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.

December 31, 2020

The Year in Review and What's Next

Farewell 2020

2020 was the kind of year that is better off forgetting. It started off well, but then the pandemic hit and went downhill from there. We had floods that forced us to seek a solution that works (so far so good!), then hip surgery, which thankfully was successful. In November, my mom fell ill and passed away, which was a heavy, if not unexpected blow.  The holidays were quiet as we all stayed home. But among the sadness and pain, there were some positive developments.  Let's look at the highlights.

I started the expansion of the Aquia Line into the TV room. The initial section, the Belle Air  farm and Division HQ scene, came out nice, and the new track arrangement operates  much better than the previous one. 

I presented two talks about model railroading to groups that are not traditional model railroaders. One was a 6 minute Pecha Kucha talk,  and the other a longer, more detailed talk on civil war era railroads to the Union League of Philadelphia. I also received an encouraging note from a 6th grade social studies class in Wilmington, Delaware that were inspired by my blog to build a portable model railroad of the construction of the Panama Canal. That was great news. 

In April I officially became a NMRA Master Model Railroader. Beyond that, I checked off two retirement bucket list items, learning how to do 3-D drafting/ making a 3-D print. I am still a neophyte in both areas, but I am well on the way to learning more and getting better results.  Armed with those skills and inspired by Eric Gate's HO scratch build, I also started scratch building a locomotive, another one of my retirement bucket list items.

A few days ago I ripped all the plywood I need to finish the layout expansion. Hopefully, the next few months will see the gandy dancers laying track to the new sections. At some point I have to decide if I want to keep Aquia Landing as is, or do the more radical expansion. We'll see how the situation evolves.  I am due to write an article about it with a deadline approaching, so I need to decide soon.

The pandemic seems to have caused a spike in business for Alkem Scale Models. I had my busiest year ever. It helps that some of my products got excellent reviews on other websites.

In between the train projects, I have been doing a lot of other non-model railroader related things. So I have not been idle.

 I have been doing some woodworking projects, working on getting my  "History of Porsche Racing" display built, and some wargaming. With regard to the latter, I am working on a battle board for a new game based on the battles on the Eastern front between the Soviets and the Germans.  The idea of those battle boards is that they will stack up and store in a very small volume. The game scale is smaller, so less room is needed compared to the larger scale gaming I had been doing. So, there has been a lot of stuff going on.

 2021 will mark my 13th year of blogging. Thanks for sticking with me.

December 24, 2020


Hope you enjoy your holiday.  
Let's look forward to clearing the snow (and viruses) 
to get the Aquia Line running again soon.


December 18, 2020

One Day Builds between Printers

Diablo III on the Christmas mantle seems like an appropriate decoration for the year 2020. The glowing eyes are made with 
an LED powered by a battery in the pedestal.

It have been a super busy time in the past two weeks. Since my last post a lot has happened. The big news is that I upgraded to a better 3D printer.  The Anycubic Photon that I bought a few months ago was just not worth investing any more of my time. While it could give decent results, I was getting about a 50 percent success rate. When prints take 6-16 hours, a failed print is a big set back and waste of time. So I ordered and received a Form 3 from Formlabs. It's more of a "professional" grade 3D printer that uses low force, laser stereo lithography. This should make more reliable and better finished prints. Plus, Formlabs was started by 3 MIT Media Lab guys - us Tech Nerds have to support each other. 

Anycubic Photon on the left and Formlabs 3 on the right
I'll talk more about the Form 3 (F3 from now one) later when I have more experience with it, but so far I have had a 100% print success rate

Before I ordered the F3, I sent the locomotive frame stl file to Shapeways for a test print. I did that to evaluate the fit, strength, etc. That print cost about $50 and took about two weeks to get here. Note it was too big to print on the Anycubic Photon.

While I was waiting for the test print from Shapeways and the new F3 to arrive, I decided to work on a few small projects. If you watch Adam Savage's Youtube show called "Tested" you will be familiar with one-day builds. They are small projects that he can build in a day in his incredibly well equipped and stocked shop. He makes replica movie props, scale models, tools, clothing, costumes, and all kinds of things.

So I did some of my own one-day builds. I made some Christmas presents for relatives in my shop, Then, being inspired by Adam Savage, I  made a statute of the title character  from a computer game that my kids and I played, and I still play occasionally, called Diablo III.  Diablo is the evil enemy boss you are fighting in the game.

I made the statue from a stl file I downloaded from Thingeverse. The figure is not exactly the game character, but it was close, and it was free. There are stl files that more closely resemble the game character, but they were somewhat costly. 

I printed the free version of Diablo III on the Anycubic Photon. The prints were not perfect, they had a flaw in the back, but I was still able to use the pieces with some sanding and putty. Since the Diablo character appears to be made from a glowing lava-like substance, I added an LED in the head to light it up (n.b. Diablo has no gender, it assumes the identity of the person it possesses. In Diablo III , that person was a woman. Hence Diablo III has some female features.) To further the effect of glowing lava, I used some florescent paint, which looks creepy in UV light.

