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Bijou Dream theater and parade.
Bijou Dream theater and parade.

Itty-Bitty Western Pennsylvania

Field review by the editors.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The first thing you notice in the Miniature Railroad and Village at the Carnegie Science Center may not be its tiny trains. That's because the railroad operates on and around a vast and impressively retro version of mountainous, river-veined western Pennsylvania. While all miniature train displays are about attention to real and fantasy world details, few are as huge as this one. And the Science Center's layout includes landmarks such as the Ship Hotel (a Lincoln Highway attraction that burned down in 2001), Gobbler's Knob, the world's first gas station, and an airfield with a dirigible and an autogiro.

Railroad roundhouse.
Railroad roundhouse.

Grandview Ship Hotel.
Grandview Ship Hotel.

The Miniature Railroad began in 1920, as a Christmas display in the home of a disabled World War I vet named Charlie Bowdish. It grew in size and popularity until Charlie finally gave it to a Pittsburgh planetarium in 1954. It later migrated to the Science Center (which opened in 1992) where it firmly established itself as a Pittsburgh icon.

Miniature airfield.
Miniature airfield.

Bob Tinkham, who was running the railroad on the day we visited, told us that it's now four times Charlie's original size, nearly 2,500 square feet of bridges, coal mines, and steel mills, with a over a quarter-million individually unique trees and a hundred itty-bitty animated figures. The fans who are watching the baseball game, Bob said, are actually 23,000 hand-painted cotton swabs. The display is set at the eye-level of children, and the Science Center recommends that adults squat at that height to fully appreciate it.

The tiny buildings are now built by the museum staff and other professionals, sometimes using actual brick and stone from the real buildings. According to Bob, former Pittsburgh mayor Tom Murphy (1994-2006) even lent a hand building the tiny Ship Hotel.

New features are added every year, and unveiled with fanfare the day after Thanksgiving. And although the Science Center is a stickler for authenticity, this is still an idealized western Pennsylvania. There's no bad side of town, and no cemetery.

Also see: Roboworld - Carnegie Science Center

Itty-Bitty Western Pennsylvania

Carnegie Science Center

1 Allegheny Ave., Pittsburgh, PA
Carnegie Science Center. North side of the city, along the riverfront. I-279 northbound exit 1B. Merge onto Reedsdale St., then quickly turn left at the stoplight onto Allegheny Ave. You'll see the Science Center ahead on the right.
Su-F 10-5, Sa 10-7 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults: $19.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

U.S.S. Requin, Cold War SubU.S.S. Requin, Cold War Sub, Pittsburgh, PA - < 1 mi.
Squatting Frontiersman and IndianSquatting Frontiersman and Indian, Pittsburgh, PA - < 1 mi.
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In the region:
Singing Statue of Perry Como, Canonsburg, PA - 16 mi.

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