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.

February 24, 2019

More Spoor!

Three weathered cars for Mike
Mike Spoor stopped by this afternoon to work on some projects for his new switching layout.  His layout is based on an industrial switching district on the former Rock Island line in Houston Texas in the 1980s.

First we weathered three boxcars. Mike doesn't have an airbrush, so we used mine. Of course, the airbrush was acting up because I had damaged the nozzle when I last used it. After swapping out the nozzle we were able to spray some basic rust and grime on the cars. Then we added some rust spots, scratches, streaks and other weathering using acrylics and brushes.

Next we built some trees using Supertrees and some plastic styrene tubes. Mike's layout is set in  the summer time. So he needs green trees. I have a lot of excess Supertrees so we used them to make a batch of deciduous  trees.

To thicken the trucks, we used 1/8th and 3/16th inch Evergreen tubing. To taper the trunks we used sandpaper and sanded gesso.

Finally, Mike went to work on PoLA finishing up remaining work from the last op session, since I hadn't touched the cars in the interim. There was only about 20 minutes of work to do and he took care of it before dinner.

At dinner, Mike told Alicia and I that he plans to switch to the Army reserve and stay in the Charlottesville area for a few more years as a private contractor.  This is good news for us, as Mike is a good operator and a nice guy. He will continue to be a welcome addition to our ops group.


February 23, 2019

Egg Creams - The Joys and Tribulations of Freelanced Railroading

Peter Clarke and Bob Rodriguez working the west end of Cortana yard. In the background is the operator, Bryan Kidd. 

If you ever met Pete LaGuardia, you would have no doubt about where he grew up. Pete has a thick New York, Bronx to be exact, accent. But behind that distinctive brogue is a delightful and generous man who has a wonderful model railroad. (see https://petelaguardia.wixsite.com/mysite).  I had the opportunity to operate that railroad today.

Pete, in his infinite wisdom and generosity, assigned to me the job of Cortana Yardmaster. He said, "I gave you that job because I thought you'd like it."  Classic Pete, always thinking of his guests first.  But would it be a decision he regretted?  Now, Cortana is the main classification yard for his railroad.  It requires two engine crews and a yard master to run. Without a smooth running yard, the railroad could grind to a halt.  Putting it in the hands of a first time boomer  who is also a notorious night bug,  for an early morning op session might be a formula for disaster. So what happened?

Let's take a step back and give a bit of background. Pete, as I mentioned above is a New York aficionado. His basement is decorated with all manner of New York artwork and memorabilia, including lots of New York Yankee souvenirs. Being a native New Yorker myself, actually a Brooklynite, and also a die hard Yankee fan, I fit right in.   At one point as we compared notes,  we discussed a native New York drink - the egg cream. The modern egg cream has neither eggs nor cream, but it was a delightful creamy chocolate flavored soda. It must be made fresh and consumed quickly. It doesn't bottle well, so it never really spread beyond New York.

Political side note, the current doings in New York make me hesitant to publicize my New York heritage. The New York of my childhood of the 1950s was a nice place to grow up. Every neighborhood was like a small town. People knew each other and looked out for each other. Each neighborhood was typically a distinct ethnicity that developed organically. Neighborhoods ebbed and flowed as people came and went. Most people got along and enjoyed what each neighborhood offered.   It was a diverse and mind expanding place to live. However, by the  late 1960s misguided policies lead to serious problems. Many neighborhoods decayed to graffiti covered wastelands awash with drug abuse. A dangerous place to attend high school. So my parents decided to leave. Later, the city underwent an amazing renaissance under Giuliani. His approach was to start with small problems, like cleaning up graffiti,  and push up. It worked. I did a bike ride across the five boroughs in early 2000 and was amazed at how nice the city had become. I hope it can stay that way, though the distant news coverage is not promising.
John Swanson at Alfano

Back to Pete's layout. Pete wanted to model the New York Central in the city with tall buildings and car floats. But, he also loved the Santa Fe Railroad. So he freelanced his railroad, naming many of the towns after his relatives. Being of Italian heritage, the towns sound like a line though Italy - Calamia, Alfano,  Rinaldi, Cortana, etc.  Great, now how to create an operating scheme that made sense? Enter Steve King. Steve is a legendary model railroad operations guru. For many years he actually worked as a dispatcher for a real railroad before becoming a consultant.  Steve has written books on prototype and model railroads, especially, 19 East, Copy Three, which he cowrote with David Sprau.  Steve helped Pete develop a realistic operating scheme for his freelanced railroad.

