Wednesday, April 23, 2014

E. L. Moore's Legacy in the 21th Century: The Elizabeth Valley Railroad

[My guess at a track plan for E. L. Moore's Elizabeth Valley Railroad]

While I have had well over a hundred letters requesting track plans of my 4 x 6-foot railroad as the result of photographs published in MODEL TRAINS, nary a one has queried about anything electrical, but dozens have commented on the fact that scenery was their big bugaboo. [E. L. Moore outlining the reason behind writing his article Let’s build a mountain, in the January 1962 issue of Model Trains]

[This seems to be the best overall photo of the EVRR published. It's from the 2nd edition of HO Primer by Linn Westcott, published in 1964 by Kalmbach. The 1st edition appeared in 1962. This book seems to be staple of resale tables at model train shows, but even though a lot of its content is dated, it's still an interesting compilation of some MODEL TRAINS material. I've added the letters to this picture, and a few others in this post, to identify various buildings and articles they appeared in. The list mapping letters to articles is presented in [1]. ]

Even though E. L. Moore received all those requests for a track plan to his Elizabeth Valley Railroad, it doesn’t appear that one was ever published. However, there were enough photos released over the years to allow for a little archeological work to suss out what it might have been. That’s my attempt in the opening sketch. 
[This is another shot of the lakeside area, but here the main station is clearly visible and you can get a little better idea of the track along the front edge of the layout. This photo was included in the first appearance of the EVRR in the photo-spread called the Elizabeth Valley RR in the March 1955 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman.]

First, some caveats. My track plan is based on pictures of Mr. Moore’s layout that were published between 1955 and 1962. Even in those photos the layout appears to have developed over the years, and it likely underwent more development after ’62. For example, in his article, 3 in 1 Engine House, in the February 1963 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, Mr. Moore states that, “I have long wanted an engine house but on my little 4’ x 6’ pike, the Elizabeth Valley Railroad, there simply wasn’t room for one. Recently I managed to acquire some additional acreage so, ...”, which hints that the EVRR underwent an expansion in ’62, or maybe ’61. 
[This appears to be the only published picture of the mountainous region of the EVRR. It was a part of E. L. Moore's Let's build a mountain article in the January 1962 issue of MODEL TRAINS.]

As well, I don’t think the published pictures form a complete record of the layout, so some parts I’ve inferred from the evidence available. For example, I wouldn’t be surprised if the stuff along the ‘front’ edge is inaccurate because that’s where I did the most guess-work. If you see places where I’m way off-base, please leave a comment so I can make the necessary corrections.
[The content of Let's build a mountain is dated, but the article does have this inside view of the mountains that shows what the track plan looks like.]

Over his long career Mr. Moore wrote many articles about how to build various types of industries for model railroads, but his own layout seems to have been purely a tourist and passenger line set in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s - it might have had some logging operations in the mountain region, but they weren’t extensive. It first appeared in print in a 2-page photo-spread called the Elizabeth Valley RR in the March 1955 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. There also were likely some photos in Model Trains from that period as Mr. Moore suggests in the opening quote, but I haven't yet found them

The track plan is loop-based and small – the layout is only 4 feet wide by 6 feet long - which is somewhat out-of-fashion today. Some might dismiss it as a beginner’s layout of ‘spaghetti-bowl’ design [2]; however, I’d suggest it’s more sophisticated in its execution than a cursory viewing might suggest.
[This overall shot of the lake area is the 'day' scene from The light fantastic in the Fall 1959 issue of MODEL TRAINS. In it Mr. Moore shows how to build a low cost light fixture that provides both day and night light (via a blue bulb). It also has a clear view of the 'Red Eye Saloon']

In fact, its loop structure strikes me as rather ingenious as it allows many different routes, as well as long continuous runs, through the terrain and helps establish several scenes: a railroad town, a cabin and swimming hole down by a lake, a remote depot, a mountain cabin with a trail up to it, as well as numerous bridges.
[This very grainy scan is the night scene from The light fantastic. The white box I've added at the bottom is one of best shots I've come across of the spur behind the main station. The blue night light prevents the scene from being too dark. Also you can see that as well as the buildings being illuminated, so are the passenger cars on the train at the back that is just starting across the bridge.] 

