#46–Experiencing McCullough Bridges, 3rd of 4 . . .

Once you know a little about McCullough bridges, you won’t just drive through or over them; you’ll start to experience them. Of the three bridges featured this week, the two smaller ones have completed the major restoration and zinc cathodic protection that will guarantee their future for decades to come. These bridges include the last of three identical bridges, the only Roman aqueduct-style bridge built in Oregon, and the bridge that graces the cover of Crossings: McCullough’s Coastal Bridges.

This is the Tenmile Bridge, but the Big Creek and the Wilson River bridges looked just like this. Notice the X shaped support braces.

* Big Creek Bridge––This small fixed arch bridge, located between Yachats and Florence is almost identical to the Wilson River Bridge in Tillamook and the Tenmile bridge a few miles up the road, covered in Part 1 and Part 2 respectively. These three were among the first bridges of this type in the United States and the first in the Far West when they were built in 1931. The fixed arch McCullough designed for these sites represents his engineering ingenuity because it requires minimal support and practically holds itself up.

Although this is the Big Creek Bridge, all three look just like this today with the straightened cross bar at the portals (entrances), retrofitted to accommodate larger vehicles.

When I drove up the coast to Astoria in January, I noticed a change from their original design on all three bridges and have since researched it by going to the McCullough bridges expert, Dr. Robert W. Hadlow, author of Elegant Arches, Soaring Spans. He was the right person to ask.

“Within the past 10 to 15 years, ODOT retrofitted the portal bracing on the Wilson River, Tenmile Creek, and Big Creek bridges because the original X formation provided low vertical clearance at the outside edge of the travel lanes.  The retrofit squared off the X and provided improved vertical clearance.  McCullough later [in the 1930s] designed through arches with a ‘lazy K’ formation [above photo from Siuslaw River Bridge].”

This view of Cape Creek Bridge is from Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint.

* Cape Creek Bridge––This bridge built in the style of a Roman aqueduct is the only bridge of this type in Oregon. It was also the first of the coast’s historic reinforced concrete bridges to undergo total restoration and the impressed current zinc cathodic protection that will enable it to last for decades.

This part of the coast was the last part completed during the construction of the Oregon Coast Highway. The old stagecoach road had gone from sea level up over headlands as high as 500 feet in this area—very difficult for the automobiles of the time. So this bridge and the tunnel were constructed to straighten out the highs and lows of the road. It became known as “the million dollar mile.” One inland editor complained about the expense in an editorial that read, “The state in its infinite wisdom is constructing a bridge more than 100 feet high over a creek that doesn’t even come to my knees!” He was clearly unhappy, but most of us who are aware of this bridge consider it one of the most beautiful on the Oregon coast. If you turn off at Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint, it takes you to the best view of the bridge as well as the lighthouse. This is one of the most scenic locations on the entire coast.

The Siuslaw River Bridge, not the largest or most well known, but an absolute jewel of a bridge.

* Siuslaw River Bridge––With the major renovations started in 2009 and continuing through 2010, this bridge looks the best it has looked since it was built. This bridge is considered by some to be the bridge that best represents Conde McCullough’s technical and aesthetic genius. That was the case with Judith Dupre, the author of Bridges: A history of the world’s most famous and important bridges, who included a large photo of the Siuslaw River Bridge to represent McCullough’s bridges. It is not the largest or as well known as the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport or the McCullough Memorial Bridge over Coos Bay. Because it was built with such precision, because it is a double bascule drawbridge that opens to allow marine traffic, and because of all the artistic embellishments in Art Deco, Moderne, Gothic, and Egyptian styles, it is considered a technological and aesthetic jewel of a bridge. At less than a third of a mile across, it’s a great walking bridge. You can see for yourself all the artistic embellishments and how nice it looks.

Bring your camera along as you experience these bridges.

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Crossings: McCullough’s Coastal Bridges can be yours for $24.95 plus $4.99 shipping. Order from Pacific Publishing at http://www.connectflorence.com or pacpub@oregonfast.net. It is also available on the coast in bookstores, museums, and gift shops; in Eugene at the airport, the historical museum, and several bookstores; in Portland at Powell’s and the Oregon Historical Society; in Made in Oregon stores throughout the state; and at more and more bookstores and libraries in western Oregon.

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About crossingsauthor

Freelance writer/editor and author of Crossings: McCullough's Coastal Bridges, The Crossings Guide to Oregon's Coastal Spans, and Around Florence. Spent 22 years teaching 1st and 2nd grades and 21 years as editor/staff writer with Oregon Coast and Northwest Travel magazines.
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