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.

March 30, 2020

Aquia Line Quarantine News

Scene on one of my 1/56th (28mm) scale game boards

So far, we are staying healthy and trying to follow all the guidelines the CDC and governments have established. I hope you all are safe too.

I've been catching up on various projects the past week, mostly related to models for clients and some war gaming projects. My do list is getting worked down. I thought about hosting a remote op session on the layout, but haven't decided on the best way to do that. However, I hosted two wargames remotely using Facebook live for the first one and then FaceTime.  Those were fun, but actually a lot of work. I do plan to get working on my layout next, so I will be disassembling the game table to prep for layout expansion work.  The photo above is a shot I took on the game table showcasing some of the new K-Ration boxes I made.

Today, I received a delivery of 3 sheets of 4x8 feet plywood from Home Depot. I will process these into lumber to start the benchwork for my layout.  My plan is to start with the curve in the closet and proceed into the crew lounge.

But before I start that, I have more do list items need to wrap up. There doesn't seem to be any hurry, as we will be confined to quarters for at least another month.

March 19, 2020

Civil War Era Fences

I recently was asked about the fences on my civil war layout.   During the civil war era there were four common types of fences, worm (or snake), split rail, picket and stone walls. Some areas, like Gettysburg had a combination stone and rail fence. This American Civil War Trust 4 minute video discusses and illustrates the different types of fences. At one point the commentator makes a mistake when he confuses cover with concealment, so be on the look out for that. According to what I learned in the US Army the definitions of cover and concealment are-

  • Cover is protection from direct or indirect fire. This means actual physical obstacles that can absorb incoming fire like stone walls, foxholes, bunkers, etc. 
  • Concealment means you are hidden from view. Hiding in bushes, or behind a house is concealment.  Concealment means you are harder to spot, but not harder to kill if you are spotted and fired on.
Ideally you want both cover and concealment. That is why the two terms are often used together. But, once fire is incoming, you seek cover, not concealment.

On my layout I have modeled four types of fences. Here is a prototype example of a worm fence at Willimasburg, VA, and one on my railroad. These fences look cool, but they are a pain to build in scale.


This famous photo from the battle of Antietam shows dead rebels next to a split rail fence with oval hole posts. Mine rendition of that style of fence is below. These fences are easier to build especially with laser cutting the parts.

Now, the more probable scenario for my layout is that none of these wooden fences would be standing in the time period I am modeling. After 4 months of occupation by US soldiers, and no farms being worked, the fences in the area would have been "liberated" by soldiers to use as firewood and lumber for hooches. But, the fences add interest and I like their look.

I have small sections of stone and  "Kentucky" style  fences and on my layout. I modeled my stone fence on the stone fence at Marye's Heights near Fredericksburg. 

March 15, 2020

Activation energy

The sparks created by striking steel against a piece of
 flint provide the activation energy to initiate combustion
in this Bunsen burner. The blue flame sustains itself after
the sparks stop because the continued combustion of the flame
is now energetically favorable. Catalysts can also lower
activation energy.

Activation Energy is the energy which must be provided to a system with potential reactants to result in: a chemical reaction, nuclear reaction, or various other physical phenomena.

Let me start with a short story.

When we had our last flood last fall, I bought an Ecobee smart thermostat to replace the one in the dining room that was getting old. Some of the LCD crystals on the old thermostat had failed and it was impossible to read the settings.  The new Ecobee sat in its box for several weeks as I internally debated whether I should install it myself or hire out the task. I gave in and decided to called Geek Squad to do it, as I figured they would know what to do and get it done quickly without breaking anything.

They dutifully arrived at my house on the appointed time in their humongous, gaudily decorated truck. Two guys spilled out of the cab, one was yawning as he came up the walkway. They donned funky booties to protect our floor as they entered. After fiddling with the thermostat for a few minutes, they announced that they were not qualified to install this product, despite my purchasing it at Best Buy, their HQ. They left promising me that Geek Squad would refund my money.

As they left, my neighbor spotted the Geek Squad truck, and started to give me me a hard time. "Why is the MIT guy hiring Geek Squad?" he chided.  Now my neighbor is a sweetheart. He is a retired English teacher, who was well regarded by his students, but he is  not technically inclined. He and his wife are frequently asking me for help on house hold projects and repairs. So after years of techno-rescue by me, when he got the chance to find a chink in my techno-savvy armor, he drove right in.

I went inside suitably humbled. But the delay and then my neighbor's gentle harassment had raised my energy level above the activation threshold, and I did the job myself. It did require my having to add a power adapter inside the furnace, but the enclosed instructions were clear and was able to do the wiring and get it working.

Unlike when I installed my Ring video doorbell, the software on this item worked the first time I tried it. The unit has a nice control panel and it has Alexa voice integration. My wife was ecstatic when she tried playing with the thermostat. For the record, in the 23 years we have been married, she is the master of the thermostat. I never touch it. Anyway, she said to me, "If it was so easy to install, why did you wait so long to install it?"

My answer was, "activation energy."

