The equivalent focal length is the comparable focal length for a "conventional" 35mm film camera lens.

The recent arrival of focus stacking software  changes the calculus of depth of field for still images. Although the optical properties of the individual images do not change, focus stacking  post image processing of multiple exposures with different focus points to construct an image that is sharp all over. When used in model railroad applications, focus stacking allows us to create model railroad images that simulate the hyperfocal sharpness of a prototype image. I have found my macro lens very useful when combined with focus stacking. The ability of the macro lens to focus just an inch or so in front of the lens means that I can capture images where virtually the whole image is sharp, from immediate foreground to distant background

However, in videography, focus stacking is not an option. So we are back to shooting at small apertures. But, the problem arises that with small f stops, you need to slow the shutter speed to let in enough light. But, you can not use long time exposures in videography. If you are limited to 1/30th of a second exposure or faster, then you will need to either bump up the ISO or add more light. My Canon 70D can go over 51,000 ISO, but noise increases as the higher ISOs. I used 2000 ISO  in the video above and it shows acceptable results.

A better solution is to add more light. One 700W flood is usually enough for a small scene. Bigger scenes will require more light. But then you can shoot at wider f stops as you are unlikely to need to be in so close, so depth of field increases. Lighting is an important subject  and deserves its own discussion. But understanding the basic physics and performance of your lenses is important too.

Videography is much more complex than still photography. Many of the techniques needed for good model railroad photography still apply, but they are insufficient to insure you have a good video. This will be a topic I revisit in  upcoming blog posts.






May 26, 2014

Rail Fanning Port of Los Angeles

BNSF engines shuffling steel skeleton flats at Pasha Stevedore Terminal on S Fries Ave.
AW and I were in Los Angeles last week to attend the graduation of one of my nieces. While there I had an opportunity to do some rail fanning one afternoon at the Port of Los Angeles. I was lucky because the area I was mostly interested in was very busy. When I first got to the Pasha Terminal on Fries Street, they were unloading brand new 53 ft empty containers from the GearBulk ship Finch Arrow. This is a special design ship optimized for special bulky cargo delivery.

Double barreled container ship action!
Next stop was the USS Iowa to check out the battleship and get photos of the Evergreen container terminal across the channel. The Ever Strong was being unloaded there. At about 4:45PM the container ship Spring R left the Yusen Container terminal and headed out to sea. As it went past and I was able to get a bunch of photos.



Leaving Terminal Island over the Badger Bridge.
From there I checked out the Alameda Corridor, especially where the railroad and the highway cross the Cerritos Channel.  In this area I saw 5 BNSF container trains heading to Terminal Island or leaving in about one half hour.  I saw a lots UP stuff further inland on the Corridor too, but I could not find a safe and good place to shoot them. In general, the trains at the port are very difficult to photograph as the security requirements due to terrorists, theft and smuggling have resulted in fences being installed every where. Since the area is relatively flat, fences are a big problem.
Fences in the way everywhere!

Light engine sets heading out to switch at night

Next I headed to Wilmington. I caught  two light power sets heading to the Pier A area. One came down Alameda Street and headed past Pier A to San Pedro. The other came down McFarland Ave and went to the Fries Street switch district. There it switched sorted and pulled steel skeleton cars at the Pasha Terminal.

I watched this for about an hour. By then the light was fading and I was hungry. Too much action to stop to eat.

Street Running - BNSF Heading out S Fries Ave to switch the industries and terminal
I was very happy to catch all the activity on S Fries Ave as I have selected that area for a future project. But more on that later as it develops. In the meantime here are some shots I got.




May 20, 2014

WWI layout

As part of the book I recently finished for Kalmbach Publishing, I built a small (3 by 6 feet) layout in 00/009 scale depicting the railroad activity leading up to the Battle of Cambrai.

