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 18, 2023

MARPM 2023 Wrap Up

Scott Wahl's new N Scale TTRAK model depicting Vienna, VA. It was enhanced with
nice lighting effects.

Last weekend I attended the MARPM 2023. I am the director of the event so I was very busy during the meet.  I was ably assisted by Robert Sprague, Mike Pulaski and Doug Chapman. The event was very successful. We had about 114 people at the meet. There were 24 clinics from some top notch presenters, as well as 3 hands-on clinics that ran nearly all weekend.  

Plate C was one of the Vendors at the meet.

There were 4 vendors present selling a nice selection of models, books and parts.

Martin conducting his scratch building demo

We held the meet in conjunction with Main Line Hobby Supply Open House Weekend. Thus, there were 44 layouts open for visiting over the 4-day event.  

Tore visiting my railroad on Sunday
Tore Hjellset set the record for furthest travel as he came to the meet from Norway. 

Jim Dufour created a nice photo gallery on Flickr showing some of the models on display. 

There will be a MARPM24.  As you may have heard, our venue in Hunt Valley is closing permanently in October, so we will be searching for a new location and also considering other revamps to our program.

We realize that this year's dates conflicted with many other model and non-model railroad activities, but they were the only open times at our hotel. Furthermore, September-October is a very busy time with events virtually every weekend. If you have suggestions for times or locations please submit them via the comment below or on our Facebook group.

August 16, 2023

Artist Preservation Group Exhibition at Gettysburg, PA 18-20 August

The Artist Preservation Group will be conducting an American Civil War themed miniature art exhibition in conjunction with with the National Parks Service and the Gettysburg Foundation at the Gettysburg Visitor Center on 18 through 20 August.  I believe there will be over 60 artists exhibiting work. Most will be military miniatures, but I plan to bring some civil war era model trains and ships along with some dioramas too.

The event actually kicks off on Thursday with a figure painting class, but that is already sold out. The exhibit will be open to the public on Saturday and Sunday as long as the visitor's center is open.  Sunday morning there will be a guided terrain walk retracing the steps of Pickett's Charge.

The Artist Preservation Group is a gathering of like-minded historical artists whose mission is to generate capital through fundraising and donations in order to aide in the preservation and restoration of threatened historical sites and/or artifacts. They are committed to using artistic talents to actively support historical sites as they continue their dedication to the preservation, restoration, and interpretation of events that shaped history. For more information about APG see,  https://artistpreservationgroup.com/

August 10, 2023

IPMS National Convention 2023

We just finished a whirlwind trip across America’s swamp land to the hill country of Texas. The main purpose of the trip was to attend the IPMS USA National Convention in San Marcos, TX. But we did a lot more that just drive through swamps and desert to get there. Highlights of the road trip included a tour of the Tabasco factory in Avery Island, witnessing 2 forest fires, seeing two model railroads in Houston, visiting the Texas Military Museum in Austin, seeing the battleship Alabama in Mobile, AL, and the US Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, FL. I went birdwatching most mornings and saw 22 lifers. We met two college friends.

The trip began with me riding AMTRAK Autotrain to Florida. I brought my car loaded with models and dioramas to exhibit at the meet. Those included the "High Road to Rome" diorama that my brother and I jointly built, the "Oracle at Delphi" box diorama (actually a vignette in IPMS rules), "Backdoor to the City of Charlemagne" a 1/56th scale vignette I built last year, and my SS Atlantic Tugboat and Railroad barge with 4 cars. The latter came straight off my Aquia Line layout. I built some carrying cases for them as I also plan to bring them to the APG Exhibition in Gettysburg in a few weeks. 

Once in Florida I stopped at the Orlando Wetlands park to do some bird photography. I stayed at my brother Rob's house in Melbourne. I did a bit more birdwatching on Sunday at Sebastien Inlet. 

Staging the models we would bring

Rob had some models he planned to exhibit, so we packed those too.  We headed out early Monday morning and linked up with Dan Pierce in Orlando. He was driving his own vehicle as he planned to bring back a lot of model kits to resell in his business. So we had three drivers for two vehicles. That worked pretty well as no one got too fatigued over the 2,500 mile road trip.

Our first night was spent in Lafayette, LA. Of course we ate Cajun food that evening. 

