Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"Model Railraods Go To War"

Anyone looking to build a model railroad depicting a military or war theme needs to acquire this book by Bernie Kempinski. Bernie is known for both his modeling and his writing as he has been a contributor to Model Railroader magazine, other publications and the author of several other books on model railroading. In this, his latest book, Bernie covers the earliest uses of railroads such as the Crimea to our more contemporary era of "Rockets on Rails".
Bernie includes many period, prototype photos as wells as pictures of model railroads that are not often published because their builders are more focused on building their respective layouts. He includes many modeling tips, techniques and layout plans most of which Bernie has created, so he speaks from experience. Track plans include two of the American Civil War, one for WWI, two for WWII and two more contemporary settings. Place your order through Kalmbach Publishing. 
Although more that the American Civil War is presented, Model Railroads Go To War is another example of the possibilities for modeling this extraordinary era of our history.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Turntable Discussions, Episode 1 with DC Cebula

I have had the extraordinary good fortune to find some of the most gifted modelers and artists who have contributed to the this model railroad. More than displaying photos of their work and them, I thought to present each one in a manner that would connect viewers to what has motivated and inspired them to do what they do. The first foray was an interview on this blog last year with Brian Kammerer, our backdrop artist. Using the layout as the setting, our conversation was off-the-cuff and informal while Brian was in the act of painting. We received more comments about that posting and requests to do more interviews than any of the other blog posts. Months later I saw, and was inspired by, the MRR Video Plus Roundhouse Discussions where three MRR staff talk about a wide variety of model railroading. I found them to be very engaging, fun to watch and I learned nuances of modeling philosophy and practices. This helped shape the idea for "Turntable Interviews", using a similar format with our many modelers and historians.

DC Cebula is featured in this latest episode. He is our American Civil War Rail Roads Historical Society Yahoo group moderator. Some background, DC is from Delaware and acquired a degree in historical archeology. His vision has been to apply his passion and knowledge to the education, preservation and modeling of Civil War rail roads. If you have frequented our blog you have noticed that his work and photos are all over the place. He has been the key contributor to the ideas, planning, and construction of all aspects of this layout, plus a dear friend. Hope you enjoy the ride.


Here are the latest photos of progress in Chattanooga. Our last posting of this section showed only a few maps and mock ups such as  the "Car Shed" in the background. Next is the completed Adams Express Co. across the street from the nearby hotel known as the Crutchfield House. Both structures were scratch built by Chris Comport from WI. DC added the platform. Although the platform is not shown in any diagrams that we've researched, nor is such a structure mentioned in any reading, for the purpose of a model railroad we included it for operations.

This next photo is looking south, opposite from the above shot. We are 90% complete on this section. Other details and perhaps another commercial structure could be added in the open space at left.
Chattanooga was a terminus for the W&A and Nashville & Chattanooga lines. Later the East Tennessee & Georgia RR was added. The only through line was the Memphis & Charleston R.R. Given that all these lines came into Chattanooga there are many possibilities for model railroading operations. 
The yard was filled with cars from different lines for the sake of the photo. These other rail lines are the Atlanta & West Point, Macon & Western, and the Georgia RR, all of which came into Atlanta.

These last two photos below show the scratch built Adams Express Co. and Crutchfield House by Chris Comport.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

ACWRR 2015 Calendar


The 2015 Official Calendar of the American Civil War Rail Roads Historical Society is now available. It features many layouts and models in N, HO and O scales by various members of our yahoo group, Civil War Roads. Most photos were shot by D.C. Cebula who had one other of his photos featured in the 2015 NMRA Calendar. Please contact me by leaving a comment and email address. I will contact you ASAP.

