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.

December 31, 2022

2023 - The Year of the Ship

This picture encapsulates the year with plenty of trains, planes, and automobiles.

Another year has ticked by. All in all it was a good one with lots of trains, planes, and automobiles.  Let's review the highlights.

  1. Finished the expansion of the layout to the point where it is operational and about 50% sceniced. The expansion includes a new 5 foot long trestle over a meandering creek, a balloon camp and tracks that can house 10-car trains plus engine. 
  2. Hosted three official op-sessions including one each for the ACWRRHS and the NJ-DMV Interchange groups, and two open houses. One other op session was cancelled due to my contracting a case of COVID, which fortunately was very mild. 
  3. The telegraph came into operation thanks to Amby, Steve, and Seth efforts. In particular, Amby was promoted to Chief Signal Officer of the USMRR Aquia Line for his meritorious service. 
  4. Brion delivered the schooner he had been working on for me and it is beautiful. I added a tug boat to the fleet and started another schooner. 
  5. 3D printed some highly detailed cannons, limber, and railroad trucks.
  6. Several road trips for model related events including riding the Autotrain to Florida for Modelfest 2022, a two-week road trip to Cincinnati and Indianapolis for back to back train meets and presentations, another long road trip to Omaha, NE for the IPMS national meet. Locally I participated in the National Capitol Model Soldier Society Annual Meet and I managed the Middle Atlantic Railroad Prototype Meet in Timonium. I and my brother received several awards for our models. The highlight being the Arsenal of Democracy Award for our Sherman Tank Factory Diorama. That diorama will be going to Florida in Feb 2023 to be donated to the Valiant Air Warbird Museum.  
  7. It was a good year for museums. I visited that Valiant Air Warbird Museum, Titusville, FL,  the USMC Museum in Quantico, VA, National Museum of the US Army, Ft Belvoir, VA, USAF Museum in Wright Paterson AFB, OH, the Strategic Air Command Museum  and the Museum of the  West, both in Omaha, the Brevard County Veterans Museum, Merrit Island, FL , Freedom House Museum, Alexandria, VA,  Lexington Battlefield Museum in Lexington, MO, Palm Springs Air Museum, Palm Springs CA, Ft Eustis Transportation Museum and the Mariner's Museum both in New Port News, VA, Fort Monroe, Hampton, VA, American Sign Museum, and Entertainment, Cincinnati, OH., C&O Historical Society Museum, Clifton Forge, VA .  Not to mention several national and state park visitor centers and hikes in nature preserves, mountain top forests,  deserts, and wetlands.  
  8. Visited several layouts this year in Omaha, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania,  Florida, Virginia, and Maryland. Hosted several dozen visitors to the Aquia Line and have been helping some friends with their layout projects as I have time. 
  9. Other road trips included 5 visits to see my new grand daughters in Alabama and Kentucky. I rode twice on The Catalpa Falls Group private cars thanks to invites by Eric and George Payne. 
  10. Wrote several articles for the model railroad press. MRP 2022 ran a nice piece of the expansion the Aquia Line. I did another article for MRP 2023 that is due out in Feb. O scale magazine is doing a piece on my railroad in the upcoming January/Feb 2023 issue that is due any day now. I also did a piece for hire for Kalmbach for Chris Moore's layout in the Philadelphia area. Kalmbach did a Meet the Modeler segment on me which was fun to help write.
Whew, seems like a lot when you do list it that way, but it also feels like I have a lot more to do. 

My objectives for 2023 include making some progress on Aquia Landing, especially the ships. I hope to tackle the big paddlewheel steamer this year. That kit has frustrated me quite a bit.  I also want to finish the scenery on the expansion.  I have several non-railroad projects in the works too,  but, for the most part, I think next year will be the ship. I have said that I saved Aquia Landing for last as I knew it was going to be the most fun. So now it's time to do it.  HAPYY NEW YEAR!

December 28, 2022

Back in the Saddle

Snow covered San Georgino Mountain stands behind Joshua Tree National Park

 We are back from a week long trip to Palm Springs., CA to spend time with family. The timing of our trip was perfect as we missed a nasty spell of cold and bad weather back home. Luckily our house survived the cold snap with no apparent damage.

We didn't do much train watching out there. Alicia and I did hike several canyons including two on tribal land, two on Joshua Tree National Park, and the Coachella Oasis that sits directly on top of the San Andreas Fault. 

A lucky person gets a ride in a P-51
A highlight of the trip for me was the visit to Palm Springs Air Museum. They have a fine collection of WW2 and later aircraft. Many of them can still fly. They offer rides in some. On the day we visited we saw a P-51 Mustang in the Tuskeegee Airman Red Tail livery take two lucky, (and wealthy - the cost is about $2000 for a 15 minute ride) patrons for rides (one at a time.)