Rail fanning near Lafayette, LA

Next morning Dan had to drop his truck off at a mechanic's shop for some repairs. So we spent the morning rail fanning, birding Spanish Lake,  and visiting the Tabasco Factory on Avery Island. The Tabasco factory was very interesting. It still retains the charm of an old style factory despite getting peppers from around the world and shipping hot sauce in return after 3 years of fermenting.  

Dan, Al Partlow and Rob

That afternoon we arrived in Houston, TX and toured Al Partlow's and Mike Spoor's model railroads. We then visited Rob's fraternity brother, Spotswood, and his wife, Susan. They live south of Houston and have a large spread with a horse and donkey. We spent the night with them. 

Sunrise on the Blanco River at the house we rented

On Wednesday we drove to San Marcos, but now our convoy had 3 vehicles as Spotswood drove too. He is a retired chemical engineer who is starting to build air plane models that he has been collecting for much of his adult life.  We arrived at the convention and set up our models in the exhibit area. Then we drove to Wimberley Texas, about 20 miles west in the hill country where we had rented a beautiful house on the Blanco River. One other modeler joined us, Will Findley from Lakeland, Fl. So we had 5 modelers staying in the house. The house was beautifully equipped and decorated. It reminded of something Joanna and Chip Gaines from the TV show Fixer Upper might have done. Wimberley is a charming small town with many shops, restaurants, parks, and a Rock Island caboose on display. 

The convention was huge. Around a 1,000 modelers attended. There were over 3,100 models on display in 7 major categories. Those were divided into smaller sub-categories. Aircraft dominated with 53 sub-categories, followed by 38 Military Vehicle, 16 Figure, 18 Ship, 22 Automotive, 10 Space/Sci-Fi, and 12 Miscellaneous.  Almost all of these models are judged and awards for  1-2-3 are declared in each subcategory.  That is a lot of awards to process, but they seem to have the system down pat. If you want to see photos of almost all the models at the meet click on this link.

The vendor area was big, encompassing three rooms. But it was not as big as a typical National Train Show that usually accompanies the NMRA National Convention. Despite being smaller, it seemed like it was much busier in terms of sales. I saw lots and lots of people buying model kits, tools and books.  I purchased only one model kit and a single bottle of Vallejo paint. But, my 5 house mates fully joined in the frenzy. Our vehicles were packed to the brim with model kits on the trip home. 

IPMS members have what they call, "stashes." Those are piles of model kits they buy and accumulate. Model railroaders with hundreds of unbuilt kits will immediately identify with the concept, though I don't think model railroaders call them stashes. Many or most of the kits in the typical stash will never get built. Many eventually get recycled in estate sales and flea markets. But some do get built as evidenced by the 3,100 models on display. 

The IPMS USA National is a bit different than the NMRA National Conventions. The IPMS is focused on the model display and especially the contest. They do offer some seminars and clinics, but just a handful. They also offered a couple organized tours to local attractions. Compare that to a typical NMRA Convention where there are nearly 100 clinics and dozens of  tours, while the contest is much smaller. If 100 models show up at a NMRA contest that is a lot. 

Friday afternoon we visited the Military Museum of Texas at Camp Mabry in Austin. It was an excellent museum focused on the military history of Texas. We returned to the convention as we all we involved in judging. 

We are happy to report that we won some awards, despite the competition from many excellent models. The diorama Rob and I built jointly received a second place in group build category. I received third place awards for my Aachen vignette and for my tugboat and railroad barge. My Oracle at Delphi diorama received an informal award from the Huntsville Plastic Modelers Society. Finescale Modeler Magazine featured Rob’s Model T in their convention web gallery.  

We were joined for dinner by my fraternity brother Winslow Cuthbert and his wife Cathy on Saturday. While we were visiting, there was a forest fire just north of the house we are renting. Our dessert was interrupted as we watched Texas CL-415 Water bombers fly over to fight the fire. The home owners texted us and told us that we might have to evacuate. So we packed up just in case, but the firefighters got the fire under control and we did not have to leave early.

On Sunday we headed back. We stopped in Mobile, AL to see the Battleship Alabama and look at some of the other items they had on display. We arrived after the museum closed, but we still had a chance to look around the park. Then we had a delicious seafood dinner at a local restaurant that had fresh fish. 

We spent the night in Pensacola, FL. The next morning we visited the Naval Aviation Museum on the Pensacola Naval Air Station. It is a fantastic museum. It has been expanded into two buildings. There is also a restoration workshop that did not have time to visit. 

I made it back to Virginia on Thursday again via Autotrain. It was a great trip. We are energized to work on another group build. More on that later.

