Train display finds new home in Connellsville
A crowd of about 100, many armed with cameras, lined Connellsville's downtown on Wednesday, watching as a 28,000-pound model railroad display crossed the Crawford Avenue bridge.
The tractor-trailer hauling Harry Clark's labor of love stopped in front of a building under construction on the former Burns drugstore site, and a crew went to work.
All eyes gazed skyward at 1 p.m. as a crane lifted the display and its casing, which appeared slightly smaller than a double-wide trailer, into the air.
Terry “Tuffy” Shallenberger, owner of Shallenberger Construction, donated the display he acquired several years ago to Fayette County Cultural Trust.
He purchased the 25-foot by 50-foot model railroad display from family friend Clark, who died in November at the age of 91.
The display had been housed at The Wild Side, part of Nemacolin Woodlands Resort near Farmington, and was moved to make way for the resort's Lady Luck Casino.
Clark's wife, Dorothy, and daughter, Linda Pritts, of Pleasant Hill in Springfield Township, traveled to Farmington Wednesday morning and followed the display down winding Route 40 and into Connellsville.
“We followed it up four years ago,” Pritts said.
“We are just thrilled it will be enjoyed by so many people. It's a wonderful tribute to Dad,” she said.
Her father built most of the cars by hand, Pritts said, starting in the family's kitchen.
Building the model train scene was her husband's way of relaxing after he returned home from serving during War World II, Dorothy Clark said.
His cars expanded and her husband built a garage, the train set's first home.
Clark's display was featured in Model Railroader Magazine, and visitors came from as far as Africa, Japan and England to see it, family members said.
With Connellsville police Chief James Capitos leading a caravan of vehicles bearing “oversize load” signs, the display began its journey.
Truck driver Tim Heffley, with contractor Wolfe House and Building Movers of Bernville in Berks County, led his cargo through a construction site and past startled motorists who pulled over to make room for the wide load.
Connellsville train hobbyist Bill Sechler mounted his tripod along Route 40 and again along Bute Road, photographing several angles as his friend's display was relocated.
Shallenberger said several businesses, including Lifting Gear Hire Corp., All Crane and Stone & Co., donated services to the effort.
Its new home, paid for by Shallenberger, will be modeled after Connellsville's old B&O station and will include the new “Connellsville Canteen” cafe/gift shop.
The construction site was purchased by the Cultural Trust with a grant.
The display will be guarded by round-the-clock security until the 50- by 90-foot building is constructed around it.
“It has a lot of Connellsville history to it. Hopefully, it will get the town sparked. I knew the man put his whole life into it. I didn't want to see it dismantled. I hope the canteen will help support it. There are a lot of railroad buffs around,” Shallenberger said.
City police closed off Crawford Avenue between Pittsburgh and Arch streets for about an hour for the unloading.
“It's very exciting. It's nice to see (the crowd),” said Michael Edwards, Cultural Trust president.
Teacher Kelly Cunningham brought 10 life skills students from Connellsville Area Junior High School to watch the display's arrival.
“They were jumping up and down,” as it crossed the bridge, she said.
As the display was safely lowered into place, the crowd burst into spontaneous applause.
Clark's work of a lifetime, and Shallenberger's gift to the city, was home.
Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or email@example.com.