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.

April 17, 2021

Florida - Part 2 Cape Canaveral

On Monday my brother and I had an appointment with Bill Paul, a curator of the USAF Space and Missile Museum. Bill and my brother are in the same model club, so we were able to set up a visit to the USAF Cape Canaveral Museum archives even though they are closed on Mondays and are very limited in visiting due to security and COVID concerns. My purpose in visiting the archives was to find plans for the mobile launch pad, also called the transporter, used at Launch Complex 41 (LC 41) to move the Titan Missiles from assembly buildings to the launch pad.  I want to build a model of this facility as I think the juxtaposition of rockets and trains is really cool. 

Current mobile launch pad

If you have my book, "45 Track Plans" you would know that I wrote about how United Launch Alliance (ULA) currently uses trackmobiles to push their mobile launch pad at LC41.  See photo at left. 

Before ULA took over operation of LC41, the USAF used LC40 and LC41 to launch numerous Titan III and Titan IV missiles.  In the Titan era, they also used a mobile launch pad but it was pushed by SW-8 locomotives.

The locomotives are actually US Army Korean war veterans that the USAF employed here. One of them is on display at their museum at Cape Canaveral (see photo above). The arm on the engineer side of the loco allows the operators to connect two locos so they can be operated at the same time, i.e. to MU them. 

Alas, we were unable to  plans for the mobile launch pad. We did find some photos that would help. 

But the best photo I have is from a friend's collection.  You can't see how the boom is deployed in this photo. Note the charring on the tower from exhaust from previous missile launches.

This is an example of the scene I want to model. Titan III on the transporter (aka Mobile launch pad)

This photo shows the boom extended.  Anway, I am hesitant to proceed without a better set of plans. I may be able to draw some based on photos, but for now this project has moved down on the "do-list."


One of the artifacts on display at the archives was this Atlas Mercury missile signed by the Mercury astronauts. I got to handle it too! It needs some repairs, but to say it is very valuable is an understatement. 

After looking through the archives, we made a visit to the USAF Museum Annex where we got to see the missiles on display in their protected environment. The missiles look great and being protected from the sun and salt air will certainly help preserve them.  

We also got a peek at Blue Origin's launch pad and the Cape Canaveral light house. 

Some of the missile on display at the Missile Annex

One of the unusual missiles on display at the museum 

As we were driving around the base, we had to yield to a SpaceX missile transporter that was heading to the port to retrieve a used booster. As an added treat, I got to see that SpaceX booster being recovered from their barge at the Port of Canaveral. I was lucky a couple years ago to see a SpaceX launch from my in-laws' condo in Daytona Beach Shores.  See video below.

Stay tuned for part 3 of our amazing week in Florida. 

SpaceX Booster being recovered at Port Canaveral Hmm, I do have an HO scale model of that crane.....the mind boggles.

April 16, 2021

Jaxcon 2021

We are back from Florida visiting our family. We had a fun and productive trip. My back precluded my playing golf, so I was the caddy. Walks on the beach and stretching did help and I am feeling better.

My two models on display and their medals
 The first model related event was Jaxcon 2021. That IPMS meet was held in a very large auditorium of a local church. Everyone was really friendly and happy to discuss their models.  About 250 very nice models in several categories were on display. That was about half the normal number.  After lunch, the organizers went about judging the models for medals and best of categories. They awarded bronze, silver and gold.  This meet does judging a little different from others in that they assess models against a standard, but what the standard was I do not know.  Later I learned  that they assessed that any model built out of the box, i.e. stock, could not qualify for a gold.  

I had two models on display, the 1/32 Land Merrimack and the 1/56th Battle for Aachen. The Land Merrimack got a gold and the Battle for Aachen got a silver. I suspected that would be the case as many IPMS modelers are accustomed to super-detailed, larger scale models and smaller scale models have to be really outstanding to attract attention.  The fact that the Land Merrimack is totally scratch built, and has working brakes and an operable cannon also attracts attention.

My brother's display of 1/72nd scale armor models
was awarded a Gold Medal.
My brother had several models on display and he received a gold, 4 silvers and a bronze. Given that he took up modeling about 18 months ago that is quite an achievement. 

