Carnegie Science Middle unveils Gus & Yiayia’s cart in railroad show

With unseasonable temperatures climbing 70 degrees, Wednesday was a perfect day for the unveiling of an ice ball cart.

The Carnegie Science Center on Pittsburgh’s North Side showcased its latest addition —- Gus & Yiayia’s Ice Ball Cart — to be added to the Miniature Railroad & Village.

The familiar bright orange cart with the rainbow-colored umbrella is a staple at West Park on the North Side since 1934. Now the tiny replica will be a mainstay at the science center display which re-opens Thursday.

The actual cart is still run by Gus Kalaris of Brighton Heights. He celebrated operating the business for seven decades this summer.

“This is so exciting,” Kalaris said at the science center exhibit preview. “It’s like winning the Super Bowl and being handed the (Vince) Lombardi Trophy or winning an Academy Award. Who honors a street vendor? Usually people cuss at street vendors.”

Now announcing…Gus & Yiayia’s ice ball cart! Come see it as soon as tomorrow when the Miniature Railroad & Village® exhibit reopens!

The Miniature Railroad & Village® is presented by Reach Cyber Charter School.

— Carnegie Science Center (@CarnegieSciCtr) November 17, 2021

Kalaris was chosen because the ice ball cart is beloved in Pittsburgh, said Jason Brown, the Carnegie Science Center’s director. He said Kalaris spends 12 hours, seven days a week serving ice balls and smiles in the spring, summer and into early fall.

He gives free ice balls to people who can’t afford one, Brown said. The cart is a perfect stop for a first date.

“We are ensuring the family legacy of Gus & Yiayia’s will be here all year round,” Brown said.

Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review

The Carnegie Science Center debuted its newest model, Gus & Yiayia’s ice ball stand, at Miniature Railroad & Village on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. The model celebrates the family-owned business, which has operated on the North Side since 1934.


The business began with George and Pauline, who sold popcorn, peanuts, and “ice balls” — flavored shaved-ice treats in 1934. Gus Kalaris and his late wife, Stella, took over the cart in 1951.

The original Yiayia — a term for “grandmother” in Greek — was Gus’ mother Pauline, though the honorific was later given to Stella. Stella loved being around children so much that the family established the annual Stella Kalaris scholarship after her death in 2016.

Gus Kalaris, who turns 90 in January, said every city of Pittsburgh mayor has stopped by the cart as well as councilmen and state legislators. The late Dan Rooney was a regular. People would ask Rooney for his autograph. Kalaris would hand Rooney a popcorn box and a sharpie. Rooney and Kalaris were born the same year –1932.

Patty Everly, curator of historic exhibits at the science center said it’s about shining a light on Pittsburgh and the “beautiful orange cart,” which has historical significance. It will honor the hard work of him and his family.

A 3-D printer was used to design the piece — created by Nino Balistrieri, an exhibit technician for the science center. It has a figure of Kalaris and customers, including children. There is a block of ice, popcorn and peanuts and bottles of flavoring — a mix of simple syrup with food coloring and extract.

Kalaris’ parents would bring him to West Park as a baby. He slept in a blanket on one of the benches. He was 8 years old when he first helped. Kalaris’ real first name is August. He changed it to Gus.

Originally created by Charles Bowdish in 1919, the Miniature Railroad & Village chronicles Western Pennsylvania before the 1940s, including such prominent landmarks as the Pittsburgh Courier, Fallingwater, Forbes Field, and the entry arch of Luna Park.

The exhibit received new grass and water as well as a dance hall and a two-headed cow to The Show of Living Wonders. There is a circus parade through the town, featuring elephants, giraffes, zebras, and a camel.

The Pennsylvania Railroad Bell replica has been added to symbolize the beginning of Pennsylvania’s railroad history. A video display broadcasts a feed from a camera mounted on one of the trains.

“This cart is quintessential Pittsburgh,” Everly said. “It’s such a part of, and the heart of, this community. It represents what Pittsburgh is.”


Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review

Gus Kalaris points to a model of his family’s business, Gus & Yiayia’s ice ball stand, at the Miniature Railroad & Village at the Carnegie Science Center on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. The science center debuted the model of the business, which has operated on the North Side since 1934.


The miniature cart is close to an edge so visitors can get a good view. It sits near a park and the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood House.

Kalaris’ daughter, Penny Pefanis, of Stirling, N.J., said the location is perfect.

“His is so thrilled and honored and humbled,” she said. “My father treats everyone well. I love that the cart is next to the Mister Rogers’ house. Fred Rogers was authentic, and my dad is truly authentic.”

Kalaris, a father of two, plans to bring his four grandchildren and one great grandchild. He stood next to the railroad in awe.

“I could not believe it when they asked me to be part of this,” Kalaris said. “It looks exactly the way it is in real life. How do they do that? “.

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, or via Twitter .

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