Replacement of tiny trestle at Fairview Park requires Herculean effort for O.C. Model Engineers

Volunteers with Orange County Model Engineers pose in front of the Hank Hornsveld Memorial Trestle in Fairview Park.
From left, Bob Brooks, Zach Jones, Hank Castignetti and Jordan Rivera, volunteers with the Orange County Model Engineers, pose in front of the Hank Hornsveld Memorial Trestle in Costa Mesa’s Fairview Park on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

A trestle bridge at Costa Mesa’s Fairview Park, beloved by model train enthusiasts — and hundreds of thousands of children and adults who’ve ridden the miniature rails there — after 30 years is in need of a serious facelift.

But replacing the tiny trestle is likely a Herculean feat, say members of the nonprofit Orange County Model Engineers, who’ve been attempting to rally support for its repair during a pandemic that has seen ridership decrease to historic lows.

A GoFundMe campaign to raise the $25,000 needed to replace the old, interior-grade timbers had, by Thursday, mustered a little more than $2,300. Once the capital has been earned, group members will design and rebuild the structure in a 100% volunteer effort.

O.C. Model Engineer secretary Hank Castignetti, who also serves as a liaison on Costa Mesa’s Fairview Park Steering Committee, said members are up to the task. With a six-year, $300,000 effort to replace more than 4 miles of track line and railroad ties at the 40-acre Goat Hill Junction nearly complete, the trestle is next on the team’s to-do list.

Jeff Sumners, left, and Gary Kimble, with the O.C. Model Engineers club, repair track in 2019.
Jeff Sumners, left, and Gary Kimble, with the O.C. Model Engineers club, repair track in 2019, as part of a years-long effort to upgrade more than four miles of track.
(File Photo)

“If we had to go out and hire an engineer to design the new bridge, we couldn’t afford it. And if we had to hire a construction coordinator, that would be cost prohibitive as well,” Castignetti said. “So, it’s all going to have to be done with volunteer labor.”

Built in 1991, the Hank Hornsveld Trestle has been a main feature on free model train rides that have been offered at Fairview since O.C. Model Engineers incorporated in 1985 under a use agreement with the city. Whenever two trains cross there, engineers blow their horns, to the delight of parents and children alike.

Hornsveld, founder of Costa Mesa’s Hank’s Electrical Supply, played an integral role in building the model railroad at Fairview Park. He reportedly constructed the bridge with lumber acquired from a city building project, after it had been determined not to meet the project’s specifications, and immediately went to work.

Model engineers pilot passengers on parallel tracks during a 2018 Scarecrow Festival in Fairview Park in Costa Mesa.
Engineers pilot passengers during a 2018 Scarecrow Festival at Costa Mesa’s Fairview Park where, before the pandemic, nearly 40,000 riders turned out for free public rides.
(File Photo)

Although the lumber was originally intended for interior use, the mighty trestle outlasted five presidential administrations, reliably conveying engines weighing more than 1,000 pounds and loaded up with as many as 25 human passengers.

“It shouldn’t have lasted all that time, but it did — through the rain, the wind and the termites,” Castignetti said. “It’s a testament to [Hornsveld’s] tenacity and his ability to build things.”

But even the most well-built structures eventually succumb to the elements. Last year, after an analysis of the trestle found serious damage to timbers near its concrete base, members closed that segment of the track to the public.

Gary Gorman, immediate past president of OCME, moved to Arizona last year but plans to return to Costa Mesa monthly to manage the construction project. He said while the bridge wasn’t likely to collapse, its condition had become a concern.

O.C. Model Engineers is raising $25,000 to replace and repair the Hank Hornsveld Trestle through a GoFundMe campaign.
The Orange County Model Engineers is raising $25,000 to replace and repair the Hank Hornsveld Memorial Trestle through a GoFundMe campaign.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“After 30 years, the weather had taken its toll on the wood, which was supposed to be used indoors, and the bugs had eaten it,” he said. “The club erred on the side of being very conservative and said, ‘Let’s be safe.’”

Soon after, as city facilities closed during the pandemic, O.C. Model Engineers hit the brakes on all public rides. Only now are members resuming weekend birthday party bookings and looking forward to eventually resuming the public rides.

The current lull is the perfect time to begin work on the trestle. But rebuilding a structure on the 208-acre Fairview site is a tricky proposition, even for the most careful of hands, thanks to Measure AA, passed by Costa Mesa voters in 2016.

The law says any construction of playgrounds, athletic fields or other permanent structures at the site must be put to a citywide vote.

So, the train club plans to rebuild the trestle by hand, one section at a time, while keeping the original concrete foundation intact. The careful approach is estimated to take from nine months to one year to complete.

Members say it will be worth the effort to upgrade the integrity of the structure, a main attraction on the train rides, which entertain nearly 40,000 visitors in a typical year.

“The trestle is just a huge feature of the railroad,” Gorman said, emphasizing the importance of sparking kids’ interest in railroading at a young age.

“Our club is wide open to youngsters,” he added. “That’s hopefully what will keep it going.”

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.