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 24, 2013

ACWRRHS SIG on MR Video Plus

Model Railroader Magazine included a brief video look at the ACWRRHS SIG room at the 2013 NMRA Convention. Here is a link, BUT,---- You have to be a MR Video Plus Subscriber to view it.  They have now also made the video available to MR Extra Subscribers at this link. Here are some screen caps from the video.

July 21, 2013

NMRA After Action Report and Lessons Learned

I have had some time to digest the events of the past week and offer the following thoughts.

Although we were a small group with  just 11 men (DC Cebula, Thom Radice, LeBron Matthews, Al Meuller, Dave Hoffman, Paul Dobbs, Joel Salmons, John Bazaitas, John Bopp, Gerry Fitzgerald, and I)  plus 4 wives/SOs, we had a great display.  (Matt Coleman spent a lot of time with us but he is not an ACW modeler. He is a great guy in spite of that. We have been acquainted for many years but this was the first time I met him.)

I really enjoyed participating with the ACWRRHS, as we have known each other for 5 years now and are becoming good friends. I spent most of the show in our SIG room. This was our first event where we participated as part of a larger NMRA event. I think we were successful in showing that the Civil War era is a viable subject to model in N, HO and O scale.  In some ways it was a perfect storm as we were in Atlanta with our ACW display during the 150th Anniversary of some of the biggest events in the war, and the NMRA offered a separate Civil War track of clinics and tours.

However, I am not sure we had too many converts. The NMRA as represented in these meets is an older crowd. Most have a significant investment in their current layouts or projects so it is not
unexpected that they would not be interested in converting. I saw only one person I would say was under twenty visit the room, and he was really enjoying the layout. I gave him a throttle so he could try some operation. Time will tell if we have any new interest in our subject based on this show.

Even if we did not recruit new members, it was nice being part of the NMRA convention. It presented the opportunity to distract us with clinics, contest room and layout tours. I didn't see too many clinics that appealed to me, but it was nice to have the option to sit in on one if desired. For example Jim Elster's marathon scenery clinic had some good tips. It was good to again see John Wilkes talk about his layout as his layout is built with aluminum channel and it as close to the Hadron Collider as a model railroad can come.  John Bopp and Dave Hoffman presented some excellent  talks to just the ACWRRHS. They were good enough that they could have been presented to the whole convention.

Dave Hoffman talked about some hand-built brass models he plans to offer for sale. He is looking for reservations and deposits. I made a brief video showing some of his pilot models running on a test track.  Dave lives in a rural area of Mississippi and does not have reliable internet access. So please contact Al Mueller at the ACWRRHS Yahoo Group if you are interested.

A Cabin in S Scale on Gerry Holmes Layout
I went to three layouts on the way home on Saturday and all were impressive. Phillip Stead has a large On3 model of the DRGW from Chama to Alamosa. Steve Austin has a finely crafted On30 freelanced railroad set in Appalachia. Finally I visited Gerry Holmes in Chattanooga to see his layout. Gerry is a client of mine and I have built several custom buildings for him.

With regard to the McCook's landing it operated very well with just a few problems.  We had six crews operate it. They took between 45 to 120 minutes to complete the switching tasks. I had put a prohibition on using the front coupler and that complicated their tasks somewhat.  It was gratifying to see that the link and pin couplers were accepted without complaint. They operators seemed to get into the challenge and actually enjoyed it.

I had a little glitch with the cassette tracks interface with Biscuit Run. I forgot to account for the 1/8th inch thickness of the sky board that created a gap in the rails.  I need to fix that before the next show. But it was amazing to watch the trains traverse a 1/8th inch gap in the rails. Ah, the advantages of O scale. Other than that the cassettes worked well. It was handy having a shelf to place stuff too. I also liked how the fiddle yard breaks down to a flat box and fits snugly in the transport truck.

The batteries on the locos held up pretty well. We learned that they could sustain about 3.5 hours of operation before conking out. That is entirely acceptable. The slow speed performance was excellent.

The layout suffered only minor damage. As one who has built many N Scale modules over the years, I know you have to expect some damage when you take portable layouts to shows. But in this case, the integral valance and lights helped protect the layout. Only a few figures vibrated loose during shipment. One figure lost its head, that was a surprising but minor issue.

I was personally gratified by the positive response of nearly everyone that visited the layout. Most were extremely complimentary. Several African American visitors expressed appreciation for our depiction of the USCT on the layout. I was able to connect with Robert West, a railroad artist. He is launching a series of Civil War related paintings and asked if he could consult with me on ideas.  That should be fun. Steve Benezra wants to do an article on ACW operation of the OPSIG journal.

