by Alyssa Rabun         

Robert Hendrick
Photo by Nick McIntyre

Photo by Nick McIntyre

 

Although his taste in comedy is questionable, Hendrick’s railroad expertise and eye for design are extraordinary. An entrepreneur in fields ranging from healthcare to technology, Hendrick developed an appreciation for the rails in 2001 when he purchased the railroad contracting and maintenance firm  Railroad Services LLC. As his crew worked,  Hendrick noted considerable waste that plagued the industry. Century-old rails and spikes from companies like Carnegie Steel, Tennessee Coal & Iron, and Pennsylvania Steel, dating back to the 1890s, were being tossed into a garbage heap when they were retired from use. Out of this waste Hendrick conceptualized and built Rail Yard Studios“I started by saving old ties and steel rail scraps. In 2011, I began to repurpose the railroad scraps to create eco-friendly,  sustainable products like desks, coffee and end tables, beds, night stands, coat racks, benches, conference tables, bike racks, and wine racks,” says Hendrick. 

Photo by Nick McIntyre

Photo by Nick McIntyre

The steel tracks, spikes, and brackets used in production are authentic. Old spikes are gleaned and arrive at the studio covered in mud, rust, and old creosote—their origin easily tracked by manufacturer engravings. Steel, on the other hand, is very transient and may have begun its journey in the bed of a railcar in any corner of the country or even abroad. Once the materials arrive at Rail Yard Studios, Hendrick and his team use a tumbler to clean them. They are then sanded, cut, stained, and paired with locally purchased hardwood timbers.      “I’ve become an expert in recognizing flaws that run through rails, how the rail changes, what happens when the rails wear out, and how to reuse these flawed materials. I see their imperfections as opportunity,” says Hendrick.     Hendrick’s latest line of artisan furniture, Reused and Recycled, encourages clients to appreciate the history behind each piece.   From a wine rack made of a harvested walnut crosstie and rail from 1916 to a glass-top conference table with golden oak and polyurethane sealer, each piece is accompanied by a certificate describing the rail’s history.  Hendrick describes the value of a documentable history saying, “If you’re having a dinner party and a guest asks where your table was made, you can reply ‘funny you ask’ and go into a spiel about steel that originated in Birmingham in January of 1902 and knotted oak that once grew in the forests of East Tennessee,” says Hendrick. The Rail Yard Studios’ team shows work in galleries across the country and is often commissioned to design pieces for venues including private homes and corporate offices.  

Visit www.railyardstudios.com to view a selection of their Reused and Recycled line and peruse Hendrick’s blog to get a taste for what keeps the company on the tracks.

 

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