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.

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. 

April 25, 2023

General Success

 I finished working on the decoder for the General. I was assisted by advice from George Bogatiuk of Soundtrax. He suspected that the output for the headlight was damaged during my installation. He said repairs would be covered by warranty. However, if I only needed a headlight, he suggested wiring the headlight to the yellow wire that usually controls the  back-up light.  That sounded better than taking out the decoder and sending it back. 

So that is what I did. 

I also had to modify some CVs. Normally this would be a trip to hexadecimal hell. But this was very easy to do using the Blunami Ap - heck - even I did it. First, I did a total decoder rest by setting CV 8 to 8. You have to power down the decoder for the reset to take effect. Then I input 63 in CV 57 and 0 in CV58.  Now the head light works. I used the ash pan effect on it per George's recommendation and it looks very much like an oil lantern.

Then I did some test runs. I suspected that this locomotive would not pull as much as the Fury (nee Texas) and the Masons. The motor in the tender is a bit smaller than those and the tender is lighter. To improve the pulling power I added weight to the bottom of the tender and inside.  However, there isn't that much space in either location.  Based on my tests, the loco needs about 4 ounces to pull 9 cars up the ruling grade. I could only fit about 2 ounces. 

I also had a scare as I tried to shoe-horn in as much weight as possible. I accidentally popped off the prop shaft to the rear gear box. Luckily I found it and was able to replace it. 

I used my dremel tool to grind away the thick resin of the factory wood pile to make room for the speaker. It now fits snuggly on the loco but can easily removed for maintenance. Being thinner, it provided less muffling to the sound from the speaker below it. I sprayed it dark brown. I will finish painting it later. 

Here is a quick video showing the engine in operation. It can easily pull six cars. I will do more testing to determine its maximum capacity.   I still need to weather, paint the wood pile, fix the front link and add crew figures.

April 22, 2023

NMRA Open House

Jack Thompson (blue shirt on right) wearing his very authentic kepi.
Ron  Prillaman (in green striped shirt) and Jack were both long time civil war reenactors. 

I hosted an open house for the NMRA Potomac Division this afternoon. About 35 people came by including some of my wargaming friends.  

Charlie and his parents
Leonard White and Jack Thompson volunteered to run trains. They were assisted by Charlie Fastoso. He is a nine year old boy who was visiting for the first time. He ran trains for quite while and ended up making 3 round trips cross the layout. He quickly picked up the idea and was operating the turnouts and turn table on his own. I think he would have stayed but his parents had to leave.

I didn't see too many problems. Most of the issues came from folks forgetting to set turnouts to the correct route. Stub turnouts are basically derails when set to the wrong route. 

I was pleased to see that the intermittent shorts in Whiton's tender truck were not occurring. I added insulating washers to each axle to help avoid the shorts and they seem to have worked. I noticed Haupt was a bit balky at the start, but ran well. Perhaps it need some lube. 

After everyone left,  I test ran the General some. It runs really well. I discovered it needs several ounces of weight in the tender to pull 9 cars. I will take care of that as there is room in the tender for extra weight. 

April 21, 2023

Success, ...almost


Test running the General 

I installed a Soundtrax Blunami decoder in the locomotive General today.  That involved installing the decoder, current keeper, speaker and adding a working headlight.  It went fairly well. Overall, I am very impressed, but there is one lingering issue.


All the electronics fit in the tender
The first thing I noticed was that the wire to the  electrical pick-up on the pilot truck was broken. This is a common problem with these locos. The Osceola had the same problem and I fixed that yesterday.
I had to remove the pick-up to clean off the solder joint and solder the wire. 

Next was the decoder. Installing that in the General was much simpler than my previous decoder installs because I did not add all wheel pick-up to the tender and I did not use the Stanton battery and battery power supply. Thus, there was enough room in the tender to install the decoder on one side of the motor and the current keeper on the other.

I added a sugar cube speaker on top of the gearbox for the lead truck. It sounds great.

This loco has electrical pick-ups for one rail on one side of the tender and for the other rail in the engine. I usually add all wheel pick-ups on both sides of the tender, but this locomotive seems to be running well without them. We shall see how it does when the wheels get some dirt.

I wanted to add a working head light. As installed at the locomotive factory, the headlight light comes on whenever there is voltage on the rails. So it was always on when placed on DCC. 

I had to take off the fire box to get  at the head light wires inside the boiler. The wires from the light were attached via a mini plug to the main power wires of the locomotive. It was easy to unplug it. 

However,  I misunderstood the Blunami instructions and connected the headlight to the decoder output without a ballast resistor. The headlight in the loco was working with 15V from the DCC track power.  So I didn't think I would need a ballast resistor. Oops, that was not correct. The bulb burned out after a brief moment of working. 

The dang headlight won't turn off
So I replaced the blown bulb with a micro bulb I had on hand with a 460 ohm resistor. Now the head light is on but it won't turn off. I suspect I somehow damaged the lighting circuit or perhaps I have an incorrect setting in the control application.  Which leads me to the next part of installation, the Blunami Application.

