The Rainier Bridge



— Governor Norblad, at the dedication of the bridge on March 29, 1930, declared that he was proud to be numbered among those who envisioned a bridge across the river back in 1919. Norblad at that time, as an Oregon state senator, introduced a bill to provide for an appropriation for a bridge across the Columbia river between Portland and the sea.


February 7, 1921 — An Oregon senate bill introduced by State Senator A. S. Norblad of Astoria authorized the state highway commission to make a survey for a bridge across the Columbia river between Portland and the sea. [It was reported later that not much statewide attention was paid to that resolution, although it was reported in the paper. It was also stated that the Washington legislature would not even give the matter consideration, so the movement at that time failed of its purpose.]


January 26, 1923 — The Oregon state highway commission, through their engineer, Herbert Nunn, has made a report on the construction of a proposed interstate bridge spanning the lower Columbia river, in accordance with an act passed by the legislature of 1921, requesting that a preliminary survey be made to determine the most feasible location for two types of construction, one to be a foot and vehicular and the other, a vehicular and railroad bridge.

The idea was that the bridge would be located in the vicinity of Cathlamet or as near the Pacific ocean as possible, but the state highway engineers have found that the Rainier location has every point in its favor and has so recommended. …[One other site, that which spanned from Cathlamet Point on the Oregon side to the point on the Washington side known as Three Tree, was suggested, but this site presented such difficulties of construction that it ruled itself out of the report.]


The business men of Rainier quickly named A. L. Clark and A. E. Veatch as a committee to lobby for the bridge, fearing that if no one took an interest in the matter the import of the highway commission report would likely be filed away and forgotten. If action was not taken during the present session of the legislature it would of necessity have to be postponed until the next meeting of the legislature two years hence. Seventy five dollars was raised by subscription to cover whatever expenses the committee might incur. [Later it was claimed that only $10 of the $75 was spent.]

A meeting with Kelso interests was to be first arranged, in order that the combined influence of the two towns might be brought to bear in favor of the project, not only in Oregon but also in Washington.

A meeting was held with the executive heads of the Long Bell Company at Kelso at which time a line of action was agreed upon. The Long Bell Company sent their attorney, Mr. Tom Fisk, to Olympia where an effort was made to have a resolution passed providing for the appointment of a commission to confer with a like commission from Oregon, which commissions will have their reports and recommendations ready for the sessions of the legislature which would convene two years hence.

The Rainier committee went to Salem and endeavored to get a like resolution through the Oregon legislature.


February 23, 1923: The resolution providing for the appointment of a committee of three members of the Oregon legislature had passed both branches of the legislature and had been signed by Governor Pierce.


March 16, 1923: The Washington legislature also passed a resolution providing for the appointment of a commission of three members to meet with the Oregon commission and prepare a report on the feasibility of building an inter-state bridge between Rainier and Longview.


Friday, September 21, 1923: The matter of where the bridge will be located is one which is liable to cause contention to arise. It is certain that the Long Bell company will exert all its influence to have the bridge located at the foot of “Oregon Way,” the street which leads from the business section of Longview to the Columbia river. It appears that they have laid their plans with this idea in view. This would throw the bridge a full mile west of the western line of the townsite of Rainier. The people of Rainier are practically a unit in opposition to this location, as it is felt that the town of Rainier will derive very little, if any, benefit from the bridge should the Oregon Way site be recommended by the commissions.

The bridge could be built across the Columbia from a point in the town of Rainier, and a road could be constructed from the Washington side to both Kelso and Longview. With this plan, all parties would be given a square deal. Another plan will prove to be highly unsatisfactory to the people of Rainier.

September 22, 1923 — Longview-Rainier Bridge association formed.


Friday, September 28, 1923: At the interstate bridge meeting, held at Longview, Mr. Secrist, an attorney at Longview and apparent spokesman for the Long Bell interests, made a strong argument in favor of the bridge. He presented facts showing that during the month of August 24,199 cars crossed the river by ferry, and that the total number to date for the present year was 79,746. Mr. Secrist further stated that at the present time there are 15,000 people living within a radius of five miles from the proposed site of the bridge. He also pointed out the advantage of the bridge from a tourist’s standpoint.


