“Painting the trestle is tradition, and that’s what Lake Highlands is all about,” says Ryan Smith, Lake Highlands High School senior and quarterback of the 1992 Wildcat football team.

Every fall in recent memory, the railroad trestle at Church and White Rock Trail has been a hub of activity. High school students have put away their books, footballs and pompons in favor of hoses, paint brushes and gallons of red, white and black paint.

For nearly two decades, students have been showing their Wildcat pride by painting the trestle in the weeks before the Homecoming football game. The slogans have varied over the years, but the sentiment remained the same:

“Now Entering Wildcat Country”

“Home of the 1981 State 5-A Champs”

“Ride With Pride”

“Welcome to the Boneyard”

Several school organizations have participated in this long-standing tradition. The Key Club, Student Council and, in recent years, the senior class has coordinated the efforts. Ward’s True Value Hardware Store, Re/Max Realtors and others have donated the paint, supplies and money to get the job done.

Martha Vernon lives a few hundred yards from the trestle, and she remembers when it was a narrow, wooden crossing for trains passing through Dallas.

It was not until the city widened and paved Church Road in the late 1960’s that the trestle became the cement, paint-inviting structure it is today.

Vernon also remembers one of the first episodes in trestle-painting history. At that time, her oldest son John, a 1971 Lake Highlands graduate, was Student Council president, and he helped create a float for the annual Homecoming football game. Students built the float at a neighborhood farm and pulled it by tractor to the trestle.

“The trestle was painted and decorated with streamers, and there were kids everywhere,” Vernon says.

Not long after this event, the annual defacing of the trestle by rival schools began. Vernon remembers the first graffiti-painting culprits were not Berkner High School students, but Bryan Adams High School students. Different schools, but the same school color – green.

Since then, the trestle has been the site of an ongoing battle between Lake Highlands and its rivals.

After painting the trestle red, black and white, Lake Highlands students have been known to organize teams to guard the trestle through the night.

But the railroad sentries were not always successful. In 1986, students painted the trestle the week prior to the Berkner game, only to find it covered with green paint Thursday morning. Students stayed up all night to repaint the trestle prior to the game against Berkner the following day.

All of this painting has resulted in layer upon layer of paint.

“Some people joke that one of these days, the trestle is going to crumble, but the paint will still be standing,” says Peggy Hill, a Lake Highlands resident who helped last year’s senior class organize its painting event.

But neighborhood residents driving by the trestle today may not see a colorful symbol of students’ pride in their school.

At press time, the trestle had been painted – and so, for that matter, had Church Road – keeping the tradition alive. But how long the paint job would remain is anybody’s guess. Anyone from Dallas Area Rapid Transit workers to rival high schools may have repainted the trestle.

But a trestle without colorful paint just doesn’t seem right, according to senior Julie Jeter:

“It’s tradition, and our school was always big on tradition.”