Monday, January 29, 2024

OP Session January 28, 2024

Another fun ride on the W&A, north branch! Operators included members from our ACW RRs group, Corey, Bill and DC, Another person, Glyn is a fellow board member in our NMRA Division, and Ed who is a member from our local model RR club, Garden State Central

I had three train schedules prepared. However, a couple of folks couldn't make it last minute  And, I didnt even think about removing the one train. This, however, made for an interesting movement for the crew that encountered this train as it blocked their route. 

One of the compelling aspects of modeling this era is the consistent randomness of situations which were very prototypical then given the demands for both civilian and military needs and requirements.

Below, Bill is Yardmaster in Chattanooga while Ed and Glynn are preparing to depart for points south.

DC, brakeman, and Corey throttling through the Kennesaw Cut with a mixed freight of empties pulled by the W&A 4-4-0 Georgia. All names for the locomotives, as well as businesses and particular land features are consistent with the W&A line in 1863. 

Glynn and Ed taking out the Catoosa for its first run of the day, also a mixed freight with a few passenger stops scheduled along the way.


Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Mantua General 4-4-0 Rebuild Part 1

I have rebuilt about 10 of these Mantua Generals. But since Soundtraxx came out with the TS2 1100, I have converted a few to include these beauties. The sound varieties are are superior to their Economi and Micro sound decoders, which I had in several of my locos. Photo below is the General as Mantua manufactured it. I believe the former owner colored the stack and pilot as these were originally black, or if from a kit it would be bare metal. Note the drive shaft. This too was modified as I needed to change the motor to fit the tender along with a speaker, "super" capcitor and the sound decoder.

The most mindful aspect for a rebuild is determining what parts to paint while adding the electrical parts and the new details. 

Where to start?1?1?1 - Contemplate your sequence of moves. It is a bit of a chess match. And as with chess, there are multiple moves. For this build I first chose all the detail parts I wanted to add. Here are two photos showing these. 

Top photo, row left to right: tender steps, water valves, water tank hatch, stack. 

Bottom row left to right: tender brake beams, firewood split from local shrub, short and long handrail stanchions. Later I'll show how these were configured.

Top row, left to right: valve steam rocker arms, whistle, bell, horizontal pilot. 
Bottom row left to right: boiler stanchions, steam chest lubricators, double link coupler pocket, long tool box for rear  of tender.  

Lastly, tender tool boxes that rest on tender top near cab, flag stanchions, pilot draw bar. 

I made notes, both mental and written, as to what I wanted to build. First was the cab roof. Through our civil war railroads, we learned that  cab roofs were not all peaked as with the Mantua model. There were arched as well.  My good friend Lebron made one and I adapted his approach. First, file off the peak, then using a thin sheet of brass, it is shaped into an arch. Shims were inserted to support the new roof.  

Now to assemble the electrical components. Most difficult to find these days is a strong motor that fits and can accommodate other parts. Here I have a Swiss Micron motor, 13mm x 20mm. The sound decoder, cube speaker and current keeper are by Soundtraxx. Respectfully TS2 1100, 810154 cube and 810140 "super capacitor". I also use TCS KA2 Keep Alives in some locos. Both of these have worked fabulously! Rarely is there a stall or stop over a switch. 

This next image shows the above components installed into the tender. The pointer is indicating the mini plug connecting the hot wire from the decoder to right side drivers. The ground wire is not visible but it's been attached to a screw that was tapped into the tender from. This connects the left side of the tender trucks which also have brass wire wipers soldered to the truck and bent slightly to touch the tender wheels on the left side. The white wire is connected to another mini plug for the hot wire coming from the headlamp. 

Here you can see how the headlamp wires are connected. The ground wire is held in place with the screw that holds the steam dome in place. Duck tape keeps the wires secured to avoid floating into the drive mechanism. 

Here you can see the electrical components, in particular the motor. These unfortunately have significantly increased in price, only available direct from Switzerland. At $90 plus a $16 shipping chang made these impractical to continue using. I am now on the hunt for a successor. Also in this photo you see a few other aspects of the install. One is how the ground wire from decoder is screwed into the tender frame. ANother is the mini plugs. You just cut away the black plastic with cutters. They are then soldered to their respective wire. Lastly is the use of scotch tape to hold it all together, seen also in a previous photo.

The painting of course started earlier. I primed with a Rustoleum paint. The Russia Iron color I found in my collection of Model Power paints. Russia Iron can be a variety of colors. However, this version, from my research, is pretty spot on.
Next was the walkway. These could be a mahogany or other hard wood color. I used Vajello a different wood color but after seeing such a difference from the mahogany (photo below), I repainted the walkway to match the cab. 

I predrill all the holes for the detail parts either prior to painting and most certainly prior to adding decals. Here's two photos of cab grab irons. 

