February 15, 2020

Woodworking and Op Session

Canton engine 42 working the yard.


I spent the good part of last week working on improvements to my wood shop. For over 20 years I have had a cheap Ryobi router table. Every time I use it I would say to myself, "I got to get a better router table." It often provided  poor results, some operations were difficult to do safely on it, and it made a mess of the shop.  So after using it on my mailbox project, and almost ruining that project, I bit the bullet. I went to Woodcraft and ordered a new Festool CMS-VL router table with the sliding fence and hose set. While I was at it, I ordered a new larger capacity Festool dust extractor (i.e. Shop vac) and bought a nice flush trimming router  bit.

About a week later the router table arrived and I set it up in the garage. I made a few test cuts and it was like night and day. The parts were cut precisely and it felt very safe to use. But, I realized that to make the most efficient use of this table, which is an extension of my existing  Festool MFT, I needed to install it and the MFT on a rolling cart. So building that cart began my primary focus for the week.

Front side needs a few more drawers and shelves.
I made a drawing of what I wanted, knowing that I would change the plan as I went along. I used baltic birch plywood for the carcass and added some oak trim pieces to protect the edges. Like my miter cutting cart, this one is on locking casters. It is easy to move around the garage as I need it. The front has a deep storage for tools and future Festool systainers (Festools fancy word for tool storage boxes). The back side has two longer shelves to store router table accessories and parallel clamps.

Back shelves for long items
The cart is not 100 percent complete as I plan to add some more drawers and shelves. But I love how it makes my tools so much easier to use and then put away when I'm done with them. One of the upcoming tasks is to cut precise trapezoidal pieces to make the road bed for the curved sections of my O scale layout expansion. The idea is to make nice large radius curves only making straight cuts with less waste. I will use my track and miter saws to cut the parts and the domino system to precisely register each section. More on that later.


Having my fill of woodworking for the week, I was honored and pleased to participate in an op session on Paul Dolkos's Baltimore Harbor HO layout on Saturday. I was joined by Brad Trencamp and Todd Herman. John King, who was supposed to run the yard job, couldn't make it, so I did it. It was a very fun job and it ran smoothly. Paul created the switch lists prior to the session. I really like using switch lists vice car cards.

BTW if you haven't seen this month's Model Railroader, Paul did an article on Brian Wolfe's Western Maryland layout.  It's a great layout with some outstanding photos by Paul.  I had a chance to operate it in 2017. here is a little video I shot while working the yard job on Brian's layout.

February 13, 2020

Switching from HO to O scale

Photo by John King
No, not me!

Bob Helm had an interesting article in O Scale Resource Magazine (a free on-line e-zine) last December on his plans to build an O scale Western Maryland layout in the same space he had built a HO layout of the same subject.  When I started model railroading, I was planning on a N scale Western Maryland RR.

You can find the article here  and I think it is worth a look. Go to page 15.



February 8, 2020

Playing Catch Up

This week has been catch up week for me. Both my mom and I recovered from colds, though hers was much more serious than mine. So it was time for me to get my do-list whittled down.

The laser cut parts arrayed on my work bench
The first task was to laser cut the parts for a large, intricate HO scale building for a client. It almost looks like a cathedral in appearance. The client did the artwork, as he is an architect.  Still it took me a few hours to prepare the drawings for my laser. Then another 8 actual hours to engrave and cut the parts. He will do the assembly and painting. We have more buildings to do for this client, so we are looking at other ways to depict the bricks other than engraving them one by one.

The mailbox project from start to finish
Next, I had to so some household chores. The first was to build a new mailbox that would match the new front door and have capacity to hold small packages. This was an opportunity for me learn some new skills and give my woodworking tools some exercise. The new door has leaded glass detailing. So the mailbox should have a matching glass insert. I never built a leaded glass piece before, so I went to Youtube and got the basics.  My experience in soldering brass kits came in handy, and I was able to make an acceptable diamond shaped leaded glass insert for the mailbox using pre-cut beveled glass sections and lead came. With an acceptable glass insert in hand,  I built a box with an opening to house the leaded glass piece.

