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.

August 29, 2020

Some good news

We had torrential rains leftover from hurricane Laura and I am happy to say our basement stayed dry.  More rain is predicted for the weekend so we are keeping our  fingers crossed.  

I wasn't able to do my new hobby, water drainage sleuthing, as I just got home from the hospital after hip replacement surgery. As many of you know in the past two years my left hip quickly deteriorated due to osteoarthritis.  I had the surgery on Thursday. I am home now and have been asleep almost the whole time. I suspect that work on my layout will be very limited for the next month or so.  The good news is I can walk without pain and going up and down stairs is easy. However, getting out of bed is tough.  Many thanks to the doctors, nurses, and my wife for the excellent care I am receiving. 

Check back in a few weeks when I start the next phase of the Aquia Line expansion.

The pre-surgery me with my walking
sticks at Glacier National Park

August 26, 2020

Talk to the Union League of Philadelphia on Civil War Railroads

This evening I presented a talk to the Union League of Philadelphia on Railroads of the Civil War. The Union League of Philadelphia was founded in 1862 as a patriotic society to support the Union and policies of Abraham Lincoln across a nation torn by civil war. 

 You can watch a replay of the talk at https://youtu.be/J45508kPjmM?t=371

August 23, 2020

Wood chopping fatigue detail


To celebrate getting my basement back in order, I painted  some figures to depict soldiers cutting down trees on the edge of the forested area on Phase I area. 

The lumber jacks are figures by the Aspen Modeling Company.
I did some mild conversions to them by swapping heads and shaving down details that did not look correct for the civil war. I painted them to look like soldiers on a fatigue detail (work party).

August 21, 2020

Some Trivia Questions

I recently changed the settings on my blog to allow RSS feeders to get the whole post instead of just a snip. So I thought I would do a test post to see if it is working. Since I don't have progress on the railroad to report I offer some trivia questions that may have some resonance today.  

1. Who was the only sitting President to actively lead a US Army in the field?

2. Who was the only  President to come under enemy fire while serving as President ( do not count political assassinations).

3. Which President saw two of his Vice Presidents die while they were in office. 

4. What former President, while on vacation, was part of a group where one of the members murdered one of the  others? 

5. Which sitting president unilaterally, without a trial, issued a death sentence for a general officer of the US Army? 

Please provide your answers in the comments below. Please be aware that I moderate all comments on my blog, so your answer may be delayed in showing up. 

Answers below

1. George Washintgton during the Whiskey Rebellion https://www.thoughtco.com/whiskey-rebellion-4797408

2. Abraham Lincoln at the Battle for Fort Stevens https://www.battlefields.org/learn/civil-war/battles/fort-stevens

3. James Madison  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Madison

4. Teddy Roosevelt while exploring an uncharted tributary of the Amazon, which after was named after him. This story is amazing. I highly recommend, "River of Doubt" by Candice Millard for the full story. https://amzn.to/3aL3wbE

5. Trick question. Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, sentenced General Benjamin "Beast" Butler to death for his actions in New Orleans see https://civilwarnotebook.blogspot.com/2015/05/proclamation-of-jefferson-davis-general.html

August 20, 2020

Track Plan Tweaks and ebay

Work continues on getting my basement back in shape. I am taking this opportunity to cull the herd. So I am selling some of my excess rolling stock on ebay. If you want to see what I have for sale check out, this link.  

Meanwhile, I made some tweaks to my track plan. I decided the engine terminal at Aquia Landing needs to be in the foreground to make operating the turntable easier and to allow better views of the planned machine shop. I plan to detail the machine shop with a bunch of tools so I want them up close to the viewer so the detail will be appreciated. I also widened the benchwork by the Stoneman's Station. This will give more room for scenery and help protect the legs of the operators as the TV unit shelf extends out past 12 inches in this area. 

 I have mocked up the extended peninsula to see how it affects the room's feng shui.  I like it, but Alicia says it's too cluttered. Fortunately,  the basement is one place where I can overrule her.

August 15, 2020

Back to the grindstone

This was Victoria's first visit to the Aquia Line
The flood and drainage contractors have completed their work. We now have 5 pumps in two separate sumps, new drainage pipes for our down spouts and pump exhausts, and have a new french drain to catch the run off from my neighbor's driveway.  I think the most important change we made was to reroute the sump from the backyard to the front.  Now we need to see if it will help. We may find out soon as rain is forecast. Meanwhile, we spent the day trying to get the basement back in normal condition. I took the opportunity to cull some of my stuff. I threw out a bunch of books, got rid of an old dresser, and donated my collection of music CD's to the Salvation Army. The new sump reduced some of the storage space in my HVAC closet so I  decided to get rid of the urban modules I was storing there. Luckily, Mat Thompson offered to take them to use in a new small layout project he is planning for next year. He and his wife stopped by today to pick them up.

