Putting the by wuzhenguang


									          Putting the
       in the Miniature Railroad

14   CARNEGIE   •   WINTER 2010
                        For Patty Rogers,
                        Carnegie Science Center’s curator
                        of historic exhibits, being the
                        creative caretaker of one of
                        Pittsburgh’s most beloved
                        traditions is a labor of love.
                        BY CRISTINA ROUVALIS

                                  isitors to the Miniature Railroad & Village® at Carnegie Science
                                  Center see trains chugging past Forbes Field, circa 1909, a century-
                                  old amusement park, Sharon Steel Mill, and Punxsutawney Phil
                        peering at his minuscule shadow at Gobbler’s Knob.
                            What they don’t see is Patty Rogers, the creative force behind all the fun.
                        No detail is too small for the Science Center’s curator of historic exhibits.
                        The storied attraction is the artist’s 3D canvas, a shifting palette of shadows,
                        textures, and colors atop an 83-foot-by-30-foot platform.
                            “Our visitors are always asking, ‘What’s next?” says Rogers. “The day
                        after I finished Fallingwater last year, people were asking, ‘What are you
                        going to do next year?’”
                            The latest incarnation, unveiled to the public on November 20, features
                        a rebuilt Leap-the-Dips roller coaster, a freshly laid outfield on Forbes Field,
                        and a more robust waterfall beneath last year’s new addition, Frank Lloyd
                        Wright’s masterful Fallingwater.
                            Each fall, the 90-year-old exhibit is shut down for two months of main-
                        tenance while Rogers and her small team of part-time employees and a
                        group of dedicated volunteers rework and clean the scenes that capture the
                        spirit of how the people of western Pennsylvania lived, worked, and played
                        from the 1880s through the late 1930s—all in miniature. They spruce up
                        the town, where chipped chopped ham is on sale at Isaly’s, and freshen the
                        rolling hills of the countryside, where visitors can peer through a home’s
                        second-floor window at a woman walking with a baby cradled in her arms
                        to, we imagine, lull the child to sleep.
                            This past September, Rogers could be found scraping off the old outfield
                        of Forbes Field, the storied former home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Her
                        rendition of the ballpark, built three years ago, reflects how it looked on
                        June 30, 1909, the date of its inaugural game.
                            It’s the details—all handmade and occasionally inspired by everyday
                        household products—that blow visitors away: 76 stadium arches made with
                        inlays of hand-sculpted tiles, and grandstands filled with 23,000 cotton
                        swabs made to look like a stadium crowd seen from a distance. Some visitors
                        point to a specific seat, says Rogers, and exclaim, “I was right there when
                        Mazeroski hit his home run,” referencing, of course, the Pirates’ great game-
                        winning home run in Game 7 to claim victory in the 1960 World Series.
                            Never one to rest on yesterday’s praise, this fall Rogers remade the out-
                        field grass with a new technique. Applying a small electrical charge to dyed
                        green nylon fibers, she made the blades of grass grow skyward.
                            “I am absolutely in love with the grass that stands up,” she says, beaming.
                        “You can feel it. It is very, very realistic.”

                                                                             CARNEGIE   •   WINTER 2010   15
                                                         “It’s so much more than a
                                                          job for Patty. It’s a calling.
                                                          And it’s contagious.”
                                                         -RON BAILLIE, CO-DIRECTOR OF CARNEGIE SCIENCE CENTER

                            A new thrill for an old favorite                                                       soldered all the new brass supports. He searched the
                                                                                                                   Internet to track down a tiny motor.
                            As a way to keep fresh what’s believed to be the oldest
                                                                                                                       “Bob has been a gift for the Miniature Railroad,” says
                            model train display in the country, if not the world, the
                                                                                                                   Rogers. “He is a jack of all trades, just as handy as can
                            Science Center adds a new attraction annually. This year
                                                                                                                   be, and good at electronics.”
                            marks the return of Leap-the-Dips, a replica of the
                                                                                                                       She adds that most of her energies on the revamped
                            world’s oldest standing wooden roller coaster. The full-
                                                                                                                   coaster went into painting the brass so that it looks like
                            sized coaster still runs in Lakemont Park in Altoona.
                                                                                                                   weathered wood. It’s all in a day’s work for Rogers,
                                The Science Center’s scaled-down version of Leap-
                                                                                                                   whose job is one part artist, one part craftsman. She
                            the-Dips, built in 1998, was taken out of commission
                                                                                                                   always manages to add her artistic flourishes and historic
                            three years ago because its plastic frame had disintegrated.
                                                                                                                   details while meticulously keeping the scale at a quarter-
                            Its plastic riders were getting too much of a thrill inside
                                                                                                                   inch to one foot.
                            cars that often flew off the track or got stuck halfway up
                                                                                                                       “Patty is somebody you could never replace,” says
                            the hill. So Rogers opted to rebuild this crowd favorite
                                                                                                                   Ron Baillie, the Henry Buhl, Jr., Co-director of the
                            using brass instead of plastic, and motorize the car so it
                                                                                                                   Science Center. “You can find a miniaturist. You can
                            would no longer rely on gravity. “The whole freefall
                                                                                                                   find an exhibit developer. You can find an artist. But
                            got us in trouble,” she says with a wink. “Scaling down
                                                                                                                   when you roll it all together and overlay it with her
                            gravity is hard.”
                                                                                                                   passion, it’s a combination you just couldn’t replicate.”
                                She enlisted the help of volunteer Bob Kalan, a
                                                                                                                       Baillie believes that Rogers’ skills are a part of the
                            retired banker from Mars, Pa., who re-engineered and
                                                                                                                   reason the Miniature Railroad & Village attracts a
                                                                                                                   whopping 350,000 to 400,000 visitors a year and is
                                                                                           PHOTO: JOSHUA FRANZOS

