Saturday, November 30, 2013

E. L. Moore's Legacy in the 21st Century: Twenty-five years at the Movies

... E. L. Moore, he was the “everyman” of model railroading. Balsa wood was his primary medium, and he cut, carved and burned it to make oh so many memorable structures for oh so little money. A finescaler he wasn’t, but if you had to pick one word to characterize his structures, it would be “evocative”. (The Model Railroader staff assesses E. L. Moore’s career in their Along the Lines looks back feature in the November 1999 issue.)

{2 Jan '14 update: This is the 3rd instalment in a multi-part series. The other posts in the series can be found here.}

It was that assessment of E. L. Moore’s career that set me on the path to writing this series. That statement’s true in some respects - the balsa and cost part is certainly correct, and we looked at that a bit in the previous instalment - but it also struck me as a bit dismissive.  

Here is a man who published, by my reckoning, around 112 articles over a 25 year period in mainstream American magazines [1] whose titles contained words like Model, Railroad, and Train, which could easily be found in hobby stores, smoke shops, newsstands, drug stores and other places, and whose articles described in detail how to do things like build model buildings (many of which were turned into kits), freight cars, bridges, people and other model railroad related paraphernalia, even how to build a whole model railroad, later have his career in the hobby as an “everyman” who produced “evocative” work. I rant I know, but it does seem a little odd.
After stumbling around with this assessment, here’s what I came to think about it in a nutshell: E. L. Moore didn’t advance what I'll call the canonical literature of model railroading, although he was a mid 20th century master of one of its genres. That’s why it was pointed out that he wasn’t a finescaler, because finescale can be a defining characteristic of the canon. A hobbyist has to advance the canon to be considered notable. Also, evocative work, which strongly brings into play other aspects of the hobby, is not a core attribute of the canon, puts him squarely into the field's genre literature.

A model railroad can be many things: a historical display worthy of a museum, a plaything, a Christmas decoration, a diversion for young children, a work of art, a simulator of railroad operations, a physical memory of a time past, among many others. It can also be a story telling machine.
And today’s preferred story, at least as it appears in the mainstream hobby press, is that of a specific railroad, or piece of a railroad, situated in a certain place and time, operating in a manner close to that of its prototype. It’s the canonical literature of the field. It’s often historical in nature, but can be contemporary, and often makes use of the most advanced control and electrical technology available when it was created.

“… the biggest electric train set a boy ever had…” (Orson Welles commenting in 1940 on his initial impression of RKO Studios)

In addition to the canon, there's also a range of genre fiction. Basically, anything that emphasizes some other aspect of the hobby over and above the defining characteristics of the canon is a genre candidate. Some genres have more to do with personal ideas or stories the modeller is trying to tell. The telling might be deliberate or subconscious. If I were to put a label on the particular genre that Mr. Moore worked in I’d call it Movie since in his hands the layout becomes a form of movie set used to tell a people oriented story. I’d say his narrative is one of places and people and trains whose setting is late 19th and early 20th century rural America. It’s homespun, but knowledgeable. It’s not a slave to that knowledge: it tries to focus on what’s salient. It’s not focused too much on modelling specific places or narrow time frames. It takes what it likes from wherever it’s found and uses it to build its story. His was a sort of model railroad-ized Frank Capra world with a dash of Howard Hawks, Stephen Leacock and Petticoat Junction. Good humour abounds.
People and places play a large role in Movie layouts; almost as large as the trains. That’s what makes this genre evocative. Don’t get me wrong, a model railroad can be evocative and still be part of the canonical literature, but layouts in the canon don’t necessarily need to be evocative. John Allen’s work is a good mid 20th century example of being both canonical literature and evocative. It’s the combination that has made his layout the touchstone that it is. Maybe Mr. Allen and Mr. Moore produced evocative work because they were both photographers by profession. The Pendon museum’s layout - with its exemplary Vale and Dartmoor Scenes - is another example. As an added bonus Pendon also houses John Ahern’s - another pioneer of mid 20th century model railroading whose own groundbreaking work pre-dated that of both Mr. Allen and Mr. Moore - highly evocative Madder Valley.

