History of Rim Drive, Crater Lake National Park
Construction of Rim Drive
Segment 7-A (Rim Village to Diamond Lake Junction)
With roughly $250,000 allotted for grading just shy of 6 miles between Rim Village and the Diamond Lake Junction, BPR advertised for bids on May 1, 1931. P.L. Crooks Construction Company of Portland was awarded the contract and began work in June by establishing their camp near the Devil’s Backbone. Work proceeded quickly from Rim Village, with roughly one quarter of the job completed in only three weeks.
The contractor’s workforce of ninety men (increased to 125 by mid-July) soon began to encounter rougher terrain, where blasting and other means were needed to move more than 50,000 cubic yards of rock per mile. Just the first four rock cuts (which averaged 35′ in depth) consumed over half of the estimated 150,000 pounds of powder as needed for the entire job. The remaining seven cuts were not thought to be so difficult, with the exception of one running by the Watchman Overlook that measured over 90′ deep.
In early July, the NPS made note that four steam shovels were working to widen the existing road while “every effort” went toward retaining “as much of the natural beauty of [this] section as possible.” One of the measures taken limited the contractor to small quantities of powder when blasting, thus throwing rock into the roadway rather than the “right of way.” This method facilitated more effective debris removal by truck and reduced the length of fill faces, while preserving vegetation. Crews dug trenches at the toe of fills to hold rocks from rolling further down slope, and protected tree trunks with planking to prevent injury from flying rocks. The contractor later modified this practice through using worn truck tires, placing one on top of the other around tree trunks. This practice protected the trunk on all sides and allowed crews to move the tires from one rock cut to another as blasting progressed.
With all of the anticipated blasting and rock removal, the NPS tried to warn potential visitors about finding “some inconvenience” and advised them to take the “east drive” in preference to the west, even forecasting that the latter might be closed for two week intervals beginning in August. Despite this gloomy prediction, traffic flow on the west rim remained “unhampered” throughout the season. Much of the reason lay in constructing contiguous cuts and fills in half sections, thereby permitting the passage of vehicles. The project even allowed inauguration of the Rim Caravan that summer, a regularly scheduled excursion conducted by ranger naturalists that featured half of its sixteen stops within the first 6 miles of road beyond Rim Village.
By November 1, the job stood at approximately 75 percent complete. This was despite utilizing “as much hand labor as possible” to help alleviate local unemployment problems. Two of the heaviest cuts (one being around the Watchman Overlook) remained for the 1932 season, yet the four months spent on the job that summer did not quite bring it to completion. Aside from some finish grading, most of the remaining work related to landscape items. These, however, remained limited in comparison to subsequent grading contracts on other segments of Rim Drive. Old road obliteration, for example, took place only where abandoned sections touched on the new roadway. Consequently, long pieces of the old Rim Road remained plainly visible from high points such as the Watchman or Hillman Peak.
This somewhat patchy approach to landscape work also applied to the masonry items. Whereas the contractor saw the culvert headwalls to completion, only 250 yards of retaining wall and guardrail were built. The latter work during the grading contract came on the Watchman grade, where the NPS had the most concern for safety. The need for additional masonry wall along the road margins commanded sufficient attention, such that the NPS referred to the next contract as “Surfacing and Guardrail” when BPR advertised for bidders in the summer of 1932.
West Rim Drive is shown below (at left); the route of its predecessor, the old Rim Road– is now part of a hiking trail along the rim.
Although a surfacing contract was awarded that fall, the successful bidder (Homer Johnson Company of Portland) did not begin work until August 1933 due to a record snow year. Barely two months elapsed before the onset of winter suspended the job, but unusually dry conditions allowed work to resume in April 1934. It proceeded quickly enough for final inspection of the surfacing to take place less than six months later, mainly because the Johnson plant produced 550 tons of crushed rock per day.
A subcontractor, Angelo Doveri of Klamath Falls, handled construction of the guardrails. The resident landscape architect for the season of 1934, Armin Doerner, described a slow start during the late spring and early summer. He found that different workmen each tried to express “his own ideas about masonry,” so it proved difficult to obtain “a uniform type of wall” at first. When Doerner and the BPR inspector finally agreed on the style wanted, the work improved and proceeded at a faster pace. Sargent and Doerner agreed to the locations of the walls, starting with two relatively short ones near Rim Village and another of some 500′ in length at the Discovery Point Overlook. By the final inspection in October, Doerner thought the guardrails had a “very pleasing” appearance aside from some imperfections. One was the trimming, which made it difficult to obtain the specified amount of weathered surface. Achieving the desired variety of color in the walls became problematic when quarrying all of the rock from the same locality.
The surfacing contract did not include enough funding to provide masonry guardrail to line the outer edge of each viewpoint, nor at the road margin where 7-A had been located along a precipice. Engineers tried to mitigate the latter problem by banking the road toward the inside slope, as they did along parts of the Watchman grade. The lack of guardrail, however, became even more noticeable at the Diamond Lake Overlook near Hillman Peak, a viewpoint whose outer edge had initially been delineated with irregularly spaced boulders having jutted ends. Its appearance put this substation markedly out of character with the rest of Rim Drive, so Lange prevailed on a CCC crew who partly buried treated logs to line the outer edge of the overlook in 1936. Each of the logs was hewn at its ends to provide better visual transition when spaced at regular intervals, since Lange hoped to bring weathered boulders to the site and alternate them with the logs. This treatment represented something of a stopgap measure in the absence of masonry guardrail, but it functioned as a better alternative than more crude barriers.
Doerner criticized another flaw in the surfacing phase of road construction in 7-A in 1934. He took aim at certain daylighted cuts (ones where equipment created open areas devoid of vegetation) that became pullouts once they had been surfaced with crushed rock. Not only were these unintentional additions superfluous since plenty of stopping places had been provided in the plans, but their appearance was so unsightly that Doerner wanted the surface material removed. He wrote that these flat areas should be allowed to grow over with a natural ground cover, since apparently there was no way to haul additional material to these sites and obliterate the pullout by bank sloping. The only obliteration stipulated in the surfacing contract for 7-A aimed at removing the quarry and crusher site from view, along with cleaning up the camp located near Devil’s Backbone. Johnson’s reluctance to do the latter may have stemmed from plans that targeted some of the camp buildings being used for the paving phase of road construction during the summer of 1935.
BPR awarded the contract for paving 7-A to J.C. Compton of McMinnville, who then started giving the road a bituminous surface treatment. This job consisted of several steps, with the first being the spreading of aggregate (or “prime coat,” as Lange called it). The laying of a bituminous “mat” of at least 3″ in depth came next, one extending over the entire roadway and parking areas. Lange thought the black color of the mat fit “well with the surrounding country,” and remarked how it presented a “fine appearance in relation to existing natural features.” The last step in the paving contract started with application of a seal coat or wearing course to a width of 18′ in accordance with federal highway standards of 1932. Its black color was then altered with a fine coat of rock, which upon rolling and brushing, yielded what Lange called a “uniform medium gray color.” The contractor completed this step on segment 7-A by October 1935, but returned the following year to finish a related paving job (on the North Entrance Road, route 8) and restore the site of his construction camp located near Devil’s Backbone.
Road striping did not come until 1938, but was in accordance with earlier advice from Lange, who advised that a “yellow, or similar colored line” could serve the purpose. He did not favor a continuous line over the entire road, but rather use of the stripe on curves or other areas in need of such marking to insure the safety of motorists.