April 24, 2019

Is HO too easy and other random thoughts

Scene from war game last week
Activity on the Aquia Line has been slow lately as many other projects and demands have taken my time. A death in the family, my wife's uncle, required a short notice trip to Kentucky. Then we had other family obligations for the Easter weekend.  Nonetheless, in between those events we managed to get in another Bolt Action Game in the crew lounge and Mat Thompson visited me to help get my NMRA Achievement Program paperwork going.

A few months ago. Mat had asked me if I was willing to go through judging and complete the paperwork for the NMRA Achievement program. He assured  me that my current layout would probably meet most of the Master Model Railroader requirements and I just need to get the models judged and the paperwork submitted.

I have thought about this in the past, and even did some tabulations of the requirements I could satisfy. On occasion, I entered models for judging at NMRA meets, so I do have a few NMRA Merit Awards already. That's about as far as I got, as I decided that it wasn't''t worth the effort to submit the paperwork. Anyone that knows me knows that I hate boring meetings and useless paperwork.  Mat assured that the paperwork won't be too bad, and he would help, also known as holding my hand through the process. So I agreed to reinitiate the effort to get the Master Model Railroader certification.

Mat helped me get the Statement of Qualifications (SoQ) done for two categories, volunteer and author. Over the years I have presented dozens of clinics at NMRA events and others too.  At these events, the hosts usually presented me with some type of certificate, most of which I kept in a note book. So it was easy to document them. I also participated in many modular model railroad set-ups at NMRA events. For example, at the Madison NMRA National Convention, my steel mill module was awarded Best Module in Show. Many  of those meets were documented in the NVNTRAK NTRAK newsletter, which I published at one point. So, even though I never held a position on any NMRA board (see my comment about boring meetings above), I had more than enough "points" to meet the NMRA standards for volunteer.

The author SoQ was also relatively easy for me to document. Mat selected one of my books. The word count in the book, along with photos and diagrams met the requirement for author.  You have to submit a copy of the work, so Mat took a copy of my "Model Railroads Go to War" book to submit with the SoQ.  Turns out, writing  a blog would also qualify for the Author category. Since this blog has 973 posts, and more pictures and diagrams, I probably could have used it too. But it wasn't needed.

With those two SoQs done, Mat walked me through the other categories I would need.  We went over the layout pointing out what things need to be judged to met the various SoQ.  We concluded I would qualify for  Car, Civil, Structures, Scenery, Electrical and Dispatcher.  I need to do some paperwork for this and get the judges to visit. But it can be done without me having to build anything special just for SoQs.

The Dispatcher SoQ is a bit tricky as you need two NMRA officials to verify that you were at an operation session. I do keep a log of all layouts I visit and operate. (At this point, I have operated on 106 different layouts for a total of 154 sessions not counting my own operating sessions.) But I never got two people to verify I was there. However, Mat pointed out that my own operating sessions would count and they are documented on my blog, so two NMRA officials could verify them. Thus, I probably could qualify for Dispatcher category if I wanted to. But, I wouldn't need it, as I would have enough categories with Volunteer, Author, Car, Civil, Structures, Scenery, and Electrical.

Overall scenery and battle report

How our mind's eye envisions these games
My wargame buddies, John Drye, Mark Franke, and Bill Rutherford came over last  week for a war game  that I hosted. I should point out that all three of these guys are also model railroaders. We all had NTRAK modules at one point.

The scenario depicted the battle for La Fiere Causeway on 6 June 1944. This was D-Day, but the action involved the 82nd Airborne and elements of the 101st Airborne Division trying to capture the small bridge over the Merderet River about 3 miles from Utah Beach. I built the terrain board including some custom stone buildings with interior spaces.

The game was a lot of fun. John played the small  Germans force holding the stone manoir (farm) while Mark and Bill attacked with US paratroopers. I initially was the judge, and then ran the German counterattack up the causeway.  It is interesting that the game progressed similarly to the actual battle, even though we used Bolt Action, which is a very simplified, but elegant gaming system.

Running a wargame is a bit like hosting a model railroad op session. None of us are particularly interested in "winning." Many of the players that engaged in Bolt Action spend inordinate amounts of time tweaking their force list to have the ultimate "winning" formula based on an arbitrary points system.  That can result in some very unusual and ahistorical force mixes on a table.  They use these in competitive tournaments.

Our little gaming group couldn't care less about that. We devise our scenarios on historical situations and go from there. We might look at the points to ensure that the scenario is balanced, but we don't worry about it much. We really are playing for two reasons. One it gives as a reason to research and learn about WWII. And two, we get to build cool models and then play with them as opposed to putting them on a shelf.  And we have a grand time doing it.

After the game was over, John pulled out a Broadway Limited  PRR 2-10-0. I fired up that layout and we test ran it on PoLA. It did run nice and sound great, though it needs a keep-alive to run on my dead frogs.

John said to me, "You are right, HO is too easy. I went to Timonium last weekend and bought just about everything I need to build the HO layout."

John was referring to a flippant comment I made a few months ago when I said I was taking down PoLA because, "HO is too easy. You can buy everything you need."   For some, that is a good thing. But for me, I like to scratch build stuff. So I prefer the challenge of an odd ball scale and subject.

Now John is converting his N Scale layout  (see video above) to HO. In a fit of madness about 10 years ago, he decided to model the 4-Track Pennsy Horseshoe Curve region from Altoona to Cresson in N Scale. This was a highly complex layout. For example, he had more turnouts in his Altoona yard throat than I have in both of my layouts. The complexity meant slow progress. To his and helpers' credit, they did get a lot of track and scenery done. I helped a little too. Mostly with backdrop and rock carving. But during test sessions, the layout wasn't operating up to John's desires. Also, he was finding it hard to see the wheels and track. So he decided to convert the layout to HO scale. He will use the same benchwork, but build a PRR branch line using Kato Unitrak.


  1. Wow, Bernie! I assume you were already an MMR! You would likely qualify for Prototype with your Aquia line.
    Interesting comments about too easy. I am a scratch builder myself working on a Maine 2-ft layout in On30. I have discovered over the years that I am a modeler with a railroad!
    Keep sharing your stories!
    Pete Leach

  2. I am striving for my MMR just to be different. There aren't many of them out there. I am sure you will qualify easily!

  3. My condolences to your family.