Redding’s Train Trestle
By Jon Lewis
Story and photos by Jon Lewis
Photo courtesy of Jim and Linell Smith
DURING his first few years in California, Bill Daniel’s only view of Redding was from 110 feet in the air. That’s because the filmmaker, photographer and artist – now based in Texas – was in the habit of riding freight trains that occasionally rumbled over the Redding trestle.
“It was the days before Google maps and cell phones, so the view from up there was the only look at the town,” Daniel said from his Houston home. “It made Redding really memorable. The bridge meant one of two things: It was the end of the beautiful ride through the mountains, or the relief that the hell-ride through the dusty valley was finally over and you were about to roll into the fabled Big Rock Candy Mountains. It was a spectacular passage, arcing through the air up on that thing.”
Daniel’s freight-hoppin’ days were in the mid-1980s when he was collecting images and footage for his documentary “Who is Bozo Texino?” The short film chronicles his search for the creator of a curious chalk moniker that showed up on the sides of railcars. The film was screened in Redding last fall.
The Redding railroad trestle has caught the eye of artists, passersby, railroad buffs and even golfers since 1939 when the viaduct was built. Stretching for 4,348 feet (eight-tenths of a mile), the trestle begins near the intersection of Riverside Drive and North Court Street, crosses the Sacramento River and neatly divides Lake Redding and Caldwell parks and follows the eastern border of Lake Redding Golf Course before terminating in the Sulphur Creek canyon area just west of North Market Street.
Erected by the American Bridge Company, the trestle is supported some 110 feet above the Sacramento River by three Warren truss spans (patented in 1848 by James Warren and Willