I recently had the opportunity to participate in three unique stamping projects. Each was located in a public setting, and each owner desired something out of the ordinary. Highly customized stamped concrete perfectly fit the bill.

The first project was an observation platform near Solsberry, Ind., overlooking the 110-year-old Tulip Trestle. At 2,295 feet, it’s the longest railroad bridge in the U.S. It’s quite a sight to see huge locomotives crossing the Richland Creek, high above the trees and valley below.

Local historian and train enthusiast Larry Shute saw the need for a safe vantage point from which to view the trestle. In conjunction with Tulip Trestle Community Restoration Inc.’s board, he spearheaded the effort to build the observation platform. Larry solicited enough private donations to pay for materials and enough volunteer labor to build it.

Shute’s friend “Concrete Mike” Lindsey, another Solsberry resident, convinced the board the platform should be made of concrete to deter vandalism, and that such a special project required a special finish. It was decided that the platform should be stamped with the rustic Gilpin’s Falls Bridge Plank stamp from Butterfield Color of Aurora, Ill. To personalize the project, Lindsey created a Tulip Trestle logo to be stamped into the center of the slab. The logo depicts #1504, the last steam locomotive to cross the trestle.

Mike called me in to help with the pour, along with several other local volunteers.

To further tie into the railroad theme, Mike and I decided that the approach sidewalk should resemble an authentic train track, complete with spikes. We devised a method for stamping the S-shaped walkway using cut-up 6-inch wood plank stamps and Pebblestone texture skins, also from Butterfield Color. We used homemade rollers to make the rails, and weeks later applied acid stain and PermaTique to color the entire walkway.

Stamping on a tight radius with rectangular tools was difficult, but the finished project was a big hit. Everyone loved the stamped concrete railroad tracks. For more information, click here.

Project No. 2: Blight to beauty

Fast forward a couple of months and I was again called upon to lend a hand.

This time it was by my hometown of Noblesville, Ind. The city was building a small park on a blighted, weed-grown lot situated between a railroad line, an electrical substation, and the White River. The park would serve as a connecting point for Noblesville’s riverfront boardwalk and the White River Greenway trailhead. It was to be named Riverwalk Depot Pocket Park, and the centerpiece would be an iron sculpture of a steam locomotive created by local metalworker and artist Rick Heflin. The sculpture required a 20-foot concrete base, so I showed the park planners some photos of the Tulip Trestle sidewalk. They were immediately on board (no pun intended).

Teaming up with a crew from Noblesville’s Street Department, we laid out the pad, formed it, and poured concrete donated by Sagamore Ready Mix LLC of Fishers, Ind.

This time, because the pad was rectangular, I built two stamps using ¾-inch plywood backing, 1/8-inch particle board, and the aforementioned cut-up stamps and texture skins. I built them to conform to the gauge of the sculpture’s wheels, so the stamps were roughly 6 feet long and 2 feet wide.

Pouring, stamping, and acid-staining went very smoothly and, again, the railroad tracks were a big hit. The finished space is a favorite destination for bicyclists, walkers, and photographers; and has become a quaint and inviting rest stop in a previously dreary location.

Project No. 3: Word continues spreading …

A couple of months later, I was approached at my supply store by Mick Bardos of MIX Construction.

He wanted advice on how to stamp a rustic brick pattern at the offices of the Parke County Tourist Information Center in Rockville, Ind. We discussed several options; but when he mentioned that the office is located in an historic train depot from 1883, I showed him photos of the previous two projects. When Bardos showed them to the center’s managers, they decided a railroad track stamp was just what the project called for.

Because my “homemade” stamp was made partially of particle board, it had swelled a bit from becoming saturated with liquid stamp release during the Riverwalk Depot project. I knew it wouldn’t last through this larger project, so I enlisted Butterfield Color to make a proper set of stamps. I shipped my homemade stamps to them, they made and tweaked a mold to make it more user-friendly (actually squared!), and then sent me a professional set of railroad track stamps.

They say turnabout is fair play, so for help with this project I called upon my old friend Mike Lindsey, who generously volunteered his expert stamping abilities.

Aided by MIX Construction’s crew, Mike and I poured and stamped a stretch of railroad track which serves as the entrance to the visitor center offices. A week later, another friend and I acid stained and antiqued the tracks, where they await visitors to the annual Parke County Covered Bridge Festival. For more information, click here.

I feel very fortunate to have been invited to take part in these three projects. It’s not often that one gets to step outside the “normal” stamped concrete industry and create something truly unique.

Because only innovation and experimentation will keep stamped concrete from becoming a cookie-cutter commodity, I highly encourage you to seek out these kinds of opportunities. By constantly creating something special, decorative concrete will continue to be the fastest-growing segment of the concrete industry for years to come.

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