Thursday, December 3, 2015

An E. L. Moore letter from 50 years ago today

During the course of the year I’ve had the great pleasure of communicating with a gentleman who has a number of E.L. Moore's letters and manuscripts. He is generously allowing me to read and scan them. That’s going to keep me occupied well into 2016, but as I was reading through some of the material recently I was struck by this letter from 50 years ago to the day. It’s to Willard (Andy) Anderson who was a longtime editor of Model Trains and was then on staff at Model Railroader. It’s the best statement I’ve seen so far from E. L. Moore himself about his life and philosophy while he was in what, in retrospect, was one of the most prolific and creative periods of his model railroading career - and he was 67 at the time. If you can handle some rather tame ribald humour, politically incorrect asides, and ancient office politics on the side, I highly recommend reading this enlightening letter.

The 3rd day December
Year of 1965

Willard V. Anderson
Managing Editor
Model Railroader

Well sir . . . . . .

It’s happy I am to have an excuse to write my favorite editor. Ex-editor, that is. When Model Trains died, something very needful passed out. But there’s no need to flog an ailing horse -- if it doesn’t pull the load it should, shoot it.

That little book, Bridges and Buildings, is well gotten up, nice to look at, and a handy reference manual to have. Thanks a lot for sending me a copy. Nice to be selected to aospot [sic] in it.

Since retiring a couple of years ago I’ve been living the life you dream about -- if you dream my dreams. No travel, but what the hell, I’ve been to most of the places I’ve wanted to see, and how much nicer to sit in bed with a book and travel with the author and yet suffer none of the discomforts -- no insect bites, no rushing about, no tipping problems, no hunger -- should the author tempt me with ravishing dishes I merely get up, travel to the kitchen, and concoct something maybe less delectable but as thoroughly satisfying. No idiot box to annoy me -- nor its counterpart, a wife. No car to worry me, nor again no licenses, no taxes, no repairs. I wouldn’t have the damned telephone (which I consider nuisance number one) except for my teen aged daughter who likes to call me occasionally, and who needs a phone like all teenagers, when she visits me. I’m like the Englishman -- I’d a heap ruther write a letter than to telephone, even locally. I think, sometimes if I only had a little place in the country where I wouldn’t be jammed up against neighbors -- but then again I’ve grown soft and this pushbutton heat and all the other comforts have rotted my core.

I take a great delight in putting off things until tomorrow or a couple of days after that ... but I find they all eventually get done. I pity the poor damned writer who says he can’t wait for “inspiration” but has to dog it regular hours every day. Me, I just write what I damned please and when I damned please and that’s the way I like it. Occasionally I even get up as early as seven o’clock. This morning it was nearly ten. I like to read until one or two and maybe later. And ... occasionally I start building something and the time slips by and it’s midnight. Between reading, modeling, and walking, I manage somehow to find a livable life.

But you just hang on -- one day you’ll reach that good old ripe age, where if you don’t have dropsy, hay-fever, fallen arches or a nagging old wife, you too can be happy. Some folks just can’t slow down enough to enjoy retirement. I read somewhere, years ago, that every man should, at some time in his life, have ten years in which he lives as he would like to live. I’ve had something over that quota and it’s still going smoothly.

Now I imagine if Mr. Zip ever retires he’s going to be a miserable lost soul. Or isn’t that what you call Linn? Now my friend Bill Rau will make it OK . . .  almost looks as though his grind there is putting some gray hairs in his head. Give him a dig for me.

Again this fall I decided maybe I’d get rid of that 4x6 Elizabeth Valley. I turn on the lights, pull back the dusty plastic cover, then for no good reason at all clean up the tracks and give her a try. Once a year, I do this. Nostalgia gets me, and I decide not to bother to sell it. But out in another room I’ve got a railroad yard about the same size which served as a basis for an article and photographs Linn accepted last spring -- and I don’t need two railroads, neither of them operating in the strict sense, because I’m not much interested in operations. I merely like to build and photograph the results, then I’m through, except maybe to write an article about it. I have a little cat trouble now and then but I’ve pretty well taught ‘em (my two black ones) that there are two places out of bounds. My eating table and the railroads. I thought my closet was out of bounds too, but I find I have four jet black little babes there -- going to be just the right age when my daughter comes at Christmas, about six weeks, and she’ll be thrilled.

Cold up thar? Just nicey-nice here, no cold yet. Reading, the other day about Vermonters. Fella said they didn’t have no regular bath nights like on a Saturday night. Said a lot of them never bathed at all in the winter. Told of one old fella who lived alone -- cold weather come he’d let his chickens come in and roost in the living room. But he had a certain sense of neatness. Bedtime come he would always turn around those who roost on the back of the sofa in which he bedded down, so they faced front, tails to the wall.

