Sunday, January 10, 2016

End of the 1900 era shortline terminal letters

The 1900 era shortline terminal project seemed to bring out the letter writer in E. L. Moore. He cranked out a couple of long and insightful ones related to this project. And Bill Rau, the recipient, stepped up and followed suit with lengthy and insightful ones of this own. I presented the first exchange here, and here's the second, and last,

May 15, 1965

Bill Rau, Associate Editor,
Model Railroader,
Milwaukee, Wis.

Hi, Bill . . . 

Well I see you got all the little pieces together like the origin of that delectable little manufacturing plant, and I’m glad it didn’t pop out of RMC  . . .  and the similar ash hoist . . .  how the hell do you locate all that stuff on a moment’s notice. If I want to find something it takes a day’s searching and then I haven’t located it so I say the hell with it and go on without it. But you’ve either got yourself mixed or I’m mixed . . .  I can’t recall ever having done two engine house articles in my time and the other one, if I be not mistaken appeared in Feb 63 RMC. Or don’t you mention RMC in your office? Anyway ‘twasn’t in Model Trains or I’m dopey. Maybe ‘twas some one else’s.

Yup, that’s just about the way I figured Mr. Zip. I got him down as Mr. Efficiency, which is not meant to be derogatory, but all editors get thataway and want to be as terse as possible and not waste any white space. But I am plumb tired of being dry and factual so I writ it just about as it went and you can tell Mr. Zip he oughta be thankful I didn’t stick a book review in the middle of it and maybe too a recipe for rhubarb pie . . . which is something these southerners don’t seem to know much about and which is a pie what is and which I have still half a big fat one in my refrigerator. Now and then I like to bake a pie (as if I’m not potty enough already). As for the book, if you haven’t read CLEAR THE TRACK(S) by Bromley, you ougtha. Not to be confused with the same title minus the final s, which I think is a collection of stories. This one, which is probably of print (1943) I found in the library, and in fact have been trying to buy a copy of for years, is about and by an engineer back in the 1880’s (beginning then) and his fifty years of service. It’s a lively book and I find the second reading of it is even better than the first.

Which somehow brings us back to George Allen and Ernie . . .  whatever became of George and why no further articles from him? I remember him best because he wasn’t dry as dust and his Irish enlivened the pages that are usually none too lively at their liveliest. Name one old timer and I recall George. But it is now Mr. Zip’s baby so he can do what he likes with it . . . condense it to 1500 words if he wants to. Fact is I didn’t figure he would swallow that much wordage and all those plans and photos at one gulp without an argument. I’m truly surprised.

Me, I’m a saver, too  . . .  can’t bear to see anything wasted . . .  except time. I like to work a while then prop my feet up and read a while figgering what I don’t get done today will be there waiting for me tomorrow or the next day, and surprisingly I usually finish what I begin, but I never handicap myself with a schedule or deadline. If I get interested enough in something I’m building I’ll go on to maybe two or three o’clock in the morning -- then sleep till ten and loaf all day. So my friend Andy was within his rights in insinuating that time didn’t mean a damned thing to me. But I’ll admit I’m lazy. It’s bad enough doing the things I like to do, but I dunno how ‘twould be if I had to do something I didn’t like to do. Which I don’t. I just don’t have the nervous energy that actuates a lot of people and I’m sure Mr. Zip is one of those, on the jump and on his toes every minute of the day. Without nervous energy you don’t get much done but you have a hell of a fine time doing it and if there were enough like me the psychiatrist’s would either starve to death or turn to and earn an honest living.

Fact is, I do have a blonde, and just today I had a dozen roses sent her for her birthday next week . . .  but then she’s just seventeen and happens to be my daughter. But ah -- I recall a Swede -- golden haired and blue eyed -- in the eighth grade -- and to this day I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fairer bit of femininity.

What you mean no space. Me, I’ve got a railroad in the bedroom and then this thing in the middle of my living room,. Without a wife and TV you have plenty of room . . .  I still have room to scratch myself.

Ho - hum . . .  gotta develop a couple of film.  That photo of the yard really shoulda been an 8x10, but me an ex-professional photographer, it’s inconvenient to make anything larger than a 5x7 on my homemade enlarger. And 5x7s will usually do for anything I make. Besides 8x10s are more trouble, larger trays, more space and all that and I don’t like to exert myself.

Wouldn’t ya like a picture of this -- me, four times a day sittin’ in one of my daughter’s little chairs, a black kitten on my lap with a doll bottle (both blue and pink) playin’ mama. And so futile, dammit. My black Persian (alley version, that is) mated up with another black Persian (also alley cat version) and she had five beautiful kittens. Darned if something didn’t take ‘em off till I only had two, then one of them got the jerks and after a week of care I had to put it away. No cat fancier me but I hate to have to kill the little buggers and I doubt next time she’ll hunt up a black Persian to shack up with. One little un left and cute as a button, and I hope it stays healthy till my daughter gets out of school and comes for the summer

signed E. L. Moore

Two things from this letter and the one from 5 Dec ’65 that stick in my mind: E. L. Moore likely experienced the flow state during some projects, and he lead a life of radical ease. On the other hand, all I have to go on are these letters, so these points assume I can take the statements in the letters at face value. That’s always rather iffy at best as it’s always preferable to have some independent evidence to support the letters’ assertions; however, for now I’ll take them as more-or-less accurate statements about his life.

He mentions that if he’s working on a build that has caught his fancy, he can easily work on it for hours at a time, often until the early hours of the morning. That sounds like a classic account of the ‘flow’ state, or being ‘in the zone’; finding something so engrossing that time passes without us being aware.

