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Carnegie Science Center adds Buhl Planetarium to railroad village

| Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, 9:08 p.m.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
The Miniature Railroad & Village at the Carnegie Science Center has added the Buhl Planetarium building (with green dome) Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
The Miniature Railroad & Village at the Carnegie Science Center has added the Buhl Planetarium (building with green dome).
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Visitors look over the Miniature Railroad & Village at the Carnegie Science Center Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. Members were treated to the first look of the re-opened trains. The Buhl Planetarium was just added.

Because the Buhl Planetarium housed the original Miniature Railroad & Village, the layout's artists and architects thought it was about time to add a miniature version of the legendary North Side building to the village, now housed at Carnegie Science Center.

The Buhl Planetarium building has a 9-inch-diameter green dome made from a 1968 world globe cut in half. The building has a Plexiglass shell with laser-cut wood.

Another change to this year's layout is a re-turfing of the Forbes Field baseball park. The old mock grass was fading and getting dusty.

The display reopens Nov. 28 after its annual renovation and updating.

The village, originally named “The Christmastown Railroad,” opened at the Buhl Planetarium building, now part of the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, in 1954, when nearly 24,000 people lined up to fawn over the miniature world.

In 1991, the Henry Buhl Jr. Planetarium & Observatory opened at the new Carnegie Science Center, and the village found its home there after an additional year of preparation and construction. Visiting the railroad has become a beloved Pittsburgh custom for many families, says Patty Rogers, the center's curator of historic exhibits and one of the railroad's artists.

“I think that it's something that's very familiar,” she says. “It's a family tradition.”

Many visitors point out buildings on the display and say to staff members, “I worked there,” Rogers says. “We learn as much from them as they learn from us.”

To make room for the miniature Buhl, which stands in the summer urban section, the railroad architects moved the Pittsburgh Courier building, which now stands in the industrial area between the summer and fall sections. The mini city doesn't reflect the layout of Pittsburgh — the Buhl isn't situated in a North Side setting — but the little city contains many Western Pennsylvania landmarks, including the inclines, the Indiana County courthouse and Fallingwater.

“It's sort of all of our favorites put together in one idyllic town,” says Sarah Swist, program assistant and one of the mini Buhl's artists.

Matt Blackburn of Oakmont — who was attending a preview of the village with his wife, Christy; and kids Emma, 8; Matthew, 6; and baby Hannah, 4 months — says the railroad is one of the most elaborate ones he's ever seen.

“The folks who work here take such pride in it,” Blackburn says. “It's fascinating. It's got great parts of Pittsburgh history.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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