There are genres other than Movie: personal visions, nostalgia [2], the large train-set, 4x8 [3], scenes, puzzles and games, floor games [4], and abstractions are some that come to mind, but there are no doubt more.
This canonical literature and genre fictions concept I’m floating here isn’t the only way to look at the model railroading scene. There’s the standard way of simply dealing in scales and gauges and prototypes and eras and geographical regions. Awhile back I took a stab at forming a museum-gallery-studio concept. No doubt there are others. None are completely true, and none are completely false, and none are to be taken seriously. They’re just interesting ways of looking at the hobby in different lights, and they can point to other interesting paths that could be explored.It's all about exploration.

I’ve never told you about the time I remodeled Ma Spumoni’s old homeplace down by the railroad yard. The day she phoned me she was really popping her valves, so I rushed right over. When I got there she was snorting smoke and hot cinders like an old yard goat. Her husband, George, and Uncle Charley, had pulled the pin and drifted out the back door, which was good judgment on their part. And even little Pistachio Jr., a sort of adopted grandchild, had dropped through a rat hole out of sight.
"I want one wing of this house remodelled into a store - with a nice bright red front to it!", she stormed.
"But what about the Porter & Ahlstedt's Market right next door…?"
"They won't be there much longer 'n it takes to twist a pig's tail - I'm moving those conniving scallywags right out of business!" Right away I knew there'd been another ruckus and with Ma feet first in the middle of the heap, but I didn't ask any details. (E. L. Moore lifts the curtain on how he built Ma’s Place, Jan ’67, Railroad Model Craftsman.)

One of the things that made E. L. Moore’s articles unique was that he carried the Movie genre into his articles, and it wasn’t limited to staged photos. If Mr. Moore were writing in the hobby’s canonical literature his articles would have focused simply on prototypes, and techniques for creating highly detailed replicas. 

"Now make that roof with a little give to it," warned Ma, "so when I feel a blast coming on I don't have to worry about holding in my pressure." Something has to give when Ma works up steam and it might just as well be the roof. (Ma Spumoni provides some construction guidance to builder Moore during the assembly of Ma's Place, Jan '67, Railroad Model Craftsman.)

A common format of a model construction article is to start by discussing something about the prototype being modelled, maybe followed by a little background about why the author decided to add this building to his layout and why you the reader might want to consider it for yours, and then jump into the nuts-and-bolts of construction – sort of a Jack Webb, “just the facts ma’am”, approach to how-to.

Not long ago I stopped to take a picture for this article, and I see Ma made good her threat. The Porter & Ahlstedt building was being razed, and there was Junior burrowing in the wreckage like an oversize termite. (Mr.  Moore inspects the post-construction situation down at Ma's Place, Jan '67, Model Railroad Craftsman)

An E. L. Moore article on the other hand would often begin with a tall tale to set the scene – usually involving a recurring cast of characters - Ma Spumoni, Cousin Cal, Uncle Charley, Uncle Peabody come to mind, and Mr. Moore himself would often put in a guest appearance in the role of enterprising builder – followed by some words about how the project could be built in just a week or two for usually no more than 1 or 2 dollars, then he’d get into the discussion on how to build the project.  Any prototype information that might be relevant was usually lightly sprinkled, and as he mentioned once, he never “wrote a treatise” on a topic. His projects were informed by prototype information, but were never hampered by it. Often the fictional story part of the article would continue throughout the article all the way to end. Essentially the reader would often get a story and building instructions neatly woven together into a single article [6].

The photos accompanying his articles would often continue the story. They were like movie stills featuring many people busy doing things, which included the protagonists in his narrative, props, and of course the building. In his photos people weren’t just loitering around merely to add scale or human interest. No siree.

Are your miniature figures working for you, or are they merely standing around like dummies on your pike? (E. L. Moore throws down the gantlet to the cast in Put Your Figures to Work, Mar ’55, Model Railroader)

You can get a glimpse into E. L. Moore as Movie director in his first Model Railroader article, Put Your Figures to Work, in the March 1955 issue. He opens by saying he was impressed with John Allen’s use of figures [7], and the fact that Mr. Allen scratchbuilt figures so he could compose exactly the scenes he wanted. But ever the practical man, Mr. Moore proposes that some very serviceable custom figures can be concocted by simple modifications to commercially available items, and then goes about describing what to do.
Mr. Moore seemed to make good use of Weston brand figures [8], especially their ‘Flexible Freddy’ – a figure designed to be bent into different poses. In his article he mentions that it’s one of the mainstays of his HO population, and that he modified it in several different ways for many occupations. I did a little digging and was pleased to find that Weston figures are still for sale today by Campbell Scale Models. Flexible Freddy, Mrs. Spumoni, Baby Pistachio, the old guys playing checkers, the workmen and so on, that whole gang who made frequent appearances in Mr. Moore’s photos are available [9]. In some later photos it looks like some people from the old Airfix OO/HO railroad figure set make appearances too. I don’t know if they are still sold today, but I still have quite a few I bought back in the day since they were dead cheap, or maybe inexpensive is a better term :-)

