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Family excited about plans for railroad display/canteen in Connellsville

Laura Szepesi | For the Daily Courier
Mike Edwards (left) of Fayette County Cultural Trust reviews plans for Connellsville’s model railroad display / cafe project with Sharon Lininger (middle) and her sister, Darlene Rogish. The women are the great-nieces of the late Harry Clark of Normalville, who designed the railroad scene that will soon be making its way to town.

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By Laura Szepesi
Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, 8:16 p.m.

When Sharon Lininger and Darlene Rogish were growing up as sisters in Connellsville Township, they eagerly looked forward to visiting their Great Uncle Harry's house in Normalville.

It was always exciting to see what was new with Uncle Harry's model railroad display.

“It just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” said Rogish, remembering her uncle Harry Clark with affection.

She was referring to the 25-foot by 50-foot model railroad display that will be housed in Connellsville's new museum and cafe, which broke ground recently on West Crawford Avenue next to ArtWorks. Clark, who passed away in November at age 91, labored on the mini-railroad extravaganza for most of his life before it was finally sold to Terry “Tuffy” Shallenberger.

Shallenberger, whose construction company is excavating the project site, is donating the display to Fayette County Cultural Trust. The local philanthropist, anxious to make certain that Clark's meticulous work is preserved, is also funding the building that it will be housed in.

“Uncle Harry worked on his railroads in his garage. There was always something new in it for us to see. It was his man cave,” joked Rogish, who now lives in Smithfield.

Harry Clark's Legacy

She and her sister Sharon visited ArtWorks recently. They wanted to learn more about the project honoring their uncle after hearing about it from relatives and reading about it in newspapers.

The sisters said they are thrilled that the public will soon be able to view the display, which depicts railroad communities during the 1940s. Connellsville is heavily represented; among familiar landmarks is the B & O Railroad station that was torn down in the early 1980s. Several West Virginia logging towns from the same era are featured.

“Uncle Harry built everything to scale. He was very talented,” said Lininger, who lives in Connellsville. “He could play the guitar, too, and he was a great artist.”

“That's right,” her sister added. “You should see his drawings of American Indians. They're beautiful!”

Since Shallenberger purchased the display it has been housed at The Wild Side, which is part of Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington.

“They had to tear down Uncle Harry's garage to get it out (when Shallenberger bought it),” Lininger said.

RR To Return

The same thing will happen at Nemacolin when the enormous model train scene is loaded onto a heavy-duty tractor trailer to make its way home to Connellsville. Shallenberger picked his hometown for the new project because Nemacolin needed space for its soon-to-be built casino, which recently received state approval.

The 90-foot by 50-foot Connellsville building that will house Clark's masterpiece will resemble the old B & O Railroad station. It was designed by K-2 Engineering of Uniontown. The cafe inside the structure will be dubbed The Connellsville Canteen.

The canteen theme honors the women volunteers who met troop trains with sandwiches and hot beverages during World War II. There is a historic plaque along Water Street (near Central Fellowship Church) on the spot where the canteen stood.

Rose Brady Recalled

Doris Brady, daughter of Rose Brady, who founded the Connellsville Canteen, was also visiting ArtWorks when Clark's great-nieces were there. Bustling about as usual, Brady was on her way to a class reunion where she hoped to speak with Rita Smith Ross, one of the canteen's volunteers.

“Mother would be ecstatic about this project,” Brady said.

Working with Shallenberger on the details are Mike Edwards and Daniel Cocks. Edwards is president of Fayette County Cultural Trust, of which Cocks is a board member. ArtWorks works with the trust to promote arts and literature in the Fay-West region. The shop, which is managed by Cocks as a volunteer, features arts, crafts and books from more than 75 artists, craftspeople and authors.

Edwards made sure he got Lininger's and Rogish's phone numbers during their visit. “I'll call you when the grand opening ceremony is planned,” he promised them.

The women are certain to be in attendance, along with their other Clark relatives who live in the local area, including Dorothy Clark, Harry's wife of 70 years, and his children and grandchildren.

“We can't wait to see it. Uncle Harry would be so happy,” Rogish said.

Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.

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