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.

May 30, 2020

Horny Cows

The farm scene is coming along

The finished barn
The internet hive mid is a tough mistress. I am making good progress on my farm scene. The barn is done and I have been adding livestock paddocks outside.

I based the barn on images of a barn at Appomattox, VA that is part of the National Park there. I omitted one of the side sheds to make it a little smaller to fit my space.

The model barn has interior details. The interior of the barn is hard to see as it is dark, but it has hay, a ladder and the framing of the barn visible.

Tools from Alkem Scale Models for the shop.
In the side shed, I added a workshop using a set of tools from Alkem Scale Models and some metal castings I have on hand. The tool kit is such a fun little detail to add.

I laser cut split rail fences and made two paddocks. One for cattle and one for horses.

I need to order some bareback horses, presumably for the officers that are staying at the farm.

I have one pack of cows from Woodland Scenics. I have another pack on order.

Being from the south, South Brooklyn, NY, that is, I know nothing about farming except what my brother and I watched on the early morning TV documentaries on TV in the 1950s and 60's.  Thus, I needed some help on how the barn yard should be set up. So I posted a picture to Facebook and asked for some help. And help I got.

I did get lots of relies from folks with good suggestions for water troughs, hay feeding, etc.  So I have a good handle on how the livestock would have been fed and watered. One thing to remember, this cattle pen is a holding area just before the animals would be slaughtered. So the accommodations would be pretty basic. The animals came in by rail, or were walked from Aquia Landing.

Apparently the horns are not a delicacy.
Scrawny cows at City Point, VA
One of the more interesting tangents we got into was whether cows in the civil war had horns or not. If you look at most photos or pictures of cows from the period, you see cows with horns. Of course, my O scale cows do not have horns. The hive mind was happy to point that out.

My options, buy cattle from Aspen Modeling Company. They sell properly horny cows but for a price of almost $9.00 each. Or, I could add horns to the Woodland Scenics Cows. That is the approach I will take.

Now, civil war era cows were scrawny, especially compared to the plump Herefords that Woodland Scenics sells. I do not plan to put my model cows on a diet though. There are some places where you just have to say, "good enough."

May 28, 2020

Serendipity - more tools!

I was reading through the Official Records of the War of Rebellion, or just called the OR. I was looking for examples of Corps level movement orders. Why you might ask?

A few weeks ago, one of my friends, who is a former colleague at IDA and a serious war gamer, invited me to participate in a multiplayer, play by email wargame. The subject of the game is Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania during the Gettysburg Campaign. The game is at operational level, so that units are brigades and divisions and each turn is one day. He is loosely basing the game on a commercial board game called "Long Roads to Gettysburg," which is a highly detailed simulation of the campaign. The photo below shows the starting positions.  But, he is running the game more like a traditional Kriegspiel, where he is is the umpire and the players represent individual commanders on both sides. We submit all our orders to him in writing.  He then forwards the orders to the appropriate commanders, delaying them if necessary or even losing them on occasion.

The game includes the usual movement and combat, but it also includes rail and sea borne movement, supply, force marching, fortifications, troop fatigue, terrain effects. All of those are standard fare in most wargames. The coolest thing about this game is that he is simulating the fog of war via a double blind system. That is, not only do the friendly players not know where the enemy is, you also don't know where your own units are, unless your units can see them or they are less than five miles away, which simulates runners going back and forth with information. There are opportunities for scouting, spies, telegraph lines, and balloon observations to add to the mix. In addition, we can detach sub units to picket a line or do raids. The game master/umpire is also taking communication delays into account. For example, reports from cavalry unit a long distance from the nearest telegraph line might not arrive at HQ until a day later.

The game has just really gotten started as we are in turn three. Approximately 25 players, most are in the local Washington DC area, but some as far away as United Kingdom, are playing along. I am playing General Winfield Hancock, II Corps commander. I have three infantry divisions and an artillery brigade under my command. I have 6 aide de camps that I can use for scouting and sending messages.

I am also playing the role of Herman Haupt, the USMRR superintendent.   This role is mostly for color  as the railroads are not active players, but they do factor in the game. In fact, many of the games victory conditions involved destruction of railroad facilities. Whether we abandon Aquia Landing during the game, like the Union did in the actual campaign,  remains to be seen.

The main victory  condition is the capture of Washington. If the rebels capture the capital, they automatically win. If we hold Washington, then victory will go to the side that causes the most damage to the other. There is a complex list of ways to accrue points for damage. Losing a major battle is one of the best ways to lose the game, but not the only way. It is possible that we never fight a major battle in the game.

