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.

December 31, 2014

Diary of Edwin B. Weist of Company A of the 20th Indiana Regiment

Gordon Bradshaw has posted a transcribed version of the diary of Edwin B. Weist, Company A of the 20th Indiana Regiment. The transcribed diary starts with the the regiment's camp at Falmouth and extends through several of the campaigns in which the Army of the Potomac participated including Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Mine Run.  Like most civil war diaries, the bulk of the entries describe  routine duties. As I read more of these diaries, I find the typical soldier focuses on his own comfort, health and duties and knows little of the actual events. There are several entries based on rumors, such as a report that Vicksburg fell in the early winter of 1863,  that would prove to be incorrect. Although he participated in several major battles, they get scant mention.

The Aquia railroad gets mentioned several times in the diary. He also gives a good record of the weather they experienced, including some heavy snow.  Here is a typical entry from his time at Falmouth and Belle Plain.
Sunday March 8. Got a good comfortable bunk up composed of small poles covered with cedar boughs. It resembles a bed more than that we generaly have. Our camp is said to be about three mile from Bell plains landing, and about five from the old camp. The railroad is within sight, so allso is the Potomac river. We are not as much in the woods as we expected to be.
        Monday March 9. The weather to day has been beautifull indeed, resembling a May day. The view from the top of the hills wich surround our camp is grand indeed. The sparkling surface of the Potomac river in the distanced; the neighboring hills covered with camps; a train of cars just crossing the bridge, 75 feet high, and a regiment of cavalry on drill in the valley beneath, is a subject for a painter.
        Tuesday March 10. Was very disagreeable raining nearly all day, wich turned to snow in the evening. Weesner and Marsh were on detail, Mr. Thorn was sick so I have to cary all the wood we used during the day no inconsiderable job.

This regiment was one of the group that got sent to New York to stop the draft riots. Along the way, the rode a number of trains. That section is worth reading if you are interested in railroad operations behind the front line.

December 28, 2014

Gauge 1 Lincoln Funeral Car Finished

Here are some photos of the finished 1/32nd scale models of the Lincoln Funeral car. The model is posed on my O scale layout, so the tracks are too close, but the customer requested some photos on the layout.

December 20, 2014

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Haupt's Car Float

An empty ferry off Aquia Landing. Box cars can be seen on the wharf, but the loading ramp is not visible.

Joel Salmons recently alerted to the some fascinating information regarding a letter about the USMRR Alexandria-Aquia car float operation that was posted to the National Archives Blog. Here is a link that includes all four pages of the letter 

The NARA blog post discusses a letter from Herman Haupt to Quartermaster Meigs. It is what we in the defense industry today would call a "cost-benefit analysis" of car ferry operations at Alexandria to Aquia. He analyzes how operating a car ferry could save money for the Union treasury. There is lots of good data in the letter.

I thought it interesting that Haupt says that even with a single loading track they can load or unload the ferry in a half hour. That seems very quick to me. I suspect it actually took longer than that, and that is why the added the extra two ramps at Alexandria. There are several photos showing the triple ramps at Alexandria. There must have been a comparable set of ramps at Aquia. Unfortunately, I can find no photos showing those ramps at Aquia.

Although Haupt proposes using  the ferries to haul all supplies, they never did completely convert to only using car ferries. Ships continued to bring a lot of supplies direct to the wharves.

The NARA has copies of the USMRR Report of Operations at Alexandria Railroad Wharf. While I did get some data from that document, my review is not complete. I did note that in most days in April they shipped one ferry a day,  but on May 1st, three car ferries departed Alexandria. I need to revisit that document and completely tabulate the car ferry operation. Also this log shows that the USMRR shipped barges  from Alexandria to Georgetown, Norfolk and even North Carolina.

From a model railroad perspective, having both car ferries and warehouses to serve with direct-from-ship  (break bulk) cargo will make the switching at Aquia more interesting. But it is fun to think that the USMRR Aquia Line could be considered the first use of containerized shipping ever. Chalk up another great idea to Herman Haupt.

December 18, 2014

Number 1 Best Seller!

"Model Railroads Go to War" is the number 1 best seller in Model Trains Books on Amazon. 

