Sunday, October 29, 2017

E. L. Moore and the fedora mystery

Another E. L. Moore portrait and another hat. I'm thinking this is likely a pre-1940 photo, but post late 1920s. I don't think I can be anymore specific than that. Maybe the style of hat would narrow down the era. Given the later portraits we've seen, this is a fascinating contrast.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

E. L. Moore wikipedia entry, take 2

Ok, I put some of the edits together gathered from the last post. It still needs some work on the Elizabeth Valley RR., but here goes.

E. L. Moore

Earl Lloyd Moore (March 14, 1898 - August 12, 1979) was an American model railroader who published 124 pieces in the American model railroading press between 1955 and 1979 under the name E. L. Moore. His articles dealt primarily with scratch-building HO scale structures from low-cost, simple materials, primarily balsa wood. Moore prided himself on being able to construct complex models in little time for little money. He often noted that his projects could be built for a couple of dollars worth of materials in a couple of weeks of evenings. All his work was produced from two small apartments in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Moore concentrated on depicting the buildings and life of rural America in the 1890s and early 1900s - the period around his boyhood - in accordance with his personal view on the era. Moore’s articles are notable both for their subject matter as well as their style. Along with the model under discussion, Moore would write the text, shoot and develop the photographs, and draft the plans. The accompanying photographs would often include one or more detailed staged scenes depicting everyday life with the building, and the text was famous for often weaving in a humorous fictional story about the building and its inhabitants. He did not concentrate on modeling particular real railroads [1] as is the norm for model railroad hobbyists, but focused on modeling buildings of both railroad and non-railroad subjects, as well as scenery. Although he found an outlet for his creative energies, and some cash, in the model railroading press, his work had much in common with traditional folk artists who specialized in miniature American Folk Art Buildings.

Pre-Model Railroading Biography    
Early Life

Moore was born and raised on a farm in rural southern Michigan [1]. The farm’s exact location is unknown, but it was within a 9 mile radius of Bangor, Michigan, and about 2 miles from a two-room school he attended as a boy [2]. There was a windmill and water tank about 2 1/2 miles away where one could board a Chicago bound ‘flyer’ while its locomotive stopped to take on water. [2]

His father was the school treasurer, and on the first of each month one of Moore’s chores was to deliver the teacher’s paycheck. Treasurers were known to handle money, and one night Moore’s father was held up at gunpoint and forced to open the safe in his parent’s bedroom. The robbers made their escape by breaking open a nearby railroad section house and stealing the handcar. The next day the handcar was found abandoned down the line about a dozen miles away.

Moore served in the U.S. Navy on the U.S.S. Georgia in 1917 and 1918 during World War I. He was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and was an honorary chaplain [1].

Not a lot is known about Moore from the time he left the Navy until he arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he setup a photography studio specializing in baby and child portraits. The few factoids that are known about Moore’s life prior to his emergence on the national scene as a model railroader include: working in a paper mill in the northeast; working as a furniture salesman; and, during the 1930s, living as a self-described vagabond.

Photography Studio

Moore was a photographer and starting sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s he ran a photography studio in Charlotte, North Carolina that specialized in baby and child portraiture. Over the years it operated from several locations. It burned down sometime between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s. Moore then retired from business and devoted himself to model railroading.

Layouts & Dioramas

Traditionally, model railroaders are defined by their layouts. Moore built 5 layouts and dioramas. Strictly speaking there was a 6th layout: Gordon Odegard noted that Moore's very first layout was a 4'x6' Lionel O27 based setup [1], but no details are known.

The Rowland Emmett Tribute Diorama

A vertically oriented HO scale diorama featuring trains, trams, buildings and scenes made famous by a number of Roland Emmett cartoons. It was built sometime in the early to mid 1950s, and measured approximately 2’ x 3’, but was possibly as large as 2' x 4’. Its first appearance in print was in the photo essay with the Spumoni family in Merrie Old England in the January 1956 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman.

