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.

June 24, 2020

Eagle Rock Milling and Mfg Co. Inc.

I just finished scratch building this structure for a client. It is a small mill located on the C&O RR near Eagle Rock VA. It is no longer standing. The client had only a few low resolution images, but they were enough to build a model. It had to fit an existing space, so that constrained the dimensions.

I think it came out pretty well and I am considering adding this to my line of kits for Alkem Scale Models. If you would be interested in this kit, please let me know.

June 15, 2020

New Flag for the Dispatcher

I received a new 34-star United States flag for my dispatcher's office. The new flag is 100% cotton with embroidered stars. It replaces a cheap nylon flag that I had previously.

The 34-star flag was in use in March, 1863, the time that I simulate on my model railroad. West Virginia would join the Union a few months later making 35 states and stars. If you are wondering about the star pattern, many variations were in use at that time.

The lantern is replica. The telegraph instruments are not yet connected, but we are working on that. 

I suppose I need a period coat rack for the brigadier general frock coat.

My bother painted the portrait of Lincoln. The Engineer Castle was also a gift from my brother that he acquired in Korea for me in the 1980s. He and I were officers in the US Army Engineer Corps. The Engineer castle insignia was in use by Union engineers in the civil war.   
"The Army unofficially adopted the castle to appear on the Corps of Engineers’ epaulets and belt plate in 1840. Soon afterwards the cadets at West Point, all of whom were part of the Corps of Engineers until the Military Academy left the charge of the Chief of Engineers and came under the charge of the Army at large in 1866, also wore the castle on their cap beginning in 1841. Subsequently, the castle appeared on the shoulder knot, on the saddlecloth, as a collar device, and on the buttons. Finally, in 1902, the castle was formally adopted by the Army as the insignia of the Corps of Engineers. Although its design has changed many times since its inception, the castle has remained the distinctive symbol of the Corps of Engineers."


June 9, 2020

The Man that Shot Bernie's Valance

Who really shot Bernie's valance?
Paul visiting the new section with COVID mask
Today marks the first time since lockdown I had a visitor to the Aquia Line. Up to now, any social visits we hosted took place on our front porch with appropriate distances maintained.  But, today Paul Dolkos stopped by to borrow some scenery items and to check on the layout progress. Our COVID Response Coordinator,  Alicia, AKA CINCHOUSE, deemed it acceptable that Paul could enter the house if we were all masked and did not get too close.

Paul got a chance to look at the new stuff, run some trains, and comment on additional planned expansion.  But, the big question of the day was about an extension of a valance above Stare's Tunnel.   On the left  is the view I am trying to restrict.  When folks enter the door to the front room, if they look right, they see the bright lights over the new part of the layout. This is something that always bugged me, even before the expansion.

I took a few photos of the mocked up valance and showed my friends via text. They were of mixed opinions. Brian Brendel in particular voted down the idea.  Alicia initially liked it, then changed her mind and then swapped back to her original opinion. So Paul's opinion would be the deciding vote. He said, "do it."  So Bernie's valance will survive the bullet wound. I mounted it by tension only, so if I need to, I can easily remove it.
New valance section painted and installed. It restricts the view of the lights above Stares tunnel as you enter the room, but opens up as you walk in.  I'd like to say the curve was carefully calculated, but I just eyeballed it.

View of the valance from inside the layout room is unobtrusive. 

One thing I am noticing on the layout is that I need to do a thorough cleaning. My track and wheels are dirty. Not surprising as it has been at least 9 months since I ran the layout. Even the scenery seems to have a fine coat of dust. I think the dust source was either the new plaster scenery, or the disk sander in the work shop or both. I have a dust evacuator for the sander, but sometimes I am too lazy to hook it up and put on hearing protection. The dust evacuator isn't too loud, but the air whistling through the disk sander is very loud. I cleaned the wheels of Haupt and Fury, but a complete maintenance session is needed.  I probably should wait until all the building is done though.

June 8, 2020

Farewell Jack

Jack (in the turntable pit) holding court. Sadly, three folks in this image have now passed on.

Last week, noted rail, prototype and model, Jack Ozanich passed away. It was rather sudden as he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer just a few weeks before passing.

