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.

October 15, 2021

Alexandria Slave Jail Model

Earlier this year Alexandria's new Freedom House Museum hired me to build a model of the slave jail that was located at the corner on Duke and Payne Street. This slave jail, also called a slave pen, was used by various slave dealers for about 25 years. When the Union Army occupied Alexandria, they took over the facility forever ending its use as a slave pen. In a touch of bittersweet irony, they used it as a jail for some Confederate prisoners, as well as misbehaving Union soldiers.  For a full history of the facility,  please see this link.

A period photo after the Union made extensive
changes to the building

This was a challenging model to build both for technical and emotional reasons. 

The Union Army made many changes to the building during the time of the civil war. They also took several pictures of the buildings. The museum wanted the model to depict the time when it was used as a slave dealer. But we had almost no photos from that era. Luckily we did have an extensive archeological study of the building done by Benjamin Skolnik, of the Office of Historic Alexandria. We also had the results of an historical architectural history study by Susan Pommerer of the Smith Group. They did an extensive review of many existing records. They also did a detailed measurement of the existing structure. Included in the study was a laser scan of the building, but that did not provide much direct useful information to me as the model builder. More valuable were the isometric and elevation views that Susan provided to me.

Even with those excellent resources, there were many details that we were not sure about, particularly in the backyard. We hope this model is an accurate representation of the building as it stood just before the Union Army ended slave dealing in Alexandria for good.

The model will be on display in the museum later this year.

Mike and Mike

 Last Saturday a group of us from Northern Virginia made road trip to the Richmond suburbs to see and run some trains on Mike Pulaski's layout. He is building a nice HO scale double deck layout  depicting a freelance railroad set in upstate New York. Mike agreed to let me shoot some hand held iPhone video of the visit and the progress on his layout. 

On Sunday Mike Spoor stopped by the Aquia Line. He needed some help with the battery installation we did last year in one of his locomotives and box cars. This time, we removed the plug-in socket between the box car with the battery and the locomotive. I hardwired the two cars together. To make turning the battery on and off easier, I removed one of the side doors and reinstalled it with a piece of tape. That way he can open the door to get access to the magnetic reed switch that controls on and off that is inside the boxcar.

Tonight I finally got the final coat of scenery on the  model for the Alexandria's Museum of Freedom. Tomorrow I'll do the final touch up and it will be ready to d be delivered. I will also take some photos when it is ready.  I am looking forward to doing some modeling on my own projects. This museum project was a lot of work. 

October 7, 2021

A rose by any other name...

 I asked my friend John Ott for his advice on renaming the locomotive General to use on the USMRR Aquia Line. John is the foremost expert I know on early locomotive history. He provided me with a interesting analysis. Here it is.

Well—if it were me, I'd rename your engine Eclipse in a heartbeat. Reasoning follows:

There weren't that many Rogers engines on the Dept. of Virginia lines. None were 2-steam-dome Rogers resembling General except for maybe Warrior, which never made it to Aquia and got rebuilt into the Lt. Gen. Grant in 1864. Osceola was a Rogers, but you already have an Osceola. There were a couple more single-steam-dome Rogers engines bought after the Aquia line was history.

That leaves you with Lion or Eclipse. Lion was an 1862 New Jersey L&M engine with a single steam dome and oval windows in the cab—in fact, it's my theory that the cab of the Lion was used on the rebuilt Lt. Gen. Grant.

That leaves Eclipse. Eclipse was a single-steam-dome engine built in 1862 by Jersey City Locomotive Works. McCallum's end-of-war report is wrong—he has it listed as another New Jersey L&M engine. It was rebuilt and renamed Scout after Aquia, and was later used in North Carolina

So Eclipse is the lesser-known engine that already has one mistake in its record. The name Eclipse also fits the General's nameplate better than Lion. (This is important!) You can just say that Eclipse and Scout were actually two different engines. In this scenario, Eclipse was cannibalized to rebuild Scout, which is why it no longer appeared on McCallum's for-sale list.

Sometimes I think half the fun of building a model railroad is all the rationalization we come up with to hide our compromises.

I like the sound of Eclipse, but Warrior is also a good possibility as its is the right builder but never ran on the Aquia Line.   

Note that the US Government sold the engines for more than they paid. 

October 1, 2021

The General is Back!