Friday, October 19, 1923: That the Portland Chamber of Commerce will oppose the Rainier-Longview bridge is evident from a report accepted by the Portland chamber after sending a committee out to investigate the proposition thoroughly during the past two weeks. Their objections are based upon the perception that a bridge would obstruct river navigation, and related safety issues.



It has been a well known fact that Portland is violently opposed to the construction of the bridge; the reason that there might be “too much competition in bridges.” The Vancouver bridge is yielding a big surplus which is going into the coffers of Clarke county, Washington, and Multnomah county, Oregon, and it is quite natural that the beneficiaries do not like to have this revenue diminished.



Friday, November 9, 1923: The latest recommendation regarding the Rainier-Longview bridge proposition is still “no bridge” but this time a substitute is offered — a steel tube encased in concrete, placed under the bed of the Columbia river. Three prominent engineers of the Northwest are said to have recommended the tube as preferable to the bridge.

It is argued that such a plan would be far less expensive than a bridge, and that the underground crossing would remove the obstruction to traffic that has been the chief objection to a bridge at this point. This plan, it is pointed out, is used in England, where a similar tube crosses under the Mersey river.


Friday, February 29, 1924: That the Rainier-Longview site is the best ‘indicated location’ for a bridge is the belief of Joseph B. Strauss, of Chicago, noted American bridge builder who spent Monday in the Rainier-Longview vicinity inspecting the proposed site at the invitation of the Longview-Rainier Bridge association. The visit to the scene of the proposed bridge here was made while Mr. Strauss was on his way to Chicago, after having been in San Francisco, where he made preliminary plans for the great bridge across the Golden Gate, at the entrance of San Francisco bay.


Strauss believes that the construction of a bridge at this point is perfectly feasible, and that the engineering problems involved would not be difficult.


Strauss estimated the cost of the bridge at about $6,000,000 but suggested private capital as a means of financing the project.

“The traffic which it now offers should make it, as a toll bridge, an exceedingly attractive investment for private capital and I believe this method, because it is quicker, would be more desirable than to build it at public expense,” said Strauss in a subsequent interview in Portland. “The financial success of the interstate bridge at Vancouver is widely known and has created nation wide confidence in the profits of a bridge built in the even more logical position between Rainier and Longview.”


February 20, 1925: According to advice given to the Portland Chamber of Commerce from Washington, D. C., committees of both the senate and house are pushing along the bill which would authorize construction of a bridge across the Columbia river between Longview, Wash., and Rainier, Ore.

Chamber officials said it seemed a frequent procedure with congress to act favorably on such bills for the reason that the ultimate decision as to whether or not a bridge may be built over a navigable stream rests with the war department.

The bill pertaining to the Longview-Rainier bridge contains the proviso that it must be approved by the war department under a law passed in 1906.

Portland interests, especially those connected with shipping, are opposed to construction of a bridge of any kind across the Columbia river below this city. If the matter goes that far it is probable that a fight will be made before the war department to prevent erection of the proposed bridge.


Washington, D. C. Feb. 18, 1925 — Construction of a bridge over the Columbia river between Longview, Wash., and Rainier, Ore., was approved tonight by the senate.



Friday, October 2, 1925: The matter of an interstate bridge across the Columbia river just below Rainier is now up to the state highway commission of Oregon.

When the matter of a permit to build the bridge was before congress, Senator McNary of Oregon tacked on a proviso that before the bridge could be built the joint permission of the highway commissions of Oregon and Washington should be obtained.

The State Highway Commission of Oregon delegated its authority in the matter to the Port of Portland, thus virtually washing its hands of the matter, and leaving the decision as to whether or not there shall be a bridge between Rainier and Longview in the hands of the Portland Port commission.

Realizing that Portland was violently opposed to the construction of the bridge, proponents started another bill, known as the Jones- Johnson act, through congress that would eliminate the proviso of Senator McNary. They were able to convince congress that the intent of the original bill had been violated by the McNary amendment.

Under the Jones-Johnson act the decision to build the bridge was left in the hands of the secretary of war, the secretary of commerce, and the secretary of agriculture. Each departmental head, under the proposed congressional measure, must approve the character of the bridge which it is proposed to build. Separate hearings are to be held by each department.

