Thursday, May 29, 2014

E. L. Moore’s Legacy in the 21st Century: “..not a trolley fan...”

And while not a trolley fan, this, from the History of American Funeral Directors, might interest those who are: “The use of funeral trolley cars, most of which were of conventional size (although one exception, Atchison, Kansas, had one only 8’ long) spread through the 90’s and into the early years of the current century. Most of the major cities put them into use and many were operated on a regular schedule to the larger cemeteries.” {E. L. Moore attempts to convince the trolley modelers that his W. E. Snatchem - Undertaker build in the November 1967 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, might be good for their layouts} [1]


[1] The W. E. Snatchem – Undertaker article [2] is the only one of E. L. Moore’s writings where he mentions anything about trolleys, trams, streetcars, or electric street railways, and it’s only to say that he’s not a fan. Although he does take the opportunity to suggest to those who are fans that this project might make an interesting addition to their layout - in an Addams Family sort of way :-)

On the surface, I shouldn’t be interested in E. L. Moore’s work at all since I’m one of those tram fans, and I must admit that my interest in Mr. Moore’s work is due mainly to a happy accident. As a boy I stumbled across his Bunn’s feed and seed plant in the August 1973 issue of Model Railroader just when my interest in model trains, especially buildings, was developing, and that project was followed by the Jones Chemical Co. project in the March 1974 issue of Model Railroader, the Clarabel Hotel in the February 1974 issue of Railroad Modeler, and The RMC Paper Company in the April 1974 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman in relatively quick succession - 4 fascinating projects over a 9 month period that I eagerly tried to build as soon as they hit the newsstands. I didn’t know his focus was on the later 1800s and early 20th century [3]. I didn’t know about the EVRR and his interest in steam. I just got hooked on those building projects. They were low-cost, used things I could easily get my hands on, and were fully described in a single issue.
I didn’t realize at that time that those 4 projects were what I’d now call examples of Mr. Moore’s third period work. The first period ran from his first EVRR photo spread in the March1955 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman up until 1962, which was where the last of his Model Trains articles appeared, and Model Trains itself basically ceased to be [4]. The second period began somewhere in ’62 to ’63, and the third period began with his first Railroad Modeler article, Cousin Caleb’s Cabbage Plant that appeared in the December 1971 issue, and ended in 1980. The early part of the third period is where I came in. Without any ready access to old issues of model railroading magazines at the time – which I would have readily devoured ! – I had no idea about this bigger picture.

His first period articles in Model Trains had a little different style from his later work. Although you can see the beginnings of his signature style in those articles, it’s more muted than in what would become his classic works in the second period. His Model Trains articles are closer to standard how-to articles in style than what would become his norm.

The second period is where E. L. Moore was at his peak. I say this for several reasons: he produced more in this period than in the other two; he settled into his signature style during those years; 1967 saw his greatest output for a single year [5]; all of his builds that were kitted came from this period, and 5 of the 6 that were kitted came from his 1967 publications; his masterwork, Turn Backward, O Time, and the related Brick Enginehouse, were also published in 1967.

E. L. Moore had a signature style, but no signature project - that is, there was’t one particular project that changed the direction of model railroading like, say, John Allen’s Enginehouse project did. But, Mr. Moore did have a masterwork. In the nostalgically titled Turn Backward, O Time, that appeared in the January 1967 issue of Model Railroader, he showed, and described at a high level, how he scratchbuilt an entire late 1890s to early 1900s backwoods shortline terminal yard. He said it was an extension to his EVRR, although he doesn’t show how it integrates. But, that’s nit-picking. Mr. Moore shows-and-tells the entire facility via a pleasant walking tour: there’s a brick enginehouse (that was later detailed in its own construction article in the March 1967 issue of Model Railroader), a brick sandhouse, a coal loading derrick, an icehouse, a handcar shed (this is the one that he described how to build in Modeling with a Burning Tool in the July 1962 issue of Model Railroader, and it’s the one I had go at building in the second post in this series), a yard office, an ashpit hoist, as well as the premises of the Central Warehouse Co. (consisting of 2 warehouses - one in good repair, and one with a serious Leaning Tower of Pisa slant that looks like it foreshadows the future work of Malcolm Furlow), the Dilly Manufacturing Co., and the McGee Lumber Co. (which looks like a precursor to his Cal’s Lumberyard project that appeared in the April 1973 issue of Model Railroader). He doesn’t discuss how to build all the structures, but there are extensive photos and drawings if you’d like to try. If you were to read just one E. L. Moore article I’d recommend it to be this one as it is the most complete and concise view into him and his work that one is likely to get from his entire catalogue.