I first met Jack at an op session in Michigan in 2003 at Bruce Chubb's layout.  I was assigned a tower operator job at that session. So, I pretty much stayed in one place the whole time. After a while, I heard a man running a train on the other side of the peninsula where I was sitting. The man was making diesel engine sound effects with his mouth, much like a kid would when playing with a toy train. So I looked up,  and who rounds the curve, but Jack with his train. I had to chuckle to myself as here was a professional railroader that drove an engine for his career just having a grand time with model trains.

Jack was a great guy. He was somewhat of a legend in model railroad circles because he ran his HO and live steam layouts like  prototype railroads. His op sessions did not take meal breaks and could run for multiple days. I had two chances to operate the HO layout.  During a session, he would patrol the layout and provide on the spot corrections (also known as ass chewings) to  people that were screwing up.  I was lucky in that I escaped his ass chewings. He did try to get me one time for leaving a car while I switched, but when I explained what I was doing, he said, "awww, OK."

However, Jack made up for that by giving me an ass chewing on my own railroad. He showed up late for an afternoon op session and was taking his time filling out his log book, while his train was over an hour late. He chewed me out for rushing him. He being my guest, I didn't have the heart to tell him, the Aquia Line  is a Union railroad but not a union railroad. He could have been dismissed on the spot.

Jack was very interested in the Civil War among other subjects, and he was always very supportive of my attempt to model the Civil War. He participated in two op sessions on my Civil War layouts, one on the road show and one on the Aquia Line.  You can see him in the video at the right at about the 5:25 minute mark.

We operated together on several other railroads over the years. He was funny, full of energy and just a blast to hang out with. He will be missed.

June 7, 2020


We have all seem the internet meme with a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln about not believing what you see on the internet. However, there is this little story about Lincoln from the book, "Lincoln in the Telegraph Office; recollections of the United States Military Telegraph Corps during the Civil War," by Homer Bates, that reminds me of internet craziness. It was a portent of the future.  But first, I want to discuss this remarkable book and some other books a bit more. 

The Bates book is fascinating. You get a detailed look at what happened in Washington, DC from the perspective of the clerks that saw every telegram that came in. It makes the shenanigans that go on now look like kids play. I tell people, "the  more I study the Civil War (and Revolution) the more I realize very little has changed in Washington politics."

For example, at times the clerks edited messages that came in from senior officers, or even withheld some to avoid trouble. One time they deleted a paragraph that contained an insubordinate remark that McCellan sent to Lincoln after the Seven-days campaign. The clerk freely admitted he could be shot for doing it, but he thought it was the right thing to do.  

There is another incident described where a Norfolk doctor murdered a Union officer, who was in charge of a colored regiment,  on the streets of Norfolk because the idea of African American soldiers incensed him. The doctor was quickly captured, tried and sentenced to death. First the doctor tried to escape prison by exchanging places with his daughter. That didn't work. Then the defendant appealed to Lincoln, but he did not grant clemency. The allies of the doctor tried to bribe a telegraph agent to write a false message of clemency, but the bribe was not accepted. The doctor was hanged.

The book covers a series of incidents where Democratic supporters were trying to organize military officers to become political opponents to oust Lincoln. Then they would end the war and let the south secede.  The plot failed when General Rosecrans and others did not support them and their plans were upended.  However, later they did get former General McCellan to run against Lincoln, but Lincoln defeated him in the election.

Of interest to my railroad, there is discussion a rebel spy who was tapping the telegraph line on the Aquia Railroad. The union telegraph clerks actually heard him but could not physically find him. The telegraph operators used ciphers so that the spy couldn't understand what they were saying. He eventually did give up and they later found where he had tapped the line.  

The book goes into great detail about ciphers that were used to encode messages. The telegraph lines around the nation were not secure and could be tapped anywhere. At one point, Grant's men intercepted several messages near Vicksburg. The messages where in a crude code used by the rebels. Grant's men sent the messages to Washington. There, the telegraph staff decoded them and sent the clear text back to Grant.    

In addition to eavesdropping, the opposing sides also used to send spoof messages. These were often not effective because the operators could recognize each other by their telegraph key technique (what we would call electronic signature now) and could tell when messages were from others. 

Union telegraph operations were much more sophisticated that the rebels. By 1864 Grant's signal corps was laying telegraph line at a rate of two miles per hour. Not only was Grant in constant communication with Washington, DC and hence the rest of the United States, but he also had lines from Army to Corps HQ for more tactical communication. The rebels had no such capability.

You can download the book for free from the internet archive.  

