H.P Lovecraft used the fictional city of Arkham, Massachusetts as the setting for many of his weird tales. Many Lovecraft commentators believe that Arkham was old H.P.L.'s stand-in for the real-life burg of Salem— Salem of colonial witch-trial fame.

Salem today rates about a seven on the dreary scale— not much to see, despite its touristy cant. But up until about sixty years ago, Salem boasted the most spine-tingling eerie Gothic-Norman stone train station in North America.

For all its Frankensteinian grandeur, the station was a mere two-track covered trainshed, a product of the 1840s, with a nearby coach yard and roundhouse and a small public square out front. Perfect for modest-sized modeling. I chose this to be my layout's centerpiece.

Salem was served by the Boston & Maine RR. (Originally, the Eastern RR.) In my version of events, Arkham is a main junction point between the Boston & Arkham RR and the Miskatonic RR, which I imagine to be a feeder line for the western Massachusetts Hoosac Tunnel route, linking the mill towns of northeast Massachusetts to upstate New York and points west. The Miskatonic also connects with lines to Newburyport (and points north), and Kingsport (another town from the Lovecraft mythos.)

For a short history of the Miskatonic Railroad (at least, according to some), click here.

Left top: Salem's made-to-be-eerie train station, sometime after WWI. From an old postcard.

Left middle: Another shot of the station, this time c. 1900, with an old 4-4-0 smudging up the facade. Scenes like this inspired my own vision of Arkham.

Left bottom: Cobblestone-paved Essex Street, just up the block from the station, was typically narrow and like many things in northeast Massachusetts, slightly twisted.

Below: Lovecraft scholars have made maps of Arkham based upon H.P.L.'s notes, giving us street names and locations for civic landmarks like the famed Miskatonic University and the train station. I incorporated these street names into my layout plan.

Other names on the layout come from 19th-century fantasy fiction— like Dunsany, Blackwood, or Howard— or names from Lovecraft and Poe— Dunwich, Innsmouth, Aylesbury, and Weir.


The main business of the Miskatonic Railroad is hauling passengers from one dreary industrial age burg to another. Trains run several times a day between Arkham and Boston, and there are daily trains that travel west through the Hoosac Tunnel to Albany, New York and north to Brattleboro, Vermont to connect with the lines coming south from Montreal.

Until the dreaded Eastlake style simplified everything in the late 1880s-1890s, passenger cars were ostentatiously decorated with gilt, paint, carving, and marquetry in order to show off the host railroad's financial well-being, attract patrons with superficial luxury and finally, to distract them from the very real discomforts of late 19th century train travel.

Decorative passenger car decals for HO are notoriously rare. I took the opportunity to make some of my own, using Adobe Illustrator, a good laser printer, and some stock decal paper.

Sharing decal art brought me into contact with master modeler Håkan Nilsson at I had a delightful opportunity this year to contribute artwork for his first two 3D printed kits— the Dayton, an 1871 Pullman, and the Juniata, an 1880s Woodruff sleeping car (upper right). Håkan's craftsmanship is superlative and the two cars have to be the most accurate HO models of 19th-century passenger cars ever produced.

Most of the others are 50-foot cars, short but fairly common on 1880s-1890s Eastern roads. Some are modifications of kit-built cars, some use custom resin castings, and some are scratchbuilt with the addition of parts from Grandt Line, Bitter Creek, Cal-Scale, and others. All have metal wheels, trucks with outside brake beams, soldered platform railings and scale-sized Accurail couplers which sort of look like the Miller hooks of the prototypes.

