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.

July 30, 2019

PoLA has been mobilized

The staging area in the closet was the first section we removed.
Over the past two days, Tom Pierpoint and I worked on removing PoLA so it could be reassembled in his basement.  Although I did not build PoLA in a sectional style, I did use open grid benchwork. The top surface was foam and taskboard.   So it was fairly easy to cut into four sections plus the staging yard. In the new location, Tom will not have room for the Borax extension, so we did not salvage that part.

Portable staging yard
Steak knife cuts though the foam and paving
First we identified where the cuts would be and cut the bus wires at those locations.  Then we used a moto tool to cut the track at the proposed section joints. Next, I used a steak knife to slice through the foam and the areas paved with task board. A few cuts with my Festool Carvex jig saw on the 1x2 open grid frame members and the layout was in sections.  Tom remarked that the Carvex had a lot less vibration than his jig saw. Festool strikes again!

Where did Bernie put those screws?

The open grid frame was screwed to the walls and legs in a minimal number of places. With those screws removed the sections came right off.

First layout section
Tom rented a box van. We loaded the pieces into the van and used some bungie cords to secure them. The construction technique I used to build  the layout resulted in light weight and very easy to move sections. One person could easy handle a section.

Tom plans to install the layout on benchwork that he previously bought from a commercial benchwork vendor.  He wants to back date the layout in such a way that it could be easily go back to PoLA in the twenty first century.

All loaded up

The new flooring tile

The next step for me is to continue to clear the basement of as many items as possible. I found a contractor that will repair the walls, install the damaged trim, put ceramic tile on the floor and paint the walls. We chose a medium grey, wood look tile and will have dark blue walls with white trim. It will be a whole new look for the basement. My niece, who is an interior design architect and decorator, suggested the color scheme. She also suggested painting the ceiling in the front room dark blue to match the valance. My wife agreed. So we will do that too.

I am starting to feel better about all this. I am excited to start the Aquia Line expansion, but not until we host the North East Interchange in November. And I have some ideas for a small switch layout in my office too.  Finally, some light at the end of the tunnel. I hope it is not an on coming train.

July 28, 2019

Final Op Session on PoLA

Amongst the remnants of the flood clean up we held the final op session, number 27, on PoLA today. We did not operate the Aquia Line.  Michael Spoor and Shawn Fenn were the final operators. Marty McGuirk and Doug Gurin stopped by to see the farewell.

Shawn is a happy conductor
Michael is the smiling engineer
The session started off a bit rough as the two GP-60s we used last time did not want to run properly. They exhibited all manner of DCC craziness from having the primer mover engine sounds racing at idle, intermittent operation, runaway engine, and loss of throttle response. We tried a to reboot and even reset the decoders, but nothing seemed to improve. This was very odd, since at the last session these engines ran great.

So we swapped the power for the PHL Genset with Tsunami 2 and a Keep Alive and all was well.

At the end of the session, Reverend Marty McGuirk offered a brief benediction,

"PoLA you served us well. Those who didn't like it can go to hell. Amen."

We then proceeded to pop open some beers and toasted the layout. With the ceremony out of the  way, the guys got to work boxing up freight cars.  Amazingly, we found boxes for almost all the cars.
Doug Gurin stopped by for the farewell.

With the cars put away it was time to eat. JD and JB, who were at the Nats-Dodgers game, stopped by to join us for dinner. JD brought the BBQ wings, I made steaks and veggies on the grill, Mom made 3-layer venetian cookies, and Alicia made a fresh fruit salad.

Michael didn't stay for dinner but Shawn did. He regaled us with tales of his wife's role as lead attorney for the FTC in the recent Facebook privacy lawsuit, in which the US Government prevailed.  Congrats to her and her tiny team of lawyers. They took on a giant and won.

After dinner JD and JB went home with some goodies in an effort to help me purge stuff. There's more where that came from.  We'll begin PoLA disassembly next week.

The layout is dead, long live the layout!

John Drye and JB Weilepp take home goodies. The small layout was an N Scale Civil War era layout I started building in 1991 and never finished because the engines were not good enough. JB got some donations for the NVNTRAK club.

