Saturday, November 26, 2016

E. L. Moore's Canal Boats

[A beautiful summer's day cruising down the canal on E. L. Moore's canal boats. Photo published with permission of Model Railroader magazine / Model]

This is the 4th in the series of 'lost' E. L. Moore articles. Mr. Moore submitted A Pair of Canal Boats to Model Railroader magazine in March 1969, and it was immediately purchased by editor Bill Rau for $75.

In the late '60s E. L. Moore was pursuing some nautical projects. His major one appeared in two parts in the January and February '68 issues of Railroad Model Craftsmanadd a Harbor to your Pike, Part 1 - Tug Boats; and add a Harbor to your Pike, Part 2 - Barge, Wharf, & Sail Loft. The harbour project was one of his big diorama projects that was on the same scale as Cole Mfg Co., HOJPOJ Mfg. Co., and the short line terminal. I was fortunate to see a tug boat and the sail loft from the harbour project at the 2015 meet-up.

In October '69, Railroad Model Craftsman published his Nova Scotian Lighthouse article, which Mr. Moore submitted in January of that year. So, the canal boats were built and written up at the tail end his  'Nautical Period' :-) and the manuscript gives of a sense of how it concluded. 
Boats on trial run. Water is simulated with cellophane. Teams are by Aristocraft.

A Pair of Canal Boats
by E. L. MOORE
Photos by the author

Published with permission of Model Railroader magazine / Model

Some time ago I received a carte blanche commission from a friend and fellow railroader, Bart Crosby, to build two canal boats which sometime in the future are to ply the canals of his pike which is in process of construction. The only specification was that they were to be about 35' long. Other than that, the rest was up to me; as much or as little detail as I cared to put into them. One was to be a freighter and for this I had a photograph of an Erie Canal model to work from. The only hitch being that it was some 80' long and so had to be scaled down to size, 36' long, 10' beam and 5 1/2' freeboard as it turned out. For the passenger craft, I had the cover from an old Railroad Magazine to work from, this showing the rear portion of a boat as it was passing under a bridge.
The results you see here. Within a couple of weeks, the boats were off the skids and given a test run on my private canal, photographed and shipped. The passenger craft so took my fancy that I built a second one for myself, incorporating some refinements and shortcuts in construction.
19th century ladies add to charm of scene, a freighter and passenger craft passing on a canal.

The boats are easily built, the hull of each substantially to the same measurements. As for cost, if it could be computed, I think an estimate of 50 cents for the two would be adequate.

Anyway, here is a list of materials, in HO.

12" 1/8" x 3" balsa (decks, spacers)
8" 1/32" x 4" balsa (hull sides, strakes)
3" 1/32" x 3 1/2" scribed sheathing, 1/32" spacing
1 1/2" 1/16" x 3 1/2" scribed sheathing, 1/32" spacing
12" 1/32" x 1'16" stripwood
12" 1/32 x 3/32" stripwood
8" 1/32 x 1/8" stripwood
24" .020" x 1/32" stripwood
2 1/2" square inches acetate
4" 1/16" dowel or round toothpicks

No special tools are required. Most of the cutting was done with a razor blade and smoothing with nail sanding boards.

The first thing needed is a cardboard pattern, two in fact; one for the top (as shown by solid outside lines in Fig. 1) and another for the bottom or waterline, which is shown by inner dotted lines. The patterns are suitable for both boats.
We shall first describe the construction of the freighter and then, since both hulls are substantially the same, note only the differences as compared with the passenger craft.

Lay your patterns on the 1/8" x 3" balsa and mark outlines. The top piece, when sanded, should be 8 1/2' wide x 35' long. The bottom one is 8' and 34' as seen in profile in Fig. 2. We shall need to give the top piece some sheer or, in plain horse language, make the top swaybacked. A chisel is nice for the rough cutting or you can use coarse sandpaper wrapped around a stick. Note in Fig 2, when finished, the central portion is about half the thickness of the ends. Finish off with fine sandpaper, then scribe 3/32" divisions the length of the deck and then stain. I used wash of raw sienna and brown oils in turpentine.

Before joining the top and bottom pieces with spacers of 1/8" balsa as shown, it is advisable to cut out out the cargo hatches, each opening being 4 1/2' x 7 1/2'. The small ladder hatch, opening aft, is 2' x 4'. Assemble, cementing forward and aft spacers of heights indicated, then adding the center one which should be a slide fit. Next, blunt the prow of both pieces with sandpaper, then fit on the stem post, which is 6 3/2' long, of 1/16" x 3/32" stripwood or balsa.  
We're now ready to add the sides to the hull. For these I cut three 6' wide strips ACROSS the grain from a 4" wide piece of 1/32" balsa. With the hull on a flat surface, fit one of the strips to the bow stem snugly, which will require a slight diagonal cut. Smear glue (I used Elmer's white glue) along rounded portions of both bow and stern and let dry. This fills the end grain pores and makes for better holding. Now another coat alongside stem and curve of bow and, starting at stem, hold this portion of the side (about an inch) in contact until the cement sets. The rest is easy sailing. Add cement along side as far as strip extends and hold this tight, stroking side from bow to stern to make sure of good contact. A short strip is then needed to finish out side to stern where it is to be trimmed flush.

