Engineer's Book Project Spans History of Oregon Coast Bridges

Article excerpt

Byline: Lewis Taylor The Register-Guard

Ray Bottenberg didn't plan on becoming an author. The 41-year-old bridge engineer with the Oregon Department of Transportation says the opportunity simply presented itself.

"I discovered that there was this collection of photos that were taken back when the (Oregon) coast bridges were built," Bottenberg recalls. `The pictures were good quality and it was a really, really good subject. My first thought was `Why didn't somebody do a book on this?' After kicking it around a bit, I figured I should.'

The result, "Bridges of the Oregon Coast," is a 127-page pictorial history book that documents the building of six monumental bridges built during the 1930s. Eugene author Joe Blakely wrote the book "Lifting Oregon Out of the Mud," about the construction of the Oregon Coast Highway, but Bottenberg says a history of the major bridges of the Oregon Coast had yet to be written.

The first of the bridges in Bottenberg's book to be completed was the Rogue River Bridge at Gold Beach, which opened in late 1931. Five other bridges - Yaquina Bay, Alsea Bay, Siuslaw River, Umpqua River and Coos Bay - were constructed simultaneously between 1934 and 1936 using Public Works Administration funds during the Great Depression.

A massive undertaking that required 2.1 million man-hours, 54,000 cubic yards of sand, 10,000 cubic yards of gravel, Bottenberg says construction of the five bridges served to do away with an overloaded bay and river ferry system and turn Highway 101 into a seamless thoroughfare that stretched from California to the Washington border. The bridges caused a 72 percent increase in tourism and capped the achievements of famed Oregon engineer Conde McCullough, the designer of hundreds of bridges throughout the state.

"McCullough's big thing was building economical but aesthetically beautiful bridges, Bottenberg says. "It's reflected in what's out there (on the Oregon Coast)."

Bottenberg includes a glossary in his book with terms such as "cartouche" - an ornamental scroll-like figure - and "donkey" - a steam-powered hoisting engine that was commonly used in logging and found to be useful in bridge building. The narrative unfolds chronologically, starting with the construction of the Rogue River Bridge, and the photo-heavy book includes more than 200 black-and-white images shot by an unknown photographer.

"We don't know the name of the photographer, but he worked for the highway department," Bottenberg says. …