December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

I started this drawing about four years ago, and decided to finish it today. It's  a generic scene on a civil war railroad, perhaps on the line heading out of Aquia Landing.

December 28, 2010

Two Interesting Letters from J. B.Clough and W. W. Wright

One of the great things about publishing this blog is the feedback I get from the readers. A few weeks ago I was delighted to receive a email from Jim Clough. His great-great grandfather was J. B. Clough,  Chief Engineer of the USMRR railroads in Virginia. He was the engineer responsible for the USMRR A&F line in the period I am modeling. I was unaware of J. B. Clough until his descendent Jim Clough brought him to my attention.

After a quick search, I found that there are many letters from J. B. Clough in the National Archives. Most were written to Ada Anderson, his friend and boss in Alexandria. I posted some of J. B. Clough's letters earlier.

Here is another very interesting letter written after the battle of Chancellorsville. I transcribed this letter below. Underlined portions are words I can not make out for certain.






Aquia Creek  May 10, 1863
A.    Anderson, Chief Engr.
I have just returned from Falmouth. I find the Army substantially in the same position it was before the fight commenced – and one would hardly know there had been a great battle except that the boys are now wide awake they don’t own they are whiped (sic). I have been about among the camps and stayed last night with a Battery that was in the thickest of the fight. They are all ready to move again. I think it will be ten days before a move is made.
I think I can put in a Y a little below Falmouth siding. I will put the instruments on to it tomorrow. I think I would be wise to move the oxen back to their old quarters. Sigger lending send as usual. Please answer by telegraph if this meets your wishes. Mr Franklin says Mr Wright was for using our timber. I take it that the timber is to remain where it is.
Fondly,
J.B. Clough

Three things are of interest to me in the letter. First, Mr Clough reports that the Army is is good spirits after the brutal battle and ready to move out. Second, in preparation for the assumed continued move south, he suggests that they put a "Y" in at Falmouth. Third, the issue of the oxen pops up again at the end of the letter.

Jim Clough wrote to me the following note about a letter JB Clough wrote to his wife on the same day,


I can add a bit as he (Joel B Clough)  wrote to his wife on May 10, 1863.   The battery he stayed with was 1st NY Artillery where a family friend Lester Richardson was assigned.    Lester had written Joel when Joel was at Potomac Creek. Since the 1st NY Artillery was stationed close to that location they got together there several  times during that period.    Joel said in the letter that two were killed and eleven wounded from Lester's Battery during the battle.


The fact about the "Y" is very important, as it tells me that there was no "Y" there before the battle, which is the period I am modeling. The idea of improving the facility at Falmouth implies that the Army intended to stay there and perhaps launch a second offensive. This was made moot by R.E. Lee's decision to advance to Gettysburg.

Sixty-foot Shad Belly Bridge at
Alexandria Shops
In a note related to the continued Union offensive, I found in the records from the Alexandria Railroad Wharf that on May 2, the USMRR shipped 12 pairs of prefabricated shad belly trusses on railroad barge number 6 towed by the steam tug "Kirkman." These bridges were to be used in the rebuilding of the RF&P south of Fredericksburg. I had read in a secondary source that USMRR had shipped these prefabricated bridges, but this confirms it. From a modeling perspective this is exciting, because a flat car loaded with a prefabricated bridge will make a very interesting model.

This letter is from W. W. Wright to Ada Anderson details a request for a flag and flag pole for the USMRR. According to the letter, the men of the USMRR were motivated to buy and display a flag after President Lincoln's visit to Aquia Creek in April, 1863. But this will be no ordinary flag. Wright calls or a thirty-foot flag on a 100- foot tall, two stage mast. That would be over two feet tall in O scale. I did not see this flag pole in any photos, so it is possible it did not get built. But for now I plan to add a 100 foot flag pole to the scene at Aquia Landing.

Note that President Lincoln visited Aquia Creek on three occasions November 26-27, 1862, April 4-7, and May 6-7, 1863. It was the November 1862 visit that inspired the "cornstalks and bean pole" comment.

