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.

March 27, 2023

Back from RPM East with a Blunami

 I returned from the RPM East 2023. I had a good time. It was great to see model railroad friends and meet new ones. 

The meet was held in a local community college without an official hotel. I stayed at a hotel about 6 miles from the conference. I found that to be less than ideal as it was not easy to pop into the room to get stuff, take a nap,  or get a snack compared to when the meet is held in a hotel.  

The facility itself was quite modern, clean and bright. The clinic rooms, display area, and dealer space were scattered about the facility. So people had to wander about to attend the various events. There was an interesting central area with a library/lounge/cafe where people tended to congregate. But it did seem to lack a critical mass for easy socializing and networking. There were 200 people signed up, but I never got to see most of them. 

The room where I presented my clinic had several computer monitors scattered about the room with a series of tables. People could watch the presentation on the monitor nearest them. But, if I was pointing out something on the screen, they had to look at my screen. My laser pointer did not work on that screen, so I had to use my fingers to point out specific items. It worked, but definitely was not ideal. The set up also had excellent sound, so the videos I played were easily heard, if not too loud. 

I presented my clinic and attended two others. I tried to go to some other clinics but they were standing room only, so I hung out in the display room instead. The clinic rooms were probably too small for the great turnout that they had. 

The highlight for me was a chance to talk with George Bogatiuk of Soundtrax to learn about the Blunami system. I brought some of my battery locomotives with me to display at the meet with the intent to get some of his advice on packaging and how the Blunami might work. Alas, he was too busy to leave his table so we never got to examine my locomotives. Nevertheless, I was impressed with the demonstration set up he had. I had a chance to try the Blunami on an iPad. The ap worked much better than I expected. I decided to get one with a keep alive to evaluate on my O Scale General.

I know DCC brand is like a religion to some folks. But I keep an open mind and will try out anything that seems like an improvement. In my specific case, I am looking at the ease of programming offered by the Blunami and hoping to get better throttle response. I installed the Stanton radio decoders I have  in the metal boilers as the batteries and battery power supply take up all the available space on the tender. So the radio response can be spotty due to the receiver being in essentially a Faraday Cage. I am hoping the the Blunami solves that problem by allowing me to install the decoder on the tender deck with the keep alive in the boiler.

The display room had some nice models on exhibit. George Bogatiuk had his HO scale 4-4-0 locomotive there. He did a very nice job on it detailing and installing electronics. 

I was also impressed with Ted Culotta's exhibit of highly detailed freight car models. 

I departed on Saturday afternoon as I wanted to get to Mainline Hobby Supply in Blue Ridge Summit to talk with Brian Wolfe about some issues for MARPM. While I was there, I purchased a Blunami Sound decoder and keep alive. I hope to install them before the next op session. It is always great to visit that hobby shop. One of the best model train hobby shops in the U.S.

I stopped at the Greencastle Highland Train Station on my way to the Mainline Hobby Supply. I did not know this was a Virtual Railfan camera site. In addition, they have an Automatic Train Control System display in the window of the station to show a real time view of rail traffic on the former PRR, now NS, line. Sure enough, a southbound train was heading our way. So, I stuck around to photograph it.

On Sunday John Burchnal stopped by the Aquia Line to visit. He is in town for a family visit. It's a funny coincidence, as next weekend I will be a guest at his house in Cincinnati. I will be presenting a talk about military railroads to his local NMRA division.

I fired up the layout so we could run some trains and discovered that both of the locomotives I took to the RPM East meet suffered some kind of damage. The damage on the Fury was especially alarming as the valve gear popped out of the cylinder. Fortunately, it was an easy fix. This is why I don't like taking these models to shows. They are somewhat fragile. They don't like being lifted off the track and being exposed to vibrations on a long car ride. 

Whiton will need to have some insulators installed on the tender side frames as the wheels are shorting. It seems that the paint has worn off and the bare metal the side frame is touching the un-insulated side of the wheel sets. 

