March 12, 2019

File that in the "It's a Small World Department"

Chris, David, Rob (l to r)
We had three visitors to the Aquia Line tonight. My brother, Rob, and some of his coworkers, Chris Holden and David Amorosa joined my mom, Alicia, and I for dinner. Chris and David are former military service members. Chris served in the 101st Airborne and it turns out we had mutual friends in that outfit. David was a naval enlisted man who later was involved in construction of the US Embassy in Iraq. In the course of the evening they learned that Chris, David, and Alicia all were in Iraq at more or less the same time.

Alicia modeling the latest in body armor styles in Baghdad 
After a nice dinner we retired to the man cave to check out the Aquia Line. Chris, though a Yankee, is a student and admirer of Stonewall Jackson. David builds plank on frame ship models. So we had a grand time running  trains on the Aquia Line and talking history and modelling.

March 11, 2019

Don't Break the Meatballs

Train 7 pushing a car from Brooke to  Potomac Creek

We hosted Op Session 19 on the Aquia Line and 24 on PoLA today. Brad Trencamp ran PoLA, while John Salmons, John Stralka, John Barry (yes, three Johns again), and Mike Spoor ran the Aquia Line. The session went well, but we had a few glitches. Interestingly, this is perhaps the first time I have hosted a session when the majority of the crew was under 40.

Brad Trencamp, sporting hair that would make
Bryce Harper jealous, switches PoLA 
The crews did a good job with their tasks.  Bryce, I mean, Brad, did a great job running PoLA on his own. He even fixed a dragging coupler on one of the cars  during the session.

The Johns, Barry and Straka, decided to push a car from from Brooke to Potomac Creek to switch the facing point turnout there. I don't think anyone else tried that before. However, the second crew did the same later, so perhaps this will become routine.

We had the crews verbally OS as we did last session. That worked well, but it will be nice to get the telegraph in operation.

In winter time the wood in my layout contracts as the humidity drops and some of the switches get tight. Yes, even after 10 years this still happens. The 3-way stub in Falmouth needed some adjustments to get it to work properly. But even after making some adjustments, the switch stand would not lock, it just wore out. This switch stand uses acrylic plastic and brass parts. It is one of the first ones I made with laser cut plastic. I will have to replace it with a stainless steel switch stand.

Mike and John running a 10-car train back to Falmouth. Here they are
switching Stoneman's Station
Also, for the second op session in a row, the batteries on the Stanton throttles did not hold a full charge. I am referring to the batteries in the throttles, not the batteries on board the locos. I may have a faulty USB charger, or the batteries are old. However, the CVP T5000 throttle works great. I plan to get a second T5000 and retire the Stanton throttles. The T5000s are much simpler to use, especially the function keys, and the seem to have better radio transmission range. They also have replaceable batteries, so if they batteries go dead in a session, they can be swapped out.

After the session, we looked at the two possible expansion plans, the Fredericksburg Extension and 28D. The group consensus was that 28D would be the better approach. Switching the harbor would be simpler without the wye peninsula, which would make things easier on the locomotive engineers as they can follow their engine better. The wye is really an inefficient use of the space. Several of my guests also said that they thought the wharf against the wall would make a more impressive scene than as the peninsula it is now.

Look at those meatballs. 
During the session, Alicia made delicious caramel brownies. My mom made a great pasta sauce, including a big pot of meatballs for dinner afterwards. John Barry and Mike Spoor stayed for dinner. John regaled us with stories of his increasing cattle herd. He is becoming quite the cattle rancher.

March 7, 2019

The Model Railroading Hobby is a Big Tent

Last night John Socha-Leialoha visited. John is a brilliant engineer who currently works for Microsoft. However, he also is involved in numerous other projects as you will see if you keep reading.  I first met John years ago while on a  trip to the Tacoma area. Back then, John was helping Mark Bridgewater build a large N Scale layout.  I liked Mark's layout when I visited, but I liked his Cobra 427 replica even more. IIRC they were developing the Bluepoint switch machine back then. If you use Bluepoints, then you have used one of John's ideas.

Mark has since moved to the Atlanta area and John has transitioned to being a tool junkie that supports model railroads.  John is notionally modeling the RGS in HOn3, but what he really enjoys is building stuff for the model railroad hobby. And he has a serious set of tools to do that in his shop. The hobby is a big tent!

John demonstrating his throttle prototype
Interestingly, John's first comment on seeing the layout, was "Nice crew lounge." Too bad I plan to make it much smaller.

When I asked John if he wanted to run some trains he said, "no thanks. I could care less about operations." What he did show me was a new Wi-fi throttle that he is developing along with two other engineers for TCS, the DCC company.  You can learn more about the throttle here.  John went on to explain how he likes TCS decoders because of their high fidelity sound. Now it was my turn,  I said to John, without rancor, "I could care less about having correct sound in my engines if it means more complexity. To me diesel sound is just industrial noise." I referred him to my now classic DCC rant previous posted on this blog.  I love complaining about DCC.

The throttle did have a nice feel to it. John designed and produced the throttle case with 3D printed plastic. The plastic had a slight grain that made it non-slip. The wi-fi throttle uses JMRI and a wifi net. Unfortunately, I was not set-up to run it, even though I do have JMRI.  For now, I'll stick with my EasyDCC system.

Fusion 360 demo, my dispatcher's desk is proving handy for multiple
Next John gave me a short demo/tutorial on using Fusion 360 to make 3D drawings of parts. Learning 3D drafting is on my bucket list, so it is a skill I want to learn. The demo blew me away!  John was able to draw quickly some parts, in this case a wagon wheel. I need to budget some time to get that program and learn it. It is free if your business makes less than $100K a year! Great for a cottage business like mine.