With the statute painted and illuminated, I decided to build a pedestal for it. So I went to Woodcraft and picked up a piece of ebony wood for the pedestal. I shaped the wood in my shop. Any excuse to use my wood working tools is OK with me.

So my one day build took two days. But it was a fun diversion. Then the test printed locomotive frame from Shapeways arrived and a day later so did the F3. So back to the locomotive. 

First print of the loco frame on the F3

The test-printed frame from Shapeways looked OK and was surprisingly strong, but it had a few glitches. So, one of  the first jobs for the F3 was to print a new frame with some modifications for the locomotive. I decided to try to print the cylinders and cross head guides as part of the frame. This will make installing the crossheads tricky, but it made the whole frame assembly quite strong. 

The weakest point in the frame is behind the crosshead guide  bulkhead  where the frame splits into two rails going to the rear.  To stiffen this section, I added sections of 1/32nd inch piano wire to the frame. I secured those with 5 minute epoxy. 

With the frame bolted to the smoke box and boiler, the whole assembly is very stiff. 

I am a little concerned about wear in the crosshead guides. If I see these parts wearing I have a few options. One, print a new frame. Two, replace the crosshead guides with nickel silver. Three, reinforce the resin crosshead guides with thin nickel silver wear strips.  

Now to get this painted and add the running sub-chassis. The first sub-chassis I built will not fit in this design. This loco has a longer wheel base and uses smaller drivers.

The white parts were printed on the Anycubic while the 
gray frame was on the F3

December 5, 2020

Coffee Wagons and On-Demand Figures

 I recently discovered this website that prints miniature figures on demand. They have an extensive set of ACW era figures.  They offer several scales. 


I ordered several of the Speria figures including some limbers, wagons, and the coffee wagon set.  I never heard of the ACW coffee wagon before, so I looked it up. 

They were built by the U.S. Christian Commission to improve morale. From other research I know the the U.S.C.C. had several stations on the Aquia Line. The timeline might not be quite right as the coffee wagons were patented in March of 1863, which is the month I model.  But, I love coffee, so it's a must have.

The coffee wagon reminds me of how I first became a coffee drinker. Prior to being in the Army I never drank coffee. But, one cold and misty night I was at a bridge site on the Main River near Bamberg, Germany. We had just finished building a bridge and a steady flow of military vehicles were crossing the river over our bridge.  It was about 3AM and the mess sergeant showed up with a Cambro container full of hot, strong coffee. He made the coffee by dumping the grinds in the bottom of boiling water in the Cambro container. Then they would put the Cambro on the back of a jeep to deliver to the bridge site. Driving along in the back of a jeep, the water and grinds were agitated making strong coffee, especially near the bottom of the jug where it was like mud.  So, being cold and tired, I tried a cup of black coffee. Wow, it was great. So, I started drinking it more and more. Later, when I stayed at a German or Austrian gasthaus, or Italian hotels on ski trips, etc, I would drink their coffee, which was always strong. That is why to this day I love strong coffee.  But I do like a like creamer and a tiny amount of sweetness (like 1/8 teaspoon of sugar). 

I think the coffee wagon and figures will make a nice mini-scene on the layout. 

Brian Fletcher from the ACWRRHS also writes about his connection with the Speria Miniatures. He is involved with the Waterloo Uncovered diorama project group.  Waterloo Uncovered is a charity that supports wounded ex-soldiers come to terms with their conditions through the medium of archaeology.  Every year, the charity conducts a dig at Waterloo and, as well as uncovering new perspectives on the battle, the many soldiers who attend enjoy being part of the project.  In the first few years, the focus was at Hougoumont but recently work has expanded to other parts of the battlefield. 

Speira have been generous enough to supply them with free figures for their non-profit organization to complete the Waterloo battlefield 1:1 in 1/72nd, scale.  He has their figures in 1/72nd. 28mm. and 1/48th.   He says all are excellent and reasonably priced.  Most extensive line is ACW.  They are a small company but highly recommended.  Any figure painters who want to join the Waterloo Uncovered project are welcome.  They have need for another 40,000 Napoleonic figures.  There will be over 100,000 all told.  Over 60 painters worldwide and growing. Diorama will be displayed at the National War Museum in England June 2021 if Covid permits. Some figures are free to a good home.  

December 4, 2020

The Many Pitfalls of 3D Printing

If this is starting to seem like a computer blog, please bear with me. Three-D printing is really applied computer science, so you need delve into such arcane matters. Those of you that follow my blog know that I hate when computers take over my model railroad. That is one of the reasons I model the 1860s. I do not enjoy  wiring and dread the thought of maintaining a large fleet of locomotives with DCC technology. But, I can't deny that technology has made modeling a railroad set in this period possible as there is almost no commercial support. I have embraced computer aided drafting of track plans, laser cutting, DCC, battery power, microprocessors, LED lights, and now 3D printing to accomplish my goals.