I also recommend, "The Northern Railroads in the Civil War, 1861-1865, " which I reread this past week. I am in the middle of "Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage by Noah Andre Trudeau." It's a highly readable account of the campaign and battle which combines great prose with a nice assortment of original quotes.  

Another book that I just finished and recommend for anyone interested in the Aquia Line is "Seizing Destiny: The Army of the Potomac's "Valley Forge" and the Civil War Winter that Saved the Union," by Albert Conner Jr.,  Chris Mackowski. The book goes into great detail on the reforms that General Hooker introduced to re-build the Army of the Potomac into a war-winning force. Some of Hooker's reforms still persist, such as the wearing of unit patches on uniforms, and a centralized military intelligence staff. 

Now, back to original story I cited at the start. Here is some background. Maxwell, an ordinary citizen from Philadelphia, would constantly telegraph President Lincoln with criticism and complaints about various political issues. Lincoln would often respond to them out of courtesy. This message came in after the Battle of Chickamauga, where General Thomas earned the nickname, "Rock of Chickamauga." The following is an extract from the book. 

"...The next Maxwell telegram of record was as,
New York City, 1:30 p.m., September 23, 1863.His Excellency A. Lincoln, President: Will Buell'stestamentary executor George Thomas ever let Rosecranssucceed? Is Bragg dumb enough to punish Thomas severelyand disgracingly ? Robert A. Maxwell. 

The President held this impertinent telegram until his evening visit to the War Department. Meantime, no doubt thinking that some defense of General Thomas by the Administration might serve to allay the already evidently wide-spread distrust and anxiety, he wrote the following despatch at the White House and brought it to the telegraph office and handed it to Tinker for transmission: 

"Cypher"Executive Mansion, Washington, Sep., 23, 1863.Robert A. Maxwell, New York: I hasten to say that inthe state of information we have here, nothing could bemore ungracious than to indulge any suspicion towards Gen.Thomas. It is doubtful whether his heroism and skill exhibitedlast Sunday afternoon has ever been surpassed inthe world. A. Lincoln. 

But the message had been in Tinker's hands only a few minutes, when Lincoln came over to the cipher-desk and said, "I guess I will not send this; I can't afford to answer every crazy question asked me." 

Thereafter, adopting Lincoln's description, we always referred to these officious despatches as "crazygrams." 

Tinker, of course, did not send the message which Lincoln had written, and deeming it of curious interest as a memento, preserved it carefully with a copy of the message from Maxwell. Several years afterward, he met General Thomas in Washington, and thinking he would be especially gratified to see and possess the documents, he had the pleasure of delivering them into Thomas's hands at Willard's Hotel, Washington, with a letter, of which the following is a copy.  

May 27, 1867.Major-General George H. Thomas,General : I have had in my possession since the day it was written, a telegram penned by our late beloved President. Its history is this. Robert Maxwell, a quixotic individual, residing in Philadelphia, has during the war, and since, humored a propensity for addressing dictatorial and sensational despatches to the President, his cabinet and prominent officials of the Government. By those who were familiar with his character, no consideration was accorded them. On receipt of one of these, a copy of which I enclose, the President wrote a reply, which he handed to me for transmission, but afterwards concluded not to send.I have preserved this precious autographic document, hoping some time to be honored with an opportunity to present it to you in person, to whom it justly belongs—a priceless tribute to a noble hero, whose dauntless courage on that fateful day saved the Army of the Cumberland.Very Respectfully Yours,Charles A. Tinker, Cipher Operator,War Dept. Telegraph Office.

June 4, 2020

Phase I Video

A short clip of trains running on the new Phase I section of the layout expansion.

June 2, 2020

Phase I is Complete

I finished the last punch list items for Phase I. I never officially defined Phase I, but it was the section from Stoneman's Station to the south end of Stares Tunnel. There are always more details I could add, but for now, I will move on. The Belle Air farm scene was to have a summer cook house. But I thought the scene was getting too cluttered, so I added a water well and omitted the summer cook house.

I will take a few days to reset, put away the scenery stuff, and work on some client models. Then I will move on to Phase II.  Phase II goes from Stares Tunnel to Falmouth. I have some time to think about what I want to do with Phase II before I pull the trigger. The current plan is to build as shown in the track plan at the right. But, I need to make sure that is the approach I want to take. There is also some work remaining at Aquia Landing.

I was planning on hosting an op session in early October. But now I'm not so sure that will happen. So it's good to take a pause.