March 30, 2020

Aquia Line Quarantine News

Scene on one of my 1/56th (28mm) scale game boards

So far, we are staying healthy and trying to follow all the guidelines the CDC and governments have established. I hope you all are safe too.

I've been catching up on various projects the past week, mostly related to models for clients and some war gaming projects. My do list is getting worked down. I thought about hosting a remote op session on the layout, but haven't decided on the best way to do that. However, I hosted two wargames remotely using Facebook live for the first one and then FaceTime.  Those were fun, but actually a lot of work. I do plan to get working on my layout next, so I will be disassembling the game table to prep for layout expansion work.  The photo above is a shot I took on the game table showcasing some of the new K-Ration boxes I made.

Today, I received a delivery of 3 sheets of 4x8 feet plywood from Home Depot. I will process these into lumber to start the benchwork for my layout.  My plan is to start with the curve in the closet and proceed into the crew lounge.

But before I start that, I have more do list items need to wrap up. There doesn't seem to be any hurry, as we will be confined to quarters for at least another month.

March 19, 2020

Civil War Era Fences

I recently was asked about the fences on my civil war layout.   During the civil war era there were four common types of fences, worm (or snake), split rail, picket and stone walls. Some areas, like Gettysburg had a combination stone and rail fence. This American Civil War Trust 4 minute video discusses and illustrates the different types of fences. At one point the commentator makes a mistake when he confuses cover with concealment, so be on the look out for that. According to what I learned in the US Army the definitions of cover and concealment are-

  • Cover is protection from direct or indirect fire. This means actual physical obstacles that can absorb incoming fire like stone walls, foxholes, bunkers, etc. 
  • Concealment means you are hidden from view. Hiding in bushes, or behind a house is concealment.  Concealment means you are harder to spot, but not harder to kill if you are spotted and fired on.
Ideally you want both cover and concealment. That is why the two terms are often used together. But, once fire is incoming, you seek cover, not concealment.

On my layout I have modeled four types of fences. Here is a prototype example of a worm fence at Willimasburg, VA, and one on my railroad. These fences look cool, but they are a pain to build in scale.


This famous photo from the battle of Antietam shows dead rebels next to a split rail fence with oval hole posts. Mine rendition of that style of fence is below. These fences are easier to build especially with laser cutting the parts.

Now, the more probable scenario for my layout is that none of these wooden fences would be standing in the time period I am modeling. After 4 months of occupation by US soldiers, and no farms being worked, the fences in the area would have been "liberated" by soldiers to use as firewood and lumber for hooches. But, the fences add interest and I like their look.

I have small sections of stone and  "Kentucky" style  fences and on my layout. I modeled my stone fence on the stone fence at Marye's Heights near Fredericksburg. 

March 15, 2020

Activation energy

The sparks created by striking steel against a piece of
 flint provide the activation energy to initiate combustion
in this Bunsen burner. The blue flame sustains itself after
the sparks stop because the continued combustion of the flame
is now energetically favorable. Catalysts can also lower
activation energy.

Activation Energy is the energy which must be provided to a system with potential reactants to result in: a chemical reaction, nuclear reaction, or various other physical phenomena.

Let me start with a short story.

When we had our last flood last fall, I bought an Ecobee smart thermostat to replace the one in the dining room that was getting old. Some of the LCD crystals on the old thermostat had failed and it was impossible to read the settings.  The new Ecobee sat in its box for several weeks as I internally debated whether I should install it myself or hire out the task. I gave in and decided to called Geek Squad to do it, as I figured they would know what to do and get it done quickly without breaking anything.

They dutifully arrived at my house on the appointed time in their humongous, gaudily decorated truck. Two guys spilled out of the cab, one was yawning as he came up the walkway. They donned funky booties to protect our floor as they entered. After fiddling with the thermostat for a few minutes, they announced that they were not qualified to install this product, despite my purchasing it at Best Buy, their HQ. They left promising me that Geek Squad would refund my money.

As they left, my neighbor spotted the Geek Squad truck, and started to give me me a hard time. "Why is the MIT guy hiring Geek Squad?" he chided.  Now my neighbor is a sweetheart. He is a retired English teacher, who was well regarded by his students, but he is  not technically inclined. He and his wife are frequently asking me for help on house hold projects and repairs. So after years of techno-rescue by me, when he got the chance to find a chink in my techno-savvy armor, he drove right in.