Senator McNary was able to delay the Jones-Johnson act in congress by parlimentary procedure and dilatory tactics through one session. But in the next session congress approved the act.

Friday, December 17, 1926: Approval and passage of the Longview- Rainier interstate bridge was one of the surprises of the latter part of the week, when the United States senate by a vote of opposition to Senator McNary of Oregon, approved and passed the measure.

Friday, January 21, 1927: A longstanding fight came to a close in the house Friday with the passage without a recorded vote of a bill to grant authority for construction of a bridge across the river between Longview and Rainier.


When Portland was forced to yield on the highway department proviso it was considered to be an abandonment of the fight, as it is conceded on all sides that if the bridge is constructed in a way not to seriously affect navigation, the several departments will give their approval to the project.


Friday, November 11, 1928: On Saturday the three secretaries to whom was delegated by act of congress the authority to grant a permit to build a bridge across the Columbia river between Rainier and Longview, rendered a final decision and granted the permit.

The event closed a contest running over a period of nearly four years, during which time the promoters, Wesley Vandercook of Longview and W. D. Comer of Tacoma, have met with persistent and strenuous opposition from Portland interests which have sought to hinder and block the project at every turn.



December 28, 1928: Plans for the Longview-Rainier bridge, submitted by W. D. Comer of Seattle and Wesley Vandercook of Longview, the promoters, in accordance with the specifications laid down by a special commission of three cabinet officers, have been approved by Secretary of War, Davis.

The approval of the war secretary indicate that the plans fulfill all requirements as to height, clearance, distance between spans and other essentials determined a year ago by the secretaries of war, commerce and agriculture, acting jointly. Construction of the bridge can be begun now at any time, according to federal law.



The Columbia River Longview bridge has a cantilever span 1200 feet long and a clearance of 196.5 feet above mean low water of Columbia river. The maximum height above mean low water is 330 feet and the length, including wooden approaches, is 8289 feet.

Beginning with the Longview or north side, the bridge has 2620 feet of wooden approach trestle; two 40 foot and one 168 foot steel approach spans, a 760 foot anchor arm; a 1200 foot cantilever central span (which includes one 440 foot suspended span); a 760 foot anchor arm; two 337 foot, one 84 foot, one 168 foot and one 28 foot approach span; and 1800 feet of wooden approach trestle. It also requires 600 lineal feet of concrete paving on the Longview end and three fourths mile of paving on the Rainier end.

The roadway is 27 feet wide; there are two 3 foot sidewalks.

The bridge is designed for two 20 ton trucks passing abreast and for standard specifications of the American Association of State Highway officials. The main trusses are designed for 60 pounds per square foot of roadway and for 40 pounds per square foot of sidewalk. Secondary stresses were figured throughout. Carbon and silicon steel members are employed; the silicon being used where enough weight is saved to pay for its added cost.


The substructure contains 25,000 cubic yards of concrete, of which 20,000 cubic yards was a tremied 1:2:4 mix with one extra bag of cement per batch and 5000 cubic yards was a straight 1:2:4 mix, poured in the dry; 124,000 cubic yards of excavation; 350 tons of reinforcing and 63 tons of structural steel embedded in the concrete; one million board feet of timber cribbing; 10,000 cubic yards of riprap around piers; and 436 piling. There are 1100 cedar piling and four million board feet of local red fir in the timber approaches. The superstructure contains 12,500 tons of structural steel, of which about 6,000 tons was fabricated in the Bethlehem Steel company plant at Steelton, Pa., and the remainder in the Seattle plant of the Wallace Bridge and Structural Steel company.

October 13, 1928 — Pacific Bridge company starts excavation for piers.

October 16, 1928 — Bethlehem Steel company announces signing of contract to furnish steel.

October 27, 1928 — Cost of bridge announced at $5,800,000

October 30, 1928 — Wesley Vandercook announces financing completed and all contracts awarded.

January 5, 1929 — Three offices built at bridge site for Strauss Engineering company, Bethlehem Steel company and J. H. Pomeroy company.

April 15, 1929 — First piles for Oregon side approach driven.

April 24, 1929 — First piles for Washington side approach driven.

June 5, 1929 — First steel set on Oregon side.

June 27, 1929– First steel set on Washington side.