And so, that is how we get to model railroading. I have been thinking about and designing expansions to my layout for several years now. But I haven't been able to overcome the activation energy needed to start. Then yesterday, Paul Dolkos, John King, Ken Lehman and Mat Robinson stopped by to see the layout. They were operating at Paul's and wanted to see what I was up to.

In the process of running a train out of Falmouth, I noticed that the curved turnout at the turn back curve was broken. One of the stub point solder joints had failed. This turnout has been blue flagged for several years because the tight radii there do not allow reliable operation. So I was surprised to see it had failed.

So now there are two broken turnouts at Falmouth. Will this be the catalyst to lower the activation energy to start the layout expansion?

It very well might be. I am supposed to host operations sessions for the ACWRRHS in September. With all of us having to stay home, this could be a perfect opportunity to start work. I just need to be able to get some lumber.  I have all the other necessary supplies on hand.  Most likely, the expansion will be a narrow shelf along the two walls of the crew lounge. But what if I wanted to do more?

I had sketched up a quick look at a large peninsula in the crew lounge. Then I took some curve templates and used my gaming table to mock up what a second peninsula would look like in my crew lounge.  I like it. But nobody else does. My gaming buddies want me to keep the game space. My wife doesn't like the expansion with the peninsula. Even the four guests expressed reservations.

So I suppose the best course of action is to start with the two narrow shelves along the walls. If that fails to scratch the expansion itch, I can always add on the peninsula.

After my guests left, news and health updates made it apparent that further guests to the house would not be a good idea.  So, I'm on my own down here. But that is nothing new. Now, to find a lumber store that is open.

By the way, once the thermostat was installed, I sent my neighbor a text saying "After Geek Squad gave up, I installed the thermostat myself. I hope my reputation is salvaged."

He replied, "not just salvaged, but further glorified."

March 12, 2020

Don't Jump!

For several years I have been meaning to add a figure on a plank like shown in this prototype photo of Potomac Creek below. Today, I was preparing paper work for the NMRA Master Builder Prototype Models SOQ and I thought, "this is a good time."
Prototype photo that inspired the scene

So I dug out an appropriate figure from my stash. (Note to self - you have at least 10 pounds of unpainted figures in your stash. You don't need anymore.)

I found one that had a similar pose and style of dress. This figure came from Knuckleduster Miniatures  They offer a nice line of O scale Wild West figures that work for the ACW era. All those saloon figures are tempting me to add a saloon to my layout. But where?

It was a simple matter to build a plank, stack some rocks, and pose the figure.

I'll bet you thought this was going to tie into the stock market some how, didn't you?

March 11, 2020

Crisis Mode?

Global virus, maybe, but that is not what this post is about. Last year Rustoleum, Testor's parent company, announced it was getting out of the model paint business.  This was alarming to me since I used Testor's Dullcote as my go-to matt finish.  I especially liked applying it with my airbrush diluted with lacquer thinner as you can precisely control the application.  I tried various other makers of acrylic matt finishes, but none were as flat as Testors Dullcote. So, I went around and did what every good crisis-induced panic-stricken person would do, I stocked up on toilet paper.... no wait wrong crisis,  I stocked up on Testor's dullcote.

Then, one of my friends, Mark Franke, suggested I try Winsor Newton Galeria Matt Varnish. He said the armor modeling community swears by it. I was skeptical as I tried Vallejo and a few other acrylic matt varnishes and was never happy with the flat finish. Undeterred, he went and bought me a bottle to try.  It sat around for a few weeks, before I decided to give it a try.

Holy cow, he and they were right. This is the best flat finish I have tried. Plus, it is water soluble so you can thin with water.  So I airbrush with 50-50 water dilution. Plus, it is not as toxic as Testor's Dullcote since no lacquer thinner is needed.

So no worries. My supply of Testor's Dullcote will be set aside.

Now, to hunker down in my man cave and build models while this global pandemic blows over.  Stay safe everybody.

March 7, 2020

Potomac Division Meet at Mary Surratt House Museum

I attended a mini-meet for the Potomac Division of the NMRA at the Mary Surratt House Museum in Clinton, MD. The meet involved several talks in the morning and two layout tours in the afternoon. I gave the last talk of the morning by describing some of the techniques I used or are using to build my layout. My talk went well, despite some early laptop-projector issues.

The museum is a set of buildings including the restored tavern. It was here that John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's assassin, stopped to retrieve weapons and supplies which had been hidden there. As a result, Mary Surratt, the owner of the house, which was rented out to others at the time,  was tried and convicted of conspiracy to assassinate the President. On July 7, 1865, she became the first woman to be executed by the United States government.

In the afternoon I visited Dale Latham's Piedmont Southern and Glenn Paulson's Conrail layouts situated in south east Maryland. Dale's layout in a two car garage is largely complete, beautifully finished, and operational. Glenn's layout is a massive double deck in a large basement. He has an impressive steel mill. It occupies about 60-80 linear feet on a narrow shelf of the lower level. The mill is spread out with each major structure residing along the backdrop with mostly narrow benchwork. It is an interesting way to model a steel mill that I don't think I have seen before. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of it.

A scene on Dale's layout. The bakery is named after Dale's wife, Anita, who is legendary for her baking prowess.