March 23, 2023

The Forest of Masts

The forest of masts that we see in  many photos of civil war ports is taking shape on my version of the USMRR Aquia Line. Today, I took delivery of a 1/48th scale, waterline model of the Harvey, a Baltimore Clipper built in 1847. 

I contracted The Model Shipyard to build the model. They are the designers and builders of the museum quality sailing ship models. They are located in South Africa as part of the Mossel Bay Maritime Museum. If you look at their webpage you can get an idea of the high quality of their work. 

I ordered the model in December. I requested a 1/48th scale, waterline model of the Baltimore Clipper Harvey with the sails furled.

They sent me in-progress photos as the model was being built. With the model nearly complete, they sent photos for my approval. At that point I asked for them to set the furled sails differently based on the photos I had seen from Civil War era ports. They made the change without any complaint. 

The model arrived in a sturdy shipping crate. It is very well done. I am very pleased with it. It looks great at Aquia Landing on my layout.

 It seems a shame that I will weather it a bit.  

The Baltimore Clipper is a beautiful type of ship, and this model reflects that.  For example, look at the detail in the boat tied on to the stern.  The complex rigging, especially with the square-rigged masts, add to the allure.

Based on my experience with the Model Shipyard, I would highly recommend them. I am now thinking about what other ships they could build to add to my layout, as I have my hands full with all the other tasks.

A note about Baltimore Clippers in the 1860s. Naval historians in the audience will realize that by the time of the Civil War, Baltimore Clippers were being phased out. Yet there were still some in service, especially for light weight, high value cargo. There are photos of top sail schooners in the civil war era ports, so a Baltimore Clipper is not completely unlikely.  At least one Baltimore Clipper survived into the 1920s.   

March 22, 2023


I will be presenting a talk about my model railroad, The USMRR Aquia Line, at the RPM East 2023 this weekend near Pittsburgh, PA RPM East 2023  If you can't make it to the meet, I posted a short video to Facebook that I will be showing at the end of my talk. If you do attend, stop by and say, "hello."

March 21, 2023

Another look at the Gaming the Battle of La Fiere

A view of a German Beutepanzer (captured French) tank on the bridge at La Fiere (not from this scenario but a cool picture)

There is still much to do onto Aquia Line. But given that it is operational and presentable with regard to scenery, I have starting to mix in other hobbies in my spare time. This include wildlife (mostly birds) photography, model building, figure painting and some wargaming.

A friend of mine is starting a Youtube channel for wargaming. He asked me to run a scenario for his channel. It will be a simplified version of the flight for the bridge at La Fiere. I made a new terrain board for the game. Last weekend John Drye, Mark Franke, and Marty McGuirk helped me play test the scenario using a set of rules that were new to us. They were called One Hour Skirmish Rules.  

Notes from play testing a La Fiere Scenario 1 using One Hour Skirmish Rules

We had 4 players. All were new to the game and 3 had not read the rules before the game. It took about 30-40 minutes of example play and explanations to learn the rules. They started to get the hang of it. By the end of the game, we had it sorted out.  Everyone had a blast.

The forces involved in this scenario represent elements of the US 82nd Airborne Division (and some 101st Airborne that were scattered in this area) versus the German 91st Air Landing Division, specifically the 1057th Infantry Battalion and the 100th Panzer Replacement and Training Battalion. The latter was equipped with outdated German and captured French tanks. The battle occurs during the morning hours on June 6th, 1944, D-Day.

The bridge crossing the Merderet at La Fière is of critical importance to both the German and US operations in this area of Normandy. The struggle for the La Fière bridge began with the 82nd Airborne Division’s nighttime drop as part of Operation Neptune. The paratroopers reached the bridge and after intense close combat secured both ends of the causeway over the inundated land. This is the part of the action we are playing today.

Soon, however, a heavy German counterattack with armor support pushed across the causeway and back to the bridge. Two armored assaults were attempted, but both were repulsed, with the bridge never leaving American control. Later on with the arrival of infantry and tanks from Utah Beach the La Fière crossing was fully secured by the Allies. 

