June 29, 2013

A sawmill tardis?

Only one more structure to go now that D.S. Barmore is complete. Other detailing is continuing.


D.S. Barmore Shipyard and Sawmill is done except for clutter in the foreground. The flag is home made. It almost reaches the top of the layout.

I made a simple saw mill to help detail the interior. Since it will be largely hidden, I did not super-detail it.
It's a lot  bigger on the inside than the outside!  I added a photo backdrop for the building interior to extend its apparent depth. AW really liked this. Now all I need is a Dr. Who figure.
Three escorts have joined the staff group. These figures are by Sash and Saber. I drew the XXIII Corps
flag on my computer.

While I was making flags, I made a new one for the post office. I didn't like the other one. It had black lines in between the stripes, plus the colors were not quite right.



June 26, 2013

Ship Yard and Saw Mill

The box car that Dave Emery built is just about ready for service. I lettered it for the Memphis and Charleston.
The capstan for hauling ships out of the water is visible in this shot too.
The biggest task on the to-do list for McCook's Landing is the ship yard and saw mill building. I have been working on it the past few nights and it is about halfway done.  Here are some work-in-progress shots.
The frame is made with 1/4 inch basswood, with laser cut the rafters and clerestory windows.

I laser cut a stencil using bristol board and two sided tape. The trick is to spray matt varnish first to seal the
edges of the stencil before spraying the primary color.

Jeff and Christian's lumber stack is visible in front of the mill. We'll probably need a few more of those. The coal cart
is a Train Troll kit.


June 24, 2013

Golden Spike Ceremony


The crew is showing off their service medals.
(Left to right) (Back row) Joel, Janet, Gerry, Paul, Christian, Jeff, John, Linda,
(Front row) Gabriella, AW, Mark (Missing Marty and Dave)

Today was the last group work session on McCook's Landing. We had a great session and then an amazing dinner with a special cake.

Gerry Fitzgerald and Gabriella Petrick arrived first. They brought a large commemorative cake that required last minute assembly. I won't go into the details of this remarkable cake, as we will have a special post about it later. Let's just say it was scratch built with O Scale track and a life size edible golden spike made from marzipan.

Busy, busy, busy.....
Next Marty McGuirk, Jeff and Cristian Peck arrived. Marty brought a tray of chocolate chip cookies while Jeff brought a batch of Polock Johnny's Sausage from Baltimore. Joel Salmons, John Drye and Mark Franke showed up next. Joel had with him the finished artillery men he painted for the water battery. Dave Emery stopped by briefly to drop off a box car he built using a set of laser cut parts I provided. I'll get a photo of these models after I get them installed on the layout.

JD working on the barge lines.


Everyone got to work. Jeff and Christian worked on stacks of lumber. Marty made doors for Paul's barge. Gerry started to make doors for the warehouse but didn't finish. Mark worked on a flagpole and hitch posts, while JD glued the barges down and tied off the lines to the shore. Joel painted a batch of barrels for use in detailing the inside of the warehouse. Jeff also brought over a bunch of crates and bushels that he previously painted. They will be scattered about to detail the layout.

At dinner time, Paul and Linda Dolkos arrived for a golden spike cookout and awards ceremony. It was too hot to eat outside, so we all crowded around the dining room table for a group feast. Alicia made an triple batch of her special hot wings, three salads, and then the cake.

Yes, that is edible O Scale track.
After dinner we had a brief award ceremony where all the workers received USMRR Construction Corps service medals. The spouses and partners also got medals to reflect their support to our hobby.

All in all it was a fun day.

I want to thank all the folks that helped with this layout. Those of you that missed the dinner today can pick up your medals the next time you are over.

A super big thanks to my wife for her help, work and support not just today but every day while finishing this project.

At the end of the day, Gerry and I loaded Biscuit Run in his car to begin the trip to Atlanta. As we surveyed the section in the back, we realized there is room for another section in his car.  Time to start thinking on how to expand. (Actually, we already have a plan for expansion, but more on that later.)

After everyone left I finished most of the partially completed tasks. I added NBW and hand rail details to the barge doors and hatches and then glued it down. I finished the  doors on the warehouse.  I added the sign to the sutler's store and installed the glazing.




Gabriela and her masterpiece



Serious eating going on

Finished doors and interior details

The barge is finished, tied down and glued in place.


June 21, 2013

The Generals and their Staff


Generals Grant and Sherman and their staff
Grant and staff at City Point, Va
It is hard to find civil war photographs of Civil War Generals and staffs mounted on their horses, though it was a popular image for paintings.

Add caption
 In scanning the archives one finds numerous photos of commanders and their staff in standing or sitting poses, but almost none showing them mounted. The difficulty of keeping a bunch of horses still for long enough to make an exposure is probably one reason.







In the scene on the McCook's Landing we are depicting a meeting between Grant and Sherman and some mounted staff officers. I also have a few more cavalry figures  I plan to add as escorts and messenger. One of the escorts will be bearing a unit designating flag.

As I described before, Grant and Sherman were not physically together during the period we model. The vignette is meant to illustrate the close relationship the two had in the final years of the war.  The purists can think of these officers as generic generals even though they do look uncannily like Grant, Sherman, Burnside (his whiskers are a give away), and Howard (though I gave Howard gray whiskers. During the war his beard was dark).

It is interesting to observe how much room on the layout these figures take up. There won't be room for a wagon and mule train on the street with all the mounted figures there.



June 18, 2013

The yokes on who?

A nicely dressed teamster started as a Knuckleduster gunfighter. The yoke is custom made to fit the two oxen.

Some new details added to the layout including the capstan, wagon, and teamster. The sawmill structure is taking shape in the background. The capstan, block and tackle were scratchbuilt.

The first female figure on the layout.  AW decided  to place
them in this pose. Looks  familiar, doesn't it? The female figure is nicely sculpted from Knuckleduster Figures.
More details surround the boat including saw horses, tool boxes, and  tools. The shed behind the stern of the boat has a detailed interior, although it is almost impossible to see. All these came from the  Alkem Scale Models O scale tool set.

The wagon is a kit bash from the 20 Mule Team Borax Wagon Train kit. I bought three of them on ebay for the mules. The borax wagons are too heavy duty for normal use, but the final water wagon in the mule train set is useful in other spots. Here it is used to haul a boiler for the steam boat. The boiler tube is scratch built from brass tube and laser engraved paper.


The worker is selecting a tool from his tool box. Note the block on the ground. These were scratchbuilt. A second boiler
tube lies on the ground in the distance awaiting installation on the boat. In  most river boats the boilers are not visible as they are covered in sheathing, but period photos show boilers on the ground at the Chattanooga Shipyard, presumably awaiting installation.

June 16, 2013

T-28 Days and counting...


Less than one month to the NMRA National Convention in Atlanta. Work on McCook's Landing is in the final push. This week included a motley assortment of tasks from DCC programming to scratch building. Here is a brief run down.

Based on user feedback from Paul Dolkos I reprogrammed the speed curves on the S-Cab equipped Whiton with a Tsunami decoder. Using the T5000 to do the programming was fairly simple. The problem was more difficult that expected due to some inconsistencies in the user documentation between the S-Cab and the Soundtraxx decoders. Several emails to both manufactures yielded the answers I needed. I must say both have excellent customer service. I was able to program Whiton so that it not only starts smoothly, but has up to throttle 10 setting for switching speeds.  This involved reprogramming the following CVs for you DCC gurus. The rest of you can skip to the next pretty picture....


  1. CV29 = 18 That allowed speed tables but no analog control. I noted if analog control was enabled, the loco tried to respond to the charging track as a engine command.
  2. CV25 = 16 Speed Table Select Register allows a user defined speed table
  3. CV66 = 30 Forward Trim multiplies all forward voltage by a fraction about 25 percent
  4. CV95 = 30 Backward trim multiplies all backward voltage by a fraction about 25 percent
  5. CV116 = 30 Engine chuff rate 
  6. CV3 = 20 Forward Acceleration
  7. CV4 = 15 Backward Deceleration


This all sounds so complicated but the Soundtraxx manual is pretty good and using the T5000 is easy to program CVs. Finding the correct values was just a matter of trial and error. I made a paper table with notes of each trial so I knew what the variables were. There is no way to read the decoder values that are on the decoder over the radio. So I found keeping track of the adjustments was helpful.