December 13, 2014

A USMRR Hail and Farewell

The military has a tradition of hosting  periodic events to welcome newly assigned members to the unit and to say good bye to departing ones.  They call these "Hail and Farewells." Tonight the USMRR Aquia Line had a "Hail and Farewell." Sadly, Brian Brendel and his lovely wife Michelle are departing Northern Virginia for the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. They are moving into a dream house with an even dreamier basement at the top of Weber Canyon, just east of Ogden. It's a shame that Brian will have to walk about 100 yards to watch the UP transcontinental mainline from his new home. Brian was a force in NVNTRAK and has been a good friend. Michelle is one of the sweetest persons, and  most understanding wives in the world. She also makes the most awesome cookies and cakes. We will miss them.

On the plus side, we are gaining two new model railroaders to the Northern Virginia area. John Barry and Paul Catapano. Both are moving to this area from California. John plans to model the ATSF on the San Francisco Bay Area, though the exact area is not yet clear. Paul is a big time model railroader operator. He had a massive Appalachian Coal hauling rail road in his old Burbank, CA home. He plans to build a new version of it in his next house in Winchester, VA.

Also  attending the event were John Drye, Joel Salmons and Doug Gurin.  The boys are itching for a work session on the layout, so we plan to start back up in Feb once the next book is done.

From L to R Joel, John D., John B., Brian, Paul, and  Doug.

December 4, 2014

"Model Railroads Go to War" is Now Shipping

My latest book, "Model Railroads Go to War" is now shipping from Kalmbach Publishing.

Amazon has the lowest price that I am aware of, but they may not have it yet.Model Railroads Go to War (Layout Design and Planning)

 Kalmbach has them in the warehouse now.

If you want it signed, you can order from www.alkemscalemodels.com as I have copies in stock.

December 2, 2014

Creating a Kit Builder Exchange

 I occasionally get requests from people to build our kits. Unfortunately I am not set up to do that myself. If you like to build kits and want to make some money, I am going to set up a kit building exchange. This will hopefully allow builders and buyers to get together. Kit builders can provide me with you name and contact info. I direct requests for kit assembly to that list of folks. It will be up to the buyer and builder to arrange terms etc. Although intended for Alkem Scale Models kits, you can do what ever you wish including other kits or jobs. I have had people ask about DCC installs too, so if you do those, we can add them to the list.

I will set up the list of kit builders on my web site at the link here. If you send me your name, contact info and some samples of work you wish to show off, I will post it there. You can post your name here, or send to me via PM. I hope to get this set up in the next couple weeks. So please spread the word. The first builder has volunteered his info.

November 23, 2014

Flat Car Recon Trip to Fort Eustis

On Saturday I made a hastily planned trip to Fort Eustis. The main purpose of the trip was to photograph and measure a DODX 42000 series car in order to prepare a future kit for Alkem Scale Models.  I was alerted to the arrival of the 42000s at Fort Eustis by a friend (who prefers to remain unnamed) that works there. He offered to guide us on a trip.

I drove down from Alexandria, while Norm Wolf, who now lives in the Norfolk area, agreed to meet us there to help out. While we were there, our guide took us on a tour of most of the interesting railroad activities there. Ft Eustis is an attractive post set on the James River. It is now a joint base but it still houses most of the US Army Transportation school and museum. We did not visit the museum on this trip, but I blogged about it here before. 

After a late lunch we visited the Chesapeake Bay and Western Model Railroad Club open  house. This is a long standing club with a massive multilevel, mushroom type layout. It spans two floors connected by a several helices. The mainline run is about 16 scale miles. It has a lot of nicely detailed scenes

Here are some of the shots I took on Ft Eustis.

The object of our attention, a DODX 42000 series flat car. There were several 42000s present. Note the difference in colors. 

Two GP-10s in the engine house

An old Magor heavy duty flat car that the shop guys at Ft Eustis restored and use on post. 

A new single slip switch installed at Hanks Yard

WWII vintage car with expanding trucks and euro-style links and buffers

80-Ton engine in shop.