August 25, 1929 — Washington approach practically complete. Anchor span erection progressing.

February 13, 1930 — Steel of two sectors connected.

March 29, 1930 — Bridge dedicated.



February 21, 1930: The gap is closed. For weeks it has been growing steadily smaller and smaller, and almost each night it could be seen to be smaller than it had been that morning. Friday the first link of the actual process of closing the gap was put in place when a 28 foot steel cord was swung into place. But the gap in the structure was still visible. Monday it disappeared entirely, and the next act that remains now is the opening of the bridge that will link two states and two cities. …


While the piece of steel was being fastened in place with the giant pin, “Kid” Hutson trotted across the now bridged gap and thereby won for himself the distinction of being the first man to walk over the Columbia river below the Willamette. After the cord was in place Jack McDonald, superintendent of the Oregon side of the erection, and Enoch Gerrick, superintendent of the Washington side crew, stepped on the now rigid piece and shook hands. …


February 28, 1930: Formal dedication of the six million dollar Columbia River Bridge connecting Longview, Washington and Rainier, Oregon, will take place at two o’clock on the afternoon of March 29, [1930]. This highest highway span over a navigable stream in America will be opened when President Hoover presses the golden key in the executive offices at the White House. As the electric spark severs the bridge barrier in the center of the Columbia, thirty thousand motorists, moving in opposite traffic lines will pass over the great steel structure, which rises in its center span of 1200 feet, to a height of 196 feet. The chief executives of Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, and British Columbia will be present at the dedication. Specially decorated motor caravans, representing Chambers of Commerce, service clubs, and fraternal organizations, will be in line from all parts of the Pacific Coast. This bridge is another link of Pacific Highway, that gives the touring motorist direct route into Northwestern Oregon and the Oregon beaches over the scenic Columbia River Highway.


Our bridge is here; by Cripes, we got her;
She stands up high above the water.
Let’s clap our hands and give a cheer,
She’s made of steel from pier to pier.

Her manly form the river spans,
She’s built to carry every clan,
The Scotch, the Irish, Swede and Finn
And all the rest she can rope in.

So let us cheer and wave a flag,
It gives our town a powerful drag.
Forget your troubles, grab a horn
And boost the berg where you were born.

Why grouch and cuss and get het up?
Come to the feat and drink your cup
And let your joys be undefiled.
Go to the place where the money’s piled.

Let’s holler and beller and fairly go bugs;
Get out your guns and fill them with slugs,
Grease up your Lizzie and fill her with gas,
Hit for the bridge and park on the grass.

Now hold down your horn till the juice is low,
Get a new battery and continue to blow,
Shout your dang head off and spoil your voice,
The party that owns it likes to see you rejoice.

But we got our bridge, let’s whistle and sing,
We know a fortune to us it will bring.
We have lost our lots but still have a hall,
So go to the bridge and holler and bawl.

We know she landed a little below
Our dear Fossil Town where the blackberries grow
But don’t let this worry you for a minute;
Just grab for your music; let’s all get in it.

Let’s whistle, toot and throw a spell,
Beat your tom-toms and just raise Hell.
This side of the river the bridge has a bend —
Longview, you know, gets the paying end.

So let us go crazy and pull our hair,
We don’t have to keep the thing in repair.
You own that bridge; you do like Hell;
And you won’t, either, till after a spell.

Lewis and Clark paddled their little canoe
On the waters over which this monster grew.
They’d throw a fit and both turn blue
If they saw this bunch and the prize they drew.

–E. P. Dove
Marine Iron Works
Rainier, Oregon



March 28, 1930: The much discussed question of tolls over the new bridge will not cause any worry tomorrow, at least. For, on the opening day, from the time of the formal opening until midnight, there will be no tolls. All motor and pedestrian traffic will be free, in order that all those who wish may see the bridge at close range and actually drive over it on the day of its dedication.

Promptly at midnight, however, taking of the tolls will begin, and will continue day and night. In the meantime, all who wish to have the experience of driving over the bridge without paying the toll must do so tomorrow afternoon and before midnight.

[It cost a dollar for an automobile to cross the bridge. Pedestrians were charged $0.10. A pass book could be purchased at a slightly reduced rate.]