I went inside suitably humbled. But the delay and then my neighbor's gentle harassment had raised my energy level above the activation threshold, and I did the job myself. It did require my having to add a power adapter inside the furnace, but the enclosed instructions were clear and was able to do the wiring and get it working.

Unlike when I installed my Ring video doorbell, the software on this item worked the first time I tried it. The unit has a nice control panel and it has Alexa voice integration. My wife was ecstatic when she tried playing with the thermostat. For the record, in the 23 years we have been married, she is the master of the thermostat. I never touch it. Anyway, she said to me, "If it was so easy to install, why did you wait so long to install it?"

My answer was, "activation energy."

And so, that is how we get to model railroading. I have been thinking about and designing expansions to my layout for several years now. But I haven't been able to overcome the activation energy needed to start. Then yesterday, Paul Dolkos, John King, Ken Lehman and Mat Robinson stopped by to see the layout. They were operating at Paul's and wanted to see what I was up to.

In the process of running a train out of Falmouth, I noticed that the curved turnout at the turn back curve was broken. One of the stub point solder joints had failed. This turnout has been blue flagged for several years because the tight radii there do not allow reliable operation. So I was surprised to see it had failed.

So now there are two broken turnouts at Falmouth. Will this be the catalyst to lower the activation energy to start the layout expansion?

It very well might be. I am supposed to host operations sessions for the ACWRRHS in September. With all of us having to stay home, this could be a perfect opportunity to start work. I just need to be able to get some lumber.  I have all the other necessary supplies on hand.  Most likely, the expansion will be a narrow shelf along the two walls of the crew lounge. But what if I wanted to do more?

I had sketched up a quick look at a large peninsula in the crew lounge. Then I took some curve templates and used my gaming table to mock up what a second peninsula would look like in my crew lounge.  I like it. But nobody else does. My gaming buddies want me to keep the game space. My wife doesn't like the expansion with the peninsula. Even the four guests expressed reservations.

So I suppose the best course of action is to start with the two narrow shelves along the walls. If that fails to scratch the expansion itch, I can always add on the peninsula.

After my guests left, news and health updates made it apparent that further guests to the house would not be a good idea.  So, I'm on my own down here. But that is nothing new. Now, to find a lumber store that is open.

By the way, once the thermostat was installed, I sent my neighbor a text saying "After Geek Squad gave up, I installed the thermostat myself. I hope my reputation is salvaged."

He replied, "not just salvaged, but further glorified."

March 12, 2020

Don't Jump!

For several years I have been meaning to add a figure on a plank like shown in this prototype photo of Potomac Creek below. Today, I was preparing paper work for the NMRA Master Builder Prototype Models SOQ and I thought, "this is a good time."
Prototype photo that inspired the scene

So I dug out an appropriate figure from my stash. (Note to self - you have at least 10 pounds of unpainted figures in your stash. You don't need anymore.)

I found one that had a similar pose and style of dress. This figure came from Knuckleduster Miniatures  They offer a nice line of O scale Wild West figures that work for the ACW era. All those saloon figures are tempting me to add a saloon to my layout. But where?

It was a simple matter to build a plank, stack some rocks, and pose the figure.

I'll bet you thought this was going to tie into the stock market some how, didn't you?

March 11, 2020

Crisis Mode?

Global virus, maybe, but that is not what this post is about. Last year Rustoleum, Testor's parent company, announced it was getting out of the model paint business.  This was alarming to me since I used Testor's Dullcote as my go-to matt finish.  I especially liked applying it with my airbrush diluted with lacquer thinner as you can precisely control the application.  I tried various other makers of acrylic matt finishes, but none were as flat as Testors Dullcote. So, I went around and did what every good crisis-induced panic-stricken person would do, I stocked up on toilet paper.... no wait wrong crisis,  I stocked up on Testor's dullcote.

Then, one of my friends, Mark Franke, suggested I try Winsor Newton Galeria Matt Varnish. He said the armor modeling community swears by it. I was skeptical as I tried Vallejo and a few other acrylic matt varnishes and was never happy with the flat finish. Undeterred, he went and bought me a bottle to try.  It sat around for a few weeks, before I decided to give it a try.

Holy cow, he and they were right. This is the best flat finish I have tried. Plus, it is water soluble so you can thin with water.  So I airbrush with 50-50 water dilution. Plus, it is not as toxic as Testor's Dullcote since no lacquer thinner is needed.

