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.

May 18, 2024

Making Waves

We had our first group work session for D-Day Diorama Phase 2 - Vierville Draw. John Drye, Tom Karstens and Jeff Hammer joined me today for a long work session.  I have been working on this diorama for about 3 weeks, though we had house guests one of those weeks so I didn't get much done in that period. The group got a lot done today. 

JD painted the "boat people" figures. These are figures intended to be US soldiers riding in landing craft. However, many of those will be converted to casualties.  He is doing this by sanding the figures so they would lie flat on front or back. He marked the side that should face the ground with red paint - so the red is not supposed to represent blood. However, this diorama will have a lot of casualties, over 100. So there will be some blood visible.

Jeff painted infantry figures on land and obstacles. He will bring the finished figures later this week.

Tom prepped all the LCAs and tanks for paint. That involved removing marks from the 3D print supports. He them primed them. Next he airbrushed the boats after I gave him a short block of instruction on using an airbrush.  It was his first chance at using an airbrush. We said, "I'm sold on airbrushing now."  It didn't hurt that he was using a Harder Steenbeck Infinity airbrush. One of the finest on the market. 

I worked on the ocean waves and the seawall.  I had previously made the wooden base and terrain using foam in a manner similar to Phase 1. However, this terrain has more bluffs and a small village.

May 10, 2024

Down to the Sea in Trains - Ships for Model Railroads

 I'll be doing a virtual clinic for the Potomac Division of the NMRA on May 11th at 3:00PM. I believe the clinic will be posted to youtube after I present it if you are not a member of the NMRA.  Here is a brief video clip showing some of the material I will be covering.

May 5, 2024

MFCA Show 2024

Three of the dioramas I exhibited 

I attended the Miniature Figures Collectors of America (MFCA)  Annual Show in Trevoise, PA this weekend.  The show has the reputation of one of the top miniature shows in the US, and perhaps the world. Artists come from all over the US, Europe, and Asia.  Some of the most well know figure painters were in attendance. I had a chance to meet some of them and all were extremely friendly.  They hosted a Q&A session with the grandmasters in attendance before the awards ceremony. I thought that was really neat. 

Keith and Libby Rocco were also in attendance. Keith was selling his artwork and books. His display was very impressive.  On Friday evening Dave and Darci Hoffman, Mike and Linda Pierce, Keith and Libby Rocco, Zack Becker, Bob Huebner and I had an enjoyable dinner at a local restaurant. Following that the MFCA hosted a hospitality suite with drinks and snacks.

This year they had about 780 models on exhibit divided into several categories. The quality of work was very high. It was very inspiring to see so many wonderful models.  I posted many pictures on my Facebook page at this link.

The MFCA makes it clear that they judge to a standard, but they also say on their website that awards represent percentile of the models entered. So Bronze is a top 30% model, while silver in top 10% and gold top 5%. The bottom line conclusion is that it is very difficult to get a medal at this show. 

I entered 6 pieces and received two bronze medals. One for a bust of Medussa and the other for the Oracle of Delphi diorama. I was happy to receive the recognition. I do admit being surprised that those were the models the judges selected. In past shows, the other models I exhibited this weekend were selected by judges over these. Of course it is all subjective and some variability has to be expected. 

The Medusa bust was only figure I entered where I used oil paints over an acrylic base. The more I use oils the more I like  them, especially in doing skin tones. 

I noticed a couple trends in examining the models at the show.

German Gunner by Jim Rice

 First, a lot of artists are including small backdrops with their individual figure models. For example, this German Machine Gunner by Jim Rice. I like this idea as they help place the model in a space or set a  mood. They also allow more room for artistic expression. 

Roman vignette by Mike Blank

One thing I did not like so much was the high contrast and saturation that many artists use in their painting, especially in skin tones. However, I may be in a minority as many of the figures painted in that style won awards. 

This vignette by famous artist Mike Blank did not fall into that category. Note the muted colors and low contrast. This looks very realistic to me. It received a gold medal.

I thought the Marilyn Monroe figure  below had very realistic skin tones. It won a gold medal but I did not catch the artist's name. 

I like the metallic sheen on the muzzle of this Parrot rifle.  This received best Civil War award.

Many artists use flat  acrylic paints to simulate metallic surfaces. This technique is called Non-Metallic Metal. I am not sure I like this or that it is even necessary. There are amazing metallic paints available now that look like real metal, even in scale. I think the most convincing effects combine the use of these new metallic paints with tradition shading to emphasize shape and texture. I need to experiment more with those techniques. 

I noticed some artists use strong directional lighting in painting their figures. These create dark shadows away from the light. It can be effective if done well.  Similarly, a lot of the figures painted light amber or florescent colors on to the figures to represent light from a point source. That is called Object Source Lighting.  They are interesting techniques that are very difficult to pull off. 

