21 Segment 7-D (Kerr Notch to Sun Notch)

History of Rim Drive, Crater Lake National Park


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Construction of Rim Drive


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Segment 7-D (Kerr Notch to Sun Notch)

Formal adoption of the so-called “combination line” in December 1935 pushed BPR to finalize plans to locate Rim Drive between Kerr Notch and Sun Notch. Instead of “skirting” Dutton Ridge as the official press release had claimed, the road location required major cuts on both sides. The large amount of excavation anticipated caused BPR to split 7-D into two grading contracts, with 7-D1 originally projected to encompass about 2.7 miles from Kerr Notch to a point on the south side of Dutton Ridge where the road would crest. The lowest bid on this first contract, one that required a staggering 176,000 cubic yards of excavation, was rejected in July 1936 since it was considerably above the engineer’s estimate. The need to make an award within existing allotments led to another advertisement for bids a month later, this time with the distance of 7-D1 reduced to just over 2 miles. The contract went to Orino Construction of Spokane, who then set up camp on Sand Creek in Kerr Valley and began its clearing operations. Dunn and Baker, meanwhile, won the contract for grading the next 2.9 miles of road. This included both 7-D2 (which ran from the end of Orino’s contract on Dutton Ridge over to Sun Notch) and the adjoining 7-E1. They could do little more than establish camp on Vidae Creek before the construction season came to an end.

With the grading contract for 7-D1 estimated to be some 70 percent excavation, Lange warned that the job required extremely careful measures to protect trees. He made special reference to fill material, which could escape in areas dominated by long and continuous slopes. With blasting operations imminent in July 1937, Lange described how the ground cover of willows and other plants located beyond the grading line were already being struck by falling material. It upset him enough to write that the location for 7-D should never have been approved because of the resulting damage, though this sentence was subsequently scratched out on his report.

Blasting by Orino over the next few weeks gave Lange and resident engineer Struble almost opposite impressions. Whereas Struble described the contractor’s progress as unsatisfactory due to extreme care taken with type “B” excavation, Lange wrote about Orino permitting a number of excessive shots not in accordance with instructions from BPR. Slides traveled, he observed, far below the necessary line of repose. This damaged trees to such an extent that the majority had to be removed. Crews pruned trees where blasted material hit their tops, while cuts were treated with creosote if the damage did not require removal. Lange gradually prevailed upon Struble to require Orino to protect trees in subsequent blasting by shooting with less powder. The difficulty of grading in such terrain, however, made complete protection “almost impossible,” even when trees from the roadway were placed against those situated below the grading line.

Cuts represented another aspect of rough grading that detracted from what Lange had described as an area that was “originally admired for its stately and primitive character.” One of these measured approximately 145′ to the roadbed from the crest of the cut, causing falling rocks to be a constant danger due to so much loose material on Dutton Cliff. An “epidemic” of minor accidents kept the park physician busy, such that Leavitt noted that the men hired by Orino seemed especially prone to broken ribs. Not only were equipment operators vulnerable, but also those men working on several hundred feet of hand placed retaining wall. Lange described the wall as necessary in order to give the roadway its designed width of 24′. He especially liked how it blended with the surroundings from the point above Kerr Notch, writing that the massive rocks obtained in the cuts were well selected for color and uneven faces.

The difficulties encountered by Orino in grading 7-D1 during the 1937 season (his crews consumed more than 60 percent of the allotted time, yet completed only a third of the job) contrasted markedly with how Dunn and Baker fared in 7-D2. The south and west sides of Dutton Ridge and the area above Sun Meadow required about 50 percent rock work, but the contractors found it easier than what engineers had estimated. Progress on grading 7-D2 stood at almost full completion by October 1937, with only finish grading and some landscape details expected for the following season. Lange identified “very little” damage to trees, either in burning those cleared from the roadway or during grading operations. He described how log cribbing used on this job reduced injury to standing trees and noted that the contractors retrieved all of the rocks passing beyond the desired point of repose at the toe of each fill.

