By Dave Zuchowski
For Mon Valley Magazine
Text and photos by Dave Zuchowski
For Mon Valley Magazine
Ed DeMuth has always been interested in trains.
Working on the railroad is in his blood, beginning with his grandfather, Hixon Sproat, who was in charge of maintenance of way from Connellsville to West Newton for the Pennsylvania and Lake Erie Railroad.
It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to his wife, Jeannine, when he asked if he could create a small 4 by 8-foot model train display in the basement of their Millsboro home.
Since getting her consent, the display has doubled in size and now takes up the entire side of the basement, drastically shrinking the basement’s storage space.
“It’s chaos down there now,” Jeannine DeMuth said.
And that’s only the beginning of DeMuth’s rail story.
In 2013, he began collecting bigger pieces of memorabilia, like the yellow Fariment Speeder, a 1920s rail maintenance of way vehicle. The speeder is one of a couple thousand rail memorabilia items he’s since amassed.
As his passion for collecting progressed, the question soon arose as to where to house the items he bought at auctions, on E-bay and from dealers.
Then DeMuth struck on an idea of building a rail tool shed, typical of the early 1900s. To sell his wife on the idea, DeMuth told her the small building he was constructing on their lawn was going to be a pool house, an adjunct to their in-ground swimming pool.
Today, instead of housing towels, bathing suits and beach chairs it serves as a storage space for his velocipede, another maintenance of way vehicle from the early 1870s.
With the eye of a museum curator, DeMuth mounted a vintage diagram of the velocipede above the vehicle.
In front of the spacious shed, he displays an 1880’s hand-pumped cart with original castings that date to 1887. The cart was capable of carrying workers and tools to a rail work site.
To the left of the shed, on the lawn, is a jumble of signs – everything from “Beware of Trains” to a vintage 1898 rail crossing sign with a 12-volt electric warning signal bell, the oldest sign in the collection. Second in seniority is a large 8-foot behemoth rail crossing sign from the Pennsylvania Railroad.
“I also have four wooden signs that are very rare because, when they were no longer able to be read, management simply tossed them on a burn pile,” DeMuth said.
Of local interest, the collection includes several signs, helmets, lanterns, even T-shirts from Monongahela Railway, a coal-hauling short line that passed through the heart of Greene County and extended into West Virginia, with traffic controlled from a station in Brownsville.
DeMuth also has a passenger bench reputed to be from either the Waynesburg or Washington station of the former Waynesburg and Washington Railroad.
The original train orders office from across the river in East East Rices Landing is also on display in DeMuth’s yard. After purchasing the building in Superior, DeMuth moved it to the lawn of his Millsboro home, a 14-mile journey that took an hour and 15 minutes to complete.
Among other things, it’s now home to some of the nearly 50 railroad and caboose lamps he’s collected.
Using recycled material, DeMuth also recreated the Victorian era Pennsylvania and Lake Erie Railroad passenger station from Van Meter, Westmoreland County.
Currently the largest of the three buildings in his Millsboro Railroad Museum, the building has windows taken from an 1890 mansion in Uniontown and siding dated to the 1870s from a house in Connellsville.
Just through the entry, one room recreates an early 1900s freight room with the freight master’s desk still bearing its original paint. Beside it, the telephone switchboard that connected 29 rail offices from Brownsville’s Union Station from the 1930s through 1985 sits in a position above rail carpet toys from the early 1900s, including a rare Dayton Hill Climber.
As a tribute to his wife, DeMuth added the 1955 Garton Hot Rod pedal car she enjoyed in her childhood. Next to it, he’s displayed a photo of her riding the car as a youngster flanked by her two sisters.
Also included in the building, a long and spacious recreation of a passenger seating room is complete with wooden benches and an operational wooden phone booth from the 50s that lights up and turns on a fan when the doors close.
Along the back wall, a mannequin dressed in an authentic Pennsylvania Railroad conductor’s uniform stands next to the ticket window from which an audio track suggests the Victorian era with sounds like the click-clack of train wheels against a track and the clomp of horse hooves.
Nearby, the shiny utensils used in a dining car silver service are included as a result of his wife’s own collecting habit.
Here and there, DeMuth has included items unrelated to the railroad collection such as the complete series of Pennsylvania license plates from 1906, the first year they were issued, through 2019.
DeMuth is still purchasing additions to the collection, and his latest purchase is a Buddy L train he bought in May. He also has his eye on one particular item – a streetcar destination sign that lists the cities and stops along the way from Uniontown to Connellsville, Scottdale and on to Mount Pleasant.
“Collecting has been a team effort,” said Jeannine. “I go with him when he goes out to buy things, but I’m now to the point where I can’t buy him anything new for fear that he may already have it. As his wife, I’m very proud of what he’s accomplished, including building the replica of the Victorian train station, which took him three years to finish.”
Tours of the Millsboro Railroad Museum are by appointment only. To schedule a visit, contact 724-366-4963.