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 30, 2011

Book Review: "Engines of War, How Wars were Won and Lost on the Railways"

I just finished reading the first couple of chapters of Christian Wolmar's new book, "Engines of War, How Wars were Won and Lost on the Railways."

Wolmar is a leading British railroad historian and commentator on current railroads. I got the book mostly for its chapter on the Crimean War and the rail line there. But I found the first three chapters taking the reader up to and through the ACW most interesting. I did not read the chapters dealing with the periods after the ACW, but they do look quite interesting. I hope to come back to then later when I have some more time.

A photo from the US Library of Congress
Fenton Collection of Crimean War
salted paper images. This is one of the few photos that shows
the railroad. In this shot the line is under construction.
The Crimean Chapter was most enlightening to me as I did not know much about the rail line. It utilized both locomotives for the flat sections near the harbor, stationary steam engines and cables for the steep sections, horse drawn carts for the final delivery, and gravity to return the cars to the port. Now that would be an amazing RR to try to model.

The chapter on the civil war entitled, "Slavery Loses Out to the Iron Road" was good, but as a specialist in ACW RRs I could sense that a few things were just slightly off. I won't detail them here as they would mostly be in the category of nitpicks. But I did find it curious that he attributes the development of "U" hooks to destroy rails to the confederate raiders that destroyed the RF&P in 1862. I had read that Smeed and Haupt had come up with that idea. Likewise, he credits torpedoes placed in holes drilled in bridge members to that same raid. Again, I thought Haupt came up with that in Alexandria.

His perspective on the origins of the war and the role RRs played was interesting. The title of the chapter alone is evidence of his outsider's slant. Some American historians downplay the role slavery had in the war, but Wolmar's British interpretation as evidenced in this book is not so nuanced, and tags slavery as the primary issue.

His analysis of the importance of railroads is quite good. He makes a distinction between the eastern and western theaters. He posits that the western theaters relied more on ships than railroads, due to the lack of railroad infrastructure there.

I found it interesting that he used Sherman's campaign as the best example of how railroads influenced the battle and war's outcome.

My own thinking is evolving on this subject, as I now am beginning to conclude that we as rail enthusiasts might be overstating the importance of railroads. Yes, railroads were important, but to win the war, Union Armies largely abandoned their railroad lines of supply to maneuver freely against the south and devastate the rebelling states. Sherman's campaign after Atlanta, Sheridan's campaign in the Shenandoah, and Grant's Vicksburg and Overland campaign were done largely without railroad support.

Wolmar makes the point that Sherman stockpiled supplies sent by rail to Atlanta before embarking on his March to the Sea. I wonder how many days of supply he actually took with him compared to how much they foraged. And yes, Grant built the City Point line to supply his army in the siege, but he chose the Overland approach hugging the Potomac because of he did not want to rely on a long rail line through occupied territory.

Of course, Lee's unsuccessful forays into Maryland and Pennsylvania were limited by lack of logistic support without railroads or riverine support. I would categorize them more as raids.

Wolmar does discuss the role of railroads in strategically moving troops as both north and south did that rather effectively.

Overall, I'd recommend Wolmar's book to rail enthusiasts interested in military history.

April 27, 2011

Loading Wood

Loading wood to the Engine McCallum. The figure is a SMR engine crew man.

April 25, 2011

New HO Scale Locomotives

Precision Scale has announced that they will be offering an HO scale model of the Lincoln Funeral train. The three piece set includes the Nashville 4-4-0, the presidential car and an officers car. These look like finely detailed models. They are priced at $2375 for the set.  There are many more photos of the models at this link. PSC is taking reservations now.

Combine this offering with the recent announcement of the Engine Haupt 4-4-0 by Eight Wheeler models, a Swedish model railroad manufacturer, and the outlook for fine HO scale ACW era locomotives is improving.

Test view of the Eight Wheeler Models tender for Haupt.

April 24, 2011

Train of Doom

In 1962 Topps released a set of collectable  cards to commemorate the Centennial of the war. One of the 88 cards was called the "Train of Doom." The front shows an artist's conception of the accident, while the back explains the story. I have never heard about this incident before, but I post it here in case anyone else knows more details.

The other cards in this set can be seen at the Authentic History web site civil war pages.
After having read some of these cards, I suspect that the history they present is not well researched, to put it mildly.

April 17, 2011

Mr Tea Visits

No, not him! Though he is welcome to visit and pity me and my jibber jabber.

It was Peter Magoun, from Traverse City, MI who visited the layout today. Pete earned his nickname by sending me a box full of used, dried tea leaves. These are really great for scenery detailing.

Pete has been following the progress of the layout via the blog and my posts on the Railroad Line Forums. Pete was on his way back to Michigan, so he didn't have a lot of time. But he did get a chance to run a couple short trains to test the link & pin couplers and stub turnouts.

Pete owns a hobby shop in Traverse City. I haven't been there but it sounds like a nice shop. They have a display layout.  Pete is also involved in the Maine HOn30 Model Railroad group, but I may not have the name of the group right. I don't know if they have a group web site. Pete was also a navy aviator. He was very impressed with the plans for the steam ships. He works with a group on Lake Michigan  that teaches sailing to children.

Here Pete is running the engine Haupt at Brook with a short train.

April 16, 2011

Hearts in Bondage

The civil war is replete with instances where last minute reinforcements arrived to win the day. Frequently it was the  railroads that hauled the men and guns to save the day. Johnston's arrival at First Bull Run, Hood at Chickamagua, and Ricketts at Monocacy are just some examples. But possibly the most incredible example of last minute rescue was the Battle of Hampton Roads, a naval battle.

