Sunday, May 31, 2015

Model-nomics 101: E. L. Moore’s Branch Line Station in N-scale

I started this project because the more I looked at the introductory picture of the finished build in the April 1964 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman the more I envied the character resting on the chair, leaning back against the station wall and not worrying about the day. My work days are far from that. Also, it’s one of the buildings on the Elizabeth Valley Railroad, so it would get used when I starting laying track on that project.

But, once I jumped in and got going I realized there’s a hidden story within the main story and it's about cost. From the article’s photos it’s pretty clear that Mr. Moore built this using his standard techniques: shingles made by scoring balsa sheets with a wood-burning tool, siding made from pencil scored balsa, and windows from ink-lined clear plastic. But, the article’s text emphasizes that commercial Northeastern siding can be used, as well as specifying that commercial castings can be used for all windows. There’s sort of mixed messaging going on.
[The Branch Line Station is tiny. In the background is the HO-scale Mineral City Depot and the blue station in the middle is the N-scale Grizzly Flats.]

Cost seems to be the elephant in the room in a lot of published projects. Many just ignore cost altogether. Often it seems like there’s a “if you have to ask about the cost, then you should move on” vibe. This was not the situation with many E. L. Moore builds; usually he was upfront about cost, and it was a point-of-pride about how low-cost he could build some relatively complex project. When I got interested in model railroading, and model building in general, back in the ‘70s, cost was a very big thing to me. One reason I liked E. L. Moore projects was that they clearly stated what the cost was, and with good plans included, I could figure out how to use other stuff I had around the house – cardboard, paper, leftovers from other projects, straws, and so on – to make substitutions if I had to without going to the store.
[The digital camera is a cruel mistress. It's clear in this view that the roof overhangs the back wall a little too much; however, with 'normal' viewing - seeing the whole thing with your actual eyes - the model looks ok.]

After E. L. Moore passed on in ’79, Art Curren rose to become a major figure in mainstream model building construction. He was made a staffer at Model Railroader not too long after Mr. Moore’s passing, but he had published numerous articles prior to that throughout the mid to late ‘70s. In retrospect, his work seemed to be the successor to E. L. Moore’s. However, his approach was quite different:  he specialized in building unique structures from the components of a number of plastic kits where E. L. Moore built buildings from scratch using simple materials. Maybe this could be read as a sign of a further shift from the earlier ‘folk era’ of model railroading to our more consumer-oriented times.