With that done, I moved on to fixing the chair rail molding in the dining room. This was a residual task from the flood repairs. The contractor claimed it was a custom molding profile. So I took a sample to the local mill shop and low and behold, this molding was not custom, but available in stock. With $60 of molding in hand, it was a relatively simple matter to install the molding using my Kapex miter saw.

Rob's 1/72nd scale diorama
Then my brother visited for a few days. He wanted some instruction on painting and weathering an armored model. It was a M48 tank that he assembled at home. Over the next two days we painted, weathered,  and then built a small diorama to display it. This project was a lot of fun and my brother said he learned a lot. We used dry brushing, washes, chalk, and texture mud. The texture mud was helpful un hiding some of the flaws in the tracks.

On Saturday, I hosted a WW2 war game at my house. It was a scenario set in Holland during the Market Garden campaign. I enjoy hosting games. It reminds me a lot of setting up an op session. The game went well, though the Germans were able to cut the highway and were able to withstand the Allied attempt to clear it, though they took heavy casualties.

Hopefully, next week I can continue to catch up on the remaining do-list items.


British armor wrecks litter the battle field

February 3, 2020

Virtual Reality Film Clips depict Civil War Trench Warfare

This is an interesting use of VR tech. The Battlefield trust sponsored this project to create a virtual reality look at an ACW battlefield. You can use you mouse to change your point of view as the movie unfolds. The acting is a little hokey and scenes are small scale, but they capture some of the chaos and horror of the civil war battlefield. There are no railroad scenes, but you might find it interesting.


January 29, 2020

Surveyors Report is Encouraging

Survey crews use 30-inch curve templates to see if the plan will fit.



In preparation for rebuilding and expanding the layout, I sent out the survey crew to see if the latest plan could fit.  I case you forget, the plan under consideration is at the right.

The primary objectives of this plan are to increase the radius of the turn back curve at the entrance to the current Falmouth and to extend the layout into the crew lounge.  We also want to keep the Crew Lounge as open as possible without having to relocate the couch and TV.

Most of the other layout expansions I have considered make a 90 degree turn at Battery Schaefer and head directly under the stairs and into the crew lounge for simplicity's sake.  The area where Falmouth is now would not have any track.

It always bugged me that I was giving up that extra 10 feet of visible mainline run.  With only 120 feet in total of mainline, that is a big hit. So, the idea of this plan is to maximize the main line utilizing the wall where Falmouth is now. I would add a 180 degree 30-inch radius turn back curve at Battery Schaefer. The track would run across about 5 feet of tangent, and then enter Stares Tunnel by the room entrance via another 30-inch turn back curve. The half of the turn back curve in the closet would occupy a shelf before it went under the stairs and entered the crew lounge. (In the same general area where the staging yard to PoLA was, but with a much larger radius curve.) Crews could follow their train as it enters Stares Tunnel, pass through the door and then into the crew lounge.  The hidden run is a bit longer in this plan, but accessible over most of it.

New track with Photoshop scenery. The scene creates a pleasing "Ess" curve.
Will it work? Using a set of 30-inch curve templates I laid out the possible new alignment in the visible and hidden part of the layout. It all fits.  To make the turn back curve centered in the available  space, I would need to push the track about 2 inches to the top of the drawing and into space where Battery Schaefer is now. This means will have to re-lay the southern turnout at Stonemans.  That isn't too bad, as the siding at Stonemans would need to be lengthened to allow 10-12 car trains anyway.  And I want to increase the radii of the turns at that end of Stonemans too.

I would have to move the trestle at Clairborne Creek, or it could be replaced by a larger trestle across the aisle from where it is now, or both. More bridges are better.

There would be a 24-inch choke point in the aisle at the apex of the curve. Hopefully that won't be too much of an issue as the new section is just a through track and not a place where people need to work.