So no worries. My supply of Testor's Dullcote will be set aside.

Now, to hunker down in my man cave and build models while this global pandemic blows over.  Stay safe everybody.

March 7, 2020

Potomac Division Meet at Mary Surratt House Museum

I attended a mini-meet for the Potomac Division of the NMRA at the Mary Surratt House Museum in Clinton, MD. The meet involved several talks in the morning and two layout tours in the afternoon. I gave the last talk of the morning by describing some of the techniques I used or are using to build my layout. My talk went well, despite some early laptop-projector issues.

The museum is a set of buildings including the restored tavern. It was here that John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's assassin, stopped to retrieve weapons and supplies which had been hidden there. As a result, Mary Surratt, the owner of the house, which was rented out to others at the time,  was tried and convicted of conspiracy to assassinate the President. On July 7, 1865, she became the first woman to be executed by the United States government.

In the afternoon I visited Dale Latham's Piedmont Southern and Glenn Paulson's Conrail layouts situated in south east Maryland. Dale's layout in a two car garage is largely complete, beautifully finished, and operational. Glenn's layout is a massive double deck in a large basement. He has an impressive steel mill. It occupies about 60-80 linear feet on a narrow shelf of the lower level. The mill is spread out with each major structure residing along the backdrop with mostly narrow benchwork. It is an interesting way to model a steel mill that I don't think I have seen before. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of it.

A scene on Dale's layout. The bakery is named after Dale's wife, Anita, who is legendary for her baking prowess.

February 22, 2020

Monopoly Buildings

I worked on an unusual project this week for a friend, John Drye. He is planning on hosting a large wargame event this summer at the Historicon, the largest historical miniatures war-game convention in the world. To put this in perspective, it's like the NMRA National Convention, though Historicon typically gets about twice as many registrants as the NMRA National.  I used to attend Historicon regularly in the 1990s. John Hill, Dean West and I used to host massive Johnny Reb games at this event. The largest game we hosted involved 60 players over two days. If you think about it, that's one game with about half the participation of a typical Prorail event. There are hundreds of such events, though most not as big as that one, at Historicon.

Several of my friends are or were affiliated with Historicon management.  This year, I am planning on going to Historicon, but not the NMRA National. I am helping my friend prepare his scenery for the game since I really enjoy doing scenery. I am also doing some play testing for his scenario, which is based on Operation Market Garden. He plans to cover the whole campaign including the airdrops and the British 30 Corps race to the Rhine at Arnhem. This is the famous, "Bridge too Far" battle.

Unit counters are 2 inches square
His game system he plans to use is called "Breakthrough." It was written by Frank Chadwick, a very well known, prolific game designer. John is one of the official play testers for the game system. The game is very high level. Each counter or stand in the game represents a battalion or about 1,000 men or 50 armored fighting vehicles. Each inch of game ground equals 500 yards of actual terrain. The stands have 1/285 scale miniatures mounted on them, but not in a  one for one ratio of actual vehicles. For example, the 559th Schwere Jagerpanzer Abtielung, (559th Heavy Tank Destroyer Battalion), which had about 40 assault guns, has two vehicles mounted on a two inch base. See the photo at the right. The game plays very much like a typical board game but with miniature figures and scenery.

Nijmegan with 15mm (1/100scale) Miniatures
The game includes combat in Built-Up areas, i.e. towns and cities. These areas are depicted in the game with 3 inch square templates that are gray colored. Buildings might be scattered about the gray templates, but they need to be removable so that the 2 inch square unit counters can fit inside. The photo at the right shows how they were doing this with larger miniatures, but still using the 2 inch bases.  This was a game that I helped play test.

This way of modeling towns in a miniatures game was  off-putting to me. One of the fun aspects of a miniatures wargaming is the spectacle of seeing models on terrain. Some folks could care less and play mostly for the games sake. They use a simple green cloth and put the models on them without hesitation. In model railroading, we have folks like that too. But I prefer the terrain to look as good as the figures the play on them.

So I tried to develop a way to model the city of Nijmegan that will be playable in this game system and still look  like a European city in WW2.  The requirements were - develop a model of the city of Nijmegan on a 3 inch grid, and decorate it with model buildings in such a way that 2 inch unit counters could fit.

First, I got copies 1/25000 scale maps of the area during WW2 from the US Library of Congress. One thing that is obvious in comparing  these maps to satellite images from Google earth is how much more urbanized Holland and Belguim are now compared to then. Of course the same is true of the US. I adapted the topo maps to the grid that game uses. In consulting with John and using the maps for reference, we decided that Nijmegan should be one grid of dense urban and six adjacent grids of suburban terrain.

