April 18, 2018

New Tunnel Scenery

Here is a shot showing the static grass scenery around the new tunnel portal. I plan to add trees to the hill in the rear later.

A shot like this shows off the crisp detail available in O scale.



April 17, 2018

Burnside's Wharf Completed

Switching cars on Burnside's Wharf








Some of Brian's figures
The people have spoken! The warehouse was voted off the wharf. Tonight I finished the planking and added a few details, including some figures from  Brian Kammerer's artwork.

For now, I can declare victory on this part of the project and move on to the next job. I can come back later and add more details, such as more figures, lines, additional ships in the background, chocks etc.




April 16, 2018

Decisions, decisions!


I was adding the decking to Burnside Wharf when Alicia took a look at the work in progress.  She said she thought the scene looked better without the warehouse on the wharf.   The actual Burnside Wharf did not have any warehouses on the pier. Omitting the warehouse would be more prototypical.

So, I thought I'd give it a try. I first finished painting the portions of the ship that were hidden by the warehouse.  Then, I took two comparison photos. What do you think -  with the warehouse or without?

If I don't place the warehouse on the wharf, I do have another place on the layout where I can use it.



A Taxing Work session

We had a work session on the Aquia Line today, April 15. If you are in the USA, this is normally the day that income tax is due, but since it was the weekend, we get a few days reprieve.  To escape tax preparation, Joel and John Salmons, Doug Gurin and Michael Spoor arrived to work on the Aquia Line. It was a very productive session.

Joel working on hay bales
Big pile of hay bales
First Joel got to work baling hay. He was eminently qualified for this as he spent his teenage years baling hay in New Mexico.  While he was wrapping bales with twine, Michael assembling the bales into a large pile. This pile will reside on the wharf at Aquia landing to designate the forage loading area. Way bills for empty cars will direct cars to the forage track at Aquia Landing.

John working on roof battens
Since he is an architect in training, John got the windows and roof assignment. He installed the last 16 windows on the wharf structures and then started detailing the roofs.

Doug got the  assignment to start the  Burnside Wharf. He cut away some of the foam and prepared the bottom surface for conversion to water.

Swamp scenery is drying
While they were working, I adding scenery and ballast to the narrow shelf where the Aquia Landing yard tracks are. This area depicts a narrow  spit of sand that is surrounded by grassy marsh. I used static grass and some paint to depict the swamp grass.  I am almost done with all the ballast for the railroad.

My mom and Alicia provided the snacks and then dinner of home made ravioli.

Painted schooner at Burnside's Wharf

























After dinner, I continued to work on the Burnside Wharf area. I painted a schooner on the back drop. Since the majority of the schooner is hidden behind the wharf shed, I only need to paint the masts and some of the rigging.

Once the blue paint dries, I'll add pilings and beams to depict a wharf.

April 12, 2018

A Second Opinion



 My wife is brilliant! (She said I am allowed to say that). Why? You'll see soon enough.

I decided to finish the scenery at the north end of Clozet Tunnel. I had originally planned to use some structures to block the view of this portion of Clozet Tunnel, which is a fairly large hole in the wall, instead of a tunnel portal.

After several years of delaying work on this area, mostly because I couldn't make a structure view block work, I decided to go with a normal tunnel portal.

The first step was to make the tunnel portal. I used the drawing I had for Crozet Tunnel, I just slightly modified it. I cut the parts on the laser and assembled the tunnel portal with about 12 inches of brick lining. Placed in site, the tunnel sure is a deep dark hole.

Next I mocked up a piece of hardboard against  the existing fascia and laid out a cut line. I used my Festool Carvex jig saw to cut the profile (BTW the Carvex is rapidly becoming my favorite tool.)  I glued the fascia in place and started using card board strips, foam pieces, and rosin paper to build up the hill.

Next I started the rock carvings for the portal. That took the better part of a day. With the rocks installed and rough painted, I asked my wife to look it over and get her feedback. She looked at the tunnel for about 30 seconds and suggested that I trim back the fascia to allow a better view of the tunnel. Wow, she was right. There was something I didn't like about the hill side and she nailed it. The fascia was too overpowering for the scene. See, I told you she is brilliant! The animated gif above shows the difference.

