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, 2015

A Day of Operation on the USMRR Aquia Line - 2 March 1863

A few years ago I went to the National Archives and copied many documents relating to the USMRR. I have not had time to fully digest the material. Tonight I decided to do a bit of analysis of operations on the Aquia Line. I picked March 2, 1863 as I have multiple records for that day. It looks like a fairly typical day compared to other days.

The following is a transcribed version of the Log of Arrival and Departure of Trains at Falmouth Station, March 2, 1863. The handwriting on this log is very difficult to read and doesn't follow a strict format.

W.W.W. S.Y.
     Train     No. 1 Engine Lion arrived at 7:20 A.M.
      Ex (tra)  "   1    "       Osceola  "     "  7:35   "   Cheney
W.W.W. S.Y.
     Train     No. 2  Engine Lion left at      7:50 A.M.
      Ex (tra)  "    2    "        Osceola  "     "  8:00   "   Cheney
W.W.W. S.Y.
     Train     No. 3  Engine Leach arrived at 10:15 A.M.
         "          "   4    "        Leach  Left      "  10:45   "  Cheney
W.W.W. S.Y.
     Train     No. 5  Engine Fury arrived at      1:30 P.M.
        "          "    6     "       Fury  Left      "      1:45    "  Cheney
W.W.W. S.Y.
     Train     No. 7  Engine Leach arrived at      4:35 P.M.
       Ex.          "  7     "       Lion   arrived  "       4:40    "
     Train     No. 8  Engine Leach left  at            4:45 P.M.
       Ex.          "  8     "       Lion   left   "            4:50    "  Cheney
W.W.W. S.Y.
     Train     No. 9  Engine Fury arrived at      7:45 P.M.
        "            "  9       "        ''     arrived  "       7:55    "      Cheney
W.W.W. S.Y.
      Engine Leach arrived at 11PM
      Engine Leach  Left      "  11:15PM    Cheney

Note the W.W.W. stands for William Wierman Wright, Superintendent of the Aquia Line. The S.Y. may mean Superintendent.

This next document is the Log of Cars Received at and Forwarded from Falmouth, March 2, 1863

No Time Engine Conductor No of Cars Contents Consignee

Cars Received At Falmouth Mar 2, 1863

Lion Perine
Passengers Agent

1242, 1183
Mil Goods Pierce

" "
1258, 1094, 1252, 31, 1171, 1114, 133, 1147, 1141, 1234, 1136, 1075
Forage Pierce

1 Extra
Osceola Doyle 146, 131, 169, 1159, 1234, 1124, 122, 1162, 1169, 1133, 1244, 119 Forage Pierce Note car 1234 is duplicated. Could be a typo
Leach Smith 1100, 1067, 160,147, 1091, 1053,  Coms. Stores Winchester

" “ 
Passengers Agent

Fury Clinton 1081, 162,  Mil Goods Pierce

" 1135, 1243 Passengers Agent

Leach Smith 1036, 1165 Coms Stores Winchester

" " 13, 102 Stores Pierce

" "
Ord Stores Pierce

7 Extra
Lion Perine 1256, 1104, 1253,1132, 1139, 1074, 1077 Forage Pierce

Fury Clinton 1100, 101, 1072, 1110 Forage Pierce

Leach Smith 169, 1267, 1188, 1232, 1239, 1159  Forage Pierce

Cars Forwarded from Falmouth March 2, 1863

Lion Perine 186, 1135, 1257, 4146, 1110,  troops Aquia

2 Extra
Osceola Doyle 1243, 1044, 1148, 1189,  Empty Aquia

" " 124 QM Stores 12th U.S. Inf, Stonemans

Leach Smith 146, 181, 169, 1239, 119, 1124, 1244, 1133, 1169, 1162, 122, 1183, 1191, 1234, 1141 , 1147, 133, 1114, 1288, 1171  Empty Aquia

1250, 31, 1094, 1136, 1095 Mail Mail and Passengers W Boat

Fury Clinton 1243, 1053, 1067, 1011,1091, 147, 160, 1156 Empty Aquia

Leach Smith 1081, 162, 1135, 1243 Empty Aquia

8 Extra
Lion Perine Nil Empty Aquia

Fury Clinton 1104, 1253, 1132, 1077, 1074, 1256, 1139, 13, 102, 231, 1036, 1165, 1136, 1094 Empty Aquia

Leach Smith Nil Empty Aquia

There are couple things to note by analyzing these data.

A total of 60 cars arrived at Falmouth and 61 cars left on March 2. Most cars that left went to Aquia empty, but one was sent to Stonemans. (Note  three cars were sent to other stops from Falmouth on March 3rd. Look at the original document to verify that, it is not in the transcribed table.)  Note that "W Boat" is the daily steamboat to Washington, DC. It leaves from the wharf.