Town grid and a typical unit for comparison 
I made a drawing of the street grid that is a much simplified version of the actual road network. The scale is somewhere between the actual ground scale and the scale of the miniatures used in the game. Thus buildings are about 0.25 wide  by 0.5 inches long. They look like the little buildings from the Monopoly game, with a little more detail. Each three inch grid has a removable 2 inch insert. When the town is unoccupied by units, it looks like a model town. When units occupy the town, the unit counters replace the inserts. There are now less buildings in the town, but it still looks like an urban area.

When units move out, the town inserts are placed back in the town grid.

This gives you an idea of the overall size of the models
There were two important bridges in Nijmegan, the highway bridge and the railroad bridge. These are also modeled in a representative way. They can be removed if they are destroyed during game progress.  Though the city grid shows rail lines, they don't have impact on play except at the bridges.

It remains to be seen if this concept for representing cities works out. If it does, then I will make additional cities for Arnhem, Eindhoven and Veghel. If not, we can have some neat games of Monopoly.

February 15, 2020

Woodworking and Op Session

Canton engine 42 working the yard.

I spent the good part of last week working on improvements to my wood shop. For over 20 years I have had a cheap Ryobi router table. Every time I use it I would say to myself, "I got to get a better router table." It often provided  poor results, some operations were difficult to do safely on it, and it made a mess of the shop.  So after using it on my mailbox project, and almost ruining that project, I bit the bullet. I went to Woodcraft and ordered a new Festool CMS-VL router table with the sliding fence and hose set. While I was at it, I ordered a new larger capacity Festool dust extractor (i.e. Shop vac) and bought a nice flush trimming router  bit.

About a week later the router table arrived and I set it up in the garage. I made a few test cuts and it was like night and day. The parts were cut precisely and it felt very safe to use. But, I realized that to make the most efficient use of this table, which is an extension of my existing  Festool MFT, I needed to install it and the MFT on a rolling cart. So building that cart began my primary focus for the week.

Front side needs a few more drawers and shelves.
I made a drawing of what I wanted, knowing that I would change the plan as I went along. I used baltic birch plywood for the carcass and added some oak trim pieces to protect the edges. Like my miter cutting cart, this one is on locking casters. It is easy to move around the garage as I need it. The front has a deep storage for tools and future Festool systainers (Festools fancy word for tool storage boxes). The back side has two longer shelves to store router table accessories and parallel clamps.

Back shelves for long items
The cart is not 100 percent complete as I plan to add some more drawers and shelves. But I love how it makes my tools so much easier to use and then put away when I'm done with them. One of the upcoming tasks is to cut precise trapezoidal pieces to make the road bed for the curved sections of my O scale layout expansion. The idea is to make nice large radius curves only making straight cuts with less waste. I will use my track and miter saws to cut the parts and the domino system to precisely register each section. More on that later.

Having my fill of woodworking for the week, I was honored and pleased to participate in an op session on Paul Dolkos's Baltimore Harbor HO layout on Saturday. I was joined by Brad Trencamp and Todd Herman. John King, who was supposed to run the yard job, couldn't make it, so I did it. It was a very fun job and it ran smoothly. Paul created the switch lists prior to the session. I really like using switch lists vice car cards.

BTW if you haven't seen this month's Model Railroader, Paul did an article on Brian Wolfe's Western Maryland layout.  It's a great layout with some outstanding photos by Paul.  I had a chance to operate it in 2017. here is a little video I shot while working the yard job on Brian's layout.

February 13, 2020

Switching from HO to O scale

Photo by John King
No, not me!

Bob Helm had an interesting article in O Scale Resource Magazine (a free on-line e-zine) last December on his plans to build an O scale Western Maryland layout in the same space he had built a HO layout of the same subject.  When I started model railroading, I was planning on a N scale Western Maryland RR.

You can find the article here  and I think it is worth a look. Go to page 15.

February 8, 2020

Playing Catch Up

This week has been catch up week for me. Both my mom and I recovered from colds, though hers was much more serious than mine. So it was time for me to get my do-list whittled down.