This scenario represents the first US attack to capture the farm and bridge early in the morning. The farm at La Fière dominates the bridge and must be cleared of German troops. The farm is a typical ancient stone complex of hedges, stone walls and sheds. But it is dominated by the 4 story Manoir (manor house).

The scenario required the American paratroopers to clear the farm complex of Germans. The US players had one ad hoc platoon of paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne division with 2 squads of 9 men plus a 2-man LMG team, a bazooka team, a 60mm mortar and two leaders (+3 and a +2)

The Germans had 2 squads of 7 men and a 2-man LMG team, a 2-man HMG, and a platoon leader (+2).

German motivation was 2 and Paratroopers was 3.

The Americans deployed 6 inches from the North edge, though they had the option of also deploying on the east edge. The Americans won the initiative  moved first. First squad moved along either side of the small trail parallel to the Merderet River. Second squad advanced behind the wood shed and toward the hedge paralleling the road.

Germans spread out to defend the farm

The Germans were surprised and were not prepared for the attack. Thus must deploy within 6 inches any door of the Manior. Their first squad went west to defend the front gate. The second squad sent a fire team east to cover the road, while the other fire team stayed in the manoir. The HMG was deployed between two buildings and covered the open field to the north

The Americans established a good base of fire and starting attritting the German defenders that were taking cover in and behind stone walls and buildings. Though out gunned, the Germans killed a few paratroopers including 1st Squad’s LMG team that was firing from across the road junction.

Both American squads got in an good assault position on the north side of the trail. From their assault position, American marksmanship caused heavy losses on the German fire team on the east side of the map deployed in the woods. The Germans were able to kill a few paratroopers in the process. With the German fire team that was defending the road now ineffective, they advanced across the main road. There were several hand to hand combats. The turning point occurred when an over eager paratrooper from American 2nd squad accidentally jumped a hedge, closed assaulted, and killed his own squad leader. A German took advantage of the situation and killed the confused American attacker.

American player trying to advance with some
semblance of order given the chaotic rules

Mean while on the western side, a German LMG behind the stone wall managed to survive a hail of incoming rifle and grenade fire and killed a few Americans as they advanced toward towards the front gate. Other Germans put up a good fight from behind the stone buildings but they suffered more casualties including the platoon leader. In the face of massive incoming American fire, the Germans retreated back into the courtyard and into various buildings around the perimeter. They set up interlocking fields of fire covering the courtyard to prepare for the final defense. It should be noted that this is an ancient French farm complex built for defense. As such, it very few outward facing windows. So it is difficult to find outward facing firing positions to cover the far approaches.

The Bruiser - Jane

Back on the east side, US second squad sent in their bruiser, Jane, also known as Toughie the airborne soldier, who promptly killed that lone German left defending that side. (BTW the Jane figure was a female soldier armed with a coke bottle, teddy bear, and a Thompson SMG. Turns out she is a martial arts and knife fighting expert. She is from the Hot and Dangerous figure collection from Wargames company). She then close-assaulted the German HMG after a few grenades softened them up. She was getting ready to take out more Germans when the joker popped up.

Things were looking bad for the Germans as they lost their leader and had 6 casualties. But the paratroopers had 9 casualties and lost their morale roll. (Actually, we screwed up all the morale rolls as we forget to draw multiple cards if leaders were present.)  So the game was over with a narrow German win.

Overall, we enjoyed the game. One player thought it was too simplified, but all thought it was fun. 

March 12, 2023

I'll Never Be Your Beast of Burden


The leader steers the oxen pulling a heavy wagon with logs for the saw mill

In reading J.B. Clough's letters to Ada Anderson, one sees much discussion of the status and location of the USMRR oxen. There were several instances where units borrowed the USMRR oxen to do some task. 

Oxen were the heavy haulers of the era. They had a relatively low initial cost, the ability to work long hours, used inexpensive equipment, and a lengthy lifespan. However, they were somewhat rare in the Army of the Potomac as they were not in most tables of organization for infantry, cavalry, artillery, quartermaster, etc. Instead, the Army relied on horses and mules.  Thus when some heavy work was required, the Army looked to borrow the oxen of the USMRR.