So with that preface, let's look at another pitfall awaiting the modeler as he explores the dark, sticky morass of 3D printing. To date most of my 3D printing objects have looked incredibly detailed with nearly invisible layer artifacts. That is why I was puzzled by the facets visible in the first prints of the boiler I made. They required a significant amount of sanding to smooth.

Visible facets on boiler sides 

I decided to see how hard it was to prepare the boiler for painting. I primed it with Rustoleum Filler Primer. I sanded it as described in my previous post.  I used 220-400-600 grits to get a nice smooth surface. Then I sprayed with a coat of Vallejo Black Primer which I had on hand. I don't like this primer as it doesn't seem to self level well, and you can not wet sand it. I don't plan to use it again. 

Paint test on an early version of the model
Next, I sprayed a coat of Future acrylic floor polish to get a nice glossy surface. When that dried, I sprayed  the final coat of Vallejo Natural Steel.  This is not the paint I plan to use for the final model but I had it on hand. The results were good in the areas that I was able to effectively sand. But against the boiler straps (which remain unpainted in the photo), and along the firebox, I could see artifacts of the print process. 

This got me wondering if there was something I was doing wrong in the 3D print work flow that created the facets. After some google searches and checking with the Fusion360 help forum I had the answer.

Non-computer jocks can skip the next two paragraphs. In my Fusion360 workflow, I had been using the "Export" command to save the artwork as a .stl file for 3D printing. For some unknown reason, Fusion360 uses a server to do that conversion. So, you have to send the file over the internet and it sends back the .stl file after about 3 or 4 minutes. This option does not allow any customization of the conversion settings. It is also slow as the file has to be sent over the internet. In this case the resulting .stl file was 75MB.

But, there is a better way. If you right click on the object in the Fusion360 component browser a pop up menu with several options opens up. Buried in that list is the option to "Save as stl." If you select this, another pop-up window opens with options to change the settings of the stl conversion, including the option for a "highest" quality file. The default was "medium" quality. Now that was obvious! (sarcasm alert)

For the small objects I printed so far, medium quality was good enough. But on the large boiler the medium setting was not good enough. So I saved the file as a high quality stl. The resulting file was 550MB, nearly 10 times larger. But it saved it nearly instantly. Win-Win.

So I set about printing the boiler again. After 9.5 hours on the printer I ended up with a much nicer product.  There are no visible printer artifacts as you can see in the photo below.

New boiler print on the highest quality settings
 The frame in these photos is a temporary one made with laser cut MDF. I have ordered a 3D printed part from Shapeways using SLA "Accura Xtreme." which according to their website is "Accura Xtreme is a gray and rigid acrylate-based plastic. It is 3D printed using a large format stereolithography (SLA) printer capable of producing small to large parts with high resolution and detail as well as smooth surfaces with limited layer lines. This material is well suited for challenging functional assemblies with a smooth, injection molded-like surface finish." Seems like a good option for the frame.  If that is not good strong enough or is unsightly, I will pursue other options. Once I have the frame, I will set up the motor and gear box and  try to get it to at least turn the front drive wheel.

In the meantime, I have other tasks to do like make the cow catcher, the cab, many sundry other parts,  and prepare the artwork for laser cutting the rods and fine details. Those will be sent to a commercial laser cutter than can handle cutting metal. 

December 1, 2020

Adventures in 3D Printing

Perhaps that title should read "Mis-adventures." I have been proceeding with 3D printing of many of the parts for the Leach locomotive. As I print, I am learning what works and what doesn't. So I am revising the drawings and doing follow-on prints. Combine that with about a 50% success rate on my prints and the process has been slow. 

Here is the WiP state of the drawing as of today. I am learning Fusion360 as I go, so my progress has been slow.  I frequently have to go to the Fusion360 help site or watch a youtube tutorial on how to do things. 

I made things both simpler and harder for myself by using imported elements from my original Adobe Illustrator 2D file. The Adobe Illustrator elements get imported into Fusion360 as .DXF format. This allows me to use the artwork, so that saves time. However,  this also causes some trouble since I haven't mastered Fusion360. For example, I have not figured out how to get the imported .DXFs to line up with the origin on my existing artwork. So the artwork is seemingly placed at random on my Fusion360 drawing space. Secondly, I have yet to learn how to get different sketches and 3D elements (called bodies) to line up automatically. This is trivial in Illustrator, but not so in Fusion360.

On really annoying thing is how the key combinations in Fusion360 are different than Adobe Illustaor and other 3D programs. I have accidentally moved my objects in Fusion360 when I was actually just trying to pan or orbit the view. This causes all kinds of grief as I then have to manually realign things. I tried using the joints command in Fusion360, but that seems to make things even more complicated. There seems to be no easy way to group items to keep them together. Sketches, bodies and components in Fusion360 all have different ways to align and group. It's very confusing.

Also, I have not yet figured out how the time line in Fusion360 works. When it does what I want, it is sweet. Like changing the diameter of a rivet and all the other like rivets automatically update. But other times, I will change the timeline and things disappear or go wonky.