The laser cut parts arrayed on my work bench
The first task was to laser cut the parts for a large, intricate HO scale building for a client. It almost looks like a cathedral in appearance. The client did the artwork, as he is an architect.  Still it took me a few hours to prepare the drawings for my laser. Then another 8 actual hours to engrave and cut the parts. He will do the assembly and painting. We have more buildings to do for this client, so we are looking at other ways to depict the bricks other than engraving them one by one.

The mailbox project from start to finish
Next, I had to so some household chores. The first was to build a new mailbox that would match the new front door and have capacity to hold small packages. This was an opportunity for me learn some new skills and give my woodworking tools some exercise. The new door has leaded glass detailing. So the mailbox should have a matching glass insert. I never built a leaded glass piece before, so I went to Youtube and got the basics.  My experience in soldering brass kits came in handy, and I was able to make an acceptable diamond shaped leaded glass insert for the mailbox using pre-cut beveled glass sections and lead came. With an acceptable glass insert in hand,  I built a box with an opening to house the leaded glass piece.

With that done, I moved on to fixing the chair rail molding in the dining room. This was a residual task from the flood repairs. The contractor claimed it was a custom molding profile. So I took a sample to the local mill shop and low and behold, this molding was not custom, but available in stock. With $60 of molding in hand, it was a relatively simple matter to install the molding using my Kapex miter saw.

Rob's 1/72nd scale diorama
Then my brother visited for a few days. He wanted some instruction on painting and weathering an armored model. It was a M48 tank that he assembled at home. Over the next two days we painted, weathered,  and then built a small diorama to display it. This project was a lot of fun and my brother said he learned a lot. We used dry brushing, washes, chalk, and texture mud. The texture mud was helpful un hiding some of the flaws in the tracks.

On Saturday, I hosted a WW2 war game at my house. It was a scenario set in Holland during the Market Garden campaign. I enjoy hosting games. It reminds me a lot of setting up an op session. The game went well, though the Germans were able to cut the highway and were able to withstand the Allied attempt to clear it, though they took heavy casualties.

Hopefully, next week I can continue to catch up on the remaining do-list items.

British armor wrecks litter the battle field

February 3, 2020

Virtual Reality Film Clips depict Civil War Trench Warfare

This is an interesting use of VR tech. The Battlefield trust sponsored this project to create a virtual reality look at an ACW battlefield. You can use you mouse to change your point of view as the movie unfolds. The acting is a little hokey and scenes are small scale, but they capture some of the chaos and horror of the civil war battlefield. There are no railroad scenes, but you might find it interesting.

January 29, 2020

Surveyors Report is Encouraging

Survey crews use 30-inch curve templates to see if the plan will fit.

In preparation for rebuilding and expanding the layout, I sent out the survey crew to see if the latest plan could fit.  I case you forget, the plan under consideration is at the right.

The primary objectives of this plan are to increase the radius of the turn back curve at the entrance to the current Falmouth and to extend the layout into the crew lounge.  We also want to keep the Crew Lounge as open as possible without having to relocate the couch and TV.

Most of the other layout expansions I have considered make a 90 degree turn at Battery Schaefer and head directly under the stairs and into the crew lounge for simplicity's sake.  The area where Falmouth is now would not have any track.

It always bugged me that I was giving up that extra 10 feet of visible mainline run.  With only 120 feet in total of mainline, that is a big hit. So, the idea of this plan is to maximize the main line utilizing the wall where Falmouth is now. I would add a 180 degree 30-inch radius turn back curve at Battery Schaefer. The track would run across about 5 feet of tangent, and then enter Stares Tunnel by the room entrance via another 30-inch turn back curve. The half of the turn back curve in the closet would occupy a shelf before it went under the stairs and entered the crew lounge. (In the same general area where the staging yard to PoLA was, but with a much larger radius curve.) Crews could follow their train as it enters Stares Tunnel, pass through the door and then into the crew lounge.  The hidden run is a bit longer in this plan, but accessible over most of it.

New track with Photoshop scenery. The scene creates a pleasing "Ess" curve.
Will it work? Using a set of 30-inch curve templates I laid out the possible new alignment in the visible and hidden part of the layout. It all fits.  To make the turn back curve centered in the available  space, I would need to push the track about 2 inches to the top of the drawing and into space where Battery Schaefer is now. This means will have to re-lay the southern turnout at Stonemans.  That isn't too bad, as the siding at Stonemans would need to be lengthened to allow 10-12 car trains anyway.  And I want to increase the radii of the turns at that end of Stonemans too.

