Friday, September 2, 2011

Late Fort Worth man's model train layout finds a home at East Texas museum

From the Star Telegram: Late Fort Worth man's model train layout finds a home at East Texas museum

FORT WORTH -- For 25 years, R.D. Moses retreated to his backyard shed, laying the railroad tracks, piece by piece, that sliced through the 1950s West Texas landscape conjured in his mind.

From plaster, wood and wire, Moses built the town of Cochina, where the model locomotive departs from the station. The Texas and Pacific Railway engine roars by hundreds of handmade trees and shoots east to the town of Broken Promises, where locals head to Al's Tavern.

Even as Parkinson's disease caused Moses' hands to shake and his body to tremble, he spent nights tinkering with the model train layout.

When he died, Moses had one request: that the train be donated to a museum or park where people could enjoy it.

After searching for nearly two years, Moses' son, Arthur Moses, has fulfilled the wish. The train layout will be given to the Jefferson Historical Museum in East Texas. This week, employees from the museum and members of the Jefferson Model Railroad Club began dismantling the train and preparing to move it.

"This is what my father would have wanted," Arthur Moses said. "We all have our quirky little passions. This was his."

That passion grew from a health scare in the 1970s when R.D. Moses, in his mid-40s, suffered a mild stroke. A doctor sternly warned him to relax and find a hobby.

Moses had built model trains earlier in his life, but the pastime fell to the wayside as the responsibilities of raising five children and building a family business weighed heavily.

He picked it back up in his spare time, finding solace in tiny details as he worked to capture life in a small West Texas railroad town. But after 10 years of tedious work, he decided to start over.

"He wanted it to be bigger, better," his son said. "He wasn't ready to be finished."

So Moses began working on the town that would be called Cochina, although no one can remember how it got that name. With a deliberate hand, he created detailed small-town scenes, a Fourth of July parade, a child flying a kite, a fireworks stand. A computerized system allows visitors to start or stop a train, make cattle moo or turn a business' lights on.

Broken Promises

Moses often worked until midnight in the backyard shed, which he outfitted with an intercom so his wife could buzz him from the house.

As Cochina neared completion, Moses knew he was not ready to finish and began working on a new town to the east, with a pool hall, pawnshop, library and dentist office. The town became known as Broken Promises because the family joked that he broke his promise to his wife, Beverley, that he would not build on to the train.

"My mother was very tolerant," Arthur Moses said. "It took a special person to put up with this hobby."

People began noticing the layout, which measures 10 by 40 feet. R.D. Moses' home in the Westcliff neighborhood near TCU became a regular stop during statewide conventions of the National Model Railroad Association.

In 2002, Model Railroader Magazine published a feature on him. Moses reveled in showing the train to his grandchildren, who were delighted by the old-fashioned locomotive.

After Moses died of Parkinson's in 2009, Arthur Moses ran an advertisement in Model Railroader Magazine in search of a museum, eventually narrowing it to one in Schenectady, N.Y., and one in Jefferson.

'His life's work'

The Jefferson Historical Museum proved the best fit, Arthur Moses said. Museum workers plan to build a 1950s-style train depot to house the layout and are accepting donations, director Anita Nowell said.

"This is a very exciting part of our state's history," she said. "Texas & Pacific Railway played a major role here."

This week, members of the Jefferson Model Railroad Club, who will be in charge of operating the train, took 122 photographs of the layout to help reconstruct it. They then removed small parts before sawing it into two pieces to make it easier to move.

Professional museum moving crews will arrive next month to lift the layout by crane, load it into a flatbed trailer and transport it to Jefferson.

Norman Buell, a club member, said model train hobbyists find satisfaction in creating landscapes as close to real life as possible. In Cochina and Broken Promises, a dog chases a cat. A repairman fixes a broken window. A sign advertises the upcoming circus.

"The first thing you notice is the attention to detail," Buell said. "That takes a great amount of skill and is unusual for a home layout."

R.D. Moses never tired of tweaking and tinkering with his train, his son said. After he died at age 80, Arthur Moses found a locomotive and tools on his father's workbench.

"This was his life's work," Arthur said. "He was never finished."

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