Thursday, December 26, 2013

Clackamas River Railroad Bridge

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Some time ago, I did a series on bridges along the Clackamas River (or at least the ones near the Portland area). In a post about the ugly, utilitarian I-205 bridge near High Rocks, I had a little addendum about the railroad bridge behind it:

As an added bonus, right behind the freeway bridge is a railroad bridge that now belongs to Union Pacific, although it apparently still has "Southern Pacific" written on it in large letters. It isn't really possible to take a better photo of the railroad bridge without a.) shooting from the freeway bridge (hopefully while someone else is driving) b.) trespassing on the grounds of someone's fancy riverfront home, or c.) riding an inner tube down the river with a camera and hoping it doesn't get wet. A site covering Clackamas River Bridges appears to have chosen option a., so you can check those out if you're curious. But as far as the bridge project goes, I'm going to consider the railroad bridge "done" without resorting to any of the above options, since it does already appear, a little, in the photos here.

I'm still not really sure how to get unobscured photos of the railroad bridge; in the photo above, you can just make out one of the bridge piers behind the I-205 bridge, and you just sort of have to imagine the rest somehow. Admittedly I haven't actually gone back to look for a better angle, so in this case it really is for lack of trying. Still, the fact that I just tacked this onto the end of another bridge post sort of felt like cheating, and I'd really hate to anger the internet police, so I never quite took it off my todo list. I can't show it to you very well, but at least I can try to tell you about it, and if I manage to get better photos sometime later I can always edit this post and add them.

There's a Structurae page about this bridge, and that page has a photo of the bridge from the upstream side, apparently taken while peering over someone's barbed wire fence. It's just a 1950s metal girder bridge, nothing terribly interesting about it other than the fading "Southern Pacific" sign. A railfan page about Amtrak's Coast Starlight line has a similar photo, this time with an Amtrak train on it. Another site has a couple of forum threads speculating about the history of rail bridges on the Clackamas River, and looking for photos of the current bridge's predecessor, which crossed further downstream near the 82nd Drive Bridge.

It turns out there have been railroad bridges here for a very long time, by Oregon standards. An item in the November 20th, 1869 Oregonian mentions that the first bridge has come to a bad end:

The loss of the bridge over Clackamas river, which was just approaching completion, is quite a serious blow to the progress of the railroad, but it will not prove disastrous. It will necessitate still more energy and outlay in order to build the first section of road within the proposed time; but Mr. Holladay is not a man to be checked by such a misfortune. The energy which has for several weeks been so manifest in the construction of the road will be redoubled, and every obstacle will be overcome.

A September 4th, 1873 article discussed the progress on the replacement bridge:

Months ago the contract was let for the construction of a bridge over the Clackamas at a point just below where the railroad bridge spans the stream. Two years ago the old bridge was swept away during a freshet. Early last spring the county authorities determined to build a new bridge near where the old bridge stood. The contract was let, and work soon after began. Since then a force of men have been constantly employed in erecting the new structure. The length of the bridge between the abutments is 213 feet. With the addition of the aprons at each end, the entire length of the bridge, when finished, will be about 300 feet. The piers are constructed of wood, crib-shaped, and filled with stone. Both of the abutments have been completed, and a portion of the "stringers" laid from pier to pier. It is estimated that the heaviest portion of the work is finished. A number of carpenters are pushing forward with the work and the probabilities are that the entire structure will be completed by the middle of October.

A brief note in the October 3rd, 1876 Oregonian merely says "Work on the new railroad bridge across the Clackamas is progressing rapidly." It feels like we aren't getting the full story here. In the 1873 item, it's not clear if they're building a new rail bridge at a slightly different location, or building a non-rail bridge next to the rail bridge, and the non-rail bridge was lost to a separate flood in 1871 but not reported on at the time. And these items about the imminent completion of a bridge are years apart.

An article on August 2nd, 1955 announced the imminent completion of the current bridge, as part of a track realignment project by the Southern Pacific railroad. It seems the train was being rerouted eastward to avoid tight curves that forced trains to pass through the area slowly. The new bridge would be able to handle heavier loads and rolling stock. The article gives a brief history at the end:

The new bridge is the fourth railroad span across the Clackamas river in that area. The first one was built in 1869 when the "East Side" company, headed by Ben Holladay, was rushing construction on the Oregon Central south of Portland. Second bridge, a Howe truss structure was constructed in 1876, and the third in 1902.

If that's true, the 1873 item may concern a predecessor of the 82nd Drive bridge instead. I can't find any record in the newspaper database about a 1902 replacement bridge, though, so it's also possible they had some dates wrong.

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