One of the key decisions was to decide where to place the railroad geographically. They came up with  The Western Illinois Division of the New York Central.  It would operate from Kansas City, Omaha, and Des Moines on the west, through Moberly (MO) and Hannibal (MO), to Danville (IL) and Indianapolis (IN) on the east.  The car float operations were notionally on the Mississippi River. So Pete had his big city and Santa Fe passenger trains.

Phil Raymond's veteran experience as east end switch crew
 was quite helpful
But Pete also had a confused yard master. While I am a student of geography, I had trouble figuring out where the various destinations were in relation to my assigned yard. Fortunately, Pete has provided excellent documentation both on the paperwork he emailed prior to the op sessions and on the layout to help boomers figure it all out. It took me a few minutes to digest all the info, including how to use the telephone to the operator. My yard crew, Pete Clarke (also a first timer on the Western Illinois Div) and Phil Raymond (a veteran on the layout) were very helpful in keeping things moving along. Mat Thompson, as the western staging yard master, and Bob Rodriguez, who ran several transfer runs into the yard, were also very helpful.

The Cortana Yard is huge, with seven classification tracks, two arrival-departure tracks, and two through tracks. So we had plenty of room to do the switching work that making and breaking the trains required, even for the 24-car train maximum limit. All in all, it worked very well.  Pete has some added touches, like an automated double slip switch and the aforementioned telephone system, that simplified a potentially complex operation.  There were several through trains, transfer runs and trains that originated in the yard, including a long local.

Coal mine across the aisle from Cortana yard
I never got to see much of the rest of the layout but about a dozen other operators were busy doing their tasks.  All in all an impressive model railroad.

After the session, Marie Ann, Pete's wife, provided a delicious lunch buffet of baked chicken, meatballs, and tortellini.

When I got home, I hung a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the wall over my dispatcher's desk. Even though my associates on the ACWRRHS forum thought  that a painting of Lincoln would be rare in a dispatcher's office, my brother decided to paint one for me for my birthday (or should I say our birthday, as we are twins). So there it is.  It looks good. He did a nice job on the painting.

February 9, 2019

Op Session 18 The Baltimore Bunch

(L to R) Tim, Will, David and Fred pose by Brooke
Tim Laskey and David Betz switch train 8 at Falmouth
Lauren Baker and George Payne build train 7 at Falmouth
Amby Nangeroni ran PoLA on his own and had his hands full.
He is supervised by Roux, official dog of the USMRR Aquia Line
We hosted the 18th Op session on the Aquia Line and 23rd on PoLA today. Eric Payne brought four other folks from his crew with him. They included his dad, George, Lauren Baker,  Tim Laswell, and David Betz.  Lauren was the first female crew member on the Aquia Line for an official session.   We also had the pleasure of visits by Fred Hutchison and his son, Will. Fred is a fraternity brother of mine who is planning a 1:24 scale narrow gauge layout in his garage.

This was an experienced crew and they ran the railroad expertly. It was fun to watch them work.

I managed the dispatcher's desk and maintained a train sheet for the first time on the Aquia Line. We ran an extra train, so I had to write some train orders. The crews reported OS verbally since the telegraph system is not yet operational.

Meanwhile Amby Nageroni worked PoLA. He had his hands full as a one-man crew and wasn't able to finish the job before he had to head home.

In the debrief we discussed the various options for expanding the layout. Amby and Eric like the redesign  v28d with the long peninsula, While George, Lauren , Tim, Terry, Chase (my son) and Alicia all prefer the Fredericksburg Extension.  It's unclear which plan Roux prefers. To compare plans see the Fredericksburg Extension plan here. The alternative, V28d,  is shown below.

Today we saw a situation where a longer mainline of V28d would make more interesting operation. That is when an inferior train is late. The superior train can leap frog ahead of the time table as long as it maintains a 10 delay. Inferior trains that are late must be especially careful. Resolving this situation would work better, i.e. with more skin in  the game, if there were additional stations to jump to. Also,   A longer run would also allow more trains on the RR at  one time. So running extras would be much easier to accommodate and might be routine.

The main drawback of V28d is that we lose the distinct Burnside Wharf switching area.

