Saturday, August 22, 2015

E. L. Moore's Legacy in the 21st Century: Raymond Frankenberger and the E. L. Moore Style

When I started this series on E. L. Moore I'd heard of the old magazine Model Trains, but had never read any issues. I'd never even seen any except in photos on the internet. Model Trains was one of Mr. Moore’s main outlets early in his career. As I hunted up issues where his work appeared, I got hooked. There was no looking back. I was enchanted with Model Trains’ layout, calm ‘50s style, and editorial tone. Surprisingly, for a magazine ostensibly aimed at beginners in its later years, it contains a lot of advanced content, and some projects are decidedly not beginner-level, or at least not beginner-level by today’s standards. I branched out a bit and bought some issues on trolleys and traction and other topics that caught my interest. I guess I own around a third of Model Trains' output, so there is the other two-thirds I’m looking forward to reading one day.
[Centre spread from Raymond Frankenberger's Drag, Man? that appeared in the January 1957 issue of Model Trains. It's all story. No how-to. No layout tour. No nothing of the usual. Just a story with integrated photos.]

In the January 1957 issue of Model Trains I came across an unusual article by Raymond Frankenberger called Drag, Man?. It’s unusual because it’s not a how-to, or a layout tour, or a prototype discussion, or any other sort of standard article type one expects to see in a model railroading magazine. What it is, is a 3-page piece of fiction about some teenage boys who decide to drag race two steam locomotives [1]. It's just a story. Nothing more, nothing less. Think American Graffiti with trains. The action takes place on Mr. Frankenberger’s Pen Arden ND layout – ND for ‘No Diesels’ – and includes photos of some key events staged with HO scale locos and figures. This kind of article is rare, and more-or-less extinct today [2]. 