This large scale cutaway of the USS Rasher is one of the
models produced by the  husband-wife team team.
Note the smaller scale models in the background. 
They have a nice ship model collection in their hanger devoted to naval aviation. They have about 6 large scale ship models. Most of them were built by a husband and wife team. 

They also have an extensive collection of smaller scale ships model. A docent told me that they were built by a single individual. When he passed away, his wife wanted to put them in a good will shop. However, a museum volunteer heard about them and managed to get them donated to the museum. They built a nice large display case to exhibit them. I enjoyed looking at them in great detail. For more images of the museum please see my facebook page.

A composite of several photos from them trip showing the F-104G from the Pal Springs Air Museum flying over Keys Peak at Joshua Tree National Park.

Phainopepla- a desert bird that eats mistletoe seeds.
I got a few good bird photos too. I spotted 19 more birds for my life list. Most of them are not native to the east coast.  

All in all it was a fun trip, but I am glad to be home and out of the dry,
dusty desert. 

Ann's Hummingbird, another west coast only species

December 19, 2022

December 18, 2022

Sergeant Santa at Fort Eustis

Photo of the MRS Volunteers in period uniforms with Sgt Santa.  Photo by the MRS.

Sgt Santa spreading the cheer. It's not a secret that this Santa 
is also a model railroader and member of the Chesapeake Bay
& Western Model Railroad Club
Chris Williams and I traveled to Newport News this weekend to participate in Operation Sergeant Santa. Chris is a former colleague of mine from my days at CBO. He is also a railfan and model railroader. He likes taking old British OO scale locomotives and rebuilding them to run on his small layout. His interest in British trains stems from his growing up in Northern England. But he has lived in the US for 35 years now and is also a rabid US railfan. Chris provided the British ROD 2-8-0 locomotive that I used in the WWI chapter in my book, "Model Railroads Go to War." 

Chris (l) and Eric(r) riding in the
 power car at the head end
We were invited to participate in Operation Sergeant Santa by Eric Payne. Eric and his dad, George, own and operate the Catalpa Falls Group LLC. They aim to make the Broadway Limited experience available again through the renovation and restoration of former Broadway Limited Pullman cars. They have a set of railcars that are wonderfully restored and can be used in charters and excursions. Last month I rode the car Catalpa Falls with Eric and his dad from NYC to Washington, DC. The cars are now at Fort Eustis to participate in Operation Sergeant Santa as part of the Military Railroad Society fund raising campaign.  The MRS is raising funds for restoration of USATC 5002, a Porter S100 class 0-6-0 tank engine. 

In addition to raising funds, the MRS will be volunteering to help restore some of the historic passenger cars while they are parked at Fort Eustis.  So its a symbiotic relationship as the MRS gets use of the cars for fund raising and training while the cars get secure storage and some restoration.

Chris and I packed a lot into the weekend. We started off with stops at Doswell and Ashland to do some rail fanning. Since it was a Friday, the Buckingham Branch was busy doing maintenance on  equipment.

Then we caught a northbound Regional AMTRAK making a station stop at Ashland. 

Next we went to the Mariners Museum in Newport News. That is one of my favorite museums. They reconfigured the exhibits since my last visit 10 years ago. There is now a large portion of the museum devoted to the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (formerly USS Merrimack). I really enjoyed walking through the full-scale dioramas they have constructed, especially the replica of the interior of the Monitor. Fun fact, the Monitor was the first ship to ever have a flushing toilet. 

They have an amazing collection of artifacts that were recovered from the sunken wreckage of the Monitor. Some of those artifacts were remains of sailors that died in the sinking. Alas, they have been unable to identify the remains precisely. 

One of the interesting artifacts was a reconstructed uniform that had to be painstakingly restored from scattered fragments. 

There are several components of the Monitor still under going preservation. The gun tubes have be soaking in a de-chlorination bath for over 20 years now! That process removes the chlorine from the saltwater that was absorbed by the iron so that the iron will not continue to corrode. They are hopeful that end of the preservation bath is in sight as some parts, such the anchor and engine, are already out of the preservation bath and will be put on display.

Roman cargo transport circa 1st Century AD

After touring the rest of the museum, including the spectacular ship models, we took a walk around the Mariner's Lake via the Noland Trail. We spotted several birds including 4 more for my life list.