Converting the Fusion360 drawings to 3D prints has also been a learning experience. It's fairly easy to export parts from the Fusion360 file to a format that the printer can take, which is .STL in my case. But getting that .STL file in a format the printer can handle requires additional steps.You have to use software to add supports and then slice it for the printer. There are several programs that do this. I have been using Preform, Chitubox, Meshmixer, and Photon Workshop. 

Prefrom is Formlabs 3D print slicing software. I use it to get suggestions on how to support and slice an object as its automatic support logic is quite good. But it only exports to Formlabs printer formats. So I can't use it with the Anycubic Photon that I own. 

Once Preform gives me some ideas, I use Chitubox to set up the supports. If the file has "errors" they can sometimes be fixed in Meshmixer. Meshmixer has a lot of power to do other things too, like modifying or  drawing your own objects, but I haven't explored it that much yet.

Once Chitubox is done, I have to run the file in Photon Workshop to save as a .PWS format as my printer requires that type of file. 

I have experienced several failed prints usually stemming from inadequate supports. But I also had 2 leaking vats and other sundry problems. 

WiP so far. The frame is a laser cut MDF for fit only. The actual frame will be either 3D printed, or made from brass. The cylinders will be 3D printed in brass.

Anyway, enough boring 3D print nerd stuff.  I have been able to print the smoke stack, cylinders, boiler and firebox sidewalls, and some of the dome.

I tried printing the frame on the Anycubic Photon, but it was too large for my printer volume and would not print reliably. So I sent that out to Shapeways to have them print in SLA plastic. I selected that material as it has a faster turnaround than doing it in metal. I want this first 3D printed frame to test the fit of all the parts. Once that frame arrives, I'll add the sub-chassis and see if I can get it running. Then I can add  the rest of the parts. At that point I'll evaluate if I can proceed with a 3D printed frame, or built by hand with brass stock, or have metal parts laser cut by an external service. 

Some of you have commented on tolerances and shrinkage of the printed parts. Because of the compensated sub-chassis design I am using, all of the tolerances on the parts I have 3D printed so far are not critical. The key issues is making sure the distance between the axles  is precisely the same as the length of the holes in the main drive rod. Those parts will not be 3D printed. 

3D printed stack with laser cut and brass details
I am pleased with the stack, smoke box and boiler print quality. The stack is a combination of 3D printing, a brass mesh for the cinder screen, a laser cut cinder screen support, and a section of flat brass for the screen latch.

The cylinders came out nice too, but I am not sure they are strong enough to use in the working model. I plan to have these 3D printed in Shapeways brass, which uses 3d prints to make a lost wax mold to make actually brass parts.

Sanding and polishing the boiler surface
I am surprised at the strength of the boiler. It is quite sturdy. The 3D boiler had some print layering visible, but I was able to sand those away after a coat of filler primer. The next challenge is to try to paint it to look like Russia Iron.   I ordered some BareMetal foil to try out.

The 3D printed boiler may actually work better than the brass tube I was planning. The reason is that the brass tube is relatively heavy and will raise the center of mass of the locomotive up and to the front. By using a lighter material that is hollow, I can add weight lower and might be able to get better balance. I am hoping that will put more weight on the drive axles to increase tractive effort that the locomotive can provide. 

I need to change the method of attaching the domes to the boiler. I used Fusion360 to match the boiler curvature on the bottom surface of the domes. But, the dome parts have to be supported on that curved face to get a clean print. That means I need to sand away the support residue which can make it hard to precisely match the curve. A through hole that is the diameter of the  dome with a matching internal support in the boiler might be better as I would not have to sand any visible surfaces. 

November 24, 2020

Teaching an old dog new tricks

Many thanks to all of you that expressed sympathy on the passing of my mom.  It's been a rough stretch, but getting back into my modeling projects has been a good tonic. So I'm back in the shop, well actually mostly on the computer, as I restart work on the locomotive.  The locomotive build project and techniques I plan to use on it are evolving as I work on it.

First, last month I purchased a Anycubic Photon 3D resin printer on sale. The price was less than $200. I also got their wash and cure machine, a few bottles of resin, some rubber gloves and alcohol. So I started dabbling in some 3D printing. 

Since I am mostly interested in printing items that I can use on my railroad, I'm pretty much stuck learning how to do 3D drafting as very few fine scale models of civil war era stuff are available. I had a little prior experience with 3D drafting, but I needed to learn a lot more to be proficient. The best way to learn is by doing, so I dove in. 

First useful parts from the 3D printer
The Photon machine is capable of very high quality prints when everything works. So far my success rate has been about 50%. But, I have made some useful parts including a smoke stack for the loco, some civilian figures for the layout that I downloaded from various sites, and a test print of the cylinders for the loco. Learning how to do 3D printing is a skill, or perhaps art, all on to itself.  There are hundreds of YouTube tutorials and websites with help. So I won't cover that here. I will say that 3D printing does change how you look at modeling projects in much the same way that the laser cutter did when I got my first laser about 14 years ago.

