Friday, September 19, 2014

E. L. Moore's Legacy in the 21st Century: All Things Weird and Wonderful

One aspect of E. L. Moore’s projects that made them distinctively Moorian were his frequent forays into the weird and wonderful: Rubarb factories, putty knife plants, exploding firecracker works, English ‘teapot’ trains[1] and so on.  This wasn’t a limited flirtation, but a lifelong undercurrent. It also looks like it was this penchant that helped him establish a toehold in the mainstream model railroad press.
When it comes to weird projects, the Molasses Mine and Factory has to be one of the weirdest in the Moorian canon. It was a project that was published in the February 1969 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman and was soon thereafter turned into a plastic kit offered by AHM.

I found one of these ancient kits quite by accident while browsing the shelves at George’s Trains back in June. I wasn’t going to let an original Moore kit pass me by, so I picked it up and headed to the cash. Eyebrows were raised and good-natured questions were asked about my choice of purchases since I’m known as a rather sober shopper, but a sale is a sale no matter how odd, so I held my head high and my plastic was gladly accepted.
After looking over the parts and instructions, it was clear that it was a rather simple project, but the essence of the RMC article on which it’s based was missing. Maybe the manufacturer had second thoughts on this one and tried to make it seem conventional to broaden its market appeal. Maybe they simply didn’t understand it. The box art doesn’t make it clear what’s going on, or what this thing is for. It’s not like it’s something easy to explain like a station, freight house, or water tower; it’s a mine for molasses – that seems like it needs explanation. Maybe a story. Without the story, it’s weird in the “I can’t grok this” way instead of the “odd, but now that you’ve explained it I see what you’re getting at” way. Frankly, of all the E. L. Moore projects that could have been kitted, I’m surprised AHM chose this one. I can only assume they thought it had some popularity, and money could be made from that.
One thing that did strike me about the parts was their rather bland colours. About the only major change I made to this project was to its paint scheme because I thought it might help revive the weirdness of the structure that may have been lost to make the kit appeal to a mainstream buyer.
Well, without further adieu, let's jump into the project. Being essentially a box-stock build, I'm going to more-or-less follow the instructions to the letter, but I'm going to inter-weave Mr. Moore's background story from the that Feb.'69 RMC article with the kit instructions as we go along. It's one of his most extensive setups, and will help get a sense of his style that the everyday purchaser back-in-the-day would not experience.

Main Building - Stage One
Begin assembly of the main building by cementing together Wall Sections #2 to #3 and then add #4.
Truth is I'd almost forgotten the one time existence of North Carolina's famous molasses mine until one day some months ago a feature writer made mention of it in a local newspaper.
Next install these three walls onto the raised bases #1.
That jogged my memory and I dug into an almost forgotten trunk and recovered a yellowed single volume from a 1905 Compton's Encyclopedia that had lain untouched for almost forty years.
Allow the parts to set, and then insert window-frames #25 into the openings in end wall #4.
I opened it and out slid some penciled sketches and notes and I at once thought what a project this would make for an RMC article. Incidentally, this volume of Compton's L through P, devotes several paragraphs to the mine and is accompanied by a small line drawing. According to the editors, it was the only one of its kind, and was still in operation at time of publication.
Cement the pipes #13 into place on the inside of the rear walls.
The story of how I came into possession of the drawings may be of some interest. It goes back to the summer of 1930 which I spent up in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.
Next tackle the assembly of the boiler room. Insert Door #14 into wall opening and then cement into position wall #6 and #5....
At the time I met a character called Red Callahan - we met in an informal sort of way - as a matter of fact we were thrown in Bryson City's jailhouse.
A visitor dropped by to supervise construction...and ask for a peanut.
...followed by roof section #7. This seals off the boiler room from viewing.
Time hung heavy on our hands and after a day or so of discussing and comparing mountain gals we'd known, and drinking locally brewed mountain dew which was obligingly distributed by the jailor - for a fee - the conversation veered around to more prosaic subjects and Red began reminiscing. 
I tried to keep supplies and tools to a bare minimum: tube glue, brushes, bottle paints, sanding sticks, palette, X-acto knife, sprue-cutters and toothpicks.
Assemble Base #10 and cement both tanks #11onto it....
He had been one of a crew who had worked at the molasses plant at its inception in 1903. In the course of our talks he made some penciled sketches on some penny postcards I had on me.
... and when set, place into position inside the building.
Later, when we got out from the restraining influence of the jailhouse he made me a gift of the volume of Compton's previously mentioned, and into whose pages I slipped the cards.
Install round tank #12 section as indicated in drawings.
At the time I had some vague intentions of writing up the subject for some contemporary journal but somehow I promptly forgot the whole business.
Now it remains only to install the tall tank #15 into the area shown.
From these notes and from material garnered in Compton's I gather a thick vein of molasses ore was discovered at a spot called Gunstick Knob, back in the Smokies, and that a nearby deserted lumber mill was converted into a plant, with an addition built to house the melting vat, and the ore was wheeled over a short trestle in an old mine car.