Monday, November 10, 2014

NMRA 2015 Calendar Photo

It's a grand day as D.C. Cebula has had a photo of the railroad featured in the 2015 NMRA Model Railroad calendar.
American Civil War model railroads are a very infrequent feature in all railroad model magazines primarily because so few people do model this era. A primary reason being the lack of quality locomotives and for any manufacturers, the challenge of installing sound. As noted in the caption, a Micro-Tsunami sound decoder has been installed in this 4-4-0 which is all hand done by the modeller; in this case myself. The procedure takes about 20 plus hours including altering the locomotive to fit the prototypical appearance of the time. 
So congratulations to D.C. who has also been a strong contributor to the construction and superb modeling of this railroad. There is a label devoted to his skillful creations if you would like to see more of his work. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

ACWRR ANNUAL MEET 2014 - Chattanooga

American Civil War RR Historical Society/
Civil War RR Yahoo Group Meet
September 2014
One of our best meets to date, our members traveled to Chattanooga TN and experienced a variety of ACWRR historical elements. We had the good fortune to have Mark Brainard, railroad historian specializing in the Civil War era, seen here with a coupler in his personal collection while Dave Schnieder looks on below;
and Jim Ogden, one of the premier Battlefield Park historians and interpreters in the park system. Here on Lookout Mountain he is providing an overview of Chattanooga as a key cross roads for several Confederate rail lines on our first day.
During the evenings we were treated to a few presentations. First is Charlie Taylor presenting an overview of the many forts built by the USMRR. Later he shared his approach to and the construction of his expansive bridge on his Memphis and Charleston O scale model railroad. You can see a few pictures and videos on his site

Another evening, LeBron Mathews, who also models the W&A and is another skilled, artistic modeler, is presenting 'Longstreet's Troop Movement by Rail.'

Day 2 we ventured into an area only accessible with Mark and Jim. This was at the tunnel through Missionary Ridge. The other tunnel, of which most people/historians are familiar, is known as Tunnel Hill near Dalton and further south. Here Chip and Sue Barona stand at the tunnel entrance to give perspective on the entrance height. Notice the shape as the lower part is slightly more narrow than the upper wall to provide structural support, a most common design for our period of modeling.

Venturing further along, Mark took us to the East TN & GA RR crossings over Chickamauga Creek which also crossed the Western & Atlantic RR. Here are the original piers from that time.

There was also a battle that took place in this area for the Missionary Ridge position. This was an attempted flanking move by General W.T. Sherman where he was decidedly whooped by Patrick Cleburne's troops. 
Here Jim provides a detailed story of the battle and the relationship of the forts which guarded the crossings just beyond this picture.

We also had the opportunity to ride the live steam excursion which ran about 40 minutes round trip with a pause at the turntable.
 Several members were invited, thanks to Mark, to ride in the cab. Al gives the command to "ALL ABOARRRRRD!!"
Dave Schneider, Ron Flowers and Charlie Taylor were among the other riders while the rest of us rode the period passenger cars as Mark pointed out various aspects of the line during the war. This was a highlight of our meet for many.

As I mentioned, and as you can see by the sign, it was only due to having Mark along that we were able to experience a walk through this tunnel built in the 1850's. Truly a grand experience was this most recent meet. We now set our sights for 2015 to York and Gettysburg where we hope to ride the new 4-4-0 York. Maybe see you then? You are most welcome! 
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Friday, August 15, 2014

The poet Rumi

The poet Rumi wrote:

 '"Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field. I'll meet you there."'

I read this in Tony Koester's Trains of Thought last year. As he mentions, it reflects how I like to think of my community of model railroad friends who share such an enjoyment and camaraderie when working, and playing, together as we endevour to fabricate a world that appeals to our fun of model railroading. 

We here at the Western & Atlantic RR, North Branch, hope you are enjoying your railroading adventures with a friend or two who share the same passion and enthusiasm as us. 

Al Mueller's Orange & Alexandria RR

May 29-30, 2014

Another productive and fun visit to Al's O&A RR The following video was recorded with my iPhone. This features the Mueller Machine Works factory, an extremely highly detailed interior and exterior structure. Details include belt driven machines, winches, tool benches with tools, drafting tables and many scratch-built elements. Al is consistent with the quality of his modeling skills. The locomotive is the Dr. Thompson. This is an engine with the Atlanta & West Pt. RR., and is one of mine that I bought to 'Dr' Al, with some performance issues. As seen here it runs as good as it gets. The passenger cars are brass models that of course were built and painted by Al.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Decoder Installations

Over the last couple of years many activities have and continue to occur that provide alternatives for those of us/you looking to have quality running 4-4-0's, especially if using the Mantua General.

