N Scale Column for MRH

bkempins's picture

I have signed on to Model Railroad Hobbyist as a contributing editor for a column on N Scale subjects. I have started this journal to solicit feedback from N Scale modelers with suggestions on what you would like to see in the column. So if you have an idea or subject that you think needs coverage post it here, or drop me a private email at info@alkemscalemodels.com

I expect my column to focus on commentary and analysis on the world of N Scale railroading.  The following subjects are in the hopper:  model track,  couplers, and the state of N Scale modular railroading.

As for my background, I have always been a modeler. I’m not sure where the bug to build models came from, but I’ve had it since I was about 6 years old. The General Motors display at the NY Worlds Fair really blew me away and probably contributed to this affliction. I loved their dioramas. I still picture them in my minds eye.

Over the years I built static cars, planes, military models and military figures (which I believe to be the most challenging of all model forms I have tried). I also built rockets, slot cars and rubber band powered airplanes. Being a frisky kid, many of these models ended up customized with firecrackers or soaked in lighter fluid and set ablaze. One model I was really proud of was a two-masted whaler that I scratch built when I was about 12. That was inspired by a family trip to Mystic Seaport.

My late father claimed he planted the model train bug in me when he built a model train layout for my brother and I when we were about 8 or so. It was a 4x8 double oval with a mountain on one end and a town, called Twinsville, on the other.  I remember enjoying playing with the layout, but not being particularly interested in building train models.

In junior high, my twin brother and I built a 4-lane HO scale slot car track. It was completely sceniced. About a year later, my younger brother, who was really into model trains, wanted to build a train layout. My twin brother and I helped him. It was a 4x8 with some basic scenery.

In my high school years I got into board wargaming. That was my main hobby as I went through college, though I still built an occasional model, usually cars or armor.

I got a BSME in 1978 and a MS in 1980 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Because I had an ROTC Scholarship, I served 4 years in the U.S. Army, getting out as a Captain in the Corps of Engineers. When I got out of the Army, I was fortunate enough to have several job offers, including one from GE Locomotive group in Erie, PA. I turned it down, thinking at the time that railroads were, “boring!”

 For the past 24 years, I have worked at the Institute for Defense Analyses in Alexandria, VA. I specialize in operational testing of armored vehicles.  Some of my programs included the M1A1 and M1A2 Abrams Tank, the M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the Stryker Family and lots of other tactical military systems.

In 1991 I got interested in model railroading. My young son, Chase, loved trains. He and I would visit the local NS Intermodal freight yard. He’d ask me zillions of questions about the RR. Since I didn’t know much, I did some research. To my surprise, I found the subject very interesting.

 After a while I suggested that we build a layout, like my dad did for me. Together, we built a 4x4 HO layout. He and his younger sister, Danica, enjoyed playing with it; though they were a bit rough on the equipment. Later they helped me build a 3x5 feet N Scale layout that resided under my son's bed. By this age they were easily able to handle the smaller N Scale equipment.

In the meantime, I learned about modular railroading. I joined NVNTRAK and decided to build a 2x4 module for “myself.” It featured a small intermodal terminal. It had a scratch built container ship and crane. I had a blast making it. Since then I have built over 20 modules, totaling over 120 linear feet of mainline. I came up with the idea for oNeTRAK about 10 years ago, and that is where most of my modular efforts have been recently.

Since I was always interested in photography, I started dabbling with model railroad photography in parallel with my model railroading. My first photos were pretty bad, but I kept plugging away. Eventually I got some photos published in N Scale magazine.   Since then I have written over forty articles relating to model railroading, including 20 related to layout planning. I even had a couple contest winning photos. I enjoy public speaking and over they years I presented about 20 public lectures at historical and hobby related conferences. I also provide layout design services to individuals.







I have built several commissioned models including a large portable display project depicting an integrated 1950’s era steel mill and one depicting a modern paper mill. Another commissioned model I am very proud is a depiction of a civil war era car ferry operation for The Lyceum, Alexandria’s City Museum. It is in their permanent collection.











