See John Oliver’s ‘irresponsibly large’ Scranton train set at Trolley Museum for free Sept. 22-24
On HBO’s news satire program “Last Week Tonight,” host John Oliver tackles politics and important issues around the world through humorous but informative segments. He also pokes fun at local news stations on occasion, so it was inevitable that he would come across Scranton station WNEP-TV and its Talkback 16 segments, which often feature loud opinions, goofy accents, and cynical comments from the most colorful citizens of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
With a Scranton native on its own staff, “Last Week Tonight” highlighted back in June how amusing it was to hear viewers get so disproportionately passionate about the little model train that runs in WNEP’s backyard during the weather reports. Some love it, some hate it, but the anonymous recorded messages are hilarious either way, many times indicative of Scranton’s reputation as the “unhappiest city” in the United States. Viewers then responded to Oliver, with some criticizing him for making locals out to be “clowns for his entertainment,” despite it just being good-natured fun.
On Sunday, Sept. 10, Oliver clarified with a follow-up segment that he didn’t feel that way and, in fact, wanted to take things up a notch.
“I don’t think clowns are for entertainment at all. They are for murder threats, attempted murder, and actual murder. That’s it,” he quipped.
“Please don’t think that I was making fun of your backyard train. I fucking love that backyard train, and I also love how passionate you all are about it. And if you don’t believe me, let me prove it to you because my only criticism of your train set is that I think you deserve a better one… a bigger one… an almost irresponsibly large one.”
With that, he revealed a 16 foot tall and 18 foot wide spinning model train display that includes replicas of local landmarks, including the famous Electric City sign, along with a working waterfall and fireworks. It even features Scranton-born NBA basketball coach P.J. Carlesimo’s face as a tunnel, with the train riding through his open mouth.
“It’s not the train set that Scranton needs, but it is the train set that it deserves,” the comedian and former “Daily Show” correspondent exclaimed.
After joking about how much of HBO’s money they spent on the model, Oliver told WNEP to come get it for free from their New York City studio, which WNEP immediately agreed to. Within a few days, the station picked it up from a New Jersey warehouse and transported it in pieces to its appropriate new home – the Electric City Trolley Museum in downtown Scranton.
Reassembling the display over the last few days, it will be officially unveiled and dedicated during a short ceremony at the museum (300 Cliff St., Scranton) by the Lackawanna County Commissioners on Friday, Sept. 22 at 11 a.m.
The museum is offering free admission this weekend to anyone who wishes to see the new and improved backyard train set in person. The facility will be open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Admission is typically $6 for adults, $5 for seniors (62+), $4 for children (4-17), and free for kids under 3.
Whether or not residents will have strong opinions on its permanent home inside the museum and not outside in the backyard has yet to be seen – but it will likely be heard.