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.

September 26, 2022


 I built three hooches for the camp scene at Falmouth. For the tent portions I used plastic tents by Reneda Models. I built the log portions and chimneys from wood dowels, balsa wood, pink foam, and wooden meat skewers.

I reserved the place in front of the hooch with the brick chimney for the soldier doing his laundry. Since I don't have a figure like that yet, I added him with photoshop. I will look for an appropriate figure, perhaps to 3D print.

Amby gave me some red Virginia  clay from his yard to use in the scenery. This is good stuff as there is no mica in it. But, you must grind it to a powder. Clumps of clay are impervious to water, that's why civil engineers use it for water barriers in dams and superfund sites, so it won't absorb the scenic wet water and glue. But once it is a powder, it works well and adds an authentic color. 

The Aquia Line Graphic Novel


Playing around with Photoshop. This was a great exercise in smart objects, layer masks and compositing.  In the past I would use Photoshop for the graphics and Illustrator for the layout, but this image was done completely in Photoshop. 

This is not the first time I tried doing a graphic novel. I did an eight page chapter for my brother's book, Nation's Fortress, about our family in America's wars from the Revolution to the Cold War. The graphic novel chapter was about our grandfather's experience in WW1.  Here is a sample page from that chapter. The rest of the book is regular text. However, each chapter has a different format. For example, the chapter on the civil war is told through letters to home. I wrote that chapter for the book. If you are interested in the book you can get a copy at this lin

September 24, 2022

First Op Session Since COVID

Amby switching the first revenue train at Falmouth

The Aquia Line hosted its first Ops Session since the start of COVID and the expansion of the railroad.  Amby Nangeroni, Leonard White, and Jacob Hol were the gallant volunteer operators. I acted as trouble shooter and official napper.  I maintained a log of problems encountered by the operators.

Leonard and Jacob working number 7 at
Aquia Landing 
The good news is that Fury, with its battery power, operated without trouble. Haupt with DCC and keep alive started off fine at Falmouth but started experiencing  sporadic stalls on the rest of the layout. The trouble was a result of dirty wheels and track as I didn't have time to thoroughly clean them.

The conductors check their paperwork
We also tested Whiton, McCallum and Osceola. We discovered that Whiton's Li-Po battery had popped. Good thing it didn't catch on fire. So I swapped it out and it worked fine. McCallum and Osceola also ran fine in limited testing, but I did spot a broken wire to Osceola's front pilot truck. I will fix that. Osceola is reserved for use by the Commanding General as its pulling power is insufficient for use on regular trains.

Two trains with 10-cars each at Brooke is a problem.
The operators had to saw by using the stub siding

I made a note that all track and engine wheels should be cleaned before the next session. 

We found box car 2429 with tight wheel gauge on the brake truck. Also 1344 needs new trucks, but I know that car was problematic.

The telegraph worked well. Once the engines were on the road, the messages were fairly constant. I may need a dispatcher as an active job in future ops sessions.  

Having meets with two 10 car trains at Brooke is a problem. The siding isn't long enough. Today the crews had to saw-by each other. The ultimate solution would due to extend the siding, but that would be difficult in the current track plan.  The short term solution is to move the meet to Stonemans. 

Amby runs the first revenue train over the new expansion
All in all the session went pretty well.  I need to clean the track and wheels better before the next session. Thanks for my gallant helpers. Thanks also to Alicia for making some great Ghirardelli chocolate brownies.

September 23, 2022

Commissary Warehouse at Falmouth

Artwork for the backdrop

 The commissary warehouse is a large shed that I salvaged from the old Falmouth. It was the first structure I built for the O scale Aquia Line. It will occupy the center of the Falmouth scene. 

The first step was to make an interesting backdrop for this part of Falmouth as it will be the focus of attention. I decided to use photos I took of structures at actual civil war museums combined with more of Brian's figures and my hand painting to blend it all together.  The above is the artwork I generated for this scene.

 The house is the Wyatt House at Gaines Mill/Cold Harbor National Battlefield. 

