Trains were short and engines idiosyncratic. And the idea that a layout could evolve so dynamically over time as the builders' ideas changed and experience grew was a very new and exciting concept.
For a brief time, I was enthusiastic about modeling in HOn30 myself. "Brief" as in about a week -- once I discovered the paucity of commercial offerings in the local hobby shops, my ardor quickly cooled. And more importantly, I began to realize that it took a special combination of skills to make such an unusual prototype believable. Those early C&DR layouts benefited not only from Hayden's vision, but from both Hayden's and Dave Frary's exceptional modeling and scenery skills as well (thus the C&DR is justifiably one of MR's Landmark Layouts).
The low-key imagineered C&DR prototype encouraged space between scenes and uncrowded towns. But for that concept to succeed, the scenery had to be top-notch -- which in this case, it was, the builders having literally written the book on model railroad scenery. Even though the idea of an isolated and charismatic little railroad was very appealing, I began to recognize that pulling it off successfully would require space and modeling talent that I currently lacked. And the absence of meaningful interchange is an operating limitation that I could see would be unsatisfying.
So in a roundabout way, my interest and enthusiasm for the C&DR has translated into a focus on a more achievable (for me) concept: an industrial switching-oriented layout, the Oakland Harbor Belt. The OHB concept can justifiably cram more operating interest into my limited space and may not be as demanding of scenery skills to pull off convincingly.
The appeal of isolated little railroads continues for me, of course, in the form of my recurring infatuation with Hawaiian railroads. As I have read and enjoyed the many articles on the C&DR, I still find the layouts very inspiring and motivating. Hayden's unique concept and the builders' masterful implementation (aided and abetted by Frary's fine photography) always encourage me to get building. And certainly that qualifies the multiple instantiations of the Carrabasset and Dead River concept as very inspirational layouts, indeed.