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.

January 26, 2017

Tight gauge, kinks, and other assorted maladies

I have spent a few hours the past nights adding more spikes and  test running a typical train. I found a few tight gauge spots and a kink at the easement to the first turnout to Aquia Landing yard. I resolved these.

Most cars are working well, but I did notice a pair of cars that were consistently misbehaving. As they encountered certain curves, their links would jam in the couplers and lift the wheels off the track. They would run fine on their own or if they were not coupled. The problem was in mismatched coupler heights between the two cars. I have also encountered some other problems when pushing, such as bumpers interfering on tight curves, but those was not the problem tonight.

To resolve this issue I need to do a complete coupler height check on all my rolling stock. Over the years I have tried several different truck designs and freight car builds. I was not very careful in ensuring that they had matching couple height. But with my tight curves and link and pin couplers, I need to tune all the cars and engine to the same couple height.

For a break from the drudgery of spiking and tuning cars, I took a photo of an Osceola on the engine house lead track before I put the rails in. The track is long enough to hold two engines.  I think it looks good. It will be fun to finish this scene.


  1. That looks wonderful, Bernie.
    I'm always struck by the "odd" proportions of this era - in everything from locomotives, to rolling stock, to structures. I know - the proportions are correct, and not odd at all for the era, but for someone used to looking at mid-20th century equipment they're really unusual.
    You've been building this layout for several years now, and live with the proportions all the time. Do you now find that when you work on more modern stuff, it looks odd to you? Just curious....
    - Trevor (who, having worked in S for a few years now, finds that HO looks odd to his eye. So there...)

    1. Trevor, that’s an interesting question. I experienced a similar effect after of years of modeling the C&O in the steam era. I was so inculcated by the C&O look especially the articulated engines with their long lean boilers, air pumps on front, and low head lights, that from my viewpoint all other “modern” steam engines looked odd to me. But, I experience that to a lesser degree in this era. I guess I know it is an earlier era and have accepted it. In fact I revel in it.

      I usually start my talk on railroading in this era by saying, a present-day viewer would look at my layout and recognize a railroad, but nearly every aspect of it is slightly different from today. These include steam versus diesel, wood versus steel, campfires and candles versus electric lights, animal power versus internal combustion, stubs versus blades, rough ties versus uniform, 4 spikes per tie versus tie plates,…. The list goes on. These differences contribute to the odd look and feel.

      In the case of this particular photo, you may be reacting to the Osceola. It is the oldest engine on the roster, dating to the late 1840s. It was an old design even at the start of the of the Civil War in 1861. Still it did good service. I have paperwork showing it pulled at least 12 car trains on the Aquia Line. It has many features of the older engines, such as the tilted cylinders and valve gear, short pilot truck wheelbase, and the ankle rails - the very unsafe forerunners of walkways on engines.

      The 28-ft box cars contribute to the effect with the “big shoe” look with the 36 inch wheels on trucks with short wheel bases. The extra .072 inches from the 5-ft gauge versus 4 ft-8.5 inch compromise contributes to this effect too, though recall that 5-ft gauge is correct for many civil war era railroads. The overall car length to width may also be odd to you, especially compared to narrow gauge rolling stock. A 28-ft box car for a 2-ft narrow gauge railroad is as long as a civil war era box car, but the civil war era car is much wider.

      Selective compression and tight curve radii on my layout may contribute too. The engine house in the image is selectively compressed. I based it on the City Point engine house, but made only one stall.

      But, I actually find the look and proportions of the Mason 4-4-0’s to be “prefect.” I have three of those locos, Haupt, Whiton and McCallum. Their long straight boilers, balloon stacks and the 4 wheel tenders look like the classic 4-4-0. The colorful paint with brass trim adds to the appeal. I also really like that the engines have names and not numbers.

      Given that I currently have a modern era layout next to my civil war ear layout, I have grown accustomed to the differences. But I can understand why a visitor might feel discombobulated.

  2. Thanks for the very thoughtful response, Bernie. Much appreciated.
    I should stress that as someone who used to model Maine two-footers (and who has a keen interested in UK prototypes) I'm really fond of railroads that don't fit the norm of "North American standard gauge in the steam-diesel transition". I find your work has a lot of appeal - largely because of your excellence in research and execution, but also in the uniqueness of the subject matter.
    - Trevor