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.

September 1, 2021

Dodged Ida's bullet

 This is getting more like the weather channel than a model railroad site, but I suspect many of you are wondering how we fared in the wake of Hurricane Ida 2021.  Turns out we very were lucky as the main rain bands passed about 2 miles north of us.  This high resolution map showing total accumulated rain in the past 24 hours shows how the heavy rain just missed us in Alexandria. We received less than 2 inches total rain spaced out over several hours. 

I am pleased to report no flooding in our basement. My sympathies to those that have flooded. We know how devastating it can be. 

Last week I presented a clinic via Zoom to the Potomac Division of the NMRA with an update on the Aquia Line. Readers of the blog know all about this, but they will post the video on line at some point in case you want to hear my same old bad jokes.

I am scheduled to do another Zoom clinic for the NMRA Louisville Division on 18 September. 

August 15, 2021

Floods Averted and other Updates

The Smoke Bush (tree?) in our backyard did not survive the storm last night

Readers of this blog are probably familiar  with the City of Alexandria's continuing struggle with flooding. Alexandria has had some extremely heavy rain on several occasions this year. Last night was another sustained and heavy rain that dropped about 4 inches of water over two hours. Several zones in the city experienced flooding.  I am happy to report that the flood control measures we adopted have been successful and our basement stayed dry, as did most of my neighbors. However, just a couple blocks 
City Sheriff Lawhorne stands in the flooded
alley behind his house a few blocks from ours.
from my house, there was significant flooding.

I learned that our drain pipes will need periodic maintenance. The pop-up emitter on the main exhaust pipe was clogged with the a collection of samaras, or maple tree seeds, the kind we called helicopters as a kid. There are no maple trees near our gutters, so these are propelled by wind onto the roof where the rain collected them in the gutters. Perhaps we need some kind of gutter filters. 

Over the past two weeks I have conducted two zoom seminars on railroads of the civil war. The first was for the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library at the  St. Louis Mercantile Library, University of Missouri - St. Louis. Next John Ott discussed early locomotive builders, and then Nick Fry covered the history of early railroads in Missouri.  You can watch all three presentations at the following link, 

The second presentation of the same subject was to the Cincinnati Division of the NMRA.
I am scheduled to do two more presentations in the coming weeks. The next will be on August 22 to the Potomac Division and another one at a date to be determined to the Louisville Division of the NMRA. 

I have been working on a model for the new Museum of Freedom in Alexandria. This will be a model of the slave jail that existed in Alexandria before the war. I'll provide an update on that later.

July 27, 2021

Road Tripping

Here I am clipping an apex with my son in the white GTI hot on my heels.

I recently returned from a 13-day road trip to Birmingham Alabama to visit my daughter and her husband and then to Lexington, KY to see my son and his wife. Ostensibly the trip was to help my kids with house renovation projects and we did get a bunch of that done. But I also had some time to do a bit of sightseeing in Birmingham, visit a civil war battlefield, and participate in a High Performance Driver Education Event (HPDE) at the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Track in Bowling Green, KY.

My daughter allowed me one day to goof off in Birmingham. I elected to visit the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in the morning and the Barber Motorsports Park in the afternoon.  Sloss is next to a busy main line and three freights came by while I was there.

I have been to the Sloss Works on two other occasions, so this was a refresher trip. They have built a nice visitor center at the south end of the facility. I am amazed and pleased  that this steel mill has been preserved for public visits. I asked one of the docents about how they deal with rust, as some of the artifacts are clearly going to become hazardous as they continue to decay. He said they have a plan for that. They inspect it every year and do remedial work as required, but there is a lot of rusting metal there and it all can't be preserved. Enjoy it while you can.

The Barber Motorsports Park is the nicest, most elegant race track I have ever visited. You get the feeling you are entering a luxury resort as you drive up to the museum and track. The museum is probably as big as the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. 

The "good stuff" was in the basement 
However, if you are a race car enthusiast and not into motorcycles like me, the museum was a bit of a let down. They do have the world's largest private collection of Lotus race cars and that was cool. But that was about all the cars they had. There were some cool Porsche cars on display in  the basement level, but that was not open to the public.

Just one of four floors of motorcycles on display
If you like motorcycles, you will love this museum. There are over 1,000 motorcycles on display in all kinds of styles with an emphasis on racing and street bikes. I did not see too many custom, display type bikes,  but there were antiques, commercial delivery, road racing, dirt racing, drag racing, ice racing, side cars... just about any kind of motorcycle you can imagine on display. 

To add an extra treat to my visit, the Porsche Performance Driving School was in session while I was there. I was able to watch them do laps around the track.   This was a good lead in as my own performance driving event was going to happen later the next week.

Carnton Plantation on the battlefield. I did not have
time to go inside.

I stopped at the Battle of Franklin, TN on my way from Bham to Lexington. The charming  town has grown and absorbed much of the battlefield, but there was a nice planation home and a portion of the east flank of the battlefield preserved for viewing. The Battles of Franklin and nearby  Nashville were some of the bloodiest of the war and resulted in utter destruction of the rebel armies under General Hood. 