The MRH folks had a chance to operate the layout. They posted detailed coverage on their blog. They even posted a picture of me, a rare thing as I am usually behind the camera. (When you see my picture you will know why).

McCook's Landing was also the subject of a video interview with the MRH Trainmasters-TV program. This video production looks like it has all the right ingredients to be a winner. I will be looking forward to it.

I attended the train show on Friday morning. It had the usual assortment of vendors and manufacturers. I didn't spend a lot of time there and didn't see anything so extraordinary that bears reporting. Just one observation, manufacturers are making some incredibly detailed models these days.

I usually come back from these shows charged up to build more layout. But I need to temper (curb?) my enthusiasm as I have some other projects I must complete first. I will focusing the next few months on my next book entitled "The Model Railroad Goes to War."  That will cover the ACW, WWI, WWII and modern eras.

As I was unloading the layout I noticed that the sun shine made for some interesting lighting. So I took a few shots. Here is an example.

I hope to start back on my home layout in December by finishing Aquia Landing. I eagerly anticipate that as I think it is going to be a lot of fun to build.  In the meantime, I'll be posting less frequently on this blog as construction on my ACW layouts will be slow. But I will come back big guns in December.

I'm baaack!

I'm back from the NMRA Convention safe and sound. I had a great time and will be posting a more detailed report later. We ran six "official" Op sessions. They went really well. My thanks to all that participated. All were very gracious. I didn't hear one complaint and I saw a lot of smiles.

Thanks also to my fellow ACWRRHS SIG members for their help in unloading, setting up and taking it down. Also, Paul Dobbs was very gracious as he provided security for the ACWRRHS Room for almost the whole convention.

I think the ACWRRHS SIG had the best display at the con. We were practically the only group to bring any trains.  Members of our group also gave a number of talks on the ACWRRing.  Of these, the talks I went to were well attended. I didn't get to too many clinics as I was tending to the road show.

(L to R) John Bopp, Rob Hinkle (Conductor) and John Bazzaitas ran the first op session.

(L to R) Stephen Brooks (Conductor), Andy Keeney and Sam Shepherd were the second crew.

(L to R), Seth Neumann (Conductor), Chuck Place and Ken O'Brien took the third session. They were very efficient and finished in 45 minutes.

OPSIG Journal Editor Steve Benezra stopped by for a visit.

(L to R) Dave Foster (Conductor), Bruce Faulkner and Mike Tylik ran the afternoon session on Thursday.

The staff from Model Railroader Magazine and Kalmbach stopped in for a lengthy visit. (L to R) David Popp, Neil Besougloff, and Kevin Keefe.

Dave Hoffman did a clinic on his upcoming HO locomotive products 

(L to R)  JF, Les Halmos, Joe Fugate (Conductor) and Patty Fugate ran the Thursday evening session. Patty was our only female operator.

Joel Salmons poses by his N Scale civil war display layout.

DC Cebula set up an impressive collection of prototype hardware and paper work.

Paul Dobbs manned the slide show and information desk.

The HO engine gurus ran a nearly continuous clinic on Mantua General 4-4-0 rebuilding

July 14, 2013

Atlanta or Bust!

The truck is loaded, the trains are packed, everything is ready to roll. On to Atlanta!

Fury passes a battery of USCT training in artillery. The gun is an Alkem Scale Models kit. The figures
are 40mm from various suppliers.
It fits, just barely.  The passenger seat will have miscellaneous cargo.

Fury will be making its debut as a fully operational battery powered loco.

Stanton BPS and battery sit on top of the motor in the tender. 

A styrene cover for the wood pile

July 12, 2013

Ship building on the Tennessee River

This is part of the amazing story of how the US Army Quartermaster Corps built ships and kept the Army supplied during the siege of Chattanooga. From the US Army Quartermaster Website.


The Story of the USS Chattanooga, a "home-made" steamboat built by the Quartermaster Department in October 1863 to carry supplies to General Grant's starving army at Chattanooga, Tennessee.  As told by Assistant Quartermaster William Le Duc, who "commanded"the Chattanooga.

By William G. Le Duc, Brevet Brigadier-General and Assistant Quartermaster, U.S.V.
In answer to the urgent demand of Rosecrans for reinforcements, the Eleventh Corps (Howard's) and the Twelfth Corps (Slocum's) were sent from the east to his assistance under command of General Hooker. Marching orders were received on the 22d of September, and the movement was commenced from the east side of the Rappahannock on the 24th; at Alexandria the troops and artillery and officers' horses were put on cars, and on the 27th started for Nashville. On the 24 of October the advance reached Bridgeport, and on the 3d Hooker established headquarters at Stevenson, and Howard the headquarters of the Eleventh Corps at Bridgeport, then the limit of railroad travel, eight miles east of Stevenson.