                                                                                                                   routinely named as the number one reason to visit
                                                                                                                   the Science Center.
                                                                                                                       “It’s so much more than a job for Patty,” says Baillie.
                                                                                                                   “It’s a calling. And it’s contagious.”
                                                                                                                       The Miniature Railroad is memorable for another
                                                                                                                   reason: It tells Pittsburgh’s story. Included is a piece of
                                                                                                                   just about every city neighborhood plus landmarks from
                                                                                                                   blue-collar towns across the western part of the state.
                                                                                                                   Visitors are quick to rattle off a favorite replica. The
                                                                                                                   Liverpool Street row houses in Manchester. The Lark
                                                                                                                   Inn in Leetsdale. St. John’s Church in Economy. The
                                                                                                                   McKeesport Watch Tower. The Ebenezer Baptist
                                                                                                                   Church in the Hill District. The No. 9 Firehouse in
                                                                                                                   Lawrenceville. The Donora Post Office. Klavon’s
                                                                                                                   Pharmacy in the Strip District. The limestone quarry.
                                                                                                                   H.J. Heinz Homestead on a barge, in transit from
                                                                                                                   Sharpsburg to the North Side, where it moved in 1904.

                                                                                                                   Volunteer Bob Kalan re-engineered all of the new brass supports
                                                                                                                   for the Leap-the-Dips rollercoaster.

16   CARNEGIE   •   WINTER 2010
                                                                                               PHOTOS: PHILIP PAVELY/PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Clockwise: Presenter Bob Freidhoff; Rogers tinkers with the display’s mechanics; and one of her masterpieces, Fallingwater.

Building on a tradition                                                    In 1920, Charlie Bowdish, a disabled World War I
As an artistic child growing up outside of Canonsburg,                 veteran with a showman’s flair, first unveiled his minia-
Rogers never dreamed that a job like hers existed. But like            ture railroad as a Christmas Eve tribute to his brother
so many generations of Pittsburghers, she and her family               and new sister-in-law at their wedding. Wedding guests
visited the Miniature Railroad’s previous home at Buhl                 were invited to look at the meticulously built village, a
Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, and she was              replica of homes in Bowdish’s modest-sized town. One
enchanted by it.                                                       guest asked if he could return with a “few friends” to see
    The rural landscape of farmhouses and a railroad that              the exhibit. Six hundred people showed up.
crossed over Rogers’ own front driveway inspired her art                   Over the next 25 years, Bowdish’s miniature village
from a young age. And her junior high and high school                  kept growing, taking over the second floor of his home
teachers occasionally commissioned her to do paintings.                and becoming more and more sophisticated. Lionel
While she never wavered in her determination to become                 trains ran through the railroad then as they do now
an artist, it was hard to make a living.                               (today’s version stars five trains and a trolley). The
    In 1991, Rogers got her big break. While volunteering              crowds grew, too, coming from all parts of the United
at the newly opened Carnegie Science Center, she showed                States to get a glimpse of his handiwork. Officially, the
a museum director her portfolio and was commissioned                   railroad was only open a few hours a day during the
to paint a mural and a few other small projects. A short               Christmas season, but visitors would show up at
time later she was offered a job building models for the               Bowdish’s front door at all hours, all year long. He
Miniature Railroad, and she’s never looked back.                       always let them in, and never charged a fee.
    One of Rogers’ first tasks was to transfer the Miniature               But his house on White Street flooded one too many
Railroad from the Buhl to its new home at the Science                  times, and his insurance company stopped insuring him.
Center, and to construct new buildings for a display that              So in 1954, Bowdish found the perfect home for his
would grow 60 percent larger. Learning by doing, she per-              elaborate hobby: The Buhl, which was looking to expand
fected the techniques that had been pioneered by the man               its own modest miniature railroad. During the transfer,
who started the tradition in his home in Brookville, Pa.               Bowdish stayed in Pittsburgh for the construction of

                                                                                                                                                               In the 1920s, visitors
                                                                                                                                                               flock to Charlie Bowdish’s
                                                                                                                                                               Brookville home; and in
                                                                                                                                                               1954, his one-time hobby
                                                                                                                                                               evolved into The Buhl’s
                                                                                                                                                               Christmastown Railroad.