Stage Two
Next we go to the roof. Start by assembling one end wall #18 to one side wall #19 and when set....
It seems that the ore did not soften appreciably until subjected to heat.
...put the two together to form the ventilator, adding roof sections #20 to complete this piece.
A conical roof partially sheltered the vat from the elements, and set up under it was a huge revolving fan that stirred the hot flumes and kept the flies in circulation. That fan was one of the mysteries my notes fail to explain.
Now install roof section #16 into place on the building, followed by section #17.
That is, everything was operated by steam, and yet I have never been able to figure out how to operate it from a belt and shaft.
When set, install the completed ventilator unit onto this roof.
But anyway, from this first steam heated melting vat you can follow, in the drawings, the piping as it carries the refined molasses to another boiling vat and thence to storage tanks.
Cement the ventilator pipes together and cement into the holes designed for them in the roof sections. The taller of the stacks should be at the back of the building.
It was first thought necessary to extract the strong vanilla flavor with which the ore was impregnated in order to make the finished product fit for human consumption.

Intake Tower - Stage Three
Before starting assembly, it is suggested you cement into the walls the window-frames #25 and the door #14.
Later, however, since almost all the output was sold for medicinal purposes, it was found that this odd flavoring actually enhanced the product, and so was retained.
Begin to assmble the walls #26 to #27, then to #28, and lastly to #29. Install the assembled wall units onto the base #23. Now install the roof piece #30. Next install the small platform #24 (turns out this was already moulded into base #23)
Also, it was discovered that by blending a certain proportion of mountain dew with the molasses there was a gain in potency that caused an almost immediate demand.
Begin the assembly of the roof tanks by installing support pieces #32 into positions indicated on the drawing.
You will recall that this was in the resulting hopped-up molasses provided an ideal base for most of these syrupy concoctions, a fact which many patent medicine makers were quick to take advantage of: names beyond the scope of this article.
Now put into place the stirrer #33 [note: according to E. L. Moore's article, the stirrer should be suspended to the conical roof - I learned that after everything was in place :-) ]and assemble the 3-piece walkway on the tank by cementing sections #36 to support pieces #37 as shown.
But shortly after 1906 troubles began to plague the operators. Revenooers frequently cut into their supply sources of mountain dew, then the cane molasses people bribed an employee into passing them a copy of the secret formula, and and finally the molasses ore vein began to peter out, and so the plant was closed for good in 1907.
Next install round roof section #34 onto supporting posts #32 and cap with section #35. Place the intake trough #41 onto the rim of the tank as shown [Note: there isn't a nearby mountain for trough #41, so I'll deal with that in accordance with some advice E. L. Moore gave in the article for just such situations]. Now cement the entire tank unit onto the roof #30. Install Ladders #39 onto lower deck, and #38 onto upper deck so that employees can have access to the upper areas [Note: to me this makes the structure rather similar to a snakes-and-ladders game that would be very unsafe for those brave employees!]. The two structures should now be joined together by cementing the connecting pipe section #22 between the two units as indicated in the drawing [Note: I simply super-glued the two buildings together and let the viewer imagine pipes going from one to another carrying the precious molasses]. The step section #40 should now be used to unit the platform areas of the two structures as also shown on the drawings. This completes your molasses mine as far as this kit is concerned [Note: But as far as we're concerned there's one more structure to add as discussed in the next section].
Bru Hopmash, a noted outdoor writer, authored a book MOONSHINE OVER THE MOUNTAINS, which contained a chapter devoted to the one time mine. It was published in 1917 but is now long out of print and I probably have one of the few copies in existence. 

Molasses pumping tower - Stage four
As I mentioned above, my layout doesn't have a nearby mountain with a vein of molasses, so some advice from E. L. Moore in the opening paragraphs of his article came in handy: Failing the mountain, you might sink a vertical shaft, and with the aid of an elevator, carry out the idea, bringing the molasses ore right up beside the melting vat into which it is dumped. Today, this might be some sort of molasses 'fracking' tower that pumps semi-liquid molasses up from the ground and dumps it into the melting vat via a large pipe - well, some imagination and artistic license is needed at this point :-)