Just one more and we’ll be at the bottom of the page. “Farmer reported to his village pastor that he had lost a heifer, and would he make a note of it at sunday’s meeting. After Sunday’s sermon the minister first announced that Sister Smith was soon to be married and it would be nice to arrange a party in her honor. The old farmer was somewhat deaf and thought the parson was talking about his lost cow. So he rose and said, ‘And you might tell ‘em she has three teats and a black spot on her belly, too’ “

That about cleans up everything .... And so,

A MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU and all your illegitimates.

signed E. L. Moore

Frankly, based on other rather thoughtful letters between Mr. Moore and Mr. Westcott, I don’t think it was Mr. Westcott himself that Mr. Moore was poking fun at, but with the personality traits and work habits needed to successfully run a national magazine. Yeah, it’s a magazine about model railroads, but it’s still a business. It has to increase readership, woo advertisers and make a profit. Those things aren’t too compatible with an easy going attitude and a life outside the mainstream. Although, E. L. Moore’s lifestyle and approach produced a fascinating body of work. I speculate that Mr. Moore might have liked to have seen some sort of Model Trains variant out there that spanned skill levels, had a focus on straight ahead modelling, writing, stories, and photographs instead of technology, reaching for fine-scale standards, product promotion and simulating real-life train operations. I’m not a technophobe, but I wouldn’t mind seeing such a magazine myself; however, I’m not holding my breath. And for the sake of full disclosure, I must admit my own personality traits are more Mr. Zip on steroids than Moorian mellow even though I’d like a mind like still water backed up with Zen-like calm :-)

Here, exactly 50 years later in the 21st century, life, and this hobby too, are even more driven. A relaxed and easy-going approach, even for retirees and hobbyists, are neither consensus reality nor mainstream norm. 

From the few letters I’ve seen so far there’s interesting discussions on materials, the influence of George Allen and Frank Ellison, the rise of technology driven model railroading, the demise of story telling, the writing life, promotion of products, friendship, the problems of beginners, how the 1900 era short line engine terminal came to be, anecdotes about his early life, and books read, among other things. They’re sort of an alternative history of mid-20th century model railroading, or, maybe, a running commentary on the zeitgeist of that far-off time that laid the foundation of our own. Hopefully I can get a handle on them in 2016.


  1. Looking forward to more Moore. Thank you for this legacy you are bringing to light.

    As to your pining for a magazine such as Model Trains, doesn't the internet offer what you describe? "...spanned skill levels, ... a focus on straight ahead modelling, writing, stories, and photographs instead of technology, reaching for fine-scale standards, product promotion and simulating real-life train operations. I’m not a technophobe, but I wouldn’t mind seeing such a magazine myself;..." Sure, it comes with a load of crap too, and we have to do the editor's job of sifting through it all (or shoveling). But the good bits are out there, and your site fits the bill nicely.


    1. Hi Galen,
      You're right the internet is the thing. For awhile now my main source for all things model railroading have been freely accessible blogs, sites, forums and so on. I'm finding what individuals have to say is more interesting than much packaged material. Although, I have a nostalgia for paper. Many of the magazine from the UK are quite interesting. And I always buy whatever is for sale from MR, RMC, MR, etc in August as that's when I first saw an ELM article :-)

  2. Thanks for posting that, I've read it twice. A good example of the lost art of letter writing (joke notwithstanding!). Using little bits of everyday chit chat to discuss deeper things in life. Reminds me of the style Hemingway used in his personal letters.

    1. He's definitely got his own style and it has a rhythm to it. They're not all this well structured, but they're not bland that's for certain!

  3. This is wonderful! Good old EL. It;s a fascinating insight, although somehow I get the feeling that perhaps the editors tolerated and humoured him rather than sought out his work...which was their loss. This letter is a gem and as Mikkel says, a good example of the lost art of letter writing. I can hardly contain my excitement about this latest find and hope you do get your head round it in 2016 :-) ! As regards the British magazines, I notice this month a couple of them have gone over to very inferior paper with attendant effects on image quality...the first step to oblivion. A shame as, ironically I picked "Model Rail" up and was going to buy it until I saw the paper stock. Yes, the internet is the thing, I think.

    1. I think it’s a bit of a mixed bag. From what I’ve seen so far, ELM had a very friendly and mutually productive relationship with the editors at Model Trains, and with Hal Carsterns at RMC. Mr. Carsterns did actively seek out articles from ELM, and gave him suggestions for things he should build and turn into articles. Their letters are extensive, wide ranging, and hilarious. But things seemed to change once the editorship at RMC changed. After that, I think you’re right, ELM was more tolerated than sought out – but I still need to see more exchanges from that period to confirm. I think he was tolerated because he still had a strong following and that translated into sales. In the ‘50s and ‘60s he was a sought out author; in the ‘70s it might have been he was more tolerated than sought, but accepted to a certain extent none-the-less because he had a following - even though trends were shifting away from an ELM style.

      Sometimes I think the trends in media at large during that time were reflected to some extent in the smaller world of model railroading. In tv land in the US, there was the so-called ‘Rural Purge’ going on in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. TV shows such as Andy Griffith, Green Acres, Gomer Pyle, Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and so on – shows set in rural venues and appealing to an older demographic – were being canceled and replaced with newer shows set in urban environments and appealing to younger viewers even though the rural shows were still popular and had strong numbers. The networks wanted to engage with the spending power of the upcoming generation and so retooled to entice them. Just business I guess.

  4. Thanks, Jim, that's interesting and makes a lot of sense. I hadn't thought about the networks, but I remember that happening over here to some extent- although we always got shows like the Beverley Hillbillies much later. I am also glad that EL did at least have a very good relationship with the earlier editors, before the wind of change started to blow.
    The trend now with the printed media sees the mainstream mags paring articles down and cutting isn't easy running a mag, although the paper thing is, to my mind, a big mistake. I am so glad that these letters have been preserved and we can still indulge in some of the olde worlde charm of E L Moore!

    1. The UK magazines have a bit of a delay before they show up in stores here, but I should be able to track down those in a few weeks to see what's going on. In the '50s it seemed that RMC used some pulpy paper and it didn't serve the photos very well. It's unfortunate that some UK magazines are heading in that direction - I'm impressed with many I have from the past few years. I'm quite pleased to read these ELM blasts from the past - although I did have my feet on the ground in that ye olde era :-)