In doing some test running while programming I noted that two turnouts were causing some derailments. Sure enough, a gauge check revealed tight areas. They must have shrunk after ballasting. Some re-spiking and gauging and all was well again.


Is that Jake doing push-ups? Still cant beat the old man though.
With the engine and layout running well, I moved on to some scenery. I received another batch of trees from Sterling Models for my home layout. That inspired me to make the last trees needed for the road show. Using Super-trees as armatures and wood dowels for trucks I made a batch of trees for the corner behind the turntable.

I used Elmers Wood Putty for bark. That worked very well. I used Marty McGuirk's soldering iron trick to straighten the Super-trees. But I soaked the twig with a spray of Windex ammonia first. This is an old ship modelers' trick (some foreshadowing here?) Ammonia evaporates faster than water and they use it to bend planks.

With all that going on, my spray booth motor started acting up. A quick check revealed it was unbalanced due to a build up of gunk. I was able to disassemble it, clean it and get it back in service. But not before I ordered a new one from Pace. Now, what will I do with two spray booths?


Well, that was a busy week. Oh yeah, I finished the marine ways and steam boat under construction too.

Steam boat under construction.... check.

The figures are Woodland Scenics surveyors with some new paint and a couple head swaps. The tools
are by Alkem Scale Models. Alicia says she likes the wood and saw dust on the ground because  it looks like my shop.

June 11, 2013

Photo Sleuthing - Atlanta


In about five weeks we will be taking McCook's Landing to Atlanta for the NMRA National convention. The layout is not quite ready, and work has been a little slow lately as I was focusing on a client model that also must be ready for the Atlanta meet. That model is now done and is on its way to the client. Here is a peek at the finished model. If you go to the Atlanta convention and go on the Chattanooga layout tour you can see this S Scale model as well as some others I have built for this client.

I had been looking at some of George Barnard's photos of Atlanta and was intrigued by two of the photos showing U.S. soldiers destroying the railroad.

These two images were taken near the same location just NW of the Western and Atlantic Railroad depot (the building with the cupola in the background).

The upper photo shows a group of U.S. Engineers (at least two soldiers and the officer have engineer castles) from XX Corps, Army of the Cumberland. One of the officers is wearing the star on his hat, the Corps Designation for XX Corps, under Henry Slocum at this point.  The XX Corps was formed by consolidating  XI and XII Corps from the Army of the Potomac, under command of Joseph Hooker. Those Corps had tough luck when fighting in Virginia and Pennsylvania, but excelled in the Atlanta Campaign. The former XI Corps commander, Howard, managed to survive disasters at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg to go on and become a very effective commander under Sherman.

High Res versions are available at the Library of Congress
I always wondered what the metal objects in the second photo were. At first glance they appear to be a steam engine. Upon closer review though, it really is a collection of parts from various items.

I annotated the image with what I think some of the pieces are. The iron bed has the inscription, "Esler & Co. Atlantic Dock, Brooklyn, NY 1856." A little google searching showed that this was an iron foundry in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, NY that made boilers for steam boats and other uses.

My guess is that this photo shows factory equipment  that the confederates were trying to evacuate, but was abandoned on a loading dock near the tracks. The U.S. engineers in this photo are getting ready to destroy it.

One last thing, I highly recommend the website Secrets of George Barnard's Photographs of Atlanta in the Year 1864. It is a really amazing website and shows how the web can present information in an new and fascinating way. Given that current downtown Atlanta looks nothing like it did in the Civil War, this website is especially valuable. It is a must see.


June 10, 2013

New Civil War Railroad Game in the works

Dana Lombardy, an old friend from my wargaming hobby,  wrote to me this weekend with some interesting news. He has started a new game and book publishing business called 1A Games. Their first products are a popular WWII series game called Tide or Iron. But, more toward the subject matter of this blog, they have a new book coming out called "Grant Rising."  You can learn more about the book at their website. They are looking for kickstart support to get it going. The kickstart page has much more detail on the book. It combines beautiful full color graphics, maps and artwork by Keith Rocco.  I have some of Dana's earlier books and they are outstanding.

