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 12, 2022

On the Road Again

Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.” Ludwig Van Beethoven
Is there any doubt that model railroading can be considered art. This scene from 
Brian Kelly's HO Scale C&O layout might argue for it.

I returned from Florida last week and spent the rest of this week catching up and doing what we called in the Army "recovery."

The Florida trip was great. I took AMTRAK Autotrain there and back.   I had a roomette going down and coach seat coming back. The roomette was nice, but not as good as a night in a hotel. The coach seats are better than airplanes, but still not as comfy  as the roomette.

The train ride down was on time but coming back we were 5 hours late due to equipment trouble and then late crew change.  But, I was lucky both times as my car was one of the first to be unloaded.

Other highlights of the trip  include my first rounds of golf where there was money at stake. I actually ended up winning in both matches, thanks to a skin and closest to the pin in the first and  by sinking a long birdie putt in the other to win another skin in a scramble. If you are not a golfer, you have no idea what I just said, and that's OK. 

We visited two museums, the Brevard County Veteran's Museum and the Valiant Air Museum. 

Both were great.  The Brevard Museum had a nice variety of items on display from all services and across US History. These choppers were on display outside. 

Valiant Air has a great collection of restored aircraft. Only a few of them can still fly, but most are in pristine condition.  Here we see my Cayman GTS in front of a not so pristine Czech Mig.

We visited two model railroads. 
 On Sunday we visited Rich Bellanger’s new HO/HOn3 layout. Rich is a prolific and talented modeler in several genres- wooden ships (he built the model of the US Constitution at the Brevard Museum),  aircraft, armor, and trains. He has an interesting way of making concrete streets and sidewalks for his layout. He uses black gatorfoam and Rustoleum cement color texture spray paint. He then details cracks and expansion joints with a pencil. Simple and effective.

On Monday we visited Tom Johnson's bedroom-sized layout. It’s a beautiful gem with amazing attention to detail. Tom is the master of integrating roads into the backdrop. 
Tom said he gets his model  trees from a supplier in Poland. They flock them with miniature leaves that have the correct shapes. 

The IPMS meet went well. There were about 55 people that entered models, down from previous years.  There are some really nice models on display. All my models won awards including a second place for best large diorama for the Full Metal Jacket, and also for my Stay a While and Listen fantasy diorama.  My brother's large helicopter and tank diorama got the Cinema Militaire award.  

For some reason the creature from the Black Lagoon was a popular theme at the meet. They had a full size mannikin as well as several models of it. 

While we were at the show we were able to watch a Spacex launch from the town of Cape Canaveral. That was very cool.

As soon as I returned home, I attended an op session at Brian Kelly's C&O layout. It had been almost 20 years since I last saw it. He has created a gorgeous layout that is as well sceniced as any you might find. Plus, he uses several Alkem Scale Models kits on his layout.

I am departing tomorrow to attend two NMRA events on consecutive weekends. On 15 May I will be in Cincinnati presenting a talk to the Cinncy Division of the NMRA.

On the next weekend 20-21 May.  I will be at the Indy Junction NMRA and RPM meet.  In between I plan to see my kids and granddaughter.

April 24, 2022


 I am getting ready to head to Florida via Autotrain to attend Modelfest 2022 hosted by the International Plastic Model Society (IPMS) Space Coast Division. My twin brother is a member. Several months ago he suggested I attend and bring some models to show. The meet has the usual model categories plus some special theme categories. The one that caught my attention was the category called Cinema Militaire. This category is supposed to depict "any misrepresented military equipment from TV or Movies."My first thought were the T-55 tanks that were used to represent Pz-IIIs in the Russian movie "Invinicible" aka as "Tankers."  But, I decided to build a diorama from a different movie. Can you recognize the movie from the images?

Here's a hint, not only is the tank used in the scenes incorrect (it is a M-41 and the unit in the photo did not use M-41s), but the movie location/set itself is "misrepresented," though it was an amazing place to film an urban combat war movie.

April 15, 2022

Daily Double

Today must be my lucky day as I received copies of two publications that have articles that I wrote.

The first was the cover story in the April-June 2022 issue of Military Miniature. The article is a scenario for a war game based on the fight at Dead Man's Corner in Normandy and D-Day plus 1.  The article did not include all the graphics I sent them including the situation map, which I am enclosing here. This might help if you read the article to understand where the various locations are in relation to each other. 
They also did not use all the photos I sent, So I enclosed one above.

The second piece was the lead chapter for Eric White's new book, ”Building What’s In a Photo” by Kalmbach Media. I like how they did the two page spread to start off the book. If you ever wondered who was probably the first ever railfan photographer you should read this chapter.

On Thursday, Jack Thompson visited the Aquia Line. Jack is a dedicated civil war historian, re-enactor, and model railroader.  Jack was an extra actor and historical consultant to the Gettysburg series of films.  He was also in the movie "Glory." 

He was a US Marine in real life. He is also an accomplished model builder. He builds1/22.3 scale model railroad equipment that he runs on a friend's outdoor layout. 

