December 27, 2017

2017 Year in Review


This was a landmark year for my model railroad layouts. The highlight was that we started operations on the Aquia Line while also operating PoLA. So far we have had five op sessions on the Aquia Line, and 12 on PoLA.  Operations on both have proved satisfying.  The layouts really come alive in op sessions.

When I was building the Aquia Line I had a nagging fear that the operations on that layout would be dull. But I was pleasantly surprised when those fears proved unwarranted. Adding two simultaneous trains, and running extras or general's specials made the Aquia Line fun to operate. My advice to people considering a layout is to not overlook the possibilities of a simple track plan for a branch or lightly used main line.

I opted for a simplified design for Burnside wharf, mostly because I felt the planned design with a wharf in a 12 inch wide space was too cramped. The modified plan is working out well in operations sessions. Yes, those are not civil war era box cars. You'll see why later.  If I decide to go with expansion plan 18,  I'll have plenty of room to do a nice rendition of Burnside Wharf.



To prepare for operation sessions I added more freight cars to expand the fleet by about 50 percent. These included two conductors cars, one of which won a first place prize at the regional NMRA meet in Harrisburg, PA.

As for locomotives, the new Stanton battery system with the updated battery charger system has proven to be perfect for operations.

With operations under way,  I began to work on the ships, barges, and structures for Aquia Landing. The most notable accomplishments in that regard were completing the car float barges and the transfer bridge ramps. The floats and ramps are operational and almost completely detailed.

Among the ships, the highlight was the paddlewheel steamer, which, after seven years, I finally made good progress on by cutting the hull to the waterline and installing the main deck. There is still a lot to do on that ship, but at least it is underway.

The op sessions have shown that the Falmouth area is cramped. The tight curve there also causes problems every now and then. So any expansion plan really need to address those issues. With regard to expansion, I am considering lots of ideas.

One of the other dilemmas I have is what to do with the Passaic ironclad model. I built it a few years back. I really enjoyed the process. But with the hull nearly complete and the model placed on the layout, I realized it was going to be too big and really didn't belong here. However, my guests love it and say it really sets the time and place of the layout. So perhaps it will fit in a future Burnside Wharf expansion.  Alternatively, I could rebuild it as a pond model and try it out as a radio controlled model. That might be fun.


I have also been doing some expansion work on PoLA in parallel with the work on the Aquia Line. PoLA has proven very popular with operators and visitors. The introductory video has over 139,000 views.  I really enjoy researched and building it. It is also an excellent test bed for new Alkem Scale Models products. Nonetheless, I am now planning on dismantling it, and either selling it or converting it to modules. One of the main reasons for that is the difficulties I experienced with DCC and the modern sound equipped diesels as I documented here.  That has proven to be an unexpected pain-in-the-petunias. On the Aquia Line, I have 5 DCC equipped engines and all run pretty well, knock on wood. That is about as much DCC angst as I want.

Another highlight of this year was the completion of a 1/32nd scale submarine chaser model for the Lyceum, Alexandria City's History Museum. It was a short deadline project for their WWI exhibit. Building ship models is fun, but I find layout design and construction to be a much more intellectually rewarding and challenging hobby.







I also built model of a unique coal dock for Mike Burgett this year. I really enjoy building custom models for museums and clients. If you have a need for a custom model, please contact me to see if I can build it for you.

Kalmbach published my fifth book for them on waterfront terminals and operations.  It is available for sale from Kalmbach, Amazon, and at hobby shops. You can get a signed copy from the Alkem Scale Models website.

It was also another busy year of public speaking. I presented model railroad talks in Annandale, VA, Fairfax Station, Va, Tulsa, OK (where I was the keynote speaker), Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Collinsville, IL, and Rochester, MN. But the best was the "father's toast" to my daughter and son-in-law at their wedding in Aspen, CO.
















We also had dozens of visitors from as far away as Australia, California, Kansas, Texas, Louisiana and many other east coast states. We also had lots of children visit the layout, most of whom got some throttle time.

We also had a couple great work sessions as my friends helped prep the layout for operations.

All in all a great year. Let's hope 2018 is as productive.

Happy New Year!




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