I also made a stop at the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Track in Bowling Green, KY to reconnoiter it. A few days later, my son Chase and I went back there for a day of high performance driving instruction. This was the first event like this I have tried and it was a hoot. During my first session I was as nervous as I could be. But by session 3 and 4 we were hustling around the track thanks to good instruction and our getting accustomed to the speed. It was fun and left me wanting to do more.  High speed driving is much harder than you think, both mentally and physically. We did about 90 miles total in 4 sessions. I was drained after each session. But I do want to do this again with a more nimble car. The Racing Tiguan did great, but it is not really designed for driving like this.  Maybe there is another Porsche in my future?

My daughter used her Cricut machine to make the sticker on my back window.

On my way home, I drove Corridor H, the new road that cuts across central WV. It is a quirk of geography but the fastest route from my house to Lexington KY is via Maryland:  I-270 to I-70 to I-68 to I-79 though WV.  The Route on I-81 to I-64 through C&O country is of similar length but has too much truck traffic to be an enjoyable ride. However, I elected to try Corridor H  from Weston, WV to Strassburg, VA. That is the most direct route, but as they say in WV, “it’s through the mountains.” The new road is not complete, but the parts they have finished  are smooth and traffic free. The road tends to follow the ridge tops versus the creeks. As a result there are some amazing bridges and spectacular views. It will be a boon to central WV when they finish that road. I just hope it is within my lifetime as it has been under construction for over 30 years.  Below is a view from a rest stop just west of Moorefield, WV. Looks like a model railroad backdrop.

I did see a railroad yard near the Mt Storm power plant from the road but it was empty. There were about 2 dozen freight cars in the Buckhannon yard, but I didn’t stop for pics. 

I'm now back in Virginia. I did a Zoom presentation on railroads of the civl war for the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library and the St. Louis Mercantile Library last weekend. Now, I am getting back to working the items on my do list including a new model for a museum and some writing projects. I also plan to start work on my layout expansion asap. 

July 6, 2021

The Continuing Saga of the LED lights

 In my effort to upgrade the lighting in my layout, I decided to replace the set of florescent 18-inch under cabinet lights that were above the curved track at Brooke with LEDs. My initial intent was to replace the florescent fixtures with equivalent LEDs. But while shopping at the local Lowes store I noticed a string of 16 feet of LED lights with adhesive backing. The box said they put out 4000 lumens.  The price seemed good, so I thought I would try them. Alas, when I checked out, the price mysteriously doubled with some kind of cryptic note printed on the receipt about "full retail price was charged for this item."  I went to return them, but the line was too long. So I took them home and decided to give them a try.

Removing the existing lights was both satisfying and difficult to do without damaging the existing scenery. But, I was able to do it with only a few swear words and lots of awkward bending and reaching. 

My wife helped me install the LED strip. They were fairly easy to install. I just hope that the double sided adhesive tape they provide will stand the test of time.  

When we plugged them in, we both were impressed by the bright, even light. Alicia said, "you need to put these on the other curved section of the fascia too." Maybe I will, but not right away. I want to see how these hold up. 

On June 29th Bill Sornsin and his family stopped by to see the layout while on a a vacation to the east coast. Bill has a huge GN layout back at his house in Seattle.  Bill's family was not as enthusiastic about trains as he, but it was a hot day and they appreciated the air-conditioned basement after a morning of walking around the sweltering city. The city is built on a swamp, after all.  Bill's younger son, Nick, did learn how to run an engine, couple and uncouple cars. So he is now qualified to run on the USMRR.

June 17, 2021

The Mysterious Case of the Malfunctioning Lights


New LED lights provide nice even lighting 

Last month I reported on several of the florescent lights in the layout room over Potomac Creek that burned out. The lights were on separate circuits and different makes. Yet four fixtures stopped working at the same time. I removed the burned out lights and fixtures and ordered replacement LEDs, but did not have time to install  them. 

Then a few weeks ago, I noticed that another 48 inch florescent fixture had become detached from the ceiling, fell through the egg crate diffuser, and landed on the layout. Luckily, the wire trees by Weilepp's Cut absorbed the brunt of the fall. They did not suffer any damage. The opposite end of the fixture landed on a parked train and derailed several cars, but again no damage. The light fixture did hit and pulled off two insulators from the telegraph line (the scenery ones, not operational). Luckily, these are lycra line and did not break. So, all in all there was not real damage as it was a simple matter to clear the fixture and re-glue the lines back on the pole.

Today, I installed the new LED lights. These can be ganged together creating a continuous line of even lighting.  They are mounted closer to the valance thanks to their low profile. Thus the light on the layout is now more front lit than back lit, of a constant color temperature, and the lights draw less current. So all in all an improvement.

I still have a few florescent lights on the curved sections of the valance. I will order smaller fixtures and replace them too. 

You can see the new LED fixtures ganged together to create a continuous line of light. There are now
no lights above the egg crate diffusers. Note the frontal light on the Potomac Creek bridge.

I will be working on my layout expansion in the coming weeks as well as building a model for a new museum.