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Train display at Penn Hills Police Department delivers holiday cheer

| Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Patrick Varine | Penn Hills Progress
The Penn Hills police station's holiday train display has so many trains, it requires a rail yard! The display will remain up and running through Jan. 5.
Patrick Varine | Penn Hills Progress
An Amtrak model train cruises down the line at the Penn Hills police station's holiday train display.
Patrick Varine | Penn Hills Progress
The display is so large it takes up the entire police-department firing range in the basement of the municipal building.

For nearly three decades, the Penn Hills Police Department has joined with volunteers to bring holiday cheer to young and old through its annual train display.

Filling up the entirety of the department's basement firing range, the display has been erected each year since 1984.

“A group of officers got together and thought that having a train display might be nice,” said Officer Duane Yenchik, who helps set up and run the multi-platform display. “They brought their own trains in and set everything up. That first year, they raised more than $10,000.”

The $1 admission cost, which has not changed since the display opened, goes to Police Helping People Daily, a Penn Hills police charity established by former officer Dom Slebrich, who died in 2011.

The charity donates to a variety of worthy causes including Camp Shining Arrow, a law enforcement scholarship at Penn Hills High School and more.

“(On Dec. 19, police records coordinator) Phil Pusateri and I went down and gave a check to Make-a-Wish,” Yenchik said. “That makes more than $39,000 donated to them over the years.”

The train display itself has so many trains — brought in by different local companies, who can also purchase “billboards” throughout the “town” and advertising sponsorship on the side of train cars — that the display includes a rail yard.

It takes about a month to turn the firing range into the train display, and Yenchik said he's blessed to have plenty of good help.

“We have a really good core of volunteers as well as kids from the (high school) NJROTC. They help with construction and they help run the trains,” he said. “For the last six or seven years, without the volunteers, we couldn't do it.”

Even if volunteers are short, Yenchik's wife has been known to fill in as head engineer.

Yenchik said his favorite part of running the display each year is the happiness it brings to visitors.

“It brings smiles to kids' faces as they come in, and hey, adults too,” he said. “We've had four generations of a family in here at one time, and to me, it's being able to see a child's face light up when they see the train and display.”

Yenchik said he considers it a way he can give back to the community he serves.

“Plus I get to play with trains,” he said with a laugh.

The Penn Hills Police Department train display will run through Jan. 5 at the municipal building, located at 12245 Frankstown Road. Admission is $1, and the display is open Monday through Friday from 5 to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 9 p.m.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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