I would have to move the trestle at Clairborne Creek, or it could be replaced by a larger trestle across the aisle from where it is now, or both. More bridges are better.

There would be a 24-inch choke point in the aisle at the apex of the curve. Hopefully that won't be too much of an issue as the new section is just a through track and not a place where people need to work.

Once the layout enters the crew lounge, this plan has more open-country running on a narrow shelf. It omits the large trestle.  The trestle would require so much vertical depth that there would be no headroom under the benchwork for people on the couch. I would like to keep the couch where it is now.

The next step is to prefabricate the benchwork and roadbed for the track that would go in the closet and under the stairs. These would be installed in sections with precise Festool dominos for alignment. I plan to use Atlas O scale flex track on 3/4inch plywood for these sections. On top of the plywood I will add 1/8th-inch plywood with the track centerlines for curves and easements that will be laser engraved. By doing this,  I hope to to ensure that this track work is free of kinks and sharp easements. Once that is tested and is "bulletproof, I will install in place and begin the rest of the construction.

January 20, 2020

Last Look at PoLA?

I noticed the the 2020 issue of Model Railroad Planning is out. Inside is an article about my former PoLA layout. I wrote and submitted the article several years ago, before I took down PoLA and sold it to my friend. Is this the last look at PoLa? Maybe, maybe not. I suspect it will pop up a few more times before if gets to really say farewell.

The rest of the issue looks good. MRP has consistently been my favorite model railroad magazine (journal?) As one of my friends, who agrees with me says," too bad it can't come out 12 times a year."

January 12, 2020

Open House for the Rockville Model Railroad Society

Members of the Rockville Model Railroad Society stopped by to see the USMRR Aquia Line today. They included  Tom Matty, Greg Cassidy, Deane Mellander, Jim Novaco, Roger Andes, Ben Sullivan, Kelly Regan, Fritz Fahlin and Joe Ney. I had not run the layout in quite some time, so I was pleased to see that it operated without problems during their visit.  It was a fun time. Ben Sullivan mentioned that he has a blog on the layout he is building. His layout is based on the Georgetown Branch of the B&O.  The Georgetown waterfront scene has always been a favorite of mine.   After seeing my layout, the group headed to Paul Dolkos's house to see his layout.

The visitors seemed as interested in the wargame board I am building as they were in the layout. A few of them said that they too did wargames.   This game board is going to be used in the Northern Virginia Gamers Group (NOVAG) Game Day in Chantilly, VA on 26 January. John Drye and Mark Franke are helping me host the game.

I am presenting a talk on Civil War Railroading on 16 January at 1000AM at the Model Railroad Club at the Hollin Hall Senior Center.   Please stop by if you get a chance to see the talk and check out their layout.

January 6, 2020

The years keep ticking along

The 11th year of the Aquia Line had its ups and downs.  The highlights were the winning the best in show at the NMRA MER meet and getting the Aquia line on the cover of Model Railroader magazine. It also marked my restart of writing articles for the model railroad press. I now have a few in the publishing pipeline.

The lows were the floods. The first caused a lot of damage in the basement. Fortunately, the Aquia layout survived with very little damage, though I removed PoLA and sold it to my friend Tom. He promptly moved to Austin, Texas and took PoLA with him!

The second flood didn't hurt the layout, but required extensive repairs in  the upstairs part of the house. The upheaval from that work forced me to cancel the op sessions for the North East Interchange, even though that event was the hinge point of all my long term planning for the layout. Then my mom got sick, which postponed nearly all hobby activities.

It turns out that I did very little work on the Aquia Line last year. I did travel a lot and saw lots of layouts. In fact, I did more work and attended more op sessions on other people's layouts than my own.

There is still work to do on the Aquia Line. I will try to get more done this upcoming year, but it will be tough as my mom needs more care and I will probably get a hip replacement as my arthritis is getting bad. What little hobby time I have had has been siphoned off to my renewed interesting in wargaming, which I enjoy and my wife seems to support too. So it hasn't been all bad.

This year started off with an unusual project. For his Christmas present, my younger brother requested that I build a display shelf for his 3-rail O scale train set. He and his fiancĂ© set up a train layout under their Christmas tree. He provides the trains, a Lionel GG-1 with seven passenger cars. She provides the scenery, a large collection of ceramic buildings with lighting, etc.
The two shelf sections are just
under 10 feet long
He wanted a shelf where he could display his trains during the rest of the year when they are not under the tree. He wanted some scenery on the shelf too.