Mr. Curren’s building projects were fascinating and I loved reading them. I also liked the newer presentation techniques that Model Railroader used to show how they were built. However, I never built any. For me, the problem was cost. Back then it would be a stretch to buy one kit let alone two – or possibly more – so kitbashing buildings wasn’t an option for me. I also had this weird conceptual thing going on in my head: I thought making HO scale buildings from plastic kits was somehow cheating, but kitbashing plastic automobiles and airplanes kits into dreadful monsters of my imagination was ok :-) Well, plastic car kits usually tended to be much cheaper than plastic buildings, so there was that cost aspect again.
Back in ’64 when Branch Line Station was published, lots of people wanted to build things fast and easy just like people do today, so I assume the Railroad Model Craftsman editors wanted to make sure those people didn’t punch out when they saw this project. But, going the fast and easy route usually means using special commercial products, so building costs go up even though assembly time goes down. I figured an N-scale version could be built for next to nothing from leftovers I had on hand given that the building is so tiny. So, I decided to just use what I had available, go as old-school as possible with construction, and not buy new stuff; however, I succumbed to temptation on a couple of occasions :-) I’ll try to point out where I went astray to give a better sense of what it cost to build this station.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t easy to figure out the true cost of this project, and it was more expensive than it appears :-)
The loading dock is cut from two scrap pieces of 1/16 inch balsa and joined with white glue. If you could buy just scraps of balsa, or a friend would give you theirs, this would be dead cheap to make, but the reality is that the scraps are leftovers from standard size 3 inch x 24 inch balsa sheets I bought one time for other projects. The cost saving only comes about from collecting cuttings instead of throwing them out. 
The next step was I panelled the balsa base with scale lumber. This is not cheap at all. A couple of years ago I bought a selection of Midwest brand scale lumber packs because I was thinking about building a number of HO scale wood structures and I thought I'd try my hand at prototypical construction methods. That never happened, so I had all that high quality basswood in my storage bin. So, in the spirit of using stuff up, I pulled some out and used Midwest #8003, .0208 x .0625 lumber to panel the deck. This size was chosen because it 'looked right'. A cheaper substitution would be 1/64 inch balsa strips. It wouldn't match the basswood exactly, but would be a fairly close approximation. Another alternative, is just to leave the base as is and maybe scribe in boards with a hard, sharp pencil.
At this stage all the scale boards are glued on - again, using regular, household white glue - and are waiting to be trimmed so the deck has nice, clean edges. That extra long board is a thin strip I had to sand to shape to fit into an odd shaped gap that arose because I didn't lay down all the boards with a lot of precision. 
You can see that the deck doesn't look too bad after the boards are trimmed. The walls were then cut to size according to the published plans from 1/32 inch sheet balsa scraps.The wall siding was scribed into the balsa with a sharp, 2H pencil. Window frames were made from #8001 Midwest basswood lumber - shavings of balsa from the edge of a sheet scrap could be used as a substitute.
Some 1/16 x 1/16 balsa sticks were glued to the inside of the long walls as reinforcement, and then all four walls were glued up into a box shape.
After the glue dried I placed the building on the deck to see how things were shaping up.
I went back to work on deck and added legs cut from 1/16 x 1/16 balsa strip - these aren't too scale-like, but have a chunky solidity that doesn't look too bad - and some trim around the perimeter cut from Midwest scale lumber. Some 1/64 inch balsa could substitute for the lumber.
Once the legs were completely dry, I lightly sanded the piece - legs down on the sandpaper - so that it stood evenly and firmly on all legs. That part went well, but then I did something dumb and blew away my good work. Mr. Moore suggests painting the base with a wash of raw sienna, so I figured I'd do the same. What little was left of my bottle of paint was completely hardened, so I bought a new one - extra cost here, but raw sienna is such a foundational colour, it'll get used again - thinned some out and washed it on. I figured since the wash was so thin, warping, if any, would be minimal. Wrong. After a few hours it was badly warped - it was raw wood after all - and I had to get out the industrial strength de-warper:
After much cursing, careful bending of the pieces back into shape with my fingers and re-gluing of snapped wood, it was placed for drying under the heaviest books I had. After sitting overnight, the loading dock was more-or-less back to normal....
.... more or less. To deal with the less part I dug up some scraps of 1/8 x 1/8 basswood strip and glued pieces to the underside to force it flat. I used super-glue for this part. Now it's flat and rigid and back to normal. If I hadn't been so cavalier with painting this thing I wouldn't have had this problem. My recommendation is: don't paint the base, but reinforce it with those underside strips and come back later with some pastel powder and weather with that.