The tower walls are cut from 0.040 inch sheet styrene. Some square section strips were used at the inside corners for reinforcing.
Once the basic structure was glued together, block embossed styrene was glued to the lower section, corrugated styrene sheet was glued to the upper part, and a Tichy Train Group door casting was glued in the door opening.
Once the various panels were dry, a hole was drilled in the wall nearest the melting vat for the molasses output pipe. The pipe itself is a section of styrene tubing. The roof is made of the same corrugated styrene as was used to panel the upper portions of the walls. A strip of square section styrene was used to cap the roof ridge.
That elastic band is holding in place an exhaust system scavenged from my parts box. It simulates some sort of chimney for whatever is used to pump up the semi-liquid molasses.
You can see the exhaust clearer in this view. Everything is painted with very loose washes.
This back view gives a better look at the exhaust stack, the molasses output pipe, as well as the little seen large back wall of the main building.
For completeness, this is the wall at the other end. I was rather happy with the siding colour.

And that is that.

A highly non-prototypical, imaginary building, with an accompanying outlandish story, as is the Molasses Mine and Factory is not what today's mainstream model railroading journalism or kit production is about. That's a shame.

I’m not suggesting that tall tales of backwoods hijinks be a mandatory component of building construction articles. I can only take so much of it myself :-) The point is only to suggest, by way of a snippet of a piece that was considered at one time to be publishable, that personality and eccentricity are mostly absent from today’s mainstream model railroad literature. They’ve been causalities on the road to realism. Not all of the genres of model building have taken this route, although many have. Builders of science fiction spaceships are an interesting case. In that genre, ‘prototypes’ are the high profile spaceship props of well-known movies or television shows. Builders of freelance model spaceships often develop elaborative narratives to explain their creations. Maybe inclusion of narrative is part of that genre’s DNA given that it’s movie and TV narrative that drive its ‘prototype’ branch as opposed to business needs of actual railroads as is the case with model railroading. With E. L. Moore, the narrative component of his work is as strong an influence as prototypical concerns even if that narrative often veers off to the crazy and odd.

This is the 16th part of an ongoing series. A complete index of all posts in the series can be found here.

13 April 2016 update: Some photos of E. L. Moore's original can be found here and a discussion of the influence of Bill Schopp on this model can be found here.


[1] One of E. L. Moore’s earliest publications was a three-page photo spread called with the Spumoni family in Merrie Old England that appeared in the January 1956 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. It really puzzled me. The photos are a strange collection of weird locomotives, equally bizarre passenger and freight cars, English buildings and odd happenings. They were apparently the ‘holiday photos’ of the Spumoni’s vacation in England. Nothing prototypical. Nothing remotely prototypical for that matter. I was surprised that a mainstream magazine would publish them. 

Many months later I saw a photo in the December 1959 issue of Model Trains that was eerily similar to those RMC photos. But, this time there was a caption that explained everything: these models and photo - and clearly those RMC ones from '56 too - were influenced by the work of Rowland Emett. E. L. Moore was a Rowland Emett fan. All these models and photos were an homage.
From the 1953 book, Emett's Domain; Trains, Trams and Englishmen; The Best of Rowland Emett, the caption reads, "Yes, we're making a SPECIAL bid for the American tourist business this summer..."

At that time Rowland Emett was well known in England, and probably to a certain degree in the US and other English-speaking countries, for his whimsical cartoons of trains and trams - as well as other aspects of English life - that appeared in Punch. His cartoons inspired a 1951 tourist attraction railway called Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Branch Railway at the Battersea Pleasure Gardens in England. [2]

The name Emett wasn’t completely lost on me. As soon as I read the caption below that Dec. ’59 Model Trains photo I remembered that back in the 1970’s the Ontario Science Centre seemed to have a collection of Rowland Emett pieces or reproductions. Being a science nerd I visited that place a lot and I guess they’ve stuck with me. It turns out that the Ontario Science Centre runs an annual show of Emett creations over the Christmas holidays.
It wasn’t just the science stuff that attracted me to that place. I loved the building too. At the time it was very new and modern and such things were not commonplace in Toronto. I found being there and merely wandering around was just as interesting as looking at and playing with the exhibits. The Emett works were part of the ambience.

The 'passenger car' in the middle is from the Jan. '56 RMC E. L. Moore photo spread. It's very clear that it's a composite of the Rowland cartoons on either side. Both the cartoons are from Emett's Domain

Given that E. L. Moore continued on with building and publishing his own whimsical works well beyond the merrie-olde-England projects - evidence, the Molasses Mine and Factory ! - these two gentlemen were likely sympatico on a certain level. Moore’s Emett inspired teapot trains, strange halts, and blimps of questionable viability didn’t continue past the 1950’s, but his highly whimsical nature morphed into more apparently pragmatic projects – although the outhouses shown in A Mighty Relaxin' Job that appeared in the Nov. '75 issue of the NMRA Bulletin seem to suggest that the weirder aspects continued on outside the confines of the mainstream model railroad press.

