1. A Parallel Universe

Back in 2015 I began building my dream home, which would feature a nice-sized layout room. As I'd 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'd spent nearly half of my life living within eyesight of the Reading, so it should come as no surprise that it's significantly influenced my modeling. And the CNJ was considered a "sister" railroad.

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'd come to realize, is not as big as it may sound. Then one day 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 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. Plus, for a little extra seasoning, I imagined the Lehigh & New England and the Lehigh & Hudson River had previously merged to become the Lehigh & Northern, which was then rolled into the RCR like spare change.

Carrying this admittedly silly concept even further, I'd even imagined the RCR eventually "modernizing," and adopting a new herald—obviously inspired by the Penn Central (which would not have come to be, at least in the form we now know, in my alternate timeline).

Sure, the RCR is a railroad that never existed, but for whatever reason, the idea seemed more appealing than representing real railroads in settings that never existed, since locales such as Jersey City couldn't be rendered convincingly on such a small layout. It's also conceivable that, under different historical circumstances, the Reading Central could have formed. Who knows? So many events in railroad history occurred seemingly by chance, while others were planned and never came to pass. It all made for an intriguing scenario...

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