John also showed me some of the videos he did using injection molding machines. He was a CNC router that he can use to make aluminum molds. He has two injection molding machines, so he can make styrene parts.  It goes on, he also has tools to rapid prototype printed circuit boards, including some machines, such as a pick and place machine, that he built himself. I now have some serious tool envy!  We really need to convince John to move to the DC area.

To follow more of John's work see his blog  and his youtube channel.

March 2, 2019

Back to my roots?

Scene from a Johnny Reb  game depicting Gettysburg with some photoshop smoke.
I was feeling under the weather this week, and my mom was ill too, so I did not get  much modeling done. However, on Friday, my buddies JD Drye and Mark Franke, invited me to participate in  miniature war-game depicting combat in France in 1944.  I decided to accept their gracious invite, especially since some of the models we would use were painted and detailed by JD and Mark, both experts in that hobby.

I used to do a lot of war-gaming, both in miniature, and board games, and some computer games before taking up model railroading. Since I was primarily a Mac OS user, the selection of decent computer war-games was slim, so I didn't partake much. But I did a lot of miniature gaming, particularly with John Hill and his Johnny Reb system.

John exhibits exceptional sportsmanship as he acknowledges an extremely lucky
57mm anti-tank shot that destroyed the sole armor support he had in the scenario.
As I got more into model railroading, I let my gaming interest wane. In fact, in the past 20 years, I had played just one miniature wargame.  There were several reasons for that.

First, model railroading is a great, multi-faceted  hobby that can be very time consuming. If you want to get a layout done, you have to stay focused. That might sound odd from me, as I dabble in lots of things, but the Aquia Line has been a steady current though all the conflicting tides of disparate projects, museum models and other diversions.

The second reason is that wargaming can be competitive. Life is tough enough without more competition. On the other hand, model railroading is cooperative. I like that aspect of the hobby. It's one of the reasons I am not a fan of model railroad contests, though I do occasionally partake them. Afterwards, I usually ask myself, why did I do that?  About a few years will transpire and I will go through the same cycle. Doh!

Model railroaders is also a very social hobby. Even though we spend lots of time alone in the basement, we can share the hobby with a world wide fraternity through writing, blogs, joint work sessions, open houses, RPM meets, and the NMRA. My wife is no longer amazed about how, regardless of where we travel, there is usually a fellow model railroader we can visit.

By modeling a Civil War railroad I was able to combine my interest in military history with model railroading. I feel my civil war era railroad allowed me to opportunity to learn a lot about American political, technology, military, and economic history.  At the same time, I was able to develop a somewhat unique railroad that also allows for fun operations.

I also had a nagging feeling that some aspects of war-gaming trivialize combat, especially WWII. Many war-gamers are infatuated with German WWII weaponry, while ignoring the attendant horror. I studied WWII quite a bit in my high school and college days, but I didn't have much urge to wargame it. I used to say to folks, I lose interest in war-gaming with the advent of the machine gun and its wholesale slaughter.

However, JD and Mark spoke highly of the WWII game system they were starting to play. It's called Bolt Action. It's a skirmish level game meaning that battles that are platoon to company size with individual soldiers and vehicles.  I picked up the copy of the rules and it did appear that the game system captured the fire and movement of WWII tactics without too much complexity. Being a former Army officer, a realistic simulation of tactics is important if I am to appreciate a game or simulation.

The Bolt Action system is oriented to using 28mm figures, which scale out to about 1:56. Somewhere between S and O scale. I should note that I have hundreds of 28mm civil war figures on my layout as forced perspective objects.  But I was dubious that such large scale figures could work in a game, after all weapon could fire across the  room if done to scale.

Armored vehicles are primary targets in a situation like this.
JD did his utmost to neutralize this Sherman, even
after it was immobilized by an anti-tank round from his
 armored vehicle.
So I went into the game Friday with an open, but skeptical mind. Unfortunately, Mark had to cancel at the last minute, but JD and I went ahead. JD had created a nicely detailed terrain board with an interesting, freelanced scenario.  The game system presented a lot of difficult decision making. It did reward sound tactics, but luck and some gamesmanship played a part too. Overall it was an enjoyable experience, and I would probably like to see how works in other scenarios too. The larger figures worked out well since the game focuses on infantry combat, with armor and artillery in support.

Part of the enjoyment of the miniature war-gaming hobby is making an interesting, but functional terrain board.  Some people care less about this and are happy to play over a plain table, but most others prefer a nicely detailed scene. I learned many of the scenery techniques I use today in model railroading from building war-gaming terrain.

War-gaming terrain has to be tough as it gets handled a lot in the games. It should be reconfigurable as to allow use in multiple scenarios. However, I specialized in making detailed pieces for each battle. For example, I  once made a detailed model of the Marshall House that was about 2 by 2 feet for use in a large wargame depicting the battle of Cedar Creek. Unfortunately, I never got any good photos of those terrain pieces. I do have some scenes from a Gettysburg game, see above.

The Bolt Action game was a fun diversion. JD and Mark are good friends and any excuse to hang out with them is welcome. Mark commented to me, that he is glad he is getting into WWII gaming as it is causing him to go back and research things that he had forgotten or never knew. All of our parents participated in the war in some manner, so it is a way for us to think about their sacrifices in a pleasant setting. As JD says, "our soldiers don't bleed."

February 24, 2019

More Spoor!

Three weathered cars for Mike
Mike Spoor stopped by this afternoon to work on some projects for his new switching layout.  His layout is based on an industrial switching district on the former Rock Island line in Houston Texas in the 1980s.

First we weathered three boxcars. Mike doesn't have an airbrush, so we used mine. Of course, the airbrush was acting up because I had damaged the nozzle when I last used it. After swapping out the nozzle we were able to spray some basic rust and grime on the cars. Then we added some rust spots, scratches, streaks and other weathering using acrylics and brushes.

