Friday, November 30, 2018

An early good riddance to 2018

2018 has been a year of both little progress and major changes. The biggest change being the death of my father. One might think that even though he was old and ill, and that I'm no youngster myself, the impact wouldn't be that great. One would be wrong. We're working on making 2019 better.

Still, there were periods of normalcy, and some of the usual was done. And as has been my custom* for awhile, here are a few highlights.

The blog crossed the 1,000 posts line in April (this post you're reading is No. 1,037),

Personal blogs haven't been cool for a long time, but I don't care. I enjoy writing one, and greatly enjoy reading other people's. I wish I had started earlier.

Some progress was made on the N-scale Elizabeth Valley RR tribute layout (although it has been hanging on my wall for quite awhile awaiting further inspiration),

And some progress was made on the Alta Vista TC,

I didn't build much this year, just two plastic kits that were surprisingly pleasant to assemble,

I tried my hand at writing movie reviews (which turned out to be the most popular posts of those written in 2018),

I tried my hand at mockups, one being a movie theatre that I'm looking forward to turning into a model,

I did a lot of reading and armchair streetcar-ing that included,

The Los Angeles Railway Through the Years by Steven L. Easlon
The White Front Cars of San Francisco by Charles Smallwood
Surf, Sand and Streetcars: A Mobile History of Santa Cruz, California by Charles S. McCaleb
Montreal's Electric Streetcars: An Illustrated History of the Tramway Era: 1892 to 1959 by Richard M. Binns
The New York Elevated by Robert C. Reed
Tenements, Towers and Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City by Julia Wertz
selected issues of Voie Libre International
stacks of Railroad Model Craftsmans from the '70s and '80s
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osborne
Stone Cold Dead by James W. Ziskin
Dirigibles that made history by David C. Cooke
reread issues 404, 405, 406 and 407 of Batman comics
Perfect Wave: More Essays on Art and Democracy by Dave Hickey
reread Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy by Dave Hickey
Scenic Railway Modelling by P. R. Wickham
reread Paddington to Seagood: The Story of a Model Railway by Gilbert Thomas
currently reading The Infinite Blacktop by Sara Gran

My father was the person who kicked off my interest in model building and model railroading. Although he wasn't a model railroader himself, it was something he supported, and he took an interest in my latest purchases; in later years, especially those TTC PCCs. He had far more experience riding the TTC than I ever did.

One of my favourite model makers, Michael Paul Smith, also died this year. One of his projects was a 1/24 scale model of the house he grew-up in. The model was excellent, and looked easy to build - deceptively easy as it turned out. In 2017 I decided to try the same with the house I grew up in. It was more difficult than it seemed to draw up a 1/24 scale plan just using old photos and my memory as reference material, and once I finished I realized building that size of a model was a no go. Even the relatively modest suburban bungalow I spent my childhood in becomes a large object in 1/24. So, I decided to try and build an HO version and got as far as building the foundation and floor. I stopped there. Not because of build problems, but because it unlocked too many memories. Don't let anyone tell you model building is a totally banal and benign activity.

And while we're on the subject of death, 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of E. L. Moore’s. One thing I’ve never mentioned in my ELM writings is that his work, and other stories I read in the model building press way back when, were what opened my eyes to the idea that one could write about making things, and do so in an engaging manner. I know, it seems an obvious thing, but being young and thick, it never occurred to me until I encountered those magazines back in the early ‘70s. As well, my parents encouraged reading, which is probably why I could buy those magazines in the first place. My mum didn’t read that much herself beyond newspapers, but she read to me well before I could read, and took me to the library. My father was a big time reader. We swapped books back and forth, regularly visited the public libraries of Scarborough, and often went to some good bookstores – well, they seemed good to me at the time - in downtown Toronto. I read stuff that was at a much higher level than I probably should have been exposed to, but I didn’t know any better, and it was fun. His family was poor when he grew up, but he was driven and it didn’t stop him from getting a university degree in his early 40s. I read some of his required reading during his time in school**, and tagged along on some trips to the university bookstore and library. So, Mr. Moore, those writers in the ‘70s model building press, and especially my parents, were a huge influence on making reading and writing an integral part of life. And it has served me well all these years. Yeah, you’re right, I’m no genius writer, but I keep on keeping on :-)

