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.

January 19, 2010

"By Jove, Haupt, that is an fine piece of engineering"

"Thank you, Mr Stevenson. We'll be running trains on this bridge in a few days time."

"Those piers look a mite dodgy."

"They are just in the approximate location.We'll have them squared and plumb once the scenery glue dries. "

"Well Haupt, General Hooker is sure to be pleased.

"The Army shall not want for supplies on our account. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to prepare a detailed report for General McCallum."

Several people asked about the scenery treatment. I used pretty standard techniques, except that I did not rely on ground foam for texture, only for tinting. This is O Scale and ground foam is not a good scenic base for larger scale work.

Rocks are combination of foam castings and hand carved Durhams water putty. When making the water putty I mix in a couple table spoons of finely sifted dirt, and a good shot of Spice Brown acrylic paint. This helps tone down the stark pale yellow color of the water putty. Once carved, they got a base coat of paint, then dry brush and dark washes - all with acrylics.

Base paint is a red textured paint from the Ralph Lauren River Rock line called Adirondack Bark color. I bring it onto the fascia too. My Home Depot will be discontinuing it in March, so I bought a gallon last night. At $40 a gallon it is not cheap.

Next is a layer of sifted dirt I collected in Utah. It is a decomposed conglomerate that had a red color. I selected it so that it would match the red Virginia clay in the modeled area. I found it in a rock cut last summer near the Lake Jordanelle reservoir. I packed a large USPS Priority Mail flat rate box with zip locked bags of it and mailed it home. I tried using various red clays for the base dirt, but they swell when wet, and shrink once dry causing cracks. Decomposed rocks doesn't do this. I used standard white glue and wet water technique. For the steep slopes I applied a layer of straight white glue so the dirt would stick as aI sprinkled it on. Strong sprays with the water bottle helps the dirt flow realistically on the rock faces to simulate erosion. I use paper towels to sop up the excess water that collects at the bottom.

The next step I struggled with as I have not done much O Scale scenery before. After studying photos of the era and studying some wooded areas near my house in winter, I decided to use a combination of WS ground foam and static grass. I was concerned that the ground foam would be out of scale. But what the ground foam does is tint the base scene creating a level of micro texture. I applied the static grass without static. In this way it takes on the appearance of matted winter grass that has been trampled by soldiers. Just what I wanted. The combination of colors matches well with the palette I used on the backdrop (one of the advantages of a hand painted backdrop).

Once the base is dry, I will go back in and dry brush just about everything to held blend it. I have been trying a new dry brush technique that actually uses very thin coats of dilute acrylics, so it is not a dry brush at all, but the strokes are similar to the normal dry brushing. This is a technique I learned from figure painters and it creates a much better blend/transition of colors. You hit the highlights with progressive very thin layers of dilute paint. The color builds up gradually and creates highlights without the rough contrast that traditional dry brushing can cause.

I added a few stumps and ground leaves in the background, but more of that work remains. I have lots of detail to add including grass clumps, leaf less bushes, log cribs, construction debris and detritus in the river to add. The creek will have mud banks and water made with easy water and gloss acrylic. I have been experimenting with pot toppers for the grass clumps trying to find the proper color. Their store bought green color is too artificial looking to use on a layout.

January 15, 2010

Putting things in perspective

I was thinking about the previous layouts I had started in my current layout room and was wondering how it was that I was able to fit an O Scale layout in this space. That inspired me to take a shot comparing O Scale civil war era equipment to modern equipment. In this shot we see my O Scale 4-4-0 USMRR Haupt compared to an HO scale Sante Fe Dash-9 and a N scale DRGW SD-50. The heft of the O scale equipment is obvious, even though the engine is about the same length as a HO Scale Dash 9. On the other hand the N Scale loco looks tiny!

In going through my old photos, I found a shot of the first layout I started in this space, a double deck depiction of the DRGW line through Soldier Summit in N Scale. I had all the benchwork finished and some track down, when I began to believe that the layout was too complex for me to have a reasonable chance of completing. After several other layout attempts in this space, a couple books and many modules later, I ended up with the USMRR O Scale layout. However, most of the benchwork from that first layout is incorporated into the current layout.

January 13, 2010

Identity of this ship type?

A question for you sailing experts- What kind of ship is docked in the foreground of this picture taken in Alexandria in the 1860s. (Click image to enlarge) It is a cargo schooner of some type, but with a slab sided, almost barge-like hull. The stern is squared off, and very "boxy". Note the next ship in the background is similar. The bulwarks are tall and solid, with no railings.

These type of ships were common cargo haulers in the Civil War, yet I can't seem to find any information about them. Most of the schooners from that era that I can find out about are either racing yachts, fishing ships or Baltimore Clippers. All have much more graceful hulls than the ship pictured here.

What is it called? Any ideas where I can get a set of plans for one?

Initial research lead me to think it may be a Ram schooner. But this was ruled out as more information became available. This is from Bayou Journal
Ram schooners were an evolutionary sideline, a branch off the long line of schooners in Chesapeake history: the fast slavers, the Baltimore clippers, the big coasters that ranged from New England to the Caribbean, and the sleek pleasure yachts and racers.

Ram schooners were relatively high and “wall-sided” to increase capacity. This, coupled with their relatively shallow draft meant that they would slide sideways when sailing into the wind. While the ram’s design meant that it sailed poorly compared with other schooners, its broad, rectangular midsection was characteristic of most later sail merchant ships—a huge box with maximum cargo space.

The following NPS website has a pretty good history of the Cheasapeake Ram Schooner. http://www.nps.gov/history/maritime/nhl/victory.htm that convinced me that Ram Schooner isn't the right answer. According to this web site, like the Chesapeake Ram Schooner has three masts. But the other attributes, such as bald head gaff rig and boxy hull, seem to match.

The mystery continued until I borrowed a copy of the book "Chesapeake Bay Schooners" by Snediker and Jensen from the LoC. It has all the info I need to build a appropriate model. These were not Chesapeake Rams. A quick read of the book indicates that a two-masted centerboard freight vessel were simply called "Chesapeake Bay Schooners." Mystery solved. I ordered a copy from Amazon.

The design was a development of the Baltimore Clipper, but with a full bodied hull for more cargo. Many had centerboards for operation in shallow water. According to Chapelle, a Chesapeake Bay schooner had a straight keel, an upright, flaring stem, a round tuck, and a square stern with a upper and lower transom. She had a flush deck, a short but unusually sharp convex entrance, and a rather long, fine run. Her midsection was characterized by a floor that had a slight rise, a low round bilge and some tumble home in the topsides and a long exaggerated cutwater. However, Snediker goes on to say that surefire identification was impossible due to many local variations. Fortunately, his book has several plans suitable for model building.

No ifs, ands, or abutments

Time for the home stretch run on the Potomac Creek bridge. I added the stringers and ties to the top deck. I just need to add the nuts and washers to the truss rods and the truss portion of the bridge will be complete.

With the stringers and ties added, I was able to begin work on the abutments. The abutments must be sized to hold the top of the bridge at the proper elevation. Thus you need to have the stringers and ties in place to match the ties of the truss with the ties on the ground.

Likewise, the roadbed at each end of the bridge should be installed to set the final elevation of the track. I had the south bank done, but I needed to add the sub roadbed at the north end. Here is a photo showing the 30 inch curve template and the laser cut (with kerfs) north bank sub roadbed. I used hot glue, yellow carpenter glue and Elmers wood putty to hold and smooth the roadbed section.

Note how the track curve begins on the bridge. The stringers underneath are angled to accommodate this curve. Wooden bridge stringers are almost always straight. Some contemporary bridges use curved steel and cast concrete stringers.

Here is the first substructure for the southern abutment. The near vertical walls will be covered with embossed styrene stone sheeting. The lower bearing surface will be covered with Durham's water putty to represent the bed rock of the out cropping. I will make final height adjustments with wooden shims under the sways backs of the truss.

I am using 1/8th inch soft plywood for the substructure. It is a nice material to use as it is easy to cut and very strong. Hot glue also works well to hold it together, but still allows easy dis-assembly for adjustments etc.

The holes will be filled in with scenery material to represent the natural slopes.

I decided to add a stepped front to the abutment to allow a place for the bridge stringer to rest. I did it by building up a stepped area with wood strips (actually left over stringers from the bridge). Then I covered it with stone plastic sheet. Like my earlier abutment, I filled in the gaps in the corners with CAA and Tamiya Putty. A bit of sculpting with a file and knife and it's almost impossible to find the seam. The rough stone plastic is very forgiving.
The plastic stone sheets are from a UK manufacturer. I got them from a US Supplier:

Railway Models
P.O. Box 871
Edgewood, MD. 21040

January 11, 2010

Care and feeding the mechanical beast

Model railroads are temperamental beasts. I recently finished some new freight cars for the railroad. As I was test running them, I experienced derailments at the first turnout into Falmouth. This turnout has worked without problem all the previous year.

Upon checking I found that one of the stub point rails was interfering with the stock rail. Thus it wasn't closing properly. I nipped off about .0.020" and all was well. Even though the basement is heated and air conditioned, and the benchwork well seasoned in that room, I suppose the cold weather caused the benchwork to shrink more than the rail. Thus the rail had closed the gap. Hopefully as the temperature warms up the gap will not grow too wide.

Issues like this reinforce my decision to go for a simplified track plan with as few turnouts as possible to keep maintenance manageable.

On the bright side, the new boxcars do look good running on the layout.

January 6, 2010

Pilot Model of Alkem Scale Models USMRR Box Car

I will be heading to the Cocoa Beach Railroad Prototype Meet later this week. I was hoping for some warm weather, but it looks like Florida is also suffering a cold spell. If you are going to be there please be sure to say hi.

I will not be selling at the meet but I will display two of the pilot models for future Alkem Scale Models O Scale freight cars kits. The box car is pictured below. I posted photos of the flat car earlier. These are pilot models. Thus several small changes are needed before it is ready for production.

The freight car kits will include the trucks and perhaps the photo-etched link and pin couplers. The trucks will also be available separately.

This is a shot of a prototype box car at Alexandria Yard awaiting repair. The model car is based on details visible in this shot. In examining photos of the USMRR cars ones finds many detail differences from car to car such as roof walks, truss rods, type of truck, door hardware, ladder style etc.