Another view of USS Chattanooga from theWisconsin U. Archive.
Their caption reads
"1863 at Bridgeport, Alabama by Edwards and Turner, two soldiers under General Joe Hooker
FINAL DISPOSITION: Abandoned, 1868
OWNERS: Built for US-QMD; Cracker Line-U.S. Navy; sold to private owners with interests 

in the  Evansville-Clarksville trade, May 12, 1866
OFFICERS & CREW: Captain Henry Scott (master, 1867); C. T. Rudd (clerk, 1867)
RIVERS: Mississippi River  First home port, Louisville, Kentucky. During the Civil War,
she helped to bring supplies to starving Union soldiers at Chattanooga.
Later became the flagship of the Cracker Line. Off the lists in 1868"
Photo of USS Chattanooga from National Archives.  This must be a later
view as the ship has more railings and trim.
The short reach of 26 miles of railroad, or 28 miles of road that ran nearly alongside the railroad, was now all that was necessary for the security of the important position at Chattanooga. But Rosecrans must first secure possession of the route, and then rebuild the long truss-bridge across the Tennessee River, and the trestle, one-quarter of a mile long and 113 feet high, at Whiteside, or Running Water, which would take longer than his stock of provisions and forage would last.

To supply an army of 40,000 or 50,000 men, having several thousand animals, in Chattanooga, by wagons, over country roads 28 miles long, in winter, would be a most difficult, but not an impossible task. Rosecrans determined to build some small, flat bottomed steamers, that could navigate the river from Bridgeport, and transport supplies to Kelley's Ferry or William's Island (either within easy reach from Chattanooga), which would enable him to supply his army with comfort until the railroad could be repaired. The enemy held Lookout Mountain, commanding both river and railroad above William's Island. This position was then deemed impregnable. The Confederates also had an outpost on Raccoon Mountain, commanding the river completely and also overlooking a road that skirted the river-bank on the north side for a short distance, thus making the long detour over Waldron's Ridge necessary to communication between Stevenson, Bridgeport, and Chattanooga. The river, where it passes through the Raccoon Range, is very rapid and narrow; the place is known as the Suck, and in navigating up stream the aid of windlass and shore-lines is necessary. Kelley's Landing, below the Suck, is the debouchment of a low pass through Raccoon Mountain, from Lookout Valley, and is within eight or ten miles of Chattanooga.

At Bridgeport I found Captain Edwards, Assistant Quartermaster, from Detroit, preparing to build a steamboat to navigate the river, by mounting an engine, boiler, and stern-wheel on a flat bottomed scow, to be used in carrying and towing up supplies until the completion of the railroad.

I quote from my Diary:

Oct. 5, 1863.-General Hooker was over yesterday . . . and examined the little scow. He appreciated the probable importance of the boat, and ordered me to take it in hand personally and see that work was crowded on it as fast as possible. . . . We also looked over the grade of the Jasper Branch Railroad, which is above high-water mark, and must be used if supplies are sent on the north side of the river. He directed me to send him a report in writing, and a copy for General Rosecrans, of my observations and suggestions, and to go ahead and do what I could without waiting for written orders. I turned my attention to the boat. Captain Edwards has employed a shipbuilder from Lake Erie-Turner, an excellent mechanic, who has built lake vessels and steamers, but who is not so familiar with the construction of flat bottomed, light-draught river steamers. He has a number of ship and other carpenters engaged, with some detailed men from our own troops, making an efficient force. Men who can be serviceable as rough carpenters are abundant; not so with calkers, who will soon be needed, I hope. The frame of the boat is set on blocks, and is only five or six feet above the present water of the river. This mountain stream must be subject to sudden floods, which may make trouble with the boat.

Oct.16.. . . I found Turner, the master mechanic, in trouble with the hull of the little boat. The planking was nearly all on, and he was getting ready to calk and pitch her bottom when I went to Stevenson. The water had risen so rapidly that it was within sixteen or eighteen inches of her bottom planks when I returned, and Turner was loading her decks with pig-iron that the rebels had left near the bridge-head. He thought he would thus keep the hull down on the blocking, and after the waters went down would then go on and finish.