Once the layout enters the crew lounge, this plan has more open-country running on a narrow shelf. It omits the large trestle.  The trestle would require so much vertical depth that there would be no headroom under the benchwork for people on the couch. I would like to keep the couch where it is now.

The next step is to prefabricate the benchwork and roadbed for the track that would go in the closet and under the stairs. These would be installed in sections with precise Festool dominos for alignment. I plan to use Atlas O scale flex track on 3/4inch plywood for these sections. On top of the plywood I will add 1/8th-inch plywood with the track centerlines for curves and easements that will be laser engraved. By doing this,  I hope to to ensure that this track work is free of kinks and sharp easements. Once that is tested and is "bulletproof, I will install in place and begin the rest of the construction.





January 20, 2020

Last Look at PoLA?




I noticed the the 2020 issue of Model Railroad Planning is out. Inside is an article about my former PoLA layout. I wrote and submitted the article several years ago, before I took down PoLA and sold it to my friend. Is this the last look at PoLa? Maybe, maybe not. I suspect it will pop up a few more times before if gets to really say farewell.

The rest of the issue looks good. MRP has consistently been my favorite model railroad magazine (journal?) As one of my friends, who agrees with me says," too bad it can't come out 12 times a year."




January 12, 2020

Open House for the Rockville Model Railroad Society




Members of the Rockville Model Railroad Society stopped by to see the USMRR Aquia Line today. They included  Tom Matty, Greg Cassidy, Deane Mellander, Jim Novaco, Roger Andes, Ben Sullivan, Kelly Regan, Fritz Fahlin and Joe Ney. I had not run the layout in quite some time, so I was pleased to see that it operated without problems during their visit.  It was a fun time. Ben Sullivan mentioned that he has a blog on the layout he is building. His layout is based on the Georgetown Branch of the B&O.  The Georgetown waterfront scene has always been a favorite of mine.   After seeing my layout, the group headed to Paul Dolkos's house to see his layout.

The visitors seemed as interested in the wargame board I am building as they were in the layout. A few of them said that they too did wargames.   This game board is going to be used in the Northern Virginia Gamers Group (NOVAG) Game Day in Chantilly, VA on 26 January. John Drye and Mark Franke are helping me host the game.



I am presenting a talk on Civil War Railroading on 16 January at 1000AM at the Model Railroad Club at the Hollin Hall Senior Center.   Please stop by if you get a chance to see the talk and check out their layout.

January 6, 2020

The years keep ticking along





The 11th year of the Aquia Line had its ups and downs.  The highlights were the winning the best in show at the NMRA MER meet and getting the Aquia line on the cover of Model Railroader magazine. It also marked my restart of writing articles for the model railroad press. I now have a few in the publishing pipeline.

The lows were the floods. The first caused a lot of damage in the basement. Fortunately, the Aquia layout survived with very little damage, though I removed PoLA and sold it to my friend Tom. He promptly moved to Austin, Texas and took PoLA with him!

The second flood didn't hurt the layout, but required extensive repairs in  the upstairs part of the house. The upheaval from that work forced me to cancel the op sessions for the North East Interchange, even though that event was the hinge point of all my long term planning for the layout. Then my mom got sick, which postponed nearly all hobby activities.

It turns out that I did very little work on the Aquia Line last year. I did travel a lot and saw lots of layouts. In fact, I did more work and attended more op sessions on other people's layouts than my own.

There is still work to do on the Aquia Line. I will try to get more done this upcoming year, but it will be tough as my mom needs more care and I will probably get a hip replacement as my arthritis is getting bad. What little hobby time I have had has been siphoned off to my renewed interesting in wargaming, which I enjoy and my wife seems to support too. So it hasn't been all bad.

This year started off with an unusual project. For his Christmas present, my younger brother requested that I build a display shelf for his 3-rail O scale train set. He and his fiancĂ© set up a train layout under their Christmas tree. He provides the trains, a Lionel GG-1 with seven passenger cars. She provides the scenery, a large collection of ceramic buildings with lighting, etc.
The two shelf sections are just
under 10 feet long
He wanted a shelf where he could display his trains during the rest of the year when they are not under the tree. He wanted some scenery on the shelf too.