More cars: Beautiful resin model from Silver Crash Car Works; home-made decals.
Another great Silver Crash car; Art Griffin decals.
I love Silver Crash resin cars!
Resin castings by John Canfield and Bob McGlone.
Old plastic AHM cars given new detailing and paint jobs. Not all 19th century cars were painted boxcar red.
Caboose #17 was patterned after a similar horizontal-siding way car built for the Boston & Albany.
1870s Combine— Sides and roof castings by John Canfield. Home-made decals.
1870s Wagner Sleeper— another old Central Lines car kit. (Bitter Creek trucks.)
1870s Day coach— A much-modified MDC/ Roundhouse overland car with home-made decals.
A MDC/Roundhouse overland car— still pretty much in its stock paint scheme, with added details.
Late 1870s Parlor car taken from old engravings in National Car Builder. (John Canfield roof casting.)
1880s Dining car patterned after one on the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul. (John Canfield roof casting, Bitter Creek trucks.)
The prototype for this 1890s car has been restored to its original color scheme and is on display at Wisconsin's Mid-Continent Railway Museum. (John Canfield roof casting.)
This baggage/mail/express car was inspired by similar cars found in the Jackson & Sharp car builders' section of the Delaware Public Archives. (John Canfield roof casting.)
Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show Cars

Traveling shows were an important part of late 19th century–early 20th century American life. By far the most renowned traveling show was Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders.

Shows like Buffalo Bill's sent advance teams ahead in their own colorful advertising cars. These cars would be attached to the rear of normal passenger trains and parked on a siding somewhere near the depot. Weeks before the arrival of the show, the "drummers" papered a town with posters, sold tickets, and in general "drummed up" excitement.

I found some good pictures of some of Buffalo Bill's advertising cars on the internet. For making home-made decals and print-sided cars, these proved to be an irresistable challenge.

Master modeler Don Ball made a set of these cars back in the 1980s and wrote about the experience in Railroad Model Craftsman. His article was an inspiration to me. Later on, I had the happy opportunity to return the favor by sharing my new decal art with Don.

Cars #1 and #2 have scratchbuild bodies and platforms. Car #2 has a shortened MDC/Roundhouse duckbill roof and Bitter Creek trucks. Car #3 is a mostly stock MDC/Roundhouse overland car. Lucky me— it had just the right number of windows.

Corse Payton's Scenery Car

Lastly, at the bottom of the column, is one more traveling show car. In the 1890s, Corse Payton's repertoire companies rode the rails bringing stage plays ("A New Show Each Night!") to small-town America. In an era before 3D movies, HBO, Netflix, and Hulu, this was a very big deal. Townspeople turned out in droves to see fantastic sets, gorgeous costumes, and hammy acting by young performers, some of whom went on to become famous silent movie stars.

Payton's investment in sets and scenery grew so great that he had his own car made to transport it all. I found pictures of it on the Delaware Public Archives website.

The body of the model and the platforms are scratchbuild with printed overlays. The roof is from a MDC/Roundhouse Harriman coach. The trucks are from Bethlehem Car Works.

The worst hammy actor in Payton's company was said to be Payton himself, who had the sense of humor to bill himself as "America's Best Bad Actor." On that note, this bad HO modeler will finish up his page—
Old city map of Salem with the train station (center, in green).
It's a rule of thumb that a model engineer doesn't have enough engines until he has one for every foot of track. (This is what I tell my wife.) I'm not there yet... but I've made a start.
Engine #33, the "Prospero" is a Porter mogul dressed up in 1870s filigree. The little steamer has injectors and steam brakes— my Miskatonic RR roundhouse crews obviously held it in high regard.
The model, imported many years ago by Ken Kidder, has a new can motor in the tender. I made the tender filigree in Adobe Illustrator and printed my own decals on clear decal stock. The gilt lettering is the brass of the model showing through.
Engine #169 is a high-drivered mogul from the 1890s, used for pulling either fast freight or heavy passenger trains. The model is a "bash" mounted on a MDC/Roundhouse frame. See the annual report below for a story about how this engine came together, "A Roundhouse Bash".
The #97 is a 80s-90s heavy freight hauler. The Miskatonic Railroad has some noteworthy grades in Western Massachusetts and needs heavy power. The model is a MDC/Roundhouse (now Athearn) kit engine with a Bachmann tender.
Boston & Arkham #6 is a "modern" 4-4-0 from the 1890s. The black-boilered Bachmann resembles the conservatively-painted steamers of the Boston & Maine.
Cabooses #59 and #74 were built from a resin kit from John Canfield and Bob McGlone.
Combine/caboose #20 tags behind the train on the Innsmouth branch. The model is an all-metal Selley kit from half a century ago.