July 23, 2023

Sprague's Ma and Pa HO layout

Mat Thompson, Paul Dolkos and I had an opportunity to do the first “official” operating session on Bob Sprague's new HO scale Ma and Pa layout. Bob has designed an interesting multideck layout with a counter-flow double helix that connects the various levels. He has beautiful hand laid track, many scratch built structures including some he designed and printed using resin printers. I especially liked his tiny, but flawless running, steam engines and rolling stock appropriate for the 1920s. He also uses digitrax for command and control including remote activation of the turnouts. That was the first time I used that system and I liked it. He has an impressive three-level swing gate made with 80/20 aluminum. It’s very sturdy

July 20, 2023

Oracle at Delphi Box Diorama

 This is my latest modeling project. I was inspired by a presentation by David Hoffman to build a box diorama. I chose the oracle at Delphi as a subject as I wanted to try new subject matter beyond railroads and military. 

The details of how the oracle worked are clouded by the passage of more than 2,000 years. There are conflicting descriptions of where and how she operated.  This is my interpretation of the oracle performing her ritual in the adyton (private room in the cellar) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The oracles were female, and,  according to some sources, they would make pronouncements while breathing fumes from a crack in the earth, allegedly the breath of Apollo. Male priests would stand by to record and or translate her utterances to hexameter verse.  

The statue on the right depicts Apollo wrestling with a python, which is how the temple became sited at this place according to Greek Mythology. The formal Greek name of the oracle was, "Pythia," to reflect the python in the origin myth. 

On the walls are inscriptions in Greek that translate to, “know thyself,” and, “all things in moderation.”

The figures and vases in the diorama are objects that I purchased from my various sources and modified to fit the diorama. An ultrasonic micro-humidifier produces the fumes emanating from the earth. The burning braziers are 3D printed objects with flickering LEDs from Evans Designs.  

July 18, 2023

Aquia Line in the NMRA Magazine


The Aquia Line is featured in an article in the August issue of the NMRA Magazine. This magazine is put out by the NMRA for its members. You can find it at this link

If you are not a member of the NMRA then you probably can't see it. But that begs the question, why aren't you a member? 

The editor is Cynthia Priest and she does a great job with the magazine and is an excellent editor. 

June 19, 2023

Busy Weekend

 This was a busy Father's Day weekend with trains, games, and model building.

John running a passenger train through Winchester 

Wooden fruit boxes under Winchester 
On Friday, Paul Dolkos rode with me to operate on John King's B&O railroad centered around  Winchester, VA. John's layout is wonderful to operate. It hits many of my hot buttons including Time Table and Train Order, Steam, and lots of switching. Paul and I operated the Winchester town switcher. That was a great job with many industries to switch. Winchester was a very busy railroad town with several cold storage facilities for the fruit industry. 

John's track is beautifully laid. He never got around to doing much scenery of structures but he does have lots of interesting mock-ups for the structures in Winchester.  In addition, he has dozens of wooden fruit boxes from orchards and storage houses in Winchester under the Winchester part of his layout. 

B&O Bulletin Book
John has a lot of interesting railroadania. One item that was really neat was a B&O Bulletin book that he uses to have his operators sign. 

On Saturday I participated in a game at Mike Kelly's. He set up a south Pacific scenario involving Japanese infantry guarding American prisoners, a US Navy shore patrol to the rescue, angry local villagers, and man eating animals.   

The game combined elements of role playing and war gaming. He used hidden movement and lots of surprises for both sided.  It turned out our 11-man Japanese squad had to deal with the 25-man shore patrol and 20 unruly prisoners lead by a lone nurse who managed to hide a scalpel on her person. Even the giant crocodile allied with the US Navy. In the end only one Japanese soldier survived to report the outcome to his commander. 

I continued to work on the High Road to Rome diorama too.  It is almost done. Here is a photo showing a vignette from the diorama. A jeep with a wounded soldier is trying to get past the dozer and tanks on the narrow mountain road. This incident is based on Eric Sevareid's report of the actual battle. 

June 8, 2023

20,000 Leaves Under the Sky

High Road to Rome Diorama (1/35th scale)

I will be taking a short break from modeling for some family events, but I thought  I would post a photo of the work in progress on the 1/35th scale diorama that my brother and I are building. The diorama is a showcase for some new scenery products that Alkem Scale Models will be introducing.  If you look closely you will see sumac, oak, beech and hickory trees.  We plan to offer a line up of new scenery items to allow builders to make super scale trees like these with individual leaves. In fact, that is what we will be calling them, Super Scale Trees or SST.  We should be announcing them in a few weeks. 