The Elizabeth Valley Railroad

A 4’ x 6’ HO scale layout based in a mountainous region surrounding a valley with a lake and stream.  Set in an unspecified US location sometime in the late 1890s or early 1900’s. No industries; survives mainly on tourism and maybe some logging. The layout was named for his daughter. It was built in the mid-1950s, and its first appearance in print was in a piece entitled Elizabeth Valley RR that appeared in the March 1955 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. The Elizabeth Valley RR was his most significant layout and ..... 

The Eagleroost & Koontree Railroad

A collection of temporary scenes [3] built for photographing models featuring a fictitious narrow gauge mountain railroad - modeled in HOn2-1/2 - in an unspecified US location, situated sometime in the late 1890s or early 1900’s. Some of the scenes were staged on The Elizabeth Valley Railroad, but the EKRR wasn't a permanent part of the EVRR. It was an ongoing project undertaken between the mid 1950s to mid 1960s. Based on photographic evidence, the scenes were likely no bigger than 2’x2’ or 3’x3’ maximum. Its first print appearance was in the Fall 1957 of Model Trains as part of that issue’s Stop, look and listen photo section.

The 1900s Shortline Terminal Yard

An extensive HO scale diorama of a US backwoods, shortline terminal yard situated sometime around 1900. It wasn't an extension of his Elizabeth Valley Railroad, but it was stylistically similar. It was built sometime during the winter of 1964 and 1965, and into the spring of 1965. Stories about it were submitted to Model Railroader in May 1965. Its print appearance was in Turn backward, O Time, January 1967, Model Railroader. The yard’s engine house was featured in Model Railroader’s March 1967 article Brick Enginehouse.

The Enskale & Hoentee Railroad

A 30” x 30” layout situated in a mountainous region surrounding a lake. Set in an unspecified US location sometime in the late 1890s or early 1900’s. It combined 3 scales: N, TT and HOn2-1/2. It was a model of a tourist line; there were no industries. It was built primarily as a project layout for Railroad Model Craftsman. When Model Railroader's editorial staff learned that Moore was building this layout, they offered him a deal to write a book, similar to their HO Primer, for beginners starting out in N-scale, which was a relatively new scale at the time. Moore declined the offer stating that he felt he wasn’t skilled enough in electrical matters to write about a typical layout’s complex electrical system and that he didn’t like working to deadlines. The E & K was built during the winter of 1967 and 1968, and into the spring 1968. Its story was submitted to Railroad Model Craftsman on 28 April 1968, and appeared in print in a three part series in the October, November and December 1968 issues of Railroad Model Craftsman.

Model Railroading Writing
Moore’s model railroading activities were intertwined with his work as a freelance contributor to the model railroading press. His publications can be divided into three distinct periods.

Period 1: February 1955 to March 1962 

The first period ran from February 1955, when his first publication appeared in Model Railroader magazine, until March 1962, when his article on how to build an HO scale model of Disney’s Grizzly Flats depot was the cover story of Model Trains’ final regular issue. There were 25 articles published during this period, and in them he established himself as an author capable of writing on a broad range of model railroading construction projects.

[table of articles from February 1955 to March 1962 to be extracted from the master article list that can be found here.]

Period 2: June 1962 to October 1970

The second period ran from June 1962 to October 1970. This era saw Moore develop and solidify what would become his signature style: HO scale building construction projects that could be undertaken for about $2 or $3 in materials, require a couple of weeks of  spare time to complete and be suitable for a wide variety of layouts all woven into a how-to article complete with scenic photos of the finished project and a humorous fictional story. There were 70 articles published during this period and it ended with a 13 month stretch, starting in November 1970, where he had no articles published. It was the longest gap in his publication history since being shutout in 1958.

[table of articles from June 1962 to October 1970 to be extracted from the master article list that can be found here.]

Period 3: December 1971 to July 1979

The third period ran from his first publication in Railroad Modeler in December 1971 until his death in August 1979. His last article appeared in the July 1979 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. His most outrageous project, The Cannonball and Safety Powder Works, which concluded by blowing up the finished model and photographing the HO scale conflagration, was featured in the April 1977 issue of Model Railroader. Near the end of this period he published some of his boyhood reminisces in Good Old Days magazine. There were 31 articles published, 29 of them in the model railroad press, during this period.

