Penn Central Stockton Branch

Chapter 2: It Is What It Is

On a bone-chilling December afternoon, not long after I’d stowed all of my new micro-
layout projects, it occurred to me that, instead of just pining endlessly for the opportunity
to build a home layout (which I must now accept may never come to pass) I might instead
transform one of my earlier unfinished projects into the Reading Central—a prequel? a pre-
visualization?—something on which to focus my pent-up forever layout energy. One in
particular came to mind: a two by four foot adaptation I’d begun of the Apalachicola
Northern, a nifty little layout built by the late Gregg Mahlkov, known online as 3rdrail.
It’s a layout that’s never been published or documented until now, which I’d started
just before the bottom dropped out of my life.

Gregg Mahlkov's photogenic Apalachicola Northern; Gregg Mahlkov photo.

What captured my attention was how much Gregg packed into such a small space: the
double-folded dogbone created a beefy mainline feel—unusual for such a small layout—
and it kept the grades gentle. Plus, there was an industry in every nook and cranny.
Well! A heavy mainline in an overstuffed urban industrial landscape perfectly defined my
alternate-reality Reading Central. Best of all, it was basically RTR; I just needed to hang
some flesh on the bones.

Gregg Mahlkov's photogenic Apalachicola Northern; Gregg Mahlkov photo.

First, however, I had to fully accept the layout as it was—which, I confess, proved more
challenging than I’d expected. More than a few times I contemplated reworking the track
plan to varying degrees in order to better suit my new vision of the layout. But regardless
of how I felt about it or what I imagined doing differently, I was faced with one overriding,
inescapable, all-controlling factor: I could not spend any money on the layout; about all
I could afford was glue, so “re-imaging” it was out of the question. Having to “make do
with what I had” then became a modeling challenge not unlike any other I might face
while building a layout. This limitation did occasionally give rise to some frustration; but
then, it would be unusual if it hadn’t.

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