One of the best-known structures in O Scale railroading is the model John Armstrong built based on the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks. Wit and Wisdom Models (W&W) is producing a limited run of this famous model, based on John’s original drawings and with the permission of the Armstrong family. This is a very special model, with a fascinating back story, which is described in this post.

The kit is designed and produced by Right on Track Models, true to the dimensions and layout of the Armstrong model and with all of the details of the original, including signage, café interior details and custom sculpted and cast figures. It comes with detailed instructions and is an easy build.  Photographs of the pilot model (below) illustrate the care and fidelity to the original designed into the kit.

O Scale kits (full scene and café only) are in stock now. Prices and ordering information are at the end of this message. However, the inspiration for the model and the story how it was built is important in order to understand the model and what is special – indeed unique – about it.

One of the most famous American paintings is Nighthawks (1942), by the painter Edward Hopper (1882-1967). Nighthawks is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, which has graciously placed the painting in the public domain.  Much has been written about Hopper and the composition, content and lighting of his most famous painting. Nighthawks is generally understood as a reference to the people, not the diner, and portrays urban loneliness and alienation. The painting was not Hopper’s first foray into anonymous urban settings. Indeed, his Early Sunday Morning (1930) depicts the same row of muted commercial buildings opposite the diner.

John H. Armstrong (1920-2004) is perhaps the best-known model railroader of the 20th Century. He remains the dean of model railroad track planners. John’s book Track Planning for Realistic Operation (Kalmbach Media, Milwaukee) remains the standard reference for layout design. However, John was also a consummate and detail-oriented model builder, as well as an art aficionado. John used to test and apply his ideas on his two-rail O Scale Canandaigua Southern Railroad.

John built a model based on the Nighthawks painting. He found a place for the model on his layout near the Cattaraugus passenger terminal. The space available to him was smaller than a full-size model diner and surrounding buildings would require, so John used selective compression, forced perspective and outright trickery (for example, the mirror reflecting backward signs to give the appearance of greater depth) to reduce the scene to fit the footprint available.  John devoted great attention to recreate the perspectives Hopper had used for Nighthawks. He calculated the angles used by the artist to create the painting and then translated his calculations into a three-dimensional model. See his drawing (below). Note that the reversal of the street direction exists only in the mirror.

John placed the Nighthawks scene above the mainline tracks coming out of Cattaraugus and prepared an appropriate base to make the scene credible. A photograph of his placement of the layout over the tracks is included to provide inspiration. However, since every layout and track plan is different, the kit has been designed for street level installation. Railings, stairs and bridge are not included in the kit and must be supplied by the modeler to fit the particular installation.

John Armstrong was a prolific writer; and, in its January 1989 issue, Model Railroader (Kalmbach Media, Milwaukee) published his article on the design and construction of the Nighthawks model. Far exceeding the generally spare prose of model railroad construction articles, the article described both the artistic basis for the model and John’s work to “backwards engineer” the composition, perspectives, colors and lighting to match the model to the painting.

Following John’s death in 2004, the Armstrong family retained the original  Nighthawks model, as well as John’s papers, which included his drawings for and photographs of the model. This kit is produced from those original drawings and photographs. It is as true to John’s design and as fully detailed as the manufacturer can build, including custom sculpted and three-D printed figures to represent the diner’s customers and counter boy.

John’s original model was built in O Scale (1:48). No kit presentation would be complete without offering the project in O Scale, in order to get the full impact of its mass and detail. The model is offered in three versions: a kit for the complete scene, a kit for the diner only and a fully assembled model. The latter will be built only to order; inquire as to availability, delivery and prices. See ordering information at the bottom of the page. All models are limited editions, individually numbered, and may not be re-run.

A website to explain and honor the model railroad contributions of John Armstrong is under construction. It will include a section on Nighthawks. Other parts of the site will serve as both a tribute to John and a description of how his approach can still help and inspire today’s modelers. Part of the proceeds from the sale of this kit will be used to defray costs of the website.

John developed his models with the precision of his engineering background, the practicality required by his space, time and money constraints and the inspiration based on his artistic interests. This project captures that level of care and skill. It is our hope to bring to life through kits more of John’s distinctive creations.

Thanks for your interest. Wit and Wisdom Models is pleased to bring this model to you. Grab one now; they won’t last. Use the kit as a springboard to learn more about John’s ideas and work and more about Edward Hopper.

What to Order and Price List:

  1. O Scale Kit, Complete Scene. Includes café, fabricated background buildings, street and sidewalk. Includes signage, café interior details and custom sculpted figures. Note: since the kit is designed either for street level installation or custom installation to fit a space, no railings, stairs, bridge and lower level retaining walls are included. Order “O Scale Complete Scene Kit”  Price: $245.00 plus shipping (calculated based on ship to address)
  2. O Scale Kit, Café Only. Includes café signage, café interior details and custom sculpted figures. Does not include fabricated background buildings, street or sidewalk Note: since the kit is designed either for street level installation or custom installation to fit a space, no railings, stairs, bridge and lower level retaining walls are included. Order “O Scale Café Only Kit” Price: $140.00 plus shipping (calculated based on ship to address).
  3. O Scale Scene, Assembled: Inquire as to availability, price and shipping.

Note: Inquiries as to other scale kits (S, HO and N) and future projects may be made to David Vaughn at

How to Order:

Send an email to David Vaughn at Identify yourself by name, email address, shipping address (include zip code or international equivalent) and list what you want to order.  David will send you an invoice for the order, including shipping information. Note that the kits are big and heavy (they are O Scale after all!) and the shipping won’t be cheap. Mail a check with the amount on the invoice to the address on the invoice. I will send the kit once payment is received. No credit cards and no PayPal (at least for now).

NOTE: Maryland residents must include in your payment 6% sales tax (not including price of shipping).

NOTE: Refunds are limited to kits returned in good condition, with unopened parts package and returned within 30 days of shipment.  Cost of shipping is not refundable and purchaser bears cost of return shipping. Purchase constitutes acknowledgement of description of kits and of refund policy.


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