In the early part of the third period his articles were generally in the same tone and spirit as those second period ones, but his output was tapering off. Gordon Odegard mentions in A visit with E. L. Moore that appeared in the Bull Session column of the September 1975 issue of Model Railroader that E. L. Moore’s baby portrait photography business, that he ran with a friend of his, burned down in 1968. He retired after that, and he was likely in his early 70s at the time, which may account for the subsequent drop-off in output - although, for the most part, the article quality is still there, and the infamous, Burning Man-esqe Cannonball and Safety Powder Works project was produced in this period

It looked for awhile that there might have been a fourth period on the horizon. Jim Kelly, in his E. L. Moore’s legacy tribute article, which appeared in the February 1980 issue of Model Railroader, wrote that the magazine had half-a-dozen of Mr. Moore’s manuscripts on file in their office and had plans to publish them. I suspect that if Model Railroader had a small backlog of unpublished articles, Railroad Model Craftsman might have had some as well - a question that needs investigating. Well, that fourth era never came to pass. 1980 was the last year anything written by E. L. Moore was published. My guess is that if any of the mainstream American model railroading magazines had any E. L. Moore manuscripts in their files, they likely didn’t publish them because the times had radically changed by 1980. Mr. Moore’s methods, subjects, and approach were of another era. Things had moved on. A commercial magazine has to attract lots of readers and advertisers, and it’s likely this could no longer be done with E. L. Moore articles.

[2] W. E. Snatchem – Undertaker build that E. L. Moore wrote about in the November 1967 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman was also kitted in plastic by AHM. And it looks like a few other kits have appeared over the years - for example, Farmhouse, Model Power #433 and Aunt Millie’s House, TycoKit #7776 - that were based on this kit.
[3] That late 1800’s to early 1900’s period was also the height of electric street railways and interurbans in the US and Canada, but according to Peter Norton in Fighting Traffic the years from around 1915 to 1930 laid the necessary ground work – legal, social, commercial, political, physical and psychological – for the eventual demise of electric trolley, tram, streetcar and interurban systems as the dominate form of urban passenger transportation. The mainstream model railroading press refers to the period from the late 1940s to the late 1950s as the ‘Transition Era’ where diesel locomotives replaced steam. Although many urban electric passenger railways continued to operate past 1930, their fate was sealed by then. One could think of the 1915 to 1930 period as an earlier, and largely forgotten, transition era in its own right: it was the wholesale transition from electrified passenger rail transport to automobiles.

[4] The set of excerpted Model Trains articles that appear in the Model Railroader Magazine: Special Issue and Archive Collection DVD are quite interesting, but there is one rather annoying thing about the scanned pages: a significant number of pages have red pencil annotations on them. They look like they have something to do with pricing and payment due to the submitters and authors who have provided those pages their content. The magazine pages are readable, but this is annoying in archival material. If there is a second addition I’d encourage the team at Kalmbach Publishing to try and acquire clean copies of those pages and re-scan them.

[5] 1967 is also a significant year in my mind for a different reason: Expo ’67 in Montreal. It was the height of the dream of mid 20th century architectural optimism. Forty years later in 2007, the Toronto Star’s architectural critic Christopher Hume listed it as one of the seven most important constructions in Canadian history. The tone and outlook of the structures of that event were a stark contrast to every single project topic  E. L. Moore published that year. Take for example the United States pavilion: a 20 story geodesic dome designed by R. Buckminister Fuller. No wood. No square corners. No flat panels. Nothing rural. Nothing conventional. No trains other than a stop for the park’s minirail system, but a lunar lander and Apollo command module were displayed in prime locations. Apparently Americans visiting it didn’t like it much even though ‘foreigners’ did.
Interestingly R. Buckminister Fuller and E. L. Moore were roughly of the same generation. Mr. Fuller was born in 1895 and died in 1983, while Mr. Moore was born somewhere between 1896 and 1899 and died in 1979. Both served in the U.S. Navy during World War I: Mr. Fuller as a rescue boat commander at the Navy Flying School at Newport News, Virginia, and Mr. Moore was on convoy duty on the U.S.S. Georgia. But that appears to be where the similarity ends. Mr. Fuller was born into an upper class family in Massachusetts whereas it appears Mr. Moore was born into far more modest circumstances on a farm in south eastern Michigan. No doubt this difference helped put them on far different life trajectories.

This is the 13th instalment in an ongoing series. An index of all posts can be found here.

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