About 7 years ago I started Alkem Scale Models; a modeling firm specializing in photo etched and laser cut fine scale model kits. The website is www.alkemscalemodels.com

Recently I have written a book for Kalmbach Publishing entitled, “Midsize Track Plans for Realistic Layouts.” The signed copies of this book are available for sale at  www.alkemscalemodels.com.  I am currently working on a second book for Kalmbach about steel mill modeling. 

I am working on a home layout, but about every two years I change eras, prototypes, and or geographical locales. As a result, my home layout is never finished.  

As for other hobbies, I enjoy running, cycling, skiing, baseball (Nats and Yanks fan), video games, especially racing games and Porsche cars.




N-Scale column

I wish you all the success in the world. WE N-Scalers have needed our own column in a serious general railroad modeling magazine for a long time. Now maybe we will have one that not only covers the scale but does it in a professional and informative manner.

I've been in N-Scale since the late 1970s but haven't done much with it until recently. Today's equipment runs so much than ever before and with the addition of DCC it has become a scale to be reconned with.

I'd also like to see more in the press about N-Trak which I recently joined. I did this both for the comeraderia of others who model N-Scale and to have a place where I can run my trains until my layout gets to the point where I can run trains at home.

We N-Scalers also need some discurrion of the various products that are available. This should include scenery techniques and products, benchwork, track, equipment and tools. Personally I like most of the Woodland Scenics products but I really haven't seen much in the way of discusson how these products can be used together or with products of other companies to produce believable and nice scenery.

I am using Woodland Scenics Mod-U-Rail system for my layout. I haven't seen much, if any, discussion of these products in anay scale. While there are other ways of creating benchwork and basic scenery, many of us don't want to be carpenters, scenic designers or anything else. These products do the job for me and they can do a good job for anyone, at least in my humble opinion.


Welcome aboard

Although I've never had an N scale layout, I certainly admire the excellent work that so many fellow modelers have accomplished. The Reid brothers come to mind in particular since their era, locale and track plan reflect my own interests. If N scale engines had run as well when I first got into the hobby 30+ years ago as they do now , I probably would have never gotten into HO.

Listening to AJ's discussion of the huge N scale layout in Louisville really whet's the appetite to see coverage of these kinds of activities particularly in the rich video format of the MRH venue.

I look forward to your column.

ChrisNH's picture

looking forward to your column


As a N guy, I am looking forward to your column. I am glad they brought in someone with a N scale focus.

Wasnt that civil war layout in Model Railroader some years back? I seem to remember it..




“If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.”           My modest progress Blog

bkempins's picture

Civil War RR diorama

 Yes, the Civil War RR diorama was featured in MR about 6 or 7 years ago.  Here is another shot.  You can read more about this diorama at the following website:



Bernard Kempinski
Personal Layout Blog: http://usmrr.blogspot.com/


Excellent! As an N scaler, I

Excellent! As an N scaler, I am more than happy to learn you are going to be N scale columnist.

Chuck Geiger's picture

Tenn Pass

Bernie - What's up with The Tennessee Pass, are you still working on it?

Chuck Geiger's picture


Don't know how many people have seen Denny's blog - His SP Coast Line is the bomb. Great layout. I thought of you when I drove from SLO to Guadulupe last week Denny,

bkempins's picture

Tenn Pass


Good to hear from you.  Tenn Pass is on hold. I disassembled part of it, but kept the Mitchell Curves section.  I am working on some other projects. I plan to go back and finish it as a smaller layout in a few years.



Bernard Kempinski
Personal Layout Blog: http://usmrr.blogspot.com/


Thank you Chuck! If you

Thank you Chuck! If you happen to grab a nice shot of that area, keep on thinking of me

Chuck Geiger's picture

One of my faves in SLO 

One of my faves in SLO



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