July 13, 2014

Dog Days of Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. Sounds like it's really coming together, Bernie! Also glad you got to run on Rob's beautiful layout!

  2. Always happy to encourage others to chase rabbits down holes, Bernie. Have fun with the telegraph system - I'm enjoying the system on my layout - and do let us know how this project develops. Cheers!
    - Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

  3. Trevor, actually you saved me from going down a huge black hole. I was ready to get an Arduino and learn how to program it. Now I can just go with a low tech solution and be more period correct to boot.

  4. Bernie- don't be deceived. There are a number of good spots to take photos from. Check out the photo postings on their page of FB. I have a whole album of "Steam Into History" shots on my PC. I especially recommend the Borough of Railroad Park (right by the tracks), Glen Rock, and Hanover Jct for taking photos. Plus if you're a walker, you can always walk along the trail to get some nice pics. Looking forward to your new book.