Note the lighting on the face and armor from the "glowing" weapon.  

It was a fun show and I look forward to going back.

April 13, 2024

Northern Virgina Model Classic 2024

My "Ambush at Colleville sur Mer" was awarded Best Diorama in Show

I attended the Northern Virginia Modelers Model Classic 2024 in Fairfax VA today. This was the Northern Virginia Modelers big annual show. They are an IPMS club, but one did not have to be an IPMS member to attend or enter. The show was quite large. About 400 people registered and about 50 vendors. I was told that they normally get more vendors, but the AMPS had their annual meet in Indiana on the same day, so some vendors went to that. I am a member IPMS and AMPS, but this show was a lot closer and I don't build too much armor. I focus more on trains and figures. So I went to this show.

It seemed to me that the vendors were doing brisk business. I saw lots of people carrying large bags of kits to their cars to add to their stash. 

This was one of Jeff's builds. Very well done.
I met a lot of very nice people. The knowledge contained in these hobbyists is incredible. for example, there was a fellow named Jeff  (I didn't get his last name) who was a specialist in Luftwaffe fighter pilots. When he builds a kit, he researches the pilots too.  He recounted some interesting tales about the pilots he researched. He is an excellent builder too. He does armor and aircraft to a very high standard. He is also starting with figures.

I entered models in three categories. They were, the Ambush at Colleville sur Mer diorama in 75mm in Misc Dioramas, Medussa and Demophilus in the bust category, and "What Have We Done" in the 90mm and below figure category.  I am happy to report that I received 2nd place awards for Demophilus and "What Have We Done", a first place and Best diorama in Show  for Ambush at Colleville sur Mer.  

I was dismayed to discover that the camp fire light in my shadow box diorama was not working. I fixed it when I got home. Turns out the LED went bad. 

Dave Hoffman's Best in Show Winner

I also helped judge figures along with other members of the National Capitol Model Soldier Society.  Dave Hoffman, who along with his wife Darcy is a driving force in the NCMSS, received several awards awards and got Best Model in Show for his Ashigaru figure. The figure is exquisitely painted with excellent ground work. I especially liked how he mounted it on a miniature bonsai stand. Congratulations to Dave.

Here are some other models that caught my eye.

Nice Porsche 934 in 1/12th scale. I received this kit as a birthday present from my brother, but am hesitant to build it. I am not experienced in building car models.

Vader's light saber is drooping

Always a lot of airplane models at these shows. This was
one of 4 tables with aircraft models. 

I believe this got first place in military vehicle dioramas

Interesting concept

April 11, 2024

D-Day and the Civil War


Merritt opens her B-Day present- Brio trains
I am back in Virginia and recovering from two weeks of visiting and babysitting my granddaughters.  It was a blast. The little ones are so full of energy and wonder. So much fun to be with them.  Some highlights included giving my granddaughter Merritt her first train Brio train set. She knew exactly what it was and immediately began to play with it. She sees a lot of trains in Birmingham, and she is fascinated by them. 

Ruka watching a metro train
When we returned to Virginia, my son and his family showed up. He and Mizuki had to attend the World Vaccine Conference in DC, so we got to watch Ruka. She has not seen as many trains as Merritt. However, the playground by our house is adjacent to the RF&P/CSX main line. She saw dozens of trains and they all caused her to stop and watch. She seemed especially interested in the Metro trains. We also ran some trains for her on  the Aquia Line much to her delight. 

While we were gone, RMC published an article I wrote about the Aquia Line in their April 2024 issue. They also used one of my photos on the cover. I received a lot of nice feedback from folks about this article.  Above is a set of possible cover photos that I submitted to RMC. Which one do you like the best?

BTW, Otto Vondrak came up with the title on the cover. I think it is a clever pun, definitely not something that I would have thought up. 

Before heading to Alabama, I went to the RPM East in Malvern, PA. It was a good meet and well attended. I had the chance to visit Ron Hoes and Greg Wiggins's layouts. I also presented a talk about the Aquia Line to a packed auditorium. 

Phase 1 of the D-Day dioramas is on exhibit at the Army Navy Club in Washington, DC. 

We plan to start work on Phase 2 of the D-Day dioramas next week. Meanwhile, check out this interesting article relating D-Day to the Civil War. 

March 11, 2024

Phase 1 D-Day Diorama Is Complete

German View of the Invasion. This is opposite the view that most visitors to the
diorama will see.

We wrapped up work on the D-Day diorama today. Keith arrived today with the shipping crate in his van. He had about 30 figures to install according to the narrative he has designed for the diorama. Most of the other work was done earlier in the week. 