Since I didn't have a chance to build it before Christmas, it became the first project of the new year.  The shelf is composed of two poplar 1x6 boards, each 5 feet long. I squared up the boards and used Festool Dominos to align the two pieces.

The Festool dominos are visible on the left of the front shelf
Then I made roadbed sections using 1/8th inch MDF.  I cut the roadbed strips with a 45 degree taper using my track saw. I glued and brad nailed the road bed pieces to the poplar boards. Then I used my Festool Rotex sander to reduce the angle of repose of the shoulder of the roadbed and to carve out some ditches in the poplar board.

It was a simple matter to spike down some Atlas O scale track, paint and scenic it. I used some sand I purchased at Michaels craft store as ballast. It had a sparkle, so I needed to spray the track with a light coat of gray to kill the gloss. I didn't have enough tan ballast, so I used some N Scale cinders to line the edge of the road bed.  Some ground foam and static grass completed the scenery.

I didn't build the shelf brackets. It is up to him to figure out how he plans to mount it is his home.

Finished product 

December 16, 2019

Merry Christmas 2019



This animated battle map was very well done.
A plaque outside the visitor's center describes the opening
phases of the battle
The NPS spent over a million dollars restoring
 the exterior of the Worthington Farm House,
but the interior was not completely restored.
Location where confederate artillery began the battle
The past few months have been trying times for us. We managed to rebuild the damage after the flood and even had a chance to upgrade some parts the house. Then, after Thanksgiving, my mother got sick and spent 10 days in hospital and 6 days in rehab. She made a good recovery thanks to modern medicine and wonderful nurses and doctors.

Last weekend, we transported mom to Pennsylvania where she will spend Christmas with my brother.  On the way back home, we had just enough daylight to stop at the Monocacy battlefield. We had visited it about 15 years ago with Alicia's mom and dad on a genealogy trip with several members of the Worthington family.

The farm house in the lead photo is the Worthington House on the battlefield. Fighting swirled around the farm while a boy, one of Alicia's distant relatives, watched the battle from the basement. He later wrote the book, "The Battle that Saved Washington."

I would like to build a model of this farm for the expanded Aquia Line layout. Hopefully, I can begin work on that in 2020.

The NPS has built a new visitor's center on the north side of the battlefield. It has some nice displays, including one of the better animated battle maps I have seen.

Along with the family connection, the Battle of Monocacy holds a special place in my memory. The first miniature wargame I played was a scenario based on the Battle of Monocacy. It was at Larry Bond's house around 1988. It was this game the really ignited my interest in civil war history and gaming.





























November 14, 2019

Not again!

Current state of our dining room


Last week we had an unfortunate plumbing incident that resulted in water damage to our master bathroom and dining room downstairs. A toilet leak developed while we were sleeping. Because the water was from a toilet, the flood repair folks treated it as biohazard, so all the wet stuff had to be removed.

The short version is that we have to get new floors in the master bath, and new sheet rock in the dining room. The demolition and repair work is underway. Since some of the upstairs carpet had to be removed, we took this opportunity to install hardwood floors on the whole upstairs level.

Events like this are very disruptive. We have spent a large portion of our time moving and covering furniture, organizing  clean up crews, finding contractors, selecting materials, purchasing supplies, waiting for insurance adjusters, etc. I had to cancel an op session last weekend because the house is in disarray as furniture is either moved or covered to prevent dust.

The basement has proven to be the one place where we can find relative peace and a sense of normalcy. A small amount of water reached the basement, but did not cause any damage as it went to the drain in the utility space without touching anything that could be damaged. The layout was not damaged at all.

