Miniature Ligonier Valley Rail Road featured in model train tour | TribLIVE.com
Westmoreland

Miniature Ligonier Valley Rail Road featured in model train tour

Jeff Himler

The Ligonier Valley Rail Road is rolling over the track once more — in railroad historian and hobbyist Bob Stutzman’s Latrobe basement.

The original railroad operated from 1877 to 1952, hauling freight and passengers 16 miles between Ligonier and Latrobe. Stutzman’s scaled-down version, featuring O-gauge cars that are 148 as large, makes that trip across the 22-foot length of his model layout.

At just 10 feet deep, Stutzman’s layout makes a virtue out of its confined quarters. Its single track loops three times through scenery on two levels, allowing space for three other trains to run simultaneously with his LVRR replica.

“Whatever you can dream, you can do,” he said. “You don’t need a giant space or room.”

Visitors can explore his miniature creation during the LVRR Model Rail Road Tour, slated for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 18. Registration and ticket orders are required by Saturday for the tour that features five other individual layouts as well as multiple displays in Latrobe’s Huber Hall.

Stutzman penned a 2014 book about the LVRR and is a founder and former president of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association, which organizes the tour and operates a museum in the Ligonier Township village of Darlington. Once he stepped back from a leading role in the organization, in 2017, he was able to spend more time enjoying the model railroad hobby that first fascinated him as a boy in Ligonier.

He enhanced his LVRR diorama, represented on the top level of his layout. “I embellished it with a Ferris wheel and some fireworks,” he said, representing the amusements at Idlewild Park.

The “Ligonier” side of the display features the facade of a train station reminiscent of the full-scale one that still stands in the town, now housing the Ligonier Valley School District’s administrative offices. The “Latrobe” side is dominated by a brewery, one of that town’s distinctive businesses.

Spanning anywhere from the 1950s to the 1970s in style, the lower section of Stutzman’s layout is a combination of scenery and vignettes that struck his fancy. His wife, Carolyn, gets credit for color coordination.

A town scene includes an ice cream shop where a proud owner shows off his new muscle car. Nearby is a gas station inspired by one from Stutzman’s youth. “My friend in high school worked at an Esso gas station, and I hung out quite a bit with him there,” he recalled.

Atop several buildings, animated billboards reminiscent of vintage neon signs advertise products ranging from Wonder Bread to Sherwin-Williams paint and Clark candy bars.

To inject a lighthearted touch, Stutzman added a display to the “back 40” of his layout’s farm scene. The farmer is locked in a tug-of-war with a UFO, struggling to keep one of his cows from being sucked into the alien spacecraft.

Stutzman’s layout is a work in progress, with much landscaping left to complete. What he does have in place is rock solid; his train tunnels emerge from between cliffs of petrified wood that once decorated his garden.

Ralph Shearer and his wife, Joanna, like Stutzman, are first-time participants in the annual model train tour. They’ve assembled twin layouts in their Derry Township home that combine a nostalgic appeal for adults with novel elements designed to engage children.

“We started two years ago, for something to do in the wintertime,” he said.

The scenery was inspired by Ralph Shearer’s memories of growing up in rural Conemaugh Township, in Indiana County. “Being a farm boy, I remember my grandfather’s barn with the old farm machinery in front,” he said.

He painted another barn with the familiar “Chew Mail Pouch” advertising slogan for tobacco. Other scenes in the couple’s G-gauge (132 scale or larger) train layout include Amish farm workers and a one-room schoolhouse.

Joanna Shearer created a frog-filled pond by painting bottom details on the layout’s wood base and covering it with plastic. “She’s my decorator,” said Ralph Shearer. “She does a good job.”

A second layout includes a section in HO-gauge, which is half the size of O-gauge, and another in the even smaller N-gauge.

Bedford’s coffee pot-shaped roadside attraction is represented. Overlooking the scene from high above are rangers in a fire tower Shearer crafted from scratch.

He’s created a scavenger hunt, listing 10 tiny items — including a gray squirrel in a tree — that visitors can try to spot amid the miniature scenery.

Shearer hopes children will be delighted by his Christmas-themed train and a circus train, imported from Germany. A magician creates a stream of bubbles in one of the circus cars, which Shearer displays in a separate area so it won’t leave a soapy residue on his train tracks.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .


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Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Bob Stutzman of Latrobe uses a digital command system to operate his three-loop, single-track model train layout on Monday, May 6, 2019.
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Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Animated advertising signs light up the downtown street scene of Bob Stutzman’s model train layout on Monday, May 6, 2019, in Latrobe.
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Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
This Lionel City train station stands in for Ligonier’s station in Bob Stutzman’s model train layout on Monday, May 6, 2019, in Latrobe.
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Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
A farmer tries to save his cow from abduction by a UFO in this animated scene from Bob Stutzman’s model train layout on Monday, May 6, 2019, in Latrobe.
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Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Ralph Shearer of Derry Township links the cars in a German-imported circus train while operating his model train layout on Monday, May 6, 2019.
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Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Two trains pass on either side of a downtown street in Ralph Shearer’s HO-gauge model train layout on Monday, May 6, 2019, in Derry Township.
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Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
The coffee pot-shaped roadside building in Bedford is represented in Ralph Shearer’s HO-gauge model train layout on Monday, May 6, 2019, in Derry Township.
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Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
A produce stand, with supporting garden and greenhouse, are reproduced in miniature as parrt of Ralph Shearer’s HO-gauge model train layout on Monday, May 6, 2019, in Derry Township.
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