Layout construction began in early 2013 and is proceeding at a leisurely pace— much like the prototype railroads of the period. Tracklaying advances whenever there are opportune infusions of capital— kickback-fueled congressional subsidies, tissue-paper bonds, stock swindles, or whatever.

Like my previous San Diego layout, this one is built atop layers of foam-core and insulation foam. Since I'm re-using my San Diego layout's wood components, the layout is high— about 50". My workbench is underneath. The "U" fills a space 16' x 8'.

I'm hand-laying some code 55 track to represent the light iron of the 19th century. I'm also building many of my own switches, some stub, some point. Rails are soldered to PC-board ties from Clover House. Klapper supplies the wood ties.

Main-line tracks and most trackage far away from the edges of the layout will be code 70 flex-track and switches from Micro Engineering. (Wish they still made code 55 flex-track!)

I consulted old railway engineering texts to figure out what the tie spacing should be to represent late 19th-century track. I went with 2' spacing for main lines, 3' spacing for secondary and yard tracks, and 4' for dead end sidings and yard tracks. You often see worse in old pictures.

The benchwork is a mix of old pieces from my last layout and new lumber...
You can see the channel that holds the 1-1/2" of insulation foam that forms the base of the the layout. The foam is sturdy and non-sagging, plus it's easy to poke holes through for wiring.
Track is laid on either Woodland Scenics foam roadbed or strips of crescent board atop 1/4" foam core. After paint, ballast, and Massachusetts mud is applied, it won't look so stark.
Stub switches are built by soldering rails to PC-board ties. Ties are spaced tightly at switches, far less so along yard tracks.
The original Salem depot was constructed in 1846–47 by an architect who obviously didn't know if he was building a castle, a cathedral, a factory, or a fantastic Victorian train station... It was built for the Eastern RR (which later became part of the Boston & Maine system) and the building was torn down in 1954 to be replaced by— you guessed it!— a parking lot. O, progress! Click here for a feature about building the Arkham Station model.
Above and below: Car #1
Above and below: Car #2
Above: Car #3
Old commercial print-sided car kit from Concord Car Works.
One nice results of posting my photos here has been the contacts I've made with other fans of Salem's old station— Thanks, Lance, for sharing your research and photos of your amazing O scale version of the station!


The backbone of the Miskatonic freight car fleet continues to be limited-run resin-cast creations, either by Silver Crash Car Works or the team of John Canfield and Bob McGlone (top picture, right). The layout also has a large collection of period cars with printed sides.

Long ago, in an age when dinosaurs (like me) ruled the earth . . . there was such a thing as print-sided HO freight cars, made by Ulrich and other kit manufacturers. These car sides were printed on cardstock complete with road names, reporting marks, etc. Since this all happened in an age before Photoshop, the sides noticably lacked realism. Scribed wood or plastic plus decals gave far better results.

I decided to give printed sides another try— on my own, armed with Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and a good color laserprinter. This time out, the lettering, wood texture, grooving, and weathering were painted in Illustrator and Photoshop. The rest of the car was built conventionally: with a plastic or crescent board car-box; Bitter Creek, Rio Grande, or Tichy trucks; Accurail couplers; and lots of add-on details from Grandt Line or Tichy (middle, right).

At the time, it seemed to be the best way to build a fleet of accurate 1880s-1890s cars quickly and economically. How quick? Click here or on the annual report banner below— "Eight Cars in Eight Days."

The Boston & Arkham RR has plenty of B&M-flavored red cars, like this old Central Lines kit.

Engine #20, the Osiris, is the Arkham switcher, responsible for assembling the trains at the coach yards. It's an old Pocher engine with cosmetic improvements, but needs a set of drivers with smaller flanges.
The little Dagon is supposed to be the Miskatonic's first engine, a relic of the early 1840s. It's an old unmotorized Hornby model (or was it Triang?) that will eventually end up behind the roundhouse, used as a stationary boiler.
Here's a selection of house cars with printed sides . . .

It is my intention to have locomotives dating from each decade of the last half of the 19th century— tiny 4-4-0 teapots from the 1850s and 60s (like the ones at right), medium sized wagon-top-boilered 4-4-0s from the 1870s and early 80s, and finally, bigger black-painted 4-4-0s and 4-6-0s of the 1890s and beyond. Freight engines will be represented by 2-6-0s and 2-8-0s.