Next we built some trees using Supertrees and some plastic styrene tubes. Mike's layout is set in  the summer time. So he needs green trees. I have a lot of excess Supertrees so we used them to make a batch of deciduous  trees.

To thicken the trucks, we used 1/8th and 3/16th inch Evergreen tubing. To taper the trunks we used sandpaper and sanded gesso.

Finally, Mike went to work on PoLA finishing up remaining work from the last op session, since I hadn't touched the cars in the interim. There was only about 20 minutes of work to do and he took care of it before dinner.

At dinner, Mike told Alicia and I that he plans to switch to the Army reserve and stay in the Charlottesville area for a few more years as a private contractor.  This is good news for us, as Mike is a good operator and a nice guy. He will continue to be a welcome addition to our ops group.


February 23, 2019

Egg Creams - The Joys and Tribulations of Freelanced Railroading

Peter Clarke and Bob Rodriguez working the west end of Cortana yard. In the background is the operator, Bryan Kidd. 

If you ever met Pete LaGuardia, you would have no doubt about where he grew up. Pete has a thick New York, Bronx to be exact, accent. But behind that distinctive brogue is a delightful and generous man who has a wonderful model railroad. (see  I had the opportunity to operate that railroad today.

Pete, in his infinite wisdom and generosity, assigned to me the job of Cortana Yardmaster. He said, "I gave you that job because I thought you'd like it."  Classic Pete, always thinking of his guests first.  But would it be a decision he regretted?  Now, Cortana is the main classification yard for his railroad.  It requires two engine crews and a yard master to run. Without a smooth running yard, the railroad could grind to a halt.  Putting it in the hands of a first time boomer  who is also a notorious night bug,  for an early morning op session might be a formula for disaster. So what happened?

Let's take a step back and give a bit of background. Pete, as I mentioned above is a New York aficionado. His basement is decorated with all manner of New York artwork and memorabilia, including lots of New York Yankee souvenirs. Being a native New Yorker myself, actually a Brooklynite, and also a die hard Yankee fan, I fit right in.   At one point as we compared notes,  we discussed a native New York drink - the egg cream. The modern egg cream has neither eggs nor cream, but it was a delightful creamy chocolate flavored soda. It must be made fresh and consumed quickly. It doesn't bottle well, so it never really spread beyond New York.

Political side note, the current doings in New York make me hesitant to publicize my New York heritage. The New York of my childhood of the 1950s was a nice place to grow up. Every neighborhood was like a small town. People knew each other and looked out for each other. Each neighborhood was typically a distinct ethnicity that developed organically. Neighborhoods ebbed and flowed as people came and went. Most people got along and enjoyed what each neighborhood offered.   It was a diverse and mind expanding place to live. However, by the  late 1960s misguided policies lead to serious problems. Many neighborhoods decayed to graffiti covered wastelands awash with drug abuse. A dangerous place to attend high school. So my parents decided to leave. Later, the city underwent an amazing renaissance under Giuliani. His approach was to start with small problems, like cleaning up graffiti,  and push up. It worked. I did a bike ride across the five boroughs in early 2000 and was amazed at how nice the city had become. I hope it can stay that way, though the distant news coverage is not promising.
John Swanson at Alfano

Back to Pete's layout. Pete wanted to model the New York Central in the city with tall buildings and car floats. But, he also loved the Santa Fe Railroad. So he freelanced his railroad, naming many of the towns after his relatives. Being of Italian heritage, the towns sound like a line though Italy - Calamia, Alfano,  Rinaldi, Cortana, etc.  Great, now how to create an operating scheme that made sense? Enter Steve King. Steve is a legendary model railroad operations guru. For many years he actually worked as a dispatcher for a real railroad before becoming a consultant.  Steve has written books on prototype and model railroads, especially, 19 East, Copy Three, which he cowrote with David Sprau.  Steve helped Pete develop a realistic operating scheme for his freelanced railroad.

One of the key decisions was to decide where to place the railroad geographically. They came up with  The Western Illinois Division of the New York Central.  It would operate from Kansas City, Omaha, and Des Moines on the west, through Moberly (MO) and Hannibal (MO), to Danville (IL) and Indianapolis (IN) on the east.  The car float operations were notionally on the Mississippi River. So Pete had his big city and Santa Fe passenger trains.

Phil Raymond's veteran experience as east end switch crew
 was quite helpful
But Pete also had a confused yard master. While I am a student of geography, I had trouble figuring out where the various destinations were in relation to my assigned yard. Fortunately, Pete has provided excellent documentation both on the paperwork he emailed prior to the op sessions and on the layout to help boomers figure it all out. It took me a few minutes to digest all the info, including how to use the telephone to the operator. My yard crew, Pete Clarke (also a first timer on the Western Illinois Div) and Phil Raymond (a veteran on the layout) were very helpful in keeping things moving along. Mat Thompson, as the western staging yard master, and Bob Rodriguez, who ran several transfer runs into the yard, were also very helpful.

The Cortana Yard is huge, with seven classification tracks, two arrival-departure tracks, and two through tracks. So we had plenty of room to do the switching work that making and breaking the trains required, even for the 24-car train maximum limit. All in all, it worked very well.  Pete has some added touches, like an automated double slip switch and the aforementioned telephone system, that simplified a potentially complex operation.  There were several through trains, transfer runs and trains that originated in the yard, including a long local.

Coal mine across the aisle from Cortana yard
I never got to see much of the rest of the layout but about a dozen other operators were busy doing their tasks.  All in all an impressive model railroad.

After the session, Marie Ann, Pete's wife, provided a delicious lunch buffet of baked chicken, meatballs, and tortellini.

