Coal Trestle Part 1

One of the sidings on the railroad was devoted to a fuel dealer, and given the time frame, necessitated a coal trestle. This was going to be scratch-built project, but (I assumed) a fairly simple one. The initial idea was to build a pit where a trestle would be constructed. Add some coal piles, and, done.

This was my first structure scratch-building project, so I expected some hiccups. I took direction from the December 2012 Model Railroader, which devoted that issue to the coal business as it relates to railroading. There’s a drawing of a coal trestle, along with an article on building one. These were enormously helpful in this project.

I’d built the coal pit earlier, but was unhappy with the effort. Sides weren’t square, and after putting the trim pieces in place, the whole scene looked cramped. If I was going to achieve the look I wanted, stuff would have to come out. I wasn’t pleased with this, as no one likes to rip out work, but no help for it. So I took out the work, and some woodwork besides. As the engineering maxim goes, you can’t change just one thing:

Pit prep

In the process of modifying the pit area, there was a natural disaster in Tacoma:

Earthquake on layout

I’d built the previous coal pit in place. This time I decided to build the pit form as a piece, then insert it into the layout:

Pit form 1


You’ll notice that one of my ‘tools’ is a box of nails. I needed something square with mass to hold parts in place, and that’s what I had around the house. I used MEK as a bonding agent, and it worked well.

I’ve discovered that 0.040 styrene is a ‘go to’ material for scratch building. It’s stiff without being too thick for most projects. There will probably be a lot of 0.040 styrene in my future.

Next step was to test fit the pit ‘box’:

Pit walls in place raw

The plan was to cover the floor with printed concrete texture, and the sides with N-scale brick texture. The textures were downloaded from Clever Models. While inexpensive enough at $0.99 for each texture, they aren’t exactly restaurant-quality. I’ll be looking at alternatives for future projects.

For the trestle, I looked at the plans, and translated the given dimensions to N-Scale lumber. For the 12 by bents, I found that 1/16″ stripwood was pretty close, although a bit light (20%, in fact). Without tedious milling of dimensional stripwood, I wasn’t going to get closer. The laminated stringers and walkway boards were more problematic.

Baseball game on the radio, I cut the parts and dyed them with India Ink. I put a puddle of diluted ink in the plate, let the wood get coated, then wiped the piece with a paper towel. This gives a sort of aged wood look. There was an abandoned coal trestle where I went to high school, and I remember the creosote being very black. I’ve learned that what looks correct in reality does’t always translate well to model work. Color balances sometimes have to be adjusted to look right. The example trestle in Model Railroader looks too light to my eye for treated wood, but that may be a personal preference.

Coal trestle pieces raw

Coal trestle parts dyed

The piece at the right of the image is the styrene jig I built to get consistent alignment of the bents. The size of the bents precluded a practical way to add the diagonal bracing; I figured I’d cut those to fit, and in fact that worked well.

The next step was to build the trestle. I used white glue on a toothpick and tried to be as sparing as possible. White glue dries clear, but I didn’t want blobs of dried glue on the model. It’s right on the edge of the layout, and will be subject to scrutiny.

Assembeled bents and stringers - Copy

Placing bents

Spacing the ties. I used the grid on the cutting pad and lines marked on an index card to get tie placement. I found that the card on top of a Micro Trains box was just the right height.

Placing tcoal trestle ties

As with most projects, building the tools took up as much time as building the actual structure. I spent at least as much time measuring and fitting as I did building.

The trestle and pit on the workbench:

Pit and coal trestle on workbench

MR author Steven Otto installed the rails away from the layout, but I’d already installed the siding. I considered tearing up track and installing the rails, but I didn’t want rail joiners marring the track on the run-up to the trestle, and I didn’t want to replace the entire siding.

I removed all the ties over the pit save three to hold gauge. I noticed the rail was stiff and seemed inclined to stay in gauge, so removed all the ties. The idea was to use epoxy to hold the rails in place, and also hold the bents to the floor. As for holding everything in place while the glue dried, as with most things, sometimes you just need a bigger hammer:

Bigger hammer

The project so far:

Coal trestle fit 2

Coal trestle overhead



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