Engines back then were gleaming Victorian jewels of paint, gilt, brass, copper, Russia Iron, and polished steel. Wooden cabs were crafted as fine as furniture. No two locomotives were alike and most had names instead of numbers. Their crews were proud of their machines and polished them daily.

The Central Pacific Jupiter is part of a set of United's Golden Spike engines. Click here for a short article on how she was painted and decaled.


... Won't win any civic beauty awards. The model is supposed to represent one of those smoky, dirty, busy American east coast cities at the turn of the twentieth century.

Arkham is a combination of scratchbuilt, kitbashed, and straight kit buildings. Several have been salvaged from my previous layouts. All of Arkham's streets are kinky—they all have twists and bends, which means the blocks are irregular and the building lots are largely trapezoids— just as in real-life Massachusetts. The feature "Welcome to Arkham" tells more about building the model.

Engine #17, the General McGrath, is the last of my big-flange Rivarossi 4-4-0s to escape the scrapbox. It was the first HO steam engine I owned, and as such has a bit of sentimental value. It'll probably find a job decorating one of the roundhouse tracks.
The Miskatonic RR is my newest layout: about 2/3 of the track is laid and the scenery is under way. Lots of rolling stock, scenery and structures are yet to be built. (I'm in no hurry for the fun to be over.) It started as an exercise in modeling 19th-century freight and passenger cars. I want to collect representative equipment from all the decades 1860–1910. It's also been my excuse to try making my own decals and printed car sides.

The name "Miskatonic" comes from the iconic horror stories of H.P. Lovecraft. The choice of name reflected my discontent at being exiled from my sunny homeland of Southern California to the history-haunted cityscapes of Boston, Massachusetts. For four long cold years I lived in a cramped apartment a short driving distance from the heart of "Lovecraft Country"— the northeast portion of the Shadow State that was featured in Lovecraft's eldrich tales of the horrible Great Old Ones and what happened to them when they met Massachusettians. (Hint: they got grumpy; justifiably so.)

Back in sunny Southern California, I turned the Miskatonic into a real layout. At left is the ever-evolving track plan. It's a basic "U", with medium curves and a temporary drop-leaf loop for the occasional continuous running of trains.

Outside the main station stop in the city of Arkham, I've planned a river crossing, small towns, abandoned mills, and dense, haunted woods.

One thing I'm going to really be paying attention to is lighting: trains and buildings will all be illuminated. I'm thinking about a projector lamp to shine a rising moon on the wall. I want this railroad to be able to be run at night.

My version of Arkham city started as a few square feet at one end of the layout— and like the Outer God Azathoth, seemed to grow exponentially, until it became the layout's focal point. It's the first part of the project to reach a point where I can call it "finished"— for now. My first victory over creeping Primal Chaos.

The unfinished train yards sit just beyond the depot. Need to lay down some dirt and weeds.
All the major structures in Arkham have interior detailing and lighting. Click here to read some more about how it's done.
There's considerable street trackage in the city... trains are never far from view.

The first official structure in the village of Dunwich turns out to be this cool little Bar Mills laser-cut kit. I got it because of the large front windows— perfect for adding interior details.

The Miskatonic's snow-fighting train... an Ambroid Russell plow and a scratchbuilt flanger modeled after a Maine Central prototype.
Two more recent resin-cast cars from John Canfield and Bob McGione.
Above: Eight Wheeler Models' Dayton. Below: the Juniata. To read a feature on building both cars, click here.
The Miskatonic is home to several modified Rivarossi 4-4-0s in 1870s paint schemes. Click here or on the feature below to read about their makeovers.
The roundhouse and engine terminal are the latest scenic additions to Arkham. Like the adjacent train yards, the terminal strill needs plenty of Massachusetts mud and weeds.

The roundhouse was built of 1/4" foam-core covered with Plastruct textured styrene, same as the depot below. The covered turntable is an old Atlas product with a new layer of planks. Turntables in new England were often covered because shoveling the snow out of a turntable pit was as hellish a job as any imaginable.