It turns out that Rowland Emett wasn't the only cartoonist from whom Mr. Moore drew inspiration. In his December 1964 Model Railroader article, Down by the depot, which described how to build a 1890’s depot, Mr. Moore mentions that, “...I found the basic structure of my station in a “Fiddletown & Copperopolis” cartoon. You may recall these as a Railroad Magazine feature and later as a book, some years ago.” I bought a random selection of old issues of Railroad Magazine last year around this time so I dove in and tried to find some Fiddletown & Copperopolis cartoons.
A scene along the Fiddletown & Copperoppolis Ry. via Carl Fallberg and the Aug '53 issue of Railroad Magazine. That's a fireworks car blowing up!

Mission accomplished; although I didn’t find the inspiration for the station he built. I came across five cartoons in the series. They were drawn by a Carl Fallberg. Each is a full-page, single panel visual gag with a caption. These cartoons are full of late 1800’s, early 20th century old time railroad humour. They’re right smack dab in the middle of E. L. Moore’s era of interest. It appears that although Rowland Emett influenced Mr. Moore’s earliest work, Carl Fallberg had a career long impact. In some respects, a certain amount of E. L. Moore’s work seems like Carl Fallberg cartoons in physical form.

The Fiddletown & Copperopolis cartoon shown above is from the August 1953 issue of Railroad Magazine. Was this the inspiration for E. L. Moore’s infamous The Cannonball and Safety Powder Works - the project that concluded by blowing up the finished model ! - in the April ’77 issue of Model Railroader? I can only speculate.
From the Aug. '51 issue of Railroad Magazine. The caption reads, "Meet Nellie, noted Punch engine of Cartoonist Emmett [sic]. Constructed at a converted Southport brewery, Nellie pulls 96 passengers over 1600-foot Emmett Ry. at Festival of Britain. Offhand we'd say it's a 4-6-2. Emmett calls line Far Tottering & Oyster Creek Railway."

Coincidently, in the August 1951 issue of Railroad Magazine, just three pages from a Fiddletown & Copperopolis cartoon, there is this photo of Rowland Emett aboard a real life version of one of the steam engines he drew.

Maybe Mr. Moore’s introduction to the work of Rowland Emett happened in the pages of Railroad Magazine and then moved on to Punch, or possibly just the book, Emett's Domain.

[2] E. L. Moore wasn’t the only model railroader to pay homage to Rowland Emett. I was pleased to come across this post at CF's blog Wood End and Beyond about Mike Cook’s layout of Emett’s railway. It was noted in the comment discussion that Mike Cook's project appeared in the December 1970 issue of Railway Modeller, and Iain Robinson graciously helped out with providing a reading copy. Mr. Cook’s article is an interesting read and I recommend it as a contrast to E. L. Moore's work.


  1. A fascinating and hugely enjoyable blog post! I remembered this build instantly, as it was in the first RMC that I ever got my hands on. While I was struck very favourably with the more relaxed (and interesting) style of magazine writing over the pond, I was aware of articles in the Railway Modeller that had mined a similar vein (sorry) - the Sabden treacle mines, with jokes about leaving loaded wagons out in the sun, whereupon they set solid to the track :-) I have a full set of 1960's modellers, so I will have a look for those references.

    I like the way El Moore's crazy mine is labelled "A precise Ho scale" model!

    It is a pity that magazines these days are so focussed on profit and turnover that they can't take a risk on a little lighthearted fun now and again...guess it's the way things are today. Thanks for a classic post, even by your standards!

    1. Many thanks Iain for your kind words. I can imagine the mainstream model railroad media in the US must be in a tough fight for survival these days, and I guess servicing what they perceive as the most profitable segment of their market is how they plan to hang on. The strange thing is that the technology of the internet allows for more experimentation and options than the older print media, so it should be easier to try small experiments in 'other things'. I hope the future doesn't become too narrow in its outlook.

  2. Apparently Molasses wasn't the only culinary item to come out of the ground in the Carolinas. I grew up visiting Tweetsie RR near Boone, NC, and rode the little mine train into the 'Mouse Mine'. And what do mice mine for? Cheese, naturally.

    Google is your friend, and there are videos on Youtube of the attraction. Same show, years later, still going.


    1. Galen, Thanks for the tip - I'll be sure to look for it on YouTube.

      I've also found that mice have a hankerin' for peanut butter and may have diversified their mining operations in recent years :-)

  3. Hi

    Would love to have an article about E L Moore in our newsletter. Could you contact me through the website?

    Tim Griffiths
    The Rowland Emett Society

    1. Hi Tim,
      I'd be interested. I'll swing by the website and contact you.
      Cheers, Jim.