Over the last few months my primary focus has been to re-tool two locos. Al Mueller has been instrumental in helping me both with his manual on "Modifying the Mantua General", as well as locating a superb motor from a source known as "Motorman". These new motors clearly surpass the usual can motors. NWSL (North West Short Line) has been my source and the motor provided when Mantua was offering a retro-fit to replace the original open motors installed in their Generals. Motorman reconstitutes motors that he acquires. I use the Maxon Swiss 13mmx... Some are so small that there is plenty of room for a sound decoder in the tender. I use Tsunami micro and the OSI .62 speaker from Tony's Trains.

These two photos give you an idea on how I positioned them in the tender. Al's General rebuild Manual has been a key resource for ideas on how to modify the tender. You can also see that the small motor is a perfect fit. In this tender I fabricated a base for the motor for ease of removal. A piece of brass plate was tapped from under the tender then a styrene plate on top of the brass plate where the motor was attached with silicone adhesive. I can remove the motor if needed to make repairs or do maintenance. The speaker here is a .62 OSI round with its casing. Although someone mentioned the casing is not needed, I have not experimented with that idea...yet. 
In the photo below, foreground, I attached a plug for the hot (red) wire from the decoder to the the black which attaches to the loco drivers. Plugs are essential because of the number of times I may need to dismantle for maintenance, and there are times (sometimes too many for me) when this is needed. The drive shaft is piano wire attached to NWSL universal cups. You might also see my use of shrink tubing to prevent inadvertent shorting.
Photo on the right is an install after having machined the tender top and corners to allow more space. Lots of drilling and filing required!
Lastly, this photo below shows the addition of a tender "harness". This idea was another of Al Mueller's to ensure good contact,  key to the 4-4-0's operational ability.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Dr. Thompson

As the W&A North Branch continues to evolve, we are at the point where we now have locos with good to excellent running Mantua 4-4-0 locos. The Dr Thompson, shown here, is one of three recently retooled Mantua Generals, the other two being the Dispatch and the General, both of the W&A RR at the time. Al Mueller's manual, "Mantua General Rebuild" is a key resource for anyone interested in refining this Mantua locomotive. Although as many as 20 to 30 hours are invested, depending on the level of detail one wished to add, the exceptional smooth running is certainly worth the time.  A product that I have found extremely useful is CRC, an automotive contact cleaner. I was amazed at the amount of dirt removed from both the rails and loco drivers. Clean is paramount for these locos, as well as the retooling noted in Al's manual. We hope you enjoy the ride. Comments are encouraged so we know how it appeals to the viewer.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Atlanta Concert Hall Phase 1

The Concert Hall is/was one of those iconic buildings in Atlanta made famous by photographer George Barnard who accompanied General "Cump" Sherman on his campaign along the W&A in 1864. The Concert Hall was on the corner of Whitehall and Peachtree streets. This view is looking east with a reasonable view of the south wall. It clearly presented a scratch building challenge. I chose to build it to scale primarily because it has a huge space to fill on the layout. The second floor windows scaled out to 10' tall.  Required then are scale windows which, as far as I could locate, no manufacturer makes windows of this size that would be appropriate for this building. Another provocative construction element are the indented upper walls. 
My intent is show you some of my approaches to solving these and other thought provokers.  

First step is always a mock up. My friend and fellow Garden State Central Model RR Club member Jim Judge photo shopped the hall to HO scale. He then sent me the file which I printed and then mounted onto Foamcore.
You can see the immense size of the third floor windows in particular, 10' high as previously mentioned
 WINDOWS - Inside walls
Two different materials were chosen for the walls, Evergreen styrene .010 for the windowed walls, and Foamcore. My greatest challenge was constructing the window mullions. I had several AAAAHH! hair pulling moments trying to line up the narrow styrene strips. As you will see, the mullions are still not lined up after hours of making lines along the inside walls.
Another view showing how PVC was used to shape the unique rounded corner of the building. The compromise for me was choosing sheet styrene thin enough to bend the corner yet strong enough to hold its form. However it was clear I needed to add bracing as shown below.

