All posts by bsullivan

From the National Archives: ca 1927-1928 Georgetown Aerial

Another magnificent find from the National Archives. This one is a straight-down view of the heart of Georgetown. There are SO many things to take in here. Let’s have a look:

Ca. 1927-1928, Georgetown Waterfront, Washington, DC. National Archives Identifier: 68152327 https://catalog.archives.gov/id/68152327
The Capital Traction Co. power plant. Note the two empty and one loaded hopper to the left on the short lead track which swung around the back of the plant, and switched back into the plant along the curved corner wall.
The Rosslyn Steel & Cement plant. This curved tower design was somewhat special in its day. It was featured in an issue of Concrete Magazine, which you can read on Google. The track followed the contour of the building and on into that very long shed where steel was unloaded.
The “old yard” was busy! Note the Georgetown Switcher locomotive was sitting just above the center of the image, facing the River, as always. The freight house is to the right. The stables for the mules used on the C&O Canal is still there, along Rock Creek toward the bottom. And what’s that I see on the far right?
A special find. The siding built around 1914 to support construction of the Lincoln Memorial, which was completed in 1922. I imagine it was a low priority to remove at that point and they just left it as a stub to handle additional cars, as you can see here. Hard to tell if the tracks were still in place further down, but neat nonetheless.
And finally, it’s really cool to see the industry located on this small tract of land near the mouth of Rock Creek and the old C&O canal watergate. (visible at the bottom, which allowed canal boats to enter and exit the canal system here.) There was another stone processing plant here, similar to Smoot Sand & Gravel, that dredged the river and processed the sand and stone here. It’s really cool to see the various freight cars in use here, as well as the maritime components.

Hope you enjoyed this one. It’s a real rabbit hole! I have many more to share and will over the coming months. Would love to hear what you think of this awesome image!

From the National Archives: ca 1921 Georgetown Aerial

I was tipped off by good friend and Archivist Nick F. to the large collection of aerial photos at the National Archives shot during the early-mid 1900s. The most challenging part of my research has always been this period. The line was finished in 1910 and at that point and up into the late 1940s personal cameras were not really a thing. Folks weren’t out there snapping photos of common things unless they had a reason. Photos were more intentional and administrative or commercial in purpose. The B&O had a collection of valuation maps and photos shot around WWI. Over time, when a project was enacted, they would take additional photos. Of course there were roster shots and things of that nature, and it was very much documentation. So, when I saw these images, which largely span from the 19-teens up to the 1940s, I was floored. They are a window into a world that I have yearned to see. It will take me a good amount of time to get through all of the images but I plan on sharing them here when I can. Enjoy!

Ca. Nov 1921 – Airscapes – Washington DC, Georgetown & Potomac River. Negative 4205. National Archives Identifier: 68152130https://catalog.archives.gov/id/68152130

This first image is particularly interesting for a few very special reasons. Let’s start with one that I have been waiting for some time to see with clarity: the extension of the Branch that crossed Rock Creek and skirted along the Potomac to the construction site for the Lincoln Memorial. This siding made an appearance on the B&O Form 6 which listed all sidings along the line, but photos have been elusive. You can also clearly see the peculiar curved loading dock on the right side of the old B&O freight house located at the end of the line.

I also noticed that the Wilkins-Rogers Milling building looks very different and that is because this is the “old” mill that stood on the site until it burned down in a fire on July 4, 1922; a year or so after this photo was taken. There is a massive logo painted on the side of the mill which I believe is related to cotton production, which the mill apparently handled prior to being rebuilt.

There are SO many other details to soak up like the track arrangements, the old Capital Traction power plant (perhaps loading coal from barges or undergoing some construction?), The “new yard” wouldn’t be built for another 20 years or so. This was a busy time in Georgetown.

1941 Bethesda Freight House Construction Photos

In the prototype modeling world, I have heard many folks tell me that if I can’t find source data and photos of something, then I should go ahead and build a model of it, because you KNOW once I finish some brilliant photos and blueprints will surface. Anyone who chases ghosts of bygone eras in their research and modeling knows what I’m talking about. Thankfully, there are some wonderful folks out there like Brian R. who regularly volunteers at the B&ORRHS Archives and is also a friend who knows what my model RR project entails. He reached out to me last week with three absolutely incredible photos. (Apparently there are more! I really need to get myself back to the Archives for more digging.)