I suspect the flow state is something experienced by many model railroaders and model builders. It’s a personal thing. John Bruce’s article, The Sociology of Model Railroading, doesn’t touch on this subject, likely because it doesn’t intersect the social realm a great deal, but there’s probably a crossing of personal flow states with the social to a certain extent during operating sessions. I agree that without the flow experience our hobbies would often devolve into pure, aggressive status seeking as Mr. Bruce hints at in the opening quote from Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism.

Mr. Moore's account of his day-to-day life, and how model building fit into it, is quite at odds with the mainstream of the time, and even more so today. I thought of it as one of radical ease, not to be confused with radical affluence. Radical because it seemed to get to roots of what he needed to exist and be himself, and at ease because he does come across as being in easy command of his daily existence. I’d characterize his life at the time as: single; father; retired; sleeps when he wants; eats when he wants; works on projects he wants, when he wants; apartment resident; no schedules; no deadlines; no rat-race; no car; walks everywhere; no tv, doesn’t have much money – doesn’t seem overly concerned about it; cat owner; reader; teller of tall tales; article writer; letter-writer; model-builder; draftsman; photographer.

While I was reading these letters, I came across this post about the work of Byung-Chul Han, a German philosopher who has written a book whose title translates into something close to either ‘The Fatigue Society’ or ‘The Tiredness Society’, and is about Han’s take on the zeitgeist of our times. The blogger summarizes the book’s main thesis as this: we live in what Han refers to as an ‘achievement society’ in which we have voluntarily internalized its demands to constantly achieve all that is possible for us to achieve. There are to be no stones left unturned, no options left unexamined, no opportunity turned down, no work demands too demanding, no interruption unattended – we’ve internalized as good and normal the behaviours of constant striving, constant optimization and constant achievement where nothing is questioned, and it has left us tired and exhausted. Seen in this light, E. L. Moore’s life is at odds with our society. Probably with his own too since our world stems from trends that were underway in his time, and have done nothing but accelerate. Then tv was the attractive intruder that helped establish the achievement society’s communications beachhead. Today its grasp is nearly complete with omniscient support of the internet and its 24/7 connection devices - and me as a blogger complicit in all this :-) I’m not trying to imply that his lifestyle is an idealized antidote for our times - I wouldn’t be surprised if it had unintended side-effects. Only that being outside societal norms – and which of his own norms he choose to follow – likely was instrumental in making his creativity and prolific output possible.

A few days later Bill Rau followed up with a reply,

May 19, 1965

Mr. E. L. Moore
525 Oakland Ave., Apt. 3
Charlotte 4, N. C.

Hiya, E. L. . . . 

The answer is very simple: I have a memory like an elephant (and my good wife tells me that after a year and a half at this comparatively sedentary job I am beginning to look like one - - especially around the middle!).

Actually, it so happens that I too liked both of those articles and made a mental note of them so when they showed up in your sketches it was easy to recall them. The “WAL” on the factory was a tipoff that the plan was by Bill (Willis A.) Livingston and he only did the plans for the erstwhile HO MONTHLY. But I did goof on the enginehouse: the one I like is the wooden V&CS job that was in -- you should excuse the expression -- RMC some years ago. I still hope, when I find a place to rebuild the T&RT, to model that one.

Actually, Linn has a very factual type mind, and his idea is not so much to save space just t save space, but to save it on an individual article so as to be able to add another article. Like yourself, I feel that an occasional story should be beefed up with a story -- I did this to a certain extent with the fictional history of our Ma & Pa project road; and the letters convinced LHW that a certain amount is desirable. I have also tried to inject a bit of humor into stories where possible: I believe that model railroading should be enjoyed, nit be a dry-as-dust type of thing. I think I can talk LHW into using the engine house article with a minimum of cutting.

Modelers always seemed to enjoy George Allen’s approach. We don’t know why no articles from George as we haven’t heard from him in years. Possibly he is sitting back enjoying his filthy lucre. We heard from another chap that a developer offered George a fabulous price for Chanticleer Farm, so he sold out and the Tuxedo Junction is no more.

LHW is off on a two-week jaunt visiting clubs in the south and west, so Andy and I are keeping the store, I just finished up the last article for August and have to get going now on the departments.

Incidentally, I read CLEAR THE TRACKS years ago. My wife gave me a copy when it first came out, the year I was in the TB san. It’s a terrific book for giving us old-timers (and take that anyway you want!) to get the real feel of olden railroading days.

And in closing, I’ll tell you the one about the retired gent who was walking downtown with his wife and a friend, and as each shapely young gal would go past the gay old boy would swivel his head and watch the action. The wife’s girl friend got a little annoyed, and asked the wife: “Sadie, how can you put up with that?”

To which the wife replied: “Henry is like our old dog Rover. Rover chases cars all day but he wouldn’t know what to do with one if he did catch it.”

I think that’ll be it for now.

signed Bill Rau

As we saw in the earlier letter exchange, the story did get used, but it was heavily edited and the final text read like something in George Allen’s style written by E. L. Moore.

With all that talk about a book called Clear the Tracks, I went and ordered one. Hopefully it'll show up soon and I can see for myself what the fuss is about.


  1. Jim, I really enjoyed this blog post, it started me thinking about a lot of things. John Bruce's article was interesting, too- thanks for the pointer to this. As for the goal-driven society we live in, stop the 'bus, I want to get off!

    1. Thanks Iain. Yeah, I hear you. I admire ELM's statements that he does what he darn well pleases and doesn't work to a schedule.

  2. I'm sure you've entertained the idea but have you or anyone had any contact with Elizabeth? She would be about 68 now. Maybe a little more insight?

    1. I've made some inquires, and comments about the posts have been positive; however, that was the extent of the feedback.