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Ligonier Valley-area museums partner to rev-up local transportation history

| Wednesday, July 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Three local museums have teamed up to provide a ride down memory lane and a unique look at the local transportation history that is hiding right under your wheels.

What better way to learn about it than to hit the road, — the historic Lincoln Highway that is.

“Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: A Day Trip Through Transportation History” brings together the KLBE Air Museum, the Lincoln Highway Experience and the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Museum beginning at 12:30 p.m. July 27. Preregistration is required for the guided tour, but attendees need to provide their own transportation to each site.

“While the program has nothing to do with the 1987 flick starring Steve Martin and John Candy, it is a great opportunity for residents and visitors to experience three different nearby transportation stories,” said Olga Herbert, executive director of the Lincoln Highway Experience. “Even though these three museums are somewhat diminutive, they have a big story to tell that directly relates to our region.”

The idea to merge the three museums and their history was initiated by Herbert.

“I thought the transportation theme tying three nearby sites together would be cool,” Herbert said. “I am a strong believer in cross-marketing and partnerships, and hope staff and volunteers from each site visit the other two attractions. It has been a pleasure working with the air museum and railroad museum.”

Herbert said a St. Vincent College intern, Pam Curtin, followed through with the contacts and set up the auto tour.

The first museum on the tour is the KLBE Air Museum at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity. It commemorates the history of air travel in Westmoreland County.

In 1939, the first scheduled air-mail pickup took place there.

Visitors will view American, Soviet and World War I-era biplanes up close and learn about local pioneers who made important contributions to aviation history.

Sam Schrecengost is one of the founders who got the museum off the ground eight years ago.

“We are just a fledgling museum right now, but we are growing,” said Schrecengost of Delmont. “In the future we hope to get more appropriations to make it bigger.”

Schrecengost said the museum features numerous historical photographs from the World War II era and many documents about the history of flight in the local area.

“We have a female aviator history about the women who flew aircraft over to the east coast to be put on ships during World War II,” Schrecengost said.

The museum houses a theater with a library of short films, including all of the Blue Angel air shows conducted in Latrobe. Visitors get to sit in actual airplane seats to view the short film on aviation.

“I think it's going to provide good exposure for us, to have the support of the other museums,” Schrecengost said about the upcoming auto tour.

He is looking forward to working with both museums in the future to promote the history of transportation along the Lincoln Highway.

The second stop on the tour is the Lincoln Highway Experience. It is housed in a 200-year-old National Register-listed building, the Johnston House, across from the Kingston Dam.

Visitors will view a nationally-acclaimed orientation film and reminisce about the times of drive-in movies and the Ship Hotel.

“See what gas pumps looked like when gasoline sold for only 17 cents a gallon and send postcards to loved ones,” Herbert said.

The day trip ends at the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Museum in Darlington.

“Did you know the worst train wreck in southwestern PA history occurred in the Ligonier Valley? This tragic story is offset by the beautifully restored 1896 railroad station that offers interesting artifacts, an interactive wall map and the thrill of standing on a restored 1905 Bobber Caboose,” Herbert said.

Bill Potthoff, president of the railroad association, said he and Herbert had been working on the idea for some months.

“We realized early on that we had museums addressing three historic modes of transportation all within less than 9 miles of each other so it would be an easy day trip. It could also be followed by a lunch and shopping in Ligonier,” Potthoff said. “All of the museums are working together to promote tourism. It's not a zero-sum game. A tour like this benefits everyone.”

In addition to tours of the station, Potthoff said a local baker makes cookies in the shape of a locomotive that are free to the visitors.

Preregistration is required by July 21 at a fee of $12 per person, which will include admission to all three museums.

To register, visit or call the Lincoln Highway Experience at 724-879-4241.

Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or

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