So the next day, I got out the Carvex again and trimmed the fascia back so that the slope of the hill was consistent. By removing this section of the fascia, the area is more open. Since my workbench is immediately to the right of the tunnel, the more open fascia is much less claustrophobic.

That rock facing needed some patching, but that was an easy task.

With the tunnel portal, the backdrop required some rework, which I enjoyed immensely. I painted some large trees as I plan to trees on the top of the tunnel.

With the backdrop painted, I gave the terrain a base coat of scenery. Once that is dry I'll add static grass and other details.


Panorama of the scene with wet base coat of scenery. Masking tape protects the track.

  While I was working on the tunnel, some contractors arrived and installed new carpet in the stairs to the layout room. With fresh paint and new carpet, the entrance to the layout is much nicer, though some of my model railroad friends claim they can't tell the difference. Oh well, I can.

April 7, 2018

Tsunami2 Steam Decoder

I installed a new Soundtrax Tsunami TSU-2200 Steam Decoder with current keeper in Engine Haupt this evening. If you are keeping score, this is the third decoder I have installed in this loco. The previous Soundtrax Tsunami decoder and current keeper started having trouble that seemed to get progressively worse.

I am happy to report that the new TSU-2200 seems to be working very well, see video below. The install was pretty easy, as I just had to cut out the old and solder in the new decoder to the existing wires. Installing the Current Keeper was really easy as it has a plug that fits the decoder. All I had to do was trim the plastic insulation on the decoder a tiny bit to allow the plug to slip in.




As usual, I couldn't get my Easy DCC to program the decoder address. So I had to get out the SPROGII. Of course it was set up for HO locos, so I had to convert the SPROGII  from HO to  O scale locos. I actually set it up so I can now do either scale without further set up. Thankfully, the SPROGII worked. While I had it on the SPROGII programming track  I did some basic programming.  Then I used Ops Mode programming to tweak some of the CVs while the engine ran on the track . The only CV I can't find is the simmer and hiss sound when the engine is idling. All my other steamers make noise when they idle. This one doesn't. Anyone know what CV controls that? I need to repair the wood pile as some of the logs fell off during the decoder swap and it will be ready to roll.

While I was playing around with locos and my iPhone, I hooked up a DC power pack to PoLA and test ran the new Key Imports HO scale PRR B6 0-6-0.  It runs well and has surprising tractive effort for such as small loco. This engine is for a project for my next book. I plan to install a sound decoder and current keeper in it too.


April 4, 2018

Infrastructure Improvements Wrap Up

I am just about finished with infrastructure improvements for the basement and the layouts. I finished repainting all the common areas that I planned to repaint. I did not target the areas with backdrops, fascia, or valances, though I did touch up a few places on the fascia. We are supposed to get new carpet for the stairwell in a week. That will be the last of the planned improvements. Hopefully it will give the overall layout room a neat and clean appearance. I also took the opportunity to reshuffle the wall hangings and swap out some of the old pieces with new.

New lights eliminated back lighting at Falmouth



Next I installed new LED light strips to replace several of the problematic fluorescents lights. Thanks to a tip from Frank Hodina I ordered an 8 pack of these LED lights from Amazon (click here). Combined with some 18-inch long LED light strips I got from Home Depot I was able to greatly improve the lighting in my layout room and shop. These lights are supposed to last 50,000 hours. I hope that is true since I had bad luck with the flourescents. Nearly every one of the fluorescent lights I had in the layout room have failed over the 8-12 years they have been installed. Usually it was a bad bulb, but I also have several ballasts go out too. They were a real pain to replace.

The LEDs also use less power, create less heat, do not emit much UV, produce a consistent color light, and are linkable making wiring much simpler.  These fixtures are also very light weight. I used hot glue to install them. I was able to put them in locations that help avoid the back lighting that my existing light system created.