It's a tough call. I'm still undecided. But, I will say that operation sessions like this on the Aquia Line convince me that any option of the Aquia Line is preferable to the other more modern ideas I  have considered. I intentionally lined up train 7 with nine cars today and the challenges of working longer trains on the Aquia Line convinced me that I need to build longer sidings to accommodate ten-car trains.  TT&TO with ten car trains will make for very interesting op sessions.

Signal rules for extra train
We had some questions today on the signal flags that the trains should use when running an extra. Here is the applicable page from the rule book.  These rules are a bit confusing, it's no wonder there were accidents.  Typically, when looking at prototype Train Sheets we see that they usually had extra trains follow a scheduled train. That means the scheduled train displays red flags in front, while the extra displays white flags, as long as no other extra is also following that extra.   That is what we did today.

First time we tried maintaining a train sheet for the session.
The telegraph is not operational;
so crews verbally OS'ed, at least some of the time.
Terry working on the 2-8-0

On Friday, Terry Terrance stopped by to provide some technical advice on disassembling an O scale Weaver 2-8-0 for conversion to P48. I am doing some experimenting with P48, mostly out of curiosity. I don't expect to build a large P48 layout in the future.

Version 28d

February 7, 2019


First prototype wagon wrk in progress
Army supply wagons have been on my do list for several years. So this evening, I thought I take a crack at making one. This is the first test model. It was tricky, as the suspension is quite involved and not entirely clear to me how it works. For example, there is a long pole that runs from the front axle to the rear of the wagon called the coupling pole. I am not sure what it does.

 The back wheels are the same castings that I made for my artillery. The front wheels are from a wargame kit. Turns out the the back wheel of a 28mm wargame wagon (or artillery piece) is the correct size for the front wheel on a 1/48th scale wagon. The wagon looks ok, but does need some adjustments.  I modeled the frame and suspension like the prototype with mortised parts, etc. Too bad you really can't see them.  I have 60 mules from old Borax wagon kits, so I could support up to 10 6-mule wagons, plus some without mules.

Now, you didn't think I would stop track planning, did you?

I played around with the v28 pan  to see what kind of access I can get behind the wharf at Aquia Landing.  There is room for a decent access pit in the corner.  The problem is that one must duck under the bench work to get to it.  I could take down the coved sky board and open up that door to the home office, which was the former closet door.  That would provide walk-in access to the pit, but I really don't want to do that.  I like the idea of a nice big sky scene behind the wharf.  Only young and thin operators can go back there. Since the number of my operators that fit that description can be counted one hand after a horrible table saw accident, Burnside's Wharf must go.  Don't worry, I have a plan for that. Stay tuned.

February 6, 2019

Gaming the system

I reworked the decision matrix to group the G&Ds by priority. This allowed me to better understand which G&D's were contributing to the scores. With the G&Ds grouped by priority, it became apparent that the crew rest area and mainline run for TT&TO were a key points. The Fredericksburg extension scores well by having a good crew lounge and high scores on several lower priority G&Ds.

So, how can I design a layout that includes a decent crew lounge while also having a maximum mainline and all stations with double ended passing sidings. All of those are high priority items. While I'm at it, how about another big bridge? 

I decided to try a plan with a large pit by Falmouth. The idea for this plan came from sketching other O scale standard gauge plans with large minimum radius. Those plans have huge turn-back loops and pits that can repurposed. How about doing that here?

I rotated Aquia Landing into lower left corner.   This creates a really deep scene, in an area where the backdrop is already painted with a scene I really like, I don't want to lose that. But where to put Burnside Wharf? I went back to an earlier idea I examined where Burnside Wharf is a single track along the back wall. It will be hard to access, so cars on that wharf will have to remain coupled.  I can add an access pit behind the main wharf for emergencies and maintenance.  There is the option that Burnside's Wharf could  be extended into the home office with this plan too, but I don't expect to do that. 

One thing we have found in op sessions is that the third yard track at Aquia landing is rarely used. So this plan uses that track as a lead to Burnside Wharf. The other tracks create a long double ended siding with two crossovers. There is a stub siding to park the passenger and mail cars. 

The wye is gone and replaced by a turntable, which I conveniently have already built.  The aisle by the turntable is tight due to my work shop. But that is the case for all the plans I considered. 