Here he is posing with the Union staff from the Gettysburg movie. Jack is on the right, Ken Burns is the on his right and in front. The other actors from the movie are also in the image. 

The next shot is a screen grab of him in the movie.

It was fun to share the railroad with a guy as knowledgable as Jack, especially when it comes to civil war era drill. 

Jack pointed out a mistake in how my squad is marching into Brooke. They normally marched in column four abreast, but I have my squad marching only in 3 abreast. Jack graciously volunteered to paint the figures that would be needed to make the scene more accurate.  So I gave him the figures to paint and he took them home with him.

April 6, 2022

Model Railroader Magazine's Meet the Modeler Series.

Model Railroader magazine has published a brief profile on me as part of their "Meet the Modeler" series. You can find it here.

Meet the Modeler: Bernie Kempinski

Yes, that picture is a few years old. 

April 4, 2022

Chris Nevard's Blog

Chris Nevard, an accomplished model railroad photographer and modeler from the UK,  has been posting daily photos of his modeling projects. I recommend you take a look. He posts new photos daily here.    I particularly like this image.

April 3, 2022

Bonsai Bernie

The repotted tree. 

We are back from Birmingham, AL where we were visiting with my daughter, son in law, and granddaughter.  We are so happy to have everyone healthy and adorable. 

This was probably the first trip to Alabama when we didn't bring a car load of tools for home repair projects.  We managed to play a little golf in between watching Merritt sleep. 

We came home to find spring in the air, though the weather was a tad chilly at times. That means it's time for lawn and garden care. This year I had a new task, repotting a Honeysuckle bonsai tree that I purchased last September in upstate New York.

At the nursery in NY
The photo on the right side is what it looked like at the nursery. It didn't look like much to me, but my brother Rob, who is the bonsai expert, said that this tree is probably close to 100 years old. The price was very reasonable probably because it looked like it was neglected. There were other trees at this nursery that were selling for $12-18K, so this was a "great deal." Rob said he should buy it, but it wouldn't grow in Florida as it needs colder weather. 

So I said I would buy it, keep it in Virginia and he can tell me how to take care of it.  I know honeysuckles grow here as I would smell their flowers as I walked by a large group of them near the Braddock Steet metro station.

As I carried it to the cash register several other bonsai customers admired it and said it was "great deal." I don't know if they were being honest or trying to comfort me on buying what appeared to be to be a dead bush.

In winter storage in my yard

So last winter I placed it against the house with the soil covered with mulch. I watered it a few times, but mostly I didn't do anything to it. It really didn't look like much. 

But this spring it started to bloom again. 

Yesterday Rob sent me a pot from Florida that his friend Bruce sold to us. Rob also sent me some high quality bonsai soil. Today I re-potted the tree while Rob watched me on FaceTime and advised me on what to do. 

Getting ready to repot

Removing the old soil

The old soil was some type of tiny marble gravel. None of the roots were growing in the white gravel. They all were root bound around the perimeter. Rob said to remove all that soil and trim off the roots. 

We would replace the soil with high quality bonsai soil that contains several types of inorganic rock including crushed lava. The new roots would grow into the soil. The micro roots would actually grow in the lava gravel. 

Trimming roots

Once I had the old soil removed, I put a layer of the new soil in the pot and installed the tree. Rob advised me to plant the tree off center according to the golden rule. That required that I trim some more roots.

Then I had to wire the tree into the pot to prevent it from pushing out as the tree grew. Final layer of soil, some Osmocote fertilizer and a light watering. Now to see if it survives.  At some point it will bloom with yellow fragrant flowers. 

Back to trains soon.

Can you see the ant checking out the new planting?

The tree has some incredible burls that can only come from long life. The star pattern in the center is the remains of a dead branch that Rob carved last Fall while he was here. 

March 22, 2022

New and New


Let me introduce you to my new granddaughter, Merritt Marie Willberger.  She was born on 12 March at 11PM in Birmingham, Alabama. She, mom, and dad are all doing well. We plan to visit them this week. 

Doing the laser cutter shuffle
In between pacing the floor waiting for Merritt to arrive, I took delivery of a new laser cutter. The new machine is a Epilog Fusion Edge with 50W of power. It is a much more advanced machine than the previous Epilog Zing. It has 20 percent more laser power, has better air assist to stop charring, autofocus, improved print driver software that can use both Corel Draw and Adobe Illustrator, wifi and camera optics for precise placement of the materials on the bed.  

Old Zing laser boxed up and going back to the manufacturer 
The old machine went back to the manufacturer via freight shipping. It took me a few days to get the new machine set up and the old one packed up and ready for freight pickup. 

 The new machine is just slightly larger than the old.

So far the first test cuts I have made have been excellent.

March 11, 2022

Testing iPhone 13 Pro Ultra Wide Lens

 I bought a new iPhone 13 Pro today to replace my battered iPhone 10. I had read a lot of great  things about the new iPhone 13 cameras so I thought I would take some test shots using the new ultra-wide lens. 