Like many of us, I have way too many books and magazines.  I wanted to add more book shelves to the layout.  To do it, I added a display shelf under the Borax peninsula on PoLA.  I used the same Ivar shelf system I used elsewhere in the layout. I put various models on display in this area since it is visible from and back. The shelves freed up from no longer displaying models are now holding books.

I think Ikea is discontinuing these shelves, so I was unable to order extra shelf pins. But my local hardware store had some double threaded studs that worked perfectly to secure the shelves.

During the last op session Engine Haupt was acting up again. I think the decoder and perhaps the current keeper on it are bad. So I ordered a new Tsunmai 2002 steam decoder and current keeper. George Bogatiuk at Soundtrax suggested this approach as the new decoders are more efficient. Hopefully this is the answer, as Haupt is a good runner, heavy puller, and sounds great,... when it runs.  Yes, I hate DCC.


We had a busy Easter weekend. My brother and new fiancé visited. After a triple party to celebrate their engagement, my mom's 94th birthday, and our retirement from government service, my brother did an informal op session on PoLA.
A few days later, my friend, Bayo Adedeji, stopped by with his 10-year old twins, Alexander and Ariana to run some trains. They are on spring break. This is the second time they operated the layout.  Hopefully, they will come back again.


Last but not least, Seth Neumann and Steve Williams of Model Railroad Control Systems sent me this test video showing progress on the Telegraph system.  They are nearly ready to send the Arduino systems to me for installation on the layout. I'll post more about that as it gets installed.



March 27, 2018

Revised Track Plan

This weekend was infrastructure improvement time on the Aquia Line. With help from Alicia, I began repainting the common areas of the basement and ordered new carpet for the stairs. This was a task that I have planned for quite some time, but I finally decided to get it done.

To take a break from the painting work, I worked on the track plan for expanding the Aquia Line into the crew lounge. This plan is similar to the previous plan, but I angled the peninsula. The opens up the central aisle a bit and puts Falmouth on less of a curve. The trade off was to make the benchwork by the new Stoneman's Station narrower. There is also a slight choke point at the top of the Roberts Ridge peninsula, but that is not an active area for operations, so it shouldn't be a problem (so that's where everyone will congregate if Murphy is around).

I also showed a possible continuous run connection. 

I did some line of sight testing in the room. With this design (and the previous too) an operator in the pit near Stoneman's Station cannot see Potomac Creek Station. So there will be a TT&TO pucker factor as crews move from Potomac Creek to Stonemans and vice versa. That's a good thing as it "lengthens the run."

March 22, 2018

March Madness - a Snow Storm on the First Day of Spring

They say March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Well the lion got in a late roar and dumped abut 6 inches of heavy wet snow on our area. Late snow is unusual for Northern Virginia, but recall that there was a heavy snow storm storm when President Abraham Lincoln made his Easter visit to the Aquia Line in 1863, as well as several other storms that winter.

Of course the snow caused the local schools, many businesses, and the Federal Government offices to close down. With an unexpected day off, I tackled several miscellaneous tasks on the Aquia Line. Most of the tasks were in the maintenance and rebuilding category.

First, I tuned up several freight cars. Through test operation I found several cars that were derailing in various places. I discovered that some of my cast metal trucks did not have the king pin hole exactly on the center line. This caused the couplers to be offset too much on certain curves. The offset couplers then jam the links and caused derailments by lifting the car and wheels off the rails.

The off center problem  was due to the rubber mold wearing as I cast the metal parts for the trucks. To fix that problem, I cracked open  the offending trucks and replaced the bolster beam with new laser cut parts that had the king pin hole precisely centered. They also had consistent tabs to fit in the slots of the cast metal truck side frames. With these changes, those cars performed much better.

While I was doing freight cars, I also finished up the decals for a new box car. This is now the 28th car on the RR. I also built two more sets of trucks for cars 29 and 30.

But I still had some derailment trouble. All three turnouts to the wye at Aquia had problems. These are key turnouts and must work reliably. The easiest to fix was the switch on the Burnside Wharf side of the wye. My operators from last week reported that the stubs were not clearing the stock rails. Sure enough, one stock rail was too long. That was easy to trim.

