4. Introducing the Black River & Western

Given the impracticality of the original plan, I began to contemplate an alternative: a more conservative concept that's more realistic—in every respect of the term, since it wouldn't be a "fantasy" line as the Reading Central clearly was, and I could envision coming much closer to completion. It's a very simple plan based on a real railroad that's always meant a great deal to me: the Black River & Western. I first rode their tourist train in 1965, when I was ten years old and the year they'd just begun operations, and to this day I vividly recall riding in the gondola, cinders from #60 raining down on me. It was thrilling. And it helped motivate me to take model railroading more seriously.

Although I'd wanted to model the BR&W since that first ride, the decision to finally pull the trigger came over 50 years later, on the afternoon of 28 February 2019, around 5 PM. I was sifting through my locomotive collection with two fellow modelers, and came across the four BR&W diesels produced by Atlas. That's when it struck me that I had the perfect space to recreate the railroad in its (functional) entirety; plus, since the line handled a little freight, I wasn't limited to railfan passenger trains. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got, until by 1 March I'd finally rendered the first draft of a track plan:

Although the mainline is, out of necessity, extremely compressed, the main points of interest are all included. Plus, it represents the railroad's "extended" empire, which includes photogenic Lambertville as well as Three Bridges, another picturesque locale where the the former CNJ South Branch connected to the outside world via the former Lehigh Valley—the perfect way to pay homage to the Reading Central.

In truth, the BR&W has been an inspiration for me from the beginning of my modeling history; my long string of White River & Northern layouts were all named in homage to the BR&W, and the WR&N IV, modeled as a tourist line, was as close as I'd come conceptually to a version of the BR&W to date. Now I was seriously considering an almost literal return to my deepest model railroading roots.

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