On the other hand, painting the building went just fine. Likely because the wood was thicker, already reinforced a bit on the inside with strips, and I used thicker, acrylic paint. The inside was painted black to make the walls less translucent. You can see my wonky attempt at scratch building stairs from balsa shavings. This is why I left off the second set of stairs from the end of the long section of the loading dock. I need to practice this, or maybe just buy some N-scale stair castings. 
The bay window is made by first drawing the walls and windows onto a single, foldable piece of clear plastic scrap. I used one I saved from the lid of a box of Christmas chocolates. What I did was cut out the drawing, fold it into shape and hold it that way with some balsa trapezoids glued to the inside surfaces, and then finished by sticking all the trim and panels onto the outer surfaces.
To make sticking on trim less messy, I took some pre-painted strips of the thinnest Midwest lumber sticks and stuck them to a piece of transfer tape. Using a sharp knife, I traced around the stick, and when it came free it had a thin slice of transfer tape stuck to its back. Transfer tape is a gummy, thin double-sided tape. Well, it's more just a glue carrier than a tape. The lumber can then then be stuck in place by peeling away the paper carrier and then pressing in place. Sounds easy, but I found it a little tricky. I used this method to add the trim to the Grizzly Flats depot and it seemed to work ok. The pieces are still stuck on. On the economics end, a small roll of this tape cost $10 at an art supply store. I have a lot left, so it's good for many more projects, but for better economics, I'd recommend some medium thickness super glue - but, applying with glue could be tricky too. Maybe the actual message is that the bay window is rather tricky to build in N-scale using old-school methods, and the RMC editor's recommendation to use 3 commercial windows to build up the bay is better advice.
I didn't take any pictures during bay window assembly. I found it tricky and only did a few minutes work on it over several evenings. I didn't get it quite right, but in the end, I can live with the result - I've still got lots to learn about building things in N-scale. The photo above shows a test fitting of the building on the platform after the bay window was glued to the front wall.
After gluing the building to the platform, I installed a tiny 12v light. I had to buy a light - for an outrageous $2 at a hobby store because I wanted one immediately - because I had used up my stock on Caleb's Cabbage Company and building a fancy lighting fixture for The Noir. The yellow doors were again just scrap balsa that were cut to size, scribed, painted and glued in place.
With the warping platform experience fresh in my mind, I decided to make the roof panels from a scrap of 0.010 inch styrene sheet. Unlike Mr. Moore's model, I didn't make the roof removable. Before installing on the building, I painted the eaves and drilled a hole for the chimney. 
Like the Grizzly Flats depot project, I used brown wrapping paper to cut strips of shingles for gluing to the roof panels. E. L. Moore used balsa panels for his roof, and etched the shingles in with a wood burning tool. That green piece in the centre of the photo is the bay window roof panel.
Absent-minded shingle cutting lead to one of those rare model building related accidents that are talked about only in hushed settings :-) The x-acto knife rolled off my table, landed blade down into my leg, and then bounced to the floor. So, add one pair of pants to the cost of this build!
When everything was finally glued into place I used some pastels, ground out on a foam sanding block, to brush on a little weathering. A little goes a long way with these colours, so just apply a small amount at a time and build up. I bought these sets many years ago and only use a little at a time, so they could last the rest of my life. But, if you went out and bought a box for this project, it would be a pricy extra for this little build, but over the course of a lifetime hobby it becomes more economical. And I guess that maybe gets to the hidden message of the article: if you've been model making for a while, and have some scraps and leftovers and paints and tools and such on hand, then you've got the momentum to build new things with little additional expense. I've been model building and such on-and-off for around 12 years now, and have a small collection of leftovers that I'm always dipping into. Basically, there's 3 plastic storage bins with leftovers.
There's a long, flat one for wood and paper stuff.
A square, flat one for plastics.
And a large, rectangular one under the workbench with parts left over from plastic kits. I should be more organized, but this three box system has got a certain internal logic, and I can find stuff when I need it, so I don't get too obsessive about storage.
A gentleman I was put in contact with, who at one time was an employee at a hobby shop in Raleigh, North Carolina, were E. L. Moore bought his hobby supplies, told me that Mr. Moore bought very little when he came in: a few dollars worth of balsa and such and maybe a grain-of-wheat bulb or two. He wasn’t a big spender. I suspect he likely had his own stash of leftover stuff to help keep ongoing costs low.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Going through Mueller Tunnel