"But," I said, "Turner, if the planking gets wet, you cannot calk and pitch until it dries." "That's true; and it would take two weeks, and may be four, to dry her after she was submerged, and who knows how high it may rise and when it will abate!" "Then, Turner, what's the use of weighing it down with pig-iron. Rosecrans's army depends on this little boat: he must have supplies before two weeks, or quit Chattanooga. Can't you cross-timber your blocks, and raise the hull faster than the water rises?" "No; I've thought of that, and believe it would be useless to try it. Captain Edwards and I concluded the only thing we could do was to weigh it down with pig-iron, and try to hold it, but if the water rises very high it will be swept away, pig-iron and all..... . I went rapidly over to Edwards's tent . . . and found him in his bunk, overcome by constant work, anxiety, and despair. . . In answer to my question if nothing better could be done than weigh the hull down with pig-iron he said, "No; I've done all I can. I don't know what the water wants to rise for here. It never rose this way where I was brought up, and they're expecting this boat to be done inside of two weeks, or they will have to fall back!" I turned from his tent, and stood perplexed, staring vacantly toward the pontoon-bridge. I saw a number of extra pontoons tied to the shore - flat bottomed boats, 10 to 12 feet wide and 30 feet long, the sides 18 inches high.  I counted them, and then started double-quick for the boatyard, halloing to Turner, "Throw off that iron, quick! Detail me three carpenters: one to bore with a two-and-half or three-inch anger, and two to make plugs to fill the holes. Send some laborers into all the camps to bring every bucket, and find some careful men who are not afraid to go under the boat and knock out blocks as fast as I bring them down a pontoon."

Turner, who had been standing silent and amazed at my excitement and rapid orders, exclaimed, with a sudden burst of conviction, "That's it! That's it! That'll do! Hurrah! We'll save her yet. Come here with me under the boat, and help knock out a row of blocks." And he jumped into the water up to his arm-pits, leaving me to execute my own orders. The pontoons were dropped down the river, the holes were bored in the end allowing them partly to fill, and they were then pulled under the boat as fast as the blocks were out. The holes were then plugged. and the water was dipped until they began to lift up on the bottom of the hull, and when all were under that were necessary, then rapid work was resumed with the buckets, till by 2 o'clock in the morning she was safely riding on the top of the rising waters. They are now calking and pitching her as rapidly as possible, and fixing beams for wheel and engines; as many men are at work as can get around on her to do anything.

Afternoon 16th.- General Howard rode out with me to examine the bridge work on Jasper road, let out to some citizens living inside our lines. They are dull to comprehend, slow to execute, and need constant direction and supervision. Showed General Howard the unfinished railroad grade to Jasper, and my estimate of the time in which it can be made passable for (rail) cars if we can get the iron (rails), and if not, of the time in which we can use it for wagons.

On October 19th, under General Rosecrans's orders to General Hooker, I was charged with the work on this road.

20th.- Commenced work on the Jasper branch.\

22d.- General Grant and Quartermaster General Meigs arrived on their way to the front with Hooker and staff. I accompanied them as far as Jasper. During the ride I gave Grant what information I had of the country, the streams, roads, the work being done and required to be done on the Jasper branch, also on the steamboat. He saw the impossibility of supplying by the dirt road, and approved the building of the Jasper branch, and extending it if practicable to Kelley's; also appreciated the importance of the little steamboat, which will be ready for launching tomorrow or Saturday. General Meigs . . . approved of the Jasper branch scheme and gave me a message ordering the iron forwarded at once.

23d.- Steamboat ready to launch tomorrow. Railroad work progressing.

24th.- Steamer launched safely.

26th.-Work on boat progressing favorably; as many men are at work on her as can be employed.

Extract from a letter dated Nov. 1st, 1863:

I had urged forward the construction of the little steamer day and night, and started her with only a skeleton of a pilot house, without waiting for a boiler-deck, which was put on afterward as she was being loaded. Her cabin is now being covered with canvas. On the 29th she made her first trip, with two barges, 34,000 rations, to Rankin's Ferry, and returned. I loaded two more barges during the night, and started at 4 o'clock AM. on the 30th for Kelley's Ferry, forty-five miles distant by river. The day was very stormy, with unfavorable head-winds. We made slow progress against the wind and the rapid current of this tortuous mountain stream. A hog-chain broke, and we floated down the stream while repairing it with help of block and tackle. I ordered the engineer to give only steam enough to overcome the current and keep crawling up, fearful of breaking some steam-pipe connection, or of starting a leak in the limber half-braced boat. Had another break, and again floated helplessly down while repairing; straightened up once more, and moved on again-barely moved up in some places where the current was unusually strong; and so we kept on, trembling and hoping, under the responsibility of landing safely this important cargo of rations. Night fell upon us--the darkest night possible--with a driving rain, in which, like a blind person, the little boat was feeling her way up an unknown river.