Many years ago I acquired a copy of the SMR Trains General from Charlie Taylor. I missed out on the original production run but Charlie was willing to sell me one of his excess. I had the locomotive for several years as it was a beautiful model. But once I had 5 other SMR locomotives, I began to believe that I really didn't need that many. About that time, I heard through Charlie Getz that Bob Brown, of the Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette, was looking for a SMR General. I agreed to sell my copy to Bob.

Then last week, George Wallace visited my  layout. George was in the process of liquidating his vast collection of O Scale models. He had a bunch of  civil war era SMR locomotives and rolling stock. He offered them to me. I decided to purchase just one, the General.   Why? Partly to help out my friend and partly because I missed the original model. It is very attractive and runs great. The model arrived yesterday. I placed it on the layout. The model looks great but will need some tuning up. It doesn't ride level, the headlight is broken and headlight box is crooked. I will need to add a sound decoder and keep alive too. Then will come the hard, at least emotionally, part, I need to re-letter it for the USMRR.  

In searching through my records, the following locomotives operated on the Aquia Line in the time period I model, Fury, Fred Leach, Ed Wentz, Victor, Eclipse, Manfred, Osceola, and Lion. I also saw a telegram that mentioned the locomotive Gen. Sickles but I saw no mention of it in the conductor reports. So that telegram might be a garbled message.  Of these locomotives Leach, Wentz, Fury, Osceola, and Manfred seem to be daily work horses with the others showing up less regularly.  I already have locomotives Leach (under construction), Fury and  Osceola. That leaves me Lion, Ed Wentz, Victor, Eclipse, Manfred as possible names. The next step will be to find out which of those locomotives comes closest to the Rodgers General.

According to this roster from 1865 of USMRR engines, the Manfred was from Norris & Sons, Wentz and Sickles were  made by Mason, and Victor was listed as made by "miscellaneous." The Lion and Eclipse are not listed. 

The General was made by Rogers, Ketchum, and Grosvenor. If I'm lucky Lion or Eclipse were made by Rogers. That way I can get the locomotive manufacturer and list of Aquia Line locomotives to match up. Otherwise I will have to pick a name from the list, or make one up. 

The National Capitol Model Soldier Society Annual Show 2021. 

I attended the National Capitol Model Soldier Society Annual Show 2021 last weekend at the Springfield Hilton Hotel. This was their 60th show and first after COVID. There were over 250 models entered from 36 different persons. NVNTRAK was there with a small TTRAK layout.

It was fun to socialize with fellow modelers. I also picked up a tube of new oil buff-able metallic paint from one of the vendors. It can be polished when dried. I am looking forward to trying that on the brass parts of the Leach that I am scratch-building. 

I entered 4 models in the contest and to my surprise, received two gold and two silver medals.   The biggest surprise was that the bust of Diablo got a gold medal. I included it as a lark, as I like the concept of it, but the paint scheme is quite simple. It is supposed to look like an animated stone creature. I did add an LED light in the interior to create a glowing molten look. Perhaps that is what the Judges liked.

The other gold medal was my Aachen Diorama

My personal favorite, Stay a While and Listen,  received a silver medal. The Red Devils vignette also received a silver. I made that vignette several years ago, but gave it a rework this year for the show. 

Model contests are very subjective, so I don't get too worked up over them. But it is nice to receive recognition from your fellow hobbyists for jobs well done. 

September 24, 2021

Getting Limber

Limbers are like the pick-up trucks with a tow hitch of the Civil War.  They were used to haul cannons, caissons, battery wagons, and even a coffee wagon.  We have several period photos showing rows of limbers and other carriages lined up at wharves and railroad depots as in the scene above at City Point, VA.

I had perviously made cannons using cast metal, laser cut wood, and photo etched brass parts. I ordered some 3D printed limbers to go with the cannons from a vendor in Europe. Unfortunately, when those parts arrived, they were not printed at the correct scale. They were about 20 percent too big. Trying to redress the problem with an overseas vendor was not practical. So I still needed some. 

View of the limber I drew
A few months ago, Gerry Dykstra, from the ACWRRHS Group,  sent me a copy of the 3D print file he drew for a battery wagon. Each artillery battery had one battery wagon along with a battery forge and 4 to 6 guns . 