July 27, 2019

Nouveau espace trouvé

In cleaning up after the flood, we have undergone a massive purge. We've filled nine trash bins, made one trip to the Salvation Army and three trips to the dump. Gone are all my old film cameras,  about a thousand slides, slide projector, almost all my old magazines, two teak/particle board bookshelves, about 15 linear feet of books (mostly pdf files printed off the internet and used in researching my Kalmbach books),  camping gear, excess house painting tools, doll house supplies, and other assorted stuff.

I still have a lot of N Scale modeling supplies and rolling stock. I also have several tubs filled with boxes for HO freight cars that are on the layout.

After this much purging I have discovered a nice ten-feet long wall in my home office that is begging for a model railroad. At MIT we used to say, homework expands to fill available time. The model railroad corollary  is, "layouts expand to fill available space."  What should I do with this nouveau espace trouvé?

I could expand the Aquia Line into this area. But,  other than bringing Burnside Wharf into this space as shown at  the left, I don't see too many good options.

Perhaps a small shelf layout with a completely unique theme is in order.  Some ideas that come to mind.

A On30 WWI layout depicting the US sector in 1918 using the new Bachmann 2-6-2T engine, and a Dick Kerr gas petrol kit that I have on hand. I also have a bunch of 1/43rd scale miniatures I purchased a while back.

Continuing in the O/On30 realm, a small rendition of the Wisscasset Waterfront.  I have most of the stuff I would need for this project too,

Another possibility is a small modern port layout based on the Port of Palm Beach. I have much of the stuff I would need for that, even after I sell PoLA.

A third possibility is to install the Washington DCC modules I was building as a small switching layout. That was to be set in WII.

Another WWII theme would be a NY/NJ harbor scene with a pier and Liberty ship similar to the plan I published in my Model Railroad Goes to War book.

Finally, back to the modern era, a rendition of the Beaumont Waterfront where the DoD maintains a military port facility. That would create a nice showcase for my DODX freight cars kits and use a lot of the modern stuff I already have.

It's nice to have choices. Now, if we can get a flooring contractor to help rebuild the basement, that would be great.

July 25, 2019

Stage 2 Flood Recovery: Making lemonade

My niece Katrina and her son, Nile. He loves Uncle Bern's trains!

I will be hosting the last op session on PoLA at 1300 on Sunday, 28 July. After the session, we will begin to box up the freight cars for storage and or sale. Once the cars are removed, I will prep the layout for removal. A local guy is planning on buying the PoLA layout for use in his basement.  He may backdate it and change it to Philly or Baltimore to better suit his rolling stock. But it will survive, which is a good thing.

We will not operate the Aquia Line this time as we are still doing recovery from the flood. Here is an update on that.

We have not been able to find a contractor that is willing to work under the Aquia Line benchwork to install tile. They don’t want the liability of damaging an “irreplaceable asset.” However, we did find a painter that is willing to paint the floor and walls. So we plan to have them paint the floor, walls and baseboards. Then we will use area rugs for accents. In my workbench area we will install foam floor tiles that can be removed if they get wet or stained.  If I wanted to have a contractor tile the whole basement, I would have had to remove all the layouts.  I may want to start over on building a layout at some point, but not under these conditions.  So I am going with paint

There must be no shortage of work for contractors in this area, because we also tried to get contractors to do some remodeling work upstairs with no luck. They show up, look at the job, and never call back.

In the process of clearing out flood damage, we removed the teak veneer book shelves from my office. Without the bookshelves, the room feels much bigger. It makes the possibility of layout expansion into the office more feasible. The opportunity to expand the Aquia Line into the crew lounge and perhaps the office is very tempting. I also purged about 15 linear feet of books and magazines from my collection. My garbage pick up this week was quite full, even after a trip to the dump.
My nephews both have "jobs" that need attention. Kevin
is a music composer and producer for Hollywood, while Nick
is a HVAC engineer and salesman.  I call it, "taking a break."
They were a BIG Help! Thanks guys.

The past two weeks have been very demoralizing as we try to sort through the aftermath of  the flood. I was lucky that my niece and nephews were visiting the past few days. They were a big help, plus we got to play with my grand-nephew, Nile. He is an adorable toddler, who loved Uncle Bern’s trains.  My niece is an interior decorator and she gave us some good ideas for colors etc.