Dana also mentioned that they have a civil war railroad game in the works. It will be a board game designed by Richard Berg, a well known war game designer. The website for it is not yet ready. I'l keep you posted as it develops.

I also received a note from John Sloan alerting me to some information on David L. Bright's website devoted to Confederate Railroads. David has been scouring the OR's and other documents for railroad related items. Most of the information he has posted is transcribed from these documents. This must have been a vast amount of work and has the benefit of making the information searchable. If you are looking for information on confederate railroads, this is a good website to check out.  For example, check out this link on the Nashville and Decatur RR, the railroad that we model on the portable layout.






June 3, 2013

Penultimate Road Show Work Session

The waterfront is coming alive with Paul and Andy's barges.  Jeff and Christian's wood rick is visible
 in the rear center. Mike's wharf is on the far left.
On 1 June we had the penultimate work session for McCooks Landing before the NMRA Convention. Gerry Fitzgerald, JB Wielepp, Mike Spoor, Jeff Peck, Christian Peck participated for the most of the session. Paul Dolkos stopped by to drop off the covered barge he nearly finished. It looks great. It just needs some doors and it will be complete. Joel Salmons stopped by briefly. He volunteered to paint some artillery crew figures that  he took home with him. He said this would allow him to claim the water battery as his since he will have done most of the work on it.

Getting both barges in one photograph is tricky
Paul's barge looks great. Combined with the open barge that Andy made that I loaded with forage, barrels and hard tack, our water front is starting to come alive.

Mike worked on cutting the pilings for the wharf. He cut a good supply and stained them before he had to leave. I finished the wharf after he left.  With the hard tack boxes stacked on the wharf, we enhance the scene with half a box car to disguise where the tracks meets the backdrop on the left of the layout.The boxes and half car are amazingly effective. The box car is the back half from the first attempt I made to scratchbuild the B&O rifle car. The truck under it is one that I retired from service as it had too much bearing friction.  Nothing goes to waste in this operation.

JB brought the frames and chassis for two flat cars he assembled at home. He did a nice job on them. I spent an hour or so adding trucks, couplers and brakes wheels to the one of them. The car needs decals, but otherwise is ready for service.

Jeff and Christian worked on the wood rick for the engine terminal. My instructions to them were simply, "Just copy the one in the other layout." That's what they did. Christian chopped the wood while Jeff cut and assembled the wood rick. It came out great. I installed it on the layout on Sunday, adding some wood chips and dirt underneath it.

Gerry worked on the finishing touches to Biscuit Run. He made a set of telegraph poles.  I suggested he use some Tichy nylon axle bearings for the top hat insulators. They worked great. Gerry also installed the four pilings for the burned dock that he had meticulously prepared ahead of time.

Biscuit Run is done!
Next he then went about installing some additional shrubs and flowers using the new new Silfor products that just arrived.  After working through about $50 work of Silfor, he had a crisis of indecision and ripped it all out. He threw the Silfor in the trash and restored  the scenery to way was when he started.  On Sunday I installed the telegraph line and added a fresh coat of polyurethane on the water.  It looks great. Biscuit Run is done (except for a little touch up here and there) ! Huzzah!

On Saturday evening, I went "dumpster diving" and retrieved the Silfor that Gerry tossed -  that stuff is too valuable to waste (see earlier comment above.) I used it on the other sections to detail the steep bank near the wharf and some of the other areas on the shipyard section. It helps helps enhance the micro-texture of the otherwise simple scene.

A newly painted squad of soldiers marching to duty.
Two of the of the products we used were "Short Weed Tufts - Spring." 725-21S, and Summer Goldenrod Silflorettes, MN99722S.  These are available from Scenic Express, a sponsor of this layout. The Short Weed Tufts look a lot like patches of clover when the flowers are blooming, while the golden rod is in full bloom.  I felt the colors were a little too vivid, so I used my airbrush to dull the colors with a thinned spray of green and light brown.  Goldenrod blooms late in the summer, so that helps set the time frame for the layout, further reinforcing the story.

Through out the session most everyone took a crack at running the Whiton with the new T5000 Airwire throttle on the Aquia Line. The vote was unanimous. The new throttle is a winner.

Overall, it was a very productive work session.  We will have one more group session before the convention.