To get a better understanding of the track plan’s structure I made a couple of sketches where I backed the plan down to its spine. In this first one, shown below, I took the upper most level - which is basically a reversing loop - unfurled it, and stretched it out using some tracing paper over the plan.
[That lobe on the far left is the uppermost level unraveled and extended.]

I then removed a couple of pieces and discovered the basis of the track plan to be a strip of track with reversing loops at either end. The pieces taken out were a short-circuit to the reversing loop, a passing tack, and a siding.
[In this tracing the passing siding, spur and reversing loop shortcut have been removed to show the basic underlying tack plan.]

With these two tracings it’s a little easier to see how the track plan might have been developed: it started with a length of track with reversing loops at either end; a siding, passing track, and reversing loop shortcut were added; it was finished by twisting and elevating sections to conform with the mountain and valley.

By today’s standards, the EVRR would be considered dated. It’s elements are almost stereotypical of what might be thought of as a small beginner’s layout: a mountain in a corner, a lake in the centre, quaint stations, lots of grades [3]. The difference between the EVRR and the stereotypes is in the level of integration between these elements which turns the entire layout into a coherent whole instead of a collection of unrelated areas: a stream starts in the mountains, crosses a plain, and empties into a lake; a mountain trail leads from the lake, passes a cabin, and climbs up the mountain via a number of switchbacks to a remote cabin; there’s a fancy central station, with a hotel / saloon across the way, for tourists planning to enjoy the lake for a day or two; the lake has boats, fishermen, swimmers, and a lake-side cabin; there’s a remote station up on the far plateau for those venturing into the mountains; there’s a full backdrop, carefully blended in style to the layout, giving the impression of even more distant mountains; there’s trees and vegetation in the lower lands where water collects and little to none in the mountains; and there’s a lighting system to simulate both day and night situations - with illuminated buildings and passenger cars too! And in classic E. L. Moore fashion there’s plenty of people and animals around doing appropriate things. That’s a lot of careful consideration of coherence packed into 24 square feet.

Of course, the scenery construction methods are more-or-less completely obsolete. Mr. Moore wrote an article called Let's build a mountain in the January 1962 issue of Model Trains describing how he made the mountains, but newer methods produce more credible results. Although, that article gives an excellent view into the track plan through the mountains and was a cornerstone in trying to figure out the EVRR track plan. The point is not to get too hung-up on superficial appearances.

One other thing I noticed while perusing the photos with a magnifying glass is that all the buildings have associated outhouses - 'backhouses' in some parts of the world. I’m surprised some magazine didn’t commission a one-pager on those one-holers :-)


I think what may have made the layout popular in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s was that it embodied a relatively high degree of completion and overall integration, all within a layout that was achievable for a wide range of readers. The call-out in the ’55 RMC article is the key to its popularity: “E. L. Moore has packed plenty of action and interest into his compact and well executed HO Elizabeth Valley Railroad”.  Lots of action and interest. Today, for a layout to land in the mainstream press, the call-out would need to say something like, “...plenty of operational possibilities and switching problems...”. On the EVRR, the focus wasn’t on the simulation of actual railroad operations, but on interesting scenes, train movement, lighting, and some rudimentary operations. That’s where the ‘action’ was, not in the simulation of railroad operations.

The obvious care that was lavished on this layout makes it clear it’s the embodiment of something Mr. Moore held dear; a nostalgic view of a personal utopia perhaps. Many model railroads are to some extent an expression of a personal utopia. They embody something their builders love. They want to create their dream, play with it [4], share it and communicate with it. That’s what can - can, but doesn’t have to - push these things into the zone of art. It’s a kind of outsider or folk art mainly [5]. That’s not meant to be a derogatory statement. It’s meant to convey that it’s an art undertaken outside the normal institutions and markets that constitute mainstream art. There is some insider art, but that's a relatively small branch in comparison to where the main action is taking place.

