Return to James River Branch Homepage

Stephen A. Greene & Sons Building Supply, Part 4 of 6: The Coal Trestle

A coal trestle is a simple thing, essentially half of a crude, lightweight "bridge to nowhere." Ubiquitous throughout the northeast, their remains can be found jutting out beside streets in old cities and towns, often adjacent to lumber yards and fuel suppliers.

Like most of my models, my coal trestle is not based on a particular one from life, but adapted from several. Out of necessity, it's quite short—shorter than any I've seen in person, but I have read of coal trestles being only one car long.

Entirely scratchbuilt, the model consists of three main assemblies: the poured concrete piers, made from sheet styrene; the steel bridge girders, made from Evergreen styrene I-beam strip stock; and the handrails, made from strip wood.

I started with the bridge girder assembly, which comprises two 42-foot long .080-inch I-beam parts, and 33 4.5-foot long .060-inch I-beam parts. My NorthWest Short Line Chopper came in handy cutting all of those short parts. They were assembled using Tenax 7R solvent cement. Although I probably should have used a jig, I did it by eye, since imperfections would be disguised by the fact that the coal trestle is disused and overgrown by vegetation.

After the bridge girder assembly was completed, I notched the I-beam ends for the handrail posts, then painted it. To help disguise the fact that the parts were grossly overweight, I applied generous amounts of dark, old rust: first, I sprayed the assembly with ruddy brown primer; then I dipped it in Rustall, and finally dropped the still-wet assembly in brown powdered dye. When it was dry, I brushed off the excess powder.

The abutment and piers were next. 1/8-inch thick sheet styrene was used for all parts. The assembly was made much taller than it needed to be for two reasons: one, I was not certain of exactly how high the trestle would be, as the scenery was not fully designed yet; and two, it made installation much easier.

Before final assembly, the simple rectangles and triangles of sheet styrene were distressed with coarse sandpaper and a sharp hobby knife. I sprayed it with Testors Light Aircraft Gray (my favorite concrete base color), then weathered it with India ink washes, Rustall and powdered chalk.

The handrails and remains of footboards came last, after the bridge girders were attached to the piers, again making use of the Chopper to mass-produce the many parts. The distressed wood was stained with India ink washes and Rustall after bonding them to the bridge girders with CA.

The coal trestle's rails were already in place on the layout, extending from the turnout and hanging in mid-air. Cardstock shims were used to get the finished trestle to sit flush against the base of the rails, which were bonded to the girders with CA. The addition of a pair of leftover brackets from the crossing shanty kit to make wheel stops at the ends of the rails completed the coal trestle.

To give coal trestle age and a sense of history, I completely surrounded it with dense vegetation—including a tree growing right up through the trestle—plus a copious assortment of building supply detritus. Part 5 shows how this junk pile came together.

Click to enlarge

This coal trestle is in Pennington, New Jersey, where I once lived.

Click to enlarge

It's easy to see that this trestle had been extended over the years.

Click to enlarge

Although in pretty bad condition, it's in better shape than most others today.

Click to enlarge

The bridge girder assembly is complete and ready for finishing.

Click to enlarge

The concrete retaining walls and piers are assembled together.

Click to enlarge

After attaching the bridge girders to the piers, railing and footboards are applied.

Click to enlarge

The completed coal trestle is installed in the layout, and the rails are attached.

Click to enlarge

Brackets from another kit are used as wheel stops.

Previous pageNext pageReturn to ConstructionHome

Copyright © 2007-2013 by David K. Smith. All Rights Reserved.