Monday, January 08, 2018

Multnomah Creek Railroad Bridge

Ok, it's time for another installment in the ongoing Columbia Gorge bridge project. This is the one where I take photos of bridges around the Gorge while confused tourists stare at me because an amazing waterfall is right over there behind me and I'm taking photos of an ugly old bridge. Sometimes they bump into me because they're too busy staring at the waterfall. This happens a lot around Multnomah Falls; not only are there hordes of tourists to perplex, but there's a bunch, ok, a batch, of bridges there, and the best spots to take photos of most of them put you right in the way of literally everyone else on Earth, or so it seems. So we've already visited the famous Benson Bridge up by the falls, and the historic highway bridge next to the lodge, and the equally historic (but unloved) viaducts on the highway just east and west of the falls. And we still aren't done; this time we're looking at the 1907 Union Pacific railroad bridge just downstream from the old highway bridge.

The railroad bridge's one semi-notable feature is the wooden sign that gives rail distances to various cities from this point: Going east it's 173 miles to Pendleton, 305 to Spokane, 393 to Boise, while westbound it's 35 to Portland, 177 to Tacoma, 210 to Seattle. If I ran the railroad (which I don't), I would've at least mentioned that this is also a very old rail line, built in 1879-1882 as part of the nation's third transcontinental railroad. Basic math tells us that if the railroad's older than the bridge, there must have been an earlier bridge here. I've never seen any info about the original, but I'm sort of guessing it was your basic wood trestle sort of thing, maybe built in a rush to get the railroad up and running, and it needed replacing after a few decades of Gorge winters. I see that the current railroad bridge on the Sandy River dates to around the same time as this one (1906), so maybe there was a wider project to go back through and modernize the rail line, or it's just that the original bridges all wore out about the same time.

The library's old newspaper database didn't have much to say about this bridge here, which is why I had to guess a lot in the last paragraph. I only came across one semi-interesting bit of trivia connected to the bridge, and it's of a bit more recent vintage: A 1970 Oregonian article about recent improvements at the falls mentions that at one point there were floodlights next to the railroad bridge which illuminated the falls at night. The article says the wiring for the lights was destroyed by a storm in January 1969 when a "glacier" of ice filled the creek from the river all the way to the falls, at one point forming an ice layer up to 40 feet thick & 60 feet wide, damaging the nearby lodge. The state hoped to put the floodlights back into operation before long, but I couldn't find any subsequent mention of the floodlights being restored, and the falls aren't lit at night now, and have never been lit as far back as I can recall, and an image search for "multnomah falls at night" comes back with some artsy long exposure photos but no lights, so I'm sort of guessing the restoration never happened.

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