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.

April 27, 2019

Nation's Fortress

I'm getting ready for a two week road trip to attend Prorail 2019 in Tulsa, OK. I was in Tulsa a couple years ago  for a model railroad event and had a great time. This year I hope to operate some layouts that I didn't get to see then. Tulsa is a nice city with a hot bed of model railroad activity.

Along the way I'll stop at civil war battlefields, museums, visit my children, and  see some layouts too. I'll be driving solo, so I am taking the trip in smaller segments than our normal blitzkrieg road trip.

Meanwhile, I recommend you check out this book that my brother wrote with some help from me.
To quote from the Amazon web site, (Click the image to go to the Amazon web site).

A riveting path through 210 years of the American experience as traveled by two distinct but united families. From the whistling artillery at the Battle of Yorktown to the frozen mountains of Korea, the Kempinskis and Maxeys served and fought for their country. The rich and diverse stories of these citizen soldiers as they marched, flew, and battled through every major conflict in our nation’s history is revealed in this gripping book. Each contributed, some dearly, to America’s success and in their own way built the Nation’s Fortress.


One of the neat things about the book is that each story has a different format, including an original poem, letters home, first person memoir of a soldier suffering PTSD, and a graphic novel.  I did the artwork for the graphic novel. It tells a short story about my namesake grandfather in WWI. He lied about his age and enlisted at age 15 in the US Army.

April 24, 2019

Is HO too easy and other random thoughts

Scene from war game last week
Activity on the Aquia Line has been slow lately as many other projects and demands have taken my time. A death in the family, my wife's uncle, required a short notice trip to Kentucky. Then we had other family obligations for the Easter weekend.  Nonetheless, in between those events we managed to get in another Bolt Action Game in the crew lounge and Mat Thompson visited me to help get my NMRA Achievement Program paperwork going.

A few months ago. Mat had asked me if I was willing to go through judging and complete the paperwork for the NMRA Achievement program. He assured  me that my current layout would probably meet most of the Master Model Railroader requirements and I just need to get the models judged and the paperwork submitted.

I have thought about this in the past, and even did some tabulations of the requirements I could satisfy. On occasion, I entered models for judging at NMRA meets, so I do have a few NMRA Merit Awards already. That's about as far as I got, as I decided that it wasn't''t worth the effort to submit the paperwork. Anyone that knows me knows that I hate boring meetings and useless paperwork.  Mat assured that the paperwork won't be too bad, and he would help, also known as holding my hand through the process. So I agreed to reinitiate the effort to get the Master Model Railroader certification.

Mat helped me get the Statement of Qualifications (SoQ) done for two categories, volunteer and author. Over the years I have presented dozens of clinics at NMRA events and others too.  At these events, the hosts usually presented me with some type of certificate, most of which I kept in a note book. So it was easy to document them. I also participated in many modular model railroad set-ups at NMRA events. For example, at the Madison NMRA National Convention, my steel mill module was awarded Best Module in Show. Many  of those meets were documented in the NVNTRAK NTRAK newsletter, which I published at one point. So, even though I never held a position on any NMRA board (see my comment about boring meetings above), I had more than enough "points" to meet the NMRA standards for volunteer.

The author SoQ was also relatively easy for me to document. Mat selected one of my books. The word count in the book, along with photos and diagrams met the requirement for author.  You have to submit a copy of the work, so Mat took a copy of my "Model Railroads Go to War" book to submit with the SoQ.  Turns out, writing  a blog would also qualify for the Author category. Since this blog has 973 posts, and more pictures and diagrams, I probably could have used it too. But it wasn't needed.

With those two SoQs done, Mat walked me through the other categories I would need.  We went over the layout pointing out what things need to be judged to met the various SoQ.  We concluded I would qualify for  Car, Civil, Structures, Scenery, Electrical and Dispatcher.  I need to do some paperwork for this and get the judges to visit. But it can be done without me having to build anything special just for SoQs.

The Dispatcher SoQ is a bit tricky as you need two NMRA officials to verify that you were at an operation session. I do keep a log of all layouts I visit and operate. (At this point, I have operated on 106 different layouts for a total of 154 sessions not counting my own operating sessions.) But I never got two people to verify I was there. However, Mat pointed out that my own operating sessions would count and they are documented on my blog, so two NMRA officials could verify them. Thus, I probably could qualify for Dispatcher category if I wanted to. But, I wouldn't need it, as I would have enough categories with Volunteer, Author, Car, Civil, Structures, Scenery, and Electrical.