Amongst the chaos, Mat Thompson, Pete LaGuardia, and John Paganoni came over on Tuesday to judge the layouts for NMRA AP certificates. I wanted them to look at certain parts of PoLA for the Electrical AP. But, when I did the paperwork, I realized I had all the requirements covered with items on the Aquia Line. So the three of them looked at the layouts and examined my paperwork. All was in order so that I should be getting the civil, electrical and scenery AP Achievement Awards. Mat advised me to pursue the Car and Prototype AP certificates next and that should complete my Master Model Railroader certification.

Thanks to family and good friends, we are making lemonade from the unwelcome lemons.

July 17, 2019

Stage 1 Flood Recovery Went Well

The front room survived with little damage.
 Some sheet rock was removed under Falmouth
 Workers today arrived and began recovery from the flood.  The good news is that both layouts survived the demolition. The insurance adjuster from USAA called the remediation contractor and told them to be super careful around the layout. It was, "too expensive to replace!"  Thank you USAA.

The biggest job was pulling up the laminate plank floor (see video below).  I had installed that floor in 2011. I was sad to see all my work get removed. Although the flooring planks themselves are water resistant, they are not a good choice in a flood prone basement as water gets trapped underneath them.   

There was some standing water under the floor and in a few places it was starting to get a funky odor that was evident when they pulled the planks. To pull the floor, we had to move most of the plastic tubs, tools, and supplies I have stashed in closets and under the layout. It's amazing how much stuff I have accumulated. Now we have a gigantic mess in the center of the rooms. 
The workers also pulled most of the baseboards and drilled holes in the sheet rock by the baseboards to enhance drying. Luckily, it appears that very little sheet rock got wet. I suspect we had at most a 1/2 inch of water on the floor. 

The workers installed 13 fans and 2 dehumidifiers. They also sprayed disinfectant everywhere to try to control the mold. We never had mold in the basement  before. Hopefully it doesn't start now. 

Some residual water under the planks
My crew lounge and office is a mess

Tomorrow a flooring contractor arrives to discuss options. I am leaning to ceramic tile or painting. The ceramic tile in the bathroom made it through the flood with no issues.  So I would prefer that. But I won't do it if it requires removing the layout.  Also, the floor has some painted areas already. I am not sure you can put ceramic tile on a painted concrete surface. 

The least costly and perhaps simplest approach is to paint the floor, and then use area rugs for comfort and decoration. Painting would require some patching of the concrete to cover the places where the old carpet tack strips and old wall sills were located. But it would not require me to remove the layouts.

BTW I am documenting this process in case any of my readers encounter a similar problem. At least you'll have some previous experience to look at and commiserate. 


July 16, 2019

The Flood of July 8th, 2019 - The end of PoLA and the Aquia Line?

Flooding near King Street Metro stop
about a mile from my house
While we were enjoying beautiful weather in Utah last week, my hometown got hit with a torrential rain storm on July 8th.  Reports say up to 5 inches of rain fell in one hour.

We had about an inch of water in our basement as our sump pump could not keep up with the inflow. This is sad because about 3 weeks ago, I had a new sump pump installed with battery back-up and it was working well.

Now our basement is mostly dried out, but there is water in the space between the Allure laminate planks that I installed in 2011 and the concrete slab. The water left a thin layer of clay silt on the floor and baseboards that is proving difficult to clean.

My insurance company says they will cover some of the repairs. So tomorrow work crews are going to remove the laminate flooring and assess what else has to be done. Hopefully we do not have to remove the Aquia Line. It has relatively few legs that hold it up, so it will be easier to work around.

Unfortunately, PoLA will probably have to be removed as there are a lot more legs to deal with.

The unresolved question is what to put on the floor when the remediation is done. I'm leaning toward ceramic tile, as that seems to be better able to withstand occasional flooding.
Clay silt in the tile bathroom

If you are keeping score, this is the sixth water incident we have had in the basement. All have been from different failure mechanisms.

Some video of the flood waters from the WaPo at various locations in Northern Virginia.

July 14, 2019

Epilogue 2019 NMRA Convention

UP consist dragging coal empties eastbound at the lower Gilluly Loop
On the last day of the NMRA convention, Alicia, Susan, and I played a round of golf at the Lake course at Wasatch State Park. It is one of our favorite courses and we all played well.

L to R Me, Adam, Brian at the National Train Show
Then Alicia and I took a trip to Mapleton, UT to visit Adam Pinales' layouts. Adam and I have been corresponding via email since 1999, when he was just 16 years old. This weekend was the first time we met.