But then, all my figures are a bit old-fashioned. Modern scenes merely call for a few automobiles and some prone pedestrians. (E. L. Moore auditions for the comedy club circuit with some social commentary at the end of his Put You Figures to Work article, Mar ’55, Model Railroader.)

Today there are some extreme forms of genre fiction created by artists who make use of the hobby’s materials, but don’t create conventional railroady things from them – often they incorporate no moving trains at all, which is one aspect that makes them ‘extreme’ from a canonical literature point-of-view. One of my favourite practitioners is Kim Adams [10], and I’ve written a bit about some of his work here from time-to-time. You know you’re in a genre fiction if the aim of the work is to express something unique to its creator instead of going for an objective historical or prototypical truth. This approach isn’t always well received, but I think it’s interesting and worthwhile. Exploring the broader what-if possibilities that model railroading can present isn’t a common undertaking, nor is working with modelling materials for what they are – pieces of plastic, wood, or metal, formed and bent to various shapes, produced by an industry for sale to consumers - or could be, instead of merely for what they are stated in their packaging and advertising to represent.

Suddenly, I became conscious of the fact I'd forgotten to have firefighting equipment at hand, like maybe a spray bottle of water. It was a time of decision. I could run for water or I could wait, hoping for blast-off before the building was gutted. But just then came the "whoosh!", and after closing the shutter, I raced to the kitchen for water. (E. L. Moore caught in a moment of near existential crisis before the Cannonball and Safety Powder Works blew up and caught fire, April 1977, Model Railroader.)

Mr. Moore visited the perimeter of extreme genre fiction with The Cannonball and Safety Powder Works in the April 1977 issue of Model Railroader where the grand finale of the build was to blow it up! Mr. Moore's very last article, A firecracker factory, appearing in the July 1980 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, with its roof-top facade of giant firecrackers, visually hinted to daring readers how to repeat the dramatic conclusion of the MR article, but the match was never struck, so to speak. These were sort of old-school, mini Burning Man-esque explorations in extreme genre that appear to be long gone from the mainstream hobby press.
It would be wrong to say a line could be drawn from E. L. Moore that directly connects him to artists like Kim Adams, Slinkachu and others working in this medium today. Making objects, whether hobby oriented train layouts, or art products, using miniatures is a fairly traditional and well established activity that stretches a long way back. On the other hand, it’s not wrong to say that E. L. Moore belongs to an approach to scale modelling and art that continues today, or that he and today’s artists share a lot of common-ground even though they are separated in time and specific vocation.

E. L. Moore’s work is 'evocative' by design, and I think that’s good as it has benefits for whoever chooses to continue to walk down this path. Was he an ‘everyman’? It’s a split decision: on the one hand, his projects can be tackled by just about any model builder with basic skills, and his structures fulfill fundamental roles on a model railroad; on the other hand, the quantity of publications and consistently unique approach puts him in the top tier of mid 20th century model railroad hobbyists. 

This is the 3rd instalment in a multi-part series.

Part 1 can be found here.

Part 2 can be found here.


[1] Here's the latest revision of my E. L. Moore master index. It's a jpg and will need to be downloaded to be readable. There's probably a better way to post this thing. I'll need to do some digging.
[2] E. L. Moore’s Movies are heavily influenced by nostalgia. From reports in the model railroading press, it wasn’t clear how old he was when he died. However, a close reading suggests he was 79 to 82 – give or take a couple of years. So, he may have been born between 1898 and1900 given that he died in August 1979. This is clearly within the era he modelled; hence, the fondness he expresses for it in his articles. Nostalgia is a key feature of model railroading, and many a layout is based in the era when the builder was young. I’m no exception, although mine is currently more in tune with a Crombie-era, Toronto-ized Mad Men meets Seeing Things via The Rockford Files ethos.