Overall scenery and battle report

How our mind's eye envisions these games
My wargame buddies, John Drye, Mark Franke, and Bill Rutherford came over last  week for a war game  that I hosted. I should point out that all three of these guys are also model railroaders. We all had NTRAK modules at one point.

The scenario depicted the battle for La Fiere Causeway on 6 June 1944. This was D-Day, but the action involved the 82nd Airborne and elements of the 101st Airborne Division trying to capture the small bridge over the Merderet River about 3 miles from Utah Beach. I built the terrain board including some custom stone buildings with interior spaces.

The game was a lot of fun. John played the small  Germans force holding the stone manoir (farm) while Mark and Bill attacked with US paratroopers. I initially was the judge, and then ran the German counterattack up the causeway.  It is interesting that the game progressed similarly to the actual battle, even though we used Bolt Action, which is a very simplified, but elegant gaming system.

Running a wargame is a bit like hosting a model railroad op session. None of us are particularly interested in "winning." Many of the players that engaged in Bolt Action spend inordinate amounts of time tweaking their force list to have the ultimate "winning" formula based on an arbitrary points system.  That can result in some very unusual and ahistorical force mixes on a table.  They use these in competitive tournaments.

Our little gaming group couldn't care less about that. We devise our scenarios on historical situations and go from there. We might look at the points to ensure that the scenario is balanced, but we don't worry about it much. We really are playing for two reasons. One it gives as a reason to research and learn about WWII. And two, we get to build cool models and then play with them as opposed to putting them on a shelf.  And we have a grand time doing it.

After the game was over, John pulled out a Broadway Limited  PRR 2-10-0. I fired up that layout and we test ran it on PoLA. It did run nice and sound great, though it needs a keep-alive to run on my dead frogs.

John said to me, "You are right, HO is too easy. I went to Timonium last weekend and bought just about everything I need to build the HO layout."

John was referring to a flippant comment I made a few months ago when I said I was taking down PoLA because, "HO is too easy. You can buy everything you need."   For some, that is a good thing. But for me, I like to scratch build stuff. So I prefer the challenge of an odd ball scale and subject.

Now John is converting his N Scale layout  (see video above) to HO. In a fit of madness about 10 years ago, he decided to model the 4-Track Pennsy Horseshoe Curve region from Altoona to Cresson in N Scale. This was a highly complex layout. For example, he had more turnouts in his Altoona yard throat than I have in both of my layouts. The complexity meant slow progress. To his and helpers' credit, they did get a lot of track and scenery done. I helped a little too. Mostly with backdrop and rock carving. But during test sessions, the layout wasn't operating up to John's desires. Also, he was finding it hard to see the wheels and track. So he decided to convert the layout to HO scale. He will use the same benchwork, but build a PRR branch line using Kato Unitrak.

April 7, 2019

On the Face of It

My SUV loaded with Festool tracks saw and other tools
The USMRR Construction Corps deployed to Haymarket, Virginia today to assist in construction of Marty's McGuirk's CV Richford Branch RR. I loaded the Alkem Tiguan with a Festool track saw, Carvex jig saw, some Seneca parallel guides, power drill, and a shop vac. Again, I arrived without delay as traffic was light. Sunday work sessions might be the right formula for the 42 mile trek to Marty's house.

Marty initially planned a trestle here, but decided to go
with a hill to hide the switch plate. The hole in the
fascia provides access.
The task for today was to complete the fascia on the layout front. This is the section of layout that will greet visitors that enter the basement  from the interior stairs. Under the layout, Marty plans to have display shelves with lighting.

So we needed to do a neat, trim job. However, Marty wanted the fascia panels to be removable. So that ruled out countersunk screws and mudded joints. Instead, we tried to get precise, square cuts so the  joints would be imperceptible. Alas, Marty had 48 inch long sheets of ¼ inch MDF, so that necessitated more joints.  We used the track saw to rip the sheets into strips. Working from the right hand side, we cut and installed the pieces one by one. We used Marty's nifty laser level to line things up.  In some places we used small glue blocks to hold the edges in alignment. We'll see how these do with humidity changes.

The upper edge of the fascia will be contoured to match planned some hills, but the main part of the layout here is a flat, level town. The fascia bottom had to dip down by the wall on the right side, as Marty originally planned a bridge in this area and so dropped the benchwork accordingly. He later decided to put a hill here instead.  That meant that he needed to have a hole in the fascia to access a light switch. After discussing several options, we decided a hole with  cover plate would be the best solution. We used the track saw plunge feature to cut a nice crisp hole. In fact, the edges of the hole were so sharp, we had to chamfer them with sandpaper to avoid scraping the inserted arm.