It was a simple matter to scale the file to 1/48th and print on my 3D printer. The model is very nicely done. But, he did not include a limber. He did include a limber pole, an iron rod used to support the tongue of the wagon when the limber was not attached.  However, I believed I needed a limber to accompany it and my artillery pieces.

I decided to draw one myself. It is not that complicated a vehicle and it would be good practice for me in Fusion 360. Gerry already drew the wheels, so it was fairly simple. See the second  drawing. 

Gerry's battery wagon on top with
my limbers and cannon
I printed a test model. It need just a few modifications and it was good to go.  Then I printed  7 more.  

I decided to not include the ammo chest handles in the print. I will add those with wire. But I did include the locating holes to simplify drilling the holes.

This was a fun project that didn't take too long. Now, with limbers taken care of, I need to make the supply wagons. I started making a supply wagon using my cast wheels and laser cut parts. But I think a 3D printed version would be better able to show the detail on the wagons such as the tiny rivets and bolts.

September 21, 2021

Trains, Planes, Automobiles, Trees and More

I just got back from a week long road trip with my brother Rob to Rochester, NY to attend the National Bonsai Exhibition. My brother has exhibited at this show for many years now. He usually drives up with a crew from Florida and they spend a night at my house.  This year, his normal co-drivers could not get tickets due to limitations in advance registrations from COVID. So I volunteered to help with the driving. Turns out I was also able to attend the show.

The Alkem Mobile in front of Gunston Hall
The trip started with a round of golf at Pohick Golf Course where Rob defeated Alicia, Nancy and I in a scramble. Either we stink or he is good.  

Then we stopped by Gunston Hall, the former home of George Mason, to check out the gardens. Unfortunately, the gardens were closed and there were archeologists tearing up the grounds looking for artifacts. However, I did get some pictures of the interior of the kitchen and laundry. I assume civil war era facilities would be very similar. Good detailing ideas there. 

Next we visited the National Museum of the Army at Fort Belvoir. The museum was practically empty and we enjoyed our visit. Alicia was especially impressed with the IED exhibit, maybe because she was involved in an IED attack at a gate in the Green Zone in Baghdad when she was in Iraq.  I like the museum's focus on people. The video about the Newburgh Incident and George Washington was very good. This is probably one of the most significant events in US history, yet very people know about it. It highlights George Washington's brilliance as the founder of the United States.

Kitchen at Gunston Hall

Cobra King Sherman tank on display at the Army Museum

The next day we drove to Rochester stopping at Gettysburg for a half hour to check out the battlefield.  The terrain in upstate New York is quite beautiful as we drove through the Finger Lake region. 

Example of the bonsai exhibit

The Bonsai exhibition was a curated display. The trees on exhibit are selected from applications around the US. My brother had exhibited trees here for many years and he says he has only repeated his display once. He has an extensive bonsai collection.  

There was a photographer doing 3D scans of the exhibit. His results are now viewable on line here. I highly recommend you take a look as the 3D technology allows you to walk around the exhibit as if you were there. The photographer told me that similar tech is available on newer iPhones. I think a view of my layout like this would be very cool. We also managed a round of golf in New York at a course built on an old farm. The club house was a barn, literally. Despite the simple club house, the course was in a park like setting with excellent greens.

Next stop was the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio.  It is an impressive museum as it is huge. There are 4 hangars filled with aircraft, missiles, and other aviation technology. We couldn't think of a significant USAF aircraft that wasn't on display. (OK, maybe 2 the C-5 and the KC-135) This was my brother's first visit and my second. So I focused on watching the videos and reading the plaques on things that I missed the first time through. This diorama of a ICBM silo was of interest to me.

Next day we headed to Rocky Gap State Park in Maryland to play at the Jack Nicholas designed golf course. I had a good game with 3 birdies. It's a nice course in a beautiful setting. Afterwards, we back tracked to Cumberland to get lunch and do some rail fanning.  We watched the hostlers spin a new Wabtec engine on the turntable. A west-bound container train was leaving the yard, but we didn't chase it as we needed to head home. 

We did make stops at the Sideling Hill cut and at Fort Frederick, MD. This was an early fort used to protect settlers during the expansion west.  The fort was once in private hands. Now a state park it is in a beautiful setting near the Potomac River.

Back home I continued work on the model of the slave pen for the Alexandria Museum of Freedom. I am almost done with it.  I hope to wrap that up in a week or so and get working on my backlog of layout and other projects.