[3] 4x8 is a genre of model railroads built on a 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of plywood. These are sometimes considered beginner or novice setups that one eventually graduates from, but with the extensive mid-20th century literature on this form it’s an extensive genre in its own right (there are, I think, many sub-genres in this category). Puzzles and games includes specialized layouts that focus on the solution of operational problems – John Allen’s Timesaver is a classic example. The abstraction genre is likely a sub-group of puzzles and games as it deals with extreme situations like single turnout problems for example.

[4] Last year I came across a book called Floor Games written by H. G. Wells that was published in 1911. It’s a precursor to his more famous Little Wars published in 1913. Floor Games describes the game he and his two young sons invented where they build two cities on the floor of their playroom using a variety of toys – toy trains included – along with materials from around their house and then proceed to play them in a variety of ‘what-if’ scenarios. Some train activity is involved, but Mr. Wells’ primary advice concerning trains for the game is simply a practical, “let me merely remark here that we have always insisted upon one uniform gauge and everything we buy fits into and develops our existing railway system“. [5] He also spends a little time making a plea to toy manufacturers that a variety of non-military figures would be most excellent to have for this game, even though they get by pressing a variety of military figures into civilian roles. Although strictly speaking Mr. Well’s game isn’t really model railroad oriented, it could be seen as another, earlier form of proto-genre fiction – free form and brimming with youthful exuberance. Maybe that’s one of the problems with genre fiction, it doesn’t come across as serious activities for the adult mind – that’s unfortunate. Although, it’s interesting to note that John Ahern was a friend of H. G. Wells, and it makes me wonder what, if any, influence Mr. Wells had on Mr. Ahern’s model railway endeavours. 

[5] Playing with toy trains on the floor – seems like an image from a bygone Ozzie-and-Harriet era. It’s not a 21th century one. Today’s image is one of being crashed out on the couch with a game controller, immersed in a fast-paced world of high-resolution video action. Comparing the two worlds seems akin to asking why people still don’t mill their own flour :-) This genre of the model railroad narrative is long-gone in the mainstream hobby press too. Maybe it has to do with the adult-ification of the hobby in general as it focuses on the most lucrative demographic, or maybe people just don’t have the time or floor-space for this sort of thing. Maybe it’s too easy-going. Maybe the likes of Thomas and Lego and PlayMobil have these bases covered. More likely, it's just irrelevant. However, to me, this situation make it all the more interesting when I came across a bunch of Linn Westcott penned articles in Model Trains from the 1950s (contained in Model Railroader's Special issue and archive collection DVD) showing different floor layouts – with variations in different scales to boot - for rainy day fun: The Rugby Railroad (Oct '54), Room-to-room railroad (Apr. '55), Fun with sidings (Nov. '55), Track plans for Christmas (Dec. '55), Four-switch railroad (April '56), and A railroad for a corner space (Mar '56) were just some of the titles. One might think of these as starting plans for a sort of a Wellsian game world focused solely on trains.

Back when I did a few posts on old-school track planning for a small streetcar layout that didn’t have any switches, I thought I was doing something new and interesting. It turns out I thought too highly of myself, Linn Westcott had already walked down that path in A railroad without switches in the March '55 issue and Spectacle-shaped track plans in the September '56 issue of Model Trains, and walked it better than me. Those layouts weren’t specifically aimed at streetcar setups; they were just interesting track plans. It makes me wonder what they might look like with streetcar limited 9-inch radius curves – could be an interesting winter project.

[6] I’ve made my own attempts at Moore-ian tall tales. One was for Mr. Buschel's Barrel and Marble Works. Here are a couple more pieces setting the scene for as yet undesigned and unbuilt projects. The first is for a winery. Mr. Moore had a go at a brewery with the F and M Schaefer Brewery project in the March '67 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, so maybe this is a possible 21th century follow-up.

Ma’s County Winery

It all started with a phone call from Cousin Cal one Friday morning last May. I got to my office a little late that day as there was an unusually long line of people ordering complicated mocha-latte-grande-double/doubles with sprinkles and such at the café downstairs. All I wanted was black coffee to go. When I finally got to the counter the simplicity of my order confused them a bit and slowed down things even more. By the time I had gotten my drink and climbed the stairs to my office, I could hear the phone ringing inside. But luck was with me, and I was able to get the fiddly lock on the office door to spring and I made a dash to the phone before it stopped wailing.

