Friday, April 17, 2015

"Friendly Fridays... The late, great Art Curren."

In the mid 1970s, I was finishing my undergraduate studies and should have been wearing out the pages of my text books, but I was not. Rather, it was the pages of Railroad Model Craftsman that had the undeniable proof of my smudged finger prints. I was fully absorbed in the monthly pieces from Dave Frary and Bob Hayden, Tony Koester, John Olsen and the kitbasher extraordinaire, Art Curren.

As a future architectural graduate student, I was drawn to Mr. Curren's ability to create unique structures from ordinary ones. When I read that he lived in a neighboring town from that of my university, I plotted a grand plan that rivaled any I had used in female courtship. Using the latest available technology, I got his address from a phone book and mailed him a letter of introduction! Then, gathering every ounce of nerve that any 21 year old could, I followed up with a land-line call to the Curren residence.

Mr. Curren worked at a major New York advertising agency and was a regular for RMC, before moving to the Milwaukee area and joining Model Railroader where his prolific works continued until his untimely passing.

He was introduced to the model railroad world when he won this monthly award in January 1975 and became a regular RMC contributor almost immediately thereafter.

Mr. Curren could not have been more gracious with this awkward caller and a week later I found myself ringing his doorbell at the appointed time. We sat at his dining room table while I showed him some of my kitbashed projects and hung on his every word except, "Please, Jim. Call me Art."

"Yes sir, I will. Thank you, Mr. Curren."

I must have passed muster because he suggested that we descend to the basement to see some of his work. I entered the inner sanctum and spread out before me on every horizontal surface were projects past, present and future. This was better than Christmas morning and would last into early evening.

Axonometric sketches, creative executions like double-sided buildings and an easy-going manner made Mr. Curren's articles the favorites of many.

If it was a good idea to make one structure look like two, why not model one to look like none? Art left no stone unturned.

There was no real room for a his Carolton & Chrisville Railroad, named after his wife and son, because models, dioramas and modules balanced everywhere. But I don't think he minded, and I know that I didn't!

My questions, and his answers, took us into evening before I concluded there was little chance of a sleep-over. But I left a happy modeler, having learned a little bit more about kitbashing and a lot more about 'class.' 

Art Curren brought fun, creativity and imaginative thinking to our hobby. Often he was ahead of his time, while many of his ideas have become standard practice.

The author found some old photos of work he shared with Mr. Curren that day. He deems them "not horrible, but not up to current standards." They were eventually taken apart and thrown into a box labeled "Miscellaneous Kitbashing." Their company names like Forrecote Paint Company, Duzz & Werk Appliances and Awlphatt Meat Packers have been retired.

I don't purport to have been a friend of Art Curren, but his one day of kindness made a lasting impression on me. Although I would soon relocate and focus on career, marriage and family, I read the monthly magazines religiously and always looked forward to his latest work. In some cases, it turned out that I had already seen it years before!

So it was indeed a shock years ago when an announcement in Model Railroader noted his early passing. It brought me back to a single day that we shared. Is it one that I'll always treasure?

"Yes sir, I will. Thank you, Mr. Curren."

Sunday, we get back to layout construction. Be well.


Essay Question: In no less than 10,000 words please discuss the impact that Art Curren would have on today's hobby considering the advancements made in the past 15 years, including but not limited to, modular kits, scale windows, computer software, digital photography, laser cutting and 3D printing.


  1. What a great memory to have, Jim. I remember all of the articles you included in your blog. Frenda Mine and his coal bunker from his kitbashing award were ones that I read over and over.

  2. Why don't you scratchbuild one of his kitbashed models towards your AP?

  3. Great story, Mr. Fawcett. I still get those butterflies when visiting a model railroading celebrity!

  4. Beats meeting a Kardashian any day!

  5. Jim, I stumbled upon this today (7-aug-2016) while looking for images on Art's buildings. I'm working on an N-scale version of his BTR (Break The Rules) track plan - a choice largely influence by my friendship with Art's son Chris. I shared your post with him, and he (and I) would love to hear more details of your encounter(s) with his father.

    1. AJ - Welcome to the Old Main Line... this is wild!... I have one other tidbit regarding my one encounter with Mr. Curren and was saving it to put into a post that combined several seemingly unrelated events... I will have to get on that and use the emails from you and Chris as impetus... good luck with the BTR... send photos when you are so inclined... best - JF

  6. I have one "issue" with this article... although HE worked in Milwaukee, WE moved to Waukesha! :-)

    1. Chris - Boy, you're a tough crowd!... how about I edit that caption to read "Milwaukee area?" ... as I wrote to your buddy AJ, I have one other tidbit that I discovered regarding my one visit to your former Long Island home... I'll put something together within the next few weeks... thanks for reaching out... your dad was a real gentleman! - JF