Ed De Muth had always been interested in trains. They’re even in his blood. His grandfather, Hixon Sproat, had been in charge of upkeep and repair, or maintenance of way, for the Pennsylvania and Lake Erie Railroad, from Connellsville to West Newton.
It wasn’t much of a surprise, then, when he asked his wife, Jeannine, if he could put up 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 an entire side of the basement, drastically shrinking storage space.
“It’s chaos down there now,” said a disgruntled Jeannine.
But that’s only the beginning of De Muth’s rail collection. Over the years, he’s accumulated enough memorabilia to create a three-room museum on his property, called the Millsoboro Railroad Museum. The building has windows taken from an 1890 mansion in Uniontown and siding dated circa the 1870s from a house in Connellsville.
Of local interest, his collection includes several signs, helmets, lanterns, even T-shirts from the 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. De Muth also has a passenger bench believed to be from either the Waynesburg or Washington station of the former Waynesburg and Washington Railroad.
Something of verified authenticity is the original train orders office from across the river in East Rices Landing. After purchasing the old building, De Muth moved it to his lawn, a 14-mile journey that took an hour and 15 minutes to conduct. Among other things, it’s now home to some of the more than 50 or so railroad and caboose lamps he’s collected.
In 2013, he geared his collection toward bigger things, like a yellow Fariment Speeder, a 1920s maintenance of way vehicle. He’s since amassed a couple thousand more railroad-related items.
Just through the museum’s entrance, one room recreates an early 1900s freight room with the freight master’s desk sporting its original paint. Beside it, the telephone switchboard that rang up 29 rail offices from Brownsville’s Union Station in the 1930s through 1985 sits in a lofty position above rail carpet toys from the early 1900s, including a rare Dayton Hill Climber.
As a tribute to Jeannine, De Muth 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.
Further inside the building, a long and spacious recreation of a passenger seating room is complete with long wooden benches and a still-working wooden phone booth from the 50s, which 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 the result of Jeannine’s own collecting habit. Here and there, De Muth 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, up through 2019.
Using recycled material, Du Muth 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 museum.
“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,” Jeannine said.
As his passion for collecting progressed, the question arose as to where to house the items he bought at auctions, on E-bay and from dealers. Then he struck on an idea of building a rail tool shed, typical of the early 1900s. To get Jeannine used to the idea, he told her the small building 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, he’s 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. The cart dates to 1887 and was capable of carrying workers and tools to a rail work site. To the left of the shed, 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 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,” De Muth said.
Still buying additions to the collection (his latest purchase is a Buddy L train he bought in May), he has his eye on one particular item - a street car 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,” Jeannine said. “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.”
Tours of the Millsboro Railroad Museum are by appointment only. The schedule a visit, call 724-366-4963.