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 3, 2021

Can You Say Wind Chill?

I am back from a weekend trip to Pennsylvania to attend the Columbia Railroad Day. My itinerary took me to Gettysburg, PA on Friday and to Columbia, PA on Saturday.

View of the Round Tops from the jump off position of Longstreet's Corps

The weather was warm and sunny when I left Virginia. When I arrived in Gettysburg, the skys were clear, but the wind was steady with gusts up to 60 mph and the temperature in  the 50s. My plan was to ride my bike around the part of the battlefield that saw action on the second day of the battle.  So I parked on  the saddle between the Round Tops. From there I rode my bike to the top of Little Round Top, then down the hill and west to the Peach Orchid and back. I was clever enough to plan my route so that my return climb to Little Round Top had a tail wind, but the otherwise the wind was brutal. Unfortunately, I did not pack clothes that were warm enough, so I was thoroughly chilled, despite the climb. I then jumped in my car and decided to tour the rest of the battlefield by auto.  

I wanted to stop at the Gettysburg Train station, but those plans were literally  short circuited.  I was driving north on Stratton Street near the railroad tracks, when I heard a strange humming noise. I thought something was wrong with my car. I looked up and noticed that there was a large orange-blue flame above my car. I drove forward another 100 yards and I saw it again in my rear view mirror. So I stopped and got out and it happened a third time. A pedestrian said to me that a tree was swaying into a power line. Apparently the last time the tree swayed  it caused the power line to snap, or a breaker to trigger, so the flames stopped. I did not get closer to investigate. Instead, I decided to head to the north side of the battlefield to check out the scenes of the first day of combat.   

View from Oak Hill to the east where XI Corps was
pushed back by Ewell's attack on the first day
 The wind was actually getting stronger as I toured the northern sectors and clouds were gathering. I managed to complete most of the auto tour and decided to call it a day. I heard later that the wind caused a tree to fall on a car and a porta-potty at the battlefield. A man was trapped in the potty had to be rescued by the local fire department. 

I arrived in Columbia, PA and met some of the hosts for the model railroad weekend. 

The next morning, the weather was again sunny, but with temperatures in the 40s and wind gusting to 30-50MPH. The meet was held at the Columbia Pavilion, which is an outdoor covered deck.  The cold weather resulted in light attendance at the meet. Nonetheless, Thom Radice from the ACWRRHS was there as well as several of my friends from Facebook that lived in the local area. It was fun to meet with them. 

Despite the small crowd, there were several vendors and exhibitors present as well as a reenactment unit. 

A female re-eanctor was making samples of 1860 cuisine including some hard tack she had prepared in advance. I got to taste some and it was pretty good and not that difficult to chew. She said the cracker would get harder after a few days of drying out. So I brought some home to test out. She also made some tasty corn meal mushies and some kind of stew that I did not get to sample.

The 45th PA Infantry reenactment unit was on hand with an encampment and display of civil war era weapons. Some of the weapons were originals. They even let spectators handle them.  I got to handle an original Sharpe's rifle and a smoothbore musket.

Scott Mingus lead off the presentations with an interesting discussion of the Gettysburg RR.  I also purchased his latest book on the Cumberland Valley RR in the civil war. 

Larry Hoover shows a local police
officer a civil war era weapon
Then Joel Moore showed photos of his highly detailed HO layout and described how he used his railroad as a setting for some novels he wrote.

I presented two talks. The first was an Introduction to Civil War Railroads, a talk I have done many times before. Alas, I was so cold during the talk that I was shivering as I spoke.  That made for an unpleasant experience for me and many of the folks watching expressed concern afterwards. I should have worn my civil war uniform as it would have been perfect for the weather instead the light cotton clothes I had with me. 

Luckily, the weather warmed up a bit and the wind died down for my second talk on my Aquia Line Model Railroad. That talk went off quite well.

The last talk was by Chris Vera on how the people of Columbia were involved in the underground railroad.
In between the talks, my host Barry Schmit, took me to see the Columbia Model Railroad Club layouts.  They have large HO and O scale layouts in a former church which is now the Columbia Historical Society building.

I returned home safely Saturday night. It was a fun weekend, despite the cold and windy weather. 

April 25, 2021

Florida - Part 3 Model Trains and Planes


Wrapping up my documentation of our trip to Florida, I will mention our visit to Rick Bellanger's N Scale layout and the Titusville Model Railroad Club.

Rick Bellanger is an accomplish model builder and long term N Scale model railroader. His house is practically a museum filled with well built models of ships, planes and armor as well as a nicely built, double deck N scale layout. 