The decals are by the master, John Ott. He is a medical illustrator by trade. He also creates remarkable lithographs of 19th century locomotives.

Here are the decals he recently did for me for this build. Impressive no?

I first cut the curved end. The other cuts being square are made after as the hold the decal in place for the free form cut of the curve.

The area to apply decals must be painted white for the decals to show up. I use Vajello white. I tried the gloss white but it was too clumpy. ALthough you can see small ridges in the paint, these are unnoticeable after decal is applied. Micro Scale decal products are quite reliable. 



Once applied, I wick most of the water away in some cases. right photo. But the water helps to loosen the decal to position it, left photo. 

In some cases the decal is a little short. Color matching is ket to cover the white area at tender bottom. Two Polly S colors worked!

Main components are painted and ready to be assembled. Weight is a most important element for these locos. Cabs come with a full weight. However, I like to add the engineer. Using a very slow process of cutting out that corner with a hack saw allows for the figure.
This shows the drive shaft mechanism. You see two shafts. The longer one has NWSL parts because I wanted to narrow the ugly large shaft that comes with the General. I cut one of the large, white balls and drill a hole for the narrow piano wire.

Next time I will show installation of the other detail parts and other nuances to rebuild a Mantua 4-4-0.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Operations November 26, 2022

A few crew members ventured back from the November 12 session. We had another 6 people for 3 crews. Here we have Dan making a move at Allatoona Pass as Ed and Jim await to proceed. 

Bill and a new operator Andy on a break.

We had many more mishaps on this run. 4 turnouts decided not to throw completely. YOI! However, immediately after the session, repairs and adjustments were made. And once again, most folks had a good time. I realize that my connection to the period can absorb frustrations. This was confirmed from a few others who shared mishaps and instances that were plausible, anchored in this time frame's circumstances. Derailments, for example, we very common among a host of other unforeseen incidents. As a result, the mishaps they experience are absorbable.

Continuing discoveries include seeing that rules of the 1860's were quite different than those as close as the 1870's. There are a few simple ones I can include in the next session.

A huge part of the game of operating in this era is how to operate as prototypical as possible, i.e., link & pin couplers and some acceptable  mechanical breakdowns (electrical issues are not an option, 'FIX IT!' I say to myself). 

Interesting outcome was the conversations we had after lunch. We shared knowledge and perceptions of many aspects of prototype operating. Like, what did brakemen do with an extra link or pin? The history is the juice for me. Learning and then applying what is reasonable. 

Operations 11.12.2022

For many model railroaders, running trains in a similar fashion to how they operated in real life is an objective to building a layout. Prototype, prototype freelance or freelance, makes no difference. I worked with period information on way bills and schedules to create an experience for friends to visit and work in crews of two. 

Here's the crews from Nov 12...

Dave and Ed changing out cars in Kingston. Dave and I go back to high school. Ed is a member of our local Garden State Central Model RR club in Wall NJ.

Dan and Bill are picking up empties from Camp McDonald at Big Shanty. Both are members of our American Civil War RR's Historical Society. Historians to modelers participate in our monthly zoom meets.
Aside from the occasional, and in many cases prototypical mishaps and breakdowns, there were issues with derailments and decoder learning. Derailments were found at one turnout which has been rectified. But this is something that does occur. It's 1863. Trackage was rough to begin with. The key is not doing anything about the mishap and excusing oneself with "well, that's prototype". Repairs and fixes are part of the equation.    

Ed and Dave come to the end of their run. Truly, a good time was had by all.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Turntable Discussions with George Bogatiuk from Soundtraxx

I had the great opportunity to have George come to my layout and assist, in a huge way, programming my locomotives. This aspect of the hobby has confounded me as I am so not tech savvy. However, George with his unparalleled expertise guided me to programming 5 of my 4-4-0's . Hope you enjoy our conversation.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Annual Civil War RR's Meet in Baltimore

We are known as the American Civil War Rail Roads Historical Society, created in 2003. For many years we would rendezvous at a location with ACW RR history. We've been to City Point, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Memphis (2x), Alexandria, Savannah, Harper's Ferry, Gettysburg, Hanover, now Baltimore, for a second time. Prior Baltimore trip was 2012. The trip covers about 3 days, Thursday evening through Sunday morning. Typical trips include site visits, clinics, speaker(s) and ideally operations sessions at a local model railroad. Here are some photos of our trip. Hope you enjoy the ride...

This was at the B&O museum in Ellicott (pronounced Elikit) City. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable. Being of Irish decent, he was very familiar with the B&O as one of his ancestors was a railman. 

Left to right, Charlie Taylor who models the M&C, O scale, and lives in Tennessee. DC Cebula, living in Delaware, models an HO freelance layout, the Del Central. The back of John Bopp who models in HO scale and is an historian of locomotives.