Lange seemed particularly pleased with the masonry features along 7-D2, making special reference to what later became known as “spillways,” in his season-ending report for 1937. He included a photograph showing a floor laid to catch run off derived from continual seepage on slopes, to be connected with culverts as part of cross drainage. The masonry component of this grading contract was otherwise limited to building culvert headwalls, most of which appeared along the south side of Dutton Ridge, where snowmelt created seasonal drainage.

Rim Drive
East Rim Drive along Dutton Cliff with the Pinnacles Road below it.

Guardrails were to be part of the surfacing contract, but Lange could not help noticing how the road location he so heavily criticized opened some fine views along this section of Rim Drive. After securing topographic data from BPR, he prepared sketches for parking areas like Sun Notch along 7-D2. The parking areas became part of finish grading in 1938, as did additional bank sloping and covering a portion of the scar on Sun Grade with dark soil.

Orino completed most of the rough grading in 7-D1 during the 1938 season, but all of the time allotted for the contract had long since elapsed. A somewhat sympathetic Lange explained that the number and size of the retaining walls needed along the eastern side of Dutton Ridge justified a contract extension. The hand placed walls begun in 1937, for example, were placed on each end of a masonry wall to span one of the fills. Others required masonry walls roughly 25′ in height, with one noteworthy example exceeding twice that measurement.

The fills settled sufficiently for construction of masonry guardrail to move forward as part of the grading contract for 7-D1 during the 1939 season. Lange expressed some hesitancy in allowing Orino to extract rock from the Watchman for some 3,000 lineal feet of guardrail, but he and Leavitt relented once the contractor agreed to use a heavy crane for obtaining material. This method eliminated new “tote” roads and other construction impacts associated with reopening a quarry that had been “restored” since 1936. Struble thought the guardrail component was especially well organized during the summer of 1939, especially since the masons had completed the job by August 20. Lange saw the rock selection and workmanship as very good, commenting on how the guardrail had been introduced to “best advantage, resulting in varying curves to fit the terrain.”

In his season-ending report for 1939, Lange called the provisions for protecting the landscape in 7-D1 “commendable” despite his misgivings about the road’s location. Damaged trees were removed, pruned, or had cuts created by flying rock treated with creosote. Other measures included special planting on slopes below the fills so as to reduce future damage from rock fall on the East Entrance Road, as well as some fairly extensive bank sloping and regrading as part of old road obliteration around Kerr Notch. Several small items had to be deferred to future contracts, with one example being Lange’s proposal to plant the areas adjoining each of the three spillways in 7-D1 so as to better “reproduce” the natural stream bed adjoining the road.

After inviting bids for surfacing 7-D along with segment 7-E in August 1939, BPR awarded the contract to Orino several weeks later. Although largely devoid of landscape items, this job included a provision for building more than 300 cubic yards of masonry guardrail in 7-D2. The contract centered on producing aggregate for the next two phases of construction, so Orino set up a rock crushing plant in June 1940 not far from the camp he occupied along Sand Creek during the grading contract.

The nearby quarry yielded enough rock for a base and top course of surfacing material and some 27,000 tons of aggregate to be stockpiled for future paving of the remaining segments of Rim Drive. This “leg up” approach to paving left a mere $70,000 needed for plant mix, labor, and equipment to place a bituminous surface on segments 7-C1, 7-D, and 7-E. The paving job represented the final piece after the government had spent a little more than $2 million in contracts for building Rim Drive since 1931. Difficulties with obtaining equipment for the rock crusher, however, hindered progress on the surfacing contract so that production of aggregate was not completed until September 1941. In the mean time, the contractor applied a “double prime bituminous surface treatment” to the unsealed roadbed as a temporary measure for carrying traffic until such time that actual paving took place.

American involvement in World War II allowed for only enough funding to remove slides that resulted during the winter of 1941-42. With paving put on indefinite hold, the suggested treatment of the parking areas became a forgotten item. Lange used a photo to depict one such stopping place in 7-D1 as part of his final report at Crater Lake for 1939. With the masonry guardrail completed, he remarked that the parking areas should be given a lighter color finish than that of the road.