As I discussed a few posts ago, I was planning on laser cutting the frame side rails along with some other parts from metal using a outside service. I still plan to do that for the drive rods and some of the valve gear. But, I think I will have the frame and the cylinders 3D printed in metal from Shapeways. Various folks have reported good success in printing locomotive parts in brass. Unfortunately, my frame is too large for their brass 3D printing process. I could cut the frame in parts and solder them together, but I think I will try make the frame in some other 3D printed metal. Shapeways makes their parts in brass using a lost wax process. They also have other techniques for printing steel (actually a steel-bronze matrix) and many other materials. The metal prints tend to be much more expensive than plastic and it looks like their surface texture is not as good, so I need to tread carefully here.

One of the reasons for opting for 3D printing, is I decided to draw the locomotive, or at least most of the critical dimensioned parts in Fusion360.  Since I was creating the 3D file, I thought it might be fun to try printing several of the parts.

The design of the rear of the boiler, the firebox and the back head are tricky and warranted looking at their geometry in 3D. The fact that the boiler is wider than the frame helps complicate the design. Also, the compensating sub-chassis also requires some tricky cutting of parts to make room for it.  So the 3D plan is helping me check all the fits and dimensions. For example, by drawing it in 3D, I detected a problem with my 2D drawing in the area of the back head and cab floor. I still haven't sorted it out yet, but the 3D exercise has proven useful. 

I am also enjoying learning the program, although some things are very confusing to me. I still haven't fully sorted how to align objects. Steps that would take me 10 seconds in Illustrator took me hours to do in Fusion360. One of the factors that made my life more difficult is that I imported DXF files from my 2D drawing to use in the 3D drawing. But, when it comes time to make changes to parts derived from the DXF files, things get tricky. At this point in my Fusion360 skill level, I find it easer to start with a fresh sketch in Fusion360.  Anyway, I'll keep plugging on. 

November 10, 2020

In Memoriam Violet Kempinski

Post Op-session dinner

The  Aquia Line has lost a key member yesterday.  Mom passed after a tough fight with respiratory and congestive heart failure. She took on this final challenge like she did most things in her life, giving it her all. 

Mom admiring Tony Koester's portable O Scale layout
Many of you knew mom from my operating sessions, which she frequently helped co-host, as well as attending numerous model railroad shows with me. She loved meeting new people and seeing new things. She was the perfect railfan companion as she didn't mind waiting trackside for hours with her knitting as long as we ate good food and stayed away from steep mountain roads. 

A loving mom, she lived for her children, husband and her mother. We feel God gifted mom with a long and productive life as she devoted nearly 20 years to caring for her mother. She gave her sick mother total attention, feeding, cleaning and dressing her for years, and she did so without complaint and total devotion. She showed the same love and loyalty to her husband, Robert, and her four children, Bernard and Robert (the twins), Marco and Marlana.

Mom saw an amazing series of events during her life, including the Depression, World War 2, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the onset of the Space Program, and the Information Age. Throughout she truly represented the greatest generation, learning and adapting to significant lifestyle changes. She even tried her hand at texting and Facebook while in her 90s. If we saw a text message with a bunch of emojis, it was from Mom, she enjoyed sending them.  

Mom in Cuba in lste 1940s 

She managed to get around visiting several continents. In the late 1940s she traveled to Cuba for a vacation – not a common thing for a single woman in those years. 

She visited me when I was stationed in Germany twice in the 1980s. She befriended my landlord, Frau Forster. The two of them took the train to N├╝rnberg while I was working. It must have been a hoot as mom didn't speak German and Frau Forster didn't speak English, but they managed just fine. She visited many sights in Germany including Hitler's retreat at Berchtesgaden where she hid her head under the bus seat during the precarious ride to the top of the mountain on a road built by Italian laborers provided by Mussolini. She accompanied me with a bus load of US Army combat engineers as we toured the Iron Curtain on the East German border. Never before were US soldiers on a road trip so well behaved. 

I took her to a German-American Military Ball at a candle-lit castle where she became the guest of honor. When the German Commanding Colonel introduced himself  he took mom's hands, clicked his heels while curtly bowing his head, I thought she would faint. She danced with all the German officers that night, ate smoked eel, and acted as a mother to the wives of the American officers in our group. It was a fairy tale of a night. 

Visiting the Iron Curtain along the East German border 
with a platoon of US Army Combat Engineers
She and I toured Italy twice in the 1980s. With Italian immigrants as parents, mom was bi-lingual.  I was amused when a little boy in Venice who was confused by her accent asked, "what part of Italy are you from?" "Brooklyn," I replied. An English couple we met in St Mark's Cathedral were charmed by her New York accent and said, "you sound just like the people in Taxi (a popular TV Show at the time)."  We visited her distant relatives in Rome and Naples and saw the graves of her ancestors. Her parents grew up on the eastern slopes of Mount Vesuvius. With our cousin we took a tour of Capri and drove the Almafi highway, albeit at 5 miles per hour as the road on the sheer cliff terrorized her.

I never forget her reaction to the rest rooms on the Autostrada where the facilities consisted of a hole in the ground with two foot prints. 