So far, I have to say that this is the most "realistic" wargame I've played. Using multiple players and very limited intelligence of the situation, really captures the feel of civil war maneuver. The game includes some mechanics that make coordinated attacks very difficult, which was also a feature of civil war combat. I don't know if he will randomly make our units get lost, another event that happened all too frequently. Anyway, I will let my readers know what happens as the game progresses.

But back to serendipity and my opening line, In the OR I found a message from Herman Haupt to General Burnside that I don't recall ever seeing before. Here it is,

November 17, 1862-11 a.m.
Major-General BURNSIDE:
I have just returned from Aquia Creek. Some stores were on transports yesterday afternoon, ready to be landed at Belle Plain. Several companies of the Engineer Brigade on transports are probably now ashore.
The wharf at Aquia is not entirely burned, but is worse where the track was laid. I have ordered the track to be moved over, and reconstructed on the side least damaged. Cars and engines will be loaded immediately, and sent to Aquia to be unloaded as soon as the track will bear their weight. Eight small cars will be sent to-day, landed by lighters, loaded with tents, tools, and rations, pushed by hand to the broken bridge, and accompanied by carpenters with escort of engineer troops, to have bridges repaired, if possible, by the time cars and engines are landed and put on track. As soon as bridges are repaired, and even five or six cars landed, we will begin to run in supplies to Falmouth, to relieve wagons to that extent, and increase daily. The construction of a floating wharf, or new pike wharf, at Aquia is not a question for present consideration, when time is so much of an object. No new construction could be made in double the time required for repairs of former structure.
A machine-shop will be extemporized at Aquia by sending lathes, planer, portable, small tools, and shafting. Army forges will furnish smith-shops.

The last line is what caught my attention. Haupt describes a machine shop at Aquia Landing. This may have later been moved to Fredericksburg. But, I will assume it is back in Aquia Landing in the time I model. This means that I can build a nice machine shop scene with all those cool tools that are available as O scale castings. There are several sources for these kind of parts.  For example, these from Wild West Models. The key will be to have belt driven machines powered by steam, vice electrical machines that would be anachronistic. If you know of any other sources of these parts, please let me know.

I have an engine house inside the wye at Aquia Landing. Now I need to figure out a way to add a machine shop extension and fill it with tools. As a tool junkie, this excites me no end!

May 26, 2020

It's a Barn Raising

A look at some finished scenery

I started building the barn at Belle Air farm. I am assuming the Union Commissary has set up a cattle depot at the farm. So the barn will be surrounded by fences with a fair number of cattle.

I also added a small loading platform alongside the tracks. This will not be a timetable stop, just a flag stop for unloading forage and feed to the cattle depot.

Loading platform for the cattle depot.
Barn frame is ready for siding and floors.

May 24, 2020

Photoshop Phun - Museum Aircraft

Ultimate Burning Man
Flight of the Valkyrie
This one was from a photo of a SDB Dauntless dive-bomber at the WWII Museum in New Orleans. It was a
difficult job because of the different color light falling on the aircraft

Last year I visited the National Museum of the USAF. I took a zillion photos of the aircraft on display. In the past few weeks, when taking breaks from the working on various projects, I did a little photoshop work on a few of the photos. I think the  F-102 came out the best.

Here are the original photos so you can see the differences. It's hard to get a clear photo of most of the planes because there are so many crammed in there.

I can see the forest through the trees

I finished up the forested area by Drye's Curve. The last batch of trees are smaller because they line the edge of the woods.  I also added more static grass and ground texture.

After a quick clean of the tracks, I ran a test train through the scene. This scene is difficult to photograph as the edge of the aisle is close to the tracks.

May 22, 2020

The Magic of Model Railroading - A Pecha Kucha Talk

On Friday, June 5, 2020, I, along with several others, will present Pecha Kucha talks for the Alexandria chapter of Pecha Kucha.  What is Pecha Kucha you ask?

PechaKucha’s 20x20 presentation format shows your 20 chosen images, each for 20 seconds. In other words, you've got 400 seconds to tell your story, with visuals guiding the way. PechaKucha means "chit chat" in Japanese. This creative outlet began as nighttime get-togethers in Tokyo in 2003 by two renowned architects. Since then, three million people have attended PechaKucha events worldwide.

My subject is called, "The Magic of Model Railroading." It fits the theme of this years meet, "I Made This."  My brother is also slated to do a talk on Bonsai trees, while a neighbor is doing a talk on the poetry wall she created.