When I got home, I hung a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the wall over my dispatcher's desk. Even though my associates on the ACWRRHS forum thought  that a painting of Lincoln would be rare in a dispatcher's office, my brother decided to paint one for me for my birthday (or should I say our birthday, as we are twins). So there it is.  It looks good. He did a nice job on the painting.

February 9, 2019

Op Session 18 The Baltimore Bunch

(L to R) Tim, Will, David and Fred pose by Brooke
Tim Laskey and David Betz switch train 8 at Falmouth
Lauren Baker and George Payne build train 7 at Falmouth
Amby Nangeroni ran PoLA on his own and had his hands full.
He is supervised by Roux, official dog of the USMRR Aquia Line
We hosted the 18th Op session on the Aquia Line and 23rd on PoLA today. Eric Payne brought four other folks from his crew with him. They included his dad, George, Lauren Baker,  Tim Laswell, and David Betz.  Lauren was the first female crew member on the Aquia Line for an official session.   We also had the pleasure of visits by Fred Hutchison and his son, Will. Fred is a fraternity brother of mine who is planning a 1:24 scale narrow gauge layout in his garage.

This was an experienced crew and they ran the railroad expertly. It was fun to watch them work.

I managed the dispatcher's desk and maintained a train sheet for the first time on the Aquia Line. We ran an extra train, so I had to write some train orders. The crews reported OS verbally since the telegraph system is not yet operational.

Meanwhile Amby Nageroni worked PoLA. He had his hands full as a one-man crew and wasn't able to finish the job before he had to head home.

In the debrief we discussed the various options for expanding the layout. Amby and Eric like the redesign  v28d with the long peninsula, While George, Lauren , Tim, Terry, Chase (my son) and Alicia all prefer the Fredericksburg Extension.  It's unclear which plan Roux prefers. To compare plans see the Fredericksburg Extension plan here. The alternative, V28d,  is shown below.

Today we saw a situation where a longer mainline of V28d would make more interesting operation. That is when an inferior train is late. The superior train can leap frog ahead of the time table as long as it maintains a 10 delay. Inferior trains that are late must be especially careful. Resolving this situation would work better, i.e. with more skin in  the game, if there were additional stations to jump to. Also,   A longer run would also allow more trains on the RR at  one time. So running extras would be much easier to accommodate and might be routine.

The main drawback of V28d is that we lose the distinct Burnside Wharf switching area.

It's a tough call. I'm still undecided. But, I will say that operation sessions like this on the Aquia Line convince me that any option of the Aquia Line is preferable to the other more modern ideas I  have considered. I intentionally lined up train 7 with nine cars today and the challenges of working longer trains on the Aquia Line convinced me that I need to build longer sidings to accommodate ten-car trains.  TT&TO with ten car trains will make for very interesting op sessions.

Signal rules for extra train
We had some questions today on the signal flags that the trains should use when running an extra. Here is the applicable page from the rule book.  These rules are a bit confusing, it's no wonder there were accidents.  Typically, when looking at prototype Train Sheets we see that they usually had extra trains follow a scheduled train. That means the scheduled train displays red flags in front, while the extra displays white flags, as long as no other extra is also following that extra.   That is what we did today.

First time we tried maintaining a train sheet for the session.
The telegraph is not operational;
so crews verbally OS'ed, at least some of the time.
Terry working on the 2-8-0

On Friday, Terry Terrance stopped by to provide some technical advice on disassembling an O scale Weaver 2-8-0 for conversion to P48. I am doing some experimenting with P48, mostly out of curiosity. I don't expect to build a large P48 layout in the future.

Version 28d

February 7, 2019


First prototype wagon wrk in progress
Army supply wagons have been on my do list for several years. So this evening, I thought I take a crack at making one. This is the first test model. It was tricky, as the suspension is quite involved and not entirely clear to me how it works. For example, there is a long pole that runs from the front axle to the rear of the wagon called the coupling pole. I am not sure what it does.

 The back wheels are the same castings that I made for my artillery. The front wheels are from a wargame kit. Turns out the the back wheel of a 28mm wargame wagon (or artillery piece) is the correct size for the front wheel on a 1/48th scale wagon. The wagon looks ok, but does need some adjustments.  I modeled the frame and suspension like the prototype with mortised parts, etc. Too bad you really can't see them.  I have 60 mules from old Borax wagon kits, so I could support up to 10 6-mule wagons, plus some without mules.

Now, you didn't think I would stop track planning, did you?

I played around with the v28 pan  to see what kind of access I can get behind the wharf at Aquia Landing.  There is room for a decent access pit in the corner.  The problem is that one must duck under the bench work to get to it.  I could take down the coved sky board and open up that door to the home office, which was the former closet door.  That would provide walk-in access to the pit, but I really don't want to do that.  I like the idea of a nice big sky scene behind the wharf.  Only young and thin operators can go back there. Since the number of my operators that fit that description can be counted one hand after a horrible table saw accident, Burnside's Wharf must go.  Don't worry, I have a plan for that. Stay tuned.

February 6, 2019

Gaming the system

I reworked the decision matrix to group the G&Ds by priority. This allowed me to better understand which G&D's were contributing to the scores. With the G&Ds grouped by priority, it became apparent that the crew rest area and mainline run for TT&TO were a key points. The Fredericksburg extension scores well by having a good crew lounge and high scores on several lower priority G&Ds.

So, how can I design a layout that includes a decent crew lounge while also having a maximum mainline and all stations with double ended passing sidings. All of those are high priority items. While I'm at it, how about another big bridge? 

I decided to try a plan with a large pit by Falmouth. The idea for this plan came from sketching other O scale standard gauge plans with large minimum radius. Those plans have huge turn-back loops and pits that can repurposed. How about doing that here?