We did go through Mueller Tunnel to see what was on the other side. The tunnel itself was dank, dark and foreboding - a Mount Doom type scenario. But, it was short. The portal on the other side wasn't in as good a shape as the entrance and was heavily eroded. The lower photo gives a better idea of the sheerness of the drop into the canyon. I was surprised to meet two French mountain bikers on this road. The loose roadbed, stray boulders and at times narrow trail, didn't seem to bother them at all. When we crossed paths they greeted us with a cheery, "How do you like hiking in the clouds", and zoomed on their way. More power to them!

Friday, May 29, 2015

micro munich 2

This elaborately produced tilt-shift movie really gives the impression of a fully-functioning scale model streetcar layout, but in reality it is the real thing.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Secret Origins

While Ed Bryce was sorting out his recently inherited trolley shed, Madwood had discovered a new client - or more correctly, a new client had discovered him.

She got up, placed her purse on top of the box and picked the whole thing up. I opened the connecting door to the workshop and followed her in.

“You can put it there,” I directed while pointing to a spot on the workshop table for her to put to the box down.

That table is the room’s main feature and never fails to wow the clients. It stretches all the way from the waiting room door to the bay window overlooking the street at the other end. It’s a mad scientist’s Frankenstein dream: you could probably lay out three bodies end-to-end down its length and still have room for a few jars of Abby Normal brains. My needs are far less gothic: everything from train layouts to extra-large drawings to big 1/8-scale hotrod teardowns and rebuilds could be setup there. 

After she put the box down I invited her to have a seat in the bay window area. 

She looked around at the shelves and cabinets lining the walls as she walked over to the chairs. I went to the coffee maker by the sink.

“Would you like some coffee, tea or maybe some water?”, I asked.

“Coffee would be fine.”

There were some dregs left in the carafe. I decided to pour them down the drain and make a fresh pot.

While I busied myself making coffee, she glanced at the feed and seed mill on the table that I was finishing up, then surveyed the street outside the window before finally taking a seat. 

“I don’t see any diplomas or awards on the wall. How did you get into this business?” she asked as she watched me make coffee.

I was struggling to tear open a coffee packet and not have to resort to using my teeth and blow my figment of a cool, macho image. 

“It’s something I picked up during the war. It’s a long story.”, I replied as I tried to jab my fingers into the coffee packet that seemed to be made from stainless steel sheets. After a few seconds of determined clawing it opened without embarrassment and I proceeded to get coffee brewing. While the machine did its thing I walked over to the chair beside her and sat down.

“So, how did you get into this business?” she repeated.

“Well, Miss...?”, I thought I’d try the repeat thing too and fish again for her name.

“Jane Warden. Mrs. Jane Warden,” she clarified.

I leaned back a bit in my chair and glanced out the window at the quickly setting sun. For no good reason other than it seemed like a pleasant thing to sit here and talk, I decided to tell her the whole story. She could always tell me to pipe down.

I turned back to her and began, “Well, Mrs. Warden, after basic training I was assigned to Domestic Security and got sent up north to New Toronto. With a bunch of other junior agents I worked with the old boys, doing their grunt work and learning how to find spies.”

I could hear the coffee pot make the tell-tale noises that it was nearing the end of its brewing cycle, so I got up went over to the machine. Her eyes followed.

“After I was there a couple of months the brass started a big investigation into a suspected armory being run out of a cheese factory west of the city. One day they decided to send me and my boss out there in the middle of the night to see if we could get inside and look around. We hid in the bushes for a long time and when everything seemed ok we crawled over to a loading dock, climbed up and tried to pry open a window that didn’t look too secure.”

The coffee machine stopped making noises and puffed a last little bit of steam. I pulled out the pot and started to pour two cups.

“The next thing I knew I was waking up in a hospital bed.”

Her neutral expression and was replaced by surprise. “What happened?” she asked.

I grabbed the steaming cups and walked back to chairs, placed hers beside her on the table and sat down.

She reached for her cup and said, “Thanks.”

I forgot my manners and belatedly asked, “Would you like some milk or sugar?”

