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.

November 16, 2023

Upcoming Events


I am scheduled to present a talk on Railroads of the Civil War at the Leesylvania State Park on 2 December at 1000AM.  This talk is aimed at the general public and will cover a variety of topics related to the development and operation of railroads during the Civil War. The talk will conclude with a selection of photos from my model railroad. Please see the link above for details. There is a parking fee for each vehicle, but the talk is free. I hope to see you there.

Leesylvania Park is the site of the former Confederate Freestone Point Battery. Established in 1861, the Freestone Point Confederate Battery was part of the five month Confederate blockade of the Potomac River. Union ships shelled the battery several times with little effect on each.  When Union soldiers made it to shore during the Battle of Cockpit Point in 1862, the batteries were abandoned. The earthworks survive to today as part of the Leesylvania State Park and were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

On December 3, I will be hosting an open house to give folks a chance to visit my model railroad. The time will be from 1-4PM. If you read this blog, you are welcome to attained. RSVP to let me know if you are planning to come.

November 15, 2023

Great Lakes Getaway 2024

I attended Great Lakes Getaway 2024 last weekend. I and 21 other out-of-town guests had the chance to operate on up to 5 great layouts in the greater Detroit area. 

On the first day I operated at Doug Tagsold’s C&S Layout today. It is a spectacularly beautiful model railroad. It is also one of the more complicated Timetable and Train Order layouts that I have run. There is lots to think about as you chug along or wait for meets. I ran an extra ore train that was basically swimming upstream against several scheduled trains. The long runs between control points combined with the slow speeds are unmatched in any model railroad that I am aware. Definitely one of my favorite railroads to operate and visit.

The day capped off with a fun group dinner. The food and company was great but the dang musician was so loud, my ears started ringing. 

View from my office for the day

On the second day I operated on Mike Burgett’s beyond museum quality C&O layout.  I am proud to have contributed to it with some structures and signals via Alkem Scale Models. 

I did my favorite job, West Clifton Forge Yard. That job builds trains and weighs coal hoppers. It all happens from one seated position which I do like.  It really feels like a real railroad when you operate at Mike's. This railroad with its dispatcher office and tower has to rank as one of the best in the country. 

That night I presented an after dinner talk to the group on an update on the Aquia Line.  Travers Stavac also presented his plans for his new layout that incorporates some of Paul Dolkos's former layout. 

Last layout for my trip was Bill Neale’s wonderful PRR Panhandle division. This was my second visit to Bill’s layout. This time I ran a through oil train, and a coal shifter. The pièce de résistance was being engine crew on a massive 45 coal hopper train with three crewmen each running a PRR decapod- 2 on the head and one snapper (aka pusher) on the rear. As an extra treat, Bill’s wife, Terry , provided a tour of their birdfeeders in the back yard and pointed out some of the birds we saw.

Three awesome railroads in 3 days. The Michigan hosts are also great hosts. Thanks to them for hosting a wonderful weekend.

Two decapods on the head and one one the rear with 45 coal hoppers. 

November 5, 2023

Joint Potomac and James River Division Meet and other travels

My dioramas, which feature Sherman tank models, on display next to actual Sherman tanks

I attended the joint Potomac and James River Division Meet last Saturday, 4 Nov 2023. That meet culimated a busy period of hobby related travel.

Charlie's Layout is the top floor of a large 3 car garage.

To briefly recap, I drove to Memphis, TN via Lexington, KY (where I visited Chase, Muzuki and Ruka) to attend the ACWRRHS annual meet from 12-15 October. The highlight of the meet was to be two op sessions on  Charlie Taylor's Memphis and Charleston Model RR.   We got to run trains one day. Then Charlie and his wife contracted COVID (fortunately not serious cases). So we had to resort to alternate plans. Those included a joint build of TTRAK models in the hotel, and I did a presentation on the latest news on my layout.