I grabbed the receiver with my free hand and balanced my coffee with the other.

“You gotta get over here right now!” Cal was sounding flustered and forgetting the pleasantries of civilized conversation.

“Cal, you gotta work on your manners. Where’s the ‘hello’? Where’s the ‘how are you’?” While I was giving him the Dear Abby routine I put the steaming cup on my desk, cracked open the blinds to let some light in, and then proceeded to forget my own manners as I settled back in my chair, “Why are you calling?” 

I started to sip on my coffee while Cal gave me the particulars. He seemed to have calmed a bit, “Ma’s got it in her head that she’s gonna expand her old winery down in the County. She saw on the inter-tubes that the Chinese are out buying up every drop of wine in the world for the next few years. She figures now’s her chance to cash in big on her organic artisanal hipster wine. Expand production and all.”

Cal was getting wound up again. I jumped in and let him catch his breath, “That old winery needs to be demolished. It’ll never produce more than those few bottles she stashes away each winter. A new winery is what’s called for.” I started to muse a bit on this thing as the coffee kicked in, “She’s gotta have a rail siding for getting the stuff up to buyers; there’s gotta be some sort of olde-timey tasting room for the tourists; come to think of it, maybe it needs to be sorta olde-timey all round for the total tourist experience; probably needs some big vats for all that grape mash; well, there’s lots of things its gotta have.”

Cal knew what it meant when I started musing. He knew I was hooked, “Can you come down this weekend? She’s in a state and itching to get going right away.”

Ma with an itch is always trouble.

This seemed like an interesting diversion, and clients weren’t exactly beating my door down. “Yeah, I’ll be there tomorrow. Make sure some coffee’s brewing.”

I set to work drawing up some plans.

And that’s how I got to building this winery, and all you’ll need is in this shopping list,

{ list of materials }

That stuff should only set you back a couple of Twoonies and a Loonie. I kept costs low by making my own windows and doors, but feel free to substitute with your favourite castings. Shouldn’t take more than two weeks to build. That is of course if you don’t get too carried away watching tv on your iThingy while you’re working. That is unfortunately one of my failings. 

{ instructions, instructions, instructions }

I thought I’d give Ma a call to ask her to come out to the site and take a look at how things were progressing. As I pulled my mobile phone out of my coat pocket Cousin Cal started up with that cackling laugh of his.

“Cus, when are you going to get a phone that doesn’t look it fell off a Soviet trawler and washed ashore in the North Atlantic in ’75?”

I had to admit I listed a bit when I walked around with it in my pocket. “It works just fine and it’s cheap to boot,” was my lame attempt at a witty retort while I punched Ma’s number into my one-kilo wonder.

“O look, there’s another one over there!” Cal pointed to a stray brick left on the ground. He was laughing so hard he started to cough.

I hoped he gagged. Ma’s phone rang.


Ma was a little short on manners too.

“Do you want to come down to the field and have a look around? 

“Sure,” was her reply.

The line clicked. What Ma lacked conversationally, Cousin Cal compensated for with hilarity. He was having a good old time, holding the brick up to his ear and in between fits of laughter chattering away to unseen listeners on the other end of the baked clay network. 
But he sobered up as soon as he saw Ma’s ample silhouette striding across the field.

{ more instructions  and hopefully a conclusion to the story }

And in the same vein as the The Cannonball and Safety Powder Works, what could be more tempting than a building that houses a flying machine filled with hydrogen with old-fashioned, poorly maintained sparking railroad engines nearby – the plot possibilities are endless :-) Which brings me to,

Al’s Airship Aerodrome

I was renewing my liability insurance this afternoon and started to wonder if I had ever told you about the time I built the airship hanger.

Well, one day a couple of years back this Brazilian gentleman called me up from Paris – Paris, France that is – and asked if I could build him a hanger down in the County for an airship. I was glad to hear that my reputation for frugality was known in some quarters of the City of Light. This fellow – I never could pronounce his name properly, so we agreed I’d just call him Al, which it turns out he rather liked, and he’d call me Monsieur M, which Cousin Cal thought was hilarious, but I was partial to the sound of it, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Al was a ‘Personal Blimp’ builder.  I hadn’t heard of such an occupation, but I figured there are personal computers, personal trainers, even person pan pizzas, so why not personal blimps. 

