published Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

Designer creates with railway salvage

Robert Hendrick, who recently returned from climbing the Grand Tetons, is always up for an adventure.

Hendrick is the owner of Railroad Services LLC, a railroad track maintenance and construction company.

"I've always had a love of railroads," he said. "I went to college because I graduated high school and being a rock star just wasn't in my future. My parents were pretty insistent that I should get a college degree."

With a degree in industrial engineering, Hendrick said, his philosophy was "let's give this a shot."

"I didn't know diddly about railroads at that point," he said, "so I spent the last seven years learning."


  • What: Railfest.
  • When: Today through Monday.
  • Where: Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, 4119 Cromwell Road. Must park at Eastgate Town Center, 5600 Brainerd Road, or Northgate Mall, Highway 153 at Hixson Pike, and ride free shuttle.
  • Admission: Daily entry is $30 per ticket for ages 3 and older.
  • Phone: 894-8028.
  • Website:

But as the economy started to wilt and not enough work was available for his crew, Hendrick turned to his design background and his appreciation of history. His desire to preserve the pieces of the railway otherwise destined for scrap metal or incineration lead him to an unusual project: furniture design.

From there was born Rail Yard Studios ( based in Nashville.

"(The workers) looked at me like I was out of my mind," he said, "because they're used to dealing with rail that's 39 foot length. I was having them cut stuff up into 4 inches and 28 inches."

A coffee table made from railroad cross ties? How about a wine rack? Or a bed?

"I started designing all these pieces and started creating them," Hendrick said.

Now, Hendrick said, they have at least 30 different pieces and 40 additional concepts waiting to be made.

Hendrick said he grew up helping his father, Jim, with projects around the house. "I didn't realize at the time I was actually learning," he said. "He would make pieces of furniture with scraps and different things."

Now the father and son work together. And the younger Hendrick is in charge.

"It's kind of payback," he joked.

Rail Yard Studios will be participating in several shows over the next few months, including RailFest this weekend at the Tennessee Valley Railway Museum.

"We're excited to get out in front of the rail fans," he said. "We thought this was a place we could really be appreciated and really be part of the crowd."

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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