I’m ok with proposing that E. L. Moore’s work - layout, buildings and rolling stock - were a form of folk art. I’m basing this on how much was scratchbuilt, organized, photographed, repurposed, presented and storied in accordance with his personal vision. Now, this doesn't mean I'm pigeon-holing him and his work. No. Any individual can embody many things at the same time. Mr. Moore was certainly a type of folk artist, but he was also a straightforward hobbyist, a teller of tall-tales, an accomplished how-to writer, draftsman, photographer, and a master of a model railroading genre, among other things.

Unfortunately, these utopias - whether or not they are some sort of ‘art’ - rarely outlive their builders. Most are eventually destroyed. No doubt the Elizabeth Valley RR was. Preservation of any personal model railroad is unusual. Maybe it’s fitting. Nothing to get upset about. They’re personal. Why should they persist intact when the individuals or groups who were most interested in them no longer exist. On the other hand, the spirit in which they were created, their ideas, their concepts, can live a bit longer in publications, or the online universe.


One final note, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of E. L. Moore articles where he mentions another model railroad of his called the Eagleroost & Koontree. It was apparently an HOn3 layout. I looked and looked and couldn’t find pictures of it - although there were many photos of scenes allegedly shot along the E & K’s right-of-way. I’m not sure if it was a complete layout, a short-line on his EVRR, a dual-gauge portion of the EVRR, a diorama for photo shoots, or just something totally fictional. If any reader has thoughts on this, please leave a comment.


This is the 9th instalment in the E. L. Moore’s Legacy in the 21th Century series. An index to the series can be found here.

Digressions

[1] I’ve made an attempt to identify some of the E. L. Moore articles that correspond to the buildings and rolling stock shown in a few of the layout photos. This is what I’ve found so far.

A,  Branch Line Station, Railroad Model Craftsman, April 1964.

B, Easy to Build Cottage or Cabin, Railroad Model Craftsman, December 1963. (This building appears to be the cottage, or a building very similar to the cottage)

C, Down by the depot, Model Railroader, December 1964.

D, Old-Time Log Buggies, Model Trains, March 1960 (I’m not sure if these are the same log buggies, but they look close).

E. The little red caboose, Model Trains, December 1961.

F. This building is very close to the log cabin in Easy to Build Cottage or Cabin in Railroad Model Craftsman, December 1963.

G. ‘The Red Eye Saloon’ presented in the article Civic center for Boomtown in the March 1963 issue of Model Railroader.

H. A close-up of the water tower is in the opening photo of Union Pacific windmill in the September 1962 issue of Model Railroader.

[2] Maybe from the point-of-view of a model railroad that is meant to be viewed instead of accurately simulating railroad business, a loop-based track plan where views are partially obscured is more realistic than one meant for operation where the entire setup is clearly visible. This type of unobscured view is rarely possible in ‘real-life’ other than from some high vantage point. 

The loop, and its variants, is a much maligned form. Maybe one reason is that it cuts too close to the humble roots of model railroading: the child’s train set and the guilty pleasure of simply watching those little trains run. I can’t imagine Gomez Addams having nearly as much fun with a non-loop layout :-)

Or it could be that many people like to see the trains run though complex patterns. Whatever the reason, there is some fundamental fascination with just watching trains run, and sometimes that fascination is taken to extremes with the loopiest of layouts: ‘spaghetti’ track plan.

It looks like the spaghetti track plan has been the butt of jokes for quite a long time. While reading some old Model Trains magazines I came across this example in the July 1956 issue.