It is the fascinating history involving people like Lincoln, Haupt, Anderson, Clough and Wright, and even Hooker and R. E. Lee, that make this such an attractive railroad for me to model.

Great backdrop painting

Michael Graf  is a custom model builder and painter from Sweden. He has posted some great step-by- step images of an urban backdrop scene he painted for his layout. Check it out at this link. The text is in Swedish, so you may need to translate. I recommend the Google Translate function.

Note his comment about curving the road as it moves toward the backdrop. That helps make the perspective look correct from multiple viewpoints.

December 27, 2010

Second Anniversary coming up!

It was about this time two years ago that I started work on this layout and blog. To celebrate I put together a new header graphic for the blog. It is a photo montage of a scene from my railroad, combined with a patriotic painting from the civil war era. The font is an Old English Incised type, the same that the railroad used on its documentation. The theme of the image is Victory Rode the Rails. The train is carrying the Union on its freight cars to victory.

The image below was the second choice - the railroad under stormy skies. The sky is an actual scene from the Potomac River a few winters ago. I use the Photoshop watercolor effect to make it look like a painting.



Which one do you prefer?

Given that my railroad is serving the Army of the Potomac in the time between two of the Army's worst defeats, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the second image may be more appropriate. But I like the patriotic feeling of the first image, and its colors work well with the blog.

Oh year, I got some work done on the layout too. The wet bar is painted and ready for road bed and track laying.

December 26, 2010

Aquia Landing in Detail

I have just about finished the basic benchwork, water surface (1/8th inch hardboard), ground surface (a layer of 1 inch Styrofoam boards), fascia (1/8th inch hardboard) and the cabinet under the layout.
Once the spackle mud dries, it will be sanded and all surfaces will get primed. The cabinet will be painted in the same color as the walls, with the trim in white.  The water surface will be dark blue and the ground the Ralph Lauren textured Adirondack Bark color. Then I'll be ready to lay roadbed and track. Yeah!

A head on view of the landing from the TV area of the room. Note how the cloud on the far left looks good even from this oblique view. I placed a piece of flex rack on the shore to give a feel of what the wharf will look like.


It is time to begin detailed design work for the wharf. Here is a close up examination of a prototype map and some photos to give me a better idea of what was actually there.

First is this close up of the close up of the map by Col G.H. Biddle's, 95th Reg NY Vols. for the proposed defense of Depot at Aquia Creek, showing the landing. See this link for a view of the complete map.

Notice at the base of the wharf there appears to be either a wye track arrangement, or perhaps just a tail track extending to the right.

There is photographic evidence of the tail track as can be seen in the next two extreme close up photos. These two similar photos taken from the bluff behind the landing shows lots of interesting detail.

There are box cars visible in both photos on the tail track. They actually look like cars spotted for unloading since they are spaced at various gaps, though it is hard to be sure.  Note on the right hand side in both photos there are moving trains, visible as blurred images, as well as stationary locomotives and cars. This implies that there are at least two tracks there to allow one train to move while others are parked.





Note the pile driver in this photo. Several of Clough's letters to Ada Anderson discuss the use and disposition of the pile driver, including the name of the tug that pulled it.

The pile driver visible in the bottom photo received considerable attention in the letters from J.B. Clough to Ada Anderson. I have not found a close up view of the pile driver. This is a greatly enlarged view of the pile driver from the photo above. Looks like it will be fun to build.

J.B. Clough's letter to Ada Anderson on 21 April, 1863 provides some detail on driving the "protection piles" for the wharf. In this letter Clough states that piles are driven 12 feet on centers.  I've attached Clough's letter at the bottom of this post if you wish to read it.

The photo below shows a close up detail on the pile construction. The piles appear to be logs and not cut timber.  The flat boards on the sides of the piles are straightening beams. I can't see evidence of bolts, but they must be there.   The beams on top of the piles are cut lumber. See the drawing below for a diagram from a contemporary Army manual on wharf construction, FM 5-480 that describes the terms.