May 25, 2023

Two Approaches to Branch Line Model Railroads

In the past few days I had the chance to visit Todd Hermann's and Marty McGuirk's model railroads. They both model branch lines, but they have completely different flavors. I am a big fan of branch line models railroads because they tend to be manageable projects that allow the builder to create highly detailed scenes and structures. In today's busy world with so many demands on people, having a project that is manageable is something that should not be undervalued. Many of us want to model multiple deck railroads with CTC and signals and massive yards with dozens of operators. But projects of such scope are unobtainable goals for most of us.  Building a manageable branch line doesn't mean you are settling for something less as these two fine layouts demonstrate. 

A very well done level crossing

Todd models the area of Catasaqua, PA. This is a region crisscrossed by several railroads serving numerous heavy industries. Todd's main focus on is on the LNE, but he also has a large yard for the Reading Railroad and large section of the Lehigh Valley's 4-track line. His concept is to focus on the LNE but he needed the LV and Reading on the layout too as the LNE interchanged with both. 

The LNE cross a creek in a wooded area. 

His layout includes a really neat diamond crossing  where the LNE crossing the LV 4 track mainline on a super sharp curve and then crosses Lehigh River. Because of the peculiarities of the how the railroad is situated in the basement, he had to build two versions of the bridge over the Lehigh River. For more detail on how he did this see Chapter 10 "Diamonds in the Tracks," in Model Railroader's book, "What's in a Photo." 

Despite the emphasis on heavy industry, Todd was able to include some bucolic scenes on his layout. 

Todd has several interesting prototype photos displayed on the walls of his layout rooms and workshop. Some that caught my eye were of the 19th century Crane ironworks that was once in Catasaqua. This would make a fascinating compact iron related model railroad. In the era Todd models the site was taken over by the Fuller Company who make parts for the cement industry. For more info about Todd's layout see this youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3Qniv0qnyk

A nearly finished scene on Marty's layout

Marty's layout features a rural area in northern Vermont where the Central Vermont Railroad serves paper mills, creameries, and small towns. His layout is conceptually simple but executed to a high level. He has interchange with two other railroads too. One thing I like about his layout is how he has lots of country in-between scenes of operational interest. He has a large basement, but he resisted the temptation to fill it with track and clutter.  

One of the highlights of Marty's layout will be his paper mill. I am helping his design the mill layout and build some of the structures for it so I may be a bit biased. However, he also has three other areas where lots of switching will happen. It will be a fun layout to operate. 

To learn more about Marty's layout see his blog at http://centralvermontrailway.blogspot.com/

May 21, 2023

The Texas Army and the Road to Rome

A Work in progress view. Lot more work to do. The vegetation on Monte Artemisio
 is deciduous forest with a lot of underbrush. There are ruins of a few castles
and churches on the mountain too. 

My brother, Rob,  and I have been working on another joint diorama project for the IPMS National Meet in Texas. This one involves a scene from World War 2 during the Anzio breakout. Dozers from the 111th Engineer Battalion of the 36th Infantry Division, AKA the "Texas Division,"  cut a road over Monte Artemisio south east of Rome. That allowed US Army tanks and artillery to by pass German resistance in the valley below and opened up the road to Rome.  Both Rob and I were former Army Corps of Engineer officers. We selected this battle due to the role of the combat engineers and the Texas connection. 

 The diorama will feature an armored dozer, a Sherman tank, a jeep and several figures. The dozer and tank were made by my brother. I made a new set of tracks for the dozer with my 3D printer as the ones that came with the model were impossible to assemble. 

Detailed trees on the diorama.
Perhaps the highlight of the diorama
will be the highly realistic trees with individual leaves. I am making these leaves on my laser cutter and they will eventually become products for Alkem Scale Models. 

Here is an excerpt from, "The Texas Army, A History of the 36th Division in the Italian Campaign,"  by R. L. Wagner, State House Press, 1991, describing some of the action.

"One of the most extraordinary combat engineering feats of World War II was the building of the 22-mile long road up and over Monte Artemisio and through the Alban Hills by the 111th Engineer Battalion. Walker viewed the road as vital to the supply of the two forward regiments of the 36th and above all should the enemy counter-attack and deny American use of the Nemi-Velletri highway as an artery through which to move tanks and TDs to stop any enemy armored thrust.