Despite the horrific fighting, the European theater of WWI makes a compelling subject for a model railroad. An intense level of standard and narrow gauge railroad activity supporting the field armies presents many operational challenges, while the ruined villages and battle scarred trenches require a different kind of scenic treatment. This model railroad features the railroads of WWI before the Battle of Cambria in the fall of 1917. The first mass use of tanks and aircraft get most of the attention in historic accounts of the Battle of Cambrai, but the innovative offensive depended on extensive and carefully planned American railroad support.  The layout focuses on the 11th and 12th United States Engineers near the town Fins during the build up to the Battle of Cambrai.

For the rest of this fascinating story you will have to wait until January 2015, when the book is released. In the meantime check out this short video featuring the layout.

May 16, 2014

A Graphic for Marty

Marty McGuirk has a nice blog documenting the large HO scale layout he is building. This past week I have been helping him with a new design for his header graphic. Here are a couple designs.

The first design used a B&W image that I lifted from his blog and a clip art CV logo off the web. I colorized the image and applied a Photoshop poster edge filter to it. While it showed some design promise, Marty said the CV logo was incorrect and the the image was probably too tall.  He was also concerned that the milk car was too dominant, the hand rails on the gondola were cast-on and not separate add-ons (Marty is a freight car fanatic in case you don't know.) Try again. These pro bono clients can be so demanding!

 The next design is the same width but much shorter. He sent me a color image with a steam engine to use.  I added smoke, steam and a new sky. I applied the same filter as above. The logo is correct as  I drew the it directly from official CV documents.

Stop by Marty's blog and tell him if you like these.


May 13, 2014

Pole Line

Pole line from Potomac Creek to Stonemans Station.
I made a few more telegraph poles tonight.  I  also modified the existing poles by increasing the sharpness of the angle where the insulator pegs meet the poles and shortening the pegs a bit to better match the prototype photos.

I started to emplace the poles spacing them at 18 inches where the terrain allows. The lines and touch up paint are next.

The box car is a stand-in for the telegraph shed that will be made from a conductors car on blocks as seen in the prototype photo. I wonder if that stick leaning against the telegraph pole is a brace? If so, it can't be very strong.



The line of soldiers  in the background is inspired by this prototype photo showing a scene at Falmouth. BTW this is the only photo I have seen of Falmouth that shows the railroad.  Note the box cars up on rise in the background.


The Stonemans Station scene is close to being complete. The box car is a stand-in to check composition.

May 12, 2014

Wetmores Visit

Don is trying out my new smartphone tripod adapter
 from MeFoto while John and Gerry look on. Don got
some nice video of the Fury crossing the bridge.
 On Sunday Gerry Fitzgerald drove up from Charlottesville for a mini work session. He had been "jonesing" for a work session for a few months, so we finally scheduled one. He worked on making telephone poles for the telegraph line.  I need about 20 more to finish the line from Stoneman's to Aquia.

Two poles ready to plant with two insulators
per pole. (photo by Gerry)
I discovered quite by accident that the Tichy delrin wheel bearings have the right size and shape for O scale top hat insulators. Prior to that I was turning each insulator on the lathe. This saves a lot of time in the construction process.

We are using natural sticks for the poles, tooth picks for the wood standoffs and lycra thread from Berkshire Valley for the line. Gerry finished 6 poles on Sunday in between lunch and dinner.

In the meantime I worked on various little projects including priming a model for a client and the adding siding to the shed at Brooke.

Later that evening, Don and John Wetmore visited the layout. Don has a large HO layout depicting the 1960s in St Joseph, MO, called the St Joseph Terminal. He lives in Omaha, NE and is an employee of Union Pacific Railroad in the strategic planning group. Sounds like a great job for a model railroader. John in not a model railroader per se, but he does enjoy looking at them and he is interested in Civil war history. They have a great great uncle that was bummer in the 13th Wisconsin Regiment and marched with Sherman through Georgia to North Carolina.