This is a basic shot using 5 exposures with photo stacking and the ultra wide lens. The resulting image has great depth of field. But there is an obvious barrel distortion in the image. Note how the track seems curve up and down as it crosses the bridge. I could not find a lens correction plug-in for this lens in Photoshop 2022 or Lightroom 2022.  I hope Adobe will offer one soon. Note that this image includes the built-in lens distortion correction that comes with the iPhone 13 as a user selectable setting. I tried fiddling with the liquify plug-in and the perspective tools in Photoshop to get rid of distortion, but didn't have good results. 

Here is a brief video of the same scene. This looks pretty good. The barrel distortion is not as obvious in this image, possibly because I moved a little back from the scene. 

iPhone 13 Pro Macro mode

The camera has many settings and modes. The macro feature is intriguing. It works mostly through software processing. 

I found that if the auto-macro option is selected, it is difficult to take a series of shots to focus stack. That is because the  lens switches the focal length as it jumps into macro mode. So the image cannot be aligned. However,  I was able to take the shot below by disabling that feature and manually selecting my focus points. 

I had to replace the sky in this image as the painted sky on the coved corner did not look right with such a wide angle shot. Still, I think it is an interesting shot. There will be several new images I can shoot with  this wide angle lens so close to the modeled ground, i.e. to get the worm's eye view.

This was the first ultra-wide angle shot I took. The focus stacking worked pretty well, but the contrast in the image was too much. This is the result even after I adjust the contrast way down.

March 10, 2022

Spun Casting

 Blair Mielnik visited the Aquia Line today to take possession of my spin caster set up. Since I got the 3D printer I haven't used the spin caster. It was taking up valuable garage space. Blair has plans to use it in casting narrow gauge cars and miniature soldiers. 

While he was here, he got a brief tour of the railroad. I was in the middle of adding the base scenery to Brooke. 

After he left I installed the foam and then covered it with some plaster impregnated gauze. Once that is dry tomorrow, I will paint the fascia and
the terrain.

I also used one of the warehouses from Aquia Landing to mock up the building that will go in the new space.  Hmm, perhaps two smaller two smaller buildings instead of one larger one might be better. The prototype image of Culpepper might provide some inspiration.

Mock up a a warehouse 

Prototype image of Culpepper during the ACW

The extension adds a fair amount of real estate to exploit

March 9, 2022

Attention to Orders

 Amby stopped by this morning to see if he could figure out why the telegraph system only works when all the stations are plugged in and turned on. He, Steve, and Seth think it is something to do with the ground not being at the proper voltage.  Before he worked on that I presented him with his official appointment as Chief Signal Officer of the USMRR Aquia Line. Amby, in true Hermann Haupt tradition, asked if he could refuse the appointment, but so far he hasn't declined it. He wasn't able to solve the problem, but at least it all works when plugged in. 

Cracked fascia at Brooke.

Meanwhile, I have been working on repairing the fascia by Brooke. It was damaged when the contractors were doing the  flood repairs and they jacked up the layout. 

Room for the telegraph 

I had extended the fascia in the area by the rock cut south of Brooke. That piece of fascia cracked along the seam and became loose when they jacked up the layout. Unfortunately, there was no easy way for me to access it from below to securely repair it. So I took this opportunity to extend the fascia about 3.5 inches. 

This achieves three objectives. First, it will allow me to fix the crack, second, creates a nice secure place to mount the telegraph station at Brooke, and third,  extends the scenery.

I plan to add a large foundry building between the tracks and the aisles. This will create a "urban canyon" for the tracks in Brooke.  I was inspired by the foundry in Fredericksburg that the USMRR used to repair rolling stock in 1862 and the iron works rolling mill on Thom Radice's layout.  The interior of the foundry will have full detail. I haven't decided if I will leave a wall open so one can see the detail, or to make it a fully enclosed building. 

The telegraph is resting where the new foundry building will go.

March 1, 2022

Telegraph System Update


Amby and I worked on the telegraph system today. He got the electronics sorted out using the modifications suggested by Steve Williams. The system is now working as designed, though there are still a few minor but perplexing things Amby noticed in the circuitry.

Meanwhile, I was installing the stations and building the dispatcher panel. The photo above shows the telegraph panel at Stoneman's Station. I also have Potomac Creek almost done. The telegraph stations at Brooke and Falmouth require that I do some repair and prep work on the fascia. The fascia at Brook was damaged when we jacked up the layout for flood repairs. My plan is to replace that section of fascia while also adding about 4 inches of scenery between the fascia and the track. That will allow me to add another big building at Brook between the aisle and the tracks. I am thinking of a foundry with a detailed interior.

I also got a fair amount of work done on the dispatcher's panel. See video below.  The reason for the door is to hide the LEDS that show which station is transmitting. The dispatcher doesn't need to look at them if he or she desires to remain more period-correct as there were no LEDs in the civil war. But the LEDs can aid in debugging the system and help a new dispatcher that is not familiar with the code.