Rick and his layout
Rick is originally from Florida but lived in LA for many years. He was a member of the Belmont Shores N Scale and the Tehachapi HO scale model railroad clubs.  

His current freelanced layout features the UP and Sante Fe railroads.  It is well built and features many illuminated buildings.  Rick said he is interested in selling his N scale layout and equipment, preferably in one transaction. If you are interested, let me know and I can put you in contact with him.  He has a lot of rolling stock and many structures. 

Engine terminal on Rick's layout

After visiting Rick's layout, we stopped by the Titusville Model Railroad Club layout. We got to met some of the members and had a chance to look at their layouts. They have three layouts, the O gauge 3-rail and N scale layouts are finished. They are in the process of rebuilding the HO scale layout. It is coming along nicely. Alas, I forgot to take pictures at the club.  

The guys at the model railroad  club suggested we check out American Aero Services, New Smyrna Beach, FL. So we did that the next day after a round of golf at nearby Venetian Bay (note, I was the caddy, my back was still not healed enough for golf).

American Aero Services is a restoration and maintenance facility that specializes in serving the War-Bird community. They restore aircraft, military vehicles, armor, missiles and rockets. They do complete restorations, repairs, maintenance and annual inspections. They also have a museum. Amazingly, they let visitors wander around their two hangers to see what they are doing.  

The tank is a former Soviet T-55 that they are visually modifying to look like a WW2 Tiger.

This B-17 is being refitted for flying service.

You don't see this too often

On my last day in Florida I took a long walk on the beach and saw a large, dead  turtle washed up on the sand. This is the second time I have seem a large turtle dead on the beach. The first one was larger than this one, but was in an advanced state of decay. This time the turtle appeared in fairly good condition, so it was not dead for long. However, it appeared to have three wounds on the left side that were probably strikes from a propeller. One of the wounds was pretty deep and looked like it was oozing. It may have been a fatal blow. The state of Florida tracks these turtles, so I reported it to the local lifeguard and he called it in. I am not sure how the orange markings got on the turtle. 

That  wraps up our trip to Florida. It was a fun week despite the issues with my back and the unfortunate turtle.

We are back in Virginia. My back is getting better and more projects are getting added to the do list. 

April 23, 2021

2021 Columbia PA Railroad Day

Next weekend will be an interesting day for people interested in civil war railroads.  

The  2021 Columbia Pennsylvannia Railroad Day program is scheduled for May 1 after cancelling last year's event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They will be using the new Columbia Crossing River Tails Visitor Center for facility for their Civil War Railroading theme presentations. It is located along the Susquehanna River at 41 Walnut Street, and offers full audio/visual support and extensive seating both inside and out.

Columbia, PA is located east of York near the former Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge, which the scene of an important skirmish and bridge burning during the Gettysburg campaign. The burning of that bridge pretty much ended the rebels plans to cross the Susquehanna River during the invasion of Pennsylvannia. 

I plan to drive up the day before and revisit Gettysburg on the way. In addition to my talk, I will have some of my ACW era models on display.

The schedule of events is as follows

09:00AM - 09:30AM: Civil War Railroad Day Opening Remarks.

10:00AM - 10:45AM: Civil War Railroad to Gettysburg, Scott Mingus.

11:15AM - 12:00PM: Civil War Canals and Railroads, Doug Bosley.

12:30PM - 01:15PM: Railroads During the Civil War, Bernard Kempinski.

01:45PM - 02:30PM: Civil War Aquia Line Model Railroad, Bernard Kempinski.

03:15PM - 04:00PM: Rails to Freedom in Columbia, Chris Vera.

Other planned activities during the all-day program include four Civil War Encampments on the Columbia Crossing grounds. The Columbia Historic Preservation Society will host three all-day model railroad activities: their large HO Columbia and Susquehanna Model Railroad Club that depicts Columbia in the early 1950's, the O-Scale Lower Susquehanna Model Railroaders modular layout, and several NMRA Susquehanna Division model railroad displays. Lastly the new owners of Rail Mechanical Services may allow tours, displays, and speeder activities at their site.

It should be an interesting day. 

April 17, 2021

Florida - Part 2 Cape Canaveral

On Monday my brother and I had an appointment with Bill Paul, a curator of the USAF Space and Missile Museum. Bill and my brother are in the same model club, so we were able to set up a visit to the USAF Cape Canaveral Museum archives even though they are closed on Mondays and are very limited in visiting due to security and COVID concerns. My purpose in visiting the archives was to find plans for the mobile launch pad, also called the transporter, used at Launch Complex 41 (LC 41) to move the Titan Missiles from assembly buildings to the launch pad.  I want to build a model of this facility as I think the juxtaposition of rockets and trains is really cool. 

