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.
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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.


  1. Fantastic layout! Congratulations on a job well done! I have one of Robert Wests prints framed in my front hallway. Had the privilege of meeting him in Atlanta in 91. A real gentleman and an outstanding artist. Can't wait to see his Civil War themed paintings! Suggestion, day one of the battle ofGettysburg with Buford and the RR cut west of Gettysburg. Or late in the day as the Union forces were forced back through town o Cemetary Ridge. Way to many opportunities!

  2. AnonymousJuly 23, 2013

    Thanks for the summary and outlook. Your pixes and modeling are always top notch, Bernie!.

  3. The work is simply amazing! I love it!