I am using the "free time" I have in this period to work on the large side wheel steam ship kit. I have discussed this kit before. As I have stated before, the kit is spectacularly bad. It is so bad, that each time I start work on it, I get demotivated, and I look for something else to do.  The kit is oriented toward building a pond model so the level of detail and construction techniques tend more to robust toy versus fine scale model. The instructions in particular are very poor, despite being voluminous. So I am discarding most of the kit and making my own parts to better match photos of paddle wheelers that were at Aquia Landing or in use in the ACW.  It remains to be seen how it all comes out.

I also built some new paint racks for my model work bench to try to get a handle on the myriad bottles of paint, washes and weathering powders I have accumulated.



Hopefully by next week, the house will be put back in normal operation and I can prepare for visitors for North East Interchange.




November 5, 2019

Building a model display case

I am gradually getting things knocked off my do list. Today I finished a small display cabinet to store and display the military miniatures I have been building over the past year.

I decided that the models deserved better treatment than to be stuffed in storage boxes in a closet. So I made a cherry wood display cabinet with acrylic shelves. I installed a battery powered LED light in the top. The LED lighting can display different colors to reflect the mood. The models are on display near my work shop and gaming room.

I added a seventh shelf since taking these pictures.












I used the display case as a sample project to learn Fusion 360. I recently downloaded the program and started to take some tutorials on it.  I drew the display cabinet as an exercise. This is in preparation for learning how to do 3D printing. That is another item on my do list.


Next, I want to build a larger display case that will organize and display my 1/43rd scale Porsche race car collection. The theme will be "The History of Porsche Racing."  I hope to use some of the lessons I learned from the first display cabinet to improve this larger one.

The frame glue-up

Mood lighting


Once the Porsche racing cabinet is done, I'll be able to start work on the shelving in my office including space for a small layout.

But before that happens, I have some op sessions on the Aquia Line to prepare for, and several projects for Alkem Scale Models.

Recycling The Cambrai Diorama




Night shot on the diorama 


A few weeks ago, Jonathan Goldman, the new curator of the B&O Museum, called me to say that their "First to Fight" WWI exhibit was being redone. They wanted to return the WWI diorama to me. I did not expect to get it back and I don't have any place to store it at my house. So I told them I would stop by the museum and take the diorama apart. I would keep the models, but discard the frame. Here is a brief video showing scenes from the diorama.




Museum crew lift the vitrine off the layout
That is what Alicia and I did last weekend. After golf lessons in Columbia, MD we stopped by the museum. The crew there helped remove the vitrine, which was very heavy. Then I stripped the figures, tanks, structures, railcars and some of the details. The rest of the diorama went in the trash.

L to R Amanda (museum designer), Alicia, and Ana (museum archivist) 
As I examined the models, I was reminded about how nice the W^D  Models WWI figures are. They are some of the nicest sculpted small scale figures I have seen. W^D also makes some great detail stuff for WWI era military modeling.

I don't have any immediate plans for the residual pieces from the WWI diorama. Last year Bachman UK announced the release of a 2-6-2T Baldwin steam engine in OO scale. That would be the correct engine for this era and locale. Perhaps I'll build  a new version of the diorama that is more portable and operates using that Bachman engine for motive power.

However, Bachman USA also announced the 2-6-2T in On30. I happen to have a bunch of On30 stuff that could be used in a WWI themed layout including  brass kit ion a Dick-Kerr gas electric and some military figures. So maybe an On30 layout will be the next WWI project.

Meanwhile, I am working on existing do-list. I have lots of stuff to get done before tackling a new layout.

October 28, 2019

Virtual Railroading - The USMRR City Point Depot



Chris Gerlach, Tim Muir, Steve Thompson, and help from several others are working on a most remarkable project. They are trying to create a virtual model of the USMRR supply depot at City Point, VA during the Civil War. They have been at this project for several years and their effort has resulted in a spectacular virtual railroad. It continues to improve as they add detail and more realistic features, such as moving steamships. 

The images are some screenshots from the virtual project that Chris has posted to the ACWRRHS at groups.io. Members of the groups.io  can see more images, but I believe you have to be a member that specific group. The fee is quite modest and it covers the cost that groups.io charges.