Horseshoe Curve on Ed's layout
Later that night we visited Ed Rappe's and Jim Taverna's large O scale layouts. Ed models the PRR Horseshoe Curve region of the Middle Division and a coal branch, while Jim models the PRR Northern Central Division near Northumberland and its branches.  Both layouts are massive. They run long, impressive trains. It really is mind boggling.

This is just half of Northumberland
Yard on Jim's layout

The next morning we made a quick trip to visit Fort Monroe. It is no longer a military base. The fort is part of the US National Parks System while the State of Virginia and City of Hampton also have exhibits and displays to see. 

The fort is the largest masonry fort built in the US. It is hard to picture how large it is until you visit. It remained in Union hands through out the civil war. Many former slaves fled through Fort Monroe to freedom.  It is chock full of interesting exhibits.

The fort had the first 15-inch Rodman gun that was named after President Lincoln. It was used to shell rebel positions across the river. It's my favorite civil war artillery piece. 

The former president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, was imprisoned there for a while, but he never went to trial for treason.   We didn't have time to visit the museum and see his cell.

Next we arrived at Ft Eustis as guests of the SGT Santa. Sergeant Major Snyder escorted us on base where we met with several folks from the MRS including my friends Billy Grimes and SFC Michael Spoor.  Sometimes, it's a very small world.

Billy Grimes and Chris in the power car

Billy was one of the volunteers that were dressed in 1960s era Army uniforms to reenact the time period where the vintage passenger cars were in service (see lead photo.) 

Mike was activated as a reservist to help support the weekend activities. He also had a chance to take some great photos of the restored cars being pulled by a US Army GP-10 (see last photo.)

Chris and I did two rides on the cars around the 8 mile loop of track at Fort Eustis. It was fun to see the railfans shooting pictures of the trains as they rolled across picturesque Fort Eustis. There were hundreds of US Army soldiers and their families riding the train and enjoying some holiday cheer.

After our second ride on the train, Chris and I stopped at the US Army Transportation Museum. The building was closed but we were able to see the outdoor exhibits that are now under protective roofs. The US Army had some really unusual equipment over the years.

USATC S160 Class Steam engine at the museum 

It was just a hoot to be part of the event. Everyone seemed to have a great time and hopefully they raised a good amount of money toward the restoration of the steam engine. Perhaps next year  they will have it pulling the Sergeant Santa train!

The GP10 that pulled the train. Photo by Michael Spoor

December 9, 2022

Money Shot - Another Expansion?

 This photo composition will be the money shot when Aquia Landing if (is- a freudian slip???) finished. The ships, and dockside detail will bring the scene to life. But there's a problem. I can't take this photo. Not with out a lot of photoshop work.

This image shows some of the trickery I have to use to digitally extend the waterfront in the foreground. I didn't leave enough room for adequate water scenery in the foreground of the railroad barge. To place the tug boat in this area requires a temporary extension that I made from some scrap lumber. I covered it with black (looks more dark gray in the image) construction paper. 

With the image in Photoshop I added water to the foreground using an actual photo of the Potomac that I took before. That also meant I had to create the reflections of the tug and wharf in the water. It's a time consuming task. It would be much easier if there was water in that area in the actual model. 

To extend the water, I would have to build an extension of the fascia, build a new flat area to fit and then pour resin to fill in. It's doable.

So then, why stop there? What not extend it by a 12-18 inches and make room for even more ships? The mind boggles.

BTW here is a B&W antiqued version of the image as requested by John Drye.

USMRR Tug Atlantic Complete

The harbor is stating to look like I envisioned.

Here is the completed model. I made the flag by printing it on paper and attaching to the lanyard. The flag pole is a brass rod with a craft bead on top. The guy wires for the stack are lycra string. I made eye bolts 0.032 inch thick using laser board. The eagle is a 3D print from a file I downloaded. The fenders are scraps of wood. I could not tell from the photos how they were tied onto the tug, so I drilled small holes in the bulwark. I added other details that I could see in the photos including a grappling hook, a chair and several barrels. The name plate is laser engraved and cut.

I decided not to add the number decal to the stack. I may do that later. 

USMRR Tug Atlantic

Almost finished tug boat model

We're back from the abyss....actually, we were lucky that it wasn't that bad. But my wife and I are both feeling better. We still have to wear masks for a few more days, but other than that, all good. I was able to sneak in some work on the tug boat in between naps. The tug is almost finished. I need to do some touch up, add a decal to the stack,  and finish the weathering. 

I chose the name, "Atlantic," because that was the name of one of the USMRR tugs that worked the car ferry from Alexandria to Aquia Landing. The other tug that they list as also working this route was the "Kirkman." I liked the sound of "Atlantic" better.