We also survived another flash flood that left parts of Alexandria with more flood damage. The storm drains are now an issue for the next election.

On Sunday, I  presented a zoom clinic about my layout to the Louisville Division of the NMRA. It is interesting that Fred Soward, the president of that division, is married to Barbara Walthers, who is a second cousin with my wife.  Barbara is also one of the few women that participates in model railroading as a hobby.  We actually first meet at a NMRA convention.

September 1, 2021

Dodged Ida's bullet

 This is getting more like the weather channel than a model railroad site, but I suspect many of you are wondering how we fared in the wake of Hurricane Ida 2021.  Turns out we very were lucky as the main rain bands passed about 2 miles north of us.  This high resolution map showing total accumulated rain in the past 24 hours shows how the heavy rain just missed us in Alexandria. We received less than 2 inches total rain spaced out over several hours. 

I am pleased to report no flooding in our basement. My sympathies to those that have flooded. We know how devastating it can be. 

Last week I presented a clinic via Zoom to the Potomac Division of the NMRA with an update on the Aquia Line. Readers of the blog know all about this, but they will post the video on line at some point in case you want to hear my same old bad jokes.

I am scheduled to do another Zoom clinic for the NMRA Louisville Division on 18 September. 

August 15, 2021

Floods Averted and other Updates

The Smoke Bush (tree?) in our backyard did not survive the storm last night

Readers of this blog are probably familiar  with the City of Alexandria's continuing struggle with flooding. Alexandria has had some extremely heavy rain on several occasions this year. Last night was another sustained and heavy rain that dropped about 4 inches of water over two hours. Several zones in the city experienced flooding.  I am happy to report that the flood control measures we adopted have been successful and our basement stayed dry, as did most of my neighbors. However, just a couple blocks 
City Sheriff Lawhorne stands in the flooded
alley behind his house a few blocks from ours.
from my house, there was significant flooding.

I learned that our drain pipes will need periodic maintenance. The pop-up emitter on the main exhaust pipe was clogged with the a collection of samaras, or maple tree seeds, the kind we called helicopters as a kid. There are no maple trees near our gutters, so these are propelled by wind onto the roof where the rain collected them in the gutters. Perhaps we need some kind of gutter filters. 

Over the past two weeks I have conducted two zoom seminars on railroads of the civil war. The first was for the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library at the  St. Louis Mercantile Library, University of Missouri - St. Louis. Next John Ott discussed early locomotive builders, and then Nick Fry covered the history of early railroads in Missouri.  You can watch all three presentations at the following link, 

The second presentation of the same subject was to the Cincinnati Division of the NMRA.
I am scheduled to do two more presentations in the coming weeks. The next will be on August 22 to the Potomac Division and another one at a date to be determined to the Louisville Division of the NMRA. 

I have been working on a model for the new Museum of Freedom in Alexandria. This will be a model of the slave jail that existed in Alexandria before the war. I'll provide an update on that later.

July 27, 2021

Road Tripping

Here I am clipping an apex with my son in the white GTI hot on my heels.

I recently returned from a 13-day road trip to Birmingham Alabama to visit my daughter and her husband and then to Lexington, KY to see my son and his wife. Ostensibly the trip was to help my kids with house renovation projects and we did get a bunch of that done. But I also had some time to do a bit of sightseeing in Birmingham, visit a civil war battlefield, and participate in a High Performance Driver Education Event (HPDE) at the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Track in Bowling Green, KY.

My daughter allowed me one day to goof off in Birmingham. I elected to visit the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in the morning and the Barber Motorsports Park in the afternoon.  Sloss is next to a busy main line and three freights came by while I was there.

I have been to the Sloss Works on two other occasions, so this was a refresher trip. They have built a nice visitor center at the south end of the facility. I am amazed and pleased  that this steel mill has been preserved for public visits. I asked one of the docents about how they deal with rust, as some of the artifacts are clearly going to become hazardous as they continue to decay. He said they have a plan for that. They inspect it every year and do remedial work as required, but there is a lot of rusting metal there and it all can't be preserved. Enjoy it while you can.

The Barber Motorsports Park is the nicest, most elegant race track I have ever visited. You get the feeling you are entering a luxury resort as you drive up to the museum and track. The museum is probably as big as the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. 