                                                                                                                                                          CARNEGIE     •   WINTER 2010   17

                                                  “Engineer Don” Leech at work in the Miniature Railroad’s workshop. The display is always a hit with young visitors.

                                                  what was renamed Christmastown Railroad.                     By way of the Science Center, she inherit-            the design of each floor is different than the
                                                  He received $12 a day plus living expenses,              ed not just his buildings, but his philosophy.            next, so constructing each new level was like
                                                  and he sold The Buhl more than 30 houses,                    “He used to say it’s all about texture, tex-          creating an entirely new model. Fortunately,
                                                  barns, and other buildings for 50 cents to $1            ture, texture, creating shadows and creating              Fallingwater provided blueprints and eleva-
                                                  apiece and 300 trees for 15 cents each.                  depth,” says Rogers. “My own apprentice-                  tion drawings. Rogers taped them to her
                                                       Rogers never met Bowdish, who died in               ship was one person removed, but his phi-                 office window. As she’d complete a floor,
                                                  1988. But she learned the trade under Carl               losophy and style were passed onto me. A                  she’d tape its blueprint to the next to figure
                                                  Wapiennik, the Buhl director who super-                  lot of what he said sticks with me.”                      out how the two connect.
                                                  vised the Christmastown Railroad and                                                                                   In every project, Rogers identifies those
                                                  worked with Bowdish. Wapiennik passed                    It’s all in the details                                   essential elements that are crucial to get
                                                  on to Rogers Bowdish’s landscaping tech-                 Bowdish’s words stuck with Rogers last year               absolutely right in order to evoke the perfect
                                                  niques, including the tip of using wild                  as she undertook the mammoth challenge                    pitch of emotions and memories. For Forbes
                                                  hydrangea to make trees. Today, the display              of crafting a replica of Frank Lloyd Wright’s             Field, it was the crowd. For Fallingwater, it
                                                  is filled with more than 250,000 trees, all              Fallingwater, an all-consuming project and                was the exterior stone work. She didn’t want
                                                  still made using the same flower.                        her biggest task to date. “I lived and breathed           to use commercial model builder or model-
                                                       “Charlie was a tremendous craftsman,”               Fallingwater for five months,” says Rogers.               ing stone because it was too even and artifi-
                                                  Rogers says, pointing to his buildings that              “It was daunting to try to recreate a genius’             cial-looking. The solution came one day
                                                  still stand, as well as a replica added several          masterpiece, knowing that every last detail               when she was walking around her old farm-
                                                  years ago of his house, with people lined                would be scrutinized by scholars who had                  house in Cecil Township. She noticed the
                                                  outside the door. “He was prolific. He                   studied it.”                                              big flat sandstone on her sidewalk was peel-
                                                  developed many of the techniques we use                      Like Wright, she built it from the                    ing. With a putty knife, she flicked off the
                                                  today, including carving beeswax to make                 ground up and inside out. She quickly real-               thin layers of rock and cut them into strips
                                                  stonework.”                                              ized that it posed a special kind of challenge:           that would form the stone work.

                                                  Replicas built by Rogers: East Liberty’s 1913 Gulf station, the country’s first drive-up service station, and Forbes Field.

                                                  18    CARNEGIE    •   WINTER 2010
    “It allowed me to create the randomness
of it and the unique attributes on the real
Fallingwater,” says Rogers. “I wanted it to
have a very organic feel.”
    She had planned to decorate the interior
with Tiffany lamps, Navajo orange sofas,
and artwork, but she simply ran out of time.
This year, she improved the home’s water-
fall, making it fuller by rigging some fishing
wire beneath it to widen its spray.
    Rogers is forever tweaking. Even the
color of the river that flows by the Sharon
Steel Mill and coke ovens—which, by the
way, is filled with real water measuring
about three inches deep—is a detail to be
fine-tuned. Rogers thought the shade of
blue looked too artificial, so last fall she
tinted it a deep bronze.
    And about those boats floating down-
stream: They move, says Rogers, with the
magic of magnets. Magnets attached to the
bottom of each boat correspond to oppos-
ing magnets mounted on a geared chain
and sprocket system beneath the river.
Magnetic attraction carries the boats—one
of the favorite features of young visitors—
through the water.
    While adults and kids alike are drawn to
the wonder and history the Miniature
Railroad evokes, because it stands just two
and a half feet from the ground, a child’s-
eye view is the best in the house, says
Rogers. It’s the perfect vantage point to spot
some of the 102 moving parts—the tree
swing, the Ferris wheel, the woman washing
clothes, or the motorist trying to crank-start
his Model Ford.
    One of the best parts of each day, notes
Rogers, is watching visitors discover—and
discuss—these small moments. It’s in the
stories and suggestions of visitors, she
explains, where she finds her inspiration.
    “We have folks who have visited their
entire lives and now they’re bringing
their grandchildren,” says Rogers. “The
Miniature Railroad is about their stories—
where they grew up, where their fathers
worked, their own neighborhood Isaly’s.” I

                                                 CARNEGIE   •   WINTER 2010   19

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