Thursday, April 3, 2014

E. L. Moore's Legacy in the 21st Century: Modernizing Caleb’s Cabbage Co.

In the back of my mind I was thinking, what might this building look like if it were built today down in Prince Edward County - well, a fictional version of the County where old meets new, and Canadian, American and British railroad practices combine - and ‘opened up’ more in line with what John Allen did with his Engine House? Basically, my attempt at applying Selective Staging to E. L. Moore's Cousin Caleb’s Cabbage Plant build that appeared in the December ’71 issue of Railroad Modeler (the first three instalments in this part of the E. L. Moore in the 21th Century series can be found here and here and here).
I’ve been wondering if John Allen had mid-20th century [1] modernist leanings expressed in his buildings. Maybe not in all his projects, but his Engine House appears to have some. That building is a bit deceiving because its surface appearance is rustic and rural, not vast glass surfaces held together with spindly steel struts. But, what those two extremes have in common is they both go to great efforts to seamlessly join together the environments inside and outside the walls of the buildings. Those stereotypical glass boxes do it in a very blatant manner with broad expanses of glass [2], but Mr. Allen’s Engine House does it by tweaking the sizes and shapes of existing building elements - bigger windows, skylights, door-less openings, interior lights – in such a way that they all look at home in the building’s early 20th century skin. It sort of seems like something one might see in Lloyd Kahn's Shelter. Many of the buildings in that book are also rustic, but modern too.

E. L. Moore often made use of Selective Compression to make his models more amenable to the confines of a model railroad, but I can’t seem to find an example where he applied Selective Staging and visually ‘opened up’ a building like Mr. Allen did with the Engine House. Many of Mr. Moore’s buildings have full interiors, but usually one would need to do the usual thing of lifting off the roof, or maybe peaking in a scale-sized window, to see what was going on. So, he was probably more of a traditionalist with regard to Selective Staging. One thing I need to do is try and learn more about John Allen’s other structures to see if the Engine House was a onetime flirtation with mid 20th century modernism and Selective Staging, or if it was a common feature of his work.

As I progressed with this project I quickly realized there were a lot of little sub-assemblies and details to work on to open-up the building. 
There's a partial basement under the shed that, according to Mr. Moore, housed a boiler for powering the cabbage shredding equipment. In my version those machines are powered by electricity, so the basement is now used for storage. The basement 'tray' is built up from scraps of sheet styrene.
Here's basement after it has been sanded, painted with concrete coloured paint, and glued into the floor. You can see that the back door enters into the basement.
The three vats on the front porch are built up from 1/16 inch balsa for the ends, and 1/32 inch for the wrapper. The wrappers are scored to show individual boards on the outer face. Super glue was used to construct these things.
Here they are after they were glued up. Some strips of balsa were added to the lids as per Mr. Moore's drawings.
For a little contrast the vats were stained a dark brown. The silver strap around the top of vat is a strip of paper painted aluminum. Some old Letraset letters were rubbed on so it would be easy to identify each vat. Wouldn't want to make mistakes when filling them up!
The roof substrate is cut from 3/32 inch thick sheet balsa as specified in the article. The one modification I made was to cut three skylights into the enclosed shed portion, the idea being that a modern version of this building would try to make use of natural light wherever possible to save money on lighting.

Mr. Moore specifies that the roof be covered with glued on tissue and then ruled with a pen, which would simulate a tar-paper roof. A typical building in Prince Edward County these days would either use asphalt shingles or metal panels. Tar-paper would be out-of-the-question. I toyed with Mr. Moore’s method of using scribed paper to represent metal siding – which is not too bad – but I was lazy and didn’t want to do the work. On the other hand, I had a piece of self-adhesive ‘shingle paper’ from Micro-Mark left-over from another project that looks pretty close to new asphalt shingles, so I decided to use it. It’s good to use up what you’ve got on hand. 

