Would it rain (Plan B) or not (Plan A)? We were ready either way. My 11 folks who’d signed up for the Southern Bridge Tour, plus Benny the bus driver, were ready to check out bridges. We had rain in Florence, but by Reedsport, it stopped and didn’t come back—my anti-rain dances, chants, and prayers worked! So we ended up doing Plan C (a hybrid).
This tour had only four bridges, but three are among the most important bridges McCullough designed. So I had a lot to say about each one. I like to do the talking in the bus and have people spread out and check out the bridges once they get off. And for those who have difficulty getting around, this is a good plan. They can just stay on the bus and not miss too much—usually the bridge can be seen from the bus.
I passed out the itinerary and glossary and started out by giving the importance of McCullough. Up to this point it was the same for the seven folks who were also along last week. Only four people were new. With all the familiar faces, it was like old-home week.
Siuslaw River Bridge
We paused at the Gothic arches under the Siuslaw River Bridge and got the cathedral view. But we did not get off the bus and walk to the deck in the bridge interpretive park that has the best view of the bridge in town. Nor did we walk up on the bridge both of which I had planned. It was simply raining too hard. So we parked where the bridge was in view. I gave the cathodic protection talk. This process was begun on this bridge in 2015 and will finish in 2019. Then I discussed the why and wherefore of the bridge design with the double bascule drawbridge, pier houses, and tied arches.
While we sat in the bus in the rain, I was able to read a couple of segments from Crossings and regale my audience with old-timer stories. As we crossed the bridge slowly, we looked closely at the entry pylons and the pier houses to see the Art Deco and Egyptian embellishments. And we checked out the four-inch higher, brand new bridge rails, now up to code and made of higher quality concrete . . . but with the same design.
Umpqua River Bridge
The Umpqua River Bridge, while the least impressive of McCullough’s larger coast bridges, does have a lot going for it. You just have to look a little harder. The design of the bridge rails is unique, the entry pylons at the portals to the double tied arches have Art Deco embellishments, and under the bridge are the same Gothic arches with cathedral views.
What makes the bridge design unique is the swing-span. It is the largest one that McCullough ever designed at 430 feet and is the only swing-span left in Oregon on a highway. It’s a common design for railroad bridges. I told why this drawbridge design was chosen and how some of the problems of building it were solved. And how this bridge is in the process of finishing up two years of work—painting the swing-span and replacing all the bridge rails with newer ones upgraded, up to code, and with the same unique design.
This bridge project was more involved than any of the other bridges McCullough designed because of switching from a ferry traveling 2 ½ miles between Gardiner and Reedsport to a highway covering less distance between the two towns. The ferry had to go around the railroad bridge and Bolon Island. But the new highway would cross the island connecting the Smith River and the Umpqua River. And a smaller bridge over the Smith River had to be built. This island was swampy where the Smith River Bridge would be connecting and there was a 550-foot wide ridge that was 180 feet high on the other end where the Umpqua River Bridge connected. The swampy part had to be filled in and the ridge either had to be cut down by 140 feet or a 550-foot tunnel bored through it. The tunnel was seriously considered first before being discarded in favor of the road cut. So the largest road cut in the state to date was begun.
All of this was going on while the Umpqua River Bridge was being built. Then when it was finished in February 1936, the half-mile of swampy land between the southern end of the bridge and Scholfield Slough needed to be filled in. So this brand new bridge had to endure three specially made large dump trucks hauling dirt from the road cut north of the bridge to the area to be filled south of the bridge around the clock for five months. It caused damage to some of the supports and one had to be cut loose and reconnected later. It also made the bridge incredibly dirty. In August 1936, brooms and hoses cleaned off tons of dirt. When the Umpqua River Bridge opened on July 2, 1936, it was in its very dirty condition and to no fanfare—a newspaper article of about three inches and no celebration. Possible celebrations were planned but postponed indefinitely.
