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Arts & Entertainment

Model train displays gather steam at museums, clubs

| Thursday, Dec. 16, 2004

In McKeesport, they added a second blast furnace to the steel mill. In Richland Township, they completed the Smithfield Street Bridge. In Greensburg, they constructed the Greensburg Train Station and the Grand View Ship Hotel.

All over Western Pennsylvania, model railroad enthusiasts have spent months rebuilding the past in miniature scale for current and future generations to enjoy during the holiday season.

At Carnegie Science Center's Miniature Railroad and Village, models of historic buildings and animated miniatures depicting vignettes from times gone by have been part of the display for half a century -- since Dec. 1, 1954, when the exhibit first opened at its old location at the former Buhl Planetarium on the North Side.

Today, the trains are still running strong, and the display continues to grow -- from its original 200 feet to its current 1,200 feet of track and more than 100 animations. More than 350,000 people annually visit the Miniature Railroad & Village at the science center, according to Patty Rogers, coordinator of historic exhibits. She says that this year's model railroad display pays tribute in a big way to 50 years of memories and family fun.

Among the new additions:

  • The original H.J. Heinz homestead being moved from Sharpsburg to the North Side factory on a barge on the Allegheny River in 1904, where it remained until 1952 when it was dismantled and relocated to Henry Ford's Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich.

  • A replica of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, a Hill District landmark until the stone structure was destroyed in a fire on March 13 this year.

  • A 19th century glass factory that pays tribute to Pittsburgh's rich history of early glass manufacturing operations.

  • An election year remembrance of presidential whistle stops depicted with a model of Teddy Roosevelt waving from the back of a decorated passenger train.

  • An animation of stargazers honoring the accomplishments of Pittsburgh astronomer John Brashear and recognizing the 75th anniversary of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh.

    The 50th anniversary celebration will continue next spring, Rogers says, when a miniature Gobbler's Knob with famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil and a house from Mister Rogers Neighborhood will be added to the layout.

    At the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, "Playthings!," the 30th annual holiday toy and train exhibition, runs through Jan. 30. This year's display is dedicated to the late Paul A. Chew, director emeritus of the museum, who was responsible for creating the museum's toy collection, according to Barbara Jones, curator.

    In addition to more than 600 antique and modern toys from the museum's permanent collection and on loan from local private collectors, the display features its 28-foot-in-diameter G-gauge train display. The layout depicts a landscape setting reminiscent of Western Pennsylvania including past and present landmarks such as the Grand View Ship Hotel, the Greensburg Train Station, and the George Westinghouse Bridge, and other bridges inspired by prints found in the museum's exhibition, "Valley of Work: Scenes of Industry."

    At Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, Pa., director Scott Becker says a new HO scale trolley has been added this year to the layout built by a group of volunteers which features three trains and four working trolleys. Replicas of vintage Lionel train posters and signs hung around the train room add an interesting backdrop, he says. Also new this year is a model of the Whip ride at Kennywood Park.

    "Construction Crossroads" is the theme of the annual garden railroad display located in the South Conservatory at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Schenley Park, Oakland. A tribute to Phipps' expansion, the railroad this year focuses on construction and industry. Landscape architect Bob Vukich has designed the exhibit with help from Phipps' horticulture and building and grounds staff.

    Highlights include a logging train carrying cargo from the mountains to a saw mill, a trolley and two freight trains running through a countryside featuring live plants to scale. An added benefit of a visit to the garden railroad is an opportunity to walk through "Nature's Holiday," the winter flower show at Phipps.

    In Richland Township, volunteers at the Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum continue their work on a 40- by 100-foot display on the museum's second floor that depicts the tracks between Pittsburgh and Cumberland, Md., during the early 1950s. The Mon-Valley System is a fictitious line that is actually a composite of the Western Maryland, the Baltimore & Ohio and the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie railroads, says Bill Humphrey, holiday show co-chairman.

