Railroad museum project in Connellsville picks up steam again

| Friday, May 10, 2013, 6:30 p.m.

Connellsville can't celebrate this year's National Train Day, but local residents can expect some fanfare next May as work on the city's new railroad museum is back on track.

“The building's drywall is finished, and plastering is now being done,” said Michael Edwards, president of the Fayette County Cultural Trust, the group that is working with local contractor “Tuffy” Shallenberger on the project.

At the same time, Greg Clark is repairing the Indian Creek Valley Railroad model display that will be the museum's main attraction. The 25- by 50-foot display was hauled by truck to Connellsville from Nemacolin Woodlands Resort last September. The enormous structure was lifted by a crane, which set it down on the museum's foundation as carefully as possible. However, there was some minor damage.

It makes sense that Clark is anxious to restore the train display. His father, the late Harry Clark Sr., painstakingly and lovingly built it, piece by piece, year after year after year.

“I grew up with it; of course, I want it to be like it was originally,” said Greg Clark, who now works for Shallenberger Construction. “The model trains were part of my childhood. Dad first put them in a small garage. When the trains outgrew it, he enlarged the building.”

Shallenberger purchased the display after Harry Sr. passed away in November 2011 at age 91. Nemacolin Woodlands displayed the model trains until the resort obtained a license to build a casino there. So Shallenberger decided to move it to his hometown of Connellsville.

The contractor has funded much of the construction.

Meanwhile, Edwards has searched — and continues to search — for grants to benefit the project. The Fayette Cultural Trust recently received a $25,000 grant through Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, part of which will be used to purchase equipment for the Connellsville Canteen Coffee Shop at the museum, the outside of which resembles the B&O Railroad Station that stood along Water Street during World War II.

The coffee shop is named in honor of the Connellsville Canteen volunteers, who fed 500,000 troops hot coffee, sandwiches and baked goodies at the train station on their way to and home from the war. The building is along West Crawford Avenue next door to ArtWorks Connellsville.

Edwards is awaiting approval on a $50,000 grant from the Allegheny Conference to pay for setup costs for the Canteen Café.

Originally, planners hoped to open the museum for today's Amtrak-sponsored National Train Day, but the project encountered construction delays that could not be avoided, Edwards said.

He was hesitant to pinpoint an exact opening date, but did say it's likely to be this year.

“Things are looking good. Construction is coming along,” Edwards said.

Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.

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