The "Chattanooga" unloading at Kelley's Landing, November 1863 in support of General Grants "Cracker Line"
Captain Edwards brought, as captain, a man named Davis, from Detroit, who used to be a mate on a Lake Erie vessel; but, as he was ignorant of river boats or navigation, could not steer, and knew nothing of wheel-house bells or signals, I could not trust him on this important first trip. The only soldier I could find who claimed any knowledge of the business of a river pilot was a man named Williams, who had steered on a steam-ferry running between Cincinnati and Covington. Him I put into the wheel-house, and as I had once owned a fourth interest in a steamboat, and fooled away considerable money and time with her, I had learned enough of the wheel to know which way to turn it, and of the bell-pulls to signal Stop, Back, and Go ahead. I went with Williams into the wheel-house, and put Davis on the bows, to keep a lookout. As the night grew dark, and finally black, Davis declared he could see nothing, and came back wringing his hands and saying we would "surely be wrecked if we did not land and tie up."

"There's a light ahead now, Davis, on the north shore."

"Yes, and another on the south, I think."

"One or both must be rebels' campfires."

We tried to keep the middle of the river, which is less than musket shot across in any part. After a long struggle against wind and tide we got abreast of the first campfire, and saw the sentry pacing back and forward before it, and hailed:

"Halloo! there. What troops are those!",

Back came the answer in unmistakable Southern patois: "Ninth Tennessee. Run your old tea kittle ashore here, and give us some hot whisky."

The answer was not comforting. I knew of no Tennessee regiment in the Union service except one, or part of one, commanded by Colonel Stokes, and where that was I did not know. So we put the boat over to the other shore as fast as possible, and to gain time I called out:

"Who's in command?"

"Old Stokes, you bet."

"Never mind, Williams, keep her in the middle. We're all right.- How far to Kelley's Ferry?"

"Rite over thar whar you see that fire. They 're sittin' up for ye, I reckon."

"Steady, Williams. Keep around the bend and steer for the light."

And in due time we tied the steamboat and barges safely to shore, with 40,000 rations and 39,000 pounds of forage, within five miles of General Hooker's men, who had half a breakfast ration left in haversacks; and within eight or ten miles of Chattanooga, where four cakes of hard bread and a quarter pound of pork made a three days' ration. In Chattanooga there were but four boxes of hard bread left in the commissary warehouses on the morning of the 30th [October]. About midnight I started an orderly to report to General Hooker the safe arrival of the rations. The orderly returned about sunrise, and reported that the news went through the camps faster than his horse, and the soldiers were jubilant, and cheering "The Cracker line open. Full rations, boys! Three cheers for the Cracker line," as if we had won another victory; and we had.

Extracted from:  Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. III

July 11, 2013

Instructions for Operators

The following is an instruction sheet I prepared for operators of our portable layout. If you plan to operate, reading this ahead of time may be useful. 

Instructions for Operators on McCook’s Landing Model Railroad

1.       General
1.1.         Please read this complete document so you understand yours and the other players’ roles.
1.2.         If you notice a problem, please bring it to our attention. If you derail a car, please re-rail it carefully.  If you are unsure about something, please ask.
1.3.         The rails on the layout are dead. There is no power on the rails.  The engines use battery power. There are no electrical blocks, reverse sections or gaps to consider. The engine cassette in the fiddle yard can also be used as a charging track. We will take care of that for you in between sessions.
1.4.         Have fun.
2.            Conductor
2.1.         You are in charge of the train. You will instruct the engineer and brakeman on what to do.  Your task is to arrive at McCook’s Landing and deliver the cars you are pulling to the appropriate spots. Then you must prepare the outbound train by pulling cars and assembling the train. Before you leave make sure the locomotive is serviced at the engine terminal.
2.2.         Movements on the layout are controlled by early 19th century Time Table and Train Order rules, which are simplified versions of the currently used rules. You will find some train orders and a schedule for the trains in the packet you receive. The train orders will provide any special instructions. You should consult the schedule to understand any meets with other trains or other events you must consider.
2.3.         In the packet you will receive a replica copy of the USMRR Conductors Report.  Please fill out the top with the names of the operators on the train. This form will act as your switch list. It will tell you how many cars are in your train (probably 4) and where they should be spotted. It will also list cars that you must pick up. You should verify that the cars you are pulling are correctly listed on your sheet. Make any corrections as needed.
2.4.         Any cars not listed on the papers but found at the terminal must remain in place though they can be shuffled around if necessary as long as they end up where they started.
2.5.         As you work you may mark up the switch list and add notes. When you are done, please turn in the switch list for our records.
2.6.         Do not use the extended link on the cow catcher for switching. Make all your switch moves from the rear of the tender.
2.7.         Your train should display proper signals. In daylight, white flags for a single scheduled train or red flags if an extra is following. At light, signal lights will be used instead of flags.