On a more positive note, there's one other thing about 2019: it'll be this blog's 10th anniversary. 2018 marked my 10th year as a blogger, but 2019 is my 10th year writing here. In 2008 I started a blog called Separated Flow. I didn't like it and shut it down a few months later. After thinking about what I wanted a blog to be, I started 30 Squares of Ontario***  and retroDynamics**** in 2009. I shut down retroDynamics after a year or so because I didn't have enough good material to see the concept through, and realized I didn't have the time or energy to post to two blogs. Believe it or not, even after 10 years I haven't done all the things I'd like to see done here at 30 Squares.

I'm starting to see 2019 up ahead and 2018 getting smaller and smaller in the time machine's rear-view mirror. I've got a couple of stalled layouts waiting to be jump-started, a new story with Leslie and Ed about half written, a stack of kits cluttering the workbench, a dream to get something published in an actual paper magazine, a new retro model railroading series itching to start, notes and drawings scattered around the workshop, a turntable that needs an amplifier, and hopefully a new vibe waiting to be shifted into once 2018 drops below the event horizon.

Well, reminiscing is tiring and I need some coffee. Let's wrap things up.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to you and yours! 

Take us home Mr. Guaraldi....

I'll be back sometime after Boxing Day. 


*If you're interested in year-end rambles, here's where the custom started in 2016, and here's the sophomore run in 2017.

**A few weeks ago, ok maybe it was months ago, I read an article that said these days a lot of people think the soma-world presented in Brave New World is a good thing and the alternative - that is, real personal freedom - is the bad thing! Oh, and if you haven't read John Brunner's The Shockwave Rider, you should - it made my head spin.

***This blog got its name the way most model railroad blogs do: it was based on my layout at the time I set up the blog. The layout was 6' x 5', hence 30 square feet, and it was set in a fictional town in southern Ontario. After a while I found the concept boring and concocted the Lost Ocean Line, which was just an excuse to do whatever I pleased and incorporate whatever I wanted. I felt the working title of the blog should be changed, so I started calling it 30 Squares, even though the url still has the original name.

****retroDynamics was supposed to be about taking an old-school slant on a few topics: model building, blimps and airships, aerodynamics, some aspects of art, space flight, time travel, comics, retro pop culture and whatever else came to mind that wasn't model railroading related. It took me awhile to realize that a personal blog didn't have to be targeted to particular interests or people, contrary to what a marketing outlook on the world would tell us is good practice. I figured I'd just write about retroDynamics topics, if I had any, at 30 Squares and assume readers weren't so narrow minded. After all, we're human beings, who can be interested in and affected by lots of things, and whoever showed up to read the blog were the right people.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

In Praise of the Amateur Model Railroader

While reading this article on the surprising power of the placebo effect, my eye caught this other story on why so few people have hobbies these days. All I can say is, right on.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

ELM Epilogue: 2 outta 3 ain't bad

That's a photo of the Iron Age Mfg. Co., built by D. Russell Young, Jr., winner of the RMC / Dremel Kitbashing Award in the November 1976 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. Of the three plastic kits that form the basis of this project, two of them are AHM E. L. Moore kits: the Gruesome Casket Company and the Molasses Mine. The third is Revell's classic Superior Bakery. The project is an excellent example of '70s style kitbashing based on three of the era's most popular and commonly available kits - although the Superior Bakery kit originated much earlier. Also, I was surprised to see the Molasses Mine in a project where it seemed like a perfectly sensible component :-)

Friday, November 23, 2018

Michael Paul Smith, RIP

I was saddened today to learn of the passing of Michael Paul Smith, the creator of Elgin Park. I've greatly admired his work and consider his book Elgin Park: Visual Memories of Midcentury America at 1/24th Scale to be one of the best books written on model building. Our internet age is a strange one. I followed his Flickr stream with great interest and bought his books, and although I never had the pleasure of meeting the gentleman, I still feel a personal loss and that the world has lost a great human being. If you aren't familiar with his work, I suggest you look it up.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

ELM Epilogue: Did E. L. Moore get a D- in Structural Engineering?