[table of articles from December 1971 to July 1979 to be extracted from the master article list that can be found here.]

Unpublished Manuscripts

In 1980 Model Railroader’s editor, Jim Kelly, noted the magazine was in possession of 6 unpublished manuscripts by Moore [4] and had an intention of publishing them. They were never published, although they did resurface in 2016 along with a number of other heretofore unknown and unpublished manuscripts. 

Story characters

His construction articles and photo essays often wove in a humorous fictional story about the structure and its inhabitants. This set his work apart from the more common form of construction article presentation that focused mainly on materials and how-to instructions. Moore’s characters were often cast as members of his extended family; how much they were based on actual family members is unknown. 

Fictional characters that have appeared in Moore’s stories include: Cousin Caleb, 
Uncle Wilber, Mr. P. Pottle, Great grandfather Lucifer Penroddy Snooks, Waldo Hoople, Cousin Rube, Grandfather Pudzi, Uncle Peabody, Uncle Dinwoody, Cousin Elmer (Dinwoody), Pistachio Jr., Ma Spumoni, Cousin Leroy, Uncle Sim, Grandpa Bunn, and Uncle Charley Spumoni. 

Moore had a large personal library [3] and was a voracious reader. The influences of written material on Moore’s projects and stories include the works of: Charles ‘Chic’ Sale, Rowland Emett, Dorothy Parker, Carl Fallberg, Bill Schopp, H. Allen Smith, Lucius Beebe & Charles Clegg, Charles E. Carryl, Richard Armour, George Allen and Robert B. Nixon, Jr.

Moore would sometimes appear in his stories as himself, the project’s builder. In his photos of HO scale scenes he would sometimes appear in the guise of his avatar: an HO scale old time photographer hunched behind his tripod mounted view camera cloaked in a horse blanket style focusing hood.


Inspired by Charles ‘Chic’ Sale’s fictional character Lem Putt, a carpenter specializing in outhouse construction, Moore built a number of HO scale outhouses of various designs that he mounted on small squares of card, signed on the bottom and gave to friends as gifts. They were highly sought after and Moore considered himself a master of outhouse modeling. Eighteen of his creations were presented in his article A Mighty Relaxin’ Job that appeared in the November 1975 issue of the NMRA Bulletin.

Television appearance

In early July 1971, a camera crew from the television show Carolina Camera, a show about interesting local people produced by WBTV in Charlotte, North Carolina, shot a segment on Moore and his model railroad work at his apartment. It is not known if it aired. Interestingly, Moore did not own a television.

Model construction techniques
Although Moore used a variety of techniques and materials to build HO scale structures, he was known for using certain construction methods again-and-again. They formed a suite of techniques for keeping his projects easy and low-cost. Moore was invited to give a clinic on his construction methods at the May 1968 convention of the Mid-Eastern Region of the National Model Railroad Association. He declined stating he did his best work at a typewriter and detested crowds and traveling.

Balsa Wood

Balsa was Moore’s preferred material for all aspects of construction from wall and roof substrates to the load bearing members of bridges and trestles. It was a soft and easy material to work, but also strong, lightweight, inexpensive and readily available as it was also a primary airframe building material for model airplane hobbyists.

Shingles & Siding with a Wood Burning Tool

His third article, Burn those models, that appeared in the May 1955 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, and Modeling with a burning tool, that appeared in the July 1962 issue of Model Railroader, outlined his technique for using a woodburning tool to score shingle, brick, stone and siding patterns into balsa instead of purchasing equivalent commercial materials.

Paper Metal

If a building called for corrugated metal siding, Moore would make his own by taping a piece of 20-pound bond paper over a piece of Northeastern brand .040” spaced corrugated board and then scribing the corrugations into the paper with a spent ball point pen. To make metal roofing, he’d score only along every third groove. When finished, the paper was cut into suitably sized scale panels. 