The Blunami Application

Downloading the Blunami Application to my iphone was easy. I fired up the app and it quickly connected to the decoder. The controls are easy use.  I really like it. The throttle response is excellent. I tested it from various rooms in my house. It works all over the basement and I can even control trains from the kitchen. 

The buttons on the ap have an audio or haptic response, so you  feel like you are pushing a mechanical switch instead of a screen on a phone. It is much better than I expected. One thing I noticed is a slight delay of about 5-10 seconds from when you open the ap to when you can control the loco. This caused a few moments of panic until I got used to it.

Programming is easy. I tried various settings for sound and speed control. It will take some more playing around to get things dialed in. I tried the digital engine calibration. It worked automatically. I really can't tell if it made a difference but it was easy to use. I think it might be chuffing a bit to much, so that is a parameter I need to play with some more. I have to say it easier to program the decoder functions with this device than any other way I have tried. 

I only have one iPhone, so I don't know how I will deal with multiple engines and users. My operators can easily download the ap if they have an iPhone. But not everyone does. What if I want to run two or more engines? 

It is perhaps fortunate that I am using this ap as two of my EasyDCC throttles have stopped working. So, I am down to one functional EasyDCC throttle and 3 throttles that work with the Stanton systems. I haven't decided if I will convert my other locos to Blunami.  

Remaining Issues

I need to find out why the headlight won't turn off or react to any controls. The Aquia Line doesn't use headlights in daytime, so I can disconnect it, but I want to get it working properly. 

Since this loco is the famous W&A RR General, I decided to keep the name the same. However, I made a sticker with the USMRR logo for the sides of the tender using my laser cutter and brass micro thin plastic.  The sticker is removable in case I need to sell the loco. It can go back to being the W&A RR General. 

I need to work on the woodpile and add some weathering. The front link needs to be modified for use with my couplers. I also need to tweak it a bit as I run it and find problems. But it a nice addition to the fleet. 

April 12, 2023

Privateers - An inside Look


British sailors and marines get slaughtered as they attempt a "cutting out expedition" on the 
American Privateer, General Armstrong

Amanda Foreman's book, "The World on Fire" discusses Britian's balancing act in trying to remain neutral during the American Civil War. One of the reasons she offers, among several others, as to why Britian remained neutral was that they were concerned about the potential devastating impact Union privateers would have had on the British merchant fleet. The British recalled their exasperating experience with American privateers in the Revolution and even more so in the War of 1812. Furthermore, they could see the effect the few Confederate raiders were having on the vast Union merchant fleet. They did not want to risk their merchant fleet to that again,

If you are wondering, like I did, how privateers actually worked than this article by Joshua Smith, "General Armstrong: the Captain, the Ship, the Battle" might help. In it he illuminates how American privateers were financed, built, sailed, and fought in the war of 1812 by following the example of the Baltimore Clipper, General Armstrong.  It became a famous ship due to a tenacious captain and a bloody battle fought in neutral harbor. It is a fascinating read. You can find a copy of the article at the following link General Armstrong: the Captain, the Ship, the Battle

April 11, 2023

HO Scale 4-4-0 Locomotive Parts for Sale

 -------SOLD I have an assortment of parts that can be used to construct a HO scale 4-4-0 locomotive using the Mantua General as the base. The photo shows what is included - notably a Mantua General locomotive, a new can motor, decals, lots of detail and mechanical parts including some of Al Mueller's photo etched details. 

 The price is $NA including shipping in the US. If you are interested, let me know. I can send you an invoice via PayPal or via email and you can pay by check.  SOLD------

April 8, 2023

Behind the Scenes at Mark's Game Room

Players and video crew getting ready for the video session

I helped host a skirmish wargame at Mark Fastoso's Game Room today. Mark is setting up a new youtube channel devoted to military history and wargaming. His channel will feature wargame play throughs, historical vignettes, game reviews and other gaming related content. His premiere will be June 6, 2023. The theme will be D-Day. He plans to feature several videos mostly related to paratroopers fighting on D-Day. He has a lot of interesting content associated with that including some rare never-seen footage of actual band-of-brother survivors. 

In case you don't know, Mark is an Emmy winning video documentary producer.  Here is a link to one of his documentaries.  https://www.pbs.org/video/alabama-public-television-documentaries-jeremiah  He has also designed some miniature wargames such as Fire Ball Forward.

Mark operating his video mixer. He can control multiple
cameras in real time
To prepare for producing high quality videos for the youtube channel, he has converted his basement game room into a rather sophisticated video gaming studio.  There are overhead cameras, lights, multiple microphones, etc.  He has a video mixer that can control multiple cameras in real time. The device creates a Davinci Project file with all the cameras on separate channels, so he can go straight to editing. It is an impressive set-up.