The June 5 meet was supposed to be a live gathering. But, with the pandemic concerns, the organizers moved it a Zoom style meet. Attending is free, but they do ask visitors to register before they get a Zoom link. Here is the registration link https://bit.ly/PechaKuchaAlexandriaVol-4 

They are not charging admission like they would normally, but are asking for donations for the PechaKucha organization: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/pechakucha-alexandria-online-tickets-106101297838?aff=ebdssbeac

It should be a fun evening.

May 21, 2020

Jabba the Stump

I spent the past few days both foresting and deforesting the land on Little Chain Ring Ridge. The area at the top of the ridge has a forest of deciduous trees. I made these with balsa or pine trunks that I carved to shape. To them I added twigs from the back yard for branches  and sprigs of super trees for finer branch structure, or reticulation. That overall procedure is faster than making trees from wire. The resulting trees are ok looking, especially in mass. However, they are very fragile. So they cannot be placed anywhere that operators may need access.

Adding nebari to the tree trunks
As the hill gets lower, the trees have been cut down, presumably by soldiers looking for firewood and lumber. I used various natural twigs to create the stumps. Stumps are much easier to build than trees. I plan to add a mini scene of Union soldiers with axes working in this area.

For most of the trees, I used Miliput 2-part epoxy to add root detail to their bases. The bonsai artists call those exposed roots, nebari. It makes the trees look much more natural.

Stevenson and Haupt examine Jabba the Stump

Some of the tree stumps came from dead Azalea or Seiju Elm bonsai trees that my brother's friend Saimir gave to me. He brought them up from Florida during a visit a few years ago.

This stump in particular, which came from the base of one of his trees, was quite bulky. I nicknamed it Jabba the Stump. I also used some of the dried roots from the actual bonsai tree to show how roots from Jabba the Stump were exposed by the railroad cut.

This area is nearly finished. Next it's back to detailing Belle Air farm and Camp Pitcher.

May 18, 2020

Phase I-B complete

I am naming this area Drye's Curve because he has been admiring it as it developed.
I finished the basic scenery and backdrop painting for Little Chain Ring Ridge and Stares Tunnel.  I got a start on Phase I-C by making several trees. I will need about 6-10 more big trees. Then there are details including stumps, fences, tents, etc.  The forested area on the ridge will help break up the line of sight from the room entrance to Belle Air farm. The basic idea is to prevent a visitor from  seeing all the layout from any one spot.  Camp Pitcher and Belle Air Farm need to be installed and detailed.

I started adding some static grass. The first location was above Stares Tunnel. There is a lot more scenery detailing to finish this scene.

Baseball on the Aquia Line

This is reputed to be the first known photo of a baseball game. The ball players are behind Company H of the 48th New York Regiment, who are posed stiffly for this 1863 formal portrait at Fort Pulaski, in Savannah, Ga.   BL-125-84 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library) 
I've been trying to figure out a way to depict a baseball game on my layout.  Prior to the war, baseball was a common game in the United States, but not widely played. It was usually reserved for gentlemen clubs and had limited participation. That changed when the civil war broke out and baseball mania swept both the Union and Rebel armies. The baseball alamac has a great discussion of the history of baseball in the civil war at this link.   This quote from that site caught my interest.

According to George B. Kirsch’s 2003 book Baseball in Blue & Gray, John G.B. Adams of the 19th Massachusetts Regiment recounted that “base ball fever broke out” at a Falmouth encampment in early 1863 with both enlisted men and officers playing. The prize was “sixty dollars a side,” meaning the winning team paid the losers that sum. “It was a grand time, and all agreed it was nicer to play base than minie ball.” Adams reported that around the same time, several Union soldiers watched Confederate soldiers play baseball across the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg. Nicholas E. Young of the 27th New York Regiment, who later became a president of baseball’s National League, played the game at White Oak Church in Stafford County. Union soldier Mason Whiting Tyler wrote home that baseball was “all the rage now in the Army of the Potomac.”

George T. Stevens of the New York Volunteers said that in Falmouth, “there were many excellent players in the different regiments, and it was common for one regiment or brigade to challenge another regiment or brigade. These matches were followed by great crowds of soldiers with intense interest.”
I also find it fascinating that two New York Regiments played games against the Washington Nationals during the Civil War. This means the Washington Nationals can reasonably say they are the oldest club in baseball, at least in name.

