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Media Life: Iconic Auburn-area bridge turns 100

By: Gus Thomson Media Life
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AUBURN CA - Whatever you may want to call it, Placer County loves its Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge. Painted, photographed and just plain admired, the span that some dare to call “No Hands Bridge” has reached the spry old age of 100, with plenty of structural stability left in its concrete-arch frame. To celebrate the centennial of Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge (that’s the official name, although no train has rumbled over it since late 1941), an anniversary committee is putting on a virtual cornucopia of activities for rail buffs, bridge aficionados, history geeks and all the rest of us. The bridge’s birthday is today (March 23) and an invitation-only kick-off gala at Auburn Civic Center’s Rose Room will be unveiling a commissioned artwork, showing railroad artifacts, displaying dozens of paintings and art of the bridge, and premiering an electronic slide show. Saturday, the general public will get an opportunity to take part, with the same slide show and history presentation being put on at 1 p.m. at the State Theater in Downtown Auburn. The celebration doesn’t stop there, with the Native Sons of the Golden West dropping into the American River Canyon March 31 to the confluence and the bridge site. The group will also dedicate a commemorative plaque and give its blessing to a new interpretive walk and signage that are intended to shine the spotlight a little brighter on one of the historical and picturesque jewels of the Auburn State Recreation Area. State Parks Ranger Mike Lynch said the Native Sons provided funding to make the short but information-packed walk to the bridge and back possible. A kiosk near the current Highway 49 bridge over the American River holds a newly published guidebook for the self-guided tour, which includes an easy eighth-of–a-mile loop to the bridge. With estimates placing the number of vehicles passing by the bridge yearly at more than 6 million, Lynch said the new signs should provide passersby with a reason to stop, get out their vehicles, and check out what the canyon has to offer. Story started with tragedy It’s a big day for a bridge that was lauded as cutting-edge for its time but also got off to a tragic start. Built to ship limestone from the Cool quarry, part of the partially-completed span collapsed in November of 1911, killing three men. For almost 30 years, locomotives passed over 17 wooden trestles between Auburn and Cool. That came to an end in November 1941 and the tracks were removed to provide steel for the war effort. The bridge has been buffeted over the years by debris and logs during high-water storms and was threatened in the early 1990s when it was condemned as unsafe because of structural problems with its pillars. But a disparate combination of groups, including equestrians, environmentalists and former Republican congressman John Doolittle, raised a ruckus and came up with federal and private funding to shore the span up to earthquake safety standards. The Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge has been a story of survival and now it’s time to celebrate one of the area’s most beloved landmarks. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or (530) 852-0232. He also tweets about all things Media Life at A_J_Media_Life.