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.

September 29, 2012

Battery Power at Last

After  mildly disappointing DCC performance during the open house, I decided to move installing battery power to my locos up on the priority list. The DCC problems we experienced related to sporadic electrical pick-up, and difficulty with new throttle initialization. Throw in having to set dip switchs, dense 150 page instruction manuals from both the DCC and decoder manufacturer, and hexadecimal configuration variable programming and I had had it with the DCC. You can tell the DCC standard was designed by a committee, not just any committee, but a committee of engineers. We (the model RR community) need an "Apple Computer" type manufacturer to step up and streamline the whole user process. Stanton S-Scab is about as close as I have found so far. And remember, you can have it cheap, fast or good, pick two.

I had all the parts on hand from my earlier purchase of a S-Cab system from NWSL. See here.  As I laid out the components next to the engine I realized that it all was not going to fit in or on  the tender. But I was concerned that putting the decoder/radio receiver in the boiler would hurt the radio reception. I got some advice from the S-Cab yahoo group that encouraged me to proceed.

I took it slow and made sure everything was correct as I went along. First I removed the QSI decoder already in the engine.  I installed the decoder in the boiler, with a speaker in the firebox. The battery and charging circuit are on top of the motor in the tender. I used a yellow LED for the head light. It is not as bright as an incandescent lamp, but may look closer in color to the actual prototype oil lamps that they used in 1860.

I was successful, and now the engine is running great with battery power. Huzzah! Radio reception has not been a problem. The engine runs very smoothly with the steady supply of power. This has been exactly what i expected from battery power. Yes, I am chuffed!

This engine had a habit of shorting at the pilot truck on some of my tighter curves. Since it is a tender drive, I decided to not use any of the pickups in the engine and to only rely on the all wheel pickup in the tender. I had previously added pick ups to all wheels in the tender, so the engine can run tender only if I want. Thanks to the battery I don't need to have all those picks in the engine in service. That simplified the wiring task a bit.

It also sounds pretty good too. Putting the speaker in the firebox helps magnify the sound.

I still need to learn how to program with the S-Cab. but it looks like I will be ordering two more systems. I will keep the DCC system for now, but once I convert to all battery power, it really won't be necessary. Same for frog juicers and powered frogs, reverse loops etc.

The future is here!

September 24, 2012

Panoramas of Cincinnati from the Civil War era

This poster includes the original panorama and a modern image of the Cincinnati waterfront
If you have not seen this image it is worthy of a look. It is available at a couple of web sites primarily at the  Collection of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County web site. But the Wired Magazine article on the image has some additional information about the image and the technology used to restore it.

There is also another later panorama of Cinncinati from 1866 available here.

Check them out, you will not be disappointed. There are lots of great modeling ideas in both.


ACWRRHS Paul Dobbs, Joel Salmons, Jeff Goodson, Chip Borona, Alan Hart, Gerry Fitzgerald,
Bernard Kempinski (Left to Right) (Not in picture was Mrs Borona)
Mason sums it all up!
The ACWRRHS visited the layout today as part of their annual meet. They got to see the layout operate. There were also some civil war small arms on display as John Drye brought over a 1862 era Springfield Musket and Jeff Goodson had an 1858 Breech loading carbine. Jeff also brought some very nice models for show and tell.

Doug Gurin and his neighbor Jim examining a ACW era car float in HO scale

Bryan Kidd did a great job as a guest operator. He jumped right in and was running and switching

Jeff demonstrating his carbine's breech loading action

Private Brendel was on guard duty armed with John Drye's Springfield musket
In addition to the ACWRRHS, I invited some of the local modelers from our operations group to visit. Bryan Kidd, Tom Pierpoint, Nick Kalis, Marty McGuirk, John Drye, and Jake Brendel showed up. Derek and Kristen stopped by with their three boys, Eathan, Nathan, and Mason.  Add in my wife, mom and brother Marco and we had quite a crowd.

The boys really got a kick out of watching the train travel through the tunnel. So why bother with all the scenery, when the track through the closet was the most fascinating!

Trying to get the clan to stand still is not easy

The layout was running, but several DCC glitches kept popping up. To err is human but to really foul things up takes DCC. There has to be a better way! Stay tuned for more on that.....

September 23, 2012

Quartermaster's Report of 1864

General Mieg's report from the OR on Novemeber 3, 1864 has some interesting information about the Aquia Line of 1864,

