John Allen's story is equal parts triumph and tragedy.
He was known as the "Wizard of Monterey." For model railroad enthusiasts around the world, John Allen's legendary HO scale "Gorre & Daphetid" (pronounced gory & defeated) layout represents a cornerstone creation that shaped and refined the hobby's culture.
Located in the basement of his Monterery, California home, John Allen's masterwork was built in space roughly 24' x 36' in size. The final Gorre & Daphetid was Allen's third HO-scale model railroad, and was constructed over the course of 25 years. A gifted artist and photographer, he began his obsession in the early 1940s. By the age of 32 he had acquired enough money to support a modest lifestyle, and Allen was able to spend the rest of his life working on his vision for the iconic layout.
Called "the greatest thinker the hobby will ever have," his spectacular model redirected many enthusiasts away from toy trains to something much more gritty, realistic and transformative.
Featuring mountainous, floor-to-ceiling scenery, special lighting effects, weathered locomotives and rolling stock (not to mention scale miles of hand-laid track) the Gorre & Daphetid was featured in countless magazine articles from 1946 until today. His skills as a photographer allowed him to capture powerful images that inspired several generations of his peers, while at the same time making his special world seem all too real.
Working almost entirely alone, John Allen's iconic work of art began in 1954 in a modest hillside house at 9 Cielo Vista Drive. For the next 19 years Allen spent his time hand constructing the planet's most influential layout. Not blessed with myriad of modern track, rolling stock, building kits or electronics, Allen managed to transform the hobby from a toy-like pastime to a legitimate expression of art and ingenious craftsmanship.
Overcoming health issues and the challenges of advancing age, Allen nearly completed his work before succumbing to a deadly heart attack on January 6, 1973. Just ten days later a lifetime of work was lost to the ravages of a house fire caused by a gas furnace that ignited just after his friends gathered to run the Gorre & Daphetid for what turned out to be the final time.
Sadly, not much was saved from the smoldering ashes except photography and art files, a handful of original models and some recently uncovered pieces of rolling stock, locomotives and scenery.
In the decades since, the tragic loss of Allen's work by fire has only added to the story's lasting impact. Until now the ability to see and touch John Allen's art was relegated to a substantial archive of photography and magazine stories.
Now Randy Decker's is making his dream of resurrecting the Gorre & Daphetid in all its glory a reality, allowing fans young and old the chance to see it all come to life once again.
Thanks to John Allen's influence and the Gorre & Daphetid's lasting ability to amaze and inspire, the detailed history of this modeling masterpiece is well documented.
An enthusiastic group of model railroad enthusiasts have assembled a massive collection of Gorre & Daphetid archives including magazine art files, photographs, drawings and other stories. This information is available for all to enjoy. If you are interested in doing a deeper dive into John Allen and the subject of his life's work, please click on the link below:
By comparison to its final version, the original Gorre & Daphetid was modest in size and execution. Measuring less than a standard 4' x 8 ' sheet of plywood, the layout nonetheless was the springboard for John Allen's imagination and the GD's international reputation.
The third and final version of the Gorre and Daphetid occupied a space of roughly 24 by 32 feet. Despite being gone for nearly 50 years, amazing vistas and the artistic intertwining of scenery and model railroading like this image of Grand Canyon still captures the imagination. For generations of enthusiasts John Allen's Gorre & Daphetid has remained the gold standard of modeling excellence.
John Allen's incredible attention to detail is seen in this image of the "Anabel" ferry located in the layout's city of Port. Unlike today's modelers that rely largely on kits and specialized parts, most of Allen's creations were hand built -- a process that added years to the overall build time.
While John Allen's passion was creating a miniature world of railroading defined by towering mountain landscapes, the original Gorre & Daphetid also included large city sections like this one in Port. Allen's towering buildings were augmented by detailed backgrounds, intricate details and even carefully placed mirrors that added depth and made his scenes seem much larger than they were.
Taken in June of 1970, the Gorre & Daphetid's #25 locomotive (right) waits for a passenger train to pass Squawbottom so it may enter the main line. This scene was located at one of the lowest portions of the layout -- just 30" inches off Allen's basement floor.
With John Allen's grand masterpiece nearly complete, a freight train crosses the massive bridge span at the top of Scalp Mountain. Far below is the riverside station at Squawbottom (see above). Bridges were a big part of the final G&D layout, with nearly 100 different designs spanning a variety of landscapes and elevations.
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