Before tackling the other side, get a piece of 1/16" stripwood about an inch long and 1/8" wide and bend in the middle without breaking in two. Place this as a height gauge against the completed side, on the deck at the bow. Using a razor blade from the outside, cut through, moving the stripwood gauge as you goand you will have curving bulwarks at the uniform 1' above the deck line the length of the side. Remove any excess from the bottom at the bow curve and sand the railing smooth, then complete the other side in a like manner.
This shows partially completed models, spacers in freighters and cabin with but one side on.

For the stern, cut a strip of 1/32" balsa, fit and cement it in place flush with the sides. Fig 4 shows additional trim for decorative effect with can be added, although it would be well to paint the hull first and then add trim in a contrasting color.
Before painting hull however, I scribed 1' divisions, starting at the bottom with a razor blade to simulate planking. I painted the hull using 3 coats of Floquil boxcar red, then added the dark green trim at the stern and prepainted green for the bulwark rail and rubbing strakes. For these latter, a bow and stern, where they must bend and are liable to chip, I cemented my 1/32" balsa to band paper, then cut the 1/16" wide strips ACROSS the grain. I painted the inside of the bulwarks a dark gray.
Around each cargo hatch, a combing is added of 1/32" x 1/8" stripwood. Around the ladder hatch (which needs a ladder), a combing of 1/32" x 1/16". The ladder hatch has a fixed cover of 1/32" scribed sheathing, but the cargo hatches have rounded sliding covers fitted over them as shown in Fig 3A. The covers were given a coat of faced green and the combing matches the deck. Between the cargo hatches I set in a skylight in a shallow opening, first laying in a strip of dark blue paper, then adding the 2' x 4' acetate.
The rudder (or the part of one which would normally show above the waterline), rudder post and tiller arm are shown in Fig 5. For the shaft, I used 1/16" dowel (or round toothpick would do), slipping it through a drilled hole that goes almost vertically inside the stern. I cut a slit about 1/16" x 3/16" at the bottom as in Fig 4 and here the bit of rudder of 1/32" stripwood is attached to the flattened side of the rudder post. At deck level, I drilled an .020" hole through the post and inserted the point of a lill about 1/8" in length which allows the post to turn but keeps it from dropping lower. I drilled an .035" hole near the top of post, fashioned a flat toothpick to fit and cemented it in place as a tiller arm. Moving the tiller arm thus turns the rudder.
To complete the boat, we need a couple of towing bits for the bow and a cleat for the stern rail. I turned the bits from 1/8" dowel, making each 1/2" long with a 1/16" body and a knob at top, painted them a rusty black and inserted them in holes in the deck at the bow, about 1/4" apart. Reason tells me these should be on the starboard bow since most towing illustrations show the horses and boat on the right side of the canal, but my Erie model showed them on the port bow. I fashioned the cleat from 1/16" stripwood.
While we're at it, let's have a neatly coiled spare two line in the bow. Here's how: Cut 4 pieces of 1/8" balsa, each about 3/4" square. Cement two together, then the other pair.  Find centers and drill 1/8" holes through both pairs. Slip these on an inch long piece of 1/8" dowel. Cut off 12" of white button thread, wet with starch and secure one end to center, then push pieces of balsa together until only thickness of thread separates them. Wind thread carefully and set aside until dry. Now slip balsa squares apart, remove coiled thread and cement in position on deck and stain with solution used to stain deck. For a straight towline, cement a loop in one end, starch and supend with a weight attached.
That finishes the freighter and now to the passenger craft. Using the same patterns, cut two pieces of decking as before. Cut two hatch openings, each 2' x 5' as shown in Fig 6 and add 1/32" x 1/16" stripwood combings around each.  And of course, scribe and stain top deck. Assemble, noting that spacers in this hull are positioned so that top of fore and aft ones form the top step of ladders in hatches. Note also that these spacers are of lower height than those used in previous hull, thus giving a lower deck height as may be seen by comparing Fig 7 with Fig 2. Add steps of ladders below deck level in hatches.
Cut and apply sides of same size and in same manner as for previous hull, but in trimming top sides of hulls, use a piece of 2' wide stripwood. Note, too, that stern of this craft has a rounded top.
To all intents, the inside cabin deck is the lower balsa strip, giving the passengers theoretically 8' of headroom and to that end, I painted the top deck where it is to be enclosed a dark brown, making it almost invisible when viewed from outside. I painted the inside bulwarks a cream, one part Floquil white to one part yellow, tow coats, and the outside hull three coats of tuscan red and caboose red, equal parts, then the bulwark rail and rubbing strakes and rear trim a dark green, green and yellow equal parts.
This shows completed boats with fenders of pipe cleaners and hatch uncovered on freighter. Window trim on passenger craft is shown in less complicated form in another photograph.