I rotated Aquia Landing into lower left corner.   This creates a really deep scene, in an area where the backdrop is already painted with a scene I really like, I don't want to lose that. But where to put Burnside Wharf? I went back to an earlier idea I examined where Burnside Wharf is a single track along the back wall. It will be hard to access, so cars on that wharf will have to remain coupled.  I can add an access pit behind the main wharf for emergencies and maintenance.  There is the option that Burnside's Wharf could  be extended into the home office with this plan too, but I don't expect to do that. 

One thing we have found in op sessions is that the third yard track at Aquia landing is rarely used. So this plan uses that track as a lead to Burnside Wharf. The other tracks create a long double ended siding with two crossovers. There is a stub siding to park the passenger and mail cars. 

The wye is gone and replaced by a turntable, which I conveniently have already built.  The aisle by the turntable is tight due to my work shop. But that is the case for all the plans I considered. 

On the other side of the room is Falmouth. In this plan Falmouth and Aquia landing no longer share an aisle. I think this arrangement  gives a better sense of "going somewhere."  The mainline run is good too, with 193 feet, about 1.75 scale miles, or about 27 design train lengths.  There is minimum hidden track, less than 11% is hidden.

The crew lounge shares the aisle with Falmouth. The aisle here is seven feet by 15 feet, that's the size of a small bedroom.  The old saying about the aisle is the cheapest design feature in a model railroad applies. To make the couch fit better, the central peninsula climbs to 54 inches. So folks that sit on the couch will not hit their heads on the overhanging benchwork. 

For added wow factor, I added a large trestle on the central peninsula. This is essentially the same bridge I planned for the Fredericksburg extension, though I would build it like the famous bean pole trestle. The nice thing about putting it in the location shown on the plan is that it can travel over a 15 inch deep gorge without interfering with anything below it. The creek here would be named Mueller's Run in honor of fellow ACW modeler, Al Mueller, who passed away late last year.

I added drawings of some operators in scale. With two trains running and a dispatcher. you can see that the basement is not crowded. Adding a third train as an extra will not crowd things too much.  I will adjust the schedule to match the new distances. No longer will there be meets at Brooke. Most scheduled meets will be at Potomac Creek or Stonemans. No changes will be needed for the telegraph system. I will need to build some more freight cars, but no new engines would be needed. 

Going back to the matrix, this plan has the top score, by a big margin. It pays to game the system.

Should I stop track planning now?

February 3, 2019

No, not more layout designs?

What, more layout designs? Come on Bernie, get a job.   Wait this is my job. You know what they say, do the job you love. So here goes.

I revised the Decision Matrix. I realized that the matrix ratings of 0-3 really didn't give enough granularity to discriminate between options. For example, Option A (the Fredericksburg extension) would be harder to builder than B (Falmouth extension) but both were getting the same score. So I adopted a 1-10 scale for ratings. In case of numerical parameters, like length of mainline, I was able to use this to score the ratings in proportion to their actual values. But most of the others are subjective ratings.

Also, I realized that I was using the "manageable" rating to cover two different aspects - ease of construction and maintenance requirements. Construction difficulty is not as big an issue to me as maintenance. So I broke that into two categories.

I also felt that I should have a category for open country running. My favorite scene on the existing layout is at Wielepp's cut, which is just a single track cutting through the country side. So I added country running as a rating.

Revised version C

As I thought about the previous matrix, I realized how important a crew lounge area is. I liked plan C but the loss of the crew lounge was killing the deal.

What if I shortened the Stonemans-Falmouth peninsula by 2 feet, while at the same time eliminated the wye at the lower left. That opens up some space so I could fit the couch and a TV in that corner of the room with at least three feet of clearance to the turn-back loop.  I traverse this aisle numerous times a day, so keeping the aisle here wide is a bonus.

For added wow-factor, I added a 4 or 5  foot long trestle to the central peninsula between Stonemans and Falmouth. That helps compensate a bit for the lack of the big bridge at Fredericksburg.

This plan shows a full Burnside Wharf in the Home Office. But that is a future add on that might not happen. In the meantime, the siding in the far lower left corner is the Burnside Wharf  set-up track. it provides some but not all the functionality of the actual Burnside Wharf. If I wanted to go all in, then I would build the Burnside Wharf shown here. The engine house would help disguise the hole in the backdrop.

Another thought occurred to me with regard to the double deck layout. One of the things I did not like about the previous double deck plan is that I would have to rebuild most of the layout in the front room to make it climb the required height, not to mention my wife freaking out about cutting through the stairwell.

What about a double deck version of Option C? If I started with Option C,  and put a grade on the central peninsula, it could climb above Aquia Landing. The peninsula has about 40 feet of run. At 2% the track would climb about 9.5 inches. If I also dropped the approach to Aquia Landing, that could get about 2 to 3 inches down. That could create a deck separation of 14-15 inches between a lower and upper deck.  I would need the maximum length peninsula, so the crew rest area is more cramped than Option C.

Partial double deck plan with 230 feet of mainline run, but another 30 feet of hidden
hard-to-access track.
This might sound promising to double deck devotees, but I don't like it. The upper level will run across the back of Aquia Landing. Some of the ships masts are taller than the deck separation.  This will look awkward.

Aquia Landing is one of the most importance scenes on the layout. Why ruin it with a track running across it in the sky?

It might be possible to move the upper track behind the backdrop at Aquia Landing  by moving  the wharf out 4 inches, and putting the upper level on a narrow shelf (see plan at the left).  This creates a long stretch of hard-to-reach hidden track. The extra hidden portion could be on a grade. Thus, the overall grade from Stonemans to the end of the hidden section is less than 2%.  That's a good thing, but  I'm not sure the extra 50 feet of main line run  is enough compensation for the drawbacks of the hidden run, somewhat cramped access at Falmouth near the workbench, and the extra complexity.

