Penn Central Stockton Branch

Chapter 1: Introduction

Before anyone mutters, “Penn Central? Seriously?”, don’t automatically assume I’m a
fan of the happy worms simply because I’ve chosen to model it. And if any reader should
happen to be a PC fan, I’ll apologize in advance for how I’ve depicted it. As you’ll learn,
in the fullness of time, the story of this layout has more than a few twists and turns.
It perfectly reflects a point I made in the story of my White River and Northern series:
one’s modeling is inextricably tied to—and shaped by—one’s life.

To begin, I’d never intended to build this particular layout. To be strictly accurate, it’s
a “child of adversity,” a byproduct of being unable to build my next and presumably final
home layout. As I’ve envisioned it for a long time, my “forever layout” would showcase my
two favorite railroads, the Reading and the Jersey Central, wending cheek-by-jowl through
the endless urban industrial sprawls of northeastern New Jersey. I’ve spent almost half of
my life living within sight of the Reading, so it should come as no surprise that it has
significantly influenced my modeling. Originally I was going to model both railroads at a
time they still existed, but I struggled with the problem of how to include everything on
my one-hundred-plus-item wish-list in an 11 by 15 foot space—which, I’ve come to realize,
is not as big as it may sound.

Not long ago, at a time when my life was looking more optimistic than it is now, I was
cataloging my rolling stock collection one day when I was struck by an intriguing what-if
scenario: pretend Conrail never happened. Instead, before the events that gave rise to
Big Blue, some of the lines that eventually comprised it had already coalesced into a few
“mini-Conrails.” In this new parallel universe I’d just created, the Reading, CNJ and Lehigh
Valley had merged to become the Reading Central Railroad, in much the same way as the
intertwined B&O, C&O and WM formed the Chessie System in the real world. Sure, the RC
is a railroad that never existed, but the idea seemed more appealing than representing real
railroads in settings that never existed. It’s also conceivable that, under different historical
circumstances, the Reading Central could conceivably have formed.

House, interrupted.

Owing to historical circumstances of my own, however, I was forced to place my forever
layout on hold—again. As the layout-less months became years, the walls began to close
in. Eventually I came to believe that I might find some relief by working on layout. After
starting four—yes, four!—new micro-layouts, I found no joy, and placed them in storage
along with all of the others. What an embarrassing, depressing sight!

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