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 29, 2012

Static Grass Experiment - a Success!

I bought a Heki static grass machine a year or so ago, but just decided to try using it this weekend. I was very pleased with how the grass turned out. I used a mix of Heki and Woodland Scenic Static Grass fiber. I used diluted white glue to secure the fibers.

For a voltage supply, I turned on my DCC system and clipped the power leads from the unit to the rail using alligator clips. Before adding the fibers I lightly sprayed the overall area with wet water to allow for an electrical path for the static charge.

The static fibers are quite secure once dry. It's really amazing.
The device worked great. The longer fibers seemed to work the best. They really stand on end. And once the glue is dry, they are permanently mounted. I could actually use my shop vacuum to pick up the loose fibers without removing the glued down ones. That was pretty amazing.

To avoid the manicured lawn look, I added the grass in splotches. I also added finely sifted dirt and ground leaves to the area while the glue was still wet. Then I applied another shot of dilute white glue to the overall area. That worked well as it did not disturb the erect fibers, but allowed the loose material to be secured in place. In the end, they grass looks great. I'll be doing more of this for sure.

The camp image on the backdrop is a new one from Brian Kammerer.

Test Run at Potomac Creek with a music overdub

I reworked the video slightly and added a music track overdub. It is a bagpipe piece called "Farewell to the Max/Athol Highlanders" by The Crossing.  This is also a higher resolution version. Blow up the viewer to see the HD.

I also experimented with the static grass machine this weekend. It works well and I will do a more detailed post later.

April 26, 2012

Aquia Landing under Confederate Control

Before the Union Army occupied Aquia Creek, there was considerable Confederate activity in the area. Some of this is detailed in Kevin Ruffner's book, "From Aquia to Appomattox: The History of the 30th Virginia Infantry Regiment, 1861-1865". 

The 30th Virginia was a regiment raised from people in the Fredericksburg area.  The unit was stationed in various camps in the Aquia area. Their mission was to blockade the Potomac to prevent Union shipping from getting to Washington, DC. To support this mission the rebels installed two Columbiad guns in the earthworks on the bluff over looking the Aquia Landing on June1, 1861 (Note these dates conflict with the wikipedia entry on the Battle of Aquia Creek.) Later these guns participated in several battles between Union gunboats and Confederate shore batteries in this area, including one on June 25 where Commander Ward was killed, the first Union officer to die in the war. 

The 30th Virginia marched to Manassass, but did not arrive in time for the first battle. Then they marched back to the Aquia-Fredericksburg area and stayed until 26 March 1862, when they left for Richmond via train. During this period,  Brooks Station as an important camp for the confederate units in this area. The Hegeman farm near Aquia Landing was also a confederate camp. 

The following newspaper clip from the NY Times describes some of the logisitcs problems the Confederates experienced in this period with some examples from Aquia Creek. The NY Times article, which itself was an extract from the Charleston Mercury,  attributes these problems mostly to the disorganization of the Confederate Commissary Corps.

"There is universal complaint made of the want of efficiency in the Commissariat Department. It was felt severely and immediately after the battle of Manassas. Our brave troops, particularly the sick and wounded, suffered greatly. Some of the troops were without provisions from Sunday breakfast until Tuesday after the battle. Since then it has occurred more than once that many have been without food for twenty-four hours. Great indignation is felt throughout the Army and in Richmond on account of this outrageous and unendurable inefficiency. The efficiency of the Army is impaired, and even its movements retarded through the want of supplies. I learn it has been, and is, a matter of bitter complaint and earnest remonstrance by the commanding Generals. And not only is there a want of sufficient quantity, but the provisions are not good, are, in fact, positively unwholesome. It is not only so at the camps in Fairfax county, where the army is large, but also in other camps. A great deal of sickness is the natural consequence. One regiment near Aquia Creek, has lost sixty men, and another thirty. The weather has been intensely hot, and the great mortality is attributed by the troops to bad provisions, unsuitable at any time, especially during such a season.

The country people, camp-traders, and sutlers too, in the neighborhood of Fredericksburgh and Aquia Creek, charge the poor fellows most extortionate prices for everything they buy. I have heard it is the same in other places, but that it is there, I am assured by the best authority."
The fact that army units operated in this area for at least a year before I am modeling reinforce the notion that the land should look picked clean, with fallow fields and acres of stumps where woods once stood.. Furthermore, when the Union forces arrived, most of the region became depopulated as the most of the 6,000 white citizens fled south, while about 2,500 freed slaves headed north. According to the Stafford County Historical Society, it took near 100 years for the county to regain its population.

April 25, 2012

First test run over the sceniced Potomac Creek

I spent the past few evenings making masters to cast. But in the meantime, I made this short video to document the first test run over the sceniced Potomac Creek scene.