[The classic spaghetti track plan joke via the July 1956 issue of MODEL TRAINS. The cartoonist is R.O. Gilbert]

The March 2013 issue of Model Railroader had an updated take on the joke, but in that example the cartoon track plan struck me as an almost viable candidate for an omnivagant streetcar layout. I guess that version of the joke was more elbow macaroni than spaghetti :-) The track follows a large number of densely packed paths, but looks like it was laid out with pieces of elbow macaroni rather than strands of spaghetti. 
[This is a track plan of the Toronto Transit Commission's streetcar network circa 1973. It's far more rectilinear than its cartoon spaghetti counterparts, but it's just as convoluted with its myriad of possible paths. This illustration is sourced from the excellent Toronto Transit].

For an urban North American streetcar setup, this is only natural because the tracks are in the streets of a city, and those streets are usually laid out in a grid. But, in this situation the derided path density of the macaronified spaghetti layout makes a bit of sense. The trick is preventing the track plan from jumping into the ‘Way-out Layout’ zone.
[This excellent slot-car layout - designed by Mr. David Vollrath - is the 1st place winner of the 3rd Wayout Layout contest presented in the November '72 issue of Car Model magazine.]

Back in 1972, Car Model magazine ran a contest whereby its readers were challenged to create ‘Way-out Layouts’ – layouts suitable for ultra exciting slot-car races  - from a collection of pieces of HO Tycopro slot-car track. Looking over some of the winners from the point-of-view of avoiding streetcar macaroni syndrome is quite interesting. All the twists and turns, relieved in places by high speed straight-aways, might make for thrilling racing, but urban streetcar operations are likely more sedate with long straight sections terminated with tight, street conforming turns with little stomach-churning twistiness along the route for the sake of the paying passengers.
[These are but 2 of the many examples of Peano curve generators (on the left) and generated iterations (on the right) shown in Benoit Mandelbrot's The Fractal Geometry of Nature.]

Those elbow macaroni streetcar lines and Way-out Layouts remind me of the mathematical oddity called the Peano Curve that I stumbled across a long time ago in Benoit Mandelbrot’s book The Fractal Geometry of Nature. Dr. Mandelbrot shows all sorts of Peano curve generating algorithms – whose math takes me awhile to work through, but at least there are lots of diagrams to illustrate the processes - for producing what seem like special forms of Way-out Layouts.  I suspect those Peano Curve generators could be enhanced with some sort of ‘streetcar line rules’, in addition to some randomization, to create streetcar track plans that could possibly enter the uncanny valley of actual systems, and might also incorporate some surprising variations. But, on the other hand, the end result might be in the same vein as those bland crossword puzzles that are cranked out by computer algorithms.

So, I think a streetcar layout would be somewhat more spaghetti or macaroni like than a realistically designed train-based layout, but it needs to avoid the Way-out Layout zone if it’s going for some sort of urban realism. On the other hand, if extreme streetcar operations is your thing, maybe the Way-out Layout is just the ticket :-)

[3] These 2 pre-fab layouts from Fleischmann are interesting illustrations of beginner layouts of about the same size as the EVRR.

[The ad for this 3 x 5 ft pre-fab HO scale layout appeared on the back of the January 1962 issue of MODEL TRAINS. That was the same issue that E. L. Moore's Let's build a mountain and Central Pacific snowplow appeared. The looping is simple and doesn't appear to present its owner will anything more difficult wiring-wise than attaching the output leads from a power-pack. No headache inducing reverse-loops.]

[This one is even simpler and appeared on the back cover of the Fall 1961 issue of MODEL TRAINS. E. L. Moore's Open-air excursion coach appeared in that issue. This layout is merely all elevated ridge surrounding a valley - very evocative of part of the EVRR.]

I only present them as illustrations of what was marketed as ready-to-run beginner style layouts of the era. Although E. L. Moore's EVRR has many similar features, its track-plan and structure was far more sophisticated even though it had only a slightly larger footprint.