QUARTERMASTER-GENERAL'S OFFICE,Washington, D. C., November 3, 1864.Honorable EDWIN M. STANTON,Secretary of War:SIR: I have the honor to submit the usual annual report of the operations of the Quartermaster's Department during the fiscal year ending the 30th of June, 1864:On the 30th of June, 1863, the termination of the preceding fiscal year, the balances in the hands of officers (after deducting the disbursements ascertained from accounts which had passed the required administrative examination of this office) amounted, as stated in the last annual report to  $256,632,970.24
RAILROAD TRANSPORTATION.The arrangement made early in the war with the railroad companies of the United States, assembled at your request in convention in this city, by which a uniform rate of transportation for troops and munitions of war was established, on terms greatly below those charged to private individuals, has continued. The revenue laws have authorized the addition to the agreed rates of the amount of the taxes since imposed; otherwise, the arrangement remains uncharged.
Some few roads have made application for higher rates; but the great majority of railroads, notwithstanding the general advance in prices, and the great increase in the business which crowds upon them, patriotically supporting the Government, have expressed their willingness to continue the tariff then established, and have continued to perform with alacrity and dispatch all service required of them by the Government.
MILITARY RAILROADS.The general management of the military railroads of the United States- that is, of those which the public exigencies have compelled the War Department to take into its own hands-has been under the direction of Colonel (now Bvt. Brigadier General) D. C. McCallum, U. S. Volunteers. Of his services in connection with the campaign in the West I have spoken in another part of this report.He had recommended himself for that duty by the order, system, and efficiency which he had established in the management of the railroads in the East.
The roads worked as military railroads are such as, having been captured from the rebels, being located in the rebellious districts, have been of necessity take possession of by the military commanders, and have been repaired, stocked, and operated by the War Department as avenues of supply to our advancing armies. It has not been found necessary to interfere by military power wight any of the railroads in the loyal States. Though, under the special act give ing the President authority to take military possession of them, a general order was issued taking technically such military possession, yet they have practically continued under the control of their directors and managers, who have cheerfully met every demand.
Some of the military railroads have been repeatedly interrupted; some have at times been abandoned by our troops, and afterward reoccupied and repaired again and again.
The Aquia Creek Railroads, from Aquia Creek, on the Potomac, to Falmouth, opposite Fredericksburg, has been several time reoccupied and repaired. The last time this was done was during the campaign of this spiring, when, with extraordinary energy, it was repaired, including the rebuilding of the Potomac Creek bridge, 414 feet in length and 82 feet in height, which was accomplished in the short space of forty hours. The road itself, thirteen miles in length, was opened within five days after the order to commence work upon it was given.
The movements of the Army of the Potomac and its change of base caused the abandonment of the road almost immediately after it was opened; but the cost of construction was repaid by the removals of men wounded in the battles of the Wilderness, who without the aid of this road must have been abandoned in the hospital improvised in Fredericksburg. All the machinery rolling stock so quickly placed upon the road was brought off without loss. The bridges were left to their fate.
The rebel armies have no construction corps organized under a general system and capable of accomplishing such results. To the rapidity of the reconstruction of the railroads behind General Sherman's army is due much of the success of his movements, which surprised the enemy, who supposed that the work of repair, which was never five days behind the army, would have detained it for weeks.
The expense of these operations has been great; but without it the campaign would have been impossible, and failure would have been m(ost probable).

September 21, 2012

ACWRRHS Annual Meet Sept 2012

The ACWRRHS is having its annual meeting in Baltimore this weekend. Joel Salmons has been setting it up and has arranged a good program. The program includes visits to the B&O Museum, President's Street Station, Irish RR Workers Museum, USS Constellation Sloop of War, Ellicot Mills Museum and the Baltimore Inner Harbor.

USS Constellation in Baltimore is the second ship with that
name. It was built in 1854 and served in the ACW
patrolling the Mediterrean.
 Unfortunately, it looks like attendance will be light. It really is too bad as the B&O Museum, which is on the agenda, is one of the best ACWRR resources available.

I will doing a talk on Saturday at the Convention Hotel. The subject of the talk is a layout update and a description or discussion of the ACW Road Show that Gerry and I have been planning.

On Sunday morning, the group will visit my layout. I expect to have the layout running with help from some assistants to keep things moving. 

Check the ACWRRHS Yahoo Group (see link at left)  for more info about the event. It is free and will be fun too!

September 19, 2012

Review of PBS Special, "Death in the Civil War"

I watched the PBS special last night entitled "Death in the Civil War." You can watch it on line at this link.


It was quite sobering. Airing it on the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam was especially appropriate.  I recommend it.

We sometime focus on the minutiae of the equipment and railroads in the war and it is easy to lose sight of the big picture - that hundreds of thousands of people fought and died.

The show doesn't address the causes of the war, but does examine the aftermath.

There were two points I found especially enlightening, one was the role that the Gettysburg Address had in refocusing the war aim. One of the historians on the show described how the Gettysburg Address gave a voice to the dead. That was a revelation I had not considered, but it makes sense and I found the thought comforting.

The second point was that the Civil War was the first war where the U.S. government recognized an obligation to its fallen soldiers.   We in the U. S. military have now taken this to an extreme with our current mantra that, "no one gets left behind."  I did not know that the civil war was where that concept has its roots.

Prior to this show, I was unaware of BG Whitman's program to rebury Union soldiers in some of the first U.S. National cemeteries. I was also unaware that the north refused to rebury confederate dead and it wasn't until 1906 that the Federal government began marking confederate grave sites.

One other ACW RR point, some of the  photos shown in the program showed post war photos of railroads and equipment. They were images I had not seen before and a possible avenue for research.