Now that we have figured out the basics of how to do the fascia, hopefully the rest of the fascia will go up faster. Getting 8-ft sheets would help too.

We got about 22 feet of the fascia installed today. 

April 6, 2019

The Butterfly Effect

A switch stand, a switch stand, my kingdom for a switch stand

Jeff learning the Stanton throttle 
Herba nd Bill work Falmouth
John goes solo on PoLA
Meet at Brooke
A happy Steve switching Aquia Landing

I hosted Op session number 20 on the Aquia Line and number 25 on PoLA today. John Swanson ran PoLA solo, while Steve King, Herb Biegel, Bill Mims, and Jeff Mutter ran the Aquia Line. The op sessions went well. We started at 0900, so we ran trains 3, 4, 5, and 6 on the Aquia Line. The session ended about 1230, whereupon we walked to the Italian Restaurant around the corner for lunch.  I think I like this paradigm of hosting a morning operating session rather than hosting the afternoon session, as it leaves a good part of the day open for other activities.

The session went well and the crews did a good job. The Stanton throttles did not run out of battery. That tells me I have a bad USB hub or cable, vice worn-out batteries in the throttles.

There was a problem left over from the last session that I chose not to fix, that was the broken switch stand for the double slip switch at Falmouth.

That switch was one of the earliest I have built. I made the switch stand with laser cut acrylic and brass parts. After ten years, the acrylic housing just wore out, and then the brass rod snapped in my ham fisted attempt to quickly fix it. At first, I thought it would be simple matter to swap out the broken switch stand with one of my photo etched new versions. But, then I realized that it wouldn't be that simple. The repair would require my pulling the point rails and building new bridles, as well as re-gauging the switch. Since the switch was functional, as long as the brakeman/conductor help the points off center, I decided not to fix it.

There is also another switch stand in this area that is close to failing. This is a Precision Scale cast brass harp-style stand.  It also dates to the start of the layout.

These issues have me seriously thinking about moving up the rebuild date on Falmouth.  Why spend a good amount of time on repair, when I plan to relocate Falmouth as part of the expansion before the end of the year?

At the same time,  my wife and buddies are lobbying me to keep the full scope crew lounge. They argue it allows me to have space for my guests and grand kids (if and when they are born, I hope that happens before I am gone), allows me a space to set up a game table and also build modules and other projects as the mood fits.  Their  lobbying is working. I am now leaning that way too.

This means an expansion that looks a lot like Plan 21, but  it would add the bean pole trestle.  So this is a new plan, 30b in the sequence of things. 30b provides a big space for the crew lounge without having to rebuild Aquia Landing.  See track plan 30b below.

Note, Plan 30B also has a slight addition at Burnsides wharf where I would trim the wharf and extend the water a bit to allow for a ship in the foreground. The ship would due reposition-able for op sessions.
Track Plan 30b

April 1, 2019

Find the Stic

I drove deep into the confederacy today to help Marty McGuirk bring a slice of New England to the red clay foothills of the Blue Ridge. Marty is building a new layout based on the Richford Branch of the Central Vermont. The branch is way in the northern part of Vermont. It's practically in Canada. However, Marty now lives near Haymarket, VA, very close to several civil war battlefields, and  about 45 miles from my house.

Marty asked me to bring my track saw as the plan was to rip sheets of masonite for the fascia. So I dutifully packed my vehicle with a gaggle of Festools including the TS55 track saw, 70 inch track, Carvex jig saw, shop vac with cyclonic filter, and a cordless drill.

Amazingly, I encountered light traffic all the way. When I arrived, Marty was having lunch with Stic Harris. Stic has been helping regularly Marty on building the new layout.  They looked at me with silly grins and said, "We have a job for you."

"What about the fascia," I asked.

Marty relied, "Oh, I couldn't find any masonite. So instead, we need you to build the benchwork that connects the bridge scene to the rest of the layout. It has funny angles and requires math. At least more math than a Citadel history major and a ex-hockey player can manage."

"Dang!" I said. "I just got a new tool that would be perfect for the job. It's a Festool Kapex miter saw with a special angle finder. Oh well, we'll muddle through."

Finished bench work section, but where is Stic?
And we did.
Marty shows off the kerfed MDF. 

Meanwhile, Marty showed us some kerfed MDF he got from Rocklers. It can curve to impossibly tight radii. It will be perfect for Marty's fascia.

We plan to reconvene next Sunday to continue work on the benchwork. This time, Marty vows to have the fascia panels on hand.