He told me today that he learned to fire a steam locomotive before he learned how to drive a car. He has worked as a locomotive engineer for the Heber Valley RR, Utah RR, and BNSF. He is now a conductor for Amtrak.

Adam has three model railroads and numerous other projects underway. The first railroad is a F scale loop in the back yard with DRGW rolling stock. He also just started building a 7.25 inch gauge layout on his property. Inside his house, he is building an N scale layout depicting the DRGW on the western slope of Soldier Summit. It's a complex layout that spans several rooms in his basement. And he plans to take over more bedrooms later as his kids grow up.  He runs 60 car trains on this layout using code 55 rail and hand laid turnouts. There are several helixes on the layout using Kato uni-trak.
One of the layout rooms for Adam's N scale layout. He has multiple helices.

Since we were close to the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon, we decided to take a quick trip so that Alicia could see the Thistle slide area.  The sightseeing plan rapidly morphed into a train chase as I spotted a empty coal drag heading east near Adam's house.

The chase was on.

Since the sun was low in the west, getting good light on the train was difficult. So we drove up to Gilluly Loop where I knew the train would reverse direction and head west for a while.   We got there with plenty of time for me to scout a good photo spot.  I got some nice video and still shots using my iPhone (see lead photo  and the shots below).
Eastbound MTY rounds the lower loop at Gilluly

Since I was with Alicia, chasing the train further east would have expended more marital brownie points than I had in stock. So we headed back west with Alicia driving just in case I couldn't resist. As I was examining my photos Alicia said, "Look another train." I just barely had time to get a shot out the passenger window of a second eastbound empty coal train.

Seeing two trains on the Soldier Summit line these days is extremely rare. UP, BNSF and AMTRAK use the line on rare occasions, while the Utah Railway is practically gone.  The railfanning gods were kind to us today.

Eastbound coal MTY approaching Gilluly Loops

Second eastbound shot from the moving car.

One other neat thing we saw was a new rest stop on the otherwise desolate Rt 6 between Gilluly and Thistle. The rest stop is designed as a DRGW round house and station complete with a water tank and mock turntable.  Behind the rest stop was the DRGW/Utah Rwy mainline (sorry I can't call it the UP mainline).  Even Alicia thought the rest stop was cool.
Highway 6 rest stop

July 13, 2019

2019 NMRA National Convention and Train Show

West bound stack train creeping through Echo Canyon due to track work further west
The Jackson River scene on Brian's layout
 got a lot of positive comments

Whew, what a week. My wife and I traveled to Utah for vacation that included the NMRA National Convention and Train Show.

Actually, I didn't spend much time at the convention as I stayed with Brian Brendel to help him prepare his layout and then host several open houses.

I arrived at Brian's house on Sunday after a few rounds of golf with Alicia. We immediately went to work on the layout. The tasks we accomplished included painting rock carvings, finishing the fascia, adding scenery to various sections, hanging skirts and clean up. Brian has been working on this layout for about 3 years and has made a good deal of progress, especially considering he is now the chief of the Mountain Green Fire Department, a volunteer outfit. In the four days I was with him, he went on 4 calls.

The strategy we followed was to have the scenes that greet the visitors to be relatively finished.  So that's what we concentrated on. While I worked on fascia and some scenery, Brian installed the tracks to the Waynesboro switch district.

This is the view the greets visitors as they enter the layout room
The open houses went off very well. There were about 110 visitors over three days. Everyone was extremely nice and polite. Brian received a lot of nice comments. The green covered hills and the Jackson River scene received most of the accolades.
Brian entertaining visitors from the LDSIG
Steve Woodward and Paul Graf from Atlas Model Train Comoany 
listen to Brian extoll the virtues of code 80 track

LDSIG presented Brian with a fancy plaque on 
plywood and homasote  
After the open houses, we did an afternoon of railfanning. I finally managed to get a shot of a train in Echo Canyon, a very scenic spot on the UP main line. (See lead photo). Track work on the line had reduced the normal high train frequency to a much lower level.

On Friday, we went to the train show. I enjoyed talking with the various vendors and manufacturers, also trying to recruit vendors for MARPM.

There were a few product announcements that were of interest to me. First, Bachman announced a new locomotive in On30 based on the 60cm  WWI 2-6-2T tank engines. They also plan to have rolling stock to go with the engines.

