The following history (and very creative alternative history) was created from notes by Doug Matheson, a gentleman that I met through the forums at myLargescale.
Pre civil war: The Chester and Lenoir is incorporated and builds a standard gauge railroad between Chester, SC and York, NC.
Post civil war: The line is rebuilt slowly but made fully operational.
1883: The line is leased and then tightly controlled by the standard gauge Richmond & Danville.
1893: The Richmond and Danville goes into receivership, the lease is declared void and the narrow gauge reverts to Chester & Lenoir control.
1894: The narrow gauge Caldwell and Northern is built north from Lenoir to a point 8 miles from the ET&WNC. This provides access to the Ritter Lumber Company logging lines via the Wilson Gorge.
1901: Southern acquires the Caldwell and Northern, another standard gauge line.
What might have been:
1893: The Richmond & Danville goes into receivership and the Chester & Lenoir is sold to the Jackson & Burke Railroad.
1894: The J&B builds the Caldwell branch north from Lenoir and connects to the ET&WNC at Pineola NC. This line provides for the booming tourist trade as well as an outlet for the Ritter Lumber Company vast timber limits.
This narrow gauge line stretches from Pineola, NC, southward to Chester, SC: a distance of about 170 miles. It connects with the narrow gauge ET&WNC in Pineola, with the Ritter Lumber Co narrow gauge logging lines, with the standard gauge Southern in both Hickory and Newton (their Salisbury to Asheville branch) and with the Southern and Seaboard in Chester, SC.
The northern part of this road is in the mountains of western NC. The gorge of Wilson Creek is particularly rugged on the Caldwell branch and this is one of the most modelgenic areas, and a perfect excuse to have shays and rod locos together.
In this scenario, passengers travel northward of Carolinians from the coast fleeing the heat into the mountains. It is a long ride by train from Chester to Johnson city, TN. Lumber is a big commodity southbound as is clothing from the Cannon Mills on the Tweetsie. Furniture is made in Lenoir and is a big output. Cotton comes north along with all the day to day necessities of life.
The C&L initially owned the usual narrow gauge 4-
Passenger equipment runs the gamut of fine through cars jointly run with the Tweetsie as well as old short cars used on local trains. Freight cars range from wood to steel and are mainly boxcars, gondolas, and flats with the odd reefer and a few tank cars.