The Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum

Steams Up Its 25th Annual Holiday Train Display

By: Paula Green

English novelist, Edward Morgan Forster had an insightful vision when it came to locomotives.  He said, “Railway terminals….are our gates to the glorious and the unknown.  Through them we pass out into adventure and sunshine, to them, alas we return.”

Besides being an enjoyable means of transportation, trains have an alluring appeal and style that fascinates both the young and the old.   Fortunately for us, there is a local place that not only showcases trains, but also returns us to the days of yesteryear.

Nestled in Gibsonia, The Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum (WPMRM) is located at 5507 Lakeside Drive, (on the corner of 910 & Hardt Road).  This two-story, 8,000-square-foot museum is approximately 15 miles north of Pittsburgh.

Now is the perfect time to pay it a visit, for starting on Nov. 10 and running through Jan. 13, it is featuring its holiday train display.  This year is significant for WPMRM since it is their 25th anniversary of their seasonal exhibit.

“Visiting our holiday train display really has turned into a family tradition for so many.  Approximately ten to eleven thousand folks attend this show every year.  What is really nice to see, is children who used to come to the show with their parents now bring their own kids,” said Bill Humphrey, WPMRM holiday show chairman and public relations director.

WPMRM has a standard O gauge, or more commonly known as “Lionel” which shows the most general perception of toy trains.  The exhibit includes items such as the giraffe car, novelty cars and old-fashioned landscapes.

Children can operate these trains by pressing buttons around the display that is complete with multiple levels, switches and crossing signals.   During the holiday show, junior engineers get the chance to operate their choice of a wooden Thomas the Tank or Percy; two stars from the children’s television show Shining Time Station.  This exhibit highlights little bridges, a roundhouse, an engine shop and house, which are sure to be crowd pleasers for the young guest.

The second floor houses the Mon-Valley System that operated in 1952, called “A Railroad Journey” in miniature.  Its layout replicates the actual route between Pittsburgh and Cumberland, Md.   Using pieces of the Western Maryland, Baltimore & Ohio, Wabash, Pittsburgh and Lake Erie railroads, the museum has managed to create a realistic compilation of railroading in the western Pennsylvania region.

“On Friday evenings during the holiday show, we present ‘Steam at Twilight.’  This is where we lower the lights and turn back the clocks from the summer of 1952 to an early fall evening in 1949, when steam was still the mode of power for trains,” Humphrey said.

WPMRM was founded in 1938 in downtown Pittsburgh.   It is one of the oldest model railroad organizations in the country.  It was originally called Pittsburgh HO Railroad Club.  It was renamed Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad to more accurately reflect their mission.

Over the years, the society moved from place to place with no real headquarters until 1986.  At this time, organizers built its current site in Gibsonia.

“We will have a brief period in January, when WPMRM will actually have two significant anniversary celebrations.  The 25th of the holiday display and the 75th of the founding of the organization, Humphrey said.

This year’s holiday train display is open Friday through Sunday, Nov. 10 – Jan. 13.  The hours of operation are 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Fridays; 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays.  They have extended hours the Fridays after Thanksgiving and Christmas, Nov. 23 and Dec. 28, on those days they are open 11 a.m.-9 p.m.  The museum is closed December 24 & 25 and January 1.

Requested donations for the Holiday Train Show are $6 for adults and $4 for children 12 and under.  For more information, call (724) 444-6944 or visit their website, at