“No, this is alright.”

I took a sip and continued, “Turns out I’d been there for three days. They told me my boss was beaten to death and I was lucky to be alive.”

She took a tentative sip of the still steaming coffee and peered at me over the rim.

“They figured that whoever did it didn’t mean to kill us, just beat the crap out of us to send a message. Unfortunately, they didn’t know their own strength and when they realized what they’d done to my boss they ran and left us there. But, that’s all just guessing. Who knows what happened, or what they were thinking.”

Still no word from her to shut-up. She was leaning forward a bit. She wasn’t bored. “Did they catch those men?” she asked.

“No. Turns out the building was abandoned. Hadn’t been an armory for awhile. Don’t know who those guys were or what they were doing there.”

She drank some of her coffee.

I went on.

“It was a long time before we got scooped up and brought in. I spent three months in the hospital and eight more in and out of rehab. One of the things they had me do was build aircraft recognition models to help bring back control in my hands. It was interesting, but I was still very stiff. I also did a stint with some other guys building one of those ground layout boards that the brass use to plan their battles with toy tanks and things. After that I was assigned a desk job in DS. I guess they wanted to get their investment back from fixing me instead of giving me a discharge.”

I drank some of my coffee. It was getting cold. 

“Can I get you a top up?” I asked her.

“Yes, please,” she replied.

I took her mug and walked over to the machine for a refill.

On the way she asked, “Did you get more training after the war?”

While pouring a little black gold into the cups I continued with my monologue, “After it was over I got a job at a model making company. I learned a lot, but we worked like dogs. Lots of unpaid overtime and weekends. It ended after about a year when I decided to take a weekend off and go to my uncle’s funeral. I got fired on the Monday. Wasn’t a team-player.” I still can’t say that last part without a slightly sarcastic impression of my ex-manager’s voice.

I walked back over to the chairs, and found that I could indeed walk and talk at the same time, “Then I got a job making dioramas at a museum. Great job. Great people. Terrible pay. I couldn’t make ends meet. I quit and got a job driving a shuttle tram at an old DS buddy’s company. Better pay, but more long hours.”

After handing her her cup I sat down. The sun was dipping below the horizon.

I was on a roll.

“One day things turned around. I was driving an older guy from the train station to a big model railroad show in the city. We got to talking and he suggested I call him about doing a restoration job with his company on some rich guy’s gigantic model train layout. That was the break that eventually lead to this.” I swept my free arm around with a grand flourish to show her the splendor of my office. It was splendid.

I rested my mug, and my case, on the arm of my chair. She had followed my ramblings with surprising interest. Most people usually have turned to stone by now or escaped via a convenient trapdoor. 

But, enough is enough.

“What’s in the box?”

Part 4 of this chair griping series can be found here.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mueller Tunnel

Last weekend we were in Los Angeles. I had a plan to hike Mt. Lowe and see whatever there was to see of the Mt. Lowe Railway ruins. Long story short: things happened, plans changed, but we did hike a little on Mt. Lowe Road. To get there we drove up the Angeles Crest Highway - a small adventure in and of itself - and then along the Mount Wilson Road in the San Gabriel Mountains. The Mueller Tunnel in the opening picture is on the Mt. Lowe Road. Although it's called a road, it's only hike-able. The cliffs are more or less vertical at the tunnel, and it seemed that one false step on the loose road bed and you'd fall into Eaton Canyon on the left and never be heard from again - sounds like a premise of a murder mystery :-) The altitude at the tunnel entrance is around 5,200 ft, and that day the entire road was enveloped in dense cloud. The next day saw us back at sea-level in Huntington Beach. No clouds, just the sun that the Los Angeles area is famous for. I'll give the Mt. Lowe trails another try next year. Hopefully I'll be smarter and have more time.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Dusting off the T'rantula

Tom Daniel's T'rantula dragster - a Monogram model - was the first model kit I built as a kid. I think my parents bought it for me. As the years went on it was cannibalized to make other custom car models. Whatever was left was eventually tossed out, or given to my cousin in order to clear things out prior to a move. 

