Dec 05

Southern Pacific builds Stenner Creek Bridge, Cuesta Grade construction on the Coast Line

Illustration from the Tribune's Souvenir Edition from May 1894 showing construction of the Stenner Creek Bridge on the Coast Line of the Southern Pacific.

The Thompson Bridge Company of San Fransisco was  at Stenner Creek, building a structure that caused sense of wonder in the little cow county. People would drive out from San Luis Obispo in their horse and buggy or walk from town to see the magnificent structure take shape. They would see steel being lifted into the sky by a steam crane. Workmen, 40 in number, scurried to rivet beams into place. A temporary side track with a stationary engine helped move heavy construction materials to the site. At the time this would have been likely the tallest structure in the county, over eight stories from the bottom of the creek to the bridge deck. Southern Pacific Railroad would soon be serving San Luis Obispo.

The Polyland says the span is 950 feet wide and 85 feet tall with foundations sunk an additional 25 feet below grade. My research shows the first train arriving May 5, 1894.

(Over a decade later vice-president of the firm, James Thompson, was badly wounded by a robber who tried to steal the payroll. Thompson was downed in an exchange of gunfire and the bag of $5,000 in coins was soon recovered as reported in the April 17, 1909 San Jose, Evening News. Criminals apparently weren’t any smarter in the early twentieth century. The robber tried to escape in his horse drawn buggy and was overtaken by pursuers in a car.)

From the San Luis Obispo Morning Tribune:

April 20, 1894

Further details about the Great Steel Bridge at Stenner Creek.

The stream of  visitors to the Stenner creek bridge is continuous. One visit is not sufficient, but they all want to go a second time.
At 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon, six days from the start the bridge was half completed. Superintendent Crossfield says, “the last half will go up at a livelier pace than the first, because you see, we are getting our hand in as we go along. This is the first bridge of the kind we ever built. Do you see that traveler? It is our own (Thompson Bridge Co.) design, and the only one of the kind in existence. It only weighs fifteen tons, while those in common use are twice the weight. It will handle as heavy work as any of them, and is much more handier on account of its lightness.”
Forty men are at present employed—the raising gang in the lead, followed by three gangs of riveters. The bridge is 931 feet long and will contain, when complete, 7900 rivets. It is not put together with bolts, as many people suppose, but on the contrary, no bolts are used except those which connect the steel columns with the granite pyramids and six or eight which are used in each expansion plate connecting the steel girders. The rivets are heated very hot and headed with sledges.
The bridge will be completed to the highest point on Sunday. Mr. Crossfield on being asked if they would work on Sunday next said, “we won’t if we can possibly help it.” But on his attention being directed to the large number of people who would visit the scene on that day and the great disappointment which would be occasioned in the event that they did not work, he said, “you can tell them to come, the work will go on.”
The TRIBUNE scribe was taken to task by Mr. Crossfield for mentioning the fact of Mr. Reardon getting in a slight fall the other day. But on being told that the TRIBUNE did not hurt the man, and that it had him at work again yesterday, he cooled down somewhat. He added, however: “We were engaged for over eighteen months in building the wharf at Santa Monica, a job exceedingly more dangerous than this, and had employed all the time from 80 to 125 men and not one of the got as much as a scratch.”

May 25, 1894

The Rails Laid to Within a Short Distance of Town.

Saturday night finds the contracts for grading close to completion. The rails are down nearly or quite to the “big fill” and the road practically completed and ballasted to that point. The fill itself was to have been finished last evening, and there is but little to be done between that point and the Stenner creek bridge. That structure is in some fifty or more cars scattered along the road, but chiefly between Templeton and the mouth of the tunnel. The coming week will see the institution of the work on the bridge, and two weeks thereafter, more or less will see the bridge in place. In the meantime all the work on the road between the bridge and the end of the pending contract, say two miles beyond the southern limits of the town, will have been finished as far as the tracks and sidetracks are concerned. There will of course, be roundhouses, depot buildings, etc., to make which will take months do but that will have nothing to do with the contractors. Those gentlemen, Messer. Stone & Co., and from present appearances they will have the duty of continuing the good work beyond the present limits, will within the next week or two move their camps below town taking with them the largest and most valuable part of their working force. All indications at present point to a continuation of the work south without any cessation whatever. In that event, in a few months more the travel from Santa Barbara north to this point will come by a short stage route from Ellwood. It is interesting to note in this connection the largely increased travel through here induced by the prospect of early railroad communication. Our hotels are quite crowded with tourists and others who appear to be full of curiosity as to the lands of this section and the coming chances for business. We will be able to satisfy them.

May 26, 1894

It Is Positively Certain That Trains Will Leave Here for San Francisco May 5.

…Yesterday evening there remained to be completed of the Stenner creek bridge about seventy feet. Half the last tower is to be raised this morning and the rest of the bridge is a matter of a day or so.
The contractor says that by Friday noon the work will be completed, that is all parts of the bridge will be in place. All that will then remain to be done will be to put the ties and rails into position, and that will be done by Monday night. At that time the bridge will be ready for delivery and the passenger trains may cross if they are ready to do so. With the completion of the bridge nothing remains to be done except to lay the rails from that point into town, a distance of about three miles. If necessary that could be done in as many days. It will not then be a matter of any difficulty to have the passengers arrive in the depot grounds on the 5th of May, and we may safely assume that they will be there.

The biggest party the town ever threw was about to happen.

Related posts:

  1. Finding the lost bridge: Building the Stenner Creek Bridge part 1
  2. Southern Pacific Daylight Cuesta Grade
  3. Southern Pacific Lark trains collide on Cuesta Grade
  4. Pacific Coast Railroad Bridge, Avila Beach 1966
  5. Avila Truss Bridge No. 5 Pacific Coast Railroad