I enlarged the baseball game section of the photo and attempted to measure the size of the diamond using the height of the third baseman as a ruler. He doesn't appear to be a very tall individual. It is about 10 lengths of the third baseman, or about 50-60 feet.  That's close to the same size as a current softball field. The official field according to the New York Rules of that day, which eventually became the standard baseball rules, called for a 90-feet diamond. Ninety feet in O scale is 22.5 inches. Fifty or sixty feet is a lot more manageable. But it is still too large for any flat area I have on my layout.

So I am thinking of showing just a portion od the diamond with the pitcher, batters catcher and some spectators. I will have to convert some figures to make the ball players.

May 16, 2020

Backdrop at Camp Pitcher

Backdrop behind Camp Pitcher is complete
Work progresses on scenery and backdrops.

The backdrop that was formerly behind Falmouth needed some major touch up. I started with the sky. Ideally I would have painted the sky blue and started with a nice clean slate. But, I couldn't find my quart of sky blue paint.So I tried to do the required touch-up on the backdrop with just white and paynes gray.

The next morning I looked at it and decided to try again. However,  this time I did find the sky blue paint. So I painted over the new clouds and tried again. Alas, the new sky blue paint is a bit more intense than the original light blue that I used. I was able to use a can of white spray paint to blend the new blue with the old blue,

Then I painted some clouds. The lower clouds portray the geometric perspective, while I painted large clouds higher up for dramatic effect.

Then I stared with painting the ground scene on the backdrop. I spent a fair amount of time working on  the area behind Camp Pitcher because the tracks come within a few inches of the backdrop. So I needed to paint  this part of the backdrop with enough detail so  that it looks good with trains nearly adjacent to it.

The results can be seen in the lead photo.

I also worked on some more trees for the layout. But I'll post about those later.

May 13, 2020

Base Coat Scenery Finished

Test photo of base scenery and new backdrop

Base coat of ground cover, ballast,  and rock painting done
The base coat of scenery is applied. The humidity was very low the past two days, so the base coat dried very quickly. I'll let it dry completely overnight and see how it looks.

 Tomorrow I will touch up the backdrop and paint a new distant ridge, something like you see in the test image above.

I also mocked up some of the structures and trees to see how the scenery will look.  I need to refurbish  the trees I removed and build some new ones.

The buildings do a good job of hiding the train in the backgound
Lots of details to go, but the scene is presentable.

Mock up of Belle Air Farm

May 11, 2020

Phase 1 Rock Carving Complete

The long endure of carving rocks from the northern portal of Stares Tunnel to  Belle Air Farm and Battery Schaefer is complete. I swept up some of the loose chips and gave the scenery a base coat. It's amazing what a coat of paint on the fascia will do to improve the appearance. I need more paint to finish the base scenery.

I do have a dilema. I used Adirondack Bark color of Ralph Lauren River Rock texture paint for my fascia and base terrain color. It is code RL83. I like the paint because it has a subtle texture. As I worked on the layout in the past I purchased two gallons of that rather expensive paint. The last gallon I purchased was in 2012. In 2017, Ralph Lauren decided to get out of the paint business. Specialty companies have popped up that will match most of the former Ralph Lauren paints, but not for the textured paints.  Here is the message one of them sent to me.

Thanks for contacting MyPerfectColor.
While MyPerfectColor can match any standard Ralph Lauren paint colors, unfortunately we don't have matches of any Ralph Lauren specialty finishes such as Suede, River Rock, Metallic or Venetian plaster finishes nor do we know anywhere that does. At this point I believe all Ralph Lauren paint is long gone. I think you will likely just have to repaint it.

All is not lost. I have enough paint to finish the fascia in the front room. I will get a fresh can of non-textured paint for the Falmouth extension. I can add some fine N Scale ballast to the paint if necessary. The only drawback is that will require me to go to the Home Depot to get the paint matched. I'd rather stay out of those stores for the time being.

May 8, 2020

Guest Post - Dufour's Memories

In May 1863, Mr.  Jules Ignace Mantel Dufour, an executive from the B&M Railroad visited the Aquia Line. He was on a weeks long tour of railroads on the east coast to see how the war was affecting them. It is curious that an executive from the B&M would visit Herman Haupt's railroad, as Haupt was currently engaged in a legal and financial fight with the B&M over the Hoosac Tunnel (It was actually the B&A, but work with me on this.)  Nonetheless, the visit was cordial and Mr J.I.M. Dufour actually picked up the tab for the dining out.  Mr Dufour brought a photographer with him, who took several wet plate images of the USMRR railroad. Alas the images were presumed lost.

