1. The Very Last White River & Northern

Faced with a terminal disease and not enough time to even get a good start on the long-planned Black River & Western, I flailed about looking for some modeling to do, and considered one of the many unfinished micro-layouts I had sitting around. But as I dragged each one out and fiddled with them, I found that they just weren't doing it for me. Then I came across the nearly-finished station I'd built for the Greystone & Rock Bottom (right), and it hit me: this was what I wanted to work on. I'd come full-circle back to my first "real" layout, the White River & Northern I.

But I wasn't coming "full-circle" back to yet another circular layout, as I had with the Greystone; it would be more along the lines of the aborted White River & Northern VII. The difference this time would be that I knew what I was getting into, and had options should I hit any dead-ends (other than my own, that is).

Planning started on 10 March 2020 with a quick pencil sketch (above), which was then transcribed into AnyRail for proper track geometry rendering (below). It's a simple point-to-point for the most visual drama with the least crowding. I tried to provide continuous running, but it just created too many visual compromises. Note, too that the final rendering is flipped from the original sketch because of the way the Shay faces.

Subsequent to the above "final" plan, on 31 March 2020 I decided to expand the layout a bit so I could reduce the clutter and model just a token bit of New Hampshire downtown. I added four inches along the front edge.

And subsequent to this change, on 6 April 2020 I modified the track plan to improve the view of the engine facility by flipping the enginehouse around. A ripple effect caused many other changes, and in fact revisions continue to this day.

“There is time. There are returns. To go is to return.”
—Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

This layout is returning me to a very early place—much earlier in fact than the (real) Black River & Western. Since the age of four, I'd spent nearly twenty summers (and lots of other vacations) in New Hampshire, and setting the layout squarely in that locale has removed me from classic Northeastern urban industrial—my modeling "home" for many decades—and taken me back to my childhood. While I've remained intimate with the locale, I still had to research the visual language of New England railroads in the 1940s/1950s. Consequently there have been many more changes to the layout.

Slides I took of our summer home, circa 1975. Above is the cabin; it sits on the shore of Bearcamp Pond, near the headwaters of the Bearcamp River. Below is the view from the porch; the peak in the distance is Mount Chocorua. Had I not been totally screwed over by my father, I'd be living there right now, having rebuilt the cabin for year-round use.

But this will also be my final layout, adding a whole host of layers to its raison d'ętre. Will it be my "best," or some kind of "masterwork?" No, far from it, nor do I plan it to be; it's simply my last artistic expression in a hobby I've enjoyed almost as long as I've been breathing. As such, my goal is to enjoy myself as much as possible given nine square feet of layout space, and based on past experience, it would be enough for me, for now, under the circumstances. If I live long enough to "finish" it, I'm sure I'll find ways to "tinker" with it for however long I have left on Planet Earth.

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