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 31, 2019

What no Mushroom?

The previous plan has a lot going for it, but I was concerned about the width of the aisle between Falmouth and Aquia Landing. To widen that aisle, I needed to shrink the width of the large peninsula. I looked at a mushroom design but quickly abandoned the idea. It would require a three turn helix and third tunnel. Here is what that unfinished plan looked like if you are curious.

Instead, it occurred to me that the simplest solution was a single narrower peninsula divided by a sky-board, thereby creating two long scenes about 18 inches wide on both sides of the peninsula. This peninsula allows plenty of room for the main aisle between Aquia Landing and Falmouth.

The backdrop would be about 24 inches tall. The existing lights might create some unwanted shadows with such a backdrop. But I could install some more recessed lights in strategic spots in the ceiling to deal with them. That is a relatively easy job.

The other issue is the crew rest area. The couch I have in the basement is quite wide about 37 inches. That makes it good for naps, but tough to fit in the remaining layout spaces. It might be time to donate that couch to one of my kids and replace it with a couple smaller chairs. I already have several stools placed around the layout for my crew (and my arthritic hip)  to sit on and take rests. 

Also, I dulled out the Burnside Wharf expansion as that is very unlikely to get built. I have other plans for that area. One thing this plan needs is a better simulacrum of Burnsides Wharf. I need to think some more about how to do that.

Yet another track plan

I started my last post by saying I don't really like double deck layouts. It's true, the double deck plan I drew just didn't work for me. So I started sketching more ideas.

This one goes back to an earlier idea I had that involves relocating Aquia Landing. The neat thing about this plan is that I can use my existing wharf. I would have to trim the water area to fit, and install some water at the far right. But I would not have to rebuild the main wharf and car flat ramp.
The other key feature that I need to maintain is a crew rest area. I moved it from the main room to the front room. I omitted the large infantry camp diorama once planned for the former location of Falmouth and installed the couch there. The TV would be mounted on the far wall between  Battery Schaefer and the new tunnel.

 By moving the crew area there, I freed up the main room for a large peninsula. This would house a new Stoneman's Station and Falmouth. I tried to maximize the aisle between Falmouth and Aquia Landing as there would frequently be two crews operating in that aisle together, though the Aquia Landing Crew has other areas they need to work too.

The plan has the longest main line run of all the single deck plans I looked at. It would be about 180 feet. More importantly,  all stations have double ended passing sidings. All are long enough for 10 car trains except Brooke.  Falmouth has facing and trailing point sidings, making switching a little bit tricky. 

The central peninsula would probably not have have a sky board. It would rely on a ridge line that runs down the center and trees along the top to act as view blocks.  The top of the ridge would range from 62 to 68 inches high. Trees on top would bring it above my eye level. 

Burnsides Wharf doesn't need to be built right away, or at all. The set-up track can fulfill some, but not all,  of the switching chores for the actual wharf.  Getting to Burnside's Wharf would require cutting a hole in a door that is semi-permanently closed.  I can't remove the door without taking down the sky board. This plan preserves that sky board as I like how it came out whenI painted it.

This plan also leaves open the option for a rebuild of Potomac Creek to a full size bridge, but it is an option and not required. 

January 30, 2019

A double decked Aquia Line

I normally am not a big fan of double deck layouts. I was reading the 2019 MRP and was impressed by Michael George's P48 layout double deck layout. His space is a bit smaller than mine, but the double deck let him achieve a a nice long run. It is also very nicely done. He relied on a narrow upper shelf to make it work. It doesn't have a cluttered look that many other double deck railroads have.

I wondered, could I do a double deck railroad in my basement? I knew the answer was a yes, as I have drawn a few HO and O scale double deck designs in the past. But they were clean slate designs with a different prototype. How could I modify the Aquia Line to a double deck?

If you read my 10 Year After Action Review a couple posts back. you know that some the things I'd like to change on my layout. One is more distance between towns and longer sidings in each town.