3.            Engineer  
3.1.         You are in charge of the locomotive. You will control the throttle, bell, head light whistle and engine servicing. Please familiarize yourself with the throttle and the special functions.
3.2.         You do not have to run with the headlight on in daylight, but you may if you wish.
3.3.         Ring the bell when passing or near the depot.
3.4.         The engine decoders have momentum programmed in, so be aware of that when starting and stopping.
3.5.         The brakeman will signal you when to move during switching with hand or verbal signals
3.6.         Use the appropriate whistle signals when moving the engine.
1 Short - Apply brakes2 Short – Release brakes3 Short – Backing train4 Short – Call in flagman (McCook’s Landing is in terminal limits, so you need not flag your train.)5 Short – Wood up1 Long – Danger.
3.7.         To service the engine you must park by the wood rick and water tank to replenish water and fuel. Use the sound effect function to simulate the water filling operation. You do not need to move the hose or lever on the tower. Wood loading is simulated by a 2 minute wait by the wood rick. You do not have to actually load the wood.
3.8.         Do not exceed 5 miles per hour when crossing the bridge. Do not use excessive speed when switching.
3.9.         You will turn the engine when necessary on the turntable. It is manually operated and aligned.  We will handle turning the engine on the fiddle yard cassette.
3.10.      Please turn off the throttle and return it to us when you are done.
3.11.      If the engine stops running during operation, it could be a dead battery. Please let us know if that happens and do not continue to operate. We have a spare engine in case this happens.
4.            Brakeman
4.1.         You will couple and un-couple cars, set the switches, and operate the brakes in accordance with instructions from the conductor. You will guide the engineer during these moves with hand or verbal signals.
4.2.         The cars use link-and-pin couplers. We use magnetic pins and laser-cut paper links.  They will take two hands to operate. You will be given a brake staff to use. It has a rare earth magnet on one end to grab the pin and a taper on the other to help manipulate the link.  Use the magnet end to pull and place the pins.  If you are careful the magnet will only grab one pin when you go to pull the pin on adjacent cars. If you accidently pull two pins, replace the one you did not wish to pull.
4.3.         It may be necessary to use your fingers to set the links. That is OK. Just make sure they don’t get crushed when coupling the cars.
4.4.         Place the unused pins and links in the plastic bag we provide. Try not to lose them, but we do have extras.
4.5.         You will throw the switches using scale sized switch stands. Do not force them. They should operate smoothly and lock in place. Visually inspect each switch to insure it is properly set.
4.6.         Some of the cars have working brakes. Make sure these are all released. We will not use the working brakes in these operation sessions.
4.7.         Please make sure you return the brake staff when you are done. We do not have many extras.

July 10, 2013

Information Plaque and Train Bulletin

Over the past few days I finished engraving the information plaque and train bulletin for the layout.

The information plaque describes the purpose of the layout and sets the historical background. The map shows where our we located our fictional landing.

The train bulletin shows the actual schedule we will follow. The schedule is written with a chalk marker so it is easy to change if we need to. We can also use it as a sign-up board as we will record the operators names in the remarks box.

Here is a copy of the text on the information plaque.

The great question of the campaign was one of supplies.
General W. T. Sherman

This is a fictional, but historically based, model railroad layout set in the summer of 1864 in northern Alabama on the Tennessee River. The layout demonstrates in scale model form how the Union's overwhelming logistic capacity contributed to victory. It shows how the Union Army Quartermaster Corps built or repaired railways, ship yards, saw mills and depots in occupied territory to support the Union advance into the southern states.

At the time that we model Union General Sherman’s Army was fighting outside of Atlanta, while Union General A.J. Smith was operating near Tupelo, MS. The main Confederate Army, now under the command of General Hood, opposed Sherman in Georgia, while General S.D. Lee had a smaller army in Mississippi. 

The landing was near the small town of Brendelton (fictional) on a peninsula off a tributary of the Tennessee River, surrounded by marshy land with dense forests on north and west. a narrow strip of land along the creek to the north-east provides ground access. The town had one main industry, a combined sawmill and shipyard that specialized in "puddle" jumper steamboats to navigate the shallow rivers of the upper Tennessee. The town began to build a railroad toward Athens, Alabama to connect with the Nashville and Decatur RR.  During the railroad-building boom in the 1850s, the stockholders had the line graded and built some abutments for bridges but did not finish the project before the war started.