A bit of back story – Bethesda was really not much of anything when the RR came through town in 1910. Most folks in the rustic community saw it as a nuisance and impeding on their bucolic suburban hamlet. However, growth was inevitable and in the late 1930s with DC suburbs seeing lots of expansion, the B&O obviously realized that the crossroads in Bethesda were a great spot for a hub of fuel dealers, concrete plants and lumber yards and freight facilities to be located. A depot was needed. In the Spring of 1941 the railroad began construction on the depot, completing it a few months later in July. Oddly enough, they chose to build a freight house adjacent to the tracks with no provision for a connection to the railroad. Yep, take a good look at the Bethesda freight house and try to figure out why it was designed the way it was. No tracks lined up to it for trans-loading. It has a nice broad raised platform for vehicles to unload/load on, but no railroad connection. An oddity, for sure. What proceeded the brick depot is a mystery to me. Any info would be most welcome. Enjoy the following photos, courtesy B&ORRHS.

June 17, 1941. B&O RR Bethesda, MD – Freight House under construction. Maloney Concrete is providing the concrete mix today, as the floor and the loading dock is poured by hand. Workers above work on framing the roof. Photo by the B&O RR, courtesy B&O RR Historical Society.
July 9, 1941. B&O RR Bethesda, MD – Freight House, front side. The structure is now complete and cleaned up for its photo op. Here is the front side. Note the custom roll-up doors with two rows of windows. Photo by the B&O RR, courtesy B&O RR Historical Society.

July 9, 1941. B&O RR Bethesda, MD – Freight House, rear side. Note the large side window. The room at this end of the building was an office, sectioned off from the rest of the freight house by an inner wall. Included a chimney and no doubt had a wood-burning stove. The large window opened up with a view of the freight yard, which was behind the photographer. Photo by the B&O RR, courtesy B&O RR Historical Society.

As a sidebar, some of the blueprints I used to make my own model and drawings were also from the B&ORRHS and I shared them here:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/cpl_clegg/albums/72157687317143670 These include blueprints for the railings, iron work, roll up doors, windows and concrete flooring/footings.

Talbot Ave Bridge Girder Concept Art

Some will recall that the Purple Line folks intended to preserve and display the old girder(s) from the Talbot Ave bridge. They have just posted an artists rendering of what the old girders will look like at the Lyttonsville Station. Pretty neat. I’m just glad they were preserved!

Public artwork will enhance the #PurpleLineMD’s high-quality stations, aesthetic treatments and landscape designOne of…

Posted by Maryland Purple Line on Thursday, May 14, 2020


Layout Update: May 4, 2020 – Demolition and Planning

I have spent a good amount of time over the last week working on some new and some old projects. I made another revision to the Rock Creek Trestle plans after discovering a new photo showing how the top of the bents appeared. I adjusted one of the beams and shortened the ties, as I realized I used the wrong length in my plans. That is all corrected. I also stained all of the new wood I received a few days ago and have that drying.

Stained with a mix of about 85% Tie Brown and 15% Driftwood.

The biggest change to the layout is the removal of the temporary bridge across Rock Creek in preparation for scenery construction as I begin building the trestle. I also installed two plywood panels below what will be T.W. Perry (on the left) and some scenery support on the right.

Even them Duke boys couldn’t make this jump. Removed the temporary bridge in preparation for scenery and the trestle itself.

Installation of the trestle has been a real conundrum for me. If it was a frame structure, or made of iron, it would be a lot easier. I could build the scenery, carve away some plaster, install some “concrete” bases for the bents of the trestle and let it sit in place. Adjusting the height of the footers would be pretty straightforward. But this is a pile trestle, meaning that the round piles were driven into the ground. There is no “base.” The base is dirt. How do I install the trestle into the ground with the hope that some day I could remove it from the layout and preserve it? I have settled on building “steps” made of high density expanded foam board cut to specific thicknesses for the trestle bents to rest on. This will all be glued together and will be about as wide as the trestle and will span the gap of the layout. Once I build this base, I can carefully build up the scenery around it. I will use Howard Zane’s method of rosin paper and white glue with cardboard strip supports and then Sculptamold and plaster on top. If I need to remove the trestle, I can trim the hard shell and extract it. I experimented with foam for the base, but decided against it as I don’t have a good way to cut it and maintain a strict landscape profile that I want.

