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.

July 19, 2012

It could use some confederates!

I had an interesting and fun visit with Paul Dolkos and two of his relatives on his wife's side, Prof. Edwin Combs and his precocious son, Marshall. Edwin is a professor of history at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. He is very interested in the civil war, especially in southern industry during the war. He has done some archeological work on confederate ships in various river and bay locations. He and his son are both model railroad enthusiasts.  Marshall is a lively and enthusiastic 7 year old.

Paul, Edwin, and Marshall
I was able to clear off the tracks and let Marshall run a train. The rails could have benefited from a cleaning after several months of no running and scenery work. But the trains did run and Marshall seemed to have a good time.

Afterwards, he was chagrinned that my steel mill model had all the cars  off the tracks and akimbo. This was a model I built for my steel mill modeling book. It had been ingloriously set on a table in the corner and largely ignored for the past two years. Marshall spent the later part of the night organizing and setting up the cars on this diorama.

As they departed Marshall said, "It's a nice layout, but it could use some confederates."

I replied, "Well, I could add some, but they would have to be prisoners."

This was an aspect he had not previously considered and the look of surprise on the young boy's face was priceless.

After they left, I was discussing the southern pine dilemma with my brother Rob in a phone call. As you may recall, he is the bonsai tree expert. I described how I am able to make a convincing armatures with wire, but was having difficulty capturing the look of the pine needle clusters. He suggested pipe cleaners. I had some bumpy chenille on hand from my N Scale Colorado modeling. So I tried soldering on short sections of cut chenille onto the wire tree frame.

Since the trees had already been painted, getting the solder to stick was tricky. So I tried using hot glue. That was a little quicker process, but not as tidy. Anyway, the right photo shows the result of about 2 hours of this process. It is about half done. I am not sure this is the answer, but I will continue to finish this tree and evaluate it then.


  1. A lack of good Loblolly pines hinders many an East Texas and Louisiana modeler. Keep us posted on your research Bernie.

  2. I think some Confederate prisoners under escort would be a neat addition to the layout. You could show them on the march or halted and off to the side somewhere. ~Gary

  3. The idea of a scene with confederate prisoners seems to be popular. Several of you wrote or commented off the blog. For example Pete wrote in an email

    "Great commentary on young Marshall's visit! His suggestion and your response thereto bring up some interesting ideas. I'm thinking a squad of Confederate troops shuffling along, cold tired, dirty, bedraggled, wet(?) and thoroughly dejected, with a guard of somewhat healthier, but perhaps equally exhausted, Union troops. This would be an interesting vignette and an opening to discuss prisoners, excesses on both sides (Point Lookout, Andersonville), families rent asunder and so on when young people come to visit. War is hell...."

    I don't have any references that mention prisoners passing through at the time. There was little fighting going on, but it is possible that some rebs have deserted. In any case, the number of prisoners would be small.

  4. I think the idea of having some Confederates on the layout is a good one, too! Even if it's a small band of stragglers that were rounded up, or deserters. Was there any kind of guerrilla activity going on in the area that you could hide a few Rebel cavalry in the woods looking on or something?