People seemed to like her right away. Once while we were admiring the dishes on display at a restaurant in Venice, the owner invited us to eat with his staff as he closed the door behind us. 

In 2002 mom and my brother traveled to Japan shortly after our Dad died and she had her second hip replaced. Despite some pain, she took on the challenge of walking quite a bit around Japan. They had the privilege of visiting the Japanese Imperial Palace bonsai collection. While standing inside of the palace, she said, with her typical wonder, “Never in my life did I ever think I’d be standing in the Japanese Imperial Palace.”  It must have been hard for WW2 survivor to take in but it illustrates the breadth of her life. In typical mom fashion, while on the trip she befriended an elderly Japanese industrialist who shocked her when he kissed her.

Anything Italian was great to her and my brothers and sister grew up with wonderful Italian cooking.  Sunday sauce, which took all day to simmer, filled our home with a great aroma. Grandpa’s Italian pastry recipes (Grandpa was a successful baker in New York city) led to a whole host of delicious confections – Italian wheat pie, cannoli, sfogliatella  and her favorite, cream puffs.   In her last hours we played her Pavarotti as his music brought her joy.

In addition to being a great cook, she had incredible skills as a seamstress. Whether it was shirts, dresses, pants, ski gaiters, or a fishing vest – she could make it. We remember her sewing prototype dresses for major NY fashion designers. When their pattern didn’t make sense she’d figure out how to accomplish the design. Supporting designers like that she had a tremendous work ethic and many times worked all night to meet the deadline. And she was so good the designers and factory managers let her work remotely from home so she could care for her mom, a pioneer in teleworking. She sewed all the skirts for my layout. She also helped make many of the wire trees. But mostly, she keep me and my crew well fed.

As the last of her generation in her family, she leaves a hole in our hearts, but her love and devotion lingers in the ones she left behind. And one thing is for sure, the food in Heaven is going to taste a lot better with her cooking.

Violet Maria Kempinski March 27, 1924 – November 9, 2020

November 2, 2020

Leaving the Stone Age

Yes, even a cave man like me needs to evolve. For many years I've had learning how to do 3D drafting for 3D printing  on my do list. This past week I finally started to make a more serious attempt to learn 3D drawing, first with Tinkercad and now with Fusion360. While I am still an absolute neophyte in the applications, I was able to make a few decent drawings. 

As I mentioned in my last post, I drew a smoke stack for my locomotive project using Tinkercad. Unfortunately, that drawing did not have enough polygons to make a decent 3D print despite my setting it to maximum steps. 

So, I decided to try drawing the same part in Fusion360. It took me a few hours, but I got a decent drawing that Shapeways says will print.   I have an associate that has a high resolution resin printer that will try to print it for me.

 Emboldened with my newly learned skills, feeble as they are, I tried doing a test drawing of the frame of the locomotive. 

I exported the side frames as a DXF from my drawing in Adobe Illustrator. Then I imported that into Fusion360, copied and offset it the appropriate amount,  and extruded some cross members.

The resulting image looks like this.

Then I uploaded the frame part to Shapeways to get an estimate of the cost to print in metal. I was surprised to learn that the frame would cost about $50 including shipping if printed in steel. I thought the price would be much higher. So now I think I will proceed with finishing the drawing in 3D including adding the cylinder and smoke box saddles, and perhaps the cylinders and hangers. Then trying printing the frame in steel or aluminum. The steel printing process involves a furnace sintering step that results in shrinking. So steel might not be a good choice for this part. The aluminum process uses direct laser melting of aluminum powder, so it is more accurate and doesn't shrink. But it is three times as expensive. 

One advantage of 3D printing is I can add some additional detail to the springs to better capture how they look on the actual locomotive. Also, the frame will be assembled when it is printed. I do not know the tolerances that the 3D printed metal will allow, but most of the dimensions are not critical. I will make the holes undersized and uses reamers to get precise diameters.

I will proceed on the drive rods and valve gear with laser cut nickel-silver or maybe stainless steel.

Meanwhile, the brass tubes and some sheet nickel-silver I ordered arrived. The boiler will be made from a section of 1.125 inch brass. The side walls are 0.064 inches so the inner diameter is just under one inch. The motor will fit nicely inside. The thick walled brass will also add some heft to the loco. 

October 31, 2020

Changing My Approach

Last week I made some drive rods for the locomotive project and installed them. I cut them on the laser from two layers of  0.025 inch laser board. Then I glued the layers together.  They fit very nicely on the crank pins that come with the Slaters Wheels.  This short video shows the trucks rolling on the track.

This rolling test rig demonstrates the effectiveness of the compensating beams. I will need to add some spacers or make some new bushings for the space between the wheels and the compensating beams to limit some of the sideways play the axles.

As I was working on this project, I've been searching the web for materials and parts. I came across several companies that offer laser cutting of metal. I found a shop in Utah that will do small jobs. They have  4KW and 8KW lasers that can cut up to 1 inch thick steel. That is 1000 to 2000 times more powerful than my laser cutter.

