Westinghouse Atom Smasher now part of miniature railroad display
November 18, 2016 12:09 AM
The Westinghouse Atom Smasher is the newest addition to the Miniature Railroad & Village at the Carnegie Science Center. The model looks as it did when it began operations in 1937.
The Westinghouse landmark accompanies regional favorites such as Fallingwater, Forbes Field, Punxsutawney Phil at Gobbler’s Knob, Luna Park, Sharon Steel Mill and the Monongahela Incline, among others.
By Michael A. Fuoco / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
You can topple a Pittsburgh structure, but you sure can’t topple Pittsburghers’ fond memories of it.
Memories stand tall around here, just as the iconic Westinghouse Atom Smasher did in Forest Hills until last year.
Never mind that the pioneering laboratory for one of the first large-scale nuclear physics research programs has sat unused since 1958.
Despite that, for the region’s residents it represents the atomic age and simultaneously rekindles warm thoughts of their childhoods.
That’s why a scale model of the silver light bulb-shaped atom smasher, replete with the company’s world-known “W” logo, was unveiled Thursday as this year’s addition to the Miniature Railroad & Village at the Carnegie Science Center.
The longtime landmark joins regional favorites such as Fallingwater, Forbes Field, Punxsutawney Phil at Gobbler’s Knob, Luna Park, Sharon Steel Mill and the Monongahela Incline, among others.
Last year, the Crawford Grill was added to the realistic miniature display that includes scenes that illustrate how the region’s residents lived, worked and played during an era spanning the 1880s to the late 1930s.
In the display, the scale model of the 65-foot Van de Graaff generator looks as it did when it began operations in 1937. By contrast, the real thing is decrepit and remains on its side atop a pile of bricks after being toppled last year by a Washington, D.C., developer who owns the property.
Historic preservation attempts are underway, which were among the reasons the atom smasher was chosen, said Patty Everly, curator of historic exhibits at the science center.
“There’s more awareness of it now because it is in jeopardy, and it’s such a unique example of engineering history,” she said. “We always try to seek out a one-of-a-kind story that only Pittsburgh has, and this is certainly one of those.
“Also, to me I thought it is visually compelling and very different than anything we’ve done before. It has a futuristic look.”
Moreover, she said, people may be surprised to learn that atomic power was being researched in the 1930s in Forest Hills, “which basically was a company town. People grew up with it looming over them, but they had no fear. It was a beloved icon and they were very proud of it.”
Research on the model included photographs and visits to the Heinz History Center, where the Westinghouse archives are stored. The exact dimensions of the structure were found there. The model is on a scale that one-quarter inch equals a foot.
Given the pioneering aspect of the atom smasher, it seems appropriate that current cutting-edge technology — a 3-D printer — was used for the first time to create the complete scale model.
“It’s a very exciting piece,” Ms. Everly said. “I love to do things that are a little different and challenge the imagination.”
In addition to an atom smasher, other landmarks and miniature trains, the display includes 105 animations, more than 250,000 trees, 14 aircraft, 85 automobiles, 60 trucks and 22 horse-drawn vehicles — and 23,000 fans in Forbes Field.
The Miniature Railroad and Village, presented by Lionel Trains, is open during the science center’s regular operating hours and is included with general admission.
Michael A. Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1968.
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