The center wye switch had become tight in gauge after I ballasted the track, probably because I was too enthusiastic with dilute glue and wet-water  when I applied the ballast. The excess water caused some of the ties to wrap a little bit. However, I was able to salvage the turnout by slightly re-gauging the track without having to pull the ties and totally re-lay it.

New extended lead and switch stand WIP
The biggest problem was in the south end of the wye. The lead to the turnout was too sharp. While it worked most of the time, certain car-coupler combos still had trouble. The frog was ok, but the lead in the stock rails was the problem.

To fix it, I pulled up  the stock rails, added three inches  to the lead and and re-spiked the track. In the process, I was able to move the switch stand to the foreground, where is it much easier to access. It all works much better now.

One other niggling problem we had was that certain freight cars interfered with the transfer bridge on the car float. I was able to sand the transfer bridge post in the center that was causing the problem. Most cars now fit, except two flat cars with home made stake pockets. I was able to use my new Proxxon disk sander to take off about .040 inches off each side of the cars. They now fit and the cars still look fine.

I recently purchased the Proxxon sander. It has proven itself to be one of the most useful tools in my shop.  How I got along without it for so long is a mystery.  It's for sale direct from their website with feee shipping. And their price is lower than most discounters, like Amazon.

Finally, the USPS brought a package. I guess the, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" is true. Anyway, the package contained an O scale 2-8-0 2-rail locomotive that Jeremy Drummler purchased for me at the 2018 National O scale Show in Chicago last weekend. Thanks Jeremy!

It is shocking to feel how heavy this loco is and how much bigger it is compared to a ACW 4-4-0. The engine weighs 4.1 pounds and the tender is another.  Wow.  The loco is for a new layout project for my next book. More on that later.

March 18, 2018

Op Session 7 is in the bag

We had another successful op session today. This was number 7 on Aquia and 16 for PoLA.  Marty McGuirk and his son Matt, Roger Sekera, Gene Nash, Tom Pierpoint, John Barry and Brad Trencamp showed up for duty.

Debut of Adams Express car
Brad ran PoLA solo, while the others ran 3 trains on Aquia using two-man crews.

We tried using longer trains for the southward direction and that was a success. We also ran an extra and that works, but because the room is small, two 2-man crews without an extra is probably a better fit.

Later in the day John King, Paul Dolkos, Ken Lehman, Mat Robertson, and Reg Mitchell stopped by to visit. Reg got recruited to run the General's special near the end of the session.

As usual mom and Alicia made some delicious snacks.

For a more complete summary see the video below.




March 15, 2018

Paper figures for building interiors


Brian Kammerer has been sending me artwork  to make paper figures to detail the interior of the warehouses.  Brian is a commercial artist that does story boards and animated films for advertising agencies. He has an amazing talent to capture emotion and feeling in his small figures.  He has a library of figures he has painted for his civil war artwork. I have used some of his art for camp scenes in my backdrop art.

Here is a sample of two of his  soldiers in a warehouse at Brooke. These are paper cutouts. Definitely potential here.

While I had his artwork, I experimented with doing some comic style images. These images start with  photos from the layout processed to look like a comic using poser edge and cutout filters in PS. Then I add his figures to the scene.  The top image shows several of Brian's figures inspecting the new passenger car.

The lower photo show soldiers and workers loading boxes and hay at Falmouth,  This could be a whole new hobby!

March 14, 2018

Blast from the Past - Bush Terminal

Lance Mindheim's new project N Scale Brooklyn layout reminded me of the Bush Terminal layout I built for a cover shoot for MRP in 2002. I shot slides for the cover, which now, I have no clue where they are. But I do have this scan of the cover. That's my hand in the image too!