The "good stuff" was in the basement 
However, if you are a race car enthusiast and not into motorcycles like me, the museum was a bit of a let down. They do have the world's largest private collection of Lotus race cars and that was cool. But that was about all the cars they had. There were some cool Porsche cars on display in  the basement level, but that was not open to the public.

Just one of four floors of motorcycles on display
If you like motorcycles, you will love this museum. There are over 1,000 motorcycles on display in all kinds of styles with an emphasis on racing and street bikes. I did not see too many custom, display type bikes,  but there were antiques, commercial delivery, road racing, dirt racing, drag racing, ice racing, side cars... just about any kind of motorcycle you can imagine on display. 

To add an extra treat to my visit, the Porsche Performance Driving School was in session while I was there. I was able to watch them do laps around the track.   This was a good lead in as my own performance driving event was going to happen later the next week.

Carnton Plantation on the battlefield. I did not have
time to go inside.

I stopped at the Battle of Franklin, TN on my way from Bham to Lexington. The charming  town has grown and absorbed much of the battlefield, but there was a nice planation home and a portion of the east flank of the battlefield preserved for viewing. The Battles of Franklin and nearby  Nashville were some of the bloodiest of the war and resulted in utter destruction of the rebel armies under General Hood. 

I also made a stop at the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Track in Bowling Green, KY to reconnoiter it. A few days later, my son Chase and I went back there for a day of high performance driving instruction. This was the first event like this I have tried and it was a hoot. During my first session I was as nervous as I could be. But by session 3 and 4 we were hustling around the track thanks to good instruction and our getting accustomed to the speed. It was fun and left me wanting to do more.  High speed driving is much harder than you think, both mentally and physically. We did about 90 miles total in 4 sessions. I was drained after each session. But I do want to do this again with a more nimble car. The Racing Tiguan did great, but it is not really designed for driving like this.  Maybe there is another Porsche in my future?

My daughter used her Cricut machine to make the sticker on my back window.

On my way home, I drove Corridor H, the new road that cuts across central WV. It is a quirk of geography but the fastest route from my house to Lexington KY is via Maryland:  I-270 to I-70 to I-68 to I-79 though WV.  The Route on I-81 to I-64 through C&O country is of similar length but has too much truck traffic to be an enjoyable ride. However, I elected to try Corridor H  from Weston, WV to Strassburg, VA. That is the most direct route, but as they say in WV, “it’s through the mountains.” The new road is not complete, but the parts they have finished  are smooth and traffic free. The road tends to follow the ridge tops versus the creeks. As a result there are some amazing bridges and spectacular views. It will be a boon to central WV when they finish that road. I just hope it is within my lifetime as it has been under construction for over 30 years.  Below is a view from a rest stop just west of Moorefield, WV. Looks like a model railroad backdrop.

I did see a railroad yard near the Mt Storm power plant from the road but it was empty. There were about 2 dozen freight cars in the Buckhannon yard, but I didn’t stop for pics. 

I'm now back in Virginia. I did a Zoom presentation on railroads of the civl war for the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library and the St. Louis Mercantile Library last weekend. Now, I am getting back to working the items on my do list including a new model for a museum and some writing projects. I also plan to start work on my layout expansion asap. 

July 6, 2021

The Continuing Saga of the LED lights

 In my effort to upgrade the lighting in my layout, I decided to replace the set of florescent 18-inch under cabinet lights that were above the curved track at Brooke with LEDs. My initial intent was to replace the florescent fixtures with equivalent LEDs. But while shopping at the local Lowes store I noticed a string of 16 feet of LED lights with adhesive backing. The box said they put out 4000 lumens.  The price seemed good, so I thought I would try them. Alas, when I checked out, the price mysteriously doubled with some kind of cryptic note printed on the receipt about "full retail price was charged for this item."  I went to return them, but the line was too long. So I took them home and decided to give them a try.

Removing the existing lights was both satisfying and difficult to do without damaging the existing scenery. But, I was able to do it with only a few swear words and lots of awkward bending and reaching. 

My wife helped me install the LED strip. They were fairly easy to install. I just hope that the double sided adhesive tape they provide will stand the test of time.  

When we plugged them in, we both were impressed by the bright, even light. Alicia said, "you need to put these on the other curved section of the fascia too." Maybe I will, but not right away. I want to see how these hold up. 