With rudder and tiller in place as previously instructed, we can go on to the cabin. One end is shown in Fig 9. This is of 1/32" scribed sheathing, 1/32" spacing, cemented to 3/32" or 1/8" balsa, then cut to shape as shown, notching out the area designated by dotted lines so as to leave space here for windowed sides. Also cut another identically shaped piece from plain balsa for the middle as may be seen in photograph of boats under construction. I cut an area from the center of this form to permit an uninterrupted view through the cabin. Doorway openings 2' x 4 1/2' need to be cut in the ends to straddle the hatches.
The cabin sides, which include the windows, are 4' x 18' strips of 1/32" scribed sheathing, 1/32" spacing, cemented to bond paper to prevent splitting while window opening are cut out. The window openings are 2' x 2 1/2' with 1 1/4' space between each, or 5 scribed spaces, which is easier to measure, each window opening being 8 scribed spaces in width. The sides were painted a cream color with the edges of window openings a green.
At this point it will be necessary to make the windows, one strip of which you see in Fig 10. I laid these out in detail with a sharp pointed pencil on a white card, taped my acetate over this, rubbed the surface lightly with pumice (kitchen cleanser or talc will do), then using black drawing ink, ruler and steel pen point, inked in the strip. If all goes well, the windows should mate up perfectly with the opening, to which they are now cemented and then the side is fitted into the notched ends and the middle form of the cabin.
Now we come to the window trim and you'll note a difference here in the photographs of the two passenger craft. The trim on the last built one is in line with the drawing, Fig 8, and much simplified. Two prepained green .020" x 1/32" pieces of stripwood, each 17' long, are cemented to the side, one below and the other above the row of windows, then vertical prepained green strips edge each window and a 17 1/2' piece of 1/32" x 3/32" stripwood, painted cream, with slight circular indentations above each window, is added. And that's it.
The cabin roof or upper deck is 8' x 18 1/2', of 1/16" scribed sheathing, the edges painted green and the deck stained. I added stanchions of 1/16" dowel (or toothpicks) turning these on a motor tool with a file. This can also be done using a hand drill, placing it in a vise and with someone to turn the handle. Two coats of cream paint here. For the railing, I used 1/32" x 1/16" stripwood, painted green.
A second model of the passenger craft as built by the author shows a more simplified window trim detail entailing less time and giving a neater appearance.

Up from each side of the hatchway are sides of scribed sheathing painted green. The ladders, which are of 1/32" x 3/32" stripwood, are built, then positioned. Sides are green with a green .020" x 1/32" railing fitted on.
Appropriate decals from a list of ships and port names may be obtained from Model Shipways of Bogata, N.J. at 5 cents each or you can get special small letters (about 1/32") from Champion Decal Co. Regular decal alphabet letters are a bit on the large side for these small boats.
The canal you see is not a permanent thing, but could well be. The banks are of corrugated board painted with texture paint and colored with oils in turpentine. The far bank is built up using additional thicknesses of corrugated board and with texture paint thickened to use as a modeling clay and with rocks added. For the base or riverbed, I used another strip of corrugated board pianted a medium blue with lighter blue streaks blending in. Over this, a sheet of blue cellophane and over this, a sheet of plain cellophane. This gives a wavy, watery look, unobtainable with plastics. There's just one hitch: it's difficult to obtain cellophane these days.
The teams used are by Aristocraft; good plodding teams.

Happy boating!


Mr. Moore notes in the article that he built a couple of the passenger craft, and at the 2015 meet-up I saw he built another canal boat, the Long Beach, that isn't described in the text. That one was built for his friend Fred Kelley in 1971, so it looks like E. L. Moore's boat building didn't completely end in '69. Maybe there are other boats out there still to be found.

When I first saw E. L. Moore's file copy of the canal boats manuscript, it had the cardboard templates still paper clipped to the first page. The clip was rusted in place, so it may not have been disturbed since the manuscript was filed away all those years ago.

A couple of additional photos of the canal boats found in E. L. Moore's files can be seen here.


  1. The modern font in the drawings--- is my own I added. All the numbers were there on the drawings, but lightly put in with a blue pencil; very difficult to see or scan. In case anyone was wondering. --Paul