Current mobile launch pad

If you have my book, "45 Track Plans" you would know that I wrote about how United Launch Alliance (ULA) currently uses trackmobiles to push their mobile launch pad at LC41.  See photo at left. 

Before ULA took over operation of LC41, the USAF used LC40 and LC41 to launch numerous Titan III and Titan IV missiles.  In the Titan era, they also used a mobile launch pad but it was pushed by SW-8 locomotives.

The locomotives are actually US Army Korean war veterans that the USAF employed here. One of them is on display at their museum at Cape Canaveral (see photo above). The arm on the engineer side of the loco allows the operators to connect two locos so they can be operated at the same time, i.e. to MU them. 

Alas, we were unable to  plans for the mobile launch pad. We did find some photos that would help. 

But the best photo I have is from a friend's collection.  You can't see how the boom is deployed in this photo. Note the charring on the tower from exhaust from previous missile launches.

This is an example of the scene I want to model. Titan III on the transporter (aka Mobile launch pad)

This photo shows the boom extended.  Anway, I am hesitant to proceed without a better set of plans. I may be able to draw some based on photos, but for now this project has moved down on the "do-list."


One of the artifacts on display at the archives was this Atlas Mercury missile signed by the Mercury astronauts. I got to handle it too! It needs some repairs, but to say it is very valuable is an understatement. 

After looking through the archives, we made a visit to the USAF Museum Annex where we got to see the missiles on display in their protected environment. The missiles look great and being protected from the sun and salt air will certainly help preserve them.  

We also got a peek at Blue Origin's launch pad and the Cape Canaveral light house. 

Some of the missiles on display at the Missile Annex

One of the unusual missiles on display at the museum 

As we were driving around the base, we had to yield to a SpaceX missile transporter that was heading to the port to retrieve a used booster. As an added treat, I got to see that SpaceX booster being recovered from their barge at the Port of Canaveral. I was lucky a couple years ago to see a SpaceX launch from my in-laws' condo in Daytona Beach Shores.  See video below.

Stay tuned for part 3 of our amazing week in Florida. 

SpaceX Booster being recovered at Port Canaveral Hmm, I do have an HO scale model of that crane.....the mind boggles.

April 16, 2021

Florida Trip Part 1 - Jaxcon 2021

We are back from Florida visiting our family. We had a fun and productive trip. My back precluded my playing golf, so I was the caddy. Walks on the beach and stretching did help and I am feeling better.

My two models on display and their medals
 The first model related event was Jaxcon 2021. That IPMS meet was held in a very large auditorium of a local church. Everyone was really friendly and happy to discuss their models.  About 250 very nice models in several categories were on display. That was about half the normal number.  After lunch, the organizers went about judging the models for medals and best of categories. They awarded bronze, silver and gold.  This meet does judging a little different from others in that they assess models against a standard, but what the standard was I do not know.  Later I learned  that they assessed that any model built out of the box, i.e. stock, could not qualify for a gold.  

I had two models on display, the 1/32 Land Merrimack and the 1/56th Battle for Aachen. The Land Merrimack got a gold and the Battle for Aachen got a silver. I suspected that would be the case as many IPMS modelers are accustomed to super-detailed, larger scale models and smaller scale models have to be really outstanding to attract attention.  The fact that the Land Merrimack is totally scratch built, and has working brakes and an operable cannon also attracts attention.

My brother's display of 1/72nd scale armor models
was awarded a Gold Medal.
My brother had several models on display and he received a gold, 4 silvers and a bronze. Given that he took up modeling about 18 months ago that is quite an achievement. 

In general I am not that enamored with model contests. So I liked the idea of awarding medals according to a standard. But there were some extremely well built models that did not receive medals. From what I could tell, if a model was not weathered, it did not receive an award, no matter how finely built except for model show cars, like hot rods.
These ship models were well built but did not get medals

Possibly the best paint I have ever 
seen on a model
Speaking of hot rods, there was one model hot rod that had the most impressive paint job I have ever seen on a model car. The builder was a retired auto body painter and he did an amazing job. He received a gold medal and best car model award.

There were a few of the large scale armor models on display. These models out of the box are so well detailed it is amazing.  The photo below shows a 1/35 and a 1/16 scale Abrams tank adjacent to each other.

More about our Florida adventures in a later posts.