Building a Covered Railroad Bridge

Your trains never look better running through your Garden Railroad than when they are passing over, in front of, or through something of visual interest. To that end, armed with scraps left over from an earlier 5 foot Howe Truss bridge project, I decided to craft a short covered railway bridge as a focal point to an otherwise uninteresting spot on my elevated section of track.

It was a real learning experience since I had never tried building anything so far exclusively dependent on glue to hang together.

 The Crossing

This project started out as something to do with the scrap wood left over from another project. I have a section on my layout that is supposed to have a waterfall but since have had little luck in figuring out how to build one I thought a covered bridge right there would provide some visual eye candy (at least until and if I ever figure the waterfall thing out.) Here you see the trestle with a center span that I felt would be just right for a covered bridge.

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So I unbolted the center span and decided that all I needed to do was to craft two sides and a roof that would attach to the center span piece.




Constructing the Walls

Click to enlarge, use back button to returnWithout any plan I started gluing up scrap. Since everything would be glued together I laid out a plank and covered a section with wax paper, nailed down some guides and started gluing up pieces.

The scrap used in the construction is (roughly) 1/2 x 1/2 redwood (tomato stakes available at OSH). Since I had lots of short scrap pieces I just used scraps liberally for spacers, cross braces, etc.

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This was actually my first error, “gots lots, must use it” although I did not know it at this time. I noticed that the wall frame was much more massive than it needed to be. But since it would not be visible I pushed on. This error comes up again when doing the roof as you’ll see.



Gluing Walls to Connector Beams

Click to enlarge, use back button to returnEach side wall frame was glued to a 5/8ths x 5/8ths piece that will be attached to the center span piece. Titebond III and lots of clamps made this straightforward.

Wall Siding

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Next was cutting up many popsicle (craft) sticks. Some distressing with a cheap hobby razor saw, some quick chemical aging with vinegar and steel wool solution, and lots more gluing and clamping. Note using scrap to avoid clamp marks on the finished work.



Roof Framing

Click to enlarge, use back button to returnOnce both side panels were done I tackled the roof. This is where my decision to use whatever scraps I had handy really caused some problems. I decided to make the roof substructure using using popsicle sticks as planks. I wanted to make it look old and beat up with the shingles gone and sections of the roof having missing or showing broken planks. This necessitated a frame that could be exposed in places. As I had lots of left over cross bracing from the previous bridge project I used it liberally. But at 1/4 x 5/8 (more or less) it really was too large and massive for the task (like the side wall framing) and even worse not cut to very exacting specifications. For this type of modeling you need precision milled lumber or you need lighter pieces that have come “give” to them. What I used missed the mark on both counts.

Between the rafters being too thick and unyielding, the 1/2 x 1/2 scrap not being milled to any consistency, the final product is about as straight and true as an amusement park fun house. But I just kept plugging along and engineering around the more glaring problems (i.e., I hid them as best I could).

Roof End Planking

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Once framed I turned to coffee stir sticks for the end planking.

Click to enlarge, use back button to returnBack to distressed popsicle sticks for the roof sub-planking. Distressing popsicle sticks is difficult as I learned because the lowly popsicle stick is made from very hard wood. Next is to complete the roof planking and then chemically age and provide some water protection (i.e., paint it with 30 w motor oil).

After chemical staining of the roof, a coat of 30 weight motor oil was applied to the entire structure to provide some water protection. I thought that although the roof was in poor condition (visually) probably not all the shingles would be gone so I applied a few hand crafted shingles in spots on the side of the roof that will be visible when installed in the layout.

At this point the roof looks like this (it needs some more shingles and weathering and is a bit shiny in this picture as it had just been oiled):

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Worked the remaining shingles with a Dremal and rounded off some of the hard edges.





Installed in Layout

Installed the trestle span back in the layout.

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And more of an overview showing the trestle as it comes off the Cliffs of Insanity.

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Please leave a comment about your projects!

(Originally posted 3/18/2011, revised 3/16/2012)

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3 Responses to Building a Covered Railroad Bridge

  1. Tim S says:

    Well, I’ve gotta tell you. For being a thoroughly bodged together job (according to your description) It sure looks pretty good to me! (according to my opinion!)
    Hoping to have my own cliffs of insanity some day. Sure enjoyed your site!

  2. TJ says:


    Glad you like it. If you’re going to build cliffs you should request the PDF file “TJsTrains – Building Concrete Mountains.pdf” (see the request form link at the top of the page). Shows how I build my Cliffs of Insanity. 60 pages with pictures and free for the asking.


  3. Gary Re4ese says:

    Looks good to me. I was published in Garden railways April 2013 I think it was. (roofing)
    I hang out at mylargescale. com , in chat every nite, 9:45 est.

    Yes, I’d like the pdf . It would be helpfull even though I use “paper”. 🙂
    The wood I use most is sassafras. Available through Major outdoor wood.

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