This drawing from contemporary Army Manual 5-480 shows typical pile construction. The civil war era photo shows a simpler construction.

This is the text of J.B. Clough's letter to A Anderson describing pile driving at the Aquia Landing wharf.



December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas


Commissary Clerks at Aquia Landing, 1863


December 22, 2010

Notes from Visit to National Archives, Dec 22, 2010

I am compiling my notes from a visit to the National Archives tonight. I did two pulls today. The first looked at the Provost Marshall records and telegrams from Aquia Landing. The second was for more documents from Record Group 92, the USMRR Operations in Virginia.

I. During the time I am modeling BG Patrick's Brigade served as the Provost Marshall at Aquia Landing. The Provost was quite busy at this time as most of the Army was in winter quarters and no fighting was going on. Most of the messages and letters I reviewed dealt with assigning and changing guard and fatigue (work) details. Without going through all the documents in detail, here are some common themes and nuggets of interesting information.

A. Deserters were using ships at Aquia Landing to escape the Army. The Provost was quite busy with catching, jailing and moving deserters.

B. One or more ships were used as a prison at Aquia Landing.

C. There were several messages from the Quartermaster to the Provost requesting more guards for the wharf and or debating the sufficiency of the guards assigned. The Quartermaster was frequently concerned with theft of government goods.

D. Controlling who could ride the railroads and steam ships was a topic of concern for the Provost and the Quartermaster. One letter from General Hooker, the Commander of the Army, detailed instructions for selling newspapers on the wharf, railroads and ships.




E. Several messages discussed the disposition and strength of troops assigned to guard the railroad stations and bridges. I made copies of two reports that detailed men, fortified works, cannon and other details of the security forces. I even found a small hand drawn map stuck in the messages showing the locations of redoubt defending Aquia landing. The report mentions that at least one gunboat was assigned to cover gaps in artillery coverage over a swampy area.

F.  A document titled, "Instructions for the Guidance of Officers at Aquia" included:
  1. How to handle discharged regiments
  2. Office on Duty to be present on arrival of boats
  3. Keeping the wharf clear
  4. Who is allowed on the wharf
  5. The roles of the mail agent
  6. The officer of the guard to examine all passes to Washington
  7. What passes are good
  8. Division and brigade passes
  9. Those without proper passes
  10. Respect to be paid to officers
  11. Have a patrol present before each train departs
  12. Keep Strict watch on laborers
  13. Instructions respecting lights
  14. Provost Marshall to have a guard
  15. Officers to set an example for men (w/re to appearance and conduct)
  16. Prisoners to report for police work (police means to pick up litter, nothing changes in the military!)
  17. Privies - the covers basic sanitation rules. Most waste to be dumped in the river at a particular spot.
  18. Disposal of offal of sutlers shops, kitchens and restaurants
      G.  I found the letter at the right from General Hooker to BG Patrick, Provost Marshall requesting that if possible separate quarters on ships and separate railroad cars be designated for use by officers.  Guards would be assigned to insure that enlisted men did not use these designated facilities.  It also states that  officers only had to show their passes to other commissioned officers. 

      H. There was a regular mail ship that ran to Washington. Only certain clerks and persons could ride this ship.


      II. Record Group 92 had documents more directly related to the railroad. One of the files had hundreds of letters to Ada Anderson, the USMRR Superintendent. It seems that W.W.Wright Aquia Creek Superintendent, and J.B. Clough, Chief Engineer, wrote a daily letter to Anderson. The subjects were somewhat dry and typically covered administrative subjects, request for supplies, pay, personnel issues and often discussions of chain of command disputes. J.B.Clough had several letters were he discussed the use of oxen. Apparently the oxen were in great demand and he expended a great deal of time tracking and managing the animals.  I only found one letter that mentioned engineering details of the Potomac Creek bridge. It discussed a design change in the arch size that required new and longer iron truss rods.