In a small way this sort of decision is representative of many that a contemporary model building hobbyist faces: be self-reliant and make a part using what’s on hand to the degree that your skills allow, or buy something from the vast world of consumer products that may have far better fidelity than you could produce with your own skills. In this situation, I chose the latter, but Mr. Moore chose the former in his article. At the time his article was written and published, he did have the choice as various textured surfacing papers existed, although not to the same extent and fidelity as today, so it’s not a false comparison. Make versus buy. Self-reliance versus consumption. Over the years I’ve indulged in both, from completely home-made stuff to plastic kits to mixtures of commercial and scratch-built parts to pre-completed resin cast buildings. I’m ok with anyone being on any end of this scale. The only thing that bothers me are claims that one end is superior to the other and using that as a  basis to judge the other parts of the continuum. It depends on what one wants out of the hobby. I like making things and trying to get better as I go along. I figure I’m closer to the build-it-yourself end of the hobby, but I still use lots of purchased components. E. L. Moore was much closer than me to the fully self-reliant end. Well, when he was in his prime in the later 1950s and into the 1960s, the hobby in general was closer to the self-reliant end, and even more so the further back in the 20th century one goes. So, choices for them were more limited than for us. The thing to keep in mind is that we have a wide range of choices, and we’re free to choose up-and-down the continuum, and can also sift through the information of previous generations to pull out the good stuff [3].
Being modern and all, solar panels were called for since Ontario has a big solar program on the go. The panel pictures were downloaded from the internet and printed out in long strips. A piece of styrene sheet was glued to the back of each strip, and a Sharpie pen was used to draw on the black frames between the panels. Later on, ground-up gray pastel was lightly dusted on the panels to knock back the sheen.
I've had a fascination with solar panels for a long time. That freelanced model house was one I built as a boy for my first model railroad. Those silver squares were a youthful attempt at solar panels. It could use a reno considering all those weird finishes, but the building seems basically ok.
There's lots of windows out back, but it's salvageable.
Jumping ahead a bit, here is the finished roof. A styrene strip was glued on back of each set of panels near the top so the whole panel is tilted off the roof a little at the top to made things a little more 3D. The skylights were framed with 0.010 inch styrene strips. Clear plastic was used for the glass.
The shed service doors and their frames were built up from scraps of balsa. The shed's back door was built up from a sandwich of cardboard and clear plastic. Mr. Moore's was a solid door, but I wanted a window in the door to let light into the shed to complement the skylights - again, continuing to apply the idea of opening up the building to viewing and light. A pin head was used for the doorknob in old-school style.
These freelanced cabbage shredders were one of most enjoyable details to build. They're made from scraps of styrene and left-over parts from some old 1/25 scale plastic car kits. Mr. Moore hinted that he put some sort of shedders inside his building, but they weren't shown in the article. Mine would be dangerous to use: ladders and big chutes for tossing in the cabbages are a deadly combination. 
It doesn't appear that Mr. Moore's building had lights in the shed, but I thought I needed them to push on with the whole 'opening up the interior' concept. I built a tree from styrene tube and channel stock to hold 3 small incandescent bulbs. I had some in my spares box and figured I'd use them. They have a warm light too. I didn't think the clear, cold light from an LED fit with this project. The light tree starts with the T shown above...
... and ends with the three-pronged structure shown above. The lights are held in place by a sandwich of styrene channels. 
And here's the tree installed. A hole was drilled in the floor to hold it in place. It's not a prototypical light fixture, but it's not too bad. In the picture I hooked up a battery just to make sure all the bulbs lit up.
You see that wall in the previous picture where the long arm of the light tree extends over vat a, I had to add an upper section to the half wall to close up the shed. I decided to make a simple balsa frame with a 'chain link' panel glued over it - it's actually a piece of 'chain link' cloth from a Walther's chain link fence kit. I figured it would keep out birds and 'varmints when the building was closed up for the off-season. It would also continue to allow views and light into the shed.
There is the half wall installed. Below it is the central sauerkraut juice tank. The tank body is cut from a pill bottle and is around 9 scale feet in diameter. Balsa wood ends were glued on and 0.010 inch styrene straps were used to cover the joint between the ends and the body. Lots of scrap styrene was used to build the upper platform and cap. A bent pin was used for the tap. I also poured in some Woodland Scenics 'water' to simulate the sauerkraut juice, but that didn't work too well. Capillary action drew the 'water' up the sides and made for a weird sight. It was overkill and there wasn't any point in doing that, but it seemed like a good idea at the time :-) Mr. Moore used an all wood tank, but again, I wanted to keep the view into the shed as open as possible.
Here's the other side of the building and the back end of the tank. Climbing that ladder is a safety hazard, but there's a nice yellow railing to hang onto :-)
One last look before the roof was glued on. That green stuff on the floor is flocking to simulate cabbage scraps that didn't make it into the shredders. Gluing on the roof was a little nerve racking, so no pictures during the big event. But, once the dust had settled, and the glue was dry, here's what the sides looked like,

Now that all was said and done I wondered if 'Selective Staging' was a success. 
It is possible to easily see all the way inside and through the building. That picture above was shot with natural sunlight streaming in the skylights and no retouching was done on the photo. It's not too bad.
Likewise, at night with the lights on, there's good views into the building, and the inside of the shed is fairly well lit up.