I bought a re-release of the kit a couple of years ago and started to build it last summer. Ok, "started to build it" is a bit of a stretch. I bought some Colors by Boyd Lime Pearl to spray it with, glued a few engine components together, and then pushed it to the back of the workbench as I started on some other projects. A few weeks ago I dusted it off and started again. It's about half done, so it's likely to get finished. Soon I hope :-)
Those are the engine parts from the truncated first round of building last summer. They're quite well molded. This is one of the few projects where I didn't start by immediately stripping off all the chrome plating.
That's the body all glued up and drying in the dish rack after a little washing with soap and water. The tricky part was figuring out what to do about the interior and roof. After much head scratching, I built-up and painted the interior, then installed it and covered it with masking tape. The roof was then glued on and the roof-body seam was sanded out until smooth.
I used a bent coat-hanger as a paint stand and sprayed the body in the backyard on a nice day. Wrapping the interior with masking tape worked well and kept the interior from being coated with green paint. However, I had to be extra careful in pealing off the tape to make sure the steering wheel, shifter and pedals didn't get broken.

William Zinsser and Writing to Learn

Last week I heard that the great writer and teacher William Zinsser died recently. Years ago I bought a copy of his book Writing to Learn. I hadn't looked at it in a long time, so I pulled it off the shelf and thumbed through it. As well as realizing that I have a lot to learn, I came across this passage,

Also notice what a pleasure it is to be in the company of a writer with enthusiasm for his subject. It doesn't matter what the subject is; I want an ichthyologist to be as committed to fish as Mayor is to prints - to make me think there's nothing more important to him. This is the personal connection that every reader wants to make with a writer; if we care about the writer we'll follow him into subjects that we could have sworn we never wanted to know about. The blind attachment of a hobbyist to his hobby is as interesting a life force as the hobby itself.

As I've been reading through everything I can find written by E. L. Moore, George Allen, Raymond Frankenberger, and Bart Crosby it's clear its the enthusiasm that comes through and keeps me turning pages. Writing to Learn is worthing getting, and I'm likely to be re-reading it through the summer.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Sarsaparilla, 1 p Per Glass

I’ve known about this photo of my Great-aunt Sarah – known to all as Cissy; her middle name was Cecila – for quite awhile. She’s the woman on the left, and was likely around 16 when the photo was taken, I’ve always been impressed by the massiveness of this Lancashire building were the family herbalist shop was housed. Big blocks. Chunky window frames. This photo was probably taken in 1906 shortly before it was closed. Soon thereafter her brothers immigrated to North Carolina; she, her sister and parents immigrated to Rochester, NY in 1906.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Gone to the country

When we last saw Ed Bryce he was standing on a subway platform in New Toronto contemplating how to turn in the mastermind of the Light Ray Blues affair when a speeding train resolved the problem with grim finality. Time has passed. The city has been traded for the country. At least temporarily. 

It was a dark and stormy night - in my soul.

Outside it was sunny. Bright. Warm. Green grass. Gentle breezes. Tall trees. Blue skies. Bug-free. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Bambi prancing in the meadow behind the shed.

I was away from the city in the wilds of the Hasting Highlands. Nothing but me and trees and fields and one old trolley shed.

My grandma left me her trolley shed in her will along with the postage stamp sized piece of land it was on. In the two years it’d been officially mine it just stood out here locked up; silently looking abandoned; waiting. With the divorce and everything going on at the agency I never got out here to have a look. I was 17 the last time I saw it. A lifetime ago. Back then I thought I was too cool for trolleys. I’d grown out of that kid stuff. But now I was glad she saw through all that and left it to me.