Remember those MRServo units I mentioned in the last update? Well I kinda went down the rabbit hole on those, too. I purchased eight of the now-discontinued MRServo-1 units. I believe they started using the board from the MR-Servo-2 and -3 units for the -1 toward the end, because that’s what I have. In reading documentation for these units, I learned that all they are missing are a couple of relays and terminals to convert them to MRServo-3 units. So after quite a bit of hunting and comparing specs and photos, I dug up the correct relays and terminals and ordered a handful from eBay. Will attempt to convert them later this Spring when the parts come in. The conversion will add power routing for turnouts and power routing for accessories.

I spent some time talking to Greg C. about structures in Bethesda. I want to model a few key structures and Greg is an expert in structure building. He has been helping me push through the mind block that is planning what to model and how to do it. Right now, I am studying photos and mocking things up to start to get proportions and ideas.

Maloney Concrete on the left, Frito-Lay in the middle.

These are meant to be super rough ideas. I just cut apart some mat board scraps I had laying around and taped them up. It’s to get the brain going on where I will eventually place things. Also gives me an idea for any drawings I can start working on for structure walls. Some of them will likely be custom jobs. That’s all for now!

Layout Update 4/27/2020: Bethesda Nearly Complete

After another marathon weekend of working on the layout, I’ve made some great progress. Nearly all of the tracks in Bethesda are in. All of the drops are wired and nearly all of the turnouts have Blue Point manual switch machines installed. I cleaned off the table to get a look at the overall layout:

To orient you, the view is from the south end of Bethesda, looking Northeast. At the top are three turnouts with sidings going to Griffith Coal & Consumers, assorted warehouses, and the long passing siding. From the passing siding, the first turnout goes to Maloney Concrete & Frito-Lay. The second track which extends through the yard is the team track as well as a siding servicing Devlin lumber. On the right is a short siding serving Einsinger Mill & Lumber Co.
A B&O track chart to assist. Note: some tracks don’t appear here, as they had been removed as they were taken out of service. You can see their “ghost” if you look closely, though!

I couldn’t resist doing a bit of operating. Man, this felt good!

Additional Projects

One thing that has really struck me is that over the span of eight years working on this project I have accumulated a lot of stuff to put this layout together. Much of it is piled beneath and around the layout itself. As I work, stuff gets shifted around. I’m at a point now where I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone to try new things. Some of these things include simple things like soldering feeders to the bottom of the rails instead of the sides up to more complex things like hand-building complex curved turnouts. I couldn’t do this without help and encouragement from friends and family who push me forward and answer all my stupid questions.

Lately I’ve been learning how to install turnout machines. I mentioned above that I used Blue Point switch machines in Bethesda. This decision was primarily based on the fact that I owned five already (that I had in a box of turnout stuff) and I realized a fascia would be nigh impossible with the way this section of the upper deck of my layout is built. There is no real room above or below it for toggle switches, I don’t want to cut big holes in the benchwork, and I don’t want to protrude out. Solution? Blue Point turnout machines. They use a push-pull rod/handle and can sit right on the fascia with minimal intrusion. Perfect. I’m quite happy with how they have been working for me. Bonus, I can wire the turnout frogs right to the machine.

Another project that has been in the hopper for a while are eight Iowa Scaled Engineering MRServo-1 units I purchased a couple years ago. (unfortunately, this product has been discontinued!) These nifty little things use a board that controls a micro servo mounted to a 3D printed chassis. Wiring up a DPDT switch and attaching to a power bus gives you a nifty little slow-mo turnout controller. They have a few different bases including a slim profile one to allow for remote installation in tight spaces. The MRServo units came in three types with additional features. This is the most basic of the three, featuring only turnout motor control. For now, it’s all I need. I plan on adding a Frog Juicer eventually to handle the frogs. These MRServo-1 units will be used on the upper deck from Chevy Chase all the way up to Georgetown Junction, as there is ample space below the track to install a fascia with toggle switches.

Power bus wires were run throughout the upper deck, both sides. I picked up a bag of inexpensive terminal blocks via eBay a few years ago and they are tremendously useful for projects like this. They can easily be trimmed to fit whatever size you need and held in place with a screw.
I made a temporary fascia panel for the switch mount.

I am progressing my way through projects that have loomed over me for years. It feels great to burst through and make real progress on this layout and I’m learning so much along the way. I ran a train all the way from one end to the other with no issues whatsoever. Like so many things, when you break a project into smaller pieces it takes away some of the mystical difficulty, making it a bit more manageable. I have been crushing these small hurdles left and right. I am hoping to have a video in the next few weeks showing off the progress.