E. L. Moore wrote a quasi-historical fiction in this vein called The Centennial Celebration of the Golden Spike Laying at Promontory Point, Utah that appeared in the May 1969 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. It was about the exploits of Lucifer Penroddy Snooks, his 'great-grandfather', while he photographed the events at the transcontinental railroad’s golden spike ceremony in 1869. And as we know, Mr. Moore frequently wrapped his how-to articles in a fictional story to set the scene. Did E. L. Moore follow Raymond Frankenberger’s lead? Maybe it was vice versa? Maybe it was simply two independent writers following their own paths, or indulging in writing articles that weren’t too out-of-line for their times? I can’t say for sure, but I was curious and tried to track down more articles by Mr. Frankenberger [3].
[Introduction to New factory for the Pen Arden Road by Raymond Frankenberger, Model Trains, December 1958.]
New factory for the Pen Arden Road, in the December 1958 issue of Model Trains was one I found, and I was surprised to see how stylistically similar it was to what I think is a classic E. L. Moore article. There’s a woven-in fictional story to set the scene, the building is relatively straightforward to build from common hobby materials of the day – but, no balsa :-) - and the building is an attractive, selectively-compressed version of something one might see out in the world.
[The Diaz Contemporary Gallery in Toronto. I took the photo in July 2013]
However, unlike an E. L. Moore project, this one is modern – well, modern for the 1950’s. Mr. Frankenberger's factory reminded me of the Diaz Contemporary Gallery in Toronto where I saw some Kim Adams pieces a couple of years ago. The factory - with a twist - seemed like a good project for Tor-N-to: a side street gallery along the streetcar route housed in a repurposed light industrial building from an earlier era. So after my usual long period of waffling, one day I decided to jump in and build an N-scale version of the Mr. Frankenberger's Pen Arden factory, but using styrene instead of wood.
In the article, Mr. Frankenberger’s approach to construction reminded me of the small buildings game. In the game, the idea is to use odd parts – for example, out-of-scale windows and doors, kitchen tiles, parts from plastic car models or any other non-model structure stuff you find interesting – to make a small building that could possibly exist, but doesn’t. Mr. Frankenberger built his factory using standard Northeastern basswood pieces, not to scratch build with them, but to use as elements to glue up as is – cut to length of course – to construct a modern looking building. At the end of the article he encourages readers to take those materials and play with them to see what they can come up with [4]. I didn’t carry the small buildings game into my build. Mine’s more-or-less a standard scratch building project, but using older techniques closer to the Frankenberger and Moore era than to ours.
I started by drawing the walls in N-scale. There aren't any plans in the article, just what amount to some diagrams that show how to glue the basswood stock together combined with some rather detailed instructions in the text. The diagrams are 1/2 HO scale, which is quite close to N, so they make extrapolating N scale plans a little easier. I figured I'd lay out the wall pieces and windows directly on the plan.
Since the model in the article is made by gluing together pre-cut stock, I decided to cut standard size pieces of 0.020 inch styrene and glue them up in a similar approach as was used in the original. Some cut strips are lying on the magazine in the above photo.I used the same technique for building up the Fortran building. In retrospect, I could have just used sheet styrene and cut window openings out of the wall rectangles.
Here are the strips being laid on the plan and glued together. Liquid glue was used. Once the joints were dry some sanding was needed to clean up the joints and even out everything.
At this point all the strips had been glued up into complete walls. I started to test their fit. The floor was cut from a piece of 0.040 inch styrene sheet.
The walls were glued to the floor with styrene tube glue, which was also used to glue the walls together at the corners. Corner trim strips were cut from 0.010 in styrene, and the ledge strip that runs along the top of walls is 0.020 in x 0.020 in strip stock.
Along the upper inside edge of the walls I glued in some L-angle styrene strip for setting the roof on. The roof is also a piece of 0.020 inch sheet, but it's just set on the L-angle, not glued in place to allow for access to the interior.
This photo gives you a little better view of the roof ledge. 
The entrance was a little tricky to cut and fit. There's two walls, both with entrance doors, set at right-angles to each other. These walls are cut from 0.010 inch sheet styrene. 
Here's the front facade after the remaining trim pieces have been glued on. Strip stock of 0.020 x 0.020 inch was glued on the top and bottom of the window edges. All wall corners have been trimmed with 0.010 inch strips.
Here's the short side that abuts the entry. That's a large, unbroken window on the end.
And here's the other end. It has two separate windows. In this photo you can see a roof top thingie poking above the corner. It's half of an HO-scale roof-top blower from a set of Walther's roof details. 
Once the basic building was assembled, I used the plan to lay out the windows. I cut a piece of overhead transparency film, taped it over the plan, and traced the window frames onto the sheet with a fine-tipped Sharpie marker. In order to get the right amount of opaqueness, I lined both sides of the clear film. When done, these 'window walls' were cut free from the excess film.
Thin strips of gray construction paper were cut to frame the windows. These lay-ups form the inner walls and eventually they get glued to the inside of the building.
Here's one end wall where the paper strips have been trimmed. Now it's ready to glue to its styrene partner.
Before gluing the interior walls, the building was painted. In retrospect, the colour is a bit too intense, and will need some pastel powders to weather it a bit and take the edge off. In its current state, consider it a new coat of paint on an old building that wants to make a strong impression on passers-by :-)
The inside surface of the roof has an LED light strip cut from the reel I bought for Gecko Records. All I had to do was solder on a pair of leads and it was ready for installation.
The LED strip has an adhesive strip on the back, so just peel off the protective paper and press the lights to the roof interior to attach.I glued styrene U-section strips to either side to block a little of the light from coming out the front and back windows.
A hole was drilled in the floor for the light's wires to pass through.
A short section of styrene tube was glued over the hole so that the wires are hidden from view.
You can put 12v DC across the LEDs, but even with a 9v battery, the LEDs give off a good light.
Next was to fit out the interior. The paintings were cut from damaged old postage stamps. Two examples are shown above glued to a cardboard backing - the same gray card that was used to panel the inside walls.
That long painting is a cutting from a catalog photo. Those cylinders are fittings for making bolo ties - they have just the right size.
With the roof on and the lights lit, it doesn't look too bad. Well, I don't know if I'd want to stare down a cat that big :-)
One of the last things was to install the gallery initials over the entrance area. Mr. Frankenberger cut the sign letters for his model from HO-scale ladder stock, so I decided to do the same.
And that's about it construction-wise.
All that was left to do was print off some signs and glue them on near the entrance.
Some toning down on the colour is in order once it takes up residence on Tor-N-to, but there'll be no ignoring it once it's in place :-)

[1] I thought Mr. Frankenberger's locomotive drag racing story was completely fictional, but it turns out at one time drag racing model locomotives was a thing. Louis Hertz tells the tale in his book, The Complete Book of Model Raceways and Roadways,
[A 5 lane train drag racing setup from pg. 217 of The Complete Book of Model Raceways and Roadways.]

Model train racing was regarded solely as a historical curiosity, a forerunner of slot racing, when the first edition of this book was published [JDL: the first edition was published in 1964]. Today, however, to the surprise of some, model train racing has appeared as an active hobby once again, and the races run under the sponsorship of the Toy Train Operating Society, a national organization but founded and with its chief base of operation on the west coast, have attracted considerable interest. Somewhat curiously, present-day train racing has not followed its former pattern of racing two trains on identical continuous layout, but instead has developed in the form of racing on parallel straight tracks, much akin to automobile drag racing. However, whereas in automobile drag racing only two lanes are ever used, the model train racing usually makes use of from three to five parallel tracks. Train racing is customarily done only with locomotives, or, occasionally, with very short trains. In many cases obsolete locomotives, with the motors repaired, cleaned, and tuned up for the purpose are used; in some instances modern train equipment is raced.
Louis H. Hertz, pg. 217-218, The Complete Book of Model Raceways and Roadways, revised edition, Crown Publishers, 1967.