I guess there isn’t anything particularly special about it: four walls and a peaked roof. Double doors on the front and a little shuttered window at the back. A handcar shed on steroids. Rails going in the doors and running out to the backcountry trail mainline complete with its own overhead power line. A nice touch so I didn’t have to push the trolley out to the mainline. 

Grand-dad built it at the time when people were getting rid of their handcars as the backcountry rail-trails were being electrified for personal trolleys. Before electrification all that handcar pumping meant the typical person you stumbled across along the rails had biceps the size of country-hams Today most look like it’d be a strain to lift a latte to their lips. But, with an electrified line, you can take the coffee machine with you, so there’s an upside.

The shed was looking a little rough. The paint was more or less worn away and it needed a new roof, but with any luck the little trolley was still inside wrapped in an old tarp. Trolley is kind of a fancy word for this thing. The one in there is a small flat car equipped with an electric four-wheel truck with a big pole sticking up through the middle of the floor with the trolling arm on top. Oh, and there’s an accelerator and brake. That’s it. It’s barely legal to run on the inter-track.

After I arrived I spent the morning hacking back the overgrowth to get the doors open and some of the track clear. I’d packed in enough supplies to see me through a few days out here. If I could start up the trolley, I’d go into town, get some building materials, stock up on food, and then spend a week or so sprucing up the place and wandering around the bush. There used to be an abandoned observatory and blimp hanger back there. I thought I still knew the switching pattern to get there. I’d see if my memory is any good.

I’ll say one thing for grand-dad, he built the most bullet-proof trolley shed imaginable. It looked like kids had tried to kick the door open. I could see some boot prints in the door sheathing, but the hinges and locks were intact. Not bent. Not nothing. That door didn’t budge. But, after I had the undergrowth cleared back, and the keys were turned in the locks, the doors swung open as  smoothly as the day he hung them. 

There was years of dust covering everything inside, but all the equipment and knick-knacks they used over the years to enjoy the summers were neatly arranged like they had just closed up for winter in anticipation of an early and easy opening the following spring. The opening that never came. Grand-dad died after a massive heart attack a few days after Christmas. Grandma never came up here again. She followed him a couple of years later. This was the first time this place had been opened after their last summer here. I hope I could remember all their procedures for getting things up and running. Well, grandma didn’t trust her memory or anyone else’s, so she always pinned a list of things to do to get set up - let’s see - ah, here it is, right above the switch box for the power and phone service just as always.

In her neat little script was step one: turn on the power and phone.

Two more keys: one blue, one red. I flipped the cover back on the switch box, inserted and turned the blue key to turn on the power. Waiting. Waiting. Ah, the little blue light came on, meaning the good folks at hydro-fusion were good to send me some electrons. 

Now for the phone. I inserted the red key in the phone slot and turned. I crossed my fingers. Bingo. The red light for the phone popped on. I had power and I had phone. And I had an outhouse out back. It looked like I was staying for awhile.

At least that’s what I thought at the time.

Part 3 in this electrifying series can be found here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Specialist

I’d like to thank Lou Keister for tipping me off to the vaudevillian Charles 'Chic' Sale and his book The Specialist about a fellow named Lem Putt, whose specialty is building outhouses. This work appears to be the inspiration for E. L. Moore’s outhouse builds. I need to buy a copy of the book, but in the meantime have a look at this charming – and very well preserved - 1966 film based on the book made by Heald-Sampson and starring Bernard Miles as Lem.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Metropolis II

Metropolis II isn’t a layout in the traditional model railroad sense, but it does capture the frenetic energy and insanity of our modern urban world. No doubt about that. I was saddened to hear that its maker, the pioneering performance artist, Chris Burden, died over the weekend. Metropolis II was but one piece in a long and successful artistic career. You can get a sense of his life and work at these articles in the LA Times  and NY Times.
{post updated on 12 May 2015.}