When Mark learned that I had designed a scenario and built a terrain board for the La Fiere battle, he asked if I would be willing to run it for his youtube channel. It would fit perfectly with his D-Day theme. He suggested we try a new game called One Hour Skirmish Rules. I was willing to try it and I'm glad I did. It is a relatively simple game system that plays quickly yet captures the weaponry, tactics, and chaos of small unit combat. To prepare for the video recording session, I built a new terrain board that was slightly smaller and portable to fit his game table. Then I had some of my regular gamers playtest the game in my basement to check for issues and play balance.

Germans preparing to run the gauntlet into dug-in American
paratroopers. Will they succeed?
Today we ran the game three times in about 5 hours with a break for lunch and set-up. I won't get into the details of the games, you'll have to wait for the video to see that. But it went really well. The guys seemed to enjoy it. The outcome was in doubt right to the very end- you know you have a good scenario when both sides feel like they are losing.  

I am planing on building another scenario for his gaming channel. This one will likely be an American Civil War engagement where one side is trying to destroy the other's railroad.  Stay tuned for that.

April 3, 2023

Diapers are Structures

The Washington, DC area where I live is full of government workers and contractors, who may be good people, but their main products are paper and hot air. So I always enjoy traveling to various other cities in the US and meeting people that actually make and build things for a living.  I had that chance this weekend as I visited Lexington, KY to see my son and his family, and then to Cincinnati, OH to present a talk about military railroads at the NMRA Cincinnati Division 7 monthly meeting. 

Chase and Ruka
In Lexington,  I had the pleasure of hearing more about how my son and his wife are starting a bioengineering company that is producing genetically engineered chemicals to be used as adjuvants for vaccines. Those are chemicals that make vaccines more effective. Their specialty is producing terpene chemicals from genetically engineered yeast. Prior to their work, the adjuvants had to be sourced from shark livers. The techniques they developed are much friendlier to the environment and biota. Plus their labs smells like baking bread. They are doing quite well and I am very happy for them and their new baby (my grand daughter) Ruka. 

On Saturday I drove to Cincinnati, OH as the guest of John Burchnall. We first visited the museums at the Cincinnati Union Station. The history and science museums are very good. That explained why they were packed with visitors on the day after opening day for the Cinching Reds. 

An example of one of the custom scratch built structures on the S scale layout - the music hall

The history museum has a magnificent S scale layout depicting the city in the steam era. It cost somewhere around $2 million dollars to build even with volunteer labor. It is full of impressive models.  

I also really enjoyed the large steamboat wharf and city diorama in the level beneath the layout. 

The steamboat is 1/3rd scale, but it still was huge and large enough to walk into. It was full of crates and barrels of typical of the early steam boat transportation era. Of particular note to me was two boxes of army bread, one was from the usual Union Mechanical Bakery in Baltimore, which I have seen in period photos. However, they had a second box from a bakery that I had not seen before. It may be from a later era based on the typography, but there was no date on it.

The small waterfront stores and shops in the diorama were also very interesting.  You could go inside each and check out the period decor, tools, products etc.

The science museum was also very interesting. The ice age diorama, with saber tooth tigers, giant sloths and wolves,  was really neat. 

 A wolf descended the moraine in front of a ice age glacier

A scene on Bob Lawson's layout
Later that afternoon we visited  the model railroads of Bob Lawson and Ed Swain. Bob is a fine scale structure specialist and his layout had over 100 such structures. He is in the process of downsizing his previous large layout into his new house. He had some finished scenes, but still had dozens of amazing structures on shelves in preparation for the rest of the layout completion.

Ed and his layout

Next we went to Ed Swain's proto-freelanced PRR railroad. It is a nearly finished layout that hosts regular op sessions. The modeling and presentation are first rate.  Ed was a GE aircraft engine executive. In the small world department, he knew my college roommate who also worked for GE aircraft engine group. 

Nice scene on Ed's layout

That evening John and I had a long conversation about his role at Proctor Gamble making baby care products. He was a civil engineer with an economics minor. He became a research fellow after he developed a holistic cost model for the whole company's production processes. I learned that diapers are structures. A disposable diaper has over 40 different materials in it, yet costs about $0.25 and has to support a "load."

Dave by a deep bridge scene
The next day we visited Dave Davenport's freelanced Tennessee Midland railroad. It's a prototype freelanced railroad that appears to be nearly done. Dave hasn't started operating yet, but it looks like it could be a hoot. 

Dave had a neat DCC programming station that had several engine test and  programming aids such as variable DC power,  JMRI Sprog, and ESU programmer built into a portable board with rollers.  Very clever. He said he got the idea from a guy in Europe, but it looked like a neat installation to me. 

Next we went to the NMRA meeting where I presented a clinic on Model Railroads at War. It seemed to go well. 

After the clinic we briefly visited two more nice layouts by Gary Ossenschmidt and Ed Bley (sorry I didn't get any pictures).  Gary actually had 2 layouts, one in N, and a bigger one in HO scale.  Ed layout had steel theme as it was set in the  Pittsburgh area. He had a really neat coke factory. 

All in all a great weekend with a very good group of people.