On June 29th Bill Sornsin and his family stopped by to see the layout while on a a vacation to the east coast. Bill has a huge GN layout back at his house in Seattle.  Bill's family was not as enthusiastic about trains as he, but it was a hot day and they appreciated the air-conditioned basement after a morning of walking around the sweltering city. The city is built on a swamp, after all.  Bill's younger son, Nick, did learn how to run an engine, couple and uncouple cars. So he is now qualified to run on the USMRR.

June 17, 2021

The Mysterious Case of the Malfunctioning Lights


New LED lights provide nice even lighting 

Last month I reported on several of the florescent lights in the layout room over Potomac Creek that burned out. The lights were on separate circuits and different makes. Yet four fixtures stopped working at the same time. I removed the burned out lights and fixtures and ordered replacement LEDs, but did not have time to install  them. 

Then a few weeks ago, I noticed that another 48 inch florescent fixture had become detached from the ceiling, fell through the egg crate diffuser, and landed on the layout. Luckily, the wire trees by Weilepp's Cut absorbed the brunt of the fall. They did not suffer any damage. The opposite end of the fixture landed on a parked train and derailed several cars, but again no damage. The light fixture did hit and pulled off two insulators from the telegraph line (the scenery ones, not operational). Luckily, these are lycra line and did not break. So, all in all there was not real damage as it was a simple matter to clear the fixture and re-glue the lines back on the pole.

Today, I installed the new LED lights. These can be ganged together creating a continuous line of even lighting.  They are mounted closer to the valance thanks to their low profile. Thus the light on the layout is now more front lit than back lit, of a constant color temperature, and the lights draw less current. So all in all an improvement.

I still have a few florescent lights on the curved sections of the valance. I will order smaller fixtures and replace them too. 

You can see the new LED fixtures ganged together to create a continuous line of light. There are now
no lights above the egg crate diffusers. Note the frontal light on the Potomac Creek bridge.

I will be working on my layout expansion in the coming weeks as well as building a model for a new museum. 

May 20, 2021

All Quiet on the Eastern Front

There has been a lot going on here with regard to modeling and my hobbies, but not much to report on the Aquia Line.  I received some excellent 3D stl files from Gerry Dykstra to print some ACW era battery wagons and forges. I haven't had a chance to print them yet.

Right about when I hurt my back, I had a set of florescent lights in the front train room burn out. I ordered new LEDs to replace them, but haven't had a chance to install them.  Other than that, I haven't worked on the Aquia Line. 

I have been catching up on some writing projects that are or were due. Hopefully you will be seeing the Aquia Line in the MR press within a year or so. I am also working on a new book project. It is a track plan book, but I can't say much more about it at this point. 

Speaking of track plans, the Hostlers in Odgen, Utah liked my basic track plan, but had some modifications to it that they desired. So I made an updated copy for them. I am waiting to hear back before I do their final track plan.

One of my major distractions has been wargaming. It is interesting that several of my wargaming friends also are model railroaders. There is a lot of overlap in the hobbies. So I have been learning new game systems including a new WW2 skirmish level game. I  helped Mike Kelly with some of his 3D printing.  He hosts local game meets at his house. I am also working with Bruce Weigle to produce forts for his upcoming wargame on the planned but cancelled Nazi invasion of Malta. Malta is covered with stone forts. Bruce is world famous for his intricate, bespoke terrain boards.  I will be laser cutting the forts to use on his new terrain board. 

An example of one of Bruce's bespoke terrain boards

Alkem Scale models is also keeping me busy. I have a new batch of DODX cars for sale. In addition I have 4 models for clients in various stages of production. One of those is a model for Alexandria's new Museum of Freedom. This will depict the 1840's appearance of the slave jail that was on Duke Street. More on that project later.

AMTRAK near the former RO Cabin on the RF&P just
northof Crystal City. The new Amazon HQ will be
 close to this site.
My back is getting better, but I am still not 100%. I have been doing a lot more exercise recently, including riding a new bike. I call my new bike "the tank" because compared to my old carbon fiber road bike, the new bike is "indestructible." I am riding for fitness, so I am more concerned with durability and safety versus speed. The bike has an upright riding position and chunky 700 by 45 tires. I am lucky in that we have lots of trails near my house including some that parallel the old RF&P so I can railfan while I ride. 