However, there are couple other druthers I'd like to have if I could.

  1. More distance between Aquia Landing and Burnside's Wharf. They were actually a mile apart. On a 13 mile line, that is a significant distance.  
  2. Potomac Creek was a double ended siding on the prototype. It would be nice to have that on the layout as it sets up more places to meet.  
  3.  I'd like to have room for more ships including the Passaic ironclad, and if possible a large side wheel steamer with masts.
  4. The bridge at Potomac Creek is about 56% percent of actual size. It would nice to model it full scale. 
So I started rough sketching. The same restrictions kept rearing their ugly head. The low ceiling over Brooke and the 54 inch clearance at the stairs. The eureka moment came when I decided to try a design where the double deck portion travels above the stair landing, instead of under. My wife freaked out when I mentioned this. However, this is not that big a deal as I would hide the track by modifying the wainscoting that is there is now. I would just move the wainscoting about 4 inches from the wall, and attach it with magnets so it would removable for maintenance. 

The stair landing is actually two steps with the higher part at 62 inches off the floor.   If I started a 2.7% grade at the end of Brooke, the track would be at  62 inches by the time it reaches the stairwell. I know my engines can handle a 1.5% grade as the line from Brooke to Aquia Landing actually is an up hill climb of 1.5%. I have run my tender drive locos with 14 cars up that grade and they can handle that. Can they handle 10 cars up 2.7%? That will require some testing. 

This is a rough plan of how a double deck might work.  The double deck section is only in the lower room. The upper room, the room with the low ceilings, remains single deck. I would rebuild the 40 feet of the railroad along the upper wall. The rebuild area would be on a 2.7% grade, including the bridge at Potomac, which would be at the full prototype length of about 400 feet.

Potomac Creek Siding would be a full sized, double ended.  The total main line run from Burnsides Wharf to Falmouth is now about 215 feet, almost 2 scale miles in O scale. The upper deck at 62 inches is the limit for what I can  comfortably reach to switch. Shorter operators will need step stools.

The aisles would be wider in the front room. A key concern is that the switching activity at Falmouth would be above the storage yard at Aquia Landing. That would get congested with operators if there were two trains working that area at once.  However, Burnside Wharf is further away from Aquia Landing in this design, so the crews building outbound trains are not near Aquia Landing as much as before.  If we ran extras to Falmouth, they would have to take turns doing their work.

The double deck section is generally an 18 inch wide shelf, that matches the width of the layout below, except over Burnside Wharf. That would allow me to have ships with tall masts on the lower deck in that area.  Lighting the 18 inch wide sections would be simple.

The rebuild would allow me to get rid of the remaining florescent lights, another objective of my ten year review.  The new sections would have minimum radius of 36 inches. The turn back curve at the current Falmouth would be eliminated.

Alicia demonstrates a swing gate from a previous layout.
The plan sticks to the prototype and omits the Fredericksburg expansion. So the purists will like that.

One of the concerns I have is that I would lose the nice sky backdrop at Aquia Landing. However this isn't that much a loss to me, as that corner is proving hard to photograph anyway. So photoshopping out a double deck section would not be a hard when I want to take photos.

This plan still has a generous crew lounge. The dispatcher's area is unchanged, except that the door way there would need removable sections. They could be attached to the existing door as  swing pieces. I've built one of those before and it worked fine.

January 28, 2019

Guards Armored Breakout of Normandy at Aquia Landing?

After a nice dinner party tonight, John Drye and Marke Franke asked if we could take some pictures of some tanks that Mark had built and painted. These are used in large scale war-gaming. The models are about 1:56 scale.  Mark and John are trying to recruit me back to the wargaming hobby.

We posed the tanks on an open area near Crozet Tunnel on my ACW layout. The first image started with a single exposure of the models with a Canon 70D and a 18-135mm zoom at f22 and ISO100. Then using some photoshop and a background photo from Normandy, a few air show images and some smoke effects we ended up with this.

