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 22, 2020

Monopoly Buildings

I worked on an unusual project this week for a friend, John Drye. He is planning on hosting a large wargame event this summer at the Historicon, the largest historical miniatures war-game convention in the world. To put this in perspective, it's like the NMRA National Convention, though Historicon typically gets about twice as many registrants as the NMRA National.  I used to attend Historicon regularly in the 1990s. John Hill, Dean West and I used to host massive Johnny Reb games at this event. The largest game we hosted involved 60 players over two days. If you think about it, that's one game with about half the participation of a typical Prorail event. There are hundreds of such events, though most not as big as that one, at Historicon.

Several of my friends are or were affiliated with Historicon management.  This year, I am planning on going to Historicon, but not the NMRA National. I am helping my friend prepare his scenery for the game since I really enjoy doing scenery. I am also doing some play testing for his scenario, which is based on Operation Market Garden. He plans to cover the whole campaign including the airdrops and the British 30 Corps race to the Rhine at Arnhem. This is the famous, "Bridge too Far" battle.

Unit counters are 2 inches square
His game system he plans to use is called "Breakthrough." It was written by Frank Chadwick, a very well known, prolific game designer. John is one of the official play testers for the game system. The game is very high level. Each counter or stand in the game represents a battalion or about 1,000 men or 50 armored fighting vehicles. Each inch of game ground equals 500 yards of actual terrain. The stands have 1/285 scale miniatures mounted on them, but not in a  one for one ratio of actual vehicles. For example, the 559th Schwere Jagerpanzer Abtielung, (559th Heavy Tank Destroyer Battalion), which had about 40 assault guns, has two vehicles mounted on a two inch base. See the photo at the right. The game plays very much like a typical board game but with miniature figures and scenery.

Nijmegan with 15mm (1/100scale) Miniatures
The game includes combat in Built-Up areas, i.e. towns and cities. These areas are depicted in the game with 3 inch square templates that are gray colored. Buildings might be scattered about the gray templates, but they need to be removable so that the 2 inch square unit counters can fit inside. The photo at the right shows how they were doing this with larger miniatures, but still using the 2 inch bases.  This was a game that I helped play test.

This way of modeling towns in a miniatures game was  off-putting to me. One of the fun aspects of a miniatures wargaming is the spectacle of seeing models on terrain. Some folks could care less and play mostly for the games sake. They use a simple green cloth and put the models on them without hesitation. In model railroading, we have folks like that too. But I prefer the terrain to look as good as the figures the play on them.

So I tried to develop a way to model the city of Nijmegan that will be playable in this game system and still look  like a European city in WW2.  The requirements were - develop a model of the city of Nijmegan on a 3 inch grid, and decorate it with model buildings in such a way that 2 inch unit counters could fit.

First, I got copies 1/25000 scale maps of the area during WW2 from the US Library of Congress. One thing that is obvious in comparing  these maps to satellite images from Google earth is how much more urbanized Holland and Belguim are now compared to then. Of course the same is true of the US. I adapted the topo maps to the grid that game uses. In consulting with John and using the maps for reference, we decided that Nijmegan should be one grid of dense urban and six adjacent grids of suburban terrain.

Town grid and a typical unit for comparison 
I made a drawing of the street grid that is a much simplified version of the actual road network. The scale is somewhere between the actual ground scale and the scale of the miniatures used in the game. Thus buildings are about 0.25 wide  by 0.5 inches long. They look like the little buildings from the Monopoly game, with a little more detail. Each three inch grid has a removable 2 inch insert. When the town is unoccupied by units, it looks like a model town. When units occupy the town, the unit counters replace the inserts. There are now less buildings in the town, but it still looks like an urban area.

When units move out, the town inserts are placed back in the town grid.

This gives you an idea of the overall size of the models
There were two important bridges in Nijmegan, the highway bridge and the railroad bridge. These are also modeled in a representative way. They can be removed if they are destroyed during game progress.  Though the city grid shows rail lines, they don't have impact on play except at the bridges.

It remains to be seen if this concept for representing cities works out. If it does, then I will make additional cities for Arnhem, Eindhoven and Veghel. If not, we can have some neat games of Monopoly.

February 15, 2020

Woodworking and Op Session

Canton engine 42 working the yard.

I spent the good part of last week working on improvements to my wood shop. For over 20 years I have had a cheap Ryobi router table. Every time I use it I would say to myself, "I got to get a better router table." It often provided  poor results, some operations were difficult to do safely on it, and it made a mess of the shop.  So after using it on my mailbox project, and almost ruining that project, I bit the bullet. I went to Woodcraft and ordered a new Festool CMS-VL router table with the sliding fence and hose set. While I was at it, I ordered a new larger capacity Festool dust extractor (i.e. Shop vac) and bought a nice flush trimming router  bit.