The hooches are from pictures I took at the White Oak Civil War museum near Falmouth.  I composited all the elements together, added shadows and a new sky. Then I printed the image in two parts and installed on the backdrop without the sky. I hand painted the trees and foreground to blend it all together.

Next I built the wooden platform for the structure. The platform is larger than the building to allow some space to store freight.

Here are some photos of the scene as the glue is drying.

September 21, 2022

The Golden Spike

Haupt and a few USMRR officials watch the crews drive the last spike on the Aquia Line extension

What it really looked like

I drove the last spike on the Aquia Line extension today. I got into a rhythm and the last  18 feet went fairly quickly. 

There was considerably less fanfare when the last spike went in  than would happen at Promontory a few years later. Nonetheless, it is a nice milestone. 

I am sure my helpers are glad that the tedious task is done. I did notice a distinct lack of enthusiasm among them when I asked for help with driving the spikes. Thanks for Jack Thompson for his help in driving in some of the last batch of spikes. 

I did a rough estimate. The total distance of mainline on the layout is about 165 feet, which is about 1.5 scale miles.  Counting sidings and mainline there are 225 feet of track, or just over 2 scale miles. There are on average about 25 ties and 100 spikes per foot of track on my layout. That works out to  5,625 ties and 22,500 spikes.  Whew! That's a lot of spikes.

I am happy to also report that Paul Dolkos visited today and had a chance to run an engine and switch Falmouth. Every thing worked well. 

September 20, 2022

The Joys of Wiring

Haupt negotiating  the dip

 We finished wiring the layout today with frog juicers, feeders and the auto-reverse on the turntable. 

Amby spent the afternoon installing 4 frog juicers. The task was a little more complicated than usual since the rails on the frogs on my hand-laid turnouts are not all electrically connected. The easiest way to connect them is to solder a jumper across all the rails and then use the extension of that wire as the feeder wire  to the frog.  See the yellow circle the photo to see the jumper under the frog rails.  That jumper is part of the wire to the frog juicer. 

The red circle show how I use pieces of dark gray styrene to seal the gaps in the rails so that the will not close and cause shorts or other electrical problems.

While Amby was working on the frogs, I put a base layer of scenery on the Stares Tunnel section.

After dinner, I finished wiring the last frog juicer. Then I filled all the gaps with styrene and filed them smooth to the rail.  I also added jumpers from the all the stock rails to the closure rails.

The last under table wiring task was to connect the auto reverse circuit on the turntable. That worked as soon as I hooked it up. That was a pleasant surprise.

Amby and I did some test running. If you want to find track problems, run one of the Masons. Sure enough Haupt was derailing when backing over the south abutment. After a lot of gauge checking and test running I determined that rear rail by the abutment had a dip. I was able to fix it by levering the rail up a few thousands with a  small screwdriver. It now works without problems. 

I ran Haupt and Osceola up and down the tracks to test  the track, gaps and feeders. and all seemed to be working pretty well.  The wiring is done, but I still need to paint and ballast the track. I also need to do some tidying up of the wires under the layout so that they do not interfere with removing the books.

Base coat of scenery on Stares Tunnel

Doing scenery and backdrops and all the other work is fun, but when the trains move across the layout it really comes to life.


September 19, 2022

Trying some new techniques

New artwork for the backdrop
 I tried some new techniques over the past two days on the backdrop and trees.

The first was to create a new backdrop scene from photos I took at the Pamplin Civil War Museum last year. For example the house in the picture above came from a picture I took. I added some of Brian Kammerer's figures that he provided me a few years back. To make the photo of the house match my existing backdrops, I had to make it look painted. So I used Photoshop to do that using the Oil Paint filter and the then a Poster Edge filter that had been reduced to just the outlines.The photo at the right shows it on the backdrop.

This is the base image

I made a second camp scene from another image I took at the museum. In this one I started with a distant image of the simulated camp at Pamplin now used as a summer camp for kids. Then I composited other images from Pamplin along with more of Brian's figures to create a long  backdrop image. I then printed it in sections and applied it to the wall.

