History‎ > ‎

June 29th- On the Shoulders of Giants Pt 12

posted Jun 30, 2017, 5:36 PM by Sue Line RailRoad   [ updated Jun 30, 2017, 5:45 PM ]

How do you introduce a “giant” who needs no introduction?  The late John Allen, the “Wizard of Monterey”, who had the magnificent Gorre & Daphetid model railroad.  His influence is seen throughout model railroading, but specifically in a small forgotten corner of the Sue Line world in the town of Jeauxville.

John Allen began construction of the first version of the Gorre & Daphetid (G&D) model railroad in HO scale in 1953.  As with most modelers, John Allen needed more space, and he chose to move. In so doing, John Allen offered a railroad for sale with a free house included. That sense of humor would persevere throughout his modeling career.  When no one was interested in buying the house with the railroad, John Allen dismantled it. The original 3.5 ft by 6.5 ft Gorre &Daphetid was saved and incorporated into the final version, while other parts were given to friends.

John Allen later moved to his final house which was chosen for its unfinished basement. John Allen dug out the basement, added a concrete floor, and prepared it for construction of his now well-known masterpiece.John Allen allocated about half the 1,200 sq ft to the layout, the remainder for a workshop and storage.

Construction began in January 1954. He constructed the layout almost completely by himself and devoted the next 20 years to this project.

During this period John Allen revolutionized model railroading with realistic operations, lighting (including night lighting), and weathering of models. He used forced perspective to enhance the illusion of realism, and only allowed photography under his conditions, in part, due to his background in photography.   John Allen had the artistic talent and skills to create and document incredibly realistic scenes that have appeared in numerous articles in the model railroad press.  He had a wonderful story of origin for the G&D, including humor and numerous references to his friends in the model railroading and model railroading publishing industry. The final layout is considered one of the greatest layouts of all time, and has several fan websites and a devoted Yahoo discussion groups.

John Allen suffered a fatal heart attack on the evening of January 6, 1973. Although he was not feeling well, he worked at completing the Gorre & Daphetid. In conversation with Linn Westcott, John Allen suggested that he would be driving the last spike in the spring of 1973, and that Linn Westcott should come for a visit then. In 1972, John Allen was already suggesting that things might not be going well, and wondering "what to do with the railroad" in letters to a friend.

Ten days after he died, some of John Allen's friends gathered for an operating session and discussion on the preservation of the railroad in accordance with John Allen's wishes. When they left, someone set a furnace in the train room to 65 °F.  John Allen never used the furnace and had covered it with tar paper. This caused a fire, which was quickly reported and extinguished fast enough to save the house, but it destroyed the final, still-unfinished incarnation of the G&D.

Andrew Allen (John Allen's brother) asked Linn Westcott to investigate if the layout could be salvaged. The fire had caused extensive damage. They tried to save the "French Gulch" section, but it collapsed as they moved it after two hours of work. A few model railroad items attributed to Allen survive and have been authenticated.

Beyond the G&D, he had developed a simple, easily portable “game/display” which he called the time saver. It was a compact switching module which offered a challenge to operators depending on how many cars were used. I cannot recall the number of hours I have spent enjoying the Sue Line’s version of the timesaver.

On a personal note, my grandfather Al G Kamm was an O-scaler in Hartford, Connecticut, who had a good friend named Watson “Watty” House. Later, Watson House mover to Monterrey, California and met up with a photographer who also "played with trains". John Allen built a hotel structure in one corner of his layout which he named Watson House. With some of the leftover castings, John Allen built a structure which he gave to his good friend Wit Towers. Witt Towers later gave this structure to the late Cliff Robinson in Dallas Texas. When Cliff Robinson died, he left me that structure.

In true John Allen fashion, we did the unthinkable and tore into the model to bring it to life with lights on its perch at the end of a pier.  The wizard of model railroading of the last century lives on as a structure in the swampy bottoms at the end of a pier in Jeauxville.  From there, they workers have a great place to watch the trains go by and gaze into the water to see the reflection of a giant still working his magic in 2017.