In general I am not that enamored with model contests. So I liked the idea of awarding medals according to a standard. But there were some extremely well built models that did not receive medals. From what I could tell, if a model was not weathered, it did not receive an award, no matter how finely built except for model show cars, like hot rods.
These ship models were well built but did not get medals

Possibly the best paint I have ever 
seen on a model
Speaking of hot rods, there was one model hot rod that had the most impressive paint job I have ever seen on a model car. The builder was a retired auto body painter and he did an amazing job. He received a gold medal and best car model award.

There were a few of the large scale armor models on display. These models out of the box are so well detailed it is amazing.  The photo below shows a 1/35 and a 1/16 scale Abrams tank adjacent to each other.

More about our Florida adventures in a later posts.

April 7, 2021

Back Door to the City of Charlemagne - Battle for Aachen

We are planning on visiting family in Florida next week. My brother convinced me to bring some of my models to display at the JAXCON, the 2021 IPMS meet for northeastern Florida. I was working on a diorama of a scene in WW2, so I decided to finish it to display at the meet.

This diorama is based on a series of 3 photos that shows US tanks from the 745th Independent Tank Battalion and soldiers from E Company, 2 Bn -26th Infantry Regiment, of the 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One)  at the Rothe Erde train station. Rothe Erde is an industrial suburb east of Aachen. 

The following excerpt from CSI Battlebook 13-C, The Battle of Aachen, Ft Leavenworth, KS describes the scene in the diorama. 

This photo was inspiration for the diorama

The 2nd Battalion was finally ready to enter the city proper. The railroad tracks marked the southern limits of the city and would be considered the line of departure (LD). The LD embankment was about 30 feet high on the west side of the Battalion sector and sloped to about 15 feet on the east side.

The banks were fairly steep and would impose an obstacle to vehicles. There was one underpass in the Battalion zone, but this was blocked (note a down bridge and other obstacles). The plan called for the 2nd Battalion to drive to the north and the 3rd Battalion to attack west with the two meeting on the north-east border of the city. The 2nd Battalion had all three rifle companies on line; "F", 'E", "G", in order, east to west. 

The blown railway bridge over Adalbertsteinweg  and other obstacles blocked movement across the railroad line. The Rothe Erde station is just to the left of this image that looks west toward Aachen.


"The problem at that time was how to get the tanks, tank destroyers, and AT guns over the obstacle before the Germans could react. The tank platoon leader made a recon and finally found a place where several tanks could be taken  over. The rest would have to wait until the underpass had been cleared. In the "Capture of Aachen", LTC Daniel relates the detailed planning for the attack. "use heavy air and artillery in early morning. Air will bomb anywhere in city except within 500 yards of the railroad tracks in 2nd Battalion zone. Artillery will stand on line 100 yards from the railroad tracks with light guns. Mediums and heavies will cover from 300-500 yards from the tracks. 2nd Battalion mortars will work the area from the tracks to the artillery line 100 yards beyond. Jump-off time was 0930, 13 October. All artillery would lift 200 yards and air will stop except for targets marked by colored smoke. Main problem was to get infantry across exposed railroad embankment. Each  infantryman was given a hand grenade to throw over the embankment at 0930".

The main attack kicked off and E and F Companies scrambled over the embankment firing every weapon they had. The Germans were completely caught by surprise. They had expected the main attack to come from the south and not the east. Thus, the Americans advanced several blocks before encountering any resistance. As soon as the Germans got partially reorganized, they put up a fierce resistance and fought for every rubble heap.

Every position had to be stormed by the Americans using grenades, bayonets, rifle butts, and flame throwers. F Company had been instructed to stay clear of the built-up area and head north until they reached their zone and then turn west. E Company was to clear all the buildings east of Adalbertsteinweg and north of the tracks. F Company found quite a built-up area in their zone northeast of the cemetery, and was slowed down considerably. By mid-afternoon, E and F companies still had not reached the line that was to allow G Company to be committed. An underpass was created by blowing out part of the walls of the station just to the west of the original underpass. Tanks were then driven through and by nightfall, 13 October, all the fighting vehicles were into the city. G company was also moved from its position along the embankment, so that all units were now in the city and ready for another push on 14 October. It had been determined by this time that daylight operations were absolutely necessary in street fighting to take full advantage of firepower and avoid loss of command and control. 