My captive audience on the bus learned about all of this while sitting at the historic turn-out just north of the bridge in the middle of the road cut and heard more while crossing the bridge as we checked out the swing-span and looked for the bridge tender’s shack located high above the road.
The rain had stopped, so we all got off the bus underneath the bridge. We checked out the cathedral view, looking through the arches. It was great fun to stretch our legs and take photos.
After we got back on the bus, I told them about how the bridge finally had a dedication 75 years later with speakers and a parade and all because of my book Crossings. I had referred to the Umpqua River Bridge as the Rodney Dangerfield of McCullough bridges, and folks decided to do something about that. (See blog post #16, September 2011)
On the way to Schooner’s Café for lunch, I gave a little of Reedsport’s swampy, often flooded early history. It was easy to see the dike and the wall built to counter flooding. Schooner’s is on the river next to the Discovery Center. We got there right on time. The food was yummy, and we all enjoyed the meal and river view.
Haynes Inlet Slough Bridge
The Haynes Inlet Slough Bridge was one of the replacement bridges built in the past 12 years or so that shows a return to elegance. It can best be seen from the causeway heading across the inlet to the North Spit. We went all the way across the causeway and turned around at the first opportunity and then stopped at a turnout just before a small bridge with a great view of the Haynes Inlet Bridge and the McCullough Memorial Bridge over Coos Bay.
The Haynes Inlet Bridge was built in two segments. The first in 2001 while the old bridge continued to handle traffic. Then the old bridge was removed and the second segment was built in its place in 2004. Strangely enough, this new bridge is now the widest bridge on the Oregon Coast; it could handle five lanes of traffic.
We got off the bus at the turnout and were able to take photos of both bridges.
McCullough Memorial Bridge
From the turnout, we could see almost all of the McCullough Memorial Bridge––all but the southern end. It really is the best view you can get of the bridge from a car without trespassing on private property.
We could see the containment structure on the bridge where the cathodic protection preparation was taking place. This bridge is in the third year of the five years needed to do the northern end of the bridge. The southern end has been completed and took four years. We could also see the new bridge rails installed.
We all enjoyed the ride through the steel truss mid-section of the bridge. We were mesmerized by the seemingly endless steel Gothic arches. This section of the bridge is longer than the entire Siuslaw River Bridge. That’s when you realize the size of this bridge; it’s a little over a mile in length.
When we got to the other end, we parked by the plaza at the end of the bridge. We checked the interpretive signage and walked down the elegantly designed staircase. This staircase is found on three ends of the bridge, and we got to see two of them. We not only took photos of the staircases but of the arches below the bridge.
Of all the bridges that McCullough worked with, this bridge was his favorite. Originally named the Coos Bay Bridge, it was renamed the McCullough Memorial Bridge in 1947, the year after McCullough died.
Before leaving North Bend, we stopped at the restrooms in Simpson Park and then did a turn-around around a “village green”––a pleasant way to get back on the highway, heading north. At the first signal after the park, turn right and there it is, surrounded by streets and houses. It consists of green grass . . . that’s all. That’s why I call it a village green.
On the way back to Florence, we had a pop quiz on the glossary terms. My favorite response was regarding the tied arches. Question: What are tied arches? Incorrect answer: When two arches are tied together. It was a laugh-out-loud moment for all of us. Correct answer: The tied arch, also known as the bowstring arch, is designed where the roadway is part of the arch creating the “bowstring” to tie it together so well that minimal supports are needed. This was the design that made McCullough famous and made it possible to build bridges anywhere. You could even build a bridge on sand very close to the waves—such as Big Creek and Ten Mile Creek Bridges that have been standing for 85 years.
Before arriving back at LCC, passed out the self-guided tour with map to all 14 bridges between Depoe Bay and North Bend. On today’s tour, we didn’t stick to the itinerary regarding on and off the bus and spent more time than planned at each stop after lunch making us a half hour late getting back. No one seemed to mind.