directors'noteWinter 2010
"There’s a different vibe altogether in the Miniature Railroad. It’s a little quieter, but every bit as full of awe and wonder, of delight and imagination."

Photo: Joshua Franzos

On a sunny Saturday in early October, we were walking through the main lobby of the Science Center when we saw a man in his early 40s wearing a great t-shirt. “Still plays with trains,” it announced for all the world to see. Our kind of guy.

Trains are a big part of the experience here at Carnegie Science Center, especially around the holidays. Our Miniature Railroad & Village®, which you’ll read about in the   cover story on page 14, is a beloved Pittsburgh attraction. Generations of visitors—millions of them—have visited the attraction since its 1920 debut in Brookville, Pa., during its run at the Buhl Planetarium beginning in 1954, and now at the Science Center, its home since 1992. The Miniature Railroad is one of the Science Center’s most popular exhibits. For many people, it’s the primary reason they visit.

If you’re not one of those Pittsburghers who grew up making an annual holiday trek to see the Miniature Railroad at the old Buhl Planetarium, its presence at the Science Center might seem odd. Our other exhibit areas feature interactive, hands-on experiences, and our galleries are active and alive with laughter. There’s a different vibe altogether in the Miniature Railroad. It’s a little quieter, but every bit as full of awe and wonder, of delight and imagination.

Patty Rogers, our curator of historic exhibits, is a home-grown model train expert. (She’s also an expert on naval ships like our USS Requin submarine, but that’s another column someday.) Patty will regale you with stories about how children, parents, and grandparents alike become mesmerized by the vast multi-season miniature community that lies before them. Toddlers are at eye level with the carousel in the amusement park; parents kneel to point at the tiny mother rocking her even-tinier crying baby; a grandfather talks about his working days  at Sharon Steel, which rises just beyond the tracks. Everyone likes pushing the giant  train whistle.

There are many miniature railroad exhibits both locally and around the nation, some at other science centers. But there is none like this one, even if we are more than  a little biased. The replicas of real historic buildings, animated figures, and the depiction of how western Pennsylvania was a century ago provide an experience like no other.

The unsung heroes behind the Miniature Railroad & Village are our 40-plus volunteers. Mike, Bob, Stephen, Velma, and Charlene. Paul and Mary, who are husband and wife. Bill and his grandson, Glenn. Their dedication and downright love of the trains connects with visitors. Test it yourself: Ask one of them to give you background on the miniatures and see what you get. Be prepared for detail. They love “talking trains.”

Here’s our challenge to you this holiday season: Bring someone to the Miniature Railroad who’s never visited the Science Center. Maybe a visiting relative or a colleague new to the city. Or a kid whose parents can’t ever find time to make the trip. We guarantee the visit will make everyone’s day a little better.  

Ann M. Metzger
Henry Buhl, Jr., Co-Director
Carnegie Science Center

Ron J. Baillie
Henry Buhl, Jr., Co-Director
Carnegie Science Center



Also in this issue:

Putting the Magic in the Miniature Railroad  ·  The Things They Carried  ·  The Expressionist  ·  In Search of the Arabian Horse  ·  NewsWorthy  ·  Face Time: Marilyn Russell  ·  Science & Nature: A Walk with the Dinosaurs  ·  Artistic License: Finding Joy in the Moment  ·  Field Trip: Oh, the Places They Go  ·  The Big Picture