Here is the finished backdrop on the layout behind the tail track at Falmouth

Lone pine at Falmouth 

 Secondly,  I tried to make a model of the lone pine tree at Falmouth. I used a piece of pine carved to look like a trunk. Then I added plastic armatures from Woodland Scenics. I had to trim and modify them to look more like a  pine tree branches. I painted it with brown and dark gray and then used Superturf from Scenic Express to add the foliage. The tree looks better in person than the photo, but I am not that happy with it. It is disappointing as it took several hours to make it.  It will do for now while I come up with something better. 

Finally I added some simple trees behind the engine terminal at Falmouth.

September 16, 2022

The Lone Pine Tree at Falmouth - new photo "found"


It is always a treat to find a new picture of the Aquia Line. That happened tonight as I was surfing the National Archive Website of Matthew Brady photos. and came across this photo. I was examining the picture when it occurred to me that the tree in this photo was very similar to the "famous" lone pine tree in the well know picture of an infantry company at Falmouth as shown below. 

The caption of the second  photo clearly states it is at Falmouth and we can see a line of box cars in the background. If you compare the lone pine and the tents in front in the two photos, you can verify that the location is the same.  So the second photo is also at Falmouth. 

The second photo gives me some additional ideas for detailing my Falmouth scene. I have no idea what the two mud columns are for but it will be fun to model them. The soldier doing his laundry is also a fun detail.

There is a bit of controversy on the identity of the unit in the second photo. The National Archives caption says the infantry company is from the 6th Maine. The 6th Maine was stationed at Falmouth at the time in question. However, others say it was 110th Pennsylvania. Thanks to General Hooker and his corps badges, we can trace this unit to the III Corps, as their badge was a diamond. You can see the diamond badge on the kepis of most of the soldiers in the photo.  The 110th PA was assigned to  2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, III Corps, Army of the Potomac, from Sept 1862 to  June 1863.  The 6th Maine Infantry was assigned to the Light Division, VI Army Corps from January 1863- to the end of the war. The  VI Corps badge was a cross. So we know this is a III Corps unit, probably the 110th PA as there were other photos taken of that unit around that time. 

VI Corps

III Corps

Backdrops at Falmouth - Alicia approves!


It really is amazing what a backdrop does for the layout. I spent today painting and making cut outs for the backdrop at Falmouth.  

One of the key objectives of the backdrop was to show the Phillips House on the hill behind Falmouth. It was slightly north and east of the station. Gen Burnside used it as his headquarters when he was in command. Gen Hooker had his HQ near White Oak, so unidentified soldiers used Phillips House for their quarters. In February 1863, one of them started a fire in a hearth that accidentally spread to the rest of the house and it burned down. A photographer showed up and got a photo of it the next day.  I used that photo to make a cutout of the house and placed it on the backdrop.  I painted a road that leads to the house. I also used a cutout from Brian's artwork to show some of the servants quarters that were reported to be near Falmouth Station.

The burned station and the rest of the structures are recycled from the original Falmouth.

I also used some of Brain Kammerer's artwork to show the  army camp south of the Falmouth warehouse. 

I suspect there is about one more man day of work to finish the backdrops.

Alicia checked the layout tonight and said, "this is better than the port layout." I guess that is a good sign.

Brian's artwork was perfect for this spot south of the QM warehouse. I borrowed the lone pine from the rest of the layout. Making more trees is job one the do list.

September 15, 2022

First Layer of Scenery on Phase 2

Test shot showing the first layer of scenery. Auto focus bracket stack shot with the R7 with in-camera blending. I used PS to add the smoke and remove the window. 

First section to get ground cover
I started adding scenery at the north end of the bridge and will work to the south toward Falmouth. The reason I am starting here is that I am still waiting for some urethane rock castings from Scenic Express to be able to finish the tunnel portal area. 

This is the first layer of scenery. I used the dirt, ground foams and static grass in the first layer. Once it is fully dry, I need to decide what details I want to add such as fences, trees,  bushes, structures, and encampments.
With the base layer of scenery installed, I painted some distant terrain on the backdrops. I kept the horizon line low as I don't want this to appear like a mountainous region, just hilly with steep ridges.

