Challenge, Breaking, Paving,
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
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
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
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
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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