 WINDOWS - Outside walls
Below is the nearly finished west wall. Each window was framed along the vertical sides with Plastruct angle beams to cover the corners. The lintels and sills are Evergreen strips. These are glued directly onto the brick wall face which is a paper material from the no longer operational Paper Creek company. However, Micro-Mark makes a terrific adhesive paper product that I and LeBron have used very successfully. I also found a paper product by Miniature Planet offering a variety of brick and stone products as well as roofing and miscellaneous structure materials. These paper products are quite good and certainly save enormous time, especially on background structures.

Below a closer-up view and after the primer was applied to the windows. You can see how the mullions have bends and are not perfectly straight. My Achilles heal is sometimes impatience although I was SO certain they were aligned when glue was applied. Good thing the Hall is in the rear of the layout!
The upper indentations are sections of the styrene wall cut out and slightly larger styrene pieces cut to overlap the openings by 1/8", then covered with brick material and glued to the inner walls. The photo below this one illustrates the end result...
You can see below, in the upper portion of the wall, the cutout styrene rectangles placed over the wall openings. Also note the wall reinforcing beams. These were added after I realized a wall this large would flex without them. This structure was a build-as-you-go; one reason why it has taken nearly two years! It sat a LONG time; one year as the mock up, nearly two years in partial construction. I had no idea how to move forward; a great re-learning on patience and when to leave it alone.

Left, clamping an interior brace in prep for the upper outer wall detailing. Right, a view showing the openings in the upper wall that were closed with brick covered styrene sections that provided the relief look.

Coming together, the blue masking tape is used to prevent paint, the gray primer, from getting on the brick wall, making the job quicker. In particular, this tape has less adhesive than standard masking tape and peals away without tearing. Of course pre-painting would have been the wiser move.

Next is to add external details. One being the stairway shown below. I wanted to be able to build this stairway structure so it could be removed causing nominal damage to the brick. So drilled holes 3 holes into the platform structure, glued small brads to the stairway with points facing the wall, then drilled corresponding holes into the wall. I did the same with the stairs using two brads. Now the entire stairway is removable making detailing and painting much easier. Finally a more "thoughtful" move.
The open are to the left of the hall is an alleyway / road that Christopher suggested as converting to an access to the building. This was a concert hall. His rationale was an entrance for musicians, actors and props. I built two. One entrance on the lower level for actors and musicians, the upper platform for props that may have needed to be hauled to the upper level for ease of transport to the stage. All  so made up of course as I have not found any descriptions. Assuming there were, they were most likely destroyed when the fires consumed much of the city.
80% completed as in detailed, painted and landscaped, remaining is the addition of trees which grew between the hall and tracks, painting the sidewalks, blending the backdrop with the background street and adding a dozen or so Atlantians.  

Following three photos show the completed hall. Although not discernible. Just below the roof top brick work is a thin line of what is know in the masonry trade as "dentals". These are bricks that have been placed in an alternate pattern of gaps between each brick as an ornamental design. 

One other modification was the front 3-story stairway. This may need to be altered as the stairway may have only gone to the 2nd floor. But for now its livable! The last addition will be a poetic license of sort, adding a beam and pulley system above upper alleyway door. The idea is to imagine stage props needing to be hauled to the stage level that otherwise would not be possible up the inside stairways. Now we are ready for the May 17 NMRA NE Region Division meet... at least this building. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Blockhouses were primarily Union fortifications constructed along the various rail lines as a prevention against Confederate raiders. The few photos that I have found show a blockhouse along the N&C line, Nashville Chattanooga. There is no evidence I've come across that suggest Confederates built any blockhouse type structures, at least not along the Western & Atlantic R.R. However this was another too interesting of a scenic element to pass up.
These photos show two different structures which were used as the templates by Christopher. He gathered real twigs, baked them to remove moisture then cut to fit the mock up. We chose the the are near the Howe Truss as a plausible site.
The following photos take you through Chris' general sequence of construction. The plan was a blockhouse. The scene was secondary and the intent was to 

capture the feel for the structure and its surroundings, not the specific
Pink insulation foam was the base form. Twigs were cut,  trimmed and glued to the foam. He then planked the foam roof. Notice the foam was painted black first preventing pink showing between the planks and logs.