Engineering authorities at Corps and Army were skeptical whether the road could be built, but Walker had received the division engineer's assurance on the 28th that it was feasible; and he proceeded on that basis to issue a verbal order that the trail be constructed. The CO of the 111th Engineers accordingly gave the main job to B Company, commanded by Captain Orvil W. Crisman of Wortham, Texas, and preparations were underway on May 30 to begin work. Stovall, the division engineer, had stuck his neck a long way out when he gave assurance to General Walker about the practicability of a road over the 3,100-foot mountain. He had reconnoitered the area and satisfied himself that the earth there was volcanic in origin and therefore amenable to treatment by bulldozers. If it turned out to be some recalcitrant substance such as granite the mission would be seriously compromised. As he confided many years later:

"My extreme worry was the thick ledge of cap rock nearly 100 feet high. I had flown as near the area as low as the driver would take me and had examined the rock at the base that had rolled down the side. . . . All indications were that the rock was volcanic residue. The night of May 30 was nearly sleepless for me but I did feel some better after I got to the ledge and found it to be volcanic rock early in the morning of May 31.

The road itself followed roughly the trace of the 142nd Infantry. In the vicinity of Monte. Artemisio there were a number of trails already present, and the engineers made it their business, where possible, to improve those already existing rather than hacking out new ones. Company B minus one platoon, started work with their R-4 and D-7 Angle Dozers early on the morning of May 31 and widened the initial passage to allow forward movement of 2-1/2-ton trucks and tanks. Company B was followed closely by elements of a battalion of the attached 39th Engineer Combat Regiment who improved and marked the road. Before nightfall a total of ten Angle Dozers were at work on the road. Very little pick and shovel activity was required as heavy equipment did most of the work; the only delays were caused by snipers all along the route. Flank guards had to be posted to protect the Dozer operators, who could not hear the sniper fire over the noise of their machines.

May 7, 2023

Pig Pen Palace

Eclipse stands ready while a gun boat comes to shore to get resupplies.

Improvements to the pig pen
The farms boys suggested that I make the dirt in the pig pen darker to reflect the typical mix of mud and manure found there. They also suggested some type of shelter for the pigs to get away from the weather.  

So I painted the soil with a dark umber color acrylic wash that I stippled on to the existing scenery. I made a small lean-to shed and placed it in the corner.  I put some straw on the ground so the pigs have a nice resting place. I also added boards to the lower edge of the pig pen to help keep the little porkies in the pen. 

Meanwhile, I noticed that the Eclipse headlight was not working. A brief investigation revealed that one of the CVs controlling the head light was somehow set to 63 vice 2 that it was. I don't know how it changed.

But the Eclipse was not done with me yet. As I was test running it, it started stuttering and growling. The source of the problem was the lead weights in the tender. The CAA joint where I glued them to the tender had failed. Some off the weights came loose and were interfering with the drive shaft to the rear truck. So I had to disassemble the tender once again. In the process, the red and black power wires broke off at the plug connection to the engine. So I had to resolder those. Good news,  all is back together and seems to be running well.  

Finally, I did some tuning of the double slip stub turnout in Falmouth. I noticed that the switch stand was not tightly mounted to the extended tie. So I used some 5-minute epoxy (which is really 30 minute epoxy) to reinforce the base. Once that was cured, the switch stand was solidly mounted, 

May 6, 2023

Ops session 25


Tim is pulling the pins while conductor John Barry looks on. Meanwhile,
Paul Dolkps tends to his engine.

Five brave operators worked the Aquia Line today for Ops Session 25. We ran one 2-man crew of John Steitz and Amby Nangeroni, and a 3-man crew of Paul Dolkos, John Barry and Tim Tilson. 

This was Tim's  first time operating and he did great. He has nice HO layout depicting the Soo Line in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Tim is also heavily into wargaming. He has written several scenario books for the wargaming hobby.

This was John Barry's first time back on the layout after a long absence.  He quickly picked up where he left off.  Amby got his first chance to be a conductor. He picked it up quickly. He found a few waybills that did not conform to my new track numbering system. We corrected those on the spot. 

Overall this was one of our better sessions. The biggest issue was that Whiton seemed to lose battery power after the first train. We swapped it out and used Haupt.  