    Another group of model train enthusiasts, the McKeesport Model Railroad Club, welcomes visitors to its Mon-Yough Valley Railroad display. Ray Morris, superintendent and past president, says a second blast furnace has been added to the Art Falk Works, a fictional steel mill based on local mills of the past. Done in HO scale, the layout includes an oil refinery and a large cityscape with skyscrapers McKeesport landmarks such as the Palisades dance club. As many as 12 trains can run at one time on the continuous loop, Morris says, adding that the train display is the primary fundraiser for the 40-member club.

    In Wheeling, W.Va., the O gauge model train display at the Good Zoo at Oglebay Resort attracts many visitors from western Pennsylvania, says spokeswoman Caren Knoyer. The setting for the permanent, year-round display is West Virginia from the 1930s to 50s. Scenery includes model steamboats and sternwheeler, a miniature amusement park, an airport, hot air balloon, an operating steel mill with skip cars, a logging camp, a working coal mine and a drive-in theater.

    Train exhibits

    Carnegie Science Center Miniature Railroad and Village

    When: Through June 13. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays through Fridays; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays. Holiday hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. today through Jan. 2; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 24; closed Dec. 25 and 26.

    Admission: Rates vary according to attractions; general admission is $14; $10 for children.

    Where: 1 Allegheny Ave., North Shore.

    Details: (412) 237-3400 or www.carnegiesciencecenter.org .

    Good Zoo at Oglebay Resort Miniature Railroad and Village

    When: Through Jan. 2. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 1 to 9 p.m. Dec. 25 and Jan. 1; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 24 and Dec. 31.

    Admission: Included with zoo admission: $6.25; $5.25 for ages 3 to 12; free for age 2 and younger.

    Where: Wheeling, W.Va.

    Details: (800) 624-6988 or www.oglebay-resort.com .

    McKeesport Model Railroad Club HO scale train layout

    When: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

    Admission: $4; $1 children (group rates available)

    Where: McKeesport Model Railroad Club, 2209 Walnut St., McKeesport

    Details: (412) 664-5626 or www.mckeesportmodelrr.org

    Mid-Mon Valley Railroad Club

    What: HO scale trains running through three rooms on two levels. Scenery represents the Mon Valley and its industries.

    When: Through Dec. 26. Noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Closed Dec. 25.

    Admission: $1 per person donation requested.

    Where: New Eagle Borough Building, second floor, 159 Main St., New Eagle, Washington County.

    Details: (724) 379-8584.

    Pennsylvania Trolley Museum "Trolleys and Toy Trains"

    When: "You-Run-It" train layout and trolley rides, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and Dec. 27 through 30.

    Admission: $6; $5 for age 65 and older; $3.50 for ages 2 to 15; $4 for children during Santa Trolley, free for age 1 and younger. Admission includes trolley rides, exhibits and Museum Store.

    Where: Interstate 79 to Exit 41, Pittsburgh Meadow Lands, Washington, Pa.

    Details: (724) 228-9256, (877) 728-7655 or www.pa-trolley.org .

    Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens 'Construction Crossroads'

    When: Through Feb. 20. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays. Closed Mondays.

    Admission: $6; $5 for age 60 and older; $4 for students with ID; $3 for ages 2 to 12; free for age 1 and younger and Phipps members.

    Where: Schenley Park, Oakland.

    Details: (412) 622-6914 or www.phipps.conservatory.org .

    Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum

    When: Through Jan. 16. 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 26 and 31.

    Admission: $5; $3 for age 11 and younger.

    Where: Route 910 and Hardt Road, Richland.

    Details: (724) 444-6944 or www.wpmrm.org .

    Westmoreland Museum of American Art

    What: "Playthings!" 30th annual holiday toy and train exhibition.

    When: Through Jan. 30. Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 24; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 27 and 28. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

    Admission: $3; free for age 11 and younger.

    Where: 221 N. Main St., Greensburg.

    Details: (724) 837-1500 or www.wmuseumaa.org .

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