Sunday, October 13, 2019

From the Time Machine's Glovebox: In Praise of Cheap & Cheerful Kits

This post got its start in the same way a lot of others have: an interesting discussion with Vince.

Well, ok, there was also another reason. The Art Curren post got me thinking that cheap and cheerful kits once had a place in the hobby. Some people bought the kits, built them as intended with varying degrees of skill, and put them on their layouts, but others, like Mr. Curren, used them as convenience items for kitbashing structures that were more to their own liking. And his preference, if his "Stratchbuilding"-with plastic kit walls in the June 1977 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman is anything to go by, was for the readily available E. L. Moore plastic kits that had been on the market for a number of years by that time.

At this blog I've built a few of those E. L. Moore kits, but more from the straight out-of-the-box perspective, than with a kitbashing intent. They aren't the most high fidelity kits, but with a little work, they can be rather attractive.

My first builds here at 30 Squares - Ma's Place and Speedy Andrew's - were the subject of this 3 part series: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

What got Vince and me talking was that as well as the kits directly made from Mr. Moore's RMC articles, there's a whole other set of cousin kits that were manufactured based on the parts from the original 9 (there's a list of The Original 9 over at my Wikipedia article). Speedy Andrew's over there - really, an auto repair garage, not a surf shop - is one. You can see it's based on Ma's Place. I think it would be quite a lengthy investigation to track down the entire lineage of kits as the molds have changed owners over the years, and the kits went in and out of production over the years.

It turns out, unbeknownst to me at the time, I did buy and build a couple of E. L. Moore kits back in the '70s. Ok, I knew I bought the kits, but I didn't know who designed them :-) That one is the Ramsey Journal Building that I tried to convert to a Home Hardware. A lot of the parts are now missing, but it was a semi-sensible conversion, although very basic on execution.

A couple of years back I bought this kit at a swap meet with an eye towards getting the parts I needed to restore my Home Hardware. I think I paid a loonie for it.

You can see the indications on the AHM kit that this was designed by E. L. Moore are long gone on this Tyco version.

Good thing I didn't pay too much, because it looks like the original owner took Art Curren's advice to heart and used the walls to build something else. Luckily, the walls are what I have, and it's the other parts I need.

Also back in the '70s I built E. L. Moore's Village Smithy kit. And, again, back then I didn't know about the E. L. Moore connection. I think somewhere along the line I cannibalized the kit to make something else, hence the missing parts. 

I have bought a few more E. L. Moore kits in this century. Over there is the W. E. Snatchem Funeral Parlor which interestingly enough, the manufacturer left the W off the sign, so no one will get the joke if they're not in-the-know - like you are :-)

I was so happy when I found an intact kit of the Molasses Mine. It was the subject of a build post and I was also lucky to see the original.

But, the rest of the kits I've bought over the last few years are still in boxes. That one is the sister project to W. E. Snatchem:  The Grusom Casket Co. That one apparently was for the German market because those red boxes announcing the kit was designed by E. L. Moore are in German.

I bought that AHM version of Grusom's because this Pola version I bought about 6 months earlier didn't have all the walls - half were missing. I didn't check the kit when I bought it, so my fault. Once again, someone was using the kit's parts to make something else a la the Art Curren philosophy :-)

I was more cautious when I bought this Busy Bee Department Store kit and opened it soon after it arrived. I was lucky to see the original this kit was based on back in 2015.

Just to prove that I opened it, I did an unboxing video.

Finally, I have this kit of E. L. Moore's Schaefer Brewery - retitled by Model Power - awaiting my acquisition of a second so I can build Art Curren's Perry Shibbel Fruit & Produce Co-Op that you can find in his 1988 book, Kitbashing HO Model Railroad Structures. I've studied the plans a bit, and it turns out I think Shibbel's could be built from a single kit with a strategic substitution of styrene brick sheets here-and-there.

Even from this small selection of E. L. Moore designed kits, you can see the masters have been owned by a few companies over the years, so compiling a list of them all, and their derivatives, would be challenging.

Perry Mason has a parking problem at Angels Flight

At the beginning of The Case of the Twice Told-Twist, Perry decides to take the Angels Flight funicular to visit a client and have him sign some papers before an evening at the theatre with Della.

Perry and Della pull into the parking lot at the top of Angels Flight.

This episode's in colour, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the cool blue of Perry's car.

Perry and Della leave the car and head off to the station.

This episode aired on 27 February 1966, so I'm assuming that's how the station looked in '65 / '66.

And, they're off. The car's empty except for Perry and Della. Perry says the task will take less than 10 minutes, so they shouldn't miss the opening curtain.

And in less than 10 minutes, with business completed, they're almost back to the station.


Even the rag top is gone.

Thieves must have had more courtesy back then because when a friend's car had its snow tires and wheels taken off, the theives just left the car dropped, wheelless, on the snowy parking lot. At least these ones left Perry's car up on blocks.