Paper Pipes

His buildings often needed overhead and rooftop piping which he’d make by first rounding off some balsa strips whose cross-section was close to that required, and then  finishing the circular profile by forcing the strips through holes of the desired diameter. He’d complete the job by wrapping the now cylindrical balsa strips in paper.

Inked Window Sashes & Mullions

Moore rarely used commercial window castings, but would make his own windows by rubbing a piece of clear acetate with an abrasive like pumice, talc or kitchen cleanser and then drawing in the mullions and sashes with a ruling pen and straightedge.

Selective Compression

Many real life buildings suitable for use on a model railroad can take up an inordinate amount of space on a layout in relation to its other elements; especially so in Moore's era when many HO scale model railroads were built on standard 4' x 8' sheets of plywood. Selective Compression is a technique used to remove redundant visual and spatial elements from a building and distill it down in size to just the features that make it unique and useful on a model railroad. The resulting model is then proportioned more consistently with a layout's other elements and spacings. Many of Moore's projects were sized or selectively compressed to fit within a 1 square foot area. Moore's selective compressions were not without controversy. A letter to the editor in the August 1974 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman noted that Moore's paper mill that appeared in the April 1974 issue was rather unrealistic because it had only a 7" x 8" footprint and actual paper mills were far more massive

The Dot & Blot Method of Time Recording

Moore often boasted that many of his projects only took about 2 weeks of spare time to build. He developed a tongue-in-cheek method of keeping track of time. On a calendar he’d mark a dot for each hour worked, half a dot for a half hour, and a blot for anything thing that seemed like 3 hours. To get the time it took to build a project, he’d add up the dots and blots, and add a few extras in for good measure.

Plastic model kits

Beginning in 1967, AHM (Associated Hobby Manufacturers) of Philadelphia produced the first of 9 HO scale plastic model kits based on a selection of Moore’ s published articles in Railroad Model Craftsman.

The Schaefer Brewery kit was the first kit, and the initial production runs were stamped with box tops that read: "Designed by E. L. Moore. Reproduced by permission from plans as shown in Railroad Model Craftsman Magazine." It is alleged that E. L. Moore received no payment or royalty for these kits, but was given a few unassembled kits as a gesture of appreciation.

Although the molds changed ownership over the years, some of the kits, like Ma’s Place, have remained in production since their first release and remain in production as of 2017. As well, components of some of the kits have been used for other commercially available plastic model kits.

Death and Retrospective

Moore died on August 12, 1979 in Spotsylvania, Virginia of a heart attack caused by arteriosclerosis. His remains were cremated.

In November 1979, Railroad Model Craftsman’s editor Anthony Koester published a brief tribute to Moore in the Editor’s Notebook column [5]. In February 1980, Jim Kelly, editor of Model Railroader, wrote a 5 page tribute to Moore in E. L. Moore’s Legacy [4]. As well as providing a tribute to Moore’s life and work, it showed for the first time a number of then never published before color photographs of several of Moore’s projects. In 1999, Model Railroader noted in its Along the Line Looks Back series that E. L. Moore was a notable model railroader for his use of simple materials to build unique model structures [6].



1. Bull session: “A visit with E. L. Moore”, Model Railroader, September 1975, Gordon Odegard.

2. Early Century Field Day, Good Old Days, May 1979, Earl Moore.

3. He Build Railroads - Then Scraps Them, The Charlotte Observer, 19 January 1958, David Hayhow.

4. E. L. Moore’s Legacy, Model Railroader, February 1980, Jim Kelly

5. Editor’s Notebook: “E. L. Moore”, Railroad Model Craftsman, November 1979, J. Anthony Koester

6. Along the Line Looks Back: E. L. Moore, Model Railroader, November 1999, Model Railroader editorial staff.

I release the above content - text and photo portrait in info box - under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 license.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Smoke 'em if you got 'em

