Model train bridge

John’s been back in touch with his very impressive model train bridge:

“Hi Al,

As mentioned in one of my last missives, the layout move from the basement to the attic is progressing, all-be-it slowly.

The last few weeks I’ve been working on getting the mainline trestle set in the new valley and river.

I also installed a long conveyor structure to take raw coal from the mines to thecrusher/loader. I think that detail came out pretty good, some pictures below.

I also had problems with the tracks around the big mine building, so I extended one out over the valley, I decided this will be an area where I can shuffle cars with a little yard engine, it’s long enough that it should allow the little engine and 2 cars.

Back to the trestle. I got 2 kits from a successful auction bid and set out to make the bridge, I had an idea for the width of the valley to cross, and built roughly to that dimension. Having 2 kits allowed me to have different heights of bents (supports) than what the kit guys had in mind.

Once the bridge was completed, I added little dense foam “supports” under each bent. The reason is that in the picture on the kit box lid the kit guys simply showed the bottom wood on the ground.

I then spray painted the whole bridge rust then black, I’ll use this as a base for weathering the whole bridge after I get it in place and scenery around it.

I’ve found that weathering structures before placing them often results in weathering that appears out of place with the surroundings and needs to be re-done or at least substantially touched up.

With the bridge nearly done, it was time for the valley. I use a few tricks to place my bridges.

First is to attach wood with some wire to the top area where the track will eventually go, then place the bridge across the opening.

Another trick is in one of the pictures and shows how I glue the screen to a cardboard shape that’s cut to the shape of the bridge bents. This is always approximate because working with screen and plaster is rather… uh… imprecise.

I then have an idea where I need to place the foundation support for the bents. I use aluminum window screen as the base for the plaster hard shell, it can be stretched and formed pretty well and is relatively inexpensive.

Also don’t worry about the size of the screen pieces because it’s easier to attach screen on the framework leaving space for getting in close and being able move around.

Later, the other screen pieces go in to close any holes, I use hot-glue to sew them together.

Dense foam insulation is used for foundations some walls and filler in placed where needed. It’s easy to cut to size, cheap, and takes paint well after a very thin coat of plaster is added at the same time the hard shell is being done.

Once the foam “foundations” are hot glued in place on the screen I can start applying the plaster, which is premixed sheetrock compound with dry sheetrock compound added. This allows me to control how fast the stuff dries.

With some experimenting I have it figured out to be workable for around 20 minutes. I mix small batches and apply the compound with small artist 3/4″ paint brushes, this ‘forces’ me to take my time and actually do some crafting of the landscaping, cliff faces, structure bases, and hill locations.

By applying the plaster horizontally with the brush, the rock strata is easier to simulate, sometimes just painting works well enough especially when lots of trees are planted in areas where the “ground” is not as noticeable.

Having the hard shell done with the supports for the bridge allows the bridge to be removed for painting and landscaping. I made the mistake on an earlier layout of getting impatient and gluing the track to the bridge with some plaster and creek bed not completed so I could run trains, then had to stand on my head to get the scenery done! Never again!

Anyway, the sequence of the pictures shows a more, shall we say, patient approach. This is particularly evident in the bridge in the background, as well as the conveyor system and all being completed before starting on the big trestle (but waiting was tough!).

Last pictures are the valley painted and the bridge set in place. Next is trees, scenery in the valley and water in the river. This project from the first pictures to the last of the bridge took about 16 hours, not counting the building of the bridge, scenery and track will be another 8 or so.

Thanks for all you do for the model RR fans across the globe!

John from Baltimore”

HO scale mine

HO scale mine track

plaster for mountains

card for plaster model train

gluing screens for model railroad mountains

HO scale girder bridge

HO scale model train bridge

bridge oiers ho scale

plaster for model train bridge

HO scale model train bridge

HO scale bridge with scenery

HO scale bridge with track

overhead view bridge

overhead view model train layout

A huge big thanks to John for sharing his model train bridge build – he really is the gift that keeps giving at the moment.

If you missed his missive of tips, it’s right here.

There’s also the post on his lift bridge too.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you take your first step towards having a whole lot of fun, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

PPS HO scale train layouts here if that’s your thing.