This might not have been a good advertisement for the funicular given Perry Mason's popularity, but it was interesting to see what the funicular looked like at the time. Apparently this was the only episode of Perry Mason's original series filmed in colour. It was good to see the cast and familiar places in something other than glorious black-and-white, but the story seemed like it took its cues from a beach movie with Frankie and Annette.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Jammed doors halt the Confederation Line for two days in a row

The Alstom Citadis Spirit trains running on the Confederation line are having serious door issues. During yesterday morning's rush hour a door jammed at a station stop at around 8:05am causing the entire LRT service to stop until around 9:00 am (City apologizes for chaotic commute caused by jammed LRT door), and this morning, also at around 8 am, another jammed door stopped LRT operations until around 9:15 am when full service was resumed ("It's a disaster": Jammed door holds up LRT for 2nd straight morning). This is looking like a systemic issue in the door system. Hardware? Software? Operations? There are no reports in the media regarding root cause, although the initiating event appears to be riders that prevent doors from closing. I suspect all the system details aren't known just yet, and the city might not be too forthcoming when they do know. We'll see what happens.

Monday, October 7, 2019

PCC at the Palm Place loop on the LA MTA J Line

From pg. 60 of The Los Angeles Railway Through the Years
At yesterday's post, nscalestation commented that the layout's park loop reminded him of a similar one on the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority's J Line. I took a look through my only book on the LA MTA, Steven L. Easlon's 1973 The Los Angeles Railway Through the Years, to see what I might find.

Although wikipedia suggests the line had 3 loops, all I could find in Mr. Easlon's book is that photo. Its caption has this to say: Car 3069 is shown here waiting at the Palm Place loop in South Gate at the end of the "J" line in the early 1960's. Since the P.C.C.'s were singled-ended, they required reverse loops to turn them around. That looks like an interesting shelter to the left of the PCC that might make for a nice little model.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Basic ground cover for the park loop

I've been spending some time adding a base layer of ground cover to the park loop, and underpainting the roads and sidewalks in this area. The roads and sidewalks in front of the houses aren't looking too bad, but the main road down the length of the layout still needs more refining. Here's what this area looked like before some basic landscaping:

The loop needs to be very clean of debris because the turn is so tight. Before each session I have to make sure each rail groove is free and clear of particles or derailments occur. Cleanliness is very important.

The park loop area will be residential and consist mainly of older buildings. I'm toying with the idea of calling this side street Mortimer, as there's a street with the same name in Toronto. To me, that name has a feeling of being older, and from a different era.

After fiddling with building placement, I think that open area beside the museum will need an apartment tower, about 2 or 3 times taller than the neighbouring buildings, whose back wall faces the park. I have a lot of small and medium size buildings, but not enough tall ones to make the city credible.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Pencil me in for next Tuesday

I was doing some layout work on the layout and needed a pencil. But gosh darn it all, I couldn't find one anywhere in the workshop. In frustration I looked in my father's old tool tray I have stuffed away on a shelf. Dad came to the rescue, and there was a stash of pencils right where he left them.

I only mention them here because a few are embossed with old Toronto names that I haven't thought about in many years. And given that my layout has a Toronto influence, well, two and two and all that.

They're all kind of on the half pencil length size because when I was growing up there was something of a pencil use protocol in our house. If my father had some work to do that he had brought home from the office, the first part of any work-related task involved finding an 8 1/2 x 11 lined pad and sharpening a dozen or so pencils. Once repeated sharpening reduced a pencil to around half its length, it was transferred to a box in the workshop for use down there. That box was always near at hand, and always contained a goodly number of pencils. Once one of those was too stubby to comfortably handle, it was into the trash. As you can see, those ones in the photo are still usable given the guidelines of the ancient protocol, and hopefully will put in workmanlike service on the layout. 

What about those pens you ask? I have no idea.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Mental Flow: An invisible benefit of model building?

I seem to be reading more and more about reducing, or even eliminating, screen time for both children and adults. Maybe getting into the great outdoors more, walking around, or engaging in some free play to help reduce problems caused by over-consumption of the internet. And as a counterpoint, Vince and I have had long discussions about the vast good, non-tabloid-trash content on youtube, and how a project like the E. L. Moore investigation you see here would have been next to impossible to carry out in the pre-internet era. I have to agree with him on both, but it does seem our behaviour with screens consumes an ever increasing chunk of our existence. Similar concerns were heard in the tv era, but now that tv-on-steroids called the internet has upped things to even higher levels.

That must sound rich coming from a guy whose writings appear only on-screen via a new fangled thing called a blog - which in the internet's short time horizons has actually been around for a quite awhile, but in terms of civilizational time, the blog is just a blip in the continuum. All I can ask is for you to consider resisting the urge to reduce your screen time right this instance, and indulging my rant for a few more paragraphs :-)

The only thing I can add to the reducing screen time discussion is that for me model building, and model railroading, is a screen-free, mental flow producing pursuit. Maybe this happens because I started the hobby when I was young, and the activity helps to make a connection with an earlier state of mind when things were new to me. But, maybe not, this is just speculation*. Regardless, I consider inducing mental flow as important to my hobby** activities as the models that result.***

Flow happens most of the time while I'm model building, although it can stop during a session, and sometimes it doesn't happen at all. I can't claim to always enter and stay in the flow state. I find it easiest to enter flow in the morning and late afternoon, and I like to have quiet conditions while I work. I don't watch videos or multi-task with screens while I'm building, but sometimes I'll listen to music. 