April 23, 2012

The light at the end of the...bridge?

It was a busy weekend and by the end of it, the Potomac Creek bridge scene was almost done. The scenery needs to dry so that I can install the final layer of details and add the resin water. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Gerry spiking rail at Brook
On Saturday, the USMRR Construction Corps showed up for a work session. Gerry Fitzgerald was the instigator, as he emailed me earlier in the month requesting a session. He went to work spiking rail at Brooke.

JB Weilepp installed stumps along the backdrop behind the cemetery.

John Drye worked on building a revetment for the battery that the rebels originally built on the south side of the bridge, but now used by the Union Army. Records from the archives show only two 3 inch rifles assigned to guard the bridge.

JD working on the gun position
Doug Gurin and Marty McGuirk worked on twisting pairs of floral wire for trees. Marty followed Grodon's Gravett's technique while Doug used the Harvard Forestry Museum technique to create pairs. Doug's technique involved twisting increasing smaller loops. It created very detailed, but smaller branches. Marty's pairs left the long end of the wire untwisted, so they will make a nice big tree. I suggested he aim for a Tulip Tree (also called Yellow Poplar in Virginia). They are characterized by tall straight trucks with a large crown. I may try using Dougs pairs with a a heavier gauge wire trunk to simulate a yellow pine, but there still is the pesky issue of the pine needles.

Doug watching JB ad stumps behind the cemetery. Photo by Gerry
The model trees did not get finished, but they made enough pairs to make at least two good sized foreground trees.

Here I am installing the road using Durhams
Water Putty. Photo by Gerry
I worked on the Potomac Creek scene. I added a dirt road with a simple road bridge over the creek.

After a dinner break, we watched a VHS copy of a silent, 1935 era film showing how the Harvard Museum workers made the dioramas for the forest museum. That was a neat video, though I must admit I dozed off during it. They actually used photo etched pine needles for their model pine trees! I wonder if I should try that?

Later that evening some of my daughter's friends, Chris Dembowski and  Becka James visited the layout.

On Sunday, it was quite rainy, so I spent the afternoon and evening trying to finish up the Potomac Creek scene, I added lots of background trees, stumps and debris around the bridge piers. I touched up the backdrop in a few places to better blend with the foreground scenery.

Then I built a 28mm wagon kit from Perry. I added a canvas cover using cooking parchment paper. I tried using tissue, but it did not hold up when I painted it. I lettered it for 5th Corps Supply Train, the unit stationed near Potomac Creek. I used a fine marker to add the letters. I gave it a basic paint job, as it will be a background model.

This is not an very accurate model for an 1860s era Army Escort Wagon, as the feed trough is missing, the front seat is different and the detailing of the wood sides is not exactly right. But it does have the overall, correct appearance, so it works well in the background. The mules that came with the kit are nice models including the tack and hardware attached to the mules. I did not model the straps and reins. That would be a challenging model to try at some point.

The wagon helps hide the seam where the road meets the backdrop.
Good overview of the road bridge and wagon

A view from under the bridge looking toward the backdrop

The artillery revetment on the south rim of the gap.

April 19, 2012

Log Cribbing for Potomac Creek

Prototype photo showing the disused log cribbing underneath the arch truss bridge

Home made Lincoln Logs!
 As the scenery at Potomac Creek station is nearly done, I moved over to working on the creek scene under the bridge.

The first step was to build the log cribbing under the truss.  The cribbing is a remnant from the trestle. The cribbing acts as a foundation for the wooden stories of the trestle. When they removed the trestle, they didn't bother removing the cribbing.

I made the first three cribs with sticks from weeds that I collected. But I did not like the way they were coming out. They were too rough. So I laser cut 1/4 inch aspen wood into the proper shape to allow them to interlock and have the correct amount of batter (the set-back angle from top to bottom). Then I whittled and sanded each stick to a log-like shape. I used a miniature back saw to scribe bark detail in each long. Then I stained the logs and let them dry.

Next the cribs will be glued down and filled with rock.
This whole process was much more tedious than I planned. The taller cribs had 35 logs each. It took three nights of work to prepare the logs and assemble the cribs. But they came out nice and I am happy with them.

I had to cut away some of the pink foam scenery base to fit the cribs. Once the cribs are glued down, they will get filled with rocks. Then I will scatter logs, lumber debris and other flotsam around the cribs and finish the scenery details. There are lots of stumps and small bushes in the creek bottom, but very few trees.

As for the rest of  the scene, you can see the proposed location for a foot bridge near the backdrop. The footbridge will help hide the spot where the creek touches the backdrop. I also roughed in a trail under the bridge leading to the footbridge.
Proposed footbridge in the rear and the planned trail leading up to it.
A view of what the terrain at the creek bottom looked like in the ACW. It is now completely overgrown with
trees and bushes. Note the foot bridge. It was big enough to support wagon and artillery traffic.