An ox is actually nothing more than a specially trained dairy or beef steer that has reached the age of 5. Depending on age, sex and breed, these beasts can weigh 1,500 to 3,000 pounds and pull an amount equal to or greater than their own weight. The were, and in some places still are, the main beast of burden. In fact, the word “acre” itself was once defined as the area that one pair of oxen hooked to a single-beam walking plow could till on the longest day of the year.

This scene shows a team of USMRR oxen hauling logs to the portable sawmill at Brooke.  In the background, engine Haupt drifts into town for a station stop. 

Switch Stand Repairs and New Photos

Troops envy the conductor as he rides past.

Replacement switch stand at Falmouth
I replaced the three-way switch stand at Falmouth. During yesterday's  op session I observed that the throw was not symmetrical. The stands are supposed to have symmetrical rotation in each direction. As I inspected it and operated it I realized that the axle, which acts as the pivot point for the throw rod had popped loose on one side of the stand. Thus the pivot axle was only supported on one side. So it was basically wiggling inside the switch stand. This created uneven rotation and a lot of slop.  The easiest way to fix it was to replace it. 

So I built a new switch stand with a much beefier pivot axle. I originally designed the switch stand throw rod  to use a 0.010 pivot axle and a 0.032 in connection to the rails. But for this one, I drilled out the pivot holes to 0.025 inches to accept a beefier pivot rod.  I also left a bit more of the pivots rods stand proud of the stand surface. That way if there is any deflection in the stand as the operators work it, it will be less likely to pop out.  

I installed the new switch stand and it works like it is supposed to. So all is good. The old switch stand went in the junk pile by the engine terminal.

The new guard rail

I also noticed that the switch leading to the engine service and turntable was missing one of its guard rails. I suppose that is a good sign that the switch operated well without the guard rail. But, I added it tonight so it should run more reliably  in the future. 

I have been working on my presentation for the RPM East 2023 in a few weeks. I took some new photos to freshen up my presentation. One is shown above. 

Op Session 24


Gerry, Tom and Ben

I organized a last minute operation session for Saturday when my plans for the weekend opened up and Gerry Fitzgerald said he would be in town. This was Ops Session 24 and the first of the new year. 

Gerry was joined by Amby Nangeroni, Paul Dolkos, John Steitz and first time Aquia Line operators Ben Sullivan, Tom Matty, Kelly Regan. With 7 people, we decided to run two trains with 3-man crews and one dispatcher.

Paul, John and Kelly ran one train, while Ben, Tom, and Jerry ran the other. John took a crack at dispatching, but it didn't take much to convince him to let Amby dispatch so he could take out a train.

John, Kelly and Paul

Things worked pretty well. Haupt and Fury seemed to run well. The telegraph fired right up and worked fine.  I saw a few derailments,  some operator induced. No specific bad orders were generated for the rolling stock. However, we did have some humidity contraction issues with the track in Falmouth.  Amby reminded me that this was the first winter op session for Falmouth. I have found that the layout needs a few seasons of humidity changes and tweaking to run the best despite us adding a whole house humidifier to our HVAC when we upgraded it last year.  To resolve some of the issues I had to trim the rail on some turnouts and the to the turntable. We will see if the trimmed rail leads to gaps that are too great in the summer when the wood swells. 

The switch stand for the double slip switch at Falmouth stopped working properly. After I examined it, I realized that the fulcrum for the throw rod popped out of one side of the stand. The only fix is to replace the switch stand. I built a new stand this evening and will install it tomorrow when the paint on it is cured.

Amby dispatching
The crews seemed to enjoy the random event cards. Most of the events did not have an appreciable effect on the operations but added considerable color to the session.  

Alicia made her signature chocolate brownies despite having pulled a muscle in her leg earlier in the day playing pickle ball. The guys loved them.