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Building 'round a trolley

I was wandering around the city earlier this morning and saw this. That's clearly not an actual trolley, just a trolley inspired structure for the entry. Looks alright. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Model Railroad Right of Way

[The Model Railroad Right of Way by Oliver Wilson Whitwell, published by The Modelmaker Corporation, 1935. I bought this well preserved copy a couple of weeks ago for $20 US]

But remember those good long articles by George Allen ... they were long and strung out but intensely interesting. However, there aren’t too many George Allen’s around and incidentally I wonder what became of him.
E. L. Moore wonders what became of George Allen in his sales letter for 1973’s Bunn’s Feed and Seed to Model Railroader.
[About a quarter of the book's pages are dedicated to excellent line drawings such as these of tunnel openings. To me, this alone makes the book worthwhile. Both US and UK practices are covered.]

Discovering, among other things, we would have to build three culverts, we searched high and low for data. Our files not only failed to reveal a single sketch, but neither of us were in the mood to spend a raw, cold Saturday afternoon measuring some out on the wild moors of Long Island. Then I remembered Oliver Whitwell Wilson’s Model Railroad Right of Way (by the by, where is he these days?)
George Allen in Chapter 7 of 50,000 Spikes: Getting into the Groove with a River, a Mill, a Swampy Swamp, a Few Culverts... and a Waterfall That “Flows” Without Water from the April 1942 issue of Model Railroader wonders what became of Oliver Whitwell Wilson.
[There are also many photos of Mr. Whitwell's International Midland Railway used to illustrate the concepts. That bridge across Devil's Gulch isn't representative of the high quality modelling shown in the photos, but I was rather attracted to its quasi-abstract style. It must have been a distinctive feature on his layout.]

... I discuss the right of way and its problems. In order that the book can be complete as far as it goes, bridges and actual buildings are not considered. It does include, however, the background of the picture, the landscaping, tunnel mouths, culverts, fences and many another incidental unit which should line the right of way.
Oliver Wilson Whitwell introduces what his book is about in the Preface.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Y and E, Rochester, NY, April 1922

This Rochester street scene did have a date penciled in the album: 16 April 1922. The internet tells me it was a Sunday.The elliptical sign hanging above the black awning in the centre of the photo says: Y and E. That stands for Yawman and Erbe. They were manufacturers of high quality file cabinets in Rochester that got their start sometime in the 1890s, and were a major, thriving company by the time this photo was taken. This scene seems an odd subject for a picture. Maybe it was that large window, or what was in the window, that was intended subject. I must admit that window is impressive and would make for an excellent feature on a model. 

Persistence of Memory

I’m slowing down a little on E. L. Moore related posts as I prepare to meet with a number of collectors and Mr. Moore’s step-son in the summer. In the meantime I’ve been wandering through old family albums and ephemera. I was rather surprised to see this drawing in the August 1974 issue of CARtoons by Jerry Barnett that I bought in some Scarborough smoke shop many years ago.
[Jerry Barnett's original from the Aug '74 issue of CARtoons. His looks like it's based on a '70s Ford Ranchero, not a Chevy El Camino like I used.]
Around 10 years ago when I got back into model building and model railroading I built this El Camino conversion (I’d do many things on this build differently these days, but I still like it). Imagine my surprise when I saw that old cartoon from ’74. All I can say is that I didn’t consult it before the build started, but I was sure surprised to see it again a few nights ago. I guess things stick deep in the memory and don’t let go.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A tall ship and a water-slide

The photos in this stash are a complete mystery to me. I only have suspicions about the when and where. Taking a guess, I'd say this one was taken, once again near Rochester, New York, likely on the shore of Lake Ontario, maybe sometime from the late 1910s to sometime in the 1920s. I have no idea what that large structure is off to the left of centre. For a minute I thought it might be the 'water-slide' like structure in the photo below, but on closer inspection one can see that that they aren't the same thing. The lower photo came from a different album, and the original is only around 5 cm by 2 cm in size!