The Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum (WPMRM for short) is a truly unique museum in the region as it has been able to stand the test of time in its permanent location in Gibsonia, PA, just north of Pittsburgh.
For model railroads, a substantial effort is required just to plan and build a display in the first place, and that is all before other traditional museum logistics come in to play like opening the space for visitors, generating revenue, hiring employees, and more. You're likely to see model railroads in other museums as a small portion of a larger theme, but at the WPMRM the only features are model trains, and what a beautiful design it is.
Making the Journey from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD
You see, the main exhibit at the WPMRM is a monster display that showcases the train journey from Pittsburgh, PA, to Cumberland, MD, as it was in the 1950s in one continuous system.
To experience this, you begin the journey in Pittsburgh and wander through the showroom as you make your way through towns, villages, and state parks before arriving in Cumberland in record time.
The nuance of the railroad exhibit is not to be understated, as you could literally spend hours taking in all of the little details without seeing it all. The model of Pittsburgh has a working Duquesne incline, there is a church with a wedding procession out front, a house that has caught on fire, passenger trains full of tiny little people, and miniature house upon miniature house that is fully decorated on the interior for those wishing to sneak a peak inside.
The museum does a great job of adding a lot of detail to the exhibit, including having a lighting system that cycles between day and night about once every 15-30 minutes, and also provides a scavenger hunt card for you to hunt out select details you may otherwise overlook. (For those with small kids, the entry level has a great area for children, too!)
Whether your interest in the museum is for the historical display, the models, the trains, or simply because it is something fun to do, this one is truly a must-see.
A Perfect Treat for the Holidays (With a Slight Catch)
There is one misnomer about the WPMRM that we need to highlight, and it is that the “annual holiday display” advertising could be misconstrued by those who do not know any better. You see, unlike other museums that showcase themed decorations in their annual holiday displays (such as Phipps Conservatory in Oakland), the WPMRM is only open to the public during the holidays and is not themed for the season in the slightest.
We think this is very important to note, as if you make the journey to Gibsonia to expect a model railroad display decorated in Christmas themes you may end up being disappointed.
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That being said, when you take a look at the amount of time and effort that goes into maintaining and displaying the model train exhibit at this museum, and add in the fact that all of the workers are volunteers, you cannot fault the museum one bit for not being able to remain open year-round.
So this holiday season, make the trip to Gibsonia to check out this museum. It may not be a Christmas experience in the traditional sense, but it is sure to become a seasonal favorite of all who visit.
The Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum is located at 5507 Lakeside Drive in Gibsonia and is open from mid-November to mid-January (and is closed on Christmas and New Years).