About a week later the router table arrived and I set it up in the garage. I made a few test cuts and it was like night and day. The parts were cut precisely and it felt very safe to use. But, I realized that to make the most efficient use of this table, which is an extension of my existing  Festool MFT, I needed to install it and the MFT on a rolling cart. So building that cart began my primary focus for the week.

Front side needs a few more drawers and shelves.
I made a drawing of what I wanted, knowing that I would change the plan as I went along. I used baltic birch plywood for the carcass and added some oak trim pieces to protect the edges. Like my miter cutting cart, this one is on locking casters. It is easy to move around the garage as I need it. The front has a deep storage for tools and future Festool systainers (Festools fancy word for tool storage boxes). The back side has two longer shelves to store router table accessories and parallel clamps.

Back shelves for long items
The cart is not 100 percent complete as I plan to add some more drawers and shelves. But I love how it makes my tools so much easier to use and then put away when I'm done with them. One of the upcoming tasks is to cut precise trapezoidal pieces to make the road bed for the curved sections of my O scale layout expansion. The idea is to make nice large radius curves only making straight cuts with less waste. I will use my track and miter saws to cut the parts and the domino system to precisely register each section. More on that later.

Having my fill of woodworking for the week, I was honored and pleased to participate in an op session on Paul Dolkos's Baltimore Harbor HO layout on Saturday. I was joined by Brad Trencamp and Todd Herman. John King, who was supposed to run the yard job, couldn't make it, so I did it. It was a very fun job and it ran smoothly. Paul created the switch lists prior to the session. I really like using switch lists vice car cards.

BTW if you haven't seen this month's Model Railroader, Paul did an article on Brian Wolfe's Western Maryland layout.  It's a great layout with some outstanding photos by Paul.  I had a chance to operate it in 2017. here is a little video I shot while working the yard job on Brian's layout.

February 13, 2020

Switching from HO to O scale

Photo by John King
No, not me!

Bob Helm had an interesting article in O Scale Resource Magazine (a free on-line e-zine) last December on his plans to build an O scale Western Maryland layout in the same space he had built a HO layout of the same subject.  When I started model railroading, I was planning on a N scale Western Maryland RR.

You can find the article here  and I think it is worth a look. Go to page 15.

February 8, 2020

Playing Catch Up

This week has been catch up week for me. Both my mom and I recovered from colds, though hers was much more serious than mine. So it was time for me to get my do-list whittled down.

The laser cut parts arrayed on my work bench
The first task was to laser cut the parts for a large, intricate HO scale building for a client. It almost looks like a cathedral in appearance. The client did the artwork, as he is an architect.  Still it took me a few hours to prepare the drawings for my laser. Then another 8 actual hours to engrave and cut the parts. He will do the assembly and painting. We have more buildings to do for this client, so we are looking at other ways to depict the bricks other than engraving them one by one.

The mailbox project from start to finish
Next, I had to so some household chores. The first was to build a new mailbox that would match the new front door and have capacity to hold small packages. This was an opportunity for me learn some new skills and give my woodworking tools some exercise. The new door has leaded glass detailing. So the mailbox should have a matching glass insert. I never built a leaded glass piece before, so I went to Youtube and got the basics.  My experience in soldering brass kits came in handy, and I was able to make an acceptable diamond shaped leaded glass insert for the mailbox using pre-cut beveled glass sections and lead came. With an acceptable glass insert in hand,  I built a box with an opening to house the leaded glass piece.

With that done, I moved on to fixing the chair rail molding in the dining room. This was a residual task from the flood repairs. The contractor claimed it was a custom molding profile. So I took a sample to the local mill shop and low and behold, this molding was not custom, but available in stock. With $60 of molding in hand, it was a relatively simple matter to install the molding using my Kapex miter saw.

Rob's 1/72nd scale diorama
Then my brother visited for a few days. He wanted some instruction on painting and weathering an armored model. It was a M48 tank that he assembled at home. Over the next two days we painted, weathered,  and then built a small diorama to display it. This project was a lot of fun and my brother said he learned a lot. We used dry brushing, washes, chalk, and texture mud. The texture mud was helpful un hiding some of the flaws in the tracks.

On Saturday, I hosted a WW2 war game at my house. It was a scenario set in Holland during the Market Garden campaign. I enjoy hosting games. It reminds me a lot of setting up an op session. The game went well, though the Germans were able to cut the highway and were able to withstand the Allied attempt to clear it, though they took heavy casualties.

Hopefully, next week I can continue to catch up on the remaining do-list items.

British armor wrecks litter the battle field

February 3, 2020

Virtual Reality Film Clips depict Civil War Trench Warfare

This is an interesting use of VR tech. The Battlefield trust sponsored this project to create a virtual reality look at an ACW battlefield. You can use you mouse to change your point of view as the movie unfolds. The acting is a little hokey and scenes are small scale, but they capture some of the chaos and horror of the civil war battlefield. There are no railroad scenes, but you might find it interesting.