Saturday, November 12, 2016

E. L. Moore's Village School article

[A one room school, the subject E. L. Moore's second unpublished Model Railroader article, Village School. Photo published with permission of Model Railroader magazine /
This is the second of the six 'lost' E. L. Moore articles that Model Railroader has graciously allowed to be posted here.
[My photo of E. L. Moore's Village School as seen at last year's meet-up.]

Unlike the Crossroads Store, I did see this model at last year's meet-up. It was in good condition and it looks like all that was missing was the flagpole. But like Crossroads Store, the Village School article was one of those 14 articles Mr. Moore sold in 1961. This one was bought by Linn Westcott of Model Railroader on 12 July 1961 for $35US (about $278US in 2016 money!)
Country or village school of half a century ago... and there are a good many such schoolhouses still in use in rural areas today.

Village school

by E. L. Moore
photos by the author

Published with permission of Model Railroader magazine /

If your pike is the latest word in spit and chrome and diesels and all that, then this is hardly for you. The next generation of your population will undoubtedly be illiterates for there's one thing certain... even with all the present emphasis on education, you'll never be able to provide a modern sprawling school with or without its forty acre parking lot.
On the other hand, I bring hope for the inhabitants residing on the older period pikes. And their children, if any. I've gone back almost half a century and recreated the school that saw me through the eighth grade. This isn't the "little red schoolhouse" you've read about... that must have been in a still earlier era. Or perhaps white paint was extra plentiful in my section, for it was the invariable color of schoolhouses and churches and homes. Red was for barns.

Should you be more interested in the souls of your railroaders than in the grubby little minds of their children, then it is a simple matter to transform this schoolhouse into a church. Merely yank out the flagpole, put in a wide door where the window is, and place windows where the doors are, and instead of a stubby little roof over the belfry, build a steeple of say, fifteen feet, and there you have your house of worship.

This really began as a project on my drawing pad just to show my teen daughter what an old time school was like. She couldn't visualize a belfry.  I had to do this one from memory. At some time in the the intervening years, they've given the old bell (and belfry) the heave-ho and substituted nasty sounding little horns or buzzers. At one time, the 8:30 bell served its purpose well, warning those living a couple of miles away to begin trotting in order to arrive by the time the last bell sounded at nine o'clock. Later, when I began to think my school might have some merit as a pike structure, I found a building thirty by fifty feet dwarfed many of my other structures. So I scaled it down to eighteen by thirty-two feet which made the cloakrooms into mere closets and cut down on the seating arrangements. But no matter, we never had more than thirty pupils, but twice that number of desks.

And have you any idea how much schoolmarms were paid back then? On the first of each month, I carried to the teacher, my father being school treasurer, a check for $32. By a happy coincidence, my report card also appeared at about the same time.  There was a space provided for the parent's signature and I became very good at imitating my father's signature. So good that on finding some loose checks, I filled them in and passed them around to schoolmates. Which was a mistake but the resulting strapping probably nipped a promising forger's career in the bud.
As to the materials required, here's your list:

10" bevel siding, 1/16" thick, 3 1/2" wide
6" 1/8" sheet balsa (floor, foundation, flagpole, etc)
10" 1/16" sheet balsa (roof, partitions)
10" 1/32" sheet balsa (shingle overlay, porch planks)
Plus some scraps of sheetwood and stripwood

And for your convenience, here is a summary of the building steps. Should you not be interested in STEP THREE, why you can just skip it without missing a beat.

STEP ONE:    Floor and foundation
STEP TWO:    Walls, windows and doors
STEP THREE:  Detailing the interior
STEP FOUR:   Roof, belfry and chimney
STEP FIVE:   Platform or porch and flagpole

STEP ONE: Cut your floor from 1/8" balsa, 18' x 32' and scribe with number three pencil if you plan to work up the interior. Turn over and cement 1/8" square strips of balsa all around, thus giving you a foundation two feet deep. With your pencil, divide this into four horizontal divisions, then work in the individual brick. To give the effect of mortar between brick, rub with chalk dust or talcum.  So much for floor and foundation.