Bachmann is going to offer On30 2-6-2T Tank Engines
Walthers announced that they are reissuing their steel mill model kits with new details and packaging. The blast furnaces will have the stairs and railing included. The rolling mill will be doubled in size with new details inside.

Lionel announced two new 4-4-0s in 3-rail configuration. The engines look nicely detailed, but conversion to 2-rail would be a big job as the wheels would have to be replaced or machined to smaller flanges.

Converting to 2-rail looks like a big job
The locos look nicely detailed

The FreemoN folks had a massive and impressive modular layout. They had some very nice modules.

Later that evening I presented two clinics at the convention hotel. I got some nice comments from the attendees.

That ended my convention activities, as Alicia insisted I play more golf with her.

July 4, 2019

I'm in the mood for a work session before the NMRA National

John Drye and Mark Franke stopped by Alkem Scale Models World HQs today for a work session. I ran the airbrush and repainted two of John's cement hoppers and weathered a half dozen coal hoppers.

Meanwhile, Mark was painting US infantry for our next game.  I did not get any pictures of the weathered models. But I did get a shot of us having a great BBQ dinner at Myron Mixon's Pitmaster BBQ in Alexandria.

Before today's work session I completed the sand tower to accompany the coal dock for Brian Brendel's  N scale layout. I will hand carry these with me to Utah.

Back to the wargaming. We have been commemorating the Allied campaign in France 1944 with a scenario appropriate for each month. Last month, on June 6th,  I ran the Battle at Fiere. Later this month,   JD will organize a scenario set in the bocage country of Normandy.

To get ready for that scenario, I've been working on a M4A1 76mm Sherman with Cullin hedgcutters.  Those cutters were field expedient plow-like devices welded onto tanks to allow the tank to break through Norman bocage hedges. The tank I am modeling belonged to Sergeant Lafayette Pool.   He was a tank ace with 3rd Amored Division

According to Wikipedia, he was an American tank-crew and tank-platoon commander in World War II and is widely recognized as the US tank ace of aces, credited with 12 confirmed tank kills and 258 total armored vehicle and self-propelled gun kills, over 1,000 German soldiers killed, and 250 more taken as prisoners of war all of which took place in a combat career that covered only 81 days in action from 27 June to 15 September 1944 with three different Shermans. He received many medals, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Merit, the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, the Belgian Fourragère, and the French Légion d'honneur.
Pool served with the 3rd Platoon of Company I, 32nd Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Division in France between June and September 1944. He successively commanded three Sherman tanks; an M4A1, and two M4A1(76)Ws, all of which bore the nickname "IN THE MOOD."  He kept the same crew throughout the majority of the war. Corporal Wilbert "Red" Richards was the driver, Private First Class Bertrand "School Boy" Close was the assistant driver and bow gunner, Corporal Willis "Ground Hog" Oller was the gunner, and Technician Fifth Grade Delbert "Jailbird" Boggs was the loader.
Pool's first tank, an M4A1, lasted from June 23 until June 29, when Combat Command A attacked for the first time at Villiers-Fossard. It was hit by a Panzerfaust, causing Pool and his crew to bail out of the stricken tank. Pool's second tank, his first M4A1(76)W, lasted from around July 1, 1944 to August 17, when he was leading CCA in the process of clearing remaining German forces from the village of Fromental.  This tank was knocked out by friendly fire from a P-38.

Pool's third and last tank, another M4A1(76)W, was destroyed on the night of September 15, 1944 while CCA was attempting to penetrate the Siegfried Line at Munsterbusch, Germany, southwest of Aachen. The tank was hit by an ambushing Panther, and while Pool's driver was trying to back his damaged Sherman up, the Panther hit it a second time. Positioned precariously on the edge of a ditch, the force of the second round caught the tank and tipped it over. The round killed Pool's replacement gunner, Private First Class Paul King, (Corporal Oller had been temporarily transferred back to the United States) and threw Pool out of the commander's hatch, severely injuring one of his legs with shrapnel. The leg was so badly mangled that it later had to be amputated eight inches above the knee. As a result, Pool would not return to amateur boxing after the war.

Speaking of 3rd Armored Division, I highly recommend the book Spearhead by Adam Makos. It is one of the most exciting books  with unbelievable plot twists I have read on WWII, made all the more memorable because it is based on actual events. This is the book that movie Fury should have been.  You can learn more the about the book in this video.