December 2, 2022

Notes from Quarantine

Last Saturday, we got back from a nice trip to Alabama to visit family over Thanksgiving. Then on Sunday, my son and daughter in Kentucky had a baby girl, Ruka Kotone Foster Kempinski. That makes our second grand daughter. All are doing fine.

I spent the first part of the week getting my new band saw set up. Unfortunately, I got sick yesterday and tested positive for COVID this morning. So far it's not too bad, but I am taking things easy. I have been staying in the basement and hope to get back to work on the layout.  

The Tug Boat 

I wanted to test out the new bandsaw. So I started building a 1860's era tug before finishing the Pungy. I figured the Pungy and its rigging will take some time, so I wanted to do a simpler boat in the meantime.  

The lead photo shows a group of three tugs in the James River. These appear to be typical screw propelled tugs from the era. One of the key features of those tugs versus later tugs is the squared-off deck and pilot house. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any plans for that style tug. There is a photo of Tug No. 6 in the James River that is nearly a broadside view. So I using that to generate plans. 

I made the hull from two pieces of basswood glued together. Basswood is a great material for modeling due to its very tight grain. The band saw is necessary to cut the sheer line across the beam of the model. That was the first cut I made. Then I trimmed the over head view to create the overall shape.

I used my Rotex sander to shape the stern and bow.  The waterline model of the tug has a fairly simple shape. All the complex curves are under water and will not be visible in my model. Just a portion of the rudder is visible. 

Next I added laser cut pieces to the top of the deck to create the camber of the deck. I planked these with individual pieces of 2 ply maple veneer that I cut on the laser. If I do this again, I will make a thin template to glue to the deck. That would have slots to precisely locate all the camber pieces.

I stained the maple pieces with dark teak colored stain before glueing them on the hull.

The next step was to cut the bulwarks. I made them about 1/8th inch taller than it needed to be. I used that extra height to glue it to the hull.  Then I added the waterway and bulwark frames. In the future, I think I can integrate those frames into the camber pieces. That would make it easier to glue the bulwarks on.

I primed and painted the hull. Then I glued on the rub rail as I thought it would remain a natural color. So I used pins and PVA to glue then to the hull. However, I now plan to paint them the same color as the hull, and then weather them heavily. I cut the grating on the rear from basswood in a couple thicknesses. I like how that came out.

Next is the deck and pilot house. The pilot house appears to be an extension of the deck house, so that is how I made it. 

Hopefully, I will feel well enough to finish it during my quarantine time.

Records of the Alexandria Railroad Wharf at the Archives

I was rereading a copy of the Records of the Alexandria Railroad Wharf I found at the National Archives in 2010. As I have stated in the past, there was generally one car ferry a day from Alexandria to Aquia Landing. Most of the time in the month of May they were transporting supplies for the railroad. But this one caught my eye, on May 2, at 5:20PM, they shipped 6 pairs of Shad Belly Trusses on cars 46, 140, 217, 158, 240, and 245. All of those are flat cars. I have never seen any proof that these bridges were actually used, but that they were a cargo on the USMRR line, means that I need to make some as  flat car loads.

In June they started the evacuation. They hauled all many of supplies to Alexandria from Aquia Creek. That is in accordance with Haupt's statement in his book that they evacuated all that they could have versus destroying it all like happened in October 1862 under Burnside's orders. For example,  On June 15, 1863 they hauled two locomotives, Gouvernment and General Burnsides, and tenders plus three more cars with tents, baggage and lumber. Most of the return trips were empty. 

If I get time, I need to transcribe this document as it is very interesting to me. 

November 20, 2022

NJ-DMV Interchange


Dispatcher Office ready to go. You can se the schedule, train sheets and bulletin. 

I hosted an operation session on Friday for visitors from New Jersey. Tom Piccirillo, Andy Brusgard, Tom Schmeider and Mike Quinn arrived at the house for an afternoon session. 

My father at Kennedy Airport
I found it interesting that 3 of the 4 operators were retired police officers. Andy retired after 52 years of service. My dad was a a police officer for the Port of New York Authority, so I feel a kinship with policemen.

Op Session

Tom P. and Andy arrived early so I assigned them train 8 from Falmouth with engine Haupt. We operated under the rule that trains originating from Falmouth with scheduled meets at Brooke are limited to 8 cars maximum. So they left Falmouth with 8 cars.  

Later Tom S and Mike are arrived. They took Train 7 as soon as they read the bulletin.  To their credit, they had read the advanced paperwork and pretty much knew what to do as soon as they arrived despite being first time operators on the Aquia Line.