Since I didn't have a chance to build it before Christmas, it became the first project of the new year.  The shelf is composed of two poplar 1x6 boards, each 5 feet long. I squared up the boards and used Festool Dominos to align the two pieces.

The Festool dominos are visible on the left of the front shelf
Then I made roadbed sections using 1/8th inch MDF.  I cut the roadbed strips with a 45 degree taper using my track saw. I glued and brad nailed the road bed pieces to the poplar boards. Then I used my Festool Rotex sander to reduce the angle of repose of the shoulder of the roadbed and to carve out some ditches in the poplar board.

It was a simple matter to spike down some Atlas O scale track, paint and scenic it. I used some sand I purchased at Michaels craft store as ballast. It had a sparkle, so I needed to spray the track with a light coat of gray to kill the gloss. I didn't have enough tan ballast, so I used some N Scale cinders to line the edge of the road bed.  Some ground foam and static grass completed the scenery.

I didn't build the shelf brackets. It is up to him to figure out how he plans to mount it is his home.

Finished product 

December 16, 2019

Merry Christmas 2019

This animated battle map was very well done.
A plaque outside the visitor's center describes the opening
phases of the battle
The NPS spent over a million dollars restoring
 the exterior of the Worthington Farm House,
but the interior was not completely restored.
Location where confederate artillery began the battle
The past few months have been trying times for us. We managed to rebuild the damage after the flood and even had a chance to upgrade some parts the house. Then, after Thanksgiving, my mother got sick and spent 10 days in hospital and 6 days in rehab. She made a good recovery thanks to modern medicine and wonderful nurses and doctors.

Last weekend, we transported mom to Pennsylvania where she will spend Christmas with my brother.  On the way back home, we had just enough daylight to stop at the Monocacy battlefield. We had visited it about 15 years ago with Alicia's mom and dad on a genealogy trip with several members of the Worthington family.

The farm house in the lead photo is the Worthington House on the battlefield. Fighting swirled around the farm while a boy, one of Alicia's distant relatives, watched the battle from the basement. He later wrote the book, "The Battle that Saved Washington."

I would like to build a model of this farm for the expanded Aquia Line layout. Hopefully, I can begin work on that in 2020.

The NPS has built a new visitor's center on the north side of the battlefield. It has some nice displays, including one of the better animated battle maps I have seen.

Along with the family connection, the Battle of Monocacy holds a special place in my memory. The first miniature wargame I played was a scenario based on the Battle of Monocacy. It was at Larry Bond's house around 1988. It was this game the really ignited my interest in civil war history and gaming.

November 14, 2019

Not again!

Current state of our dining room

Last week we had an unfortunate plumbing incident that resulted in water damage to our master bathroom and dining room downstairs. A toilet leak developed while we were sleeping. Because the water was from a toilet, the flood repair folks treated it as biohazard, so all the wet stuff had to be removed.

The short version is that we have to get new floors in the master bath, and new sheet rock in the dining room. The demolition and repair work is underway. Since some of the upstairs carpet had to be removed, we took this opportunity to install hardwood floors on the whole upstairs level.

Events like this are very disruptive. We have spent a large portion of our time moving and covering furniture, organizing  clean up crews, finding contractors, selecting materials, purchasing supplies, waiting for insurance adjusters, etc. I had to cancel an op session last weekend because the house is in disarray as furniture is either moved or covered to prevent dust.

The basement has proven to be the one place where we can find relative peace and a sense of normalcy. A small amount of water reached the basement, but did not cause any damage as it went to the drain in the utility space without touching anything that could be damaged. The layout was not damaged at all.

I am using the "free time" I have in this period to work on the large side wheel steam ship kit. I have discussed this kit before. As I have stated before, the kit is spectacularly bad. It is so bad, that each time I start work on it, I get demotivated, and I look for something else to do.  The kit is oriented toward building a pond model so the level of detail and construction techniques tend more to robust toy versus fine scale model. The instructions in particular are very poor, despite being voluminous. So I am discarding most of the kit and making my own parts to better match photos of paddle wheelers that were at Aquia Landing or in use in the ACW.  It remains to be seen how it all comes out.

I also built some new paint racks for my model work bench to try to get a handle on the myriad bottles of paint, washes and weathering powders I have accumulated.

Hopefully by next week, the house will be put back in normal operation and I can prepare for visitors for North East Interchange.