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
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.