Train 8 arrived at Brooke for the scheduled meet before 7.  Being the train in an inferior direction, they had to wait for 8 to arrive. It was interesting that 7 needed to pick up a car at Brooke and 8 had a car to drop. So, the crews coordinated their actions to expeditiously do the job. 

Andy and Tom P - both had operated here before
Train 8 continued on but forgot to drop off two cars for Stoneman's. They decided to take the cars to Falmouth, vice flagging and backing up to Stoneman's, and then back haul them to Stoneman's when they departed Falmouth. This is not ideal because now the drop required a facing point move and they had to use the extended couplers on the nose of the engine. The extended links are more difficult to use than the regular link and pins, but they got it done.

Meanwhile, train 7 arrived at Aquia Landing. Unfortunately, at that point engine Haupt started to malfunction despite running fine beforehand. After some unsuccessful debugging, we switched engines McCallum for Haupt, and they attempted to finish their run. They assembled the train 9, but never did run it as they ran out of time as they had to leave to check into the hotel. 

Mike and Tom S.
The dispatcher annulled train 9, but Tom S. and Mike wanted to stay and finish their run with train 10. I have noticed in the past few sessions that the longer trains that we now run take a lot longer to work. I may need to adjust the schedule if we continue to find that the scheduled times are insufficient.  The link and pin couplers definitely slow down the process, especially for new crews.  

The random events procedure worked well. The crews pulled three cards. Two were minor events with no operational effect. The third card for crew of 10 required them to stop at Potomac Creek for 10 minutes to load troops whose enlistments were expiring.

Other than the Haupt issue, the ops session went well.

Mat Thompson hosted a group dinner at his house on Friday night. The group dinner is always a highlight of the NJ-DMV Interchange weekend. Mat's layout is also a nice treat to see too. 

Greg Viggiano observes John Steitz  running trains
during the open house 

Open House

On Saturday I hosted an open house for the NJ-DMV folks plus local friends. About 15 folks arrived to se the layout. John Steitz, Mike Spoor and Amby Nangeroni ran trains while the guests looked around and asked questions.

Alicia made chocolate brownies which were all gone by the end of the open house


We discovered that Whiton, one of my  Mason engines with battery power was sparking on the tender trucks. The engine continued to run despite the sparks. The shorts on the tender trucks is  a common problem with the Masons from SMR Trains.  It may be due to the insulating paint wearing off the brass parts as the engines operate. Charlie Taylor also reports similar problems with his SMR Masons. I need to add insulation washers to all the Mason engines. I am also thinking about making make new 3D printed resin trucks for these engines. The resin will help eliminate some of these intermittent electrical shorts. Also, Engine Oscela has a broken wire to the front truck that I need to repair. 

John Steitz reported that the passenger car was picking frogs when he was running. It had not been doing that when I ran it, so I need to check it out. 

November 15, 2022

Crunch Time, Again

 The NJ-DMV Interchange is scheduled for this weekend. So local layout owners are in crunch time getting ready for the meet. I have been doing some tasks to help others to get ready. My layout is ready to go except for some minor repairs such as a broken switch stand from a last op session. 

One of the embellishments to operations on my railroad that I wanted to get done was to make random events cards.  I wrote about this idea earlier in this post

Last night I printed a set of random event cards. Most of them involve delays of some duration, longest is 15 minutes. A few require cars to be set out. About one third have no operational impact. 

I am trying to decide how to trigger the random event.  For now, I am going to place them near Brooke Tunnel and Stares Tunnels. Each train will draw a card when the pass Brooke going southbound or Stares Tunnel going northbound. That why I can have one box near both tunnels to house the cards. I am curious to see how they work out.

Meanwhile, I have been helping Marty McGuirk with building the paper mill for his layout.  

About 2 months ago I helped Marty with a redesign of the paper mill area of his layout to better match the prototype he was trying to model. The drawing shows the design I proposed to him.  You can see that the mill is a large complex and will be an important location for operations on his layout.

The clapboard building is 30 by 12 inches with some compression to fit the layout. The full prototype size in HO is about 36 by 12 inches. There are other structures in the complex that will be nearly as big. 

The photo below shows the first batch of laser cut parts that I cut for the building while they are in the glue up. Marty will install the windows and roofs. There are several other big buildings in the paper mill complex.

I have also been helping Doug Gurin with his layout design. He wants to have a refined drawing to show to the visitors this weekend.

 I also have a small modeling project to complete for Henry Freeman as he will be in town to operate and  pick up this model.

In between all that, I made some progress on the Pungy. I painted the hull and added stem and stem head. Next  I will install the railings and deck furniture. But that will have to wait until the weekend is over.