Students, inmates, volunteers transform Youngwood railroad museum
It's been called the best-kept secret in town — the Youngwood Historical and Railroad Museum and Station Café.
But a lot of people have joined together to trumpet the news about this hidden treasure.
The museum features many artifacts, pictures, journals, maps and literature of the early railroad days until now.
The history dates back to the beginning of the town of Youngwood and the surrounding area.
The museum was founded in 1983 after a group of retired Pennsylvania Railroad Retirees appealed to the borough mayor to save the Youngwood Depot, which was built in 1902.
Ray and Pat Alincic of Udell have been involved with the museum since the early 1990s.
“When it started failing, the county didn't want it, the borough didn't want it, but you can't let it go away,” said Pat Alincic, who serves as secretary for the Youngwood Historical & Railroad Association Inc. “We took it over to preserve the history for generations to come — to educate the children.”
Extensive renovations on the museum include a new deck, wheelchair-accessible ramps, new lights and the café.
Currently, the 1969 caboose — one of only 49 built by Penn Central in Altoona — is being restored.
“Right now, we're open on a limited basis and offering tours by appointment because we're involved with some improvements,” said Ray Alincic. “Then we'll be up and running full time.”
Pat Alincic said a lot of the museum's support has come from Greensburg, Latrobe, Charleroi and Jeanette, as well as a tourism grant they received for the renovations.
“Surrounding towns have been very supportive because they've all been affected by this railroad,” she said.
Excel Glass in Jeanette donated four odd-shaped glass windows to help restore the caboose.
“My father was a big fan of the railroad,” said Connie Pecora, manager at Excel Glass. “It's nice to be a part of history, especially with people that take the time to do restoration. History is important.”
Students at the Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center restored a 12-foot-long original baggage cart. Students from the woodworking class, the painting and decorating class, and the machine class all got involved in the month-long project.
Gary Kistler, carpentry instructor at CTC, said having the opportunity to do something a little off track was exciting for the students.
“This is going to be there for a long time. Usually they building something and tear it down,” he said. “This gave them the opportunity to work on something that is going to be displayed for years to come.”
Inmates from the state prison in Hempfield, known as State Correctional Institute-Greensburg, have painted the caboose and restored its interior to help prepare it for upcoming tours.
Frank Cross, corrections labor foreman of the Community Works Program, said this project has proved beneficial for the inmates.
“These guys really feel a sense of accomplishment. After being in jail, many have no work experience,” said Cross. “But when they stand back, or drive by in years to come, and see what they've done, they can tell the other guys, ‘Hey look, I did that.'”
The outpouring of community support has been extremely helpful, but it's the surprise visits sometimes mean the most.
Pat Alincic said people have visited the museum from Thailand, Chicago, California and other locales.
“A lot of their family worked on the railroad here or their pictures are even on the wall,” she said.
The town of Youngwood was built around the railroad and serviced an area within a 50-mile radius.
In the 1800s through 1902, it served industrial steel mills, funneling coal along the railroad.
“It supplied a lot of jobs for this area,” said Ray Alincic. “This station was very important for the Industrial Age at the turn of the century.”
Preserving that history is the goal of the Youngwood Historical & Railroad Association.
Even when the renovations are finished, there's still a lot of work to do.
“There's always more to be done,” said Ray Alincic. “We're looking for good volunteers and always making changes so that when people come into the museum they experience something different.”
Michele Stewardson is a freelance writer.