The first question you might ask is why build a model railroad with a civil war theme? As a child growing up in New York City in the 1950’s, the civil war was ancient history, overshadowed by my parent’s experience in the great depression and World War II. Their stories of those events sparked my interest in military history and modeling, especially armor and dioramas. In the 1980’s , I moved to northern Virginia after serving in the United States Army. Here, civil war history surrounds you. The proximity to so many local battlefields, national archives, and other historical sites kindled in me an interest in the Civil War. So, I became involved in civil war historical research, war gaming, and figure modeling. I became interested in model railroading in the early 1990’s due to my young son’s influence. Together we built several railroad projects, but he lost interest eventually and I gravitated to the civil war railroads. I found the civil war war railroads offered a compelling combination of military and railroad modeling. The American Civil War was the first “railroad war” as railroads began to predominate military planning and operations. Nearly every major battle in the civil war occurred within 20 miles of a rail line or navigable river. Furthermore, in true Victorian style, locomotives in the era sported colorful and orate paint schemes, and were usually named instead of numbered. Though railroads of the era employed many gauges, most were standard gauge or wider. But the equipment was smaller. For example, a typical box car was 28-feet long. The small equipment allows for sharper curves and more compact design. I was able to get a satisfying track plan in O scale in a medium-size space. Civil war railroads were busy, running frequent, but shorter trains. They employed early versions of time table and train order procedures to control the trains. Both those factors help make interesting operations. To learn more about civil war railroads please see my book entitled, “Model Railroads Go to War,” published by Kalmbach books. The USMRR Aquia Line I chose to model the USMRR Aquia line during late winter-early spring of 1863. In January, 1863, General Joseph Hooker took command of Union Army of the Potomac. He proceeded to rebuild and reorganize the army after the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg. He relied on the USMRR, managed and run by Colonel Herman Haupt, to provide logistics support. The line started at the wharves at Aquia Landing, where ships and railroad car ferries brought in all the supplies. In fact, the USMRR car ferry was the first ever. The railroad distributed those supplies and provided transportation over 13 miles of track to the 120,000 men and 60,000 animals of the Union Army of the Potomac dispersed around four stations near Fredericksburg, Virginia. The railroad employed about 5 locomotives and 60-80 cars and provided regular scheduled service until the spring campaigns began. The O scale layout is a point-to-point design that includes the four stations that were south of Aquia Landing: Brooke, Potomac Creek, Stoneman’s Station, and Falmouth. All of these stations are modeled to varying degrees of historical accuracy. This layout is designed for realistic operation. The National Archives has records of all of the trains that ran on the railroad during the period modeled in addition to other operational data. This includes train orders, conductor logs, engine and car rosters, timetables and a variety of letters, maps and other ephemera. The layout operations reflect this documentation. During operating sessions train length is relatively short – about 6-8 cars but the large scale of the models themselves are lending themselves to additional operational possibilities. The link and pin coupler system uses track nails and magnets and some of the cars have working brakes. This makes a two man crew ideal as two hands are needed to couple and uncouple. Because the link and pins are not as simple to operate as a knuckle coupler, the layout design ensures that tracks where switching takes place are close to the front fascia for easier access. The Challenges By the start of the American civil war in 1861, steam powered railroads had existed for about thirty five years. Though they had already become an important aspect of American life, they were still a young and evolving industry. A modern observer would recognize a civil war era railroad as such, even though just about every feature of a railroad then would be different than today. Steam versus diesel motive power, iron versus steel rails, stub versus bladed turnouts, hand versus air brakes, link and pin versus knuckle couplers, lack of a standard track gauge, and almost no interchange between railroads are all examples of how mid-19th century railroads differ from the later eras. Therein lies the challenge — if undertaking a model of a civil war era railroad, the builder will realize that many of the model railroad products available today would not be appropriate. The builder will be forced to scratch build much of the rolling stock and infrastructure needed to accurately portray a civil war era railroad. I am using some of the latest technology, such as laser cutting, 3-D printing, spin casting, battery powered digital command and control (DCC), and microprocessors to overcome these challenges. I have been working on the model railroad since January 1999 although I do other projects at the same time including writing 5 books for Kalmbach Publishing on model railroad topics. I also run a cottage industry for model railroad parts and kits at

ABOUT BERNARD KEMPINSKI Born in Brooklyn, New York Bernard now resides in Alexandria, Virginia with his wife, Alicia. After military service in the U.S. Army, Bernard retired from a 35 year career as an engineer in defense analysis. He now runs Alkem Scale Models, writes books for Kalmbach, and works on his layout when he is not accompanying his wife on the golf course. For more information about the model railroad please see

USSMR Aquia Line 


Bernard Kempinski


About 10 years 


Read the history…….


0 scale 1:48 for North America 


Railway modeling 


Read the history……….