My lead paragraph to this article was one of my favorites too as it reminds me of my dad,

"In the city known for some of the most famous skyscrapers in the world, the buildings that most fascinated me as a young boy were the warehouses and docks known as the Bush Terminal. As a child growing up in southern Brooklyn, NY during the 1950s and 60s, I had ample opportunity to observe the Bush Terminal, usually from the back seat of my father’s car as we drove past on the elevated Gowanus Expressway. From this lofty position looking over the plains of brownstone apartment roofs my gaze was fixed not on the glittering Manhattan skyscrapers visible in the distance, but on the stark white eight-story concrete warehouses boldly emblazoned with the Bush Terminal logo in high contrast black letters. The seemingly endless maze of identical block structures, connected by bridges and catwalks, with shadowy alleys, crisscrossed by railroad tracks and adjacent to long fingers of piers captured my attention. What went on there I wondered, sometimes with a touch of dread when my young imagination got the best of me."

A work in progress photo of the layout. The building on the left is
a paper cut out. The white buildings were scratchbuilt from styrene.
The layout for this article was the size of a  small 3-ft book case. Later, I did a room filling layout design of Bush Terminal for my first track plan book.


















Last year, I visited Tom Fausser's HO scale switching layout in Tulsa. It's a large Brooklyn, NY theme layout that includes Bush Terminal. The photo at the right shows his work in progress as of 2017. It is a neat layout. I'd like to get a chance to operate it some day.




March 12, 2018

Sound Rail 2018


Grain elevator on Harbor Island
I just got back from Sound Rail 2018 where I had a wonderful time. The layout hosts and organizers put on a great event.  I arrived on Wednesday and did some rail fanning in downtown Seattle. I checked out the S Lander Street area near the Mariner's and Seahawk's stadiums since one of my friends is interested in modeling that area. Then I looked around the Harbor Island area. That would make a great core for a waterfront themed layout.

That evening Kirk Reddie had an open house for his N Scale Milwaukee Lines east layout. To say it is a huge undertaking is an complete understatement. I don't know the exact dimensions, but it fills the bottom level of his purpose built home which also acts as his business and warehouse. It is probably over 3,000 square feet and will include multiple decks. Whew! It might be the biggest home ever if he and his crew complete it.

Over the next three days I attended 4 operation sessions and 4 open houses. The video below summarizes the layouts I saw and operated.

Tracks 9 feet in the air pass around the perimeter of the  unfinished Tacoma
harbor area in Mike's Pacific Railway and Navigation Company
O scale layout.
I tell my wife that the model railroading hobby is a big tent. Going to events like this shows you that there are many ways to build and operate a layout.  Mike "Chooch" O'Connell's P48 O scale layout is a perfect example. It is a massive, multiple level, mushroom style layout (it's actually much more complicated than a mushroom design - tracks are stacked  6 levels high in some sections)   with theater style lighting. It felt like operating trains in a Disney exhibit.  While not complete, the novelty of the design and the finished scenery shows that it will be a spectacular achievement when further along.




March 4, 2018

Passenger Car Finished



John Barry stopped by on Saturday for  mini work session. He got to work adding glazing to windows for the warehouses on Aquia Landing. I had pre-painted them, so it was just a matter of  adding the glazing. There were about 80 windows that need glazing and John got most of them done.

In the meantime I did various tasks. First I added a car card box and shelf to the Burnside Wharf area. I have initially grouped the cards for Aquia Landing and Burnside's Wharf in one box. But after a few op sessions, it seems like a separate box at Burnside Wharf might make things easier for  my operators.

I also made a new car card box for Aquia Landing that fit the fascia better.

I then spent a good part of the rest of the weekend working on the passenger car. I decided to rebuild the roof. The first roof I made was warping because the joists were not glued to the roof decking. So I made new joists and purlins. I also cut a new roof deck from 1/32 basswood. I added scribed lines to create the look of planks, but to also to kerf the the wood roof to curve easier. The top surface of the roof is a piece of paper secured with spray glue.

The new roof fits tightly with no warp. It also looks cool when the roof is off.

I finished the rest room details and added the steps, railings and some other minor details.

The decals are from a set I had made several years ago.