24 Responses to Model train bridge

  1. Brummie Bri says:

    Very good John, a lot of time, fore thought, patience and skill, resulting in a visually excellent piece of modelling. The bridgework and conveyer look really good and I particularly like the weathered workshop👍

  2. Stephen Hill Woodstock GA says:

    John , I’m simply amazed at the results , you have certainly acquired some serious skills . Thank you for the excellent tips and insight , they are indeed very detailed and helpful .
    Your layout is remarkable , thank you for the ongoing post and professions you’re achieving , will be eager to see this one grow . Great work , great dedication , you have taken this hobby to the next several tiers … I thought I was content just watching the train go round , but y’all inspire a person to want to keep doing … that’s awesome … thank you .

  3. David Howarth says:

    Very nice work on that Bridge John ..well done

  4. Robert Brady says:

    Love how you bridged the gaps . Great work and patience. Can’t wait to see a video .
    The Critic

  5. George Zaky says:

    Awesome people do awesome things.
    What you said about placing the bridge before detailing, then laying the track to check out the run then standing on your head to finish was what made my layout look amateurish and I was not happy with the results. Better yet I could not process what the better way would be until you just taught us how. Shazam! Words from the master! Total enlightenment! You have no idea about the impact of your lesson was for me. Cant thank you enough!
    BTW everything about your work and layout is incredible.

    Big Al- Big thanks

  6. Gary M from Long Island says:

    John….. great work. A lot of skill and patience for something like that.

  7. Tony Weisbecker says:

    Thats some fabulous work you have there and very time consuming , incredible .

  8. Fred Gevalt says:

    John –

    First rate modeling – I love it.

    Fred Gevalt

  9. Brian Olson says:

    Spectacular work!

  10. Bill in Virginia says:

    Excellent bridges and conveyor you have built. Really fit well into the overall scene you are modeling. Well done!

  11. Robert Gevert says:

    That bridge looks awesome John. Great job!!

  12. James K Stever says:

    Amazing talent and workmanship.

  13. Michael Ilkenhons says:

    Amazing work… I was really impressed by your base preparation to build the bridge on. That shows a craftsmanship skill in itself. I do a lot of scrstchbuilding on a much more humble scale… What you are doing is worthy of praise.

  14. Joe Graffi says:

    Having moved my layout from one house to the new one, I can relate. I originally built mine (12 x 8 HO) as a modular layout for just that purpose.
    I know how long it takes and how much ‘adapting’ is required to make it work again. Your trestle rebuild is incredible! Everything is a work of love and art.
    Thanks for the pix.

  15. Andrew Aves says:

    Wow! – Superb modelling John.
    Andrew in Oz

  16. Fred Anderson says:

    Love all the narrative in building the Trestle bridge and the construction of the hills & valleys. I have copied all the information and photos for future references.
    Thanks a lot for the insight that goes into building such a great looking Railroad.

    Fred form the land down under

  17. Marklin ed says:

    Great stuff very good work. Like looking at a real railroad. Thanks

  18. william janmes palmer says:

    looks great

  19. Charles Eyster says:

    This is an incredible layout in progress! John, I have big one burning question. I did not see it on my second read of your post. Are you now, still able to reach to the back of this layout to finish the track work at the mine, paint or ??? It appears that it is at least 6-7 feet deep from the front of the new trestle to the far back.

  20. John Frye says:

    The distance to the back is about 4 feet. I have used “forced perspective” and some color choices which make it look farther back than it is. it’s a little complicated for this response. Suffice it to say color choices in the distance are in general brighter than in the foreground which (from what I’ve read) tends to have the viewer “work harder” to focus on the nearest stuff…anyway thanks for the comment and question.

  21. Hugh E. Brennan says:

    beautiful workmanship and concept.

    Has anyone here been to “Northlands” in New Jersey? Amazing scale of bridges. Also some very fine use of mirrors and perspective forcing to enhance scale. I know it’s often criticized for lack of finesse, but the mass is impressive.

  22. richard rudolph says:


  23. Richard Yanzsa says:

    They are great – Can I still but them?

  24. Will in NM says:

    Beautiful and clever construction method. Love that huge trestle! Wow! You could give John Allen competition for most impressive mountain scenery. Thanks for sharing your innovative construction method.

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