[4] I’m not using the word ‘play’ as in the common put-down of “playing with trains”, as a regression to juvenile activity, but in its broader free-ranging and restorative sense as in Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephan Nachmanovich. An activity outside the normal imperatives of day-to-day survival and practical activity. I’m using ‘play’ in the sense of freely and fully engaging in an activity of one’s own interest without regard to rules or social strictures. Not the things promoted by the mainstream popular media. The other side. The deep exploration side. Pursuing the trail of one’s interests without a blessing from a tv show or what-not to guide the way. It’s a positive activity that, in bland prosaic terms, furthers the development of an individual in deep ways that are meaningful to them. 

[5] Is it great folk art? I can’t say for certain. I recall reading somewhere that there is no great art without great invention. Great invention in model railroading is whole other subject.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Elgin gets updated

Signs, shrubs and some interior detailing were added - along with some no parking signs out back :-)
The interior details are only temporary so a variety of scenes can be staged. They're held in place with some slightly congealed rubber cement. 
Looks like someone should pressure-wash that side wall to clean it up a bit. 
The back wall needs some clean-up too.

Monday, April 21, 2014

2 am, corner of Sinatra and Ocean Blvd.

Last car, but the driver’s in no hurry….
… because you don’t hear a voice like that every day.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

After hours

I’ve been on the E. L. Moore journey for awhile – since last August actually. Well, I’ve had an interest in his work since I was a boy in the ‘70s, but I didn’t take a deep dive into it until rather recently. It’s turning out to be a little more than just a happy jaunt down memory lane and having a look at all the sights along the way. Some of it has challenged my notions of what I’m doing as a hobbyist. Although I’ve spent a lot of effort being –as a friend of mine put it – an “E. L. Moore completist” collecting and reading all the articles he wrote, the more I read, and study his photos, the more I’ve come to understand that wasn’t all there was to this. For one, I like making scale buildings, but looking at them, I realize they’re often merely shells. Mr. Moore understood what a building is: a place that people use, where things happen. Just about all his projects make that abundantly clear in the way people and things are used and positioned. Shells devoid of life are pretty rare in his world; pretty common in mine. I’ve been looking at a few of my layout’s building shells and thought I’d try and get the stories out of a few of them that I had imagined them telling but never did anything about. I figured I’d start with one of my favourites: I really like the corner window of the ‘building-in-a-bag’ so I began with it, adding ornaments and things over a period of several weeks when I had some time. Hopefully I can post some more pictures of it over the next few days, and get going on improving other buildings on my layout.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Walls

I tore a page from the Jack Webb playbook and renamed this project to protect the innocent; meaning it's now called 'Le Tablier Rouge'. Names aside, with everyday life looming large, I've used my model building time mainly on Caleb's Cabbage Co., but I've tried to squeeze in a little progress on this store. The blanks for the other walls have been built-up from embossed brick sheet with a plain 0.030 inch styrene strip along the bottom for the concrete foundation. I've also added some brick and stone sheet pieces on the front facade. There's lots of work still to go on this one.

Friday, April 11, 2014

LTA 20-1 poster

Of all the LTA-20-1 memorabilia I have, this is my favourite. It shows the vehicle in its most positive light, and makes something that is essentially a big spherical bag of helium look rather svelte and technically feasible as a flying machine. The signature in the lower-left corner says: R. C. Beaussard. He or she has done a good job on this picture.

R/C models and computer simulations of this vehicle clearly demonstrated that it was highly maneuverable. Turn on a dime? No problem. Those engines could be vectored and throttled, so lots of different types of motion was possible. The other cool thing was that it made use of the Magnus Effect – hence the company’s name, Magnus Aerospace – to create additional lift for carrying stuff. Its helium-filled spherical envelope was mounted on an axle, which in turn was slung across that huge curved wing-yoke structure. Spinning the sphere opposite to the vehicle’s direction of flight – that is, if some super villain dropped you on the top of the sphere while it was spinning, you’d find yourself clinging for dear life while the sphere’s rotation tried to fling you back into the blimp’s wake J - created aerodynamic lift. So, you got aerodynamic lift from spinning the sphere, and static lift because it was full of helium.

