Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What I've Been Reading: Model Railroads Go To War by Bernard Kempinski

Kalmbach's new offering, Model Railroads Go To War, by Bernard Kempinski, caught my eye when I first read that Bernard was penning it over at his US Military Railroad-Virginia 1863 blog.

Bernie is a familiar quantity to long time denizens of the Kalmbach Books/Model Railroader magazine universe, and also to Washington DC-area model railroaders. I first became familiar with him and his work when he was working in N scale and his well-executed NTrak modules were part of the the local NTrak groups Washington exhibitions in the 90s. His N scale work also graced the pages of Model Railroader and its annuals during this period. Bernie since made a radical switch to O scale 1860s modeling, and his aforementioned blog features his unusual Civil War-themed layout.

Many model railroaders either get their starts or otherwise are involved with the other model building hobbies, and I certainly have done quite a bit of military and science fiction modeling. I have always thought about combining my model railroading with my military vehicle modeling, perhaps with an armored vehicle load on a flat car or a convoy of Army trucks and light vehicles on a road on my layout. Bernie's new book covers the topic of military flat car loads in detail, but also goes much further to explain the role of railroads in in modern warfare.

The story of railroads in modern warfare turns out to be one of those intriguing 'hidden histories' that has never been a secret, but hadn't lent itself to the popularized dramatic storytelling that animates the narratives of the American Civil War and the World Wars. Even though I have a graduate degree in history (ahem!) I learned much from this book. I had known, for example, that America's railroads were a key ingredient to US logistics and manufacturing might during World War II, and Bernie added to my knowledge with his presentation of how to model WWII on America's railroads, complete with photos of others' layouts and a track plan featuring a busy WWII harbor loading cargo ship headed to the theaters of war.

However, Bernie's chapters on how railroads played roles in the actual battles of the Civil War and World War I were particularly intriguing to me, and he presents excellent modeling examples and ideas of how to model specific periods of each war. In his WWI chapters, he even explains how to combine various model railroad track gauges with prevailing military modeling scales to create believable models of the narrow gauge railroads that sprung up to supply the networks of trenches that formed that war's battle lines.

The chapters on post-WWII military use of America's railroads will have the most relevance to steam/diesel transition- to contemporary-era model railroaders.  Bernie uses his professional knowledge as defense industry professional to give a very thorough explanation of how the US Department of Defense ships military vehicles via rail. I have actually tied armored personnel carriers and five ton trucks to a flat car or two in my day, so I can attest to the accuracy of this particular section. Something I expected to see but wasn't included were aircraft component loads, such as completed wings or fuselages--though there is a great section on NASA's Cape Canaveral railroad.

Nonetheless, the book delivers on its promise and is lavishly illustrated with drawings and excellent photos, in addition to Bernie's well-written text.  I recommend it to modelers who are thinking about adding a little military to their layouts, or are considering going whole hog on a military-themed layout, or who just want to know more about the role of rail in wider world.

Interesting post-script, featuring Bernie Kempinski and linking model railroading to other seemingly unrelated modeling interests: he announced on his blog recently that he completed a manuscript for an all-new track plan book for Kalmbach, and one of his designs will feature an ore carrying railroad on Mars! Science fiction is one of my other great passions (see the bit about sci fi models above, and the sci fi references that appear on this blog and even in its name, for crying out loud). I will be awaiting Bernie's new book with great anticipation.

Buy it direct from Kalmbach here, or from Amazon here.