Jeff Hammer and John Drye stopped by Wednesday night to work on punch list items. JD installed most of the German infantry and remaining weapons. Jeff worked on scenic details such as barbed wire and log piles. The fences really added a nice touch to the diorama.

I worked on the remaining punch list items such as installing boats, painting fascia and adding flickering LEDs to the burning LCM. 

Mike and Linda Pierce arrived on Sunday morning for a visit. Kieth put them to work prepping and touch up painting figures. I didn't have much to do today, so I got the camera ready for a photo session and waited to load it all.

Keith and Ted, a friend of Keith's that is a woodworker, built the carrying cases that will also serve as a table for the diorama. The diorama comes apart in 2 sections. Each section slides into the case.

The case is quite heavy. Keith says it weighs about 100 pounds, though it didn't feel that heavy to me when I was helping move it.  The case has it space for the legs. The saw horses in the picture are only to help load it. 

Here are some final photos of the finished diorama.  Keith has a bit more work to do for his part, such as the backdrop and information plaque.  We'll start work on Phase 2 in a few weeks. 

One aspect I like about this diorama is its broad scope. Many folks have built dioramas with a this theme before, but I don't know too many that show the actions with this scope. Keith has woven in numerous historically accurate vignettes and story elements in the diorama. But I think it is the overall spectacle that makes this one work. 

Thanks again to everyone that helped.

March 5, 2024

Three Day Marathon Work Session

We just wrapped up a three day marathon work session on the D-Day Diorama. Whew!

Jeff paints figures while Mark and Charlie
drop off more painted figures

On Sunday Mark Franke, Jeff Hammer, John Drye and Tom Karstens joined me for the start of the worksession. Mark worked on the boats, Tom and Jeff worked on figures. I continued work on the WN62 fighting positions.  Later that day Mark and Charlie Fastoso stopped by to drop off the 160 figures that his gaming group painted.  John Drye came by a bit later and finished painting all the German figures. They are in 10mm scale as they will be further back.

Keith working on the figure placement 
Keith Rocco showed up Monday for 2 days of constant work on the diorama. Keith proved to be the Eveready Bunny of modeling as he worked nearly non-stop in the two days he was here. He focused on installing the boats and figures. He also installed most of the pole obstacles. 

Keith discovered that he could modify the poses of the metal figures by bending arms and legs.  He modified many of the figures that are in the water by trimming off their lower body.

He also concentrated on cutting holes in the surf to allow the boats to sit more realistically in the water. 

I worked on the remaining details and fighting positions on WN62. I also finished the command villa, now in a destroyed state.  

We are about 95 percent done with the diorama. Keith took the remaining figure home with him to trim bases and touch up paint. 

I took a few photos tonight to see how it all looks.  

It was a fantastic three days. We should be done with this by next weekend. 

March 2, 2024

A Railroad on Omaha Beach?


You knew I had to find a way to add a railroad to the diorama. But, it's not gratuitous! There was a 60cm Decauville railroad at Omaha Beach.  The Germans were using it to move construction materials along the various work sites. The prototype photos show the remnants of the railroad tracks after the Allies had secured the beach.

To model the railroad, first I cut some pieces of foam to make the roadbed sections that extend from the shingle to the work sites. I used Durham's water putty to fill in the gaps. Once those was dry, I painted the road bed to match the scenery.

Then I used my laser cutter to cut ties from 1/32nd inch birch plywood. I did not glue then one by one. Instead,  I cut them like a piece of flex track with small connectors between each tie. To curve the track, I had to cut one side of the connectors.  Thus it was easy to glue down the ties. 

  The ballast is fine N Scale gray limestone gravel from Highball Products.  Once that was glue  dry I added the rails. The rails are 0.015 inch resin impregnated cardboard with self-adhesive backing. I tried to secure them further with a coat of mat mod podge, but that wasn't too successful. The wetness of the mod podge made some of the rails buckle. So I had to reinstall some of them. 

The shingle stones on the beach adjacent to the tracks are coarse ballast from Woodland scenes. We painted them to better match the colors in the photos. Some additional painting is probably necessary.

I was also adding additional layers of gloss polyurethane to the water in-between the other tasks. There are about 8 coats now and I think that is enough.

I also installed the two R669 casements for the 75mm artillery pieces in position in WN62.  I made the casements with layers of MDF that I cut on my laser. 

They were mostly buried with earth, so I used pieces of foam and water putty to build up the earth berms.

Then I cut some of the trenches using a xacto knife and a soldering iron to melt away the foam. The iron worked pretty well.  I gave everything an acrylic  brown wash. There are still several gun emplacements, pillboxes and numerous details that I need to add. But the final photo gives an idea of how the diorama looks so far.