I painted some distant detail on the backdrop

 Today the frog juicers arrived, so I will have to take some time to install those. 

September 14, 2022

Ready for scenery and backdrops

 I finished the last terra-forming for the layout.  The low hills behind Falmouth are stryofoam, while the large hill by Stares Tunnels is a cardboard/foam web covered with rosin paper and plaster gauze. 

I ordered frog juicers for all the turnouts at Falmouth.  I don't really need them given that I use battery powered and keep-alive equipped locomotives, except for one spot- the turnout from the arrival track to the rear siding. The front stub track to the turnout to the rear siding is too close to the frog of the turnout right before it. So I cannot cut a gap in that stub rail without weakening it. So that frog and stub rail will need a frog Juicer to avoid shorts when trains use the arrival track.  The battery locos will chug right through despite the short, but the other locos will be affected. Adding frog juicers is simple and really just best practice. 

I am waiting for some additional urethane castings from Scenic Express to finish the rocks by the tunnel. Meanwhile, I painted all the raw terrain and fascia with a coat of Virginia clay red latex paint. The paint really helps the layout look a lot more refined. 

Next comes scenery and backdrop painting, some of my favorite layout building tasks.

September 11, 2022

First Train to New Falmouth

When the glue under the bridge dried, I spent a good part of Thursday installing the rail over the bridge and connected it to the rest of the layout.  It took me about 8 hours to do the work, but I had to take a lot of breaks as I was feeling some mild side effects from a COVID booster shot. But, I was able to get all the track and spikes on this section complete. I figure that I can lay and spike about one foot per hour. That includes 4 spikes per tie.

Friday was a busy day as Amby arrived to finish wiring the bus and feeders and I worked on the scenery at Falmouth. We had an issue with my second booster. Amby thinks the second booster may be shorting the first booster, probably due to a fault in my wiring. Fortunately, the layout works fine with just one booster. I generally run 2 or maybe 3 engines at a time. My two work horse locos are battery powered and they run through shorts and other minor problems. So we should be OK.

With the wiring sorted out using one booster, Amby took the throttle with me as the conductor.  We ran a 7 car train into Falmouth. We used the main line as the arrival track as the arrival track had 3 cars parked on it. Those cars required Amby to make some extra moves to clear the main, get to the turntable, reverse the engine, run around the train. Pick up some cars and head out of town.

Amby was the first operator to OS a train into Falmouth using the telegraph system. Everything worked pretty well as long as the conductor made sure the switches were set correctly. 

After Amby departed, I continued with adding the scenery at Falmouth. Since this part of the layout is a narrow shelf, there is a lot less vertical relief. But I did cut away some of the fascia to provide a hint that the yard at Falmouth is adjacent to the creek.


September 8, 2022

Back to Spiking Time

Forty two and a half pounds of weight to hold the trestle while the glue dries

I finished installing and carving rock faces by the bridge site and balloon camp. 

Black base coat on rocks

Next I painted the rocks. I use Durham's Water Putty for my rock carving material. It has a yellow color. So I add brown acrylic paint to the putty mix. But once the putty is dry I paint the whole rock face black. Then I dry brush white from above to create the zenith highlights. At this point the rocks look like a black and white image.

Color Palette

Next, I take dark brown, burnt sienna, medium gray, white, and tan acrylic paint. I brush the rocks lightly with these colors on a wet brush to catch the high points. The brush is not so wet as to run and puddle paint in the crevices. It's a like a dry brush technique but with a loaded wet brush. 

I did a quick job of painting the creek bed. This will be covered with layers of other scenic material so the paint wasn't critical, but it will look like a acceptable before I get to that.

Once the rocks and creek were painted, I inserted the bridge into position. I adjusted the fit slightly by cleaning away any stray bits of putty. Then I glued it with carpenter's yellow glue. I put 42.5 pounds of weight to hold it it position.

Zenithal highlights with white paint

I didn't finish the terrain over the tunnel. That will have to wait until the rails are spike down.