After all this machination, it's still a very close thing. Option C is starting to look like the best option both in numerical ratings and my gut feel. In addition, it gets CINCHOUSE (aka as my wife) approval. It is also interesting to note the the PoLA expansion moved up in sum of ratings, but got surpassed by the O scale Maine Central branch when priorities were factored in. PoLA as rated in this chart loses a lot of points for complexity as it has below grade staging and a section of CTC. A simplified version of PoLA with open staging and not CTC would score a lot higher.

This weekend, Leighton Moreland stopped by to visit the layout. I met Leighton at Caboose Hobbies last year when I visited the new store. He was in town before starting a new job as a civil engineer building bridges. He models in HO and O. He liked the PoLA layout, but really loved the O scale layout. I showed him the paper mock up of the Rappahannock River bridge and he liked it. Don't tell him I might not build it.   We tried running some of the BNSF diesels on PoLA, but as usual we could only get one to work due to fracking DCC glitches.  However, we did run the Aquia Line and it worked flawlessly. Score another one for the Aquia Line!

February 2, 2019

Decision matrix analysis of layout alternatives

Will the standard gauge O scale layout win the analysis?
With all these layout ideas floating around, Marty suggested, most likely with his tongue firmly in his cheek, to take a relook at the decision matrix. But I was curious, so I did it. The result was somewhat unexpected.

I analyzed 7 options. A, B, C and D are expansions of the Aquia Line. E is an expanded PoLA as I have drawn in the past.

F is a DRGW Soldier Summit based plan that I sketched out in some detail, but never did a final version. It has a double track mainline, CTC, Castle Gate,  a steel mill, the Utah Railway I/C, and several coal mines.

The last, G,  is an O Scale standard gauge plan with a On30 narrow gauge interchange. I just have drafts of this plan, but I do have some rolling stock for it (see image above). The other nice thing about it is that many of the ships, trees, and some structures of my ACW layout could be reused on it. However, the plan is set in the 1920s and trying to find rolling stock for it makes it take a hit for manageability. It is interesting that when I mentioned the Maine idea to my wife, she was excited and said, "ohh good, we can go there to research it." Somehow I think think this means more golf.

The first analysis sums numerical rating of 0 to 3 to rate each G&D. It also assigns a priority to each G&D so I can calculate a weighted sum of ratings by priority. In this analysis, the higher numbers are better. Just looking at the sum of ratings we see that three of the Aquia Line plans are tied. This makes sense as the three designs give up one thing to get another. The winner will be decided by the priority assigned to each G&D. The DRGW plan comes in last. When you take the weighted average by priority, the Fredericksburg Extension is the winner.  The DRGW is still last, but the Aquia double deck is second to last.

For you non-parametric statisticians out there, this next matrix uses ranks instead of priorities and weights. I ranked each layout design in order for each G&D. There were lots of ties in these rankings, that is why you see rankings repeated.  In this analysis, low numbers are better.

The reason E&F get ranked low for reliable engines has to do with DCC programming issues. I really don't cherish the idea of trying to manage a fleet of 20 or so locomotives and their DCC idiosyncrasies.  However, once dialed in, the HO engines with keep alives are good runners. The Fredericksburg Extension ties for the lead with  option B, moving Falmouth to the TV room. All ACW plans win this analysis, even the double deck  Aquia plan. However, now the Maine Central layout finished last. I don't like the rank matrix as much as it doesn't do as good a job at showing how important  a particular parameter is.

Overall, I was surprised because I thought option C would win. But losing the crew lounge was a big hit, as was not having Burnside wharf as part of the plan.  The Fredericksburg Extension is the winner  by a narrow margin over the other Aquia Line expansions. However, even if I zero out the priority for crew lounge, the Fredericksburg extension still wins by a nose.   If I were to drop the Aquia Line,  the PoLA expansion is the way to go.

January 31, 2019

What no Mushroom?

The previous plan has a lot going for it, but I was concerned about the width of the aisle between Falmouth and Aquia Landing. To widen that aisle, I needed to shrink the width of the large peninsula. I looked at a mushroom design but quickly abandoned the idea. It would require a three turn helix and third tunnel. Here is what that unfinished plan looked like if you are curious.

Instead, it occurred to me that the simplest solution was a single narrower peninsula divided by a sky-board, thereby creating two long scenes about 18 inches wide on both sides of the peninsula. This peninsula allows plenty of room for the main aisle between Aquia Landing and Falmouth.

The backdrop would be about 24 inches tall. The existing lights might create some unwanted shadows with such a backdrop. But I could install some more recessed lights in strategic spots in the ceiling to deal with them. That is a relatively easy job.

The other issue is the crew rest area. The couch I have in the basement is quite wide about 37 inches. That makes it good for naps, but tough to fit in the remaining layout spaces. It might be time to donate that couch to one of my kids and replace it with a couple smaller chairs. I already have several stools placed around the layout for my crew (and my arthritic hip)  to sit on and take rests. 

Also, I dulled out the Burnside Wharf expansion as that is very unlikely to get built. I have other plans for that area. One thing this plan needs is a better simulacrum of Burnsides Wharf. I need to think some more about how to do that.

Yet another track plan

I started my last post by saying I don't really like double deck layouts. It's true, the double deck plan I drew just didn't work for me. So I started sketching more ideas.

This one goes back to an earlier idea I had that involves relocating Aquia Landing. The neat thing about this plan is that I can use my existing wharf. I would have to trim the water area to fit, and install some water at the far right. But I would not have to rebuild the main wharf and car flat ramp.
The other key feature that I need to maintain is a crew rest area. I moved it from the main room to the front room. I omitted the large infantry camp diorama once planned for the former location of Falmouth and installed the couch there. The TV would be mounted on the far wall between  Battery Schaefer and the new tunnel.