The problem was that maneuverability and the unusual way of creating aerodynamic lift came at a high price. If I remember correctly, its lift-to-drag ratio – L/D in aerodynamics-speak – was always somewhere between 0.9 and maybe 1.1 at best, but usually a little below 1. When a 747 is cruising around, it has an L/D of something like 17, and a sailplane has one of maybe around 50. Drag is the cost of creating lift, so if you can get 17 units of lift for 1 unit of cost, or 50 units of lift for 1 unit of cost, that’s pretty good, but 1 unit of lift for 1 unit of cost makes me scratch my head. For a small, scale model flying over a model railroad layout this wouldn’t be much of a problem since when the batteries died, the beast would just be left floating around in the house until rescued, but for the real-McCoy, this could be trouble.

But, lift cost aside, I still like the way it’s depicted in this poster.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"You can't park that here!"

I used a slice of this picture for the visual story in the 3rd instalment of the E. L. Moore legacy series. Over the weekend I was looking over some photos and thought the original colour version looked better.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A location for Caleb’s Cabbage Co.

I fiddled around on the weekend with the placement of buildings on the LOL to find a location for Caleb’s Cabbage Co. I guess in the end it was a game of “which one of these things just doesn’t belong”, and it turned out to be Jones’ Chemical Co. Jones’ appeared to be the outsider in the organic-veggie-bean-sprout-tie-dye region that is becoming the new-normal in the rural region of the LOL – ignoring of course the presence of the seaside barbecue :-) Luckily, the rail-side portions of both Caleb’s and Bunn’s Feed and Seed line-up quite well with the existing track layout, and the truck-delivery doors of Bunn’s even orient properly with the road put in originally to service Jones’. So things are not looking too bad arrangement-wise. I now need to fix up the surrounding plantings, grassy areas, trees, out-buildings and other details to blend everything in and make it seem like a unified whole.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Cutting the lawn

A took the above picture back at Christmas when the layout was pulled out for showing off. That picture below is my backyard as of yesterday. Still significant snow back there and it'll be awhile until it needs cutting, but hopefully it'll all be melted by Easter.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Index for the “E. L. Moore’s Legacy in the 21th Century” series

The posts in this series are starting to pile up and I thought some sort of index was called for. I’ve marked each instalment with the E L Moore's 21th Century Legacy label, but that doesn’t seem like enough. So, here’s what’s been posted so far. I plan to update this index as I make additions to the series.

Introduction

Balsa, cost, a handcar shed and organic veggies

Twenty-five years at the movies

The Railroad Modeler Years

Signature Styles, Signature Structures, and Selective Staging

Sticks and glue may build Cousin Cal's Cabbage Plant but sauerkraut juice will never hurt me

Modernizing Caleb's Cabbage Co.

The Lost Manuscripts

The Elizabeth Valley Railroad

I’m thinking that with the posts I still have in mind, but haven’t yet written, it’ll wrap-up maybe around the end of the year if I can scrape up the writing time. The journey so far has been fun, although a little more idiosyncratic than I thought it would be, but I guess that’s inevitable.

As well as the series posts, over the years I’ve built-up a number of E. L. Moore’s projects. Many have made use of more modern materials than were originally specified in the articles, so in a way they form some sort of appendix to the series. Here’s a list of them.

Bunn's Feed & Seed Plant

Jones Chemical Co.

Uncle Charley's Bookery

Moe Lass'


There have also been some posts were E. L. Moore’s work was cited as an influence, or I pointed out that some prototype might make for an interesting E. L. Moore style building, or I was just wildly speculating on something that seemed Moorian :-)








Ideas for a 'New' E. L. Moore style building

[The index was last updated on 23 April 2014]
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