      Several of Clough's letters discussed plans for the bridge over the Rappahannock River, assuming that the Army would continue to move south. Overall I found Clough's handwriting hard to make out. 

      The file also contained several letters from Haupt and McCallum to Anderson. Here are examples asking Anderson for summary reports.






















      Probably the most useful data I saw tonight was contained in the Report of Operations at Alexandria Rail Road Wharf. These monthly reports list a highly detailed day-by-day description of the traffic in and out of the wharf. These reports show that the car ferries to Aquia Landing usually ran down one day and returned the next. The barge and ferry names are listed as well as the road numbers of the cars transported.



      There are reports for  most months until the summer of 1865 (there are some gaps). They include traffic to City Point in 1864 and 1865 as well as Wilmington, NC in 1865. They show that car ferries did run from Alexandria to City Point during Grants siege. The sheet at the right is a good example of the type of information contained in these reports.

      Finally I copied some conductor reports for switching in the station at Washington DC.  Note the shorthand code for showing car type given on the bottom of the sheet. On the back of one of these sheets was a note describing how the train had killed a cow, but did not damage the equipment. I guess Washington, DC has changed quite a bit. I haven't seen too many cows downtown lately.
















      December 21, 2010

      Freight cars and cabooses on the USMRR at Alexandria

      I am preparing for another trip to the National Archives to continue research on the USMRR. In reviewing the documents I collected nearly two years ago I noticed the following chart which lists the types of cars in service on the USMRR Virginia in April 23, 1863. Note that the USMRR had 654 freight cars at its disposal, with 191 at Aquia Creek. The cars at Aquia Creek were comprised of 84 box cars, 106 flat cars and 1 passenger car.  Note that there were no stock cars listed at Aquia Creek.

      On June 1st the USMRR reported 88 box cars and 79 flat cars, with no passenger or stock cars at Aquia Creek.  This data will help me size my car fleet.  It will be a shame to not have any stock cars on the layout, so I may freelance that a bit, but note that stock cars comprised only 1 percent of the fleet. I do find it odd that I have a picture showing a conductors car in use as a telegraph hut at Stoneman's Station, but these reports make no mention of conductors cars until September.


      In the similar report for September 1863, there is a new class of cars listed, cabooses (see the highlighted section of the report). The word caboose has also been added to the box car roster shown below. These are the only occurrences of the word "caboose" I have so far seen in a civil war era documents . Has anyone else seen this term used in the ACW?

      Also note that 16 box cars were used as offices and 2 for hospitals.

      Finally, the next three  documents will very important to the freight car builder as they list the road numbers for each type of car in service on the USMRR at the time of the report.  These essentially form a roster of equipment, although the exact types of car are not listed. There are more pages available, but this should help you if you need to accurately number your freight car models. Click for larger images.



      Stock Cars

      Box Cars
      Flat Cars

      All of these pages came from the same book of USMRR Car Reports at Alexandria. The list of car numbers were the first pages (you can see the page numbers on the sheets),but were not dated. Presumably before the first quarterly report listed, which was Sept 1862. They could also have been adding car numbers to the roster as the cars came on board. The fact that there are different color inks used to enter the car numbers seems to hint that it was updated as cars came in, but I don't know for sure.

      December 18, 2010

      Backdrop at Aquia Landing

      I painted the backdrop at Aquia Landing today. Here is a shot showing the backdrop before I add the ships.


      This shot below is a closer look at the large dark cloud on the left side behind the future Burnside Wharf area. The dark cloud works in this area for two reasons. First, the room lighting falls off a bit as you approach the frame of the door. So the dark cloud there "explains" why the the lighting is less. Secondly, the door frame acts as a picture frame, cutting off the large cloud and avoiding the extreme expansion of the cloud as the perspective lines diverge.