 By moving the crew area there, I freed up the main room for a large peninsula. This would house a new Stoneman's Station and Falmouth. I tried to maximize the aisle between Falmouth and Aquia Landing as there would frequently be two crews operating in that aisle together, though the Aquia Landing Crew has other areas they need to work too.

The plan has the longest main line run of all the single deck plans I looked at. It would be about 180 feet. More importantly,  all stations have double ended passing sidings. All are long enough for 10 car trains except Brooke.  Falmouth has facing and trailing point sidings, making switching a little bit tricky. 

The central peninsula would probably not have have a sky board. It would rely on a ridge line that runs down the center and trees along the top to act as view blocks.  The top of the ridge would range from 62 to 68 inches high. Trees on top would bring it above my eye level. 

Burnsides Wharf doesn't need to be built right away, or at all. The set-up track can fulfill some, but not all,  of the switching chores for the actual wharf.  Getting to Burnside's Wharf would require cutting a hole in a door that is semi-permanently closed.  I can't remove the door without taking down the sky board. This plan preserves that sky board as I like how it came out whenI painted it.

This plan also leaves open the option for a rebuild of Potomac Creek to a full size bridge, but it is an option and not required. 

January 30, 2019

A double decked Aquia Line

I normally am not a big fan of double deck layouts. I was reading the 2019 MRP and was impressed by Michael George's P48 layout double deck layout. His space is a bit smaller than mine, but the double deck let him achieve a a nice long run. It is also very nicely done. He relied on a narrow upper shelf to make it work. It doesn't have a cluttered look that many other double deck railroads have.

I wondered, could I do a double deck railroad in my basement? I knew the answer was a yes, as I have drawn a few HO and O scale double deck designs in the past. But they were clean slate designs with a different prototype. How could I modify the Aquia Line to a double deck?

If you read my 10 Year After Action Review a couple posts back. you know that some the things I'd like to change on my layout. One is more distance between towns and longer sidings in each town.

However, there are couple other druthers I'd like to have if I could.

  1. More distance between Aquia Landing and Burnside's Wharf. They were actually a mile apart. On a 13 mile line, that is a significant distance.  
  2. Potomac Creek was a double ended siding on the prototype. It would be nice to have that on the layout as it sets up more places to meet.  
  3.  I'd like to have room for more ships including the Passaic ironclad, and if possible a large side wheel steamer with masts.
  4. The bridge at Potomac Creek is about 56% percent of actual size. It would nice to model it full scale. 
So I started rough sketching. The same restrictions kept rearing their ugly head. The low ceiling over Brooke and the 54 inch clearance at the stairs. The eureka moment came when I decided to try a design where the double deck portion travels above the stair landing, instead of under. My wife freaked out when I mentioned this. However, this is not that big a deal as I would hide the track by modifying the wainscoting that is there is now. I would just move the wainscoting about 4 inches from the wall, and attach it with magnets so it would removable for maintenance. 

The stair landing is actually two steps with the higher part at 62 inches off the floor.   If I started a 2.7% grade at the end of Brooke, the track would be at  62 inches by the time it reaches the stairwell. I know my engines can handle a 1.5% grade as the line from Brooke to Aquia Landing actually is an up hill climb of 1.5%. I have run my tender drive locos with 14 cars up that grade and they can handle that. Can they handle 10 cars up 2.7%? That will require some testing. 

This is a rough plan of how a double deck might work.  The double deck section is only in the lower room. The upper room, the room with the low ceilings, remains single deck. I would rebuild the 40 feet of the railroad along the upper wall. The rebuild area would be on a 2.7% grade, including the bridge at Potomac, which would be at the full prototype length of about 400 feet.

Potomac Creek Siding would be a full sized, double ended.  The total main line run from Burnsides Wharf to Falmouth is now about 215 feet, almost 2 scale miles in O scale. The upper deck at 62 inches is the limit for what I can  comfortably reach to switch. Shorter operators will need step stools.

The aisles would be wider in the front room. A key concern is that the switching activity at Falmouth would be above the storage yard at Aquia Landing. That would get congested with operators if there were two trains working that area at once.  However, Burnside Wharf is further away from Aquia Landing in this design, so the crews building outbound trains are not near Aquia Landing as much as before.  If we ran extras to Falmouth, they would have to take turns doing their work.

The double deck section is generally an 18 inch wide shelf, that matches the width of the layout below, except over Burnside Wharf. That would allow me to have ships with tall masts on the lower deck in that area.  Lighting the 18 inch wide sections would be simple.

The rebuild would allow me to get rid of the remaining florescent lights, another objective of my ten year review.  The new sections would have minimum radius of 36 inches. The turn back curve at the current Falmouth would be eliminated.

Alicia demonstrates a swing gate from a previous layout.
The plan sticks to the prototype and omits the Fredericksburg expansion. So the purists will like that.

One of the concerns I have is that I would lose the nice sky backdrop at Aquia Landing. However this isn't that much a loss to me, as that corner is proving hard to photograph anyway. So photoshopping out a double deck section would not be a hard when I want to take photos.

This plan still has a generous crew lounge. The dispatcher's area is unchanged, except that the door way there would need removable sections. They could be attached to the existing door as  swing pieces. I've built one of those before and it worked fine.

January 28, 2019

Guards Armored Breakout of Normandy at Aquia Landing?

After a nice dinner party tonight, John Drye and Marke Franke asked if we could take some pictures of some tanks that Mark had built and painted. These are used in large scale war-gaming. The models are about 1:56 scale.  Mark and John are trying to recruit me back to the wargaming hobby.