STEP TWO: My plans called for the side walls to be 13' high, but finding a width of siding to be just 25 1/2', I compromised, making the walls 12 3/4' x 32'. Both sides are alike, each containing four window openings, each 3' x 7'. My usual procedure would be to make the window openings 4' x 8', then frame them with 1/16" stripwood, giving a nice 6" trim all around. But in this instance, I tried something different, making shallow razor blade cuts into the beveled siding 1/16" out from the top and sides. I then pared away the bevelling, leaving a smooth surface trim around the windows. Only close inspection will show the difference, but it's as much work one way as the other.
The school, as arranged inside. The teacher is Juanita, Weston's red-headed Lady-in-the-Lake, now dressed in style.

The front and rear walls are 17' wide by 21 1/2' high at the peak, as seen in (B). The rear wall has no openings... all I did here was to cement a piece of 1/8" balsa, 3 scale feet wide, up the center to the peak, simulating the part of the chimney that rises from the foundation. The front wall has one window and two doors. I cemented a strip of 1/16" square stripwood to the lower edge of the front before cutting the door openings with my razor blade. The doors were made of 1/32" sheetwood, the panels indented with pencil, then after painting, brought out again with pencil and shaded. Pinheads serve as knobs.

I usually use commercial windows, but this called for a larger size than was available and so had to be made up. To minimize the amount of drawing required, I decided to frame each window with 1/32" square stripwood after cementing in a slightly projecting sill in the bottom of each opening. This trim was pushed back flush with the inside, and one piece was cemented across the center, dividing the lower and upper sections. This served as the outer framing of the sash and eliminated drawing anything but one vertical line and two horizontal lines on the used clear film which I had cut to size.  An ordinary pen and white ink did the job very cleanly. Before cementing the windows to the inside, paint both inside and outside walls. Either a light green or light blue is a good interior color.

Now, if you do NOT intend to display the working of your school to visitors, you can assemble the walls, adding a slender triangular strip to each corner for bracing and skip the next step, goin' on to STEP FOUR, right up there on the roof.

STEP THREE: This, to me, is one of the most fascinating phases of building. I like to show what is going on inside and I find my visitors appreciate the peep show revealed as I lift off the roof. 

One of the first tasks is the paneling around the lower walls, a 3' strip that comes up even with the windows. Scribe this with rule and No. 3 pencil on the natural wood, then stain using diluted brown railroad color with the addition of some orange or yellow to lighten it, approximating oak stain.
Supposing we now go on to building the desks. This looks difficult but is really quite simple as each row of desks and seats has a single strip of sheetwood as a base as shown in drawing (A). It is 1/32" thick. Mark it off into thirteen 15" divisions, then make shallow notches which may be merely roughed out. Stain lightly but paint the notched edges black. Now, some 3/32" balsa, or cement 1/16" and 1/32" together into a strip 18" scale inches wide. Cut off six 12" blocks from this and cement them to the top of the desk strip as seen in the profile drawing of desks.  Paint the ends and one side of these little blocks black. Now cut 13 pieces of 1/32" sheetwood, each 15" x 2/12'. Cement these to the blocks, the backs of seats first, then the desk tops. Just that simple. And don't worry about your pupils not being able to get their knobby little knees under the desks. Next, turn the desk strip over and get some staples, the kind you use in a hand stapler, from the dime store, something I forgot to include in the bill of materials. These are exactly the right width, and using a dab of Goodyear Pliobond or something similar, stick them on at intervals as shown. I used double one fore and aft, with single ones between. Viewed from above, the black paint simulating shadows, you get the impression of individual desks. Up front is a longer and separate recitation bench made entirely of wood. Each class marched up and from this vantage point, recited, and were in turn grilled by teacher.
The problem of finding enough kids had me stumped for a little while, but I found one needn't be a sculptor or woodcarver in order to create half a dozen or more pupils. Get a piece of balsa, 1/8" thick and about two scale feet wide, long enough to hold in your hand nicely. Beginning at the top, rough out a head on a pair of shoulders, with a razor blade. Round it up a bit, then with a small round Swiss file, go around the base of the head and very soon you'll have a nicely shaped neck with a bobbed head of hair atop it. By rolling the file over the head, you can even get hair texture. Shape the face only slightly. You can't have everything and anyway, you'll be viewing them from the rear or side. Slim the shoulders down a bit, and the waist, then wield your paint brush. Make some blondes, some brunettes and maybe a redhead. So what if they're all girls; I like girls. So what if they're armless; could be they started chewing their fingernails and couldn't stop. But of course, you'll have to paint some blouses or sweaters as you go, although no flesh will be needed. As you finish one, cut her off at the waist and cement her into a seat, then you're ready to commence the next figure.
I was in a first class quandary at the prospect of finding and hiring a schoolmarm. In fact, except for Mrs. Spumoni, I didn't have a prospect. Even so, I gave Mrs. Spumoni the brushoff. 