The first room I got set up was my office. I moved my desk to the east wall. This seems to create a more spacious feel and creates ample space for my HO layout. Since we didn't have to upgrade our electric panel, there is room for the HO layout.  I also got a new computer and monitor. I traded in my old iMac (Apple gave me a great price for the trade in)  for a MacMini and a 49 inch Dell Ultrasharp monitor. This is a great set up as it allows me to open several applications at a time with ample screen space. So far I am really loving it.  This monitor will allow me to run both my mac and PC laptop with the same mouse and keyboard. That feature will come in handy when drawing for the laser cutter. The south wall will house a long narrow strip of bench work on top of my 12 inch deep IVAR book shelves. I would build a new Stonemans Station in this location. The former location of Stonemans Station will become the new Potomac Creek Station.

The new monitor inspired me to work on a new track plan for the Aquia Line. The plan requires that I delete the Burnside Wharf tracks and move Aquia Landing about 6 feet to the east. Then I would trim off some of the water of the wharf scene and replace it with the new Falmouth. Thus I would have a two-sided peninsula in the room with the opposite ends of the railroad on each side of the sky board.  

With this plan I would have all the stations of the prototype line. Brooke will be the only station that could not hold a design length train. The mainline gets a nice bump to about 215 feet, which is almost 2 scale miles in O scale. The expanded main line might allow enough running room to have a third crew, assuming we ever get back to op sessions.

The draw backs to the plan are that I lose the sidings at Burnside Wharf, the crew lounge gets a bit smaller making the gaming area a bit tight, and there would no room for the ironclad Passaic. But I did add sidings at Aquia Landing to make up for the lost switching. So the crews should stay reasonably busy at Aquia Landing.  On the plus side, I would not lose the big storm cloud that I painted on the backdrop by Burnside Wharf.

August 11, 2020

Sprezzatura and Shibui

A scene that exhibits my intrepretation of Sprezzaturra and  Shibui 

While we wait for contractors to begin work on improving the flood resistance of our basement, my thoughts have been drifting to other subjects including among others layout designs, flood control and layout philosophy.

For a while there was the possibility that we might have to clear out the basement to do flood repair and mitigation related work. Instead of dreading that, I took it as an opportunity to think about what would I do if I had a clean slate.  I discussed this with Marty McGuirk  and he suggested if that was the case, I should have the contractors move the walls and HVAC to make the basement more useable for a model railroad.  

Having thought about that briefly, I couldn't think of any better arrangement that would not involve a major shift of the HVAC, plumbing and electrical components. Moving the toilet and HVAC would be major expenses, as we would have to jack hammer out the rough in pipes that are buried in the concrete.

Anyway, that is now moot as it looks like the Aquia Line will survive.  The old sump, which is located under Brooke, will be replaced and improved without the need to remove that section of the layout. The new sump will be placed in the HVAC closet where we have easy access to water pipes and not interfere with the layout.  Thus, we can add a water powered back-up sump pump in this location without too much difficulty. That will give us a bit of redundancy if the electrical power goes out.

The water powered back-up is looming larger in importance as my plan to add a natural gas powered generator is bumping into resistance from the city's zoning noise ordinances.  They require generators to produce no more than 55dBa at the lot line. Most whole house generators produce about 65 dBa at 20 feet.   Since my house is only 8 feet from the lot line on the east and west sides, it will be hard to meet that standard. We just don't have the space to create a sound buffer. 

I found the city's noise requirement curious because the air conditioner compressors that everyone here has are quite noisy. So I walked around my neighbor hood with my iPhone sound meter and determined that most of the air conditioners in this area violate that standard.  Also, there are other folks in my neighborhood with whole house generators that obviously violate this requirement.  Oh well. 

Back to thinking about the layout. So moving walls and baths is not feasible. What other layout would I like to build if I had to start over? I have been known to change layouts like fashion models change outfits. But, the Aquia Line has been here for 12 years, which is a record for me. Obviously it has been a satisfying project.  It must be satisfying most of my model railroad desires.