November 17, 2014

Lincoln Presidential Car Work In Progress

Finally, some ACW era modeling. Here are some shots of the work-in-progress Presidential Passenger Car.  The model is 1/32nd scale. I posed it on McCook's Landing to have a nice background, even though the car is the wrong scale. The O scale boxcar next to it gives a sense of how big the Presidential Car is.

This car had a unique style of truck. The drawings we have are incomplete, so we had to imagineer some aspects of it. The model has working swing arm suspension and brakes. But I tied it all down since this will be a static model.

The model will be decorated in its funeral configuration with black bunting and one end having the railings removed to allow removal of the coffin. I also will build a coffin and Veteran Reserve on guard.

November 15, 2014

A Mystery Key

Terry Heilman of Stafford Virginia contacted me requesting some information about a railroad key he dug from a house site on November 13, 2005 east of Dumfries, VA. He sent me this picture of the key.  Neither he nor I have been able to find out much about this key. If anyone knows more about this key or keys of this type, please post in the comments here, and or contact him directly at  703-441-1794. (He requested I list his telephone number). Thanks.
Mystery key from the USMRy.

November 10, 2014

Back on the Chain Gang

I worked on some more military flat cars this afternoon. I used a some chains from a set of Alkem Scale Models Military Tie Down Chains to secure a HEMMT Fuel truck to a OTTX 60-ft flat car. The flat car is an Intermountain Company model. The HEMMT is Herpa model.

The back view shows how the chains are secured to a ring and then added to the tow pintle. The ring is included in the  Alkem Scale Models Military Tie Down Chains set.

I also built another DODX 41000 flat car using some of the left over pilot model etchings, no sense wasting them.  I tried weathering this car to match a photo of the same car from RRPicture.net

I used the sea salt technique to simulate the peeling paint on the deck.  If you are unfamiliar with the sea salt technique there are dozens of youtube videos that describe it, such as this. In a nut shell you sprinkle salt on the  a moistened model where you wish to depict peeling paint or rust. Then you spray the final color on top of the salt. When the paint dries you wipe away the salt and you get a rough peeling effect. Some people use hairspray too as it washes off with water. Lots of techniques out there.

I added chains to the deck as they stay with the empty car. The paint is very faded on this car.

Some tips on applying Alkem Scale Models decals. We suggest you use Future Acrylic Floor polish as the gloss coat and the setting agent. When using Future, the decals are nearly "fool proof." First spray or brush paint a thin coat of Future to the area you wish to decal. Let that dry for 15-20 minutes.

Then cut the desired decal film close to the lettering, but you dont have to be too close. The less extra decal film the better, but don't make the decal too small to handle. The extra film will disappear later.
Then put a drop of Future where you wish the decal to go. Apply the decal with tweezers or a toothpick. Once it is set, blot with a lint free rag. The Future dries in about 10 minutes. After waiting an hour or so, apply dullcote to the finished model. There is no silvering and the decal edges disappear. It is almost magic!

Note on the DODX decals there is white lettering that gets applied over black decal backgrounds. Apply the black decal first as described above and let it dry for about 10 minutes before doing the next layer decal.

November 3, 2014

Baltimore Burger Break

I took a few hours break last weekend to hook up with Paul Dolkos, Marty McGuirk and Fred Scheer at Paul's Baltimore Harbor layout and have a burger at Chadwicks in Old Town. Paul lives about 2 miles from me, so it is an easy trip. In spite of that I had not been there for awhile, so it was fun to check progress on the BHRR and hear about Paul's recent travels to Europe.
New tug boat on the WM car float 

The three guys were conducting business exchanging some new back-lit CVP radio throttles (Note - these are not Kansas City Approved).

Marty and Paul had an extensive discussion about
Marty's favorite car on Paul's layout. Turns
out it is a B&A gondola  This is my favorite. Any guesses why?
While they were conducting business, I checked out the layout. Paul's work is top quality and it is always a treat to see it.

My wife asked me to take some snap shots to show her what Paul has been up to. One of my favorite model railroad stories is when I took her to see Paul's B&M layout for the first time. As she walked down the stairs she said, "Ohhhh, so this is what they are supposed to look like!"  Bazinga!