      It would have been much trickier to execute this large cloud if the backdrop continued further to the left. For example, the photo at the right shows a large cloud in the center of the wall where there is no "frame" to set off the cloud. In this case, it is better to paint  flatter clouds and rely on atmospheric perspective to provide depth. Or more simply, just omit the large clouds that extend overhead and paint low clouds along the horizon.

      I plan do a post later to explain my theories on perspective in backdrop painting.

      Here is a quick and dirty time lapse video showing the backdrop as I painted it.


      The wet bar is taking shape. Marty stopped by on Thursday to wait for his son to arrive via Amtrak  at Alexandria Station. So I put him to work building benchwork. He made the usual gripes about how my tools are no good, but we managed to finish the framework to support the water surface at Aquia Landing. After he left I installed the hardboard water surface and the curved fascia pieces at the perimeter. Alicia likes how they came out.  I still need to get a few more pieces of lumber and hardboard before the benchwork is completely done in this section.





      With the door to the office closed, the basement looks like river front property :)

      December 17, 2010

      What does water look like?

      In my earlier effort at simulating water I used dark blue paint covered by several layers of Miniwax Gloss Polyurethane. Now that I am re-executing the water surface, I am wondering if I should use same technique. I like the technique because it is easy to apply, is very forgiving and mistakes can be fixed somewhat easily.

      My decision was reaffirmed when I saw Steve Borichevsky's blog, "Shooting My Universe," a blog that I follow. He posted this photo which looked almost exactly like the water surface I achieved with my earlier technique. Compare these two photos, my backdrop and water surface on the left and one of Steve's images on the right.


















      If you like photos of maritime New England, birds and seascapes, take a look at Steve's blog, "Shooting My Universe."


      December 16, 2010

      Advanced backdrop painting

      Backdrop painting is one of my favorite parts of this hobby. Probably the highest form of this art is practiced in museum dioramas. I highly recommend the following two links for more information on this subject.

      First is an essay about the Yale Peabody Museum Dioramas

      The essay in the above link is not complete, but even in its incomplete state, the information on color theory and perspective is invaluable.

      The second link is to a video from the National History Museum of Los Angeles that discusses their diorama and backdrop design and construction.


      I like how the artist uses his hand as a mask for airbrushing clouds. Again, note the emphasis on realism. Make sure you watch part 2 for leaf and tree making technique tips (at least for full scale models.)

      The consensus I get from both these sources is that a realistic backdrop greatly enhances a diorama. Since model railroads are basically moving dioramas, I believe we can learn a lot from studying this art form. In summary,  I am in the photo-realistic (but not photos camp) of backdrop execution. This quote from Wilson essay summarizes my view,
             It might be well to remember that the purpose of an exhibit is not to furnish its makers with a vicarious total recall of where they have been, but to communicate some of the lessons and excitement of the location to others who have not seen the site and therefore respond from a totally different premise.  In short, let us remember to speak to our visitors and not to ourselves.
      Finally, I found the following discussion from the Wilson essay apropos. It reminds me of the freelance versus prototype debate we get in model railroading,
           Other artists acknowledged that some of this academic knowledge was useful while painting, but that it must remain secondary to the artist's interpretation of the landscape. John Carlson, Wilson's one-time painting instructor wrote: 
            "Nature is never right" I would modify this by saying that nature is seldom right. The artist must look to nature for his inspiration but must rearrange the elemental truths into an orderly sequence or progression of interests.  
           This is a theme heard repeatedly by landscape painters past and present. According to prevailing theory, merely copying nature produces inferior results. They would take their studies made on-site back to their studios to rework them into larger canvases. Wilson, if he ever made a larger painting from one of his studies, he would enlarge it using a grid and make a direct copy. The on-site paintings were documents of landscape phenomena observed, color notated, contours found, atmosphere harnessed, light translated. This was why he painted; there was no further need for refinement. Wilson, in his quiet manner, challenged the claim that the artist can inspire better results by sensitively reworking the scene in front of them. Wilson, in contrast, chose the landscape over the artist.