April 4, 1930: To attempt an elaborate news account of the dedication of the bridge across the Columbia river between Longview and Rainier which took place Saturday afternoon would require more space than we can give, although this important event deserves more than the usual space accorded more than ordinary events.

The crowds surpassed all expectations. The number of automobiles which crossed the bridge from the hour of its opening until midnight was 11,327 and there were a great many in both Longview and Rainier which did not cross due to the traffic jam which required hours to make the trip across. Cars were in line from Rainier east as far as Goble, so great was the jam. On the Washington side it was fully as bad.

Promptly at 2 o’clock President Herbert Hoover pressed the button in Washington, D. C. which formally opened the great structure to traffic. Governors Hartley and Norblad of Washington and Oregon respectively, were at the center of the span and each made short but pointed addresses.

The bridge was christened by Mrs. J. J. Tynan, who forgot to bring her bottle so as to perform the stunt in the approved manner. …

Governor Norblad of Oregon was introduced as a guest speaker. He cited the bridge as a symbol of the progress and growth of mankind and declared that he was proud to be numbered among those who visioned a bridge across the river back in 1919.

“Here on the Pacific coast will someday be the front door, instead of the back door of America.”
— Governor Norblad

“Bridges of this kind are rapidly aiding in bringing the west into its own. It represents the dawn of a better era.”
— Governor Norblad



April 11, 1930: The county court at its April session placed the limit on which speeders can cross the Longview bridge at 20 miles per hour. This applies to the Oregon side of the bridge.


March 20, 1931: Finding an abandoned Ford roadster, lights still burning, Tuesday morning [March 17, 1931] when the first bus came over the bridge on the Longview Rainier run was linked with a suicide note left in his Portland home by Wilfrid Hill, and after a close check had been made authorities came to the conclusion that Hill had driven down here, left his car on the bridge and leaped from the structure to his death in the water below. ..No attempt was made to drag for the body, as it is believed that if Hill jumped into the river he fell in midstream, where the current is so swift that the body would have been borne down the river hours before the deed was discovered.


“It cost a dollar for a passenger vehicle to cross the bridge, ten cents just to walk across. Two dollars a day out of your paycheck if you worked across the river. Some guys rode over on a ferry — some would car pool – trying to beat the bridge toll.”
— Ed Rea

“For a long time I thought our middle name was Weyerhaueser. My Grandpa worked there as did my uncles and my father. They rode across the river on a ferry. [Someone] — used a steel bottomed boat as a ferry and crossed the river from a landing down below the bridge at Dibblee’s point. They crossed the river in all kinds of weather. They could run a compass course in the fog and hit the dock on the other side every time.
— Dick Jenkins

“Jeff Barton ran the ferry across to Weyerhauser from Dibblee’s Point. He made every trip using the compass so he could cross the river in any kind of weather. ‘Mac’ McCollom ran the ferry over to Long Bell and to the Fibre for many years. That was the ‘Elsinore’ ”
— Ed Rea

“A fellow by the name of LaFitte modified his pickup by putting bench seats down each side of the box. He had a canopy over the box for a shelter. Eight guys could ride in the back and two more in the front. We each gave him a pedestrian ticket (ten cents) to pay the bridge toll.”
— Lex Rea

“Art Anderson put a canopy on his pickup and a bunch of us rode across the river with him. We would meet down by where the tobacco shop is now — park there — and ride across the river with Art.”
— Ed Rea


“During the war the army stationed soldiers by the bridge to protect it from sabotage. They had a building on the Oregon side and would ride across with every car, rain or shine. If there wasn’t room inside the car they would hang on outside and ride the running board. ”
— Dick Jenkins

“They held war games down in West Rainier. They had plywood tanks and gun emplacements set up. I used to go down and watch.”
— Dick Jenkins

“They wouldn’t allow any explosives on the bridge — they even confiscated some twenty-two shells I had in the car.”
— Ed Rea

“At night they enforced a blackout. You weren’t supposed to use any lights on your car. One time Jess Perkins turned his lights on to orient himself – he couldn’t see to drive – and a soldier boy stepped up and broke out the headlights with the butt of his gun. All the soldier said was: ‘Now I guess you’ll drive with your lights out.’ ”
— Ed Rea



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