[2] Writing a fictional background history for a layout isn’t new or unusual, but a layout fiction that's more like a short story that includes characters with speaking parts is. I can’t say the past was rife with this sort of thing because I haven’t seen a lot of examples, but what little there was seems to be all but gone in our more pragmatic, just-the-facts-ma’am age. Maybe it was common in earlier ages; maybe what we see in earlier model railroading literature was inspired by stories in the old Railroad pulp magazine; maybe it was simply a quirk of a few eccentric writers and nothing more.
[That's a Raymond Frankenberger photo on the cover of the March 1959 issue of Model Trains]
E. L. Moore appears to be the one writer who’s used this device the most, but even with him, not all of his writings make use of novelization. Raymond Frankenberger appears to have dabbled in it, and his Drag, Man ? is one of the best examples of the genre. I was surprised that even the editor of Model Trains noted on Mr. Frankenberger’s March 1959 cover photo that he had a special talent in that area,

He  also delights in writing fantasies such as this: "It wasn't until after he took the pic that our enterprising photog got the shakes. He slipped as he jumped from the path of the onrushing monsters, and aged considerably as he lay in the ditch while hundreds of wheels ground ominously on the rails within arm's reach."
Willard Anderson notes the tale that Raymond Frankenberger wrote to explain his cover photo on the March 1959 issue of Model Trains
The April 1980 issue of Railroad Modeler had an article in this genre called Big Tujunga's Secret Project. A humourous piece clearly targeted for the traditional April Fool’s serving often seen in various forms in old model railroad magazines.

Joseph Wilhelm used novelization in his Buffalo River and Empire layout tour series that appeared in Model Trains. The March 1954 instalment is a good example.

I haven’t seen other examples, but I still have a lot of good reading ahead of me, so I’m hoping there are further surprises to be found.

[3] Here's a list of Raymond Frankenberger publications I've found so far.

This Could be Verse
A letter to the editor instructing the readership in how to build a custom locomotive using a 6 line poem (!) and a photo in Model Railroader, August 1956.

Trixie the Trollop from the Thames (Custom-build a kit locomotive)
Model Trains, December 1956

Drag, Man?
Model Trains, January 1957

How to make a diner out of a combine
Model Trains, February 1957

Freelanced Pacifics on the Pen Arden Railroad
Railroad Model Craftsman, February 1957

Photo of an area of Raymond Frankenberger's layout
Stop, look and listen section of Model Trains, Fall 1957
(note, there's also an E. L. Moore photo in this section of the village of Eagleroost on his Eagleroost and Koontree RR)

New Factory for the Pen Arden Road
Model Trains, December 1958

Photo of an area of Raymond Frankenberger's layout
Stop, look and listen section of Model Trains, January 1958
(note, there's also an E. L. Moore photo in this section of his Eagleroost and Koontree RR)

Cover photo
Model Trains, March 1959

Become a Knight of the Train Table
Model Trains, September 1959.
(note, E. L. Moore's The light fantastic article - about building a low cost light fixture for your layout that can simulate both day and night - also appears in this issue)

[4] I stumbled across this photo of a light industrial area on Mr. Frankenberger's layout in Model Trains.

[This picture of a section of Raymond Frankenberger's layout appeared in the Stop, look and listen section of Model Trains {JDL: I've misplaced the issue this photo appeared in, so I'll update the post with date information when I find it}. I've added the arrow in the upper right to indicate what looks like the factory from the New Factory for the Pen Arden Road article. The other factories are in a similar style, and the photo suggests Mr.Frankenberger did a lot of scratchbuilding to produce this light industrial area. Like E. L. Moore photos, this one is carefully staged, lit, and includes a background mural that seamlessly integrates into the foreground scene.]

The editor points out the large number of automobiles in the parking lots. And it's true, the lots are full, as they would be on a typical workday. That's a notable slice of realism in this scene, but the thing that struck me is that he got the spacing of the buildings, parking lots, rail sidings and roads right. Although the buildings have a selective compression feel, the elements in the scene aren't all squished together. The balance and proportions of the overall scene is right. There's even more open field in the centre for further expansion.


  1. After a summer playing outside, the days are growing shorter and my model railroad begins to call to me. Usually, something of interest jump starts my interest in the hobby again and this time I had the good fortune to reconnect with your blog J.D. How Fun to have all this wonderful E.L. Moore stuff to catch up on. Kudos to you for encouraging the caretakers of E.L.'s models to offer them up for photography and inspiration and thanks to them for preserving them and sharing them with us. I'm going to enjoy getting back up to speed.

    1. Thanks for the kind words Lou! It's been fun going down this path and I'm looking forward to more surprises in the future.

  2. i know this blog entry is a bit dated, but if Anyone can make this happen, it's you.
    Q: the list of articles above notes a Diner From a Combine. would there be any chance that could be posted?

    i had this magazine - my older cousin's hand me downs - when i was about 8 or 9, and that article was one of the things which has always stuck in my mind. thanks (either way!)

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