Monday, September 1, 2014

Stenner Creek Bridge - A Snippet of California History

When I first saw the Stenner Creek Bridge I was amazed that such a marvelous example of 19th century engineering existed in San Luis Obispo County.  I assumed the old bridge was no longer in use, as the steel trestle was heavy with rust, until a lengthy freight train passed over my head.  I had to know more about this trestle bridge.

The year was 1889 - The Southern Pacific Railroad had reached as far south as Santa Margareta.  Ahead loomed the Santa Lucia Range of rolling hills with the steep Cuesta Grade.  A typical trip from San Luis Obispo to Templeton took eight hours over the grade, needless to say the railroad was eagerly anticipated.

Between 1893 and 1894 workers, primarily Chinese, blasted 1,100,000 cubic yards of rock to create six tunnels, the longest 3,610 ft.  Crews worked 12 hour days, six days a week for $30 - $35 a month.

The final challenge for the Southern Pacific was crossing the broad expanse of Stenner Creek.  The Thompson Bridge Company of San Francisco was contracted to build a 950 foot trestle bridge, 80 feet above the creek bed; the bridge was designed and manufactured in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
March 24, 1894, four cars laden with steel arrived in Templeton, fifty more loads were on the way.  Each part was numbered and ready to be assembled.  The foundations for this massive steel structure  were huge square granite piers as shown in the below photo.  The piers were mined from San Luis Mountain, also know as Madonna Mountain.  
 April 15, 1894, work on the bridge began.  Officials from Southern Pacific said, on May 5th a Southern Pacific Train would arrive in San Luis Obispo at 6:05 P.M.  A huge celebration was planned for the train's arrival.  May 3, the Stenner Creek Bridge had been completed, but 10,000 feet of track had yet to be laid.  Gangs of men went to work laying a hundred feet of track every five minutes.  Crowds of people watched in amazement. By evening the job was finished and the next day the Southern Pacific arrived in San Luis Obispo, on time.  The celebration lasted three days.
                     The Stenner Creek Bridge Has Been in Constant Use For 120 Years

Getting there: Stenner Creek Road is located on the East side of Hwy One in San Luis Obispo.  From the north take the first left turn after passing the California Men's Colony.  From the south turn right about one mile after passing Highland Drive.  Follow the road to the bridge

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