We posed the tanks on an open area near Crozet Tunnel on my ACW layout. The first image started with a single exposure of the models with a Canon 70D and a 18-135mm zoom at f22 and ISO100. Then using some photoshop and a background photo from Normandy, a few air show images and some smoke effects we ended up with this.

Like model railroad shots, lower angle views are usually more realistic in this kind of model miniature photography too. This image used a series of six iPhone10 images shot with  the lens close to the ground. Then I aligned and focus stacked the images in Photoshop for extreme depth of field.  The P-51s are from a photo I took at the WWII VE Day 70th celebration over Washington, DC.

January 25, 2019

Ten Year After Action Review

As the tenth year anniversary of the Aquia Line ticks by, I thought I'd take some time to record some of the thoughts from this project. The military is infatuated with the concept of After Action Review (AAR), so let's call it that. Here we go. There is no particular order to these points, they are just some thoughts that I have considered.

1. Operations. I have been pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoy watching the layout come to life in operating sessions. Furthermore, I have been pleased to see that the layout offers interesting operations despite its simplicity. As of today, we still haven't had a perfect session, but we've come really close. Two-man crews seem to work the best.

2. Link and Pin couplers have been a success for most people, but there are some folks that just can't do it. So when we set up crews, we try to get conductor/brakemen that feel comfortable and capable at that job. I have lost some operators because they have trouble with the links and pins, and that is a shame.

3. Switch stands and frog juicers. Both of these have been wonderful.  I highly recommend frog juicers.

4. Batteries versus keep-a-lives. I love the battery system for its robustness. I just wish the throttle response was better. With the antennas in the boilers tubes, which is basically a faraday cage that attenuates radio signals, the throttle response is not ideal. I suppose I should look into improving that.

5. Working brakes They have been fun to implement, but have-not been a factor in op sessions. I'm OK with that.

6. Pet peeves - some things that annoy me

  1. Gearbox noise from the locomotives.
  2. The florescent lights I used over Brooke and Potomac Creek - I'm gradually switching to LEDs
  3. Difficulties with programming DCC -aaarrrrg, luckily not much of an issue on the Aquia Line now.
  4. Lack of military figures in relaxed and working positions. I may have to do something about that with my spin caster.
  5. Not much rusty metal to weather in this era and no colorful graffiti to model
  6. Track kinks due to humidity changes
  7. Comments about destroying the layout during a visit. Yes, it's a wartime railroad, and you might have been raised south of the Mason Dixon line, but these type of comments have proven rude and tiresome to me.
7. Possible improvements. The things I would change to the layout to improve it are

  1. Remove the tight turn back curve at Falmouth
  2. Provide more aisle space at Falmouth as that is a busy switching location, especially when two trains are there at the same time
  3. Have longer sidings to support 10 car trains
  4. Longer runs between stations

The first three would be satisfied by an expansion of the layout into the crew lounge. That would also partially address the fourth point, though only at the southern end of the railroad.

8. Future plans. I have often wondered what will come next for my model railroad endeavors. Part of me wants to start a whole new project just for the fun of building. But, a bigger part of me wants to savor what I have done and perhaps expand it.
I really don't want to start another 10 year project. I think back to friends that were at my age when they started new layouts. Most never completed them. There have been some notable exceptions though.

9. Layout visitors and this blog. Hosting visitors and sharing the layout through this blog has been a source of major enjoyment for me.  Thank you for sticking with me. 

10. Sometimes, when I go into the basement and look at the layout, it almost surreal. I think, "I can't believe this is here."  But then I think about how much work and fun it was to build, and the good fortune I have had to have a supportive wife, family,  and friends, and the health and means to pursue it.  I realize I have been very lucky. Yes, there is much for which to be thankful. 

There you have it. Ten points, one for each year.  What do you think? 

January 21, 2019

The Tenth Anniversary of the Layout

It's hard to believe, but about ten years on this date I started building the USMRR Aquia Line. This is a good opportunity to look back on what my helpers and I have accomplished, and to look ahead. I will do that in the next week or so with some additional posts. In the meantime, please enjoy this short video celebrating the railroad. It includes some special effects and special guests.

January 19, 2019

Dispatcher's Telegraph Station

I finished building the desk for the dispatcher's telegraph station.  I still need a few items to make the look more authentic such as a vintage clock, appropriate  artwork, a lantern, ink well, wooden chair, and a telegrapher’s key. And yes, the flag is correct for March 1863. It has 34 stars as West Virginia is not yet a state.  The USMRR did have lanterns with their initials on the glass globe. It would be awesome to find one, but in the meantime, a regular lantern will suffice.'

Note that the artwork of the Baldwin  Tiger 4-4-0 is a silver on glass "print" from the Franklin Mint that my parents bought about 50 years ago to decorate the bedroom for my brothers and I.  Was this a foreshadowing of what was to come?

This was the "easy" part. Next comes wiring of the control panels at each station. The solid panel in the center will display the station lights and a "clear" button.

Using a track saw and parallel guides to rip pieces as I
don't have table saw. The parallel guides
are a bit tricky to calibrate, but they can result in
good cuts.
Here are some photos showing the construction of the desk and cubby holes. Alicia says I should build chair for it too. I think I'll just buy one.

I used tools from the Festool system to fabricate the parts. The Festool system is ideal for a small shop where you don't have room for lots of bulky, specialized tools, like a table saw.  However, this project  convinced me that the next job will be to build a workbench that allows me to access the Festool boxes without having to unstack them when I need a different tool.

Cutting the top to size using Parf dogs and a Festool MFT to
keep the track saw square.

I used a Festool domino to machine attach the
legs to the frame. However, the tool visible in the photo is a
Festool Rotex sander, probably the tool I used the most in this project.
The dust collection of this tool is outstanding.

Drawer is full extension.

I used lots of clamps to glue the face frame to the pigeon hole box