Anyway, he was coming over to the County for a few months to get this financier-turned-gentleman-farmer fitted out with a personal blimp, and all the things needed to own and operate one. That included a hanger to park it in. That’s where I came in. You might ask, why was a railroad man like myself called up for this project? Like I said, there’s frugality, but it did involve a considerable amount of railroad gear.

For one thing, there’s the doors. A blimp, even a personal-sized one, is mighty big. The doors on the garage needed to park this beast are 50 feet tall and 25 feet wide. Now, Al is one smart cookie and on the hanger his guys built in Monaco, he figured out how to make the doors ride on rails so that even a 10-year-old kid could push them open. Given that Cousin Cal is the spittin’ image of the ‘before’ guy in those Charles Atlas ads, this was just his speed. 

But, as things turned out, it wasn’t Cousin Cal’s lack of muscle power that tripped up this project, it was his lack of brain power. A blimp garage is more-or-less one gigantic loco shed, so the other railroad thing you need, is some track for hauling in blimp parts, and for bringin’ in helium tanks if hydrogen just won’t do. Al’s one of those renegades who swears by hydrogen for these things – none of that expensive helium for him. No sir. He makes it – hydrogen that is – himself right there in the shed. According to Al, hydrogen is like a woman –if they are treated with care and respect, then all will be well. Unfortunately for him he never met Cousin Cal and his ancient loco. Track, an old sparking loco, lots of hydrogen nearby: you can see where this is going. Well, more on this later. Here’s what you’ll need to build a blimp aerodrome to service the more responsible personal airship aficionados on your pike...

[7] John Allen published an article in the September 1949 issue of Model Railroader called Making Miniature Figures. In it he showed how to build HO and O scale figures by forming wax over a wire armature. I thought of giving it a try, but in the end I figured it was way beyond my skill level. Mr. Moore never mentions in his Put Your Figures to Work article whether he read the John Allen article even though he states he’s a great admirer of Mr. Allen’s custom figures and scenes.

Ten years after Mr. Moore’s article appeared, Jack Work published an article called Make your own scale figures in the February 1965 issue of Model Railroader that did directly address the John Allen figure article. In it, Mr. Work discusses how one can use water putty instead of wax to build up figures. Mr. Work’s article did seem to greatly improve the techniques described by John Allen, but they were still too difficult for me.

This set me off on a little expedition into Jack Work articles, and in the process I came across one called Lineside supply shed in the September 1958 issue of Model Railroader, which describes how to build a tool house primarily using cardboard. It’s quite a charming and nicely detailed project.

[8] I don't know what, if any, business relationships Mr. Moore may have had with the model railroading industry. Did he have a financial relationship with the company that made Weston brand figures? I don't know. A number of the projects that featured in his articles were turned into plastic kits. What sort of deal did he have with those kit manufacturers? Again, I don't know, but I'm planning a future post on projects that got turned into kits. Hopefully, I'll find out some answers.

[9] I bought a Flexible Freddy and had a go at seeing what I could do with him.
Here's what Fred looks like straight from the package. He's a metal casting that's bendable, and can be assembled into a wide range of poses.
One of his arms seemed a little misshapen, so I thought about replacing it with an arm from some other figure. I have some old Airfix HO/OO RAF airmen figures on hand and thought one might make a good donor.
You can see the problem. Those airmen are more OO than HO, and look like giants compared to HO Freddy. Using an arm from one of them makes Fred look like he's been doing too many bench presses :-)
Instead, I looked for a suitable donor from a box of unpainted model power HO figures. This is a very economical way to buy figures these days. That box cost $12.95 and contains 72 figures; however, it contains lots of duplicates. Even so, it's far cheaper than buying pre-painted HO figures.
And here's Freddy with his new arm courtesy of a model power citizen. Freddy now has super-glue induced arthritis to help hold him together. But, the joints could be broken apart or bent to put him in other positions.
And here he is after a little rudimentary painting. Ready for a screen test!