This refers to E. L. Moore's Car Repair Shed described in the November 1969 RMC (page 34). I was quite intrigued with the model and decided to build one myself. However, I found that Moore's model had rafters spaced 12 feet apart which, in real life, would not be practical as the roof would become "wavy" in a very short time. Hence, my rafters have three foot centers, and the uprights are five feet apart.... From a letter by R. Vergeylen of Quebec and printed in the Safety Valve column of the March 1970 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. Turns out that back in the '70s I wasn't any better. My engine house would have collapsed under the first snowfall....

Saturday, November 10, 2018

ELM Epilogue: E. L. Moore, a frustrated Nader Raider?

We note that Ralph Nader has criticized the railroads for dumping toilet wastes over some quarter million miles of railroad right of way. Unlike airplanes and buses, which dump human excrement into chemical tanks for disposal at the destination, most railroad equipment just flushes the waste on the right of way. And, here, all these years, we've clamped down on our beloved E. L. Moore who has been hankering to do a bit on outdoor privies. Moore, an expert on the subject, has made them in many variations, including one made of bricks and another with wagon wheelsSo sayeth Harold H. Carstens in the Notes on an Old Timetable column in the March 1970 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Band Car

A couple of weeks ago Vince gave me a copy of a book called Montreal's Electric Streetcars: An Illustrated History of the Tramway Era: 1892 to 1959 by Richard M. Binns, published in 1973 by Railfare Enterprises. It's excellent and I was surprised by what seems like a lot of unique rolling stock. One item is this Band Car. The caption below the photo has this to say: A happy little Car! The MTC Employees' Band had their own travelling bandstand during the early 1900s. One of its final runs was to advertise the "Alexander's Ragtime Band" movie in the early 1930s. Elsewhere near the photo it's stated that: The Band Car was 26 feet long overall by seven feet wide and weighed 15,100 lbs. It was painted light yellow and carried no decoration or lettering. I can imagine an unpowered, narrow-gauge version being built by E. L. Moore for his E & K RR, in the spirit of the Spumoni Club Coach, a powered vehicle that was - inadvertently I admit - built as an unpowered coach. Or, building it as a powered trolley for an electric street railway, would open-up a lot of good stories. And speaking of stories, I leave you with Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, Don Ameche, Jack Haley, and Ethel Merman....take it away Irv....

Saturday, November 3, 2018

ELM Epilogue: The Case of the Photographer's Doppelganger - Solved!

[On the left, E. L. Moore's photographer figure, whose construction he described in Put Your Figures to Work published in the July '57 issue of Model Railroader and appeared in a number of his published photographs - photo from E. L. Moore's archives. On the right is an homage to E. L. Moore's photographer figure built by Bob Hayden from a Revell figure - photo courtesy of Dave Frary (the original was in colour; I created this trimmed black-and-white version for comparison purposes.)]

Last week I was reading through some issues of Railroad Model Craftsman from the '70s. In the February '77 issue I came across a photo by Bob Hayden that included the ELM-like photographer figure I chanced upon in his and Dave Frary's Elk River Line article in the May '70 issue of RMC. I figured I'd try and contact Mr. Hayden and see if he could shed some light on whether the figure was influenced in any way by E. L. Moore, or maybe was simply a commercial item, or maybe something else.

I contacted Mr. Hayden via his online bookstore, and he graciously answered my question. Below is a slightly edited version of his reply,

I do remember that the figure was based on the one in E.L. Moore’s photos. I think it started with a Revell figure, one of the few to-scale figures that we had back in the days before Preiser, Merten, and the others. Wire tripod legs, a little block of wood to hold them together, and a bit of cloth or tissue for the cover. Probably took more time to paint than to make. There may have been a tiny reflective jewel on the front to suggest a lens.

Mr. Frary provided confirmation, and kindly provided a colour photo, a black-and-white converted snippet of which I've included in the introductory photo to this post. He also mentioned that he too had built a photographer, but based on a Campbell figure.

A small mystery solved and another addition to the E. L. Moore story.