Saturday, June 23, 2018

Horsetail Creek Bridge

Next up in the Gorge bridge project we're visiting the Horsetail Creek Bridge, right next to Horsetail Falls & the falls parking lot. A brief description of it at its BridgeHunter page explains that the design is nothing special but the decorative bits are ok:

One of two nearly identical reinforced-concrete girder trestles on the Historic Columbia River Highway and one of four extant structures on the route that have a distinctive cap and arch concrete guard rail system. Historic American Engineering Record, HAER ORE,26-TROUT.V,1M-

The three other structures mentioned are nearby, namely the Oneonta Creek Bridge and the East & West Multnomah Viaducts, all of which are Karl P. Billner designs that we've visited here already. Meanwhile ODOT's historic bridge field guide asserts this bridge is historic, but only describes it briefly as "three 20-ft reinforced concrete slab spans". (Please note that if these descriptions leave you wanting to go see the bridge for yourself, you'll have to wait, since -- as of June 2018 -- the whole area is still closed due to the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire.)

With that, it's time for the regular bridge post feature in which I dive into the Multnomah County Library's historical Oregonian database to see what the newspaper had to say about the place way back in the mists of time. I don't pretend to be doing a comprehensive historical accounting when I do these; mostly I'm mining the database for interesting nuggets and anecdotes, since almost nobody wants to read a post of nothing but bridge engineering minutiae. So here we go.

  • I don't usually bother with traffic accident articles here, but it seems like the Horsetail Falls area had more than its share early on. Here's a very early one where a rear end accident flipped a car on the bridge in March 1917, when the highway had been open less than a year. I'm not sure how the physics of that would work, even with the spindly top-heavy cars of 1915, but ok. More notably, another collision in February 1927, was blamed on spray from the waterfall forming ice on the bridge, which can easily happen since the two are right next to each other. Like the old highway's other design flaws, the designers thought it would be cool and scenic to put the road right at the base of the falls, with no thought to possible complications.
  • A lot of the retro-looking stonework around the base of the falls only dates to 1986, which -- I will have you know -- is not old. I don't recall exactly what it was like when I was a kid in the late 70s; but long before that there were a series of businesses at the base of the falls. Circa 1920 or so, Horsetail Falls was home to the Jack o'Lantern Roadhouse, which claimed to offer "Dainty, delicious and appetizing light lunches served. Come once you’ll come again and keep coming." I only see newspaper ads for it for summer 1920, so I'm not sure how long it was in business. I imagine it was gone by in June 1928, as someone else wanted to set up an ice cream shop or hot dog stand or bbq joint (the announced plans were a bit vague) at the falls, and various authorities objected. It seems the falls were privately owned at the time and everyone acknowledged the landowner & the stand guy were within their rights, but people still wished they wouldn't. The paper is unclear on how this turned out, and my incomplete understanding is that a lot of businesses along the old highway went out in the 1950s and 1960s. Some bought out & demolished by the state in the name of beautifying the route, and I imagine others went out of business after I-84 bypassed them and took away much of the road's traffic.
  • In August 1923 there was a proposal to light the falls at night along with Multnomah & Wahkeena Falls. It turns out this actually happened for a while at Multnomah Falls, ending when the lights were destroyed in a winter storm in January 1969 and never rebuilt. I have no information about whether there were ever lights at Horsetail or Wahkeena Falls.
  • The highway was blocked by a giant boulder here in February 1949, & the paper printed a sequence of photos of the thing being dynamited by a small work crew, without the benefit of modern common sense safety gear. Gentle reminder that people who long for the good old days before OSHA are idiots.
  • A tract of nearby forest land was purchased by a timber company in July 1953, with the goal of swapping it to the Forest Service for land outside the scenic area. I mention this because of an strange and terrible idea buried in the article; it's unclear whether this was a contemporary proposal, or whether the writer just dreamed this up, but either way I'm glad it never happened:
    Its becoming a part of the public preserve will make more feasible a road up the Oneonta trail, which would cross the Oneonta near a triple falls and approach the upper Horsetail falls before descending again at Ainsworth state park on the old Columbia highway.

As far as I can tell there's only one other bridge along Horsetail Creek. Which is something I always check, because all of my projects here end up with a long tail of things I do largely for the sake of completeness, and I need to know what completeness entails. So the other bridge is a nondescript railroad bridge just downstream/north of here, which may show up here at some point despite being nondescript. After that, the creek flows through wetlands and into Oneonta Creek, which passes under I-84 through a big concrete pipe and then flows into the Columbia. (I've actually been through said pipe, but that's a story for a whole other blog post). And upstream of here, the Horsetail Falls Trail #438 doesn't need any bridges, since it gets to the other side of the creek by going behind Ponytail Falls. Much further upstream, the Horsetail Creek Trail #425 crosses a couple of forks of the creek; it's a long sorta-backcountry trail through the Hatfield Wilderness, so I imagine you just ford the creek when you come to it. I've never hiked that trail and am not 100% sure, but it stands to reason.

Updated: Turns out the secret pipe to Oneonta Beach is not as secret as I thought; there's a Curious Gorge page about it, which means it's also in their hardcopy guidebook. It also turns out the pipe has changed since I was last there; a summer 2013 Forest Service project reworked it and the nearby wetlands area to make it less hostile to baby salmon. It makes sense in retrospect, but I hadn't realized the wetlands at the foot of Horsetail & Oneonta Creeks are largely artificial, created when I-84 was built on fill out into the river, and the state did a rather poor job of it back in the 60s. A 2015 article about the project said things were looking up as of then. The plan was to monitor it for four years afterward (i.e. thru 2017), but I haven't seen any more recent updates about how things turned out.

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