Here is how Chris describes the project, 


"City Point Army Line USMRR 1864-65
We have started a project to reconstruct the USMRR based at City Point Virginia in support of the final campaign of the Civil War, focused on the Siege of Petersburg. The Union Army restored an older rail line to supply the front lines and constructed over 280 new supply, housing and service structures including a large engine house, car repair shop, other shops and huge warehouses along the shore that supplied freight to the railroad. We also plan to detail out the battlefield, and the James River and all of the shipping and other items but have started with the rolling stock of the Railroad, being constructed by our Trainmaster Tim Muir, and the Route itself, land and scenery, structures and details by our Roadmaster Steve Thompson. This is all being done in digital format and will operate using a railroad simulation program called Microsoft Train Sim but updated in to a new upgraded forma called Open Rails. I am the Project Lead and am leading the part of our team making the structures and models of ships, equipment, figures and clutter. We plan for a development of two to three years. We have been fortunate to have been able to obtain high rez scans of relevant military maps, thanks to Mike Weigal, and various archives and also to obtain many very good high rez glass negative photos from both the US Military Archives and other..."

Chris Gerlach writes, "The fine model of the Mason Locomotive the USMRR Gen. J.C.Robinson which was built as the General Haupt and re named. This model took over a year of research and work to finish, and features a complete build of all operating parts, in historically accurate textures and paint schemes as best can be determined from the advice and references available and from Tim's own deep research and 20 years of modelling in great detail of many rail locomotives, and traction engines John Ott very kindly provided the template for the unique lettering on the tender, for which Tim and we all were very grateful."

October 27, 2019

An In-door/Out-Door Layout

The large size of G gauge cars and structures makes prototype layout planning difficult but not impossible 
I visited Fred and Helen Hutchison today to see Fred's work in progress on his new 1:22.5 scale model railroad.  I also got to meet their new grand daughter! He and his wife live in the Maryland suburbs northwest of Washington, DC. Fred is a fraternity brother from Kappa Sigma at MIT. Fred was class of 75, three years ahead of me at the 'tute. It turns out that there were several model railroaders  and one serious railfan in my fraternity. Along with Fred, Andy Zalewski, and Steve Semken are model railroaders. Steve was a member of the Tech Model railroad club while he was at school.  None of the rest of us were members of the club, as far as I knew. Steve claims he tried to recruit me to the club, but I wasn't interested at the time. The serious railfan was Larry Gross. He ended up making the railroad business his career. He was heavily involved in the development of the Roadrailer concept. Larry also has several by-lines in Trains magazine.

But back to Fred's layout. He is planning a G gauge (1:22.5) layout in his garage. His objective is to have an operating layout that also allows him to do build and showcase some fine scale modeling.  His concept is quite clever. He plans to use about one third of his two-car garage to create a switching layout based on the town of Black Hawk, CO on the Colorado and Southern narrow gauge railroad. His plan is not quite finished, but it is prototype based and depicts most to the railroad items of interest in the town including the station, turntable, beer distributors, ore mill, and two run-around tracks.

To fit this along one side of his garage and make it operational, he plans to add a temporary staging track at one end. That track will extend out of the garage. He will only set it up when he is operating. Thus, his layout has elements of both an indoor and outdoor layout.

The benchwork is about 21 feet long and 5 feet wide. He plans to  build large, rolling storage bins under the layout to keep various household items. To provide access to the rear of the layout, he plans to mount all of the baseboards on a rollers. When needed, he would be able to pull the layout benchwork away from the wall to access the rear without disturbing the 2x4 supporting framework.

Some of Fred's C&S Station decor
He has decorated the walls of the garage to look like the exterior of a Colorado and Southern Railroad Depot. He made a replica station sign and has several cool posters on the wall to set the era and mood.

Fred has some impressive motive power. It will be fun to watch the large scale rolling stock in action at nearly eye level.  The higher layout height will also allow one to see all the impressive detail that one can model in large scale.  This is going to be neat layout.
Fred posing by the framework that will support the baseboards.