On the other side of the room is Falmouth. In this plan Falmouth and Aquia landing no longer share an aisle. I think this arrangement  gives a better sense of "going somewhere."  The mainline run is good too, with 193 feet, about 1.75 scale miles, or about 27 design train lengths.  There is minimum hidden track, less than 11% is hidden.

The crew lounge shares the aisle with Falmouth. The aisle here is seven feet by 15 feet, that's the size of a small bedroom.  The old saying about the aisle is the cheapest design feature in a model railroad applies. To make the couch fit better, the central peninsula climbs to 54 inches. So folks that sit on the couch will not hit their heads on the overhanging benchwork. 

For added wow factor, I added a large trestle on the central peninsula. This is essentially the same bridge I planned for the Fredericksburg extension, though I would build it like the famous bean pole trestle. The nice thing about putting it in the location shown on the plan is that it can travel over a 15 inch deep gorge without interfering with anything below it. The creek here would be named Mueller's Run in honor of fellow ACW modeler, Al Mueller, who passed away late last year.

I added drawings of some operators in scale. With two trains running and a dispatcher. you can see that the basement is not crowded. Adding a third train as an extra will not crowd things too much.  I will adjust the schedule to match the new distances. No longer will there be meets at Brooke. Most scheduled meets will be at Potomac Creek or Stonemans. No changes will be needed for the telegraph system. I will need to build some more freight cars, but no new engines would be needed. 

Going back to the matrix, this plan has the top score, by a big margin. It pays to game the system.

Should I stop track planning now?

February 3, 2019

No, not more layout designs?

What, more layout designs? Come on Bernie, get a job.   Wait this is my job. You know what they say, do the job you love. So here goes.

I revised the Decision Matrix. I realized that the matrix ratings of 0-3 really didn't give enough granularity to discriminate between options. For example, Option A (the Fredericksburg extension) would be harder to builder than B (Falmouth extension) but both were getting the same score. So I adopted a 1-10 scale for ratings. In case of numerical parameters, like length of mainline, I was able to use this to score the ratings in proportion to their actual values. But most of the others are subjective ratings.

Also, I realized that I was using the "manageable" rating to cover two different aspects - ease of construction and maintenance requirements. Construction difficulty is not as big an issue to me as maintenance. So I broke that into two categories.

I also felt that I should have a category for open country running. My favorite scene on the existing layout is at Wielepp's cut, which is just a single track cutting through the country side. So I added country running as a rating.

Revised version C

As I thought about the previous matrix, I realized how important a crew lounge area is. I liked plan C but the loss of the crew lounge was killing the deal.

What if I shortened the Stonemans-Falmouth peninsula by 2 feet, while at the same time eliminated the wye at the lower left. That opens up some space so I could fit the couch and a TV in that corner of the room with at least three feet of clearance to the turn-back loop.  I traverse this aisle numerous times a day, so keeping the aisle here wide is a bonus.

For added wow-factor, I added a 4 or 5  foot long trestle to the central peninsula between Stonemans and Falmouth. That helps compensate a bit for the lack of the big bridge at Fredericksburg.

This plan shows a full Burnside Wharf in the Home Office. But that is a future add on that might not happen. In the meantime, the siding in the far lower left corner is the Burnside Wharf  set-up track. it provides some but not all the functionality of the actual Burnside Wharf. If I wanted to go all in, then I would build the Burnside Wharf shown here. The engine house would help disguise the hole in the backdrop.

Another thought occurred to me with regard to the double deck layout. One of the things I did not like about the previous double deck plan is that I would have to rebuild most of the layout in the front room to make it climb the required height, not to mention my wife freaking out about cutting through the stairwell.

What about a double deck version of Option C? If I started with Option C,  and put a grade on the central peninsula, it could climb above Aquia Landing. The peninsula has about 40 feet of run. At 2% the track would climb about 9.5 inches. If I also dropped the approach to Aquia Landing, that could get about 2 to 3 inches down. That could create a deck separation of 14-15 inches between a lower and upper deck.  I would need the maximum length peninsula, so the crew rest area is more cramped than Option C.

Partial double deck plan with 230 feet of mainline run, but another 30 feet of hidden
hard-to-access track.
This might sound promising to double deck devotees, but I don't like it. The upper level will run across the back of Aquia Landing. Some of the ships masts are taller than the deck separation.  This will look awkward.

Aquia Landing is one of the most importance scenes on the layout. Why ruin it with a track running across it in the sky?