April 17, 2012

Team of Rivals - Book Review

I recently finished reading "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It has to rank as one of the top books I have read in the past ten years. It is a comparative biography of Lincoln and his cabinet members with emphasis on Secretaries Seward, Chase and Stanton. It is the kind of book that would appeal to most readers, not just students of the Civil War. She focuses on the personal stories of each character and their wives (in Chase's case his daughter) with emphasis on their political maneuvers all while painting enough of the historical background and happenings to keep context.

Since I started working in downtown Washington, DC, it was fun to read how the city has changed, but also to note the many ways things are still the same.

It is not a detailed military history. Many battles and campaigns are not even mentioned. But the story is fascinating and I eagerly plowed throw its 900 pages, though the last 100 or so are notes.

Here is a snippet that describes one of Lincoln's three trips to Aquia Landing that I found particularly interesting.

The snowstorm was "at its height" when the Carrie Martin pulled into the busy dock at Aquia Creek, where, on Easter morning, the presidential party boarded a special train for Falmouth Station. Along the way, with "snow piled in huge drifts" and "the wind whistling fiercely over the hills," they passed one army camp after another. Each encampment along the thirty miles had hundreds of campfires surrounded by tents, fortifications, and stockades. Disembarking at Falmouth Station, they were taken by closed carriage over rough roads to Hooker's headquarters a half mile away. Situated about three miles from the Rappahannock, the headquarters resembled a small city, complete with telegraph office, printing establishment, bakery, post office, and accommodations for more than 133,000 soldiers.
With General Hooker by his side, Lincoln rode along serried ranks that stretched for miles over the rolling hills. The soldiers cheered and shouted when they saw the president and cheered even louder when they saw Master Tad Lincoln bravely attempting to keep up, "clinging to the saddle of his pony as tenaciously as the best man among them," his loose cloak flapping "like a flag or banner."
Over the next few hours, tens of thousands of troops passed in front of the president and first lady, sweeping one after another "like waves at sea." From atop the little knoll on which the Lincolns were stationed, the endless tiers provided a majestic vista. When the sun came out, one reporter observed, "the sunbeams danced on the rifles and bayonets, and lingered in the folds of the banners.'' At the review of the infantry and artillery, artists sketched the spectacle of sixty thousand men, "their arms shining in the distance and their bayonets bristling like a forest on the horizon as they disappeared far away." Lincoln so enjoyed mingling with the men- who appeared amazingly healthy and lavishly outfitted with new uniforms, arms, and equipment- that he extended his visit until Friday.

After one review, someone remarked that the regulars could be easily distinguished from the volunteers, for "the former stood rigidly in their places without moving their heads an inch as he rode by, while the latter almost invariably turned their heads to get a glimpse of him." Quick to defend the volunteers, Lincoln replied, "I don't care how much my soldiers turn their heads, as long as they don't turn their backs."
Tremendously heartened by the splendid condition of the army and the high spirits and reception of the troops, Lincoln boarded the Carrie Martin at sunset on Friday for the return trip to Washington. The Herald noted that he "received a salute from all the vessels in port and locomotives on shore, whistles being blown, bells run, and flags displayed."

A couple things to note.

  1. A snow storm on Easter reinforces the point that  winter of 1862-63 was particularly harsh as I reported in this previous post.  
  2. The continuous camps is an aspect that I wish to capture on my layout.  Though I plan some breaks between scenes to provide a greater sense of linear distance.
  3. The Carrie Martin was a small steamship that the president used on this trip. It made regular runs on the Potomac and Chesapeake. 
  4. The Aquia line was not thirty miles, but 13.  
  5. Stephen Sears has another good description of the grand review at Falmouth in his book, "Chancellorsville." A sample of it is available  on-line here. It might be a fun exercise to have the Presidental train in an ops session at some point. The cars draped in bunting would be cool.

Goodwin also describes Lincoln's other trips to Aquia Landing as well as his extended visit to City Point. If you are interested in the USMRR in these periods, those sections of the book will be of interest to you. In fact railroads are sprinkled through out the book. I was somewhat amazed by the extent that citizens, politicians and soldiers used railroads to move around the country before the war. By 1860 the US railroad network ingrained itself in the American economy and way of life to an extent that I did not appreciate.  I am currently reading Sherman's memoirs and it reinforces this point. Americans were remarkably mobile at this point in history.

The railroads were also remarkably efficient and speedy. Goodwin describes a special train for 1860 Republican Party convention delegates from Buffalo to Chicago that took 16 hours.  That isn't much longer than it would take driving today with traffic and a few rest stops.

All in all, a great book and a must read for students of the railroads of the Civil War.

