Sunday, May 15, 2016

Speculations on E. L. Moore, Folk Art and The Pulps

Didja know that the Abby Aldridge [sic] Rockefeller Folk Art Collection in Williamsburg Va., called on this damn Yankee to set up trains for a Christmas display this past Dec. Operates thru Jan 7. Flew down and back. 10 hour drive is too much. Didn't know I had culture, didja?
Extracted from a letter Hal Carstens wrote to E. L. Moore dated 2 January 1968.

This being the internet and not a scholarly journal, I don't need to feel guilty about indulging in wild speculation :-) When I saw that paragraph Hal Carstens wrote I flashed back to a post where I floated the idea that E. L. Moore's model building style might be thought of as a folk art style. Maybe someone way back then at that folk art museum was also thinking similar thoughts about model railroading in general? Or maybe calling the boss of the closest major model railroading magazine in the country was the first thing that came to mind for getting help with their Christmas layout and nothing more?

Turns out the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum is still in operation. 
While I've been on the E. L. Moore trail I've also indulged in many side trips. One day I found out about an old pulp magazine called Flying Aces. Turns out it was founded in 1928 and was the predecessor to Carstens' Flying Models magazine, which unfortunately went bust in 2014 when Carstens folded.

What caught my attention was the Fact - Model Building - Fiction blurb that appeared in the title. Yeap, that's what's inside. Railroad Magazine - the longstanding railroad pulp - also was a mixture of fact (the major component), fiction (two or three stories per issue), and model building (to a limited extent, but this seemed to vary over the years). There were even little bits of poetry from time to time! Fact - Model Building - Fiction, especially fiction, were components of a typical E. L. Moore article. Fiction, more specifically, stories were people talk, isn't a component of a typical model railroading article then or now. An E. L. Moore article - and maybe Raymond Frankenberger's too - was a small, self-contained flashback to the pulp era - well, that's my wild speculation for today :-) E. L. Moore noted a few times that he read Railroad Magazine. Did he have other favourite pulps? Did he consciously emulate a pulp style? These are all possible trails for future rambling.


  1. E.L.Moore's buildings are arguably folk art, since kits based on them are still sold nearly 50 years after his death. But his writing isn't literature. Actually, not a lot has lasted from the pulp fiction era, and the Railroad Magazine writing was recognized as awful at the time -- Kalmbach brought out Trains because it saw a market for more intelligent railfan journalism without cuteness. Mark Twain, followed possibly by Faulkner, was one of the few writers who could do southeastern or south-central US dialect. Moore's is the kind of stuff creative writing classes tell you not to try. Moore is interesting as a very successful semi-pro model railroad author, probably more successful than similar figures like Malcolm Furlow or John Olson, who in part tried to imitate Moore. Moore had the advantage of being original.

    1. Thanks for your comments John. I agree that Railroad Magazine is less clinical, and more oriented to the popular culture of its time, but I think that has to do with the larger presence that railroads had in the economy and everyday life (also with the formulae for magazines in that era). Its appeal wasn't necessarily to railfans alone. Today there's far more segmentation and targeting, which isn't new and can be traced back decades, and less interest in fiction, so its era is long over. I'm also glad that some writers don't take creative writing classes and do what comes naturally even if some label it as bad :-)