It might be possible to move the upper track behind the backdrop at Aquia Landing  by moving  the wharf out 4 inches, and putting the upper level on a narrow shelf (see plan at the left).  This creates a long stretch of hard-to-reach hidden track. The extra hidden portion could be on a grade. Thus, the overall grade from Stonemans to the end of the hidden section is less than 2%.  That's a good thing, but  I'm not sure the extra 50 feet of main line run  is enough compensation for the drawbacks of the hidden run, somewhat cramped access at Falmouth near the workbench, and the extra complexity.

After all this machination, it's still a very close thing. Option C is starting to look like the best option both in numerical ratings and my gut feel. In addition, it gets CINCHOUSE (aka as my wife) approval. It is also interesting to note the the PoLA expansion moved up in sum of ratings, but got surpassed by the O scale Maine Central branch when priorities were factored in. PoLA as rated in this chart loses a lot of points for complexity as it has below grade staging and a section of CTC. A simplified version of PoLA with open staging and not CTC would score a lot higher.

This weekend, Leighton Moreland stopped by to visit the layout. I met Leighton at Caboose Hobbies last year when I visited the new store. He was in town before starting a new job as a civil engineer building bridges. He models in HO and O. He liked the PoLA layout, but really loved the O scale layout. I showed him the paper mock up of the Rappahannock River bridge and he liked it. Don't tell him I might not build it.   We tried running some of the BNSF diesels on PoLA, but as usual we could only get one to work due to fracking DCC glitches.  However, we did run the Aquia Line and it worked flawlessly. Score another one for the Aquia Line!

February 2, 2019

Decision matrix analysis of layout alternatives

Will the standard gauge O scale layout win the analysis?
With all these layout ideas floating around, Marty suggested, most likely with his tongue firmly in his cheek, to take a relook at the decision matrix. But I was curious, so I did it. The result was somewhat unexpected.

I analyzed 7 options. A, B, C and D are expansions of the Aquia Line. E is an expanded PoLA as I have drawn in the past.

F is a DRGW Soldier Summit based plan that I sketched out in some detail, but never did a final version. It has a double track mainline, CTC, Castle Gate,  a steel mill, the Utah Railway I/C, and several coal mines.

The last, G,  is an O Scale standard gauge plan with a On30 narrow gauge interchange. I just have drafts of this plan, but I do have some rolling stock for it (see image above). The other nice thing about it is that many of the ships, trees, and some structures of my ACW layout could be reused on it. However, the plan is set in the 1920s and trying to find rolling stock for it makes it take a hit for manageability. It is interesting that when I mentioned the Maine idea to my wife, she was excited and said, "ohh good, we can go there to research it." Somehow I think think this means more golf.

The first analysis sums numerical rating of 0 to 3 to rate each G&D. It also assigns a priority to each G&D so I can calculate a weighted sum of ratings by priority. In this analysis, the higher numbers are better. Just looking at the sum of ratings we see that three of the Aquia Line plans are tied. This makes sense as the three designs give up one thing to get another. The winner will be decided by the priority assigned to each G&D. The DRGW plan comes in last. When you take the weighted average by priority, the Fredericksburg Extension is the winner.  The DRGW is still last, but the Aquia double deck is second to last.

For you non-parametric statisticians out there, this next matrix uses ranks instead of priorities and weights. I ranked each layout design in order for each G&D. There were lots of ties in these rankings, that is why you see rankings repeated.  In this analysis, low numbers are better.

The reason E&F get ranked low for reliable engines has to do with DCC programming issues. I really don't cherish the idea of trying to manage a fleet of 20 or so locomotives and their DCC idiosyncrasies.  However, once dialed in, the HO engines with keep alives are good runners. The Fredericksburg Extension ties for the lead with  option B, moving Falmouth to the TV room. All ACW plans win this analysis, even the double deck  Aquia plan. However, now the Maine Central layout finished last. I don't like the rank matrix as much as it doesn't do as good a job at showing how important  a particular parameter is.

Overall, I was surprised because I thought option C would win. But losing the crew lounge was a big hit, as was not having Burnside wharf as part of the plan.  The Fredericksburg Extension is the winner  by a narrow margin over the other Aquia Line expansions. However, even if I zero out the priority for crew lounge, the Fredericksburg extension still wins by a nose.   If I were to drop the Aquia Line,  the PoLA expansion is the way to go.