Like model railroad shots, lower angle views are usually more realistic in this kind of model miniature photography too. This image used a series of six iPhone10 images shot with  the lens close to the ground. Then I aligned and focus stacked the images in Photoshop for extreme depth of field.  The P-51s are from a photo I took at the WWII VE Day 70th celebration over Washington, DC.

January 25, 2019

Ten Year After Action Review

As the tenth year anniversary of the Aquia Line ticks by, I thought I'd take some time to record some of the thoughts from this project. The military is infatuated with the concept of After Action Review (AAR), so let's call it that. Here we go. There is no particular order to these points, they are just some thoughts that I have considered.

1. Operations. I have been pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoy watching the layout come to life in operating sessions. Furthermore, I have been pleased to see that the layout offers interesting operations despite its simplicity. As of today, we still haven't had a perfect session, but we've come really close. Two-man crews seem to work the best.

2. Link and Pin couplers have been a success for most people, but there are some folks that just can't do it. So when we set up crews, we try to get conductor/brakemen that feel comfortable and capable at that job. I have lost some operators because they have trouble with the links and pins, and that is a shame.

3. Switch stands and frog juicers. Both of these have been wonderful.  I highly recommend frog juicers.

4. Batteries versus keep-a-lives. I love the battery system for its robustness. I just wish the throttle response was better. With the antennas in the boilers tubes, which is basically a faraday cage that attenuates radio signals, the throttle response is not ideal. I suppose I should look into improving that.

5. Working brakes They have been fun to implement, but have-not been a factor in op sessions. I'm OK with that.

6. Pet peeves - some things that annoy me

  1. Gearbox noise from the locomotives.
  2. The florescent lights I used over Brooke and Potomac Creek - I'm gradually switching to LEDs
  3. Difficulties with programming DCC -aaarrrrg, luckily not much of an issue on the Aquia Line now.
  4. Lack of military figures in relaxed and working positions. I may have to do something about that with my spin caster.
  5. Not much rusty metal to weather in this era and no colorful graffiti to model
  6. Track kinks due to humidity changes
  7. Comments about destroying the layout during a visit. Yes, it's a wartime railroad, and you might have been raised south of the Mason Dixon line, but these type of comments have proven rude and tiresome to me.
7. Possible improvements. The things I would change to the layout to improve it are

  1. Remove the tight turn back curve at Falmouth
  2. Provide more aisle space at Falmouth as that is a busy switching location, especially when two trains are there at the same time
  3. Have longer sidings to support 10 car trains
  4. Longer runs between stations

The first three would be satisfied by an expansion of the layout into the crew lounge. That would also partially address the fourth point, though only at the southern end of the railroad.

8. Future plans. I have often wondered what will come next for my model railroad endeavors. Part of me wants to start a whole new project just for the fun of building. But, a bigger part of me wants to savor what I have done and perhaps expand it.
I really don't want to start another 10 year project. I think back to friends that were at my age when they started new layouts. Most never completed them. There have been some notable exceptions though.

9. Layout visitors and this blog. Hosting visitors and sharing the layout through this blog has been a source of major enjoyment for me.  Thank you for sticking with me. 

10. Sometimes, when I go into the basement and look at the layout, it almost surreal. I think, "I can't believe this is here."  But then I think about how much work and fun it was to build, and the good fortune I have had to have a supportive wife, family,  and friends, and the health and means to pursue it.  I realize I have been very lucky. Yes, there is much for which to be thankful. 

There you have it. Ten points, one for each year.  What do you think? 

January 21, 2019

The Tenth Anniversary of the Layout

It's hard to believe, but about ten years on this date I started building the USMRR Aquia Line. This is a good opportunity to look back on what my helpers and I have accomplished, and to look ahead. I will do that in the next week or so with some additional posts. In the meantime, please enjoy this short video celebrating the railroad. It includes some special effects and special guests.