Because of its remote and hard to reach location, the town was relatively unscathed by the war. However, some of the local riverfront farms were burned by Union water-based troops in revenge for guerrilla fire from area in 1863. Due to its geography, it is an easy location to defend and an ideal location for a supply depot.

In late spring 1864, the Union Army moved into the area. The United States Military Railroad quickly laid a branch line to Brendelton on the planned right-of-way. They built a standard Howe truss bridge over Biscuit Run and trestles over some of the swamp ground. They also rebuilt a sawmill to use in constructing boats and barges for use on the upper Tennessee River. This was one of several shipyards the Union Army built along the upper Tennessee River. The shallow water between Muscle Shoals and Florence made steamboat navigation from the lower river impossible most of the year, thus necessitating the shipyards so far forward.

They named the facility McCook's Landing after Brigadier General Robert Latimer McCook (December 28, 1827 - August 6, 1862), who was killed in this area a few years earlier while battling guerrillas. The facility is strongly fortified and garrisoned with about 1,500 soldiers, about half from newly raised regiments of African-American volunteers. 

Bernard Kempinski

About this layout

Scale                O scale (1:48th)
Bench work     One-by framing with quarter inch plywood and 2 inch foam composite surface layer.
Track               Standard Gauge (5 ft) hand laid on laser cut wood ties, 4 spikes per tie
Roadbed          One-eighth inch aspen plywood
Rail                  Code 100
Lighting           LED Ribbon, blue tint
Sky board        One-eighth inch hardboard hand painted with some art work cutouts
Locomotives    SMR Trains with Stanton Cab Battery DCC power
Rolling Stock   Scratch built with NWSL wheel sets
Figures             Various sources and scales from 28mm to 1/43rd scale


Sponsors:  Alkem Scale Models, Scenic Express, & Train Troll

Layout helpers:  Brian Brendel, Joel Salmons, Jeff Peck, Christian Peck, J.B. Weilepp, J.D. Drye, Andy Small, Paul Dolkos, Michael Spoor, Marty McGuirk, Mark Franke, Dave Emery, Jake Brendel, Brian Kammerer, Eric Cox. 

Violet Kempinski gets special recognition for the drapes and bunting.

Deepest appreciation to Alicia Worthington and Gabriella Petrick

Special thanks to Co-Builder and Co-owner Gerry Fitzgerald

July 9, 2013

Photos disappearing

I don't know why but photos on past posts are disappearing from this blog. If anyone knows what might be happening, please let me know.

July 8, 2013

Sign-Up Sheet for Op Sessions at the NMRA Meet

We plan to hold a limited number of operating sessions on McCook's Landing at the NMRA meeting.  We plan to offer three sessions a day starting on Tuesday and going through Friday morning. However, we will not have any sessions planned for Wednesday as we will be attending layout tours.

If you wish to participate in a session, please sign up by either sending me an email or commenting to this message below. I will manually update the sign up sheet on this blog post as folks reply. This will serve as the advance sign up sheet. We may have some additional impromptu sessions during the interstitial times if there is interest and time.

Each session can take up to three operators: Conductor, engineer and brakeman. A session will take about 45 -60 minutes including some training on the paperwork, throttle and couplers. The conductor will deal with some authentic paper work from the 1860s. The engineer will operate a radio throttle connnected to a battery powered loco. The brakeman will operate link and pin couplers and scale sized switch stands controlling stub turnouts.

Tuesday  10 AM Conductor  Rob Hinkle     Engineer John Bopp    Brakeman  John Brazaitis

Tuesday 2 PM     Conductor___________   Engineer___________ Brakeman_________

Tuesday 8 PM     Conductor___________   Engineer___________ Brakeman_________

Thursday 10 AM Conductor  S. Neumann   Engineer  Bill Welch      Brakeman_________

Thursday 2 PM    Conductor___________   Engineer Thom Radice  Brakeman_________

Thursday 8 PM    Conductor___________   Engineer___________ Brakeman_________

Friday 10 AM      Conductor___________   Engineer___________ Brakeman_________

July 7, 2013

The Sound of Fury

"I wish Bernie would install that wood pile. This BPS is no fun to sit on."

T minus seven and counting....

The do list is shrinking, though not as fast as I hoped due to the cassette staging and battery-decoder installs taking much longer than expected.

I made a new cassette from half-inch poplar. While the wood looks nicer than the previous cassette, it was a bear to spike into, even considering I was using flex track and track nails.  After building a 4 foot long cassette and testing it a few times, I decided to modify it. As I removed the long and ungainly cassette, I kept having visions of the whole thing dropping from my hands and hitting the floor.