February 26, 2018

Hay Transportation

During the civil war hay and straw were unremarkable, common place items used as animal feed, bedding, and even medical supplies. That is why there is scant photo record of it. If it is in a photo, it is usually in the background. Yet, the written records of railroad transportation on the Aquia Line show hay, called forage, was the majority of the cargo. So how did that hay get to Aquia Landing?

This image depicts an essentially ages old process of collecting hay and loading on a wagon. This drawing at the LoC has a caption of foraging for hay in Virginia. Note that forage as a verb means to look for food for both men and animals, while forage as a noun is the hay and grain used to feed animals.  By the time of the civil war, farmers and hay distributors made hay bales using horse powered presses as I described here. They shipped the  bales with concentrated hay from farms to urban areas.



During the civil war, the farms in eastern Pennsylvania produced prodigious quantity of hay, according to Hess in his book, "Civil War Logistics." The US Quartermaster Corps purchased bulk hay and shipped it to the Army. In the case of the Army of Potomac, the hay came by ship and barge. If you look at the three-masted schooner in the background of this image from City Point  you will see it is fully loaded with hay. 

The Merritt map of City Point shows a wharf labeled as "Forage Wharf." This implies a dedicated place to transload and store hay.  

To transship the hay to the hungry animals in the front lines the Army used wagons and railroad cars.  In the photo of City Point  at the left we can see a line of wagons proceeding to an area where piles of hay bales are stored. Look behind the trees on the right side to see the hay bales.


 If you look closely at the image below of the Aquia Landing, you can see a flat car loaded with hay bales on the right side of the image to the left of the locomotive. 

I have posted other pictures of hay bales on railroad cars such as here.  Armed with this knowledge, we can proceed with adding hay bales to our civil war railroad cars knowing we are on the right track. 






February 25, 2018

New Operation Sessions, Aquia Line 6 and PoLA 13

We hosted another pair of dueling Op Sessions today. JD Drye, Terry Terrance, Mat Thompson, Tom Pierpoint, Joel and John Salmons ran trains on the Aquia Line, while Kent Smiley and Brad Trencamp took care of PoLA.  I had to cancel the January session, so it had been a few months since the last op session, though we did have the kids work the layout in the interim.  I posted a video on youtube showing some of the action from today's session.

My main objective today was to evaluate the operation of the new passenger car. It worked well. However, we discovered that it just barely cleared the Clozet Tunnel portal. That means that if I make a longer passenger car, I will have to be very careful in the width to insure the roof doesn't scrape the tunnels. There also a few places where the mid-part of the body just cleared the switch stands. But they did clear!

Right at the start of the session, engine Haupt went dead. It also had a bug the night before -  as I was test running its decoder made some strange noises. I think it is time to replace the decoder in Haupt with a battery backup. Fortunately, Engine McCallum was available to fill in for Haupt and the session continued without delay. We did not run the General's Special today, but we did run 3 train at the same time.   It is also becoming apparent that I have enough freight cars for now to support a session. If i go to longer trains, I may need a few more.  Everyone liked the new hay bales.

I had replaced the frog juicer circuit that controls 6 turnouts in Aquia Landing prior to the session. The new circuits works perfectly. In examining the old circuit card I could clearly see some components that were damaged.

Newly weathered auto rack 



Kent and Brad got in late, so they got to run PoLA, which pleased both go them. Their session went smoothly and they had a good time. I had added two more auto racks to the scenario. My new plan is to use CMT as the auto rack terminal, instead adding an auto rack terminal as the modular addition. Instead, I will add an additional siding for Vopak as a FREMO module. The geometry here requires a sharper radius around 22 inches, which would be trouble if it was a auto rack terminal. With this design I get to run more tank cars to the expanded Vopak and the auto racks to CMT, along with other loads. Win-Win.



This started out as pan full of cookies.





My mom prepared the snacks today. She made Madeline cookies with bits of dates soaked in marsala wine and a cranberry cake that was delicious. I just got a small sliver, and when I went to get a second piece, it was all gone!

We can log another good session in the books.