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.

January 26, 2022

In Memoriam Don Ball


I was saddened to learn of the sudden passing of my friend Don Ball last week.  I don't know the cause of death, but he was not ill from COVID at the time his passing. 

I became friends with Don via our mutual interest in early rail modeling railroading as we frequently met at traveling operating sessions.  I enjoyed his company as we had much in common. It might be strange to say, but I liked to listen to the sound of his voice that combined a midwest and California patois.

In 2017, Don had a chance to operate on the Aquia Line. In 2019 I had a chance to visit and stay with Don and his wife Becky in their home. While we didn't operate his layout, I did get a nice long look at it while he demonstrated the operation of some of his finely build HO scale early rail engines. You can see examples of his fine modeling at his blog, which is listed at the right of this post, The Copperopolis  and Stockton Railroad, C&CRR.

In addition to model railroads, Don had many other interests. He was a true Renaissance man. He was current the president of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad Historical Society. He wrote on book on the history of the Billerica and Bedford Railroad.  He also liked to tinker with machines. He had a restored steam car in his garage. He also dabbled in 3D printing and computer aided quilting.

Don and I also shared an interest in wargaming. In 2020 during the pandemic lockdown. Don participated in a Civil War play by email game that I developed.  He helped set up the VASSAl implementation of the game so we could all play it better. 

Don was also a member of the ACWRRHS. He, Becky and I spent a long weekend in the Memphis area driving around to see several civil war historical sites.

He is survived by his wife Becky, son, and step children and grandchildren. Here is a link to his official obit.


  1. What a shock on this very sad news. I was fortunate to visit Don's layout during the NNGC in KC a few years ago. He was a very gracious host and gave a personal tour of his layout to my wife and me. I was inspired by his hand crank mechanical turntable system. It inspired me to use his idea on my water tank and ball signal.
    He will be missed. My thoughts go out to his family and friends.

  2. Wow, thats truly sad. He was a great modeller and wonderful writer. A reminder to all that life is precious. RIP.

  3. It is sad to go over to his blog and still see the last post near Christmas, never again can I go over there to read his words and enjoy an update on his progress. Sorry that you have lost a friend and we have all lost his voice, I hope someone can keep his blog archive from disappearing from the internet.

  4. This is Don's son, James. I heard him mention your name several times over the years. I'm glad you were both able to form a friendship, and like your description of his "California and Midwest patois". Thanks for posting this, Bernie.

    And with regard to the above question around his blog, we do plan to keep it up and running.

    1. Thanks for the note. I am glad you will keep the blog up.

  5. Sad news indeed. I met Don when I started the Santa Clarita Model Railroad Club in 2002. Don was a huge help in getting a website going for the club. Don introduced me to Doug Smith’s Brooke Valley Railroad of which I am doing a revised version of this plan (Thx Don!). Don was also responsible for introducing me to the LDSIG and OPSIG of which I had the pleasure of attending their conventions with Don in 2003. Had it not been for Don Ball, I’m not sure I would be as far along with my understanding of model railroad operations as I do today. It’s really because of Don that I enjoy operations as I do. As for my layout, Don had every issue of Model Railroader from it’s inception at the time and he went through every copy to find a layout he thought I might like and took the time to sit down with me and start planning it’s construction. The plan Don gave me is still going strong today. Thank You Don for being such a great inspiration for me. My deepest and sincerest condolences to the Ball Family. RIP my Friend.