      December 15, 2010

      Primed and Ready



      I got a chance to paint the first coat of primer on the new backdrop tonight after doing some Christmas shopping. The primer revealed a couple places where a touch of more spackle will be needed, but overall I am pleased with the job of feathering the mud into the 1/8th inch thick hardboard.  It won't be long before I can start painting the new backdrop scene.



      Primed sky board. Note the cardboard mock-up of the engine house down at the future site of the wye.
      The peninsula is 14 feet long.

      Here is a study for a potential sky treatment for the new backdrop.  I drew this in Photoshop.  I only added the sky, clouds, river and far shore. The final backdrop will  have ships, boats and some other detail. I think the dark cloud will work in perspective from most of the likely photo angles.  What do you think?
      Photoshop study of a potential backdrop sky treatment. From this angle the recessed room light looks a little like the sun.

      December 13, 2010

      Perry, Renedra and TA Miniatures (1/56th scale)

      Thanks to Brian Kammerer's tip, I started hunting around the web and discovered that a couple of related UK firms are releasing a broad range of 28mm (they also call them 1/56 scale) figures and accessories. The exact relationship of the firms is not clear to me but they seem to share sculpting from the Perry brothers and Tim Adcock. The lines include artillery, limbers, caissons, forges, ambulances and camp scenes.  These figures will be smaller than my 1/48th and 1/43rd figures, but the variety is great.

      Camp Scene from Renedra (TA) Miniatures. They
      offer tents and several figure poses.
      I ordered a batch of camp scenes sets from Renedra Miniatures (though the URL takes you to TA Miniatures) for evaluation. These sets includes tents, camp furniture and figures in off-duty relaxed poses. I have several scenes where smaller figures can be used as background for forced perspective, so I am hoping these work out.

      Check out these links:

      Perry Miniatures

      Renedra Minatures

      December 11, 2010

      The Wet Bar

      I've been building the new benchwork over the past two weeks in between holiday chores and attending my daughters college Graduation! Congratulations to Danica! Way to go!

      During the initial bench work construction for the peninsula, my wife came downstairs with her laptop connected to Skype. She was having a video telecon with her mom and dad. They wanted to see what I was doing. It was hard to explain what it was going to be, so I said, "just imagine a wet bar." Hence the new nickname for the Yuba Dam peninsula for the layout.

      Here are two photos showing the construction progress so far.
      This is view that you get as you come down the stairs and look toward the layout to your left front.
      The hardboard strips on the floor will be the fascia trim pieces.
      I haven't decided what color to paint the wet bar.
      The sky board will take several coats of spackle to blend the edges into the wall.  The sky board is glued to the sheet rock and has two rows of screws on each end, one into studs and one into sheet rock anchors. The middle is not screwed. I am hoping this construction will allow the center to "float" and thus not crack at the edges as it expands with temperature and humidity changes. I am using Red Devil One Time lightweight spackling. This dries fast and remains somewhat flexible over time.
      This closer view shows the benchwork for Burnside Wharf, the coved harboard skyboard and the planned
      water surface for the Yuba Dam.
      The wet bar creates a neat appearance and opens up a vast storage area under the layout. That made Alicia very happy.  I elected not to put legs under the Burnside Wharf area as I prefered the more open look.

      Once the sky board is done with spackling, the whole back wall will be painted with the Potomac River scene.

      While the spackle was drying, I added some base scenery in the Clairborne Creek area. I'm trying to get some finished scenes while construction continues elsewhere.

      December 6, 2010

      Prototype Rails 2011 at Cocoa Beach


      I will be attending the Prototype Rails 2011 meet at the Cocoa Beach Hilton on 6-9 January. The core of this meet are the excellent clinics from some of the best known model railroaders in the US. I am honored to be included and will be presenting an updated version of my talk called, "An Introduction to Modeling the Railroads of the American Civil War." I plan to have some of my models on display.   I will also have signed copies of my books if you would like to get a signed copy.


      If you are attending the show, or are in the area, please stop by and say hello.  The web link for the show is http://prototyperails.com/