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.

August 24, 2018

Alternate History Layout Design

Looking north across the Rappahannock to the destroyed railroad bridge and downtown Fredericksburg beyond
A few days ago I came up with an idea for an expansion of the Aquia Line that relies on an alternate history. The idea involves extending my layout into the crew lounge by placing Fredericksburg on the far wall.  The main modeling motivation for this is to add another big bridge on the layout and a large town.

The USMRR Aquia Line did extend across the Rappahannock River through Fredericksburg and about 10 miles beyond from  May 1862 (when Haupt took over the line) until September 1862 . They used the RF&P workshop in Fredericksburg and also had a large bakery there. During this time the bulk of the Army of the Potomac (AoP) was on the Peninsula south east of Richmond, and General McDowell was operating just south of Fredericksburg with about 30,000 men. Unfortunately, the USMRR abandoned this area in early September 1862 (See this post), and never rail rails back to this area again during the war.

I could back date my railroad to May-June 1862.  But, that would require that I change seasons depicted on the layout from winter to spring-summer. Also, I would have to convert the bridge at Potomac Creek to the bean pole and cornstalk trestle.

So I thought about how else I could use the existing winter layout, but extend the line to Fredericksburg. In November 1862 when Haupt rebuilt the Aquia Line after the Battle of Antietam, he implored General Burnside, the commander of the AoP to cross the Rappahannock River and move south before Lee arrived. Instead, Burnside delayed his move until his pontoons were on site and Lee was able to fortify the heights behind Fredericksburg. That lead to the disaterous Battle of Fredericksburg, he was replaced by General Hooker, and the AoP went into winter quarters north of the river.

What if Burnside had crossed the river and moved a few miles south before winter hit? The bulk of the AoP would be in fortified positions south of the river, supplied by a depot at Fredericksburg. The stations north of the river would have smaller concentrations of soldiers, but they would still maintain stations on the railroad.  Falmouth would no longer be an important stop, but Fredericksburg, just across the river, would be a major hub. I would have longer sidings there able to support longer trains.

Close up of rebels on the bridge. Note the building
with the cupola in the background - that might be a
freight house or engine shed.

The water mill and other structures besides the bridge in Fredericksburg always appealed to me as a scene worth modeling (see photo at left).  In this layout design, the large churches and municipal buildings of the city would be behind the operators, and therefore not modeled. Other than the above mentioned mill, then town buildings that would be included on the layout would be smaller homes and stores. They would be a lot of fun to model.

The main attraction is the long bridge over the Rappahannock. It would be a trestle built over the stone piers of the original RF&P bridge that was destroyed by the Confederates. That would be a neat scene. The bridge and its depth would require me to move the TV to the opposite wall, not a big deal.

This looks like a neat design if you don't mind alternate history.


  1. Nooooooo! I love BOTH layouts (USMR AND POLA)! You cannot get rid of POLA just yet... well, you could and then you'd be truly focused (and mad). As they say, you're the RR CEO and you can do what you want (well, what the shareholder 'upstairs' says you can).
    As for alternate history (or reality), you can see a vocal and radicalized minority of the population wanting to destroy our history (good and bad), so why not alter it on the Aquia Line.

  2. Norm,
    I strongly suspect PoLA's days are numbered...
    Biggest pill to swallow in all this is a belief that Burnside would have actually moved anywhere quickly! (As I understand it, the issue was a delay in getting the pontoon bridges needed to cross the river but I digress)
    Otherwise, I think it would look cool. It would add a populated (albeit occupied) town to the layout.

  3. I should add the addition of the Intrepid to the scene would be cool. You could even rig it to operate and add a small camera with a monitor on the fascia - making yours the only layout with the operating position of "balloon observer."
    Of course, you could always pose the balloon on a barge on a short stretch of river - the topography around Fredericksburg could arguably be ideal for the use of a balloon deployed from a barge. Would also give a chance to model an aircraft carrier...

    1. The Balloon operator job is brilliant.

      Both sides utilized naval vessels to help transport and support balloon operations during the war. Naval vessels greatly improved the ability to move and support cumbersome balloons in theaters that had navigable coasts and rivers. The George Washington Parke Custis, a converted coal barge, was used by the Union army as an early aircraft carrier. And the CSS Teaser was used by Confederate forces to deploy balloons on the James River. On July 4, 1862 the CSS Teaser ran aground in the James and it and its balloon were captured by the USS Maratanza.

      Fredericksburg was a port, so the question of whether to model ships in the Rappahannock is one to consider. If the southern bank was not secure below F'burg, it is unlikely Union ships would use it. So I would lean to having no ships atF'burg, except for some sunken vessels emplaced by the CSA to block the river.

    2. http://www.fiddlersgreen.net/models/Aircraft/Balloon-Lowe.html

  4. Neat concept. I've always been a sucker for alternate history theories. I really enjoy seeing your modeling. I've been enjoying Model Railroads Go to War. I was stationed at Fort Hood as a lieutenant with the 1st Cavalry Division so I've been toying with the idea of a railhead switching layout. I'm also a bit of a Reb in my leanings, so I have thought about modeling a line in Confederate territory but I don't think my modeling skills are quite up to that yet!

    1. Thanks for the note. Modeling a CSA railroad is made more difficult by the lack or photos. The USMRR had decent photo coverage in Va, Ga and TN, though we would like to have more. There are very few photos of CSA railroads.