Then I met up with this good looking redheaded dame who was either going to, or coming from a dip in the lake. When I broached the idea of teaching, she exclaimed, "But really, I haven't a stitch to wear!". I've heard that line handed out before, but she was really convincing. However, I airily promised to remedy the inadequacy of her wardrobe. I did, too, as you can see, with some tissue spotted with blue ink, and some blue thread for a belt.
"Now about the salary," I began, bearing in mind that $30 a month, in view of rising costs, was not exactly generous. So I proposed $35. I was quite unprepared when she threw up her hands-- er, well, not her hands, but she did throw up her voice. "What?" she screamed, "With the governor of North Carolina slapping on a food tax to raise $60 million for education, you want I should teach eight grades of runny nosed brats for a lousy $35?"
"I apologize," I said hastily.  "Let's bargain." So we did and she compromised for $350. And that's how I got a teacher.
Her desk is a little flat topped affair with a lid just right for inserting a lively frog. It stands on round toothpick legs. The chair is a boughten one and so is the stove. It is supposed to heat up the whole room but on really cold days, the kids have to congregate up close. The stovepipe (not shown) ran up almost to the ceiling, took a bend, then with the aid of sundry wires, went all the way to the back of the room and into the chimney. That organ over in the corner helped warm us on cold mornings, too. While the teacher played marches, we marched and thereby got our blood to circulating. Don't forget to put up a clock... shape with a razor blade, make the face of paper with a hand punch, then add a scratching of numbers and a couple of hands. The blackboards can be made of black paper or with paint. The lamp up front doesn't show up too well in the photograph, but it is made of beads, a round fat one and a slim one, with a sequin on the wall as a reflector.
As I mentioned earlier, the cloakrooms have had to be compressed into mere closets here, one side for the boys and one for the girls, and these should be fitted and cemented in after the walls are assembled. Which is as of now.