They have some neat software on their website that takes .DXF files and converts them to 3D depending on the material you select. Then their software examines your files for problems and if all is OK, you get an estimated cost (see figure below.) Since this looks so easy to use, I decided to use their service to laser cut my frame parts from 0.075 inch thick stainless steel. I will also submit drawings for the valve gear and some other parts to laser cut in 0.020 inch nickel-silver. The drive rods will be included in that file as well as the parts for the compensating sub-chassis. Since the nickel-silver material is only 0.02 inches, I will double the drive rods and solder them. Nickel-silver solders very nicely. The nice thing about laser cutting metal is that for small jobs the cost is much lower than photo etching. 

The draw back to this approach is that I now need to draw all the parts of the model before I submit them. My earlier  approach of designing as I go will not work. Also, I decided to move ahead with engine Leach. I am using the Talisman drawing to inform the Leach drawings. But Leach was a bigger and heavier locomotive. 

So, now I am in the process of drawing the model in side and front elevations. Those two drawings should be enough for me to create drawings for laser cut parts. I will do test cuts at home with 1/16th MDF and resin-impregnated laser board to make sure the fit and function are OK.

I have spent a good part of the week doing these drawings and ordering materials. It's kind of a iterative process as you must design your parts for size materials that you need. So depending on what is available, you adjust the drawing. For example, brass tubes for the boiler are limited in available diameters. I went with a 1.125 inch diameter boiler on this loco as Leach had a chunkier boiler than other engines. At 1:45 scale, 1.125 scales up to about 50.6 inches. White says in his book on American locomotives that most boilers were under 48 inches in this era. But the photos of Leach show a boiler slightly bigger at somewhere between 50 and 52 inches. I consulted with John Ott on this issue as a sanity check and he agreed. 

The image below shows the work-in-progress of the drawing as of tonight. I have about half the parts I need to draw for laser cutting done. The blue parts at the bottom are the frame parts. The silver parts are some of the valve gear. This drawing also shows how the motor and gearbox fit in the loco. I may not have room for much of a flywheel as it would extending the cab interior. 
Abode Illustrator drawing to plan out the laser cut part.

This image at the left shows one of my frame parts loaded onto Oshcut's website as I tested it for problems. This will be  0.075" stainless steel. Note how I was able to include the spring details on  the chassis. Those would have been very difficult to machine without CNC milling.

Screen capture of a .STL file for 3D printing
 of the smoke stack.

Since I was doing computer drawing, I decided to take a crack at drawing a smokestack for possible 3D printing.  See the image at the right.  I have never drawn a 3D part for printing before, so this is a first for me. I used Tinkercad to draw this smoke stack. I have Fusion360, but I am not familiar with it enough to try this. Tinkercad is very easy to use, though not as powerful as Fusion360 and some of the other 3D software out there. I exported the image as a .STL file and sent it to a friend that is doing some other 3D printing for me for Alkem Scale Models. His resin printer does a better job than Shapeways. I am curious to see how it comes out. 

Also this week I briefly considered getting a milling machine so I could cut the parts as needed from stock materials. But I decided the laser cut parts are probably superior for this project. I may get a small 3D printer though as they are much less expensive these days and the resin printers do a great job. 

So all in all it was a busy week with a lot of computer time both researching information and drawing. 

October 22, 2020

Rolling Chassis

Close-up of the sub-chassis
 I decided that I needed to rework the sub-chassis as I was getting some binding. I believe it was because the hornblock bushings were not parallel. To solve this I made a new jig with some scrap MDF that held the axles parallel, while I re-soldered the hornblock bushings to the sub-chassis beams.  The result gave smoother operation.

Next I started on the main side frames. I built these from 0.09 inch square brass tube.  Again, I made a jig to help hold the small brass pieces while I soldered them.  The frame dimensions are not too critical as long as they allow the sub-chassis to rotate about the pivot axle. With the jig they came out pretty close to identical, or at least close enough.

Jig to keep axles parallel
To make the top beam I soldered two brass tubes together. Then I measured where the bends should be. Using my mototool with a cut-off disk I cut small slots on the beams on the acute angle side of  the bends. When I bent the beams I bent both of  them, thus both were identical. I  unsoldered the beams and put one in the jig. I soldered the additional members one-by-one, cutting and fitting as I went.  I used my disk sander to square up the ends and my mototool and files to make the mitered joints.
Frame jig showing top beam with bend.

With both frame sides built, I cut two brass 0.5 by 0.8 by 1/32 inch  plates and two 0.09 by 0.09 by 0.8 inch square tubes to act as transverse members. Again, I soldered them together and used my disk sander to square the ends and make them all the same length.  The photo below shows the completed sub-chassis and the main frame.

I have to figure out a way to cover the gaps at the bottom of the hornblocks. I'll probably add small keeper plates that will be soldered on or maybe screwed in if I decide they need to be removable. I don't think they do, so solder may be OK. 

The sub-chassis installed in the main frame. 

Next I fitted the gear box and motor to the front axle. This took a little bit of fiddling to make it work.

Motor and gear box on the front axle. 

