Thursday, July 11, 2019

Thoughts on John Allen, Part 2

At the risk of beating this topic from the past to death, I do have a few additional comments I would like to make about John Allen and his legacy, following my first post on the subject (that post can be seen at this link: ).
     Some additional aspects of his modeling deserve emphasis, and I will begin with another of the famous back-cover ads from Model Railroader of the 1950s. (There is an irony here, in a way, because all of these famous ads were photographed before John began his final version of the layout, the one that became so famous in later years.)

This ad was on the back of the February 1953 issue of MR. Allen had become a friend of Gordon Varney and photographed Varney products for the ads, but note, for example, that the Varney 4-6-0 locomotive in the background of this photo is not lettered. Like Varney’s diesel locomotives and streamlined passenger cars included in some ads, Allen did not actually run most of these products on his layout and didn’t letter them for his railroad.
     The ad shown was intended to promote the steel refrigerator cars spotted at the ice deck, and the stock car in the foreground. Note that the stock car is lettered for Allen’s railroad, the Gorre & Daphetid (intended to be pronounced “Gory and Defeated,” a too-cute name Allen was to regret for years), but the car was never available from Varney in that scheme. More about that in a moment.
     In the prior post, I mentioned the dinosaur switcher that Allen had invented, named Emma. He even used Emma in one of the Varney ads, here promoting the separately available power truck and twin geared drive truck from the diesel switcher shown at right, tellingly still lettered New York Central. This was the back cover in April 1953.

     In the previous post, I mentioned that Allen had a locomotive roster that was well weathered, and it was entirely steam (except for a gas-electric . . . and a streetcar). One of the illustrative photos is the one below, of the garden tracks of his engine terminal at Great Divide on the layout, showing an entirely weathered fleet. This photo, like some in the previous post, is from the Kalmbach book, Model Railroading with John Allen, by Linn Westcott (1981), and is used with permission from Andy Sperandeo. Some of these engines are modified from the locomotive kits of the day, others are modified brass imports. All had working headlights, a far from universal feature in those days.

You have only to read issues of Model Railroader or Railroad Model Craftsman as late as 1970 to notice that very few others were accomplishing this kind of appearance.
     Some years ago I decided I wanted to have some sort of G&D freight car in my fleet, and I turned to the Varney ad you see at the top of this post to know what to do. I used some of the graphics Allen had published to make tiff images, and reproduced them on a laser printer, then applied them to a Train Miniature stock car (frankly, it’s a better model than the Varney stock car). Here’s the result, and you can compare to John Allen’s version in the photo at the top of this post. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

I will admit that this car is rarely part of an operating session, but it was fun to create, and occasionally appears on the layout.
     John Allen’s legacy is now receding into the past, and I know that most younger modelers have little interest in Allen’s layout or photographs. But he was one of the pioneers of much that we do today, from weathering to completed scenery to realistic operation and photography, and his accomplishments certainly have my respect. Of course I recognize the caricatures, some of which do grate a bit, and not all the humor is very funny; those things have to be balanced with the positives. And I guess it’s a kind of tribute that I have a G&D stock car in my own car fleet!
Tony Thompson


  1. Tony -

    Did you acquire in of the historic model railroad kits which the NMRA was marketing in the '80s and '90s?

  2. No, but I thought it was an interesting promotion.
    Tony THompson