STEP FOUR: Now that you have the walls up, cut two pieces of 1/16" balsa for the roof, one 14 1/2' x 34 1/2', and the other 15' x 34 1/2', lay them up as shown in (B) and cement at the peak where they butt together. Now run three or four pins through up near the peak, remove the roof and turn it over and cement four triangular balsa blocks inside to make it rigid. The two end ones should be placed so that they come just inside the end walls. This is actually a subroof and the shingle overlay will go on later. You can make and attach the chimney now. It is made by cementing balsa together, and measures 2'x 2 1/2', straddles the peak and stands up 4' above. Mark out brick with pencil and paint.
The belfry is really the making of the schoolhouse. Without it, the structure looks like nothing but an elaborate dog house. So, on with the belfry. Here I used scraps of siding, inletting the ends into four upright balsa posts, each 1/8" square by 9' tall (the tops extending up into the roof as shown in the cutaway drawing). The belfry is 6' square, outside, and is easiest built as a separate unit, then cemented in place when ready.
Before going on to the roof, make the bell, which is carved from a left over portion of the chimney, 2' in diameter at the lip, and... well, shaped with knife and sandpaper until it looks like a bell. Make a curved support of wire as shown, or just hang it on an overhead beam with a touch of cement. Paint a dark gray.
Coming to the roof of the belfry, cut four triangular pieces of 1/16" balsa, size as shown. Set in a platform just above the bell so that you can center a square piece of balsa (1/8" or so), bringing the top end to a point. Pare the undersides of the top of each triangle, then set two opposing ones up as shown, and cement. Next, add the other two, fitting as you go. Over this goes a shingle overlay of 1/32" balsa with the grain running vertically. Make these triangles slightly larger than the others and the lower edges should extend about 1/32" beyond the subroof at the eaves.
For the roof proper, cut 1/32" balsa for the overlay, the grain here running vertically also, allowing 1/32" overhang at the ends and eaves, and cement it on. And now for the actual shingling operation. With rule and pencil, divide each side of roof into one foot horizontal divisions. Although I make my shingled roof with an electric burning pencil, depressing each line of shingles until the roof has the appearance in profile as in (B), most of you will have to depend on a pencil entirely. With it, you can do a very credible job, much better and more realistic than using paper or cardboard. Once you have the horizontal divisions marked off, go down each line, marking the individual shingles. Use a very diluted stain of thinner and white with just a touch of black to get a gray, giving the shingled roof a silvery weathered appearance.

STEP FIVE: All that is left now is the porch-like platform across the front and the flagpole. The former, I made as a separate unit, cementing to the front foundation when finished. Three supporting timbers 18' long and a strip of 1/32" balsa is all it takes.  Scribe the balsa into one foot wide planks. The flagpole, shown foreshortened in the drawing, is 43' overall and is cemented into a solid piece of balsa located on the underside of the platform. Set it far enough out to clear the eaves and give it a stain of thinned gray.

Then of course, there is a the little matter of a woodpile alongside to give the scene atmosphere. And out back... well, for the picture, I merely borrowed the depot's outhouse.
Incidentally, in wintertime (in Michigan), with a cache of snowballs, the belfry made a well nigh impregnable fort. That is, until the teacher showed up. Then its disadvantages became apparent, for as one slid down the pole, he presented an extraordinarily fine target and was extremely vulnerable to the enemy on the ground. And one word of warning... don't antagonize a redheaded schoolmarm... she can swing a vicious switch! 


My grandmother was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse and this model could easily be part of the scene here in Ontario. The flag pole would fly a different flag, but that would be more-or-less the only difference.


  1. Any idea what/who that mysterious scale figure is in the shadowy upper right of photo 6?

    1. Hmmmm. Good question. I did a little enhancement on that section, but it didn't produce any answer. I'll have to see if there is anything else I can do.

  2. To scale those drawings, the brick foundation/base is 18'x32' as he says in the text. This is the simplest measurement to ensure the proper plan size.

  3. Photo captions: Country or village school of half a century ago... and there are a good many such schoolhouses still in use in rural areas today. The school, as arranged inside. The teacher is Juanita, Weston's red-headed Lady-in-the-Lake, now dressed in style.

  4. Thank you for tracking down and printing the "lost" E L Moore articles. They'll be a source of inspiration for a long time to come.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, although I should note that none of this would have been possible without the efforts of Paul Zimmerman to preserve to manuscripts, and Neil Besougloff's permission to post them.

    2. I'm also grateful for Model Railroader's hanging on to the articles for 13 years following ELM's death and Jim Kelly's kind offering to send the articles to me. It's amazing how long these articles were kept on file-- from 1961-1993 in MR's offices, then 1993-2016 in my house-- finally made public in J. D. Lowe's blog! That's a long road and I'm glad there's still people around who appreciate them. The Internet is wonderful when you can discover great oldies like this. 30 Squares has done a superb job finding and sharing E. L. Moore's work. -Paul

    3. Thanks Paul! The 'E. L. Moore in the 21st Century' series wouldn't be what it is if it weren't for the generosity of many people I've met on this journey. There seems to be many who want to see Mr. Moore's story live on and thrive. I think there are still surprises out there and I'm looking forward to what the future holds.