Baker’s Junction Haunted Train sits on Fairfax Road just south of Bloomington, a short drive away from Monroe Lake. A passerby may think they have stumbled upon an 1800s ghost town. Old wooden buildings and rusty trains juxtapose the concrete backdrop of a foreboding castle.
The property is home to John Baker and his family. John, a sturdy man who gets around by electric wheelchair, loves haunted houses so much that he lives in one. He grew up hearing stories of trains and railroads, and, one day, decided to purchase old train cars and repurpose them into a home — but he didn’t stop there.
It began in 1976, when he was driving up Rogers Street. He pulled into the hundred- year-old Monon Railroad Station just to look around and think about what he was going to do with his life.
He was a retired veteran, still possessing both legs and all fingers.
A sign on the door read that the depot was set to be demolished. He said he thought that someone ought to save it, and after the historic society showed no interest, that someone became him.
John lugged five train cars and three cabooses with his truck to his new property on Fairfax Road, all by himself, because the moving company was asking for more than he could afford. But he had a vision, and he was going to execute it.
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He followed his own blueprints to build the 1800s town of his dreams, planning to call it John Baker’s Junction. There would be a playground in the front for his children and future grandchildren, a set of trains in the middle where he could start a museum filled with antiques and a row of buildings down the back for gift shops.
He hoped to leave something behind when he died. He had dreamt of spending his old age painting with his wife and chatting with visitors from far and wide.
It was the perfect plan. He worked tirelessly for months.
Not long after he finished construction on the museum, the Monroe County property zoners were at his door with concerns about the look of his lot. John says his home didn’t fit their vision of a new and improved Monroe County, with its strange buildings and old trains. He fought for his property in court for three years.
Eventually, the Bakers won the case. But they were bankrupt.
“Yes, we won,” said John. “If you call losing everything winning.”
The family took out a first and second mortgage and had an auction for most of his beloved antiques. He lost his stone business, and he was working on the property so much the bone infection he had years prior came back. He lost his hip and leg.
Penniless and defeated, John brainstormed ways to get his money back. He slowly came up with a plan.
The Baker's Junction Haunted Train was born. It has become a beloved attraction that echoes in terrified screams and nervous laughter.
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The metal sign at the entrance reads, "Friendly People Welcome, Commie Planning & Zoning Pinheads Keep Out."
The haunted train spans four out of the five train cars and all three cabooses. The family lives in wooden cabins toward the back of the property.
The rest of the trains are filled with the antiques and attractions he was able to keep, jumbled so closely that everywhere you look something catches your eye. John remembers the stories of thousands of items on the train. His second favorite artifact, a grand piano from the 1870s, sold to Broadway for $1,500 — but no one came to pick it up.
The “kiddie” train, right next to the ticket booth, showcases a glow-in-the-dark display of planets and shelves full of plasma balls. John says this room is for the kids and adults who are too afraid to go into the “real” trains.
His favorite object of all is his severed thumb that he had preserved and hung out of reach from visitors. After he lost it in a chainsaw incident, he thought what a perfect opportunity it could be to scare some people.
"It’s a shame I couldn’t put my leg in a McDonald’s cup like I could with a finger,” he said.
It would be easy to want to move slowly through the trains and admire the construction, but this is hard to do when masked clowns and bloody butchers are following close behind. They will not touch you, but John says they will probably target the most scared person in your group.
John and his family work all year to prepare for October. There is always something to be done.
Annabelle, John’s 9-year-old granddaughter, shares his passion for the unnerving. She plays with the spiders that make webs in her playground, and she says she just bought a scary new mask that she cannot wait to show customers who come by the train.
She says her favorite holiday is Halloween because she gets to dress up all month and chase strangers through the maze of chain-link fences and tarps, lit by candles she makes. Annabelle loves to play in the playground by day, and the trains by night. She spends much of her time making friends with the skeletons set to motion detectors inside the trains.
The trains are filled with booby-traps like the skeletons. It takes customers anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to complete the attraction, depending on how fast they run. Usually, they are sprinting to escape the sound of chainsaws, guillotines and the people that jump out at them from behind cracked doors.
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John likes to keep his guests surprised: this year, a family friend is learning to walk in stilts.
After surviving the haunted train, customers are rewarded with the smell of hot dogs, chili and apple dumplings at the concession stand, a big hit every year.
At the front of the property, next to the concessions and the playground, sits “The Time Castle.” Its exterior is made with brick and concrete.
The Time Castle is not available for public use. It is sacred to the family, and according to John, it is impossible to tear down. He and his family built it themselves.
Inside, the ceiling is lined with geodes from here, there and everywhere, Annabelle said. Etched on the walls are the names of all of John’s family members.
“We have all decided that this is where we want to be when we die,” said John. “My wife Cheryl is already here.”
He pointed to a gravestone made of marble. Underneath, a bouquet of dead flowers gathers dust.
Cheryl died in June of 2022. Her gravestone reads, “The Train Lady.”
John knows that his years left on Earth are limited. He is proud of everything he has accomplished, despite his setbacks and lost limbs. He still created a home for his family and is able to chat with visitors, even though it isn’t what he had in mind when he began.
When he passes, he said, his gravestone will sit next to Cheryl’s. It will say, “The Train Man.”