I can't tell you that flow will improve your model building, or model building will induce mental flow in you, or lead to increased productivity at your day-job, or improve your love-life, or cure rickets - those kind of assertions are what the self-help gang are for :-) I can't make any general claims at all. All I can say is that for me, having mental flow is an important part of the hobby, and I'll give up model making if I can no longer create an associated flow state.

*At one time I was able to enter the flow state when putting together and solving mathematical problems, but that was decades ago. Maybe it's easier to enter the flow state when young - again, this is all wild speculation.

**Sometimes the word hobby grates on me. It seems to have a pop-cultural connotation of something trivial that's undertaken in between bouts of more serious activities for the purpose of refreshment so one can re-engage with those more serious things with renewed vigour. 

***I often wonder if E. L. Moore entered the flow state while model building. His descriptions of his practice seem to suggest it, but it's another one of those things that are lost to time.

Pavement: Full Scale | HO Scale

I'm playing around painting the roadway near the park loop. For reference I took some photos of road and sidewalk near my house. Over on the left is one of the shots, and on the right is a similar scene in the layout's HO land. The HO side looks like it needs some specks of white and black to simulate some texture. Below is a black & white version of the same image to get a better sense of the values. They're close, but my road still needs a little work.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A&A Records gets entrance doors

I spent some time finishing the main entrance by adding doors and associated windows. This area is all freelance guessing from photos, and is only slightly prototypical - although, it doesn't look all that bad. There's a slight twist in the doorway, but I should be able to work that out.

Right now I'm pondering the colours for the main sign. Surprisingly, they're a little tough to work out as they appear slightly different in various lighting conditions. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Art Curren: Master of Walls

What did Phil Spector and Art Curren have in common? 

One had a wall of sound and the other made miniature buildings from plastic walls. 

What did Phil Spector and Art Curren not have in common? 

One was heavily influenced by E. L. Moore and the other - it's pretty safe to say - wasn't.

Thank you E. L. Moore for the design and AHM or Tyco for the material.

Art Curren's conclusion to "Scratchbuilding" - with plastic kit walls in the June '77 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman

Galen hinted that had Art Curren participated in the plastic models conversation, he would have had a different, and more positive take on Bob Hegge's assertion that many builders are not too fond of plastic products :-) Mr. Curren is well known for using plastic kits of miniature buildings as parts for building more interesting structures of his own design - call it kit-mingling, kitbashing, or kit-scratching, take your pick.

For the longest time I thought Art Curren had always been a staffer at Model Railroader, but it turns out he didn't join the magazine until July 1978. Up until then he was also a prolific author over at Railroad Model Craftsman. I did some digging in RMC, and I think this list covers what he published there (please let me know if something is missing).

Jan '75: RMC / Dremel Kitbashing Award: Coal Bunker and Freight House

July '75: Color signs from black and white dry transfers

Oct '75: Walls of Ivy

Jan '76: Buildings on the bias

Apr '76: Detail parts from diesel shells

June '76: Watts in a naim

Nov '76: Back to nature for dead trees

Dec '76: Kitbashing Frenda Mill, Part 1

Jan '77: Kitbashing Frenda Mill, Part 2

Feb '77: A variety of vents

Apr '77: Building the buildings that aren't

June '77: "Scratchbuilding" - with plastic kit walls

Nov '77: A lot of industry in a small space

Feb '78: Frenda Mines II, III and IV (see also Don McFall's Friend of Frenda Mill in the same issue)

June '78: The Twin-Cities Concept

Sept '78: Griffin & Howe: An example of over-the-tracks space utilization.

Most notable to me was that June '77 story, "Scratchbuilding" - with plastic kit walls, as I think it does the best job of summarizing his philosophy that plastic kits of miniature buildings can be viewed as raw materials instead of just parts to assemble a predefined model: The walls of the aforementioned plastic kits (and many other plastic kits, too) are to me as much building material as are structural shapes, stripwood, sheetwood, plastic sheetstock, yardstick, or other commonly used materials.

And the plastic kits he says he found the most useful were those E. L. Moore kits produced by AHM and Tyco, especially the Ramsey Journal building, the Gruesom Casket company, and their derivatives, the firehouse and rooming house. He also mentioned uses for the Molasses Mine.

If you're a longtime reader here you know that in mainstream HO scale miniature building construction for model railroads, I think part of the lineage of the craft goes from Gil MellĂ© to E. L. Moore , then from E. L. Moore to Art Curren. Mr. Curren's direct use and appreciation in this article of E. L. Moore's work helps me think this chain of craftsmen is on the right track (although, nothing is proven, and I still need to think about who came before Gil MellĂ©, and who's after Art Curren).

I wonder if Art Curren wrote to E. L. Moore? I haven't seen any letters, but this might be one of those questions whose answer is lost to time.

While I ponder the imponderable, I'll leave you with The Wrecking Crew, Cher, Phil Spector, and the immortal Wall of Sound.

[4 Oct Update: Added Mr. Curren's RMC / Dremel Kitbashing Award to the article list.]