The longest train was 4 with 25 cars, next was 1 with 15 cars. Two engines ran light back to Aquia.

Note that some cars stayed at Falmouth overnight, while others got delivered in the morning and departed that same day.  For example 1141 and 1147 arrived on Train 1 with forage and departed empty on train  4 three hours later. Similarly, car 1191 brought passengers, but left empty on 4. Other cars like 1110 and 101 came in on 9 but stayed the night. Car 1110 left Falmouth on Train 2 and returned at 7:45PM on Train 9.

The make up of the incoming and outgoing trains is not the same. This implies that a fair amount of switching was going on at Falmouth.  Conductor Smith was busy as he ran three trains that day.

No trains met trains coming in the opposite direction during this day. This matches the schedule I have from 1864, where there are no scheduled meets. The extras ran on the time of their scheduled train.

Overall it's not too complex an operation, but there is a lot more switching going on than I expected. That should make my crews happy. I don't have a train register for all stations, so I can not create a "as-run" string diagram.  I also do not have copies of any of the train orders for 2 March. But I suspect there are some at the NARA. I need to recheck those. There were so many train orders there, that I got tired of copying them on the day I visited.

Pierce is shown as a consignee on some of the cars. The NOAA Map shows a place called "Capt Pierce" just south of Falmouth. I suspect this was the HQ for Capt Pierce, a Quartermaster officer, but I am not sure.

I have previously posted the roster of USMRR cars at this link.  However, it's pretty easy to tell what number is what kind of car. The flat cars are numbered with 1 to 3 digits. The box cars start at 1000 and go up. There are 30 stock cars in the 2 and 3 digit range, interspersed among the fact car numbers. Most of the cars are 28 ft long with 10 ton capacity. I do not have any further information differentiating the types of cars, so I have to rely on photographic evidence to see how many arched, peaked, combination, etc. cars there were.   

Here are copies of the original documents in case you want to check my transcription. Some of this handwriting is hard to read.

December 30, 2015

LED Lights in Recessed Ceiling Fixtures for Layouts

Over the past few years I have experimented with several types of LEDs for use as layout lighting in  part of my basement that houses Aquia Landing and the Port of Los Angeles Layouts. These rooms have 12 recessed can lights in the ceiling.  Note that the front room of the layout from Brooke to Falmouth has a built-in valance with tube florescent fixtures. If I could, I would get rid of all those lights.

Over Aquia Landing I opted to not have a valance. So I stuck with the recessed lights. I tried several types of CFL and LED bulbs, but only one really worked well.  I'll spare you the results of the experiments that failed and just point you to the ones I have found that work the best.  They are Ultilitech Pro 120W BR 40 Floods. Lowes is the only store in my area that carries them.

These lights create a nice even flood of light. They are dimmable and only use 20W of power for 1400 lumens of light. They cost about $20 a pop, but should last a long time.

December 29, 2015

Vemeer and Camera Obscura

If you have an interest in photography,  painting realistic miniatures or backdrops, and have a spare 41 minutes, I strongly suggest you watch this video. The last three minutes are especially fascinating.

In this video Professor Philip Steadman, UCL Bartlett School of Environment, Energy and Resources, provides a "proof" of his theories on how the famous Dutch painter Vermeer used a modified camera obscura to paint his "photorealistic" scenes.


When I was in graduate school in mechanical engineering, I had one unrestricted elective class. I took photography. In that class we made a camera obscura in a dark room in the old armory at MIT. It was really fun to watch the outside scene projected on the walls of the darkened room. But the room was too dark to paint in. This video shows how Vermeer probably developed the camera obscura  even further to create a device that could record a scene and allow enough light to make a painting.  There is a documentary film mentioned in the video, "Tim's Vermeer," that I have not seen, but plan to at some point.

Prof Steadman also makes a point that there are no out lines in Vemeer's artwork. I have noticed a similar effect when working with Photoshop. When you reduce an image to colored dots (pixels), and look at the dots in a magnified way, you can see this clearly. You'll even note that the areas were colors meet are not sharp, but tend to blur into each other.  Being aware of this effect makes compositing images in photoshop more realistic. Sometimes, you have to add blur to an image to make it more realistic.

December 27, 2015

Back in Ole Virginny

Having spent the past week zipping around the country, it is good to be back in Ole Virginny. While I didn't get to work on the layout over the Christmas break, several interesting other things happened.

The first happened in Rochester, Minnesota. My wife and I where wandering through the underground walkways that connect most of the downtown buildings in Rochester. Strangely enough, they call these underground walkways the "skyway." (OK, there are some elevated parts, but it seems to mostly be underground.)  I wandered into an art shop while AW was looking at a woman's clothes shop. I noticed a book on the counter that was about the 1st Minnesota Regiment, a unit that needs no introduction to students of the civil war.

