The Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum (WPMRM) was founded in November of 1938, making it one of the oldest model railroad organizations in the nation. Its original name was the “Pittsburgh HO Railroad Club”, which was eventually changed to the “Pittsburgh Model Railroad Club” (PMRC). The PMRC’s early members helped pioneer the Hobby of Model Railroading. Many of them had even played a large part in the founding of the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) back in 1935.
The PMRC secured meeting room space on the 5th floor of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s old 11th Avenue Freight House Office Building, about where the David L. Lawrence Convention Center now stands in downtown Pittsburgh. Their first “layout”, of sorts, was a simple test track loop that measured 8’ in diameter – roughly the size of the main line trackage loop that runs through the “Helmstetter’s Curve” scene on our current M-V System Layout. This test track was used to help develop universal standards for the NMRA, in its efforts to improve the manufacturing and operation of early model railroad equipment.
The PMRC’s first true layout was begun on May 20, 1941 and was named the “Allegheny Valley Lines” (AVL), in honor of the original owner of the freight house. This first AVL layout appeared in a cover story article in the March 1950 issue of Model Railroader Magazine, and was the first model railroad to ever appear on television. The PMRC hosted many successful public shows on this layout, which lasted until 1955. That was the year the PMRC had to vacate the freight house, which was scheduled to be torn down during Pittsburgh’s famed “Renaissance-I” urban renewal program.
The PRR offered to sell the PMRC its Shadyside passenger station, a 2-story brick structure at the foot of Amberson Ave., right on the railroad’s passenger main line through Pittsburgh’s suburban East End. In 1955 the PMRC purchased the station from the PRR for $1.00 and rented the land it stood on for $25.00 a year. After cleaning and remodeling the station interior, the second AVL layout was soon under construction. Three years later, in December of 1959, the PMRC again opened its doors for public shows. This layout was featured in a humorous, full-page trade journal magazine ad for the Union Switch & Signal Company.
The second AVL lasted until July of 1963 when the PRR sold the land out from under the PMRC. Undaunted, in 1964 the members finally procured space in the basement of the office building of the former Eberhardt & Ober Brewery complex. The building was located on the corner of Troy Hill and Vinial Street on Pittsburgh’s North Side. After a much needed cleaning and repainting, the basement was ready to house the PMRC’s third AVL layout, which would last for the next 22 years. Unfortunately, during all that time, the PMRC was unable to have public shows because of safety concerns by the City Fire Marshall, resulting from the basement’s single entry way. Over the following two decades, the brewery office building slowly fell into disrepair, as more and more tenants left. Eventually, conditions at the nearly abandoned site became untenable.
On March 30, 1986, the old Club was faced with the necessity of moving out once again. This time, however, the move would result in a 47 year old dream becoming a reality. The PMRC would finally have a permanent home of its own that it could never be evicted from! Actually, the PMRC no longer even existed as such; a year earlier, on March 29, 1985, it had been reorganized as a 501(c)3 Non Profit Corporation and renamed the “Pittsburgh Model Railroad Historical Society” (PMRHS). The officers of the PMRHS formed a “Relocation Committee” and embarked on a vigorous plan to raise funds to purchase land and build a two-story, 8,000 sq. ft. Museum building to house its next layout. The Relocation Committee found a prime corner lot on Route 910 at Lake Side Drive in Gibsonia, PA, approximately 15 miles north of Pittsburgh. The land was purchased on May 31, 1985. Then on April 26, 1986, a month after leaving the old brewery basement for the last time, the PMRHS held a Ground Breaking Ceremony for its new Museum building.
Two years later, on August 8, 1988, the PMRHS held another sort of “ground breaking” when the first drywall screw was driven, signaling the start of construction of its next model railroad layout. The new layout would be called the “Mon-Valley System” and would replicate the actual route between Pittsburgh and Cumberland Maryland. On November 19th of that year the PMRHS celebrated its 50th Anniversary, and several weeks later, on December 2nd the organization opened its doors to the public for its first Christmas train show in over a quarter century!
In the years since then, the PMRHS was renamed the “Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum” (WPMRM) to more accurately reflect the mission of the Museum. The WPMRM’s Mon-Valley System is the feature attraction of its popular “A Railroad Journey in Miniature” holiday train shows. The M-V System has been featured in articles published in Model Railroader and Railroad Model Craftsman magazines and it has also appeared in Allen Keller’s “Great Model Railroad” video series. The year 2012 marked the WPMRM’s 25th public train show at its Museum in Gibsonia, while in 2013 the WPMRM will celebrate the 75th Anniversary of its founding.