January 19, 2019

Dispatcher's Telegraph Station

I finished building the desk for the dispatcher's telegraph station.  I still need a few items to make the look more authentic such as a vintage clock, appropriate  artwork, a lantern, ink well, wooden chair, and a telegrapher’s key. And yes, the flag is correct for March 1863. It has 34 stars as West Virginia is not yet a state.  The USMRR did have lanterns with their initials on the glass globe. It would be awesome to find one, but in the meantime, a regular lantern will suffice.'

Note that the artwork of the Baldwin  Tiger 4-4-0 is a silver on glass "print" from the Franklin Mint that my parents bought about 50 years ago to decorate the bedroom for my brothers and I.  Was this a foreshadowing of what was to come?

This was the "easy" part. Next comes wiring of the control panels at each station. The solid panel in the center will display the station lights and a "clear" button.

Using a track saw and parallel guides to rip pieces as I
don't have table saw. The parallel guides
are a bit tricky to calibrate, but they can result in
good cuts.
Here are some photos showing the construction of the desk and cubby holes. Alicia says I should build chair for it too. I think I'll just buy one.

I used tools from the Festool system to fabricate the parts. The Festool system is ideal for a small shop where you don't have room for lots of bulky, specialized tools, like a table saw.  However, this project  convinced me that the next job will be to build a workbench that allows me to access the Festool boxes without having to unstack them when I need a different tool.

Cutting the top to size using Parf dogs and a Festool MFT to
keep the track saw square.

I used a Festool domino to machine attach the
legs to the frame. However, the tool visible in the photo is a
Festool Rotex sander, probably the tool I used the most in this project.
The dust collection of this tool is outstanding.

Drawer is full extension.

I used lots of clamps to glue the face frame to the pigeon hole box

January 14, 2019

60 Amps of Power

I finished the secret project I mentioned in my last post. It was an animated version of a bedtime story that I used to tell my kids. You can see it here if you wish. It was a lot of fun to make, but also a lot of work. I had help from my wife and niece as they provided voices.

The electrician was able to use existing speaker holes
in the ceiling  to avoid cutting holes over PoLA.
In the meantime, I had an electrician work on improving the electric service to my garage workshop. He took care of the electric stuff by running a 220V, 60 Amp line, while I did the sheet rock repairs where he had to cut holes in the ceiling and walls.

Luckily, the wiring work did not affect the areas by the layout, but my office had to be cleared out to allow the work to proceed.

In moving the book shelves around, I realized that I will have to rebuild them. The thought occurred to me that if I made new bookshelves,  I could build a nice small shelf layout into them. The mind boggles at the possibilities.  But, that is a project for later. For the present, we have enough power in the garage to run all my tools, as well as the capability to add a charger for an electric car, if and when we get one.

Brian eying over my stack of N Scale DRGW stuff
During the wiring upgrade process, we had a surprise visit from Brian and Jake Brendel. Brian was in town for a fire department memorial service. They had a chance to familiarize themselves with operations on the Aquia Line. Hopefully, they will be back for a full session.  I took pleasure in seeing that the Aquia Line ran well for them in what was essentially a no-notice inspection!

With the garage powered up, I continued to work on the desk for the telegraph dispatcher. The top, legs and frame are ready to go. I just need to decide if and how I can add a drawer to the desk.  This was the first time I used the Festool Domino system to make floating tenons. It really is a neat system. It's probably too expensive to recommend for model railroad benchwork, but it sure makes nice joints.  I may try some benchwork with this system in the future, maybe for a module frame.

Jake running a train into Falmouth
While I am working on the desk, Seth and Steve revised the software for the telegraph system. The revised chips and boards should arrive any time now, so we can renew work on the telegraph system electronics.

Gluing up the legs for the dispatcher desk
Cutting the desk top to size with my track saw