I'm probably the only person you know who was thrilled to receive an empty cigar box as a birthday present. But, there's some method to my madness.
[Inside the Enskale & Hoentee RR's control panel, from part 2 of the The Enskale & Hoentee RR construction series that appeared in the November 1968 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. I'm not going to put a power pack in the box - mine's too large - but just use it to house the track control panel]

I have no idea what sort of set up E. L. Moore used to control his Elizabeth Valley RR, but I do know what he used on his Enskale & Hoentee RR: the control panel was a cigar box. I thought I'd do the same with this little layout, hence the generous gift. And as you can see, it's not just any cigar box, it's the same brand as the one E. L. Moore used. The wonders of eBay never cease to amaze me :-) Nor do the wonders of Google search. On a completely unrelated note, my brain dropped a song fragment into my consciousness a few days ago and I couldn't place it, but with the wonders of Google, I typed that chunk of lyrics into Google and this appeared - must have been triggered by all that thinking about portraits and costumes.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

E. L. Moore, Adventurer

This is another portrait I was provided. Along the bottom, in very light and smudged pencil, was written, E. L. Moore, 1940. Camera, binoculars and rifle. Everything needed to observe the unknown and protect oneself. Some of his dreams and inner life is on display here. 

You can see in his right hand he's squeezing the shutter release bulb to snap the picture. Likely taken in his own studio. Compare it to his farmer selfie. I don't have a date on that one, but I'd guess it was taken at the same time - look at the face. 

There's more to this man than I know; likely more than I'll ever never know. In theses portraits lies the deep story behind the E. L. Moore we know as the model railroad ranconteur. All these pictures add up to someone, but someone we've barely met.

Recently Updated

I've updated the master index of E. L. Moore articles with a couple of additions. One important thing I had overlooked was a Trackside Photo of the Elizabeth Valley RR that was published in the February 1955 issue of Model Railroader. I had previously thought his Elizabeth Valley RR photo spread that appeared in the March 1955 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman was his first publication, but I was wrong. I'm glad the preparation of the Wikipedia article is nudging me to review all this material.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Alternative E. L. Moore biography portraits

A generous reader saw the draft of the E. L. Moore Wikipedia biography and most kindly sent me two portraits that could be used in the place of the 'farmer'. The above photo I think is best suited, and I don't think it has been published elsewhere, but I need to check. This one is also intriguing.
When I saw that shot, my mind immediately flashed on a fantasy Howard Hawks movie starring Barbara Stanwyck, James Cagney and Cary Grant with the bit-part part of the hard-bitten newspaper reporter played by our man Moore. Crazy I know, but it just has that sort of look.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

I guess there is a prototype for everything

You may remember a couple of years ago I posted some photos of E. L. Moore's HO scale outhouses. That's one up there. Well, they say there's a prototype for everything, and I guess that's true, because today while browsing the latest photos at Shorpy, I saw this.
[Image sourced and cropped from the Shorpy post, Porta-Privy: 1938.]

Who would have thought? 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Road trip to the Montreal Model Train Exposition

John and I drove over to the Montreal Model Train Exposition to see what we could see. It was a gloriously sunny day and a pleasant 18C, so a great day for a drive. Neither of us had been to this show before, so we were up for surprises. It was held over several floors in the halls of the Sun Youth Organization's building on St. Urbain Street. Overall, it's a great show for families with children. There's lots of things for the kids to do, along with plenty of Thomas, Harry Potter, some sci-fi models and dioramas, tin-plate and toy trains on display. Although for me, the highlight  - other than the charming Madchenbahn - came later with a lunch at Montreal's famous Snowdon Deli.
It's located beside the Snowdon Theatre; a magnificent building in the Streamline Moderne style that opened in 1937 and has fallen on hard times over the last few years. Wikipedia states it's likely to be demolished soon to make way for progress.
But DeliSnowdon appears to be doing just fine. It was jammed as usual when we showed up for lunch, but we were quickly seated.
What did I have? The corned beef sandwich of course.
I should have snapped the photo before I took a bite, but my stomach overruled my brain when the sandwich was placed in front of me :-)