I had to wait until 1987 until I could return to model railroading—over a dozen agonizing
layout-less years—but when the time at last arrived, I was ready with a killer plan. The
all-new White River and Northern II was intended to be my masterwork, incorporating
no less than five different railroads, set in four seasons and four distinct eras, all in an
18 by 24 foot space.
Mixing seasons and eras on one layout is certainly a bizarre-sounding notion. My thought
was to create gradual transitions between areas of the layout that were more or less
visually separated. At one end of the around-the-wall plan was Fresnel, a large city and
terminus for the Greater New England Railroad. This fictional line was based on a composite
of several northeast railroads including the Boston and Maine, Central Vermont, and others.
Moving away from the city, the clock started cranking backward and the season shifted,
rolling from spring in the present (1980s at the time) to summer in the late 60s (Mattam
to Parabola) to autumn in the early 50s, where the GNE met the layout's namesake, the
White River and Northern.
Transformed into a dual-gauge railroad, the WR&N was headquarted in White River Junction.
Beginning at an interchange with the GNE, the dual-gauge leg of the WR&N descended into
Purgatory where it reached a mine deep in the valley via an incline. The narrow-gauge leg
twisted its way through a floor-to-ceiling mountain range, eventually ending at a rugged
logging camp set in a 1930s winter scene.
In addition to the GNE and WR&N, the layout also featured Spano Bay Traction Company,
a small industrial switching railroad that served the docks and industries surrounding the
GNE yards, plus a nearby quarry. The last two railroads were the Fresnel Area Rapid
Transit (think about that one) which made “peek-a-boo” appearances in the modern-era
city and doubled as a subway, and the 8th Street Trolley, which straddled the transition
between the city and the old ’burbs behind the GNE yards. Twin staging yards, hidden
beneath the WR&N logging camp, would automatically dispatch trains on the mainline to
maintain the illusion of continuous traffic.
Aspects of the plan were stupefyingly ambitious. The scenery along the left side of the
center peninsula dropped to the floor. The walkway to the right of that would be filled in
with “water” mounted on drawers that slid under the layout. To expand the space visually,
as many as ten mirrors would be employed, some of them quite large; you can see how
I was working out the logistics of some of the larger ones in the progression of sketches
above. The first sketch also reveals I’d originally planned to lay gauntlet track on the John
Allen Memorial (duck-under) Bridge.
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