Last month,  Jim Dufour, a descendant of J.I.M. Dufour, found the wet plate negatives in a chest in the family's barn. It's no coincidence that Jim Dufour is a B&M Modeler and also did a tour of east coast model railroads in 2019, including the Aquia Line. So Jim sent me copies of the images he found, after he expertly colorized them.

These rare images show the section of the Aquia Line that is currently under re-construction. They are photographic artifacts of what is now "history."

Jim also sent a copy of a video clip that he made of his own layout. The cinematography section of the USMRR Construction Corps did a little image enhancement work on the video as a proof of principle. You can see the before and after video below.

May 5, 2020

Let the carving begin

I got the hill covered with plaster cloth. It sure is messy, but fun,  and it went pretty fast. Two layers of plaster cloth on the cardboard web is surprisingly strong.

Since I still had some time, I started carving some rocks on the various outcrops that will be visible in this scene.  The rocks will take a few days to get all carved.

May 4, 2020

Ready for Mud

Panorama of the new terrain by Stares Tunnel
By mud, I mean plaster cloth to cover the terrain and Durhams Water Putty for rock carving.

I used pink foam to create the terrain by Belle Air since it was largely a flat area.  I used hot glue and Liquid Nails Foam Adhesive to secure the foam to the benchwork and backdrop. The Liquid Nails Foam Adhesive needs 24 hours to dry.

Battery Schaefer recycled from previous version of layout
I was able to recycle the Battery Schaefer redoubt from the previous version. It wasn't too difficult to shape the contours to fit.  This will save a fair amount of work in scenicing the area.

BG Whipple's Headquarters

This is the side that faces the aisle. The blank wall next to the door is curious.
View of the back wall without weathering of the roof. The symmetrical facade
is actually more pleasing than the front.
 I am just about done with the Belle Air house. Adding the shingles can be tedious, but this building wasn't too bad. I used laser cut red cedar shingles that I made. They had self adhesive backing, so they are easy to apply neatly.

I decided to leave the door shut as it was very hard to see the interior and  the door has some nice detail too. Any  detail inside would be largely invisible. Too many other projects to do to spend time on that.

Orthorectified photo - note the peeling paint on the siding and the
gap in the siding to the left of the door.
One detail that I missed is a gap in the siding between the door and the blank wall. In the prototype photo one can see that the siding is slightly different and that a seam is visible. It appears that this part of the house is an extension or was remodeled.  I experimented with trying to cut a slot in a test piece of siding with various techniques to see if I could replicate the look without a complete tear out, but nothing looked convincing. So I decided to leave the model alone. Maybe some paint and chalk dust can convey the look. We'll see. 

You'll note that the borders of this prototype photo look odd. That is because I used the perspective warp feature of Photoshop to help orthorectify the structure. This is a relatively new feature of Photoshop that helps automate rectifying buildings that have been distorted by perspective when the image was taken.  It's not a true orthophoto as the side walls are still in some perspective, but the front wall is now flat, square, and in relative scale. 

General Whipple
 This house will be the HQ of BG Whipple. He had an interesting career, as a military engineer he did a lot of mapping of the western territories before the war. He was the commander of the newly formed balloon reconnaissance corps early in the war.  He had just assumed command of a division in III Corps and participated  in the Battle of Fredericksburg.  Unfortunately, he was killed a few weeks later at the Battle of Chancellorsville. So his name remains relatively unknown. But he received an official state funeral that President Lincoln attended.  He was a friend of Lincoln. 

 A balloon camp near Falmouth is on my do list.

The next step is to finish the terrain forming so the house has a place to sit. I can also start covering up  the hill with plaster cloth and paper soaked in Durhams water putty. Then on to rock carving. 

May 3, 2020

Making Progress on Belle Air House and Planning for More Structures

Most of the Belle Air house is finished. The roof, some details and weathering are still left to do. I wanted to build the housefirst  so I would have a better idea on how to shape the terrain around it. I want this house to help block the view of the turn back curve. I  think it it do a good job at that.

I was also thinking about additional structures that might be part of the farm. We know that the farm was prosperous from the post war claim he filed for lost fences, forage, hogs, lumber and fruit trees. So it's likely he had several supporting structures on his farm.

I am looking to the Bushong Farm for some inspiration on what to include. I visited Bushong last year and got a bunch of pictures. I like the idea of a cold cellar and an outdoor kitchen.  I also was thinking about a barn.

One picture that I found interesting, was a barn converted to an embalming/undertaker facility near Fredericksburg. However, everyone I mentioned this to, says it's too gruesome.  So I don't know.  The barn is a typical for Virginia. I'll have to think about it some more.