After snacking on a chocolate cake brought by Gerry from his favorite cake shop in Charlottesville, we headed down stairs. Don and John had a chance to run a train from Falmouth to Aquia. They had to drop to cars at Potomac Creek so they got to try out the couplers and brakes. Then we discussed the expansion plans and surveyed the potential right of way (through the closet and in the TV area). All three visitors endorsed the plan, but thought that the additional blob did not add much considering the cost of losing the "crew lounge." Finally, Don got some pictures of the layout and used new  Mefoto MPH100C Smart Phone Holder to get a short video of Fury hauling a short train across the bridge.

May 6, 2014

Plan for a life time layout

As usual, I caught a bug on the trip to Michigan last weekend. Air line flights always get me.  So while I am home sick, I started thinking about how could I expand this layout. This speculation was based on three main factors.

First is that I plan to start laying the track at Aquia Landing soon. That is the last section of track work in the current plan - the "light at the end of the tunnel." I saved it for last as I knew if I built the harbor part of the layout first, I would probably never have finished the the rest of it.  Essentially I saved the best for last. But, I always like to have a a carrot dangling in front of me. It is too depressing to think this is the end. To me layout planning and building is the best part of the hobby, model building, scenery, and operations next. Track laying, DCC and wiring are last.  So I was thinking about expansion.

Secondly, my wife is convinced that we are not going to move when we are retired, even though I am lobbying to move to a lower cost area.  I never win these debates.  So it looks like its, "Die in place," as we used to say in the Army. That means this will be my last basement I will have to work in.

Third, several of my model railroad friends have had to abandon their railroads as age related problems set in. Sad but inevitable. Might as well plan for that too. So how would I expand this to my lifetime layout?

Earlier, I drew potential expansion plans showing Alexandria, and Burnside Wharf as possible expansions.  The newest plans look at the other end of the railroad. They address the most troublesome  aspects about the current layout, notably the tight curves at the north end of Falmouth, including the turntable lead and to a lesser extent at Stoneman's Station.

The first phase would be to build a new Falmouth on a narrow shelf where the road show layout is now.  It would reside on top of a long set of custom bookshelves with room for a TV underneath.  Once the new Falmouth was built, the current Falmouth would be removed, and the tracks reconfigured to pass through the closet. Stoneman's Station would move to the current Falmouth location. The turnouts at current Stoneman's would be removed and it becomes a nice long stretch of single track. All the new curves are 30 inch minimum radius with easements.

The track section in the closet would be removable to allow access to storage when the layout is not running. There is room for it for fit. I used that closet for staging in an earlier N Scale layout.


The next phase is a bit more drastic as it repurposes the TV room to purely layout space. Not a big loss as I rarely watch TV. In this plan I would add a central blob adding about 27 feet of mainline run between Falmouth and Stoneman's.  The aisles would be fairly generous, but not enough room for a TV watching area.

The last major change not shown on these drawings involves rebuilding the Potomac Creek bridge to its full size, about 8 feet long. Yes, once the layout is expanded there is no compelling reason not to rebuild it. This would only be possible if I move Stoneman's Station. If Stoneman's stays where it is, then a bigger bridge would not work.

The obvious advantage of these plans is that there are longer runs between stations, an important factor in TT&TO operation. I plan another post soon about TT&TO as it will apply to this RR. This is an subject that I have been examining lately as I seriously plan for operations.

The track laying and wharf building in Aquia Landing should take about a year. Throw in another 6 months for freight car construction then operations can start. The ships and other structures will take perhaps another year.  That still leaves me about 2 years until retirement.  Plenty of time to think about this. Once this layout is maximally expanded, I do not plan another basement filling layout. Instead I would continue to build smaller projects until no longer able or take up another hobby.

In answer to Marty's comment, I added am image of the interior of the closet showing the split landing steps.  I keep my shop vac, photography lights, tripods and a lot of train stuff in here.  The landing step is 52 inches off the floor, just enough room to have a track at 48 inches below. Installing it will be a pain as there is another joist that will have to be cut on a angle, but it will fit.