The woman who ran the shop, Ms Sharon Krom, told me that she and her husband, Richard, wrote the book based on 218 letters Edward H. Bassett sent home during his three year enlistment. This got my attention. Lately I have been reading as much original civil war material and memoirs as I can find. Having read a good number of summaries and strategic analyses, I am finding the original material much more interesting and rewarding to read.

So I opened the 719 page book to a random place and started reading. The first letter I saw was written from Falmouth, April 1863. Just the time that I am modeling. A quick flick through the pages showed dozens of letters from this period. I knew I had to get the book, despite not knowing if it would fit in my luggage.

As I headed to the cash register, Richard Krom, Mrs. Krom's husband arrived. We had a very pleasant chat about the book and their efforts to collect the letters. It seems that the letters were scattered across the country and the couple had to spend considerable effort to gather them. The letters have been transcribed to printed text for ease in reading. There is a small amount of text written by the Kroms placed between the letters to put the letters in context. As I purchased the book, Richard, Sharon and their son James, signed my copy.

I am not quite finished reading the book, but I am really enjoying reading it.  It reminds me a lot of Leander Stillwell's memoirs and Wilbur Fisk's Letters from "Hard Marching Every Day." I will do a full review when I finish the book, but based on what I read so far, I highly recommend it.

I also read another interesting book over the break called the "Tugboats of New York," by George Matteson.  This book is a richly illustrated history of New York tugboat activity. Although the book has dozens of fine art quality black and white prints, the text is quite good and very informative.  There is a fascinating chapter on tugs in the civil war.  I borrowed this copy from the library, but I plan to get a copy for my personal library.

When I got back to Virginia, the test samples of my photo etched stainless steel HO scale chain link fences with barbed wire and gates were waiting for me. The test etches look great and I will be offering these for sale in January via Alkem Scale Models.

Finally, I noticed tonight that Minitrains (in Germany) has announced a Baldwin 2-6-2 HOn2 (they call it HOe and OO9). I have not seen the loco for sale anywhere. I wonder what its status is? They are also offering American box cars, flat cars, and gondolas, all with Pershing trucks. With this loco and freight cars. and the forthcoming 4-6-0 from Bachmann, a WWI narrow gauge RR is more easily modeled. I may have to reconsider my next project. Hmmmm......

December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas from the USMRR Aquia Line

Alicia and I wish all our readers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
This is not the link to the document. It is just a
copy of the cover. Click on the link to
download the file.
As a thank you for your interest and feedback, I have posted a copy of the USMRR City Point Train Records. This is set of documents that I compiled during a trip to the archive in 2009. This version has all the records I photographed that day in one pdf file. I hope that you find it useful, even if you are not modeling that USMRR City Point Line. You find the file at the following
This is a dropbox link as the file is a multipage pdf about 10MBs.

December 20, 2015

Once More into the Breach

This is the first time I've seen a NS (or CR/PRR) train hit these diamonds.
I stopped by Baltimore Harbor at the golden hour this evening on my way home from a quick trip  up north.

Canton RR Sw-1200 at Penn mar Yard

Lots of graffiti at Penn Mar
I swung by Canton, MD and Fort McHenry.  This visit reminded me why I like Canton, MD so much as a subject for a railroad to model. In the short time I was there I saw two CSX trains working Sea Girt. While the Canton RR was quiet with it locos parked at the PennPar engine terminal, at the south end was a  special treat. There NS ran a outbound train across the diamonds at PennMar yard with loads of auto racks and empty heavy duty flats (that probably brought heavy equipment for export to Dundalk). This was the first time I ever caught a train using these diamonds in all my trips to Canton.

I noticed that the GM Plant and the Lever Bros factories have been completely torn down and replaced with distribution warehouses. Still, PennMar yard still looked quite busy with an interesting mix of cars.

I did a quick drive by the old PRR grain elevator, where now the NS Savannah is docked. National Gypsum was working on what looked like recycled sheet rock. CSX had a set of 6-axle power idling at the SeaGirt rip track.

Next I went to Ft McHenry to get some shots of the harbor. As I arrived, a Moran tug was guiding the tanker Concord to Locust Point. Across the bay a half dozen ships could be seen. Three were busy at Rukert Terminal unloading various bulk cargoes. Auto carriers, a coal bulk carrier, and a container ship could be seen in the distance.  All in all a very busy Sunday evening.

And while I was out rail fanning, AW and Nancy went to see The Farce Awakens. At dinner she said she wants to see it again. Maybe that time I will go too.

Visitors watching the Aquia Line intro video
On Saturday, Mark Hadley, the General Counsel at CBO and his cousins, Darren and Julia, visited the Aquia Line. Darren is a "closet" model railroader (that is he has Lionel trains in his closet.) They seemed to have a good time and asked a lot of questions about the layouts.

They even got to run some trains and sample Alicia's caramel brownies.

NS Savannah at Canton

Spare power idling at Sea Girt rip track