Carnegie Science Center exhibit draws on medley of train models


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Just after noon Saturday, the Loco Doctor was in, and Brian Mathews of Finleyville was getting some urgent care for a Lionel O-gauge engine that wouldn't run.

"A good cleaning is all they need, and off they go," George Houser said after coaxing Mr. Mathews' train, built in the mid-1950s and not used for some years, back to life again.

The Loco Doctor service is one of the attractions at Locomotion Weekend at Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore. The event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, also includes a model of the Polar Express, a circus train, a Terrible Trolley, trains that children can play with and a layout where visitors can push buttons to sound whistles and load coal.

Also open is the science center's permanent exhibit, the Miniature Railroad and Village that captures early 20th-century life in Western Pennsylvania and features landmarks such as Forbes Field and Luna Park.

Locomotion Weekend brings together veterans like Mr. Houser, a Mt. Lebanon resident who has been working with trains for about 60 years, and young enthusiasts with trains on their shirts, conductor's hats on their heads and wonder in their eyes.

"He loves trains," North Fayette resident Mike Stelmack said of his son, Jake, 4, as they took in the Polar Express. "He's got every toy train imaginable at home."

Moon resident Eric Fogle said he was impressed with the details of the exhibits -- the miniature people and animals and things that make up the grand backdrops for the trains. The adult's bird's-eye view has its advantages, but children taking in the exhibits at eye level have a special vantage point.

"They see things you can't see when you're too tall," said Mr. Fogle, who brought his son, Ben, 6, and daughters, Bridget, 4, and Caroline, 3.

Patty Rogers, the science center's Curator of Historic Exhibits, marvels at what she calls the romance of trains. "It's intuitive," she said, noting children enthralled by the noise and movement of model railroading grow into adults who are captivated by the mechanics and nostalgia.

Trains can be the nexus of a tradition. Rick Baugh, president of Fort Pitt Train Collectors Association and creator of the Polar Express exhibit, said he got his first train in 1953, the year he was born. His children got trains the years they were born, too.

Trains also can be family heirlooms. Mr. Mathews, his brother and sister all have trains once owned by their grandfather.

Mr. Houser, who shared Loco Doctor duties with other members of the Train Collectors Association, said many older trains do not work well because they have not been maintained regularly. He said Mr. Mathews' train "will work for him, but it won't work to the consistency it should."

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Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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