April 13, 2012

USMRR Construction Corps

Seven new figures arrived on the layout today. These guys put the figure count for the layout at 246 painted and installed.

Three Perry Metal figures from their camp vignette. They are very well sculpted, though my wife remarked that they
don't look well proportioned with oversized heads, a trait that many wargaming figures share. Nonetheless, I like how
their expressions seem somewhat forlorn as they watch the regiment of 2-year men heading home.

An Arista flag man converted with an Old Glory Hardee Hat head and new paint. I had to modify the hat to remove
the military insignia. With those striped pants and a mauve vest, he is quite dapper for a flagman!

Other than adding some tree stumps in the background, this scene is complete. The sergeant is whooping it up,
while the private remains impassive at attention.

April 11, 2012

Stockaded Sibley Tent

I installed a Sibley tent from Empress Miniatures and an Old Glory 28mm Supply wagon to the Potomac Creek station scene.  The tent is not 100 percent accurate for a Sibley tent. I believe the model was based on a British 19th Century Colonial bell tent. But I like the way the furled flaps were represented, so I installed it with the opening facing the front. Eventually there will be two figures standing in the opening, so detailing the interior was limited to just straw on the floor.

To stockade the tent was quite simple. The Empress Miniatures tent is a thick plastic casting with a pronounced recessed edge at the base. I was able to glue small twigs split in half to this recessed edge. I test fit the logs against the uneven ground, trimming the logs to fit. Then I spread some tan static grass on the ground to represent the straw flooring for the tent. I glued the tent in place with carpenter's yellow glue. Then I applied some scenic material to blend the tent into the scene.

The wagon is an Old Glory 25mm war gaming model. It is built quite sturdy for rough handling during gaming. It would not make a good foreground model, but is acceptable in the background. The color reference came from the paint chips in Lindmier's book, "The Great Blue Army Wagon." I may add a canvas cover later, though I like the look for the red interior.

April 10, 2012

Installing the Carpenter's Shed

I installed the carpenter's shed and added a few other miscellaneous details to the Potomac Creek Station scene. It is almost done.

The table is completely laser cut with a pin for the vise handle.
Here are some close ups of the interior of the shed. The tools, work table, shelves and other details will soon be a new kit from Alkem Scale Models.
I plan to make a removable roof for the shed so the interior can be more easily seen.

Many soldiers died from disease while in camp. Reference photos and drawings show the grave sites surprisingly close to the camps. This Waud drawing of a graveyard near Stoneman's station was the inspiration.

Finally some trains in the pictures.  Here she is rounding the bend past the cemetery.

The figure on the left is an Artisa conversion. I changed his head and added the vest. The figure  on the right is an engine fireman by SMR. The background figure with the apron is a wild west shop keeper from Rabble UK.

It's getting there.

April 3, 2012

Aquia Line in the Micro-Mark Catalog

The Spring 2012 issue of the Micro-Mark catalog has a mention of the USMRR Aquia line with a couple pictures including one of me spiking track. I do use Micro-Mark spikes and their pliers, along with other tools and supplies too.

Just for the record, I don't hold the pliers the way I show in the photo. Tom, the proprietor for Micro-Mark, insisted I hold it like that for the photo, as that is the "official" way use the tool. However,  I tend to use an overhand grip when spiking.

Not visible are the Micro-Mark spikes. The batch I got from Micro-Mark have the smallest heads of all the ones I tried. I have not used any of the etched spikes though. I understand they are the closest to scale of any spike.

How many will notice the W&A loco with Union soldiers?

April 2, 2012

Track bumper, grain sacks and more trees

I added a few details to the Potomac Creek scene including an end of track bumper for the stub siding at Potomac Creek, some grain sacks and more trees.

The Waud drawing at the left was the inspiration for the track bumper seen below. I used 1/4 inch scale lumber and a few NBWs to simulate the bumper. I sized it so the horizontal beam is the same height as the couplers. It's a simple detail, but it really completes that section of the layout.

I tried an experiment using Sculpey polymer clay (Oven Hardening) to make some grain sacks. This clay is available at most craft stores and comes in a variety of colors. It can also be painted once it is hard.

I cut and modeled the clay to look like grain sacks
I have seen in some prototype photos such as this.

I used a piece of slate as a baking surface based on some reports I read where metal pans can cause the clay to burn while cooking. The slate worked well and 15 minutes at 275 degrees did not burn the clay and it set rock hard.

Once it cooled, I primed and painted the sacks. The clay is not as easy to sculpt as the two part epoxy, maybe because I am not as accustomed to using it as the two part epoxy. But it is cheap and easy to get started.

Watching the parade from the top of hard tack boxes

Grain sacks on the platform. The more I think about this, the more likely I am to show this roof under construction
with some workers involved in putting on the roof pieces.

I added a few more trees to the woods. I'll post more detail about these later.