And then, once the upper deck is done… it’s on to the lower deck! Woah!! But first, I gotta do something about all that JUNK! (ha)

Pic from January but it looks virtually the same. The price of progress. Some day that will be Georgetown!

Layout Update: April 25, 2020 – Tracks To Bethesda

It has been a busy last week of working on the layout. Last weekend I spent much of the time getting the three curved turnouts that lead into Bethesda in place and working properly. This involved quite a bit of work; test fitting, cutting ties, staining them, painting the turnouts, installing tie templates, installing ties, sanding, laying in the turnouts, fitting them, cutting them to length, attaching feeders and drilling holes for them along with holes for the switch machines. Once in place, lots of sighting and adjusting was done with the tracks in Bethesda before spiking things down and testing some cars on the track. A bit of filing here and there and we are in business.

First step was to align the turnouts and mark their locations on the roadbed. I had to really tweak these to get them where I wanted. There is limited space, and having the turnouts end and begin in logical places to allow for operations was a challenge.
More fitting. Tracks were laid loosely in place to get a feel for where sidings would lie.
Preparing to paint the turnouts.
Painted the turnouts with Rustoleum Camoflage Earth Brown paint. Overall, a nice effect.
I used 3M spray adhesive to adhere the paper templates to the layout. Next I cut and stained all of the ties. I then carefully laid them on the templates and glued them in place. Weights kept them secured until the glue dried.

The three turnouts are sized as follows from top to bottom: #8 50″ outside radius, 35″ inside radius, #8 60″/40″, and #10 60″/46″.

And here we are with all three turnouts finally laid in place. Rails have been trimmed and now I will fit the rail joiners and solder feeder wires where needed. Getting there!
I just love the way these look. I left the last few long ties off because I wanted to see where I would need to join the adjacent tracks to the turnout and wasn’t sure if I would need to trim the rail back.

Soldering Feeder Wires

Some folks have asked me how I do feeder wires, so here is a quick illustration. A good friend, Matt R., convinced me to solder feeder wires to the bottom of the rails instead of the sides. This method leaves a clean look with no unsightly wires poking out, globbed onto the rails. It does take a bit of extra work, but once you get into a rhythm it goes fast. Here is my setup:

From right to left: My soldering station, a red Sharpie for marking drop locations on the rails and hole locations on the layout (for drlling), small needle-nose pliers, an X-Acto knife, “Helping Hands” vice for holding wires in place, flux, Irwin self-adjusting wire strippers and 22 AWG stranded or 20 AWG solid feeder wires. In the foreground is a small piece of solder.

I will typically mark the locations on the roadbed where I want the feeders to drop. This is done by marking each side of the rail and then the tops of the rail. Remove the piece of rail and drill a hole for each feeder. Flip the rail over. With the X-Acto, snip the small plastic spacers between the ties where you will solder the feeder. Strip about 1/8″ of insulation from the end of a feeder and bend it 90°. Using a micro-applicator, put a tiny bit of flux on the wire and the bottom of the rails. Straighten the wire and clip it in the helping-hands, positioning it so that the bare end is just barely pressed onto the rail. Now, using your soldering iron, place a tiny bit of solder onto the end of it. Then, press the iron and your solder into the joint and release after it flows onto the rail itself. This should only take a few seconds, most. You don’t want to melt the ties!

Once done, they should look like this. Ready for feeding through the roadbed.
A close up. This is Walthers/Shinohara Code 83 rail. Also note, the feeder on top is stranded wire, and the feeder on the bottom is solid. Some days you just gotta run with what ya got!
Here is what Bethesda looked like in the middle of this past week. The mainline was in place and the siding was tacked down.
Trains in Bethesda. By Friday night here is the progress that has been made. The mainline and passing siding are complete. The lift-out bridge is operational. I installed a small spring switch on one end that kills power to the short length of track at the edge to prevent locos from creeping off the end if the bridge is not in place.
It felt great to finally be able to bring a train around the bend into Bethesda! Hoping to complete the rest of the yard this weekend.
One other project I took on was in Chevy Chase. The team track siding originally swung to parallel the mainline. This caused it to have a really sharp curve and I didn’t like the way it looked or caused trains to flow awkwardly. I widened the curve a bit and gave it a bit more room.