The smaller cassette is for turning the engine.
The long cassette need not turn each run.
Note the thumb screw
for end of cassette security,.
So I put the cassette on my chop saw and cut it in two, but not after I did a test to make sure my chop saw would cut the flex track cleanly. It did cut cleanly and crisply.

Speaking of using big tools, I was also using a 20 ounce hammer and nail set to drive the track nails through the flex track and into pre-drilled holes in the poplar. You  got to love a scale where a 20 ounce hammer and a 12 inch chop saw can be used to lay track.

The new cassette works well - the cassettes can be repositioned without taking them from the staging table. We just need access from the back to work it. In my basement, I removed the front panel and accessed the cassettes from the front.

I added a rider and couplers to Dave Emery's box car. It is ready for service.
I did a bunch of little detailing projects before tackling the battery and decoder install in the next loco. This was the former W&ARR Texas. It is now the USMRR Fury. I originally was going to name it Leach, but after all the trouble I had with the install, Fury seemed like a much more appropriate name.

I believe the problems arose when I created a short circuit in the two track power feeders under the boiler tube. For some crazy reason the builders of these locos change the color code of the wires from the rails between the tender and the engine. I knew this, but I forgot that there was a wiring harness in the engine that feeds the headlight, AND ALSO takes power off one wheel on the pilot truck that has a wiper (presumably to help the loco pick up track power).  Temporarily forgetting the color code swap,  I assumed it all supplied one side of the rail but in truth that harness supplied both.

So by hooking pilot truck wire to the black wire that is connected to the frame in the engine I  created a short. Since I was just using a regular power supply with no short circuit detection, the loco just sat there when I put it on powered recharge track  and gave no indication of a short, even  the decoder was playing sound. But the rails were heating up at the alligator clip where I connected track power. I even got a second degree burn on  my thumb when I removed the alligator clips, I guess that was the highest resistance spot.

Anyway I sorted that out. I fixed the black wire from the pilot (actually removed it as it is no longer needed)  and redid the harness. No more short.

Then I did some tests that Derrell Poole at NWSL suggested (great customer service -  He answered my emails over the 4th of July weekend!). The BPS was not putting out 12V. The most I saw was 1.04V after 2 hours of charging.

I connected 10V DC to the decoder voltage inputs and was able to get it to play sound, but no output to the motor.

Using my existing plugs and  harnesses I put 12V to the motor with the decoder unhooked. The motor worked. So I knew my harness to the motor was OK.

The battery read 3.9V.

So I reasoned that I fried both decoder and the BPS. Oh well. I guess I'll be ordering some new BPS and decoders soon.

I removed both inoperative parts and redid the installation with a second BPS and decoder that I had on hand.  Fortunately, it works fine.   It picks up track power and turns on and off like it should. The decoder functions normally.  I used a Tsunami 23mm super mega bass speaker and it sounds good. I had to scratch build a square styrene speaker enclosure for it the would fit in the fire box/boiler. There was no room in the boiler for the decoder, so it is riding below the firebox. I painted the yellow heat-shrink black to make it less obvious. It actually doesn't look bad as it resembles the firebox in that location.

Once Fury was running I adjusted several CVs so it starts and stops smoothly and has good sound.  I replaced the burned out headlight with a yellow LED. I removed the lettering on the tender and repainted the letters using laser cut stencils. I replaced the name plate with a new laser cut one. I still need to add the wood pile and a coupler on the back. This engine never came with a rear coupler. Then I will weather it a bit to show a engine in heavy service.

Finally, we will have a back-up loco for use in Atlanta now that Fury is raging.

July 3, 2013

Finished the backdrop - 500th Post

I finished the backdrop for McCook's Landing just in time for the 500th post to the blog.  McCook's is almost done. There are just a few detailing and infrastructure tasks left.

I was very pleased with how the photo extension of D.S. Barmore worked out. AW says that it is now her favorite building as she really likes how I used photos to extend the left wing and add depth to the interior.

Overview of the left side of McCook's Landing. All the backdrops are done including the alleys between the buildings.

I used a photo of the model ship yard and saw mill to add a wing on the left side. I was amazed at how
convincing the computer printed image was at depicting the rest of the building.

I am now thinking the engine shed should have a roof.
I actually built two water tanks as the first one was a little too big for the spot. I saved it for use on Aquia Landing.

The photo flat is visible behind the engine shed. The photo had to be slit to accommodate the gap in the sky board
 between the layout sections. Two couplers awaiting installation can be seen on the flat car.

I painted the backdrop behind the engine terminal to represent an open area. Then I  added a few of cutouts from
Brian Kammerer's camp scenes to embellish the area behind the engine shed.
The Silfor flowering grass blend perfectly with the backdrop.