Here is a short video showing the chassis rolling on Potomac Creek  bridge. The results have been encouraging so far.

October 20, 2020

Compensating for something

I started my build for an O scale 4-4-0 locomotive. My plan to build engine Leach got derailed when I accidentally ordered only two drivers from Slaters instead of the four that I needed. So I had to drop another order for a second set of drivers and some other parts. They will not arrive for about a week or so. 

In the meantime, I started a test build with the wheels I have on hand. They match up pretty well with the engine Talisman. John White has a good set of plans for this locomotive in his book, "American Locomotives." The locomotive is similar to the USMRR Deveraux engine, so maybe that is what this will become.  The next step is to adapt those plans to an equalized (compensated) suspension model locomotive.

A scaled drawing sized to fit the wheels I have on hand. The gold and brown object at the bottom is the template I made to hold the hornblocks in position for soldering. 

I plan to use a pivot beam design. You can find out a little about it at this link, but if you are like me, you will find the explanations very hard to follow. Luckily, Eric Gates, has built locos like this and is helping coach me.

I built my pivot beam sub-chassis with sections of 0.090 inch square brass bar and brass hornblocks bushings.  The first thing I did was to solder two sections of the brass tube together, trimmed them to the same length and drilled a 0.040 inch hole through both with my drill press. That way they were identical. They will be the pivot beams. Then  I made a laser cut template with 0.025 inch thick resin-impregnated laser board (see the drawing above.) The templates held the hornblocks in position while I soldered the bar to the top of the blocks.  That worked pretty well. I used the axles in the hornblock bushings to square up the hornblock to the pivot beam. Note the hornblock bushings do not slide up and down in the hornblock guides in this design. They are fixed to the pivot beam. So there is no need for springs etc. This is one of the key advantages of this design. 
Pivot beam sub-chassis

The other advantage is that the compensating sub-chassis is "hidden" behind the drivers and main frame. There are no out-of-scale pivot bars connecting the pilot truck to the suspension. This is important for US style 4-4-0s where there is a lot of open space under the boiler. 

Laser cut MDF farm for testing fit and function

Next I laser cut a test frame from 1/16th inch MDF. The purpose of this was to check for fit and function. Everything seems to be working well. The Scale Four diagram says this frame is "cosmetic", but it does have some structural purposes. It holds the pivots beam,  locates the pilot truck and carries the boiler and cab. 

So I will use the MDF frame as a template to build up the frame from brass. I plan to make the frame with 0.090 inch brass bar stock. That should be fun. 

The last remaining critical task is to make the side rods. They need to be precise to avoid binding. I plan to use a laser cut  template to make them. I hope that works.  I have two drill presses, including a miniature one for model building, but I don't have a vertical milling machine.  So I have to use templates and other techniques to make identical flat parts.

October 16, 2020

Prototype Fidelity Versus Practical Reality

The current issue of O Scale Resource magazine contains an article which will be the first of a series on scratch building locomotives in O Scale. Glenn Guerra is starting the builds as he will be making two 4-4-0 locomotives.  The series begins with a discussion "where to start." It's an interesting discussion to me as I am in about the same place he is. This paragraph from the article was especially germane,

"I say this a lot and, I will  repeat it here, draw your model in the scale you will build it. This is especially important in the computer age where many of us do computer drawings. It is tempting to draw what is on the railroad drawing and just scale your drawing. So let 's look at what happens when you do this. Suppose there is 1/4" clearance between some of the valve gear parts and you draw it up that way.  When you scale your drawing to O Scale, you now have around .005" clearance. How good are your machining skills? Can you actually make that stuff? Suppose your prototype has a dimension of 4-3 /4" somewhere on it. If you divide 4.75 by 48 (our scale) you get .0989". Great, where are you going to get material that thick? On my models, the frames ,are 4" thick. That's .083" in O Scale. You can't get sheet brass in that thickness , but you can get .080" thickness, so that is what I used. The other problem is all the parts of your model are related. Now that I changed the frame thickness , how does that effect other parts of the model? I decided the outside dimension of the frame, from side to side, was what I felt was important, so I made that to the drawing. That decision now affects dimensions of the cylinders, firing deck, pilot beam and valve hangers. As you draw the model, you will be thinking of how things are going to fit together and how you will make then. I would recommend that you get the mechanism and boiler designed to fit before you start building. The rest of the parts are not critical to your model running."

 I think he is right on the target with this statement. This is fact of life when building any model. Rarely can we build a model with every dimension true to scale. This applies to structures, rolling stock and even track. The key in a locomotive is that all parts have to interact and function, and not just look nice. 

In the case of a locomotive with equalized suspension, the scale factor is even more out of whack. We (well, most of us) can't build perfectly scaled down versions of 1860's 4-4-0 locomotives with true scale suspensions, as shown in the image at the left. If you want a equalized suspension on your model, there will be components on the model that just don't exists on the prototype, not to mention that our locomotives use electric motors instead of steam.  Other prototype parts will be too small to make. It's a fine line to walk, but that's part of the challenge, isn't it.