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NewThe Ridge Route Book - Now Available for online purchaseNew


Discovery, Find, Beginnings, Early, Challenge, Breaking, Paving, Residents, Tourists, Kelly's, Conclusion

Breaking ground on a new pass road

   A choice of four already existing routes was offered the Commission, and each was successively rejected. Soledad Canyon, the route of the Southern Pacific, was subject to frequent washouts. San Francisquito Canyon, the most westerly pass, was too steep and narrow. Boquet Canyon offered too many drainage problems. Mint Canyon was judged too long and costly.

    In their stead, the route chosen was practically a direct line between Newhall and Bakersfield. This proposed route went straight up to the top of the mountains where it would go mile after mile. Before 1914, there was not even a vestige of a trail near the proposed highway.

   Construction work on the Ridge Route started in 1914, with the 40 miles of heavy construction between Castaic School and the Los Angeles-Kern counties boundary divided into three contracts. Section B of Route 4 carried the highway from Castaic School a distance of 12.8 miles to a point halfway up the summit. This section was let to Mahoney Brothers, railroad contractors of San Francisco.

   Section C carried the road from the point left off by Mahoney for 14.5 miles farther, to the summit of Liebre Mountain. Section D was composed of the remaining 12.7 miles to the southerly border of Kern County. Sections C and D were assigned to Lee Moor Contracting Company, railroad and grading contractors of El Paso, Texas.

   It is noteworthy to mention that many early maps and documents refer to distance from or to the Castaic School.The late Jerry Reynolds, historian of the area, informed me prior to his passing that Castaic School was located on the southeast corner of the Lake Hughes Road and the Ridge Route, approximately where a fire station is currently located.

   Supplies were hauled in by mule team from railroad sidings in Newhall and Lancaster. Mule team scrapers called Fresno scrapers, were the primitive devices pulled by teams and manipulated by teamsters on foot. They gnawed their way through the mountains. In those days, the contractor who bid low on a highway job had to begin by purchasing a lot of horseflesh.

   Construction was started in the middle and pushed toward both ends. Grades were not to exceed six percent; however, several seven percent grades existed. One million cubic yards of earth were removed to complete the Ridge Route, with steam shovels brought in for larger cuts.

   One such evacuation was "Swede's Cut," also known as the "Big Cut" or "Culebra   Excavation." My extensive research shows them all, beyond a doubt, to be the same. Prior publications have suggested them to be separate sites, but this is not the case. The State referred to the cut as Culebra (Spanish for snake), probably because of the "snaking" of the highway across the top of the mountains. This cut was dug to a depth of 110 feet, the largest on the entire route.

    Although a Tehachapi-Mojave alignment, the Midway Route, would have been less expensive to build, it would have been much longer. The Ridge Route shortened the distance between Bakersfield and Los Angeles 58 miles, as compared with the old path over the Tehachapi. The new road was 24 miles shorter than by the way of Boquet Canyon. At a cost of $450,000, the unpaved road was opened to the public in October, 1915. The opening of the Ridge Route did not mean the elimination of the Boquet and Mint Canyon roads on the run to Bakersfield. Los Angeles County continued to maintain these roads.

   The Ridge Route reached its highest elevation of 4,233 feet on the Los Angeles side just south of Sandberg's Summit Hotel.

   The reason the roadbed followed the ridge contours was to save grading costs at a time when highway expenditures were tightly budgeted.  Due to the elevation and circuitous nature of the new highway, the speed limit was set at 15 miles per hour. The speed limit for heavier trucks with solid rubber tires was 12 miles per hour.

    There was no joke about the speed limit edict issued from the Sheriff's office. It was set at 15 miles an hour and vigorously enforced. It took about 12 hours driving time under normal conditions to make the Los Angeles to Bakersfield trip.

    Before the road was thrown open, the Automobile Club of Southern California was given only 24 hours notice to post warning signs along the new highway. The work for which two weeks had been allotted was accomplished between the glowing and dimming of the morning sun. From the instant a motorist set his wheels onto the Ridge Route he found himself in a forest of warning signs. It was the most gigantic feat of road sign posting ever achieved anywhere.  In only 36 miles there were 697 curves. Adding up all the turns it worked out that the motorist drove around 97 complete circles between Castaic and Gorman.  Considering the entire route of 48.31 miles, there are 39,441 degrees of curve, roughly equating to 110 complete circles.

    Unfortunately, the constant merry-go-round caused many motorists to lose the contents of their stomachs. The old Ridge Route was one of the most nerve-racking, perilous roads ever built. Thirty-two persons were killed on it between 1921 and 1928.

    Charlie Dodge of Bakersfield told me that trucks hauled heavy loads of pipe from Los Angeles to the oil fields in Bakersfield. One of the more dependable trucks was the four cylinder chain-driven Mack "Bull Dog." It had a stub nose and a large radiator which minimized boil-over. Unfortunately, the radiator was in close proximity to the cab, and the heat produced on the steep climb would encourage drivers to navigate their trucks from the running board.

   Motoring behind the slow pace of a fully loaded truck would test the patience of drivers. Some would attempt to pass, and the canyons below the road lay testament to their fate. For the truck drivers going down hill, it was vitally important to shift into the proper gear to control the descent, as the mechanical rear-wheel brakes would not stop a fully loaded truck.

   The most notorious curve on the road was Deadman's Curve, located .5 mile north of Fort Tejon.  The hillside below Deadman's Curve became known as the "junkyard" because it was so littered with the broken remains of cars that lost control on the downgrade curve.

   My 99-year old foster mother recalls traversing the Ridge Route in 1918 with her brother and sister on a trip to Yellowstone. They were in an Overland touring car with removable side curtains. Her brother was driving and her older sister sitting in the front passenger seat would lean out, attempting to peer around the blind curves for oncoming traffic.

   The road surface was rock and shale when it first opened, providing an excellent foundation for the temporary surface of oil and gravel. Road experts claimed the Ridge Route to be one of the most scientifically constructed mountain roads in the World. A comment of 1916 reads, '"The Ridge Route has already become a great and powerful influence in promoting the unity and integrity of hither to fore divided sections of the state, and in discouraging state division agitation."

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