The story of how the ironclad USN Monitor arrived just in time to stop the CSN Virginia (nee USN Merrimac) is truly amazing. The outcome of the battle and its subsequent effect on naval warfare was one of the most significant military events of the war.
A scene from the movie showing some of the fine modeling and simple but effective special effects.

Before the era of CGI, Hollywood relied on skilled model 
builders for scenes like this showing the CSN Virginia 
at dock at Gosport Naval Yard, Norfolk, VA.
I recently watched a fine little movie about this battle called, "Hearts in Bondage." Although filmed 75 years ago the movie features some excellent model making and special effects considering the era it was made.  I especially liked Frank McGlynn as Lincoln and Irving Pichel as Gideon Wells. But what was with Commodore Farragut's eyebrows (but I liked how his character was portrayed)?

The plot is a bit melodramatic, the issues portrayed simplistically and stereotypically (especially the view of African Americans), but overall I recommend it. It's available for instant viewing on Netflix. You can also watch it on-line for free below though this transfer is not as good as the Netflix one.

There is another made for TV film on the same subject from Turner Movies in 1991, but it is not available on-line. It stars the lovely Virginia Madsen as a union spy, so that makes it worth investigating. But in the meantime, take a peek at Hearts in Bondage. It's a good way to spend a rainy day if you're not working on the layout.

April 12, 2011

Different Viewpoints

I tried a couple photos from different viewpoints trying to show an engine coming off the turntable at Falmouth. I used my  Canon 5D with the 28mm lens. This didn't allow me to focus as close as needed. I'll have to try with the macro lens later.

Need more sharpness in the foreground on this one

April 6, 2011

Mini-Op Session

Jim Karcher, a friend of the landscape designer that is working with Alicia to redo the landscaping in the back yard,  visited the layout this week. He is a former Navy Commander with A-6 Intruder background. He currently works as the Safety Director for the NSF Antarctic and Arctic Operations.

He has an interest in model trains and is considering an N Scale layout. He had a chance to do a mini-op session on the layout taking the Whiton and a few cars from Brook to Stonemans. The locos operated well, with no derailments, though Whiton did short briefly at the lead turnout to Stonemans. I am not sure what is happening there.

April 4, 2011

A Civil War Railroad Road Show

Over the past 20 years I have been very involved in N scale modular railroading. I still participate in the C&O Mountain Sub Division oNeTRAK group. But the thought occurred to me that a portable display layout with a ACW theme might be a good way to promote the topic and be a way to expand the fun beyond the basement.

Since I am deeply involved in building an O Scale layout at home, I thought that an O scale display layout would not be too much additional work. I have been casting about for some ideas. Two sections that are 6.5 feet long and three feet wide would fit easily in my current Chevy Tahoe. The display layout would feature a prototype based Layout Design Element (LDE). Since I model the USMRR, I would carry that over to the display layout. Three LDEs seem suitable, Gettysburg, PA,  Maryland Avenue, Washington, DC and perhaps Ellicot City, MD though it is on the B&O.

As I researched the subject, I seem to be leaning toward Maryland Ave. There are a couple photos available showing the depot and the Capitol in the background. I have a detailed track map that shows a station, depot, and turntable. There is a through track and a spur. It was the terminus of the Washington & Alexandria RR, but did have a through connection with the B&O. There was a lot of interchange there. The switch lists and conductors reports for this line are available at the National Archives.

Overall view of the Maryland Ave Depot and station. This scene is gone, replaced by urban development. It is
near the current L'Enfant Metro and VRE station. There are about 20 locomotives visible in this photos.

This photo looks uninteresting, until you look at some of the detail available in the high resolution image file.
 See the images below.

Note the wood box car with outside braces, the telegraph poles, the wood residences and of course, the
 US Capitol under construction.
In this shot you can see a good view of the wood rick, a gas light (working lightswould be a neat
option to add to a layout) ( using electricity not gas) and the brick town house in the background.
The far left of the image shows the end of a flat car with the truck showing the road number, the first time I have
seen an example of that. There is a grocery behind the trees, as well as a wagon or buggy park, and more
 tracks in the scene.

These two maps show how the depot fits into the Washington area, and a close-up of the railroad facilities. The LDE would be fairly simple to copy from these. I'll post my design later. The photos show more tracks than what are indicated on the maps.


These snips are from a larger map at the National Archives drawn by Merrick in 1865. Here is the direct link. A very high resolution copy of the map can be found here.

April 3, 2011

Reinforcements Arrived

Lieutenant Drye recruited a company of US Regulars for picket duty on the Aquia Line. He purchased these figures at the Cold Wars Miniature Gaming Convention last month. These are mostly Old Glory 28mm figures painted by a professional figure painter to a high war game standard. Unfortunately, I don't know who the painter was so I can't credit him.

They are currently mounted on gaming bases, but I will probably need to remove them and place them individually on a dirt road in the background.  I also need to replace the flags, which would most likely be cased for an administrative move like marching around camps. I have nearly 100 Old Glory figures that will help fill out this unit. Eventually I plan to have a column of about 200 men marching and another unit of about equal size in formation at attention or at ease.

I also had some visitors this weekend. On Friday Andy Sperandeo and Paul Dolkos stopped by for a visit.  On Sunday Brian and Jake Brendel visited the layout. This was Jake's first visit.  I fired up the layout, but things were running a bit rough, as the track was dirty from all the ballasting and construction work. Things ran much better after I cleaned the tracks.

Jake and Brian -  click the image for the full story.