1. How It All Began

Thanks to the influence of my new friend Rick Spano, my first "serious" layout, styled as something of a New England logging railroad, was created as a tool to learn scratchbuilding, kitbashing and other modeling skills, and to that end it was entirely successful. It also spawned a long series of N Scale layouts—large and small, barely begun or nearly completed—to carry the same name. Incidentally, the name is a play on the Black River and Western, the first train I ever rode, an event that convinced me to make model railroading my "forever hobby," which I did.

Inspiration was drawn from an article in the June 1966 issue of Model Railroader. Bill Barron's "Railroad in a Coffee Table?" presented a very intriguing concept, so I adapted his sketches of a roughly six-foot-diameter HO Scale layout for a three-foot-diameter N Scale plan. (Incidentally, his plan would have been impossible to build in HO Scale as illustrated—it was much closer to N Scale in its proportions.)

Although looking at photographs of the layout today makes me cringe a little, I'm still proud of (most of) the work I'd done all those decades ago. Incidentally, the "smoke" from the 0-6-0 in the image above was actually lens flare, which I gently embellished with a little photo-shopping.

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