[10] From the advertising handout that accompanied the Art Gallery of Ontario show of Kim Adams’ work earlier this year, you can get a sense of what Mr. Adams work is like.
Its raw materials are the standard commercial HO scale products that are widely available to model railroad hobbyists in North America. With them he builds a wide range of fantastical structures, and presents them in a variety of situations. People are usually present, doing things, going about life, albeit, often a life strongly influenced or defined by those structures. Like an E. L. Moore scene, there’s always lots of human – and often animal – activity going on, and there are rarely barren structure-scapes devoid of people.
The AGO also prepared a family activity book for children to accompany the exhibit – a nice touch. One of the questions it posed to kids was this rather deep one: "If you were making your own world, what objects would you use?". It’s also a good one to think about when planning a model railroad.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Whole lotta construction goin' on

... and trying to master taking an overhead photo of the layout board. Although this one is weird, I sort of liked it. Hopefully by the time layout is back in running condition, I'll have figured it out.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ocean Boulevard gets widened

I decided to abandon the idea of carefully arranging the various buildings on the layout with what seemed like realistic spacing and density. The new idea is to see if I get all the buildings on the layout, and see if I can arrange them into some 'realistic' - or at least weirdly plausible - configurations. The first task was to widen Ocean Boulevard to make some space for buildings.
To get started, I rolled the layout into the workshop. That's Ocean Boulevard before adding the building shelf.
I added three wood braces to the layout frame and then attached a piece of 2 inch pink foam with carpenter's glue.
To bring the level of the new section up to the level of the existing street, some 1/4 inch foam board was glued and screwed to the foam.
The final job was to glue a piece of 0.030 inch sheet styrene to the top. In this picture the size and shape of the styrene is being measured.
Here it is after gluing and trimming. Again, carpenter's glue was used to hold it in place. You can see at this stage a few more styrene pieces are needed to finish things off.
After some basic painting and landscaping I test fit some buildings. One is still hanging off into free space, so some further adjustment is needed :-)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mels is done

I started this project back in the summer and finished it yesterday - the day we had the first snowfall of the '13/ '14 winter season. Yikes!
For lighting the sign's fibres, I made a simple illuminator from a $2 stick-on LED closet light fixture I bought at a local dollar store. I broke off the decorative outer cover to expose the 3 LEDs and switch. I glued styrene tubes over the LEDs for holding the fibre ends and then painted them black.
Even though I removed all the battery power gear for the other lights in the building, I kept the the fibre illuminator battery powered. It uses 3 AAAs. Although, if I were to do something like this again, I'd get rid of the batteries from this part too. To finish it off, I glued a styrene square to the bottom to make the whole thing easy to mount in the base of Mel's main building.
Here's the insides before the fibres were installed. All the 9 volt batteries and switches - except the one for the perimeter light because it was too tricky to cut off - were cut out. A terminal strip from my scrap box was set in the bottom and all the wires were connected to it. Two leads come out the bottom for connecting to external power. It's a lot tidier in there, but it could be much better if I had planned it properly in the first place.
And here's what it looks like with the fibres threaded into the sign's letter's. I used 0.5 mm diameter optical fibre. Installation is fairly straightforward, although a little tedious: drill holes into the letters with a drill bit held in a pin-vise, thread fibres through the holes and insert the end in an LED tube, and finish off by gluing the fibres against the inside wall. I used Micro crystal clear glue since it dries very clear and doesn't react with the fibres. No glue is needed to hold the fibres in the tubes. I estimate around 65 feet of fibre was used to thread the entire sign.
It turns out last weekend when I was working on this I was fighting off some sort of cold or flu. I took an antihistamine and my symptoms eased off a bit. I also follow the warning not to drive or use heavy equipment, but there was no prohibition against model building :-) Turns out once it fully kicked in, my coordination took a hit. That blue blob is one undocumented side-effect: I carelessly knocked over a bottle of paint that I was using too close to Mels. The shape doesn't look too bad actually, but it had to go.
I wiped and stained and painted and decaled and it eventually turned into this. Still not so good, but passable. In the right lighting, not too noticeable. So, note to self: next time, I'll just crash on the couch and not tempt the painting fates.
The roof for the rectangular building is built up from styrene pieces. It's more a caricature than a replica of something real, but it's serviceable.
This edge view gives a little better idea of the layering.
I need to go back and add some detail to the roof, for this build I figured I spend most of my time on the lighting.
To me, it looks better with the walls shorter than I had originally planned even though it was a bit stressful cutting them down when the thing was half built. Well, ya gotta take a few chances now-and-then :-) It's time for a burger and fries.