A journal following the history, design, construction and operation of Bernard Kempinski's O Scale model railroad depicting the U. S. Military Railroad (USMRR) Aquia-Falmouth line in 1863, and other model railroad projects.
©Bernard Kempinski All text and images, except as noted, on this blog are copyrighted by the author and may not be used without permission.

March 2, 2021

Floating Coves and Backdrops

I finished constructing and painting the sky and clouds on the backdrops for the Falmouth extension. A few friends requested that I do a video of how I paint my backdrops. So I put one together and uploaded it to YouTube. 


In the video I explain the concept of the floating cove to improve the appearance of the corners. This technique has worked well for me. I have not had any cracks develop in my backdrops over the 13 years the layout has been up.

The video was getting a little long, so I edited out the discussion of why I did not cove the corner by the planned balloon camp.  There is a window adjacent to that corner. This window is a possible fire escape for the room. So I did not want to block it with a section of masonite I would use for a cove. Solutions that involved a partial cove just didn't look right. So I plan to rely on the Lowe's observation balloon to help hide the uncoved corner.

I have not yet painted the ground portion of the backdrop as that will depend on how I install the 3D terrain. 

February 27, 2021

LDSIG Panel Discussion - What would you do differently?

 I was a panelist on a Layout Design Special Interest Group (LDSIG) on the subject of "What would you do differently." There were six of us on the panel. We each had a chance to do a short presentation on our layouts with respect to the above question. 

I structured my brief presentation as a summary of how I got where I am and what I would do differently.  The image at the left, with apologies to the Talking Heads, is a rough outline that I followed. 

I described the layout space I had available, the layouts I tried to build before the Aquia line, and how the Aquia Line evolved and grew. 

I presented a short list of things I would do differently if I was starting over, all from a layout design perspective. I post the list here without elaboration. 

  • Build an integrated design. The iterative/phased process resulted in sub-optimal design
  • 36” Minimum radius with 30” only in alcove
  • Longer sidings and longer trains
  • Prototype length bridge at Potomac Creek
  • Track elevation in accordance with prototype terrain
  • Master switch for the layout lighting
  • Buy a different house

Finally, I showed a quick sketch track plan of how I would redesign the Aquia Line RR if I were starting from scratch. This was the LDSIG after all. The main difference is that I flipped the railroad. Aquia Landing is in the crew lounge while Falmouth passes the current location of Burnside's Wharf and extends into the home office. Putting Aquia Landing in the crew lounge area allows the track to climb after it leaves the river, just as it does in the prototype. 

In this redesign, about 25% of the railroad would require only minor changes from the current plan, but the rest would have extensive rebuilding. This railroad satisfies all the items I listed above.  Will I do this? I highly doubt it. But it was a fun exercise.

The LDSIG will make the recorded talk available on line for viewing. I will update this blog with the link when it is available. 

Meanwhile, the spackle is drying on the new coved corner by Stares Tunnel. I should be able to start painting backdrops tomorrow.

February 24, 2021

Revised Artist Concept for Mueller's Creek Bridge


This is my revised concept for the new section. The scene will entail one long trestle that spans the bend in the creek with a small raised section of land and some trees in the center of the bend.   

 I am calling the area Mueller's Creek in honor of a friend from the ACWRRHS who passed away two years ago and his wife who also passed away after an accident on the stairs at her church.  Al and his wife were great supporters of the ACWRRHS. Al was an accomplished modeler who did wonders in rebuilding  HO Mantua locomotives into fine running models. 

Note to self - yes you have to actually build the layout. You can't just draw it in photoshop. 

February 22, 2021

All Mocked Up and No Place to Go

 Thanks to everyone that commented on the previous post. Here are some more of my thoughts on the scene. I hope to install the water level plywood soon, so I need to sort out the design.

I cut some cardboard to mock up the fascia. The exercise proved illuminating.

First, I determined that I should add some more lateral distance between the fascia and the track, i.e. make the layout benchwork wider. This is mostly so that when I take photos or shoot video, I have a little more terrain to work into the scene. But it also improves the scenery to the track ratio, making the layout more realistic and visually pleasing.  This goes against some currently fashionable layout philosophy to have minimal bench width so one can maximize run. But in this case, I have plenty of room to grow the width of the scenery since I already have maxed out my linear run. The extra width will be infringing on a generously sized crew lounge where a few less inches of space is not critical. 

Second, the mock up shows that the vertical bump in the fascia isn't really that effective as a scene divider. Plus, I surveyed the rest of my layout and determined than I have eight other locations where I have terrain higher that the track between the fascia and the track. But, I have only four places where the terrain at the  fascia is lower than the track.  So I need more below grade terrain. Below grade areas also make better photo opportunities. 

The desire to break up the scene to make the run feel longer is not as imperative here as elsewhere because the run from Stoneman's Station to Falmouth is the longest I have on the layout -  about about 50 feet with 16 feet in the Stares Tunnel. It takes about 3 minutes of run time at track speed.  It's true that in model railroads, the length of run can never be long enough, but this is getting close, or at least as close as I can get in this basement without going to a double deck layout design.

The only image of Accokeek bridge I have.
Third, one of the common features of civil war era railroad construction is the use of trestles over undulating land versus excavation of cuts and fill. Before bulldozers and dump trucks, cuts and fills were more expensive, at least in the short term, than wooden trestles.  And ante-bellum railroad builders aimed for fast and cheap. The USMRR followed this philosophy even more on lines they built.

In the case of the Aquia Line, the USMRR built over an existing roadbed, so the grading was largely complete. But, there was a long low trestle over Accokeek Creek. Haupt says it was about 150 feet long and 30 feet high. I only have one image of this bridge and it is a quick artist's sketch, not a good photo.  Not much help there. I don't have room for a scale 30 feet  of height, which would be 7 inches, so I need to aim for a lower style bridge. 

Bridge Number 2 City Point and Army Line
Fortunately, the USMRR built many bridges like that and we have photos of several of them. The USMRR City Point and Army line has several examples of low trestle bridges like this.  Bridge number 2 was a modest one, while the bridge over Hatcher's Run was much longer.  The USMRR built extensive trestle work at Aquia Landing to connect Burnside's Wharf to the mine line. So there is ample prototype precedent. 

Fourth, I think a long low trestle would look really cool.   Gary Hoover has an impressive low trestle on his new N&W layout. Paul Dolkos has one with a swing bridge on his new layout.

In conclusion, a long low trestle is a typical USMRR construction feature, it would amplify the narrative of mid-century railroad construction and  it would look cool.  I will use some foreground trees to help break up the scene, but the trestle will be uninterrupted by a cut and fill. 

February 21, 2021

One Versus Two Bridges?

I installed the benchwork and roadbed for the expansion as the track departs Stares Tunnel. The curves are 36 inch radius minimum, though the curve just as the track departs the tunnel is mostly eased to a much greater radius. The flow is nice and smooth. Turns out the grade in the tunnel is greater than in this visible section, so there isn't that much more to worry about. 
Now I need to decide if I want one long trestle or two smaller bridges separated by a short section of cut through a hill. 

I did two concept sketches using Photoshop to show how both might look. The comparison photos are below. Which do you like better- one long trestle, or two short bridges with a short cut in between?How about both, that is have the long trestle, but have some trees in the marsh in the middle foreground. The trees would help break up the scene, but still allow the long vista.

The compromise solution - long trestle with a slight rise in the middle with some trees.