The model is in 1/56th scale, which is also called 28mm scale. The tank and figures are by Rubicon, who make some of the nicest models in this scale. Note, this is mostly a wargaming scale, so many of the models have coarse, over-scale features to survive rough handling in miniature games. But Rubicon figures and models are very finely made.

I scratch built the station with laser cut parts using photos and measurements of the actual station. I was fortunate that Joseph Franke is currently a graduate student in Aachen and he kindly measured the existing station and got dirt samples for me. The station underwent extensive renovation several times after the war  and many of the  details are now different compared to WW2. So I had to rely on the 3 prototype photos for many of the details. 

It is a railway station so tracks are de rigeur. I hand laid these to 1/56th scale. 
I tried using bolts, but switched to spikes as the bolts were not working for me.

March 26, 2021

Why do you think we find scaled down miniature things so appealing?

Adam Savage, former co-host of "Mythbusters" and now host of "Tested" on Youtube, was recently asked the question, "Why do you think we find scaled down miniature things so appealing?" You can watch the first 2 minutes of the video below to see his answer. Spoiler alert, he really doesn't answer the question. So I ask the same questions here. Why do we find scaled down miniatures so appealing?

In my case, I have enjoyed model building as long as I can remember. I recall the GM Exhibit at the New York Worlds Fair had a big effect on me.  But I don't know if that was result of my existing interest in modeling or if it inspired it. My dad built a train layout for my brother and I as kids, but I never was that interested in trains very much after that. I was more into cars, armor, ships, rockets, and airplanes as a young teen.  It was only after my son was born that I became interested in model railroads. 

For me the fun is in the creating. Once I have the object, it's time to move on and build another.  That is why I often sell, dismantle, discard or give away many of my completed projects. 

Why miniatures versus full scale objects? That I don't know for sure. Perhaps because it's easier to work on a wider variety of things. 

Miniatures have been with us for a long time. In the Getty Villa Museum in Malibu, CA I saw an exhibit of miniature figurines that Roman citizens collected. So the hobby is over 2000 years old. 

But, now I have come to realize that model railroading is a fantastic, if not the best, miniatures hobby. I find the multifaceted nature of it most rewarding. Historical research, carpentry, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electronics including the software side of computers, artist work, photography, and videography are all aspects that I find interesting and rewarding.  Plus, a model railroad is not a static thing. It actually comes life when the trains move and even more when the crews operate it.

Modeling a military railroad combines several of my interests such as military history, figure modeling, warships, on top of the railroad subjects. That makes it more satisfying for me. Civil war era railroad modeling has the advantage of smaller rolling stock, so the space claim is less for any given scale subject.

The social side of model railroading is also rewarding. My wife is no longer amazed that no matter what town we visit, there is usually a model railroader I can visit and go in their house. My layout visit log says I have visited over 300 different layouts since 1992. How many  hobbies have that level of personal interaction?

So what do you think? 

March 25, 2021


I injured my back somehow last week. That has curtailed my layout work, but I was able to catch up on some writing and design projects. CHAIR-BORNE!  (for you former paratroopers.) 

I wrote three articles that seem to have been accepted by the editors. So hopefully we will see them pop up in the magazines at some point. One of the articles was for a new magazine for me, a non-model railroad magazine.There is quite along lead time from article submission to publishing, so it could be a while.

I did shoot some new photos for the articles including this shot of Battery Schaefer. Prior to the layout expansion, this shot was obscured by trees. Now, the trees are no longer in the way and we can get a look at a train coming north past the battery.

Another project I could do from my chair-borne position was a track plan design. A model railroad club in Ogden, Utah obtained access to a store for a semi-permanent layout. Some of their members asked me if I could help with the layout design. They wanted something that featured scenes from the local area, had crowd pleasing features, but also allowed interesting operation. They had sketched out a basic foot print for the layout, so all I had to do was fill it in.

I have rail fanned this area several times so I was familiar with some of the signature scenes. On one trip we caught a UP steam train heading up Weber Canyon. I did a short youtube video on that along with some help from Brian and Jake.

I came up with a rough draft plan. We will see how it evolves and if they use any of my ideas.