The engineer of Haupt ran into a problem when he tried to run into the passenger stub track without first selecting the polarity switch on the  fascia. This switch exists because of the electro-mechanical peculiarities of the area where three turnouts overlap. To keep the electrical power routing to the frogs simple, I have a manual power route to the frog. I really need to come up with an automatic way of routing power to that switch as many of the crews forget to activate the switch when necessary.

We used the random events cars again. The crews selected 4 of them overall. Three of those were some of the more colorful and dramatic events. The example at the left is one. This was just bad luck as about 50% of the cards have no effect. 

None of the guest operators had an iPhone to use the Blunami, so the Eclipse did not get used. The Blunami can be used with a regular DCC throttle, but I am down to only one functional throttle.

The farm boys in the group suggested some kind of lean-to or shelter for the pig pen. I need to further develop that.

During the Op session I was involved in bidding on a set of O scale machine tools for the future machine shop at Aquia Landing. I actually won the bid though with shipping and tax I probably did not get a good deal. But it was an out of production kit and will help me get the machine shop built a lot quicker compared to scratch building all the tools.  I still need a metal planer. Wild West Scale Models is supposed to be working on one of those, so hopefully it will be out before I need it. 

The Pigpen

I painted some figures for the layout tonight. The figures of the humans were some that I printed on my resin 3D printer.  The pigs are from a set of 1/48th scale farm animals by Pegasus Hobbies.

The first scene is of one of the Primmer daughters working on slopping the pigs in the pen under the watchful eye of her father. He is taking a break from working in his tool shed.  The tools in the shed are from Alkem Scale Models. I'm not sure how effective that fence would be in containing the pigs, but even if they escape, they can't resist the Primmer's slop. So they come back. 

The second scene shows the two men in top hats and a woman in a blue hoop skirt that I painting tonight. I am working on a set of woman and civilian men to be used in scene depicting one of the  U.S. Christian Commission stations. But for now, these figures will be by the Provost marshal office. 

May 2, 2023


The final step to converting the General for use on the  USMRR Aquia Line was to rename it. I selected the name Eclipse with some advice from John Ott. See this discussion here. The other option was Warrior, but Eclipse won out since it was actually used on  the Aquia Line.  

 I made the new name tags using micro-thin laser engraving plastic. It was black on brass with a self adhesive base. The labels can be removed if someone wishes to go back to the name W&ARR General. 

April 30, 2023

The General is ready


I finished all but the final decal on the General. 

First, the continuing saga of the headlight. The 1.5V bulb in the headlight burned out after a few hours of test running. I decided  to replace it with a LED. This was a bit tricky as I had to machine the diameter of the LED to fit the headlight housing. Once I had it installed, I discovered that it would turn on nicely, but when I turned it off, it remained very dimly lit. I decided to change CV57 and CV58 to 2 based on a recommendation from George and that solved the problem. The headlight is now controlled independent of direction, that is, you can turn it on or off regardless of which direction the train is running.  Railroads in this era did not burn their headlights in daytime, so it will be off for most op sessions.  The LED gives a nice warm white color. 

Next I painted the resin woodpile with acrylics and washes. 

I dug through my stash and found two figures that were suitable as engineer and fireman. I repainted them in shades of brown, dark blue,  and gray. I added a piece of firewood in the fireman's arms.  Both figures are now glued in the cab.

I made a new extended link for the cowcatcher. The new one will allow crews to use it during op sessions. The old one disappeared into the carpet monster even though my floor doesn't have carpet. 

Finally, I lightly weathered the model with some chalk, enamel grease paint from MIG, and acrylics. I added a bit more rust than normal to the ankle rail. I carefully sprayed the painted (vice russia iron) surfaces with dull coat being carefully to not get paint on the wheels.

The last step will be replace the decal on the tender. I ordered a new decal paper than might make that job a lot easier.  We shall see. 

Crew figures and tender are visible from this angle.

Speaking of the ankle rail. As I was test running I discovered that this loco, with its ankle rail, is wider than my others. There were two locations on the layout where the ankle rail hit the scenery. One was in Stares Tunnel and the other was in the rock cut just south of the Mueller's Creek trestle.  I fixed both of those locations by trimming away some scenery.

I also discovered a few places where the gauge was off. The most serious was a kink that developed in a joint in the flex track in Stares tunnel. That caused the rails to be slightly out of gauge, but it only affected a couple cars.  I tried to remove the kink and get the track back in gauge using large track nails driven in the plywood roadbed. To be extra sure, I added a guard rail on the inner rail to keep the wheels on the rail.  So far so good. It should be ready for the op session next weekend.