Here we all are in front of the William Mason 4-4-0 in the B&O RR Museum Roundhouse. This loco was leased by Disney for the Great Locomotive Chase and used as the Texas. Jeffrey Hunter, Slim Pickens and other actors rode this baby! 

Left to right, Charlie, Ken Bruns, Paul Ciesmelewski, DC, myself, John Bopp, David Bjorkman, Phil Ruehl and Marty Vaughn. 

I was able to get a peek into the cab. Later found out that this is verboten! 

Here we are at Bernie Kempinski's O scale USMRR Aquia Line participating in an operations session that Bernie had arranged for us. This is the highlight for many of us!

Until next time... Happy Rails!

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Flat Figures by Brian Kammerer

Many, many months ago, I needed to scenic the area that increased in size as a result of opening up the aisle just south of Kennesaw Mtn. This area is at the top left corner between Kennesaw and where "Mill" is noted. The entire table of the Atlanta area is now parallel with the back wall and allows for a pleasurable 3' aisle.

I now had 3' feet of new real estate to scenic which I found artistically challenging and was a good thing. I had several ideas including a small farm, dirt road, double post and rail fencing. Mock up  structures were placed in the area. However, it all felt too busy.  Trains would be passing the Redoubt which has perspectives then a farm then mountain... So I just sat and pondered gazing into the bare benchtop. I would come back over a period of about 4-5 months. Interesting how the idea finally lands. I decided that I would create a deep perspective with distance. The backdrop / ridge line is foam core with a couple of layers of flocking. I would  need to show a 1000 yard or more distance from the ridge line to a full size (HO) foreground. 

This photo below shows the first steps to bridging the distance. At the base of the ridge line is a dark tree line. The intent is to show a tree line closer to the viewer and enhance the perspective experience. There are two figures in the middle ground. This is what I call "concept measuring" to ascertain plausibility for the entire scene. The cluster of trees is meant to be a view-through element. Once painted and flocked, I want the viewer to peer through the trees to help distribute the perspective as they see the scouts. The stream, and of course the house car, are the foreground. The fun of creating this scenic element is assessing what to place between the stream and the ridge line to foster the sense of distance.

Close up of the above photo...

Even closer image below. The figure is another Brian Kammerer creation. His film "The Other Great Locomotive Chase" is populated with a plethora of flats. When I mentioned to him what I was doing he suggested flats. I had hoped he would. He graciously created a few sheets of infantry, cavalry and artillery figures. Everyone who has viewed this scene could not tell the scouts were flat.

One of the figure sheets Brain created is below. All I did was reduce the size then print a sheet. After cutting the figures I wanted, and adding a thin sheet of cardboard backing for rigidity, I simply glued a straight pin to the back. The bench is blue insulation foam, making installment of the figures very easy.  

I am getting ahead of my process.

While still in the imagination phase, and driving around on different days, one day as I was passing a field. I saw exactly what I was wanting to build. In the middle distance from the road there was a cluster of trees. The added component missing in my scene was the vegetation among these trees. Small, wild growing shrubs, bushes and some vines. Here is the nearly final touch, close up...

A more distant view...

I want to add more underbrush among the trees and in the open field. However, for the most part, I am quite satisfied with the results.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Test run with a Soundtraxx Current Keeper

 Locomotives running smooth is what truly matters. Otherwise I have a wonderful diorama. But that is NOT the goal. Here are two video shorts showing the Dr Thompson, a converted and detailed Mantua General, on a test run. My big difficulty was getting them to consistently run through turnouts. So far so good!

Tuesday, May 10, 2022


March 26 I presented a clinic on my Atlanta / Schofield Rolling Mill to the Railroad Prototype Modelers convention in Valley Forge. By the time I realized I wanted a photo, the next clinician had his power point up. At least there is a modicum of proof I was there.

Looked like a terrific turnout. In addition to some outstanding clinics, there were about 6 venders with a variety of modeling products. Of course I found a few much-in-need-of items, like a current keeper, sugar cube speakers and detail parts.

If you'd like to see the clinic powerpoint presentation, it is uploaded to our site, 

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Workin on the DC - Delaware Central RR

 This past Tuesday I took a ride to Newark DE to see our good friend DC Cebula and his progress on his period layout. WOW has been motorin! Prior to making this photo happen, he began last year preparing the layout room in his basement. Herculean effort it was. Now his benchwork is completed and track is being set in preparation for permanent bedding.

To our right, your left, is a return loop. His is building a freelance prototype of the DE Central RR. All of his 30 plus turnouts have been built with Fast Tracks templates. One remarkable attribute of DC is his meticulous attention to all construction, from benchwork to track work, etc. During my time with him, as I have made two trips in two weeks, we have built the laser cut throw devices and placed the track exactly where it will be permanently adhered. Visit his website,

Although he has not uploaded layout photos yet, you will see his magnificent modeling skills.