So, again, was this effort to modernize an E. L. Moore project and apply Selective Staging a success? I think the results are mixed. Overall, I’m happy with the way the project turned out even though the construction methods are relatively unsophisticated. The shed, and to a certain extent the vat deck, is well lit and offers many sight-lines, although some are a little blocked. However, even though the pictures of the insides don’t look too bad, they’re a bit deceiving; as are a lot of Mr. Allen’s Engine House and Mr. Moore’s building photos. My photos, and theirs, are more or less all shot at or near ‘eye level’ in those miniature worlds. This makes it relatively easy for the viewer to make the cognitive leap into the photo’s world. On the other hand, a typical model railroad, when viewed ‘in the flesh’ presents the observer with a bird’s eye view of a world – a fairly unusual position. Roofs dominate from that vantage point. Even if one can take the roofs off, as was possible with the Engine House, and with many of Mr. Moore’s builds - although not with Caleb’s - the view inside is from high in the sky. And Caleb’s has got one big roof; it’s slope is fairly flat and blocks a lot of the view into what’s going on. So I’m thinking that Selective Staging is about both the way a building is organized, and how the viewer’s eye is positioned with respect to the building. There’s probably a whole line of investigation into how to design a model railroad completely optimized for eye-level viewing – that is, more than just taking a layout ‘as is’ and hoisting it up higher :-) I might even go as far as stating that maybe optimized eye-level viewing, along with view staging – full blown Selective Staging that is - is as important as detailing and weathering, maybe more so. But, that’s just conjecture, so for now, release the pigs! :-)
[The Naughty Pigs from Shaun the Sheep]
It wouldn't be Caleb's Cabbage Company without the pigs rooting around on the 'leavings' [4].

[1] In the United States, the so-called mid 20th century period extended from the end of World War II to the swearing in of President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Architecturally, I guess the period ‘officially’ ended well before the Reagan era, and possibly the later ‘70s was merely the hang-over of the mid-century period. Regardless of date haggling, by sometime in the late ‘70s or early ‘80’s, mid-century modernism was over.
[2] I get the impression from some of my cursory reading of old model railroading magazines, that Railroad Model Craftsman flirted a bit with publishing some clearly modernist model building projects in the late 1940s, which coincides with the years when mid 20th century modernism was hitting its stride. Today, the mainstream model railroading press has a strong emphasis on the steam-to-diesel transition period that started in the late 1940s and lasted  into the 1950s, but consideration of modernist leanings in that period seems to be largely missing from today’s view into that era.

[3] Mike Bidlo is an artist who creates replicas of certain pieces of 20th century modern art. One of his most well-known series was a re-creation of a number of Jackson Pollack drip paintings.  Mr. Bidlo tried as much as possible to replicate how they were produced using the same materials – as could be found at the time – and same processes as the originals . His goal wasn’t to create counterfeits, but to try and experience what the artists experienced as they created the originals. When I stumbled across Mr. Bidlo’s work I sort of felt this E. L. Moore series was somewhat in the same vein. To just read the articles is one thing; to try and act on them is another. 

Artists that do what Mr. Bidlo does are called ‘appropriationists’, as they make use of, or appropriate, things that others have produced in order to make something new. Mr. Bidlo was trying to produce the experience that artists like Jackson Pollack had to see for himself what it might have been like to produce those art works and maybe learn from the experience. In effect, producing art from art. Sometimes I read in the model railroading media that it isn’t worth the time to produce a model from a model; that is, say, reproduce model from a John Allen article, or a model from a Jack Work article, or a model from an Art Curren article, or even an E. L. Moore model from an E. L. Moore article. I think there are a few reasons to give these a try, some are: the project is interesting and will fit on your layout, so you give it a try; there’s interesting techniques – and maybe low-cost ones – that seem useful; experience what it was like to build something from another time in some else’s style – an admittedly rare occurrence, but after a few builds, I’ve noticed an appreciation of what doing these builds back then might have been like that I didn’t get just from reading about them. I think that last one might be the basis of another model railroading genre I’d call ‘Retro’: building a model railroad as was done ‘back-in-the-day’ –maybe with some concessions on the control technology side so that many of the old time frustrations are eliminated, but the visual style remains.

[4] The cabbages used in the photos are coriander seeds - organic ones at that! - painted green. 


  1. JD, that is a stunning building! I love the nice open frontage and trusses, and the rustic look of the whole thing. Where will it live though? I'm quite tempted to build one of these for myself.

    1. Thanks Michael! As for location, I've been fiddling with the organization of the rural area on my layout and finally settled on replacing the Jones Chemical Co. with Calebs' - to give the area an all veg theme :-) I'll post a picture or two soon.