Paul's new layout is built to the same level of craftsmanship, though the subject is not as scenic and charming as his old New England based B&M. This one depicts the gritty side of the Baltimore waterfront.

Marty blogged about his take on the same visit here.

October 30, 2014

DODX 41000 Series Flat Cars Available for Ordering

We are now accepting orders for the DODX 41000 Series Flat Car Kits, along with the decals and military style loading chains. The latter two are available separately.  See this link for ordering info.   You can also download a copy of the instruction manual at that page.  Kits will ship next week.

Military style loading chains are available separately.
These are photo etched.

Decals available separately. These can letter one each 40000, 410000 (our kit)
and a 480000 flat car. The 48000 series is a forner TTX 89-ft flat car.

October 26, 2014

DODX 41000 Series Flat Car Production Kits on Hand

The production parts for the DODX car are in. I will work on the instructions and this will be ready to sell. It sure would make a great Christmas present.

Here is the finished model with a M1A2 tank loaded. The tie down chains and shackles are included with the kit. The models on the back track are the pilot models made with laser cut parts. The production model uses photo etched parts with a laser cut acrylic core.

 Here is a close up of the car end.

October 22, 2014

Trail to Freedom Heritage Tour

Hasmel Turner and I at the presentation.  I was not in uniform
as I did not have time to get changed before heading
through traffic to the event. 
On 21 October I gave a talk about Civil War Railroads and the USMRR Aquia Line at the  Stafford Public Library. The audience was quite large and very engaged.  This library is in the very area that my model railroad depicts. Several of the audience members live along the route and were very familiar with it. I had a great time presenting the talk and getting their questions and feedback.

One the of attendees was Hashmel Turner. He was dressed in the uniform of a Sergeant 23rd USCT, 4th Division, IX Corps. Reverend Turner is the unit Chaplain.  He alerted me to the Trail to Freedom Heritage Tour that will take place on 1 November. Here is the link.   If I have time am going to attend.

As I have discussed in previous posts, such as this, this and this, 10,000 slaves used the Aquia Line to attain freedom. This unique reenactment will recreate some of this history from the African American perspective.

The 23rd USCT is a reenactment unit from Spotsylvania County.  It was one of the first USCT units to engage in direct combat, fought in the Overland Campaign and was at the Battle of the Crater. You can learn more about them here. It should be noted that at the time I am modeling, the USCT had not yet been formed. So I do not have them represented on my layout. However, we do have a unit of USCT on McCook's Landing as they were frequently assigned to guard missions as they were newly recruited to gain military experience, before being sent to direct combat. About 300,000 African Americans served in the USCT during the war.

USCT Artillery unit drilling on McCook's landing.

October 17, 2014

John Ott's Miskantonic Railroad

I have been super busy with my fourth book and customer models. So I don't have much layout progress  to report. While I work on those, I suggest you check out John Ott's web pagehttp://www.ottgalleries.com. It is quite possibly the nicest model railroad website, period. His 19th century models and layouts are incredible. His latest project is a layout set in a dreary New England town based on the H.P. Lovecraft horror novels. Trust me, you will be slack jawed when you see this (and his earlier layouts), even if you are not a Lovecraft enthusiast (which I am not). Enjoy!

October 13, 2014

U.S. Naval Academy Museum

After a wet round of golf today in Queenstown Harbor, AW and I stopped at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum on the way home. It had been more than 17 years since my last visit there. I had heard they did a renovation about 4 years ago, so a trip was due.

Overview of the Dockyard models
Readers of my blog will know I have a strong interest in ship models. My layout will eventually house several ship models.  My models will be essentially structures set in water. Though I will try to make them as accurate as possible, they will not compare to the models the Naval Academy's collection of Admiralty or Dockyard models. These were model ships built by the ship contractors of the time, probably as gifts to naval leaders they needed to impress. Since so few ships from this period survived, but several hundred models did, these are the best look we have at ship construction in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Many models dockyard models did not
 have rigging, but some, as this one, does.
The ship models in the Naval Academy museum came mostly from the Col Henry H. Rodgers collection. He was the son of a wealthy American oil magnate who collected ship models from antique dealers and private individuals. He bequeathed them to the Academy in 1935.  He also had a collection of prisoners of war bone models, also very impressive models. For more info see this video about the museum's collection .

