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Public Unveiling of the ‘UNION FREIGHT’
Renowned Model Layout by the Late John Pryke

Enjoy John Pryke’s UNION FREIGHT, a layout made famous  in many Model Railroader articles and books.

The Union Freight layout depicts its namesake switching railroad that ran along Boston’s busy waterfront for more than 100 years. Built by the late John Pryke, the layout is internationally known for its pace-setting urban scenery and fine detail, all of which will be preserved as an operating part of the Nauset Model Railroad Club’s HO layout.

Made famous by numerous articles written by John in Model Railroader Magazine, including a four-part series September - December, 2000, the Union Freight layout was the focus of his book on building urban scenery also published in 2000. John had been a model railroader for nearly 70 years when he died in December, 2013. 

A New York City native, he grew up watching railroads there and in Boston. He was a prolific author and lecturer, and had modeled various prototype railroads in different time periods and settings, earning numerous awards and recognitions along the way.


Model Railroader Cover

Photo Courtesy of Model Railroader

Pryke Diner
Pryke Wharf

Photos Courtesy of Model Railroader

The “Real” Union Freight

The prototype Union Freight Railroad Co. (UFRR) ran for two miles down the middle of Atlantic Avenue and Commercial Street. Many sidings branched off--and even crisscrossed--its two-track main line to serve the warehouses, plants and other commercial buildings stacked along the route. There were connections to yards at both North and South Stations, and the UFRR maintained its own small yard off Atlantic Avenue. A section of the Boston Elevated line ran overhead from 1901 to 1942.

At first the UFRR rails were set in cobblestones, but cement began to replace them in the late 1930s. When the Elevated line was removed, the square holes where the support columns had stood were filled with concrete of a different color. Often potholes formed in the pavement from winter weather and, while they were patched with asphalt and tar, the rail joints sank from constant pounding by passing trains.

John watched the Union Freight at work during the late 1950s. He remembered being amazed at how the freight cars rocked back and forth over the uneven track and screeched around tight curves. He watched as traffic and pedestrians snaked around moving trains, stationary cuts of cars in the street, and the support columns for the Elevated line.  It’s what gave the railroad its character, he said.

The Union Freight at Nauset Model Railroad Club

All of the complex track work, waterfront buildings and intricate street details were captured by John on his layout. Now they can be enjoyed by visitors year-round, thanks to his foresight and generosity. A member of our Club for many years, John arranged to give the Union Freight and other sections of his Orleans home layout to the Club upon his death. 

Late in September, 2016, after parts of the Club’s previous HO model railroad were removed, John’s layout sections were brought in, leveled and set in place. Some small adjoining table pieces were built, and minor track adjustments made, to align old and new sections and complete the two main loops of the original Club layout.

Since John’s layout was wired with basic DC and block control, rewiring is being done to enable both DC and DCC operation. As a final step, scenery details such as track ballasting, structure placement, turnout controls, and re-installation of vehicles and figures will be completed.

This is a major undertaking by the Club’s HO layout group, but having a renowned model railroad in our midst makes it all worth-while.  Neil Besougloff, editor of Model Railroader, has provided us with original photos of John’s work as published in both the magazine and book titled, “Building City Scenery.”  These are on display, along with a fitting tribute to John, above his iconic Union Freight layout. We hope that it will continue to be an inspiration for many modelers and railroad enthusiasts for years to come.

Making room for the Union Freight Display
Come on down to see this great layout in action!
Full Cover Image

Photo Courtesy of Model Railroader

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