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Connellsville Canteen, railroad display to open Saturday

| Monday, May 5, 2014, 3:54 p.m.
Lori C. Padilla | for the Daily Courier
The Connellsville Canteen, featuring the Harry Clark Indian Creek Valley Model Railroad Display, will open to the public on Saturday — National Train Day. The display has been cleaned and repaired, ready for adults and children to view a simpler time when the railroad was the main source of transporting people and resources and how a town was built up around it. The Connellsville sign, mounted above the display, was first mounted on the original Connellsville Train Station which also housed the first Connellsville Canteen.

The trains are running on time in Connellsville — real trains and model trains. The city's railroad heritage will be celebrated on Saturday, at the opening of the Connellsville Canteen, which features Harry Clark's Indian Creek Valley Model Railroad Display.

Fittingly, the date coincides with National Train Day. Amtrak started National Train Day in 2008 to promote railroad travel and to celebrate the anniversary of the first transcontinental railroad. On May 10, 1869, the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad met in Promontory, Utah. Sealed with a golden spike, it was the United States' first coast-to-coast rail system.

Railroad stations nationwide observe National Train Day with special events. Connellsville — which has a railroad history dating back to the mid-1800s — has reason to celebrate with hype this year, with the official opening of the Connellsville Canteen and model railroad display.

The Canteen is along West Crawford Avenue downtown, next to ArtWorks Connellsville and across the street from Lions Square and Connellsville Redevelopment Authority. The project was made possible with the teamwork of local contractor Terry “Tuffy” Shallenberger of Connellsville, the Harry Clark family of Normalville and Fayette County Cultural Trust.

Everyone is invited to visit the Canteen from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. that day. There will be free refreshments and a peek at the late Harry Clark's model railroad display, a 25-by-50-foot extravaganza that features miniature local landmarks, including the city's B&O Railroad Station that was torn down in 1981.

That very same station, which was located along Water Street, was where more than 600 local female volunteers fed more than half a million troops during World War II. Clark's model railroad, purchased by Shallenberger several years ago, was trucked to Connellsville in autumn 2012. The Canteen building was constructed around it. In recent months, Greg Clark has lovingly refurbished his father's lifelong hobby, and its trains are chugging along, preening for public view.

There will be vintage World War II music during Saturday's celebration and a video about the Canteen years. There's also plenty of 1940s memorabilia to see — sentimental items provided by the families of local veterans.

ArtWorks Connellsville, a nonprofit showcase for more than 75 local artists and authors, will be open during the event, as well. Among the items for sale will be the Canteen video, a project sponsored by the Connellsville Area Historical Society.

In the words of Daniel Cocks, ArtWorks volunteer director and Fayette Cultural Trust board of directors member: “Seeing Harry Clark's model trains in motion is wonderful. As people watch its movement, there is a railroad soundtrack that goes with it, and often there's also the sound of real trains passing through Connellsville nearby. It's an amazing experience.”

Laura Szepesi is a contributing writer.

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