Note the intricate carved gun ports and the female figures carved in the poop deck supports.

An example of the craftsmanship, 40,000 tacks used to copper plate the hull of HMS Minerva.

Close up of the bow

The museum also has a nice collection of other ship models, though their collection of ACW era ships are somewhat sparse.

The USS Syren, a fine looking brig.

October 10, 2014

Weathering ACW Era Rolling Stock and Structures

A frequent topic for discussion among ACW RR modelers is how much weathering should we apply to our models.

I believe the answer is, as always, it depends. Freight cars and structures are no different than today.
The older the structure, the more it should be weathered. Locomotives are a special case.

On my layout, most of the structures are newly built by the USMRR, so I need to go easy on the weathering. But I have some older buildings that I can add more weathering, such as the water mill.

Freight cars were made mostly of wood. Furthermore, their paints and stains were not as long lasting as today's. In the civil war the cars experienced hard service. They should show signs of weathering. In some cases battle damage or vandalism by soldiers should also be depicted. Soldiers were known to “ventilate” box cars using their bayonets or spades during transport.  Notice the cars in this photo at Alexandria. Some shows signs of having boards taken out by soldiers. Note the wear onthe roof of the car onthe left without the roof walk. The roofing material seams are very visible.

In this photo even these recently repaired freight cars show extensive weathering. The foreground car has had some of its sheathing replaced.

The locomotives were a different story. In the 1860s locomotives represented the highest in technology. The owners were proud of their machines. They had numerous brass parts, colorful paint and gold leaf lettering -  that is part of their charm. Nonetheless, they saw hard service over rough, dusty or muddy track. The engines mostly burned wood, some of it quite green, and thereby were exposed to lots of sticky soot.  

Although engines in service were well cared for by crews, they still showed signs of being in use. I look to prototype pictures for hints on how to weather.

The tender of this engine shows signs of dust and soot. This photo shows the depot at Warrenton, VA during a time when the USMRR operated there. Note the dilapidated fence and the weeds growing along the embankment. 

BTW these are amazing photos loaded with detail. I suggest you follow the links and look at the high resolution .tif files to examine all the detail in these prints from 8x10 negatives. 

This engine shows streaks on the smoke box. The brass boiler bands have dust or soot  accumulated against them. The walkway has scuffing. The smoke stack is sooty.  The cab roof shows some textures, possibly waterproofing sheets. The vertical surfaces of the tender are dusty. But most of the brass is shiny.

Also note that the water tanks are brand new looking, with no signs of water seeping despite full tanks.

Another shot, this one from Nashville, shows the in-service locos with sooty smoke stacks. The cab roofs are dusty and show stains. The tenders look dusty. The top of light box looks dusty. Yet, the brass is gleaming. 
On the other hand, the rusty hulk in the foreground is quite weathered. The tender to the left is also looking dusty and weathered. 

Boiler is painted, not actual Russia iron
When looking at modern replica locomotives one needs to be aware that the boilers are not made from Russia iron. Instead they are painted to look like Russia iron. The weathering treatment may vary depending on the effect you are looking for.

The other factor to consider is the "scale effect" on colors. If you never heard of it see  this link  for an explanation, or google scale effect on color. I don't believe you can use fixed formulas to achieve the scale effect, you should use your own judgment in implementing it. But you should definitely consider it when painting a model.

As part of the scale effect, at a minimum you should dullcote your models, including those that are right out of the factory. Even if the prototype used high gloss paint, in scale it should not look as glossy. Nothing makes a model say “toy” than a full gloss paint job.  I dullcote all my scale models, taking care to cover all glass I want to look transparent.

For my well maintained locomotives, I tend to go easy on the weathering. After dull coating, I apply chalk dust to the smoke stack and smoke box, cab roof, and tenders. I add black wash to the crevices, but then wipe most of it away. Then I add streaks to the smoke box, and oil stains to the journals. 

My freight cars get a heavier weathering treatment.