I can still remember the first time I drove over one of the beautiful bridges that bejewel the Oregon Coast. A big fan of Art Deco design, I was immediately taken by the clean lines etched in concrete, the antique amber light coverings and the ornate metalwork that I came to learn was the stamp of the designer of most of the coast’s bridges.
Engineer Conde McCullough was born in 1887 and was at the height of his career during the two decades between 1920 and a1940, a fact that I learned at the Waldport Visitors Center and Bridge Interpretive Center.
Ironically, though the interpretive center is a fount of information and houses McCullough’s original drafting materials, engineering tools and typewriter, the Alsea Bay Bridge, visibwle through the center’s windows, is primarily a reconstruction.
Buster Pankey is a third generation Waldportian (I made that up), so was there in 1991 to see what probably ranks as the “second-most-famous thing blown up on the Oregon Coast.” If you don’t immediately know what the most famous is, Google “Oregon exploding whale.” Trust me, it’s worth it.
“Once the new bridge was done they didn’t dismantle the old one, they just blew it up,” Pankey said. “It was pretty cool but I was surprised the state let us do it that way.”
The Alsea Bay Bridge, Pankey explained, had fallen prey to a shortsighted use of easily obtained building materials.
“Had they not used local sand when building the bridge, it would still be standing,” he said.
“It was pretty wild for a while. There were signs telling you not to park under the bridge because of falling chunks of concrete. Luckily we were able to talk ODOT into keeping some of the structure because it was a really neat bridge.”
A process that came too late for Waldport’s span has saved most of the other McCullough bridges, including the Depoe Bay Bridge, the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport, the Cape Creek Bridge near Heceta Head and the Siuslaw River Bridge in Florence.
“Those bridges have been kept standing thanks to a process called cathodic protection,” Pankey said. “They send an electrical current through the steel parts and it keeps them from rusting.”
Though McCullough-designed bridges can be found in places like Grant’s Pass and Oregon City, 14 of the more than 20 he designed fall along Highway 101.