Finally, we installed a new bird feeder in our back yard. We have been enjoying it immensely. I never knew how many different species of birds frequent our yard. 

May 3, 2021

Can You Say Wind Chill?

I am back from a weekend trip to Pennsylvania to attend the Columbia Railroad Day. My itinerary took me to Gettysburg, PA on Friday and to Columbia, PA on Saturday.

View of the Round Tops from the jump off position of Longstreet's Corps

The weather was warm and sunny when I left Virginia. When I arrived in Gettysburg, the skys were clear, but the wind was steady with gusts up to 60 mph and the temperature in  the 50s. My plan was to ride my bike around the part of the battlefield that saw action on the second day of the battle.  So I parked on  the saddle between the Round Tops. From there I rode my bike to the top of Little Round Top, then down the hill and west to the Peach Orchid and back. I was clever enough to plan my route so that my return climb to Little Round Top had a tail wind, but the otherwise the wind was brutal. Unfortunately, I did not pack clothes that were warm enough, so I was thoroughly chilled, despite the climb. I then jumped in my car and decided to tour the rest of the battlefield by auto.  

I wanted to stop at the Gettysburg Train station, but those plans were literally  short circuited.  I was driving north on Stratton Street near the railroad tracks, when I heard a strange humming noise. I thought something was wrong with my car. I looked up and noticed that there was a large orange-blue flame above my car. I drove forward another 100 yards and I saw it again in my rear view mirror. So I stopped and got out and it happened a third time. A pedestrian said to me that a tree was swaying into a power line. Apparently the last time the tree swayed  it caused the power line to snap, or a breaker to trigger, so the flames stopped. I did not get closer to investigate. Instead, I decided to head to the north side of the battlefield to check out the scenes of the first day of combat.   

View from Oak Hill to the east where XI Corps was
pushed back by Ewell's attack on the first day
 The wind was actually getting stronger as I toured the northern sectors and clouds were gathering. I managed to complete most of the auto tour and decided to call it a day. I heard later that the wind caused a tree to fall on a car and a porta-potty at the battlefield. A man was trapped in the potty had to be rescued by the local fire department. 

I arrived in Columbia, PA and met some of the hosts for the model railroad weekend. 

The next morning, the weather was again sunny, but with temperatures in the 40s and wind gusting to 30-50MPH. The meet was held at the Columbia Pavilion, which is an outdoor covered deck.  The cold weather resulted in light attendance at the meet. Nonetheless, Thom Radice from the ACWRRHS was there as well as several of my friends from Facebook that lived in the local area. It was fun to meet with them. 

Despite the small crowd, there were several vendors and exhibitors present as well as a reenactment unit. 

A female re-eanctor was making samples of 1860 cuisine including some hard tack she had prepared in advance. I got to taste some and it was pretty good and not that difficult to chew. She said the cracker would get harder after a few days of drying out. So I brought some home to test out. She also made some tasty corn meal mushies and some kind of stew that I did not get to sample.

The 45th PA Infantry reenactment unit was on hand with an encampment and display of civil war era weapons. Some of the weapons were originals. They even let spectators handle them.  I got to handle an original Sharpe's rifle and a smoothbore musket.

Scott Mingus lead off the presentations with an interesting discussion of the Gettysburg RR.  I also purchased his latest book on the Cumberland Valley RR in the civil war. 

Larry Hoover shows a local police
officer a civil war era weapon
Then Joel Moore showed photos of his highly detailed HO layout and described how he used his railroad as a setting for some novels he wrote.

I presented two talks. The first was an Introduction to Civil War Railroads, a talk I have done many times before. Alas, I was so cold during the talk that I was shivering as I spoke.  That made for an unpleasant experience for me and many of the folks watching expressed concern afterwards. I should have worn my civil war uniform as it would have been perfect for the weather instead the light cotton clothes I had with me. 

Luckily, the weather warmed up a bit and the wind died down for my second talk on my Aquia Line Model Railroad. That talk went off quite well.

The last talk was by Chris Vera on how the people of Columbia were involved in the underground railroad.
In between the talks, my host Barry Schmit, took me to see the Columbia Model Railroad Club layouts.  They have large HO and O scale layouts in a former church which is now the Columbia Historical Society building.

I returned home safely Saturday night. It was a fun weekend, despite the cold and windy weather.