Base Scenery at Brooke

The road required some cuts and fills to make a more realistic grade.
I added the road and base coat of scenery to the remaining sections of Brooke.

I had to do a little surgery into the scenery surface to make a cut for the road that bisects the scene.  Cutting the layers of paper and plaster was easy. Once the cut was shaped, I reinforced the cut with fresh players of paper towels and hydrocal and Durhams water putty.

The road tapers to help force the perspective

While the road plaster was curing, I added the base coat of scenery to the remaining areas of Brooke. This means that all the scenery in the main room now has at least a base coat of scenery.

I used photoshop top remove the valance and lights
in this long view down the tracks at Brooke

Mike and Denise Yenchek, from the Pittsburgh area,  visited the layout on Sunday evening. Mike was formerly a tinplate O scaler, but is beginning to build a 2 rail ACW RR with either the W&A or the O&A as a subject.  Being new to 2 Rail and around the walls layouts, he hoped to pick up some ideas from my layout. Welcome aboard Mike and Denise!

September 16, 2012

Civil War History Train

Diorama at the Fredericksburg Battlefield Museum

Some of the colorful architecture in
the Vieux Carre in New Orleans
I am back from an eight day excursion on the Civil War History Train. I mentioned this trip in an earlier blog post. The trip was slightly different than planned due to the storm Issac. Instead of going to Vicksburg and New Orleans first, the trip went in the opposite direction with Washington, DC as the first stop. The bottom line for me was that the trip was two days longer and I had to cover more of the subject matter as the on-board historian. Even with this rerouting the trip went off well and I think everyone enjoyed themselves.

My room was in a 1950 vintage Budd built stainless steel streamlined 10-6 Pullman called the Pacific Union. I had a roomette. It was a small room but cleverly designed to convert into a bunk for sleeping. In the daytime it had a seat and fold-out sink and a mirror. It was comfortable, but the majority of the time I was awake I rode in the dome car, tail end observation car or stood in the vestibule to get clear photos.  I did have trouble sleeping in the moving car, which surprised me as I usually have no trouble sleeping on planes and automobiles. The dome car and tail end observation cars were quite deluxe.

There was an on-board staff that did a good job of pampering us with food and drink. The cook, Caroline, did a great job considering the small galley she had to work in. Meals included grilled salmon, lemon chicken and filet mignon. She also made a great gumbo (or was it Jambayla) for lunch. The bar was always open and lots of snacks were available for munching.
Paddle wheel steamer takes people on a sightseeing cruise in New Orleans

Jackson, MS- a vital rail hub in the civil war is still an important rail junction

Trackside view from the Southern Crescent west of
Atlanta, a surprisingly twisty line

We visited several civil war related sites including the battlefields of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Chickamauga, Atlanta, New Orleans (including the Chalmette site of the 1814 battle with the British), and Vicksburg. We visited several museums along the way too including the Smithsonian Museum of American History, the Museum of the Confederacy, the Confederate White House, the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, the Southeast Railroad Musuem, the Atlanta Cyclorama, the New Orleans Civil War Museum and several National Park Visitors centers.

It was my first visit to New Orleans and Vicksburg. It was also my first time I rode the Amtrak Southern Crescent, Capitol Limited and City of New Orleans.

Most of the passengers were from Illinois with a few others from New York, Nevada, Texas, Georgia, and Washington State. Some were civil war historians and some were railfans, but most just enjoyed travelling in old fashioned Pullman cars.

Overall it was a fun trip. Portions of the proceeds went to support the WILL public radio station in Illinois. I think the agency is planning another trip next year but the details are to be determined. For more photos from the trip visit this album on facebook. (You may need to be a facebook user to see them).

September 4, 2012

Done in a day....

....or two. I built two new buildings for Brooke this weekend. In between golf, running, lawn work and sundry chores, I figured each building took about one day. That includes drawing most of the parts for the laser.
Stairs and cellar door are additions from the prototype building
The stone house is based on the Matthews House in Manassas, VA. It was a key point in both Bull Run battles. I had to adapt it to fit my steep slope by adding a extended wall for the cellar. The outside stairs and the door to the cellar make it looks like it belongs in the spot I selected.
I decided to place it further away from the tavern and to run the road behind it. I made this structure in S scale (75 percent of O scale) so it needs to be further back from the trains.
Mocking up possible locations
View through the loading doors.

Brooke store is almost done

The store building was based on a drawing in Alexander's book. I made it a bigger than than his plans and added a few detail changes, like the big loading doors. They will face the aisle.
Since this building is close to the viewers, I decided to open up the loading doors and add a simple interior. Note, this is much easier to do before you add the floors. I had to rip out the floors and add the beams one by one, ship-in-a-bottle style.

The roof will not remove but with the open loading doors and all the windows, there is just enough light inside to see some interior detail. Even the attic is visible using the gable windows.
Simple interior.
The store is not finished yet. I need to add the awning, loading dock and some architectural trim.
Close up of the barn doors
One last thing to note, this is the 400th post to this blog. It has had over 354,000 page views according to google stats and 149 followers. The three most popular posts have been: 
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