I read it two times, then three, a blurb in The Siuslaw News titled “Recycling the rails.” I could have easily missed it; my husband grabs a copy of the newspaper sporadically, an aside when picking up supplies at True Value. Serendipity had paid me a visit.
The ambiguous reference to “rails” had nothing to do with trains or even the high speed dune buggies common in a town encompassing part of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The “rails” under discussion were those belonging to Florence’s iconic and picturesque bridge.
As part of restoration efforts on the Siuslaw River Bridge, the original railings that line its edges (with the exception of the drawbridge section) would be removed and replaced. After first being allocated to public places within Florence city limits, the remainder of the old rails would be made available for purchase by the general public.
It was April 6. I immediately sent an inquiry to the specified contact at BRING Recycling. I was thrilled when my name was added to the “interested customer list.”
History and Restoration
The Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association published an informative Highway 101 history summary in March 2008 that covers Oregon Coast bridges. This includes interesting tidbits on the five Roosevelt New Deal bridges designed by Conde B. McCullough. The Siuslaw River Bridge is a member of this architectural quintet.
What amazes me most is the timeline in which these beautiful river and bay crossings were built. It took a mere two and a half years to design and construct all five bridges, a key milestone in completion of the Oregon Coast Highway. This aggressive timeline was achieved even in light of the edict to create the maximum need for labor: “When possible, workers were instructed to use hand tools instead of power tools.” Wow. In contrast, modern day restoration of the Siuslaw River Bridge will take three and a half years. Those 1930s work crews must have been highly motivated!
Planning and Waiting
Although my name was in the appropriate queue, it would be months before the railing was actually removed from the bridge. Preparing for the rail itself presented a unique challenge. Each aged concrete section was 28-foot long, weighing in at four to five tons. Yow! My husband and I identified a spot along a planter by our gravel driveway that seemed suitable and would be readily visible for our enjoyment.
In early November I received notice that bridge rail removal was eminent. Our rail was coming from the south end of the bridge, which seems appropriate since we live to its south. It was time to get our yard ready.
My husband worked with his friend, who among many skills is a landscape and excavator extraordinaire. Together they refined the plan, and a sturdy footing was prepared for the rail. Around the same time, I completed the BRING Recycling Bridge Rail Purchase Agreement. Payment was remitted a month later.
The space was ready, all paperwork in place. I was sincerely hoping for a pre-Christmas delivery, but it was stalled until after the holidays.
After months of waiting, the delivery truck pulled up to our house the morning of January 12. I watched and snapped photos from the second story of our home while my husband pointed and gestured to guide the experienced logger maneuvering our pieces of Siuslaw River Bridge rail into position – first a 14-foot section, then another of 28 feet. We were surprised at how the huge crane mounted atop the flatbed truck could achieve such precise placement.
The process went smoothly and quickly, but then I noticed one section was reversed. We were looking at the back side, not the front. Uh-oh. No worries, it could be turned 180 degrees.
Upon delivery the smaller rail section had been wrapped at one end with a piece of strapping. We learned during the rotation that the strap had anchored the rail cap, which was cut through during removal from the bridge. We watched in dismay as the rail cap came loose, weakening the entire structure. This set off a chain reaction: the footing cracked, and a pillar between two arches was smashed (this latter perhaps avoided if strapping, rather than chain, had been used). Over 80 years of weathering coastal climate and traffic vibration, only to crumble while being placed in our yard. So sad!
Even with the mishap, both rail sections are now placed as we desired. The 28-foot section is fully intact, but for the smaller piece my husband is left with his own bridge restoration project.
Future and Now
In addition to repair, concrete cleaning, strategic lighting, and collaborative planting are planned in order to highlight this special enhancement to our yard. Prior to these efforts, and even with its new wound, I’m exceedingly pleased with this distinctive addition to our home and proud to display a piece of Oregon Coast history.
Drive Across the Siuslaw River Bridge – virtually!