One of the features of the railroad that I really like is its simplicity. But it was not simple to build. With very little commercial support, nearly everything had to be scratch built. The layout exemplifies the concept of sprezzatura.  This concept was first coined in 1528 by Baldassare Castiglione to 

"Avoid affectation in every way possible . . . and  to practice in all things a certain Sprezzatura [nonchalance], so as to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it."
This is an elegant way of describing my own layout design philosophy.  A simple track plan with lots of open country running between stations is what I prefer and fits in nicely with the concept of sprezzatura.

Over time sprezzatura has taken on some ambiguous and perhaps negative connotations, especially with regard to insincerity.  To avoid those, perhaps I should describe my style more like Shibui, the Japanese aesthetic of simple, subtle and unobtrusive beauty.  
Shibui objects appear to be simple overall but they include subtle details, such as textures, that balance simplicity with complexity. This balance of simplicity and complexity ensures that one does not tire of a shibui object but constantly finds new meanings and enriched beauty that cause its aesthetic value to grow over the years.

That seems to fit my layout style too, especially in the use of texture.  I have included texture everywhere in the layout from the textured paint on the fascia, to carved rocks, natural gravel,  and the static grass. I often walk into the layout room and rub my hand along the fascia feeling the rough texture.  I have noticed that visitors often feel compelled to touch the static grass and the resin water. It's the texture that is so alluring and it complements the visual appeal.

Model railroaders love clutter and detail. But I believe it can be overdone. I make sure that scenes with lots of clutter on my railroad  are realistic and have empty space around them to help accentuate and enhance. For example,  a tool shed would be filled with tools and clutter, but around it is natural space. One of my layout visitors made the remark, "everywhere you look there is a mini  scene."  But, you have to look for them. I was very happy to hear that comment as it reaffirmed my philosophy. 

Perhaps these ideas help explain why the Aquia Line has survived as long as it has. I am looking forward to getting my basement back in order so I can continue work on the layout and other projects too. 

August 4, 2020

So close...

The rain from Hurricane Isaias 2020 started around 8 PM Monday  and continued all night. I got up a few times at night to check and we were doing well. By 0800 the next day we had 4 inches of free board in the sump and the rain was abating.  I walked around the yard and block and the sewers were doing a good job of taking the run off away. I used my water tracing dye to further study the water drainage in my back yard. Yes, this is where the problem is. But, I left for a dental appointment thinking we were OK. 

But, when I got home there was about 1 inch of water at the deepest and about 80 percent of the basement had water.

Alicia decided to begin the clean up immediately and she did a great job. Meanwhile, I contacted my insurance company, but never heard back from them. I had to make a trip to Rockville, MD  to pick up a new monitor for my computer, so while I was out I got five fans and a dehumidifier at Home Depot.   

The fans are doing a good job. This evening when I checked, a lot of the walls are visibly dry, and the carpet on the first stair felt dry.  The decision to withhold the sheet rock and baseboard repairs until after the drainage contractors do their work was a good idea.  So, the damage is minimal. The real concern will be getting everything dry to prevent mold growth. 

I heard an interesting bit of news today. Many citizens in the city are upset with the frequency of flooding recently. Some of them took it upon themselves to enter the sewers to conduct an inspection. They reportedly found evidence that the sewers are not being maintained as they should be. I don't know all the details, but I expect we will be reading about it in the local paper soon.

The City government is blaming the recent spate of flooding on rare 50 - 100 year storms. But as the Alexandria Times said, "Clearly, if city leaders think these are one in 50- or 100-year events, then they need to revise their calculations." We have now had 4 such storms in less than 12 months. 


August 1, 2020

Not Mission Capable

The Aquia Line remains not mission capable as we await repairs from the recent floods. The contractors assigned by the insurance company and I agree that it doesn't make much sense to do interior repairs until we have completed the improvements to drainage and sump pump capacity.   They were nice enough to leave the fans and dehumidifier in the basement in case we have another flood. In the meantime, we added temporary extensions to our gutter downspouts to route water away from the house. With hurricane approaching, we may get another test.

We have a signed a contract with a company that specializes in drainage and erosion to make improvements to landscaping with respect to drainage, rerouting our downspouts away from the house, adding a second sump pump and some other minor things. 

We are in the process of receiving bids on installing a 20KW gas powered whole-house back up generator. That process is not easy as many permits need to be secured and boxes have to be checked. The first stumbling block is the lot line clearances. We may need special approval from the city to allow us to install a generator.  One surprising fact I learned. It is more cost effective to install the generator closer to the electric service than to the gas line. The gas line is much less expensive than an equivalent length of heavy duty electric cable.