While in Memphis, we ate BBQ, spent an evening on Beale Street listening to music, and squeezed in some rail fanning. I also visited the massive Bass Pro Shop in the pyramid. 

On Sunday I drove to Birmingham, AL. I picked up Alicia at Birmingham airport. We then spent the week with Danica, Adam and Merritt. Alicia returned home on Tuesday for a doc appt. So I had to baby sit Merritt by myself for a couple days. It was tons of fun. 

On Friday I drove to Fort Moore in Columbus, GA to meet my brother, Rob, to  attend an armor model contest and open house at the US Army Armor and Cavalry Museum. I was there earlier in the year, but it was great to revisit with more time to look around. We brought some models to display. 

We also managed to get in a round of golf at Maple Ridge GC. I actually played pretty well for a change. 

The show was fun. We didn't get any awards, but we did get to get close up looks at the vast collection of armor they have on display.  

One other unexpected highlight was that I got to meet some customers of my Alkem Scale Models DODX flat cars. David Perkins even had some on display. He really lobbied me to continue to produce those and other DODX cars.

On the drive home I made three stops in Virginia. 

First was to Drewry's Bluff.  This was the site of a famous CSA fort on a steep bluff overlooking a sharp bend in the James River. In May, 1862 there was a battle there when the Union Navy tried to break through to Richmond, VA. The fort held and the Union Navy pulled back. 

The National Park Service has preserved the site and has a recreation of one of the heavy guns that defended the fort. Other than the dirt mounds left by the entrenchments, not much else survived. The bluff is very steep. It is obvious that this was a strong position, at least from river attack. 

Next stop was at Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond. The state and the NPS have opened a new museum there. Some of the original brick buildings are still present. The iron works underwent  significant expansion after the civil war, so it is difficult to envision how it looked at the time of the war. But, the NPS have two dioramas of the works. One depicts the appearance during the civil war and the other about 50 years later.  I did get an answer to a question that had been nagging me for some time - there was no rail spur directly to the works during the civil war. Wagons and canal boats were the primary means of transport to and from the works. 

The museum was pretty good too. Not as extensive as the Pamplin Museum of the Civil War, but with several interesting exhibits. Some highlights to me were the uniforms of several notable rebels both male and female, Jeb Stuart's boots, and a period field desk. There was also an interesting exhibit on the rise of paper money as a result of the civil war. 

Last stop was a visit to the Stafford Civil War Park. This park sits is situated on 41 acres that hosted the Union Army's 11th Corps, 1st and 3rd Divisions, following the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg. You walk or drive to 8 different stops to view the remains of several union army camps and entrenchments.  The sites are well marked with signs and replica guns and shebangs (temporary huts built by soldiers for housing). Like Drewry's Bluff, I was impressed with the roughness of the terrain, The entrenchments would have been very difficult to assault. 

I had two weeks at home to recover from the trip. That included surprise laser surgery to repair a small hole in my left retina. I was not having symptoms from the issue, but my ophthalmologist noticed it during my regular eye exam. It pays to get your check ups. My vision is back to normal.

Sean's layout building - Wow!

This gets us to the Joint division NMRA meet. I got there a bit late so was only able to attend one clinic. Mark Gionet described how he scratch built a lattice truss step bridge. Then it was off to lunch and some layout tours. I visited Sean Hoyden's massive NS layout under construction in a separate outbuilding. 

He lives near the Chapman's Mill in Thoroughfare Gap. This was a stone mill built before the civil war. Of course, this was the site of a civil war battle. But there is also a nature preserve and hiking trails. I need to go back with my birding camera.  NS B Line passes by the mill and you can see the mill from I-66. I drove by this dozens of times, but never stopped to take look. 

Finally on the way home I stopped at Ernie Little's HO layout. Ernie is the current president of the Potomac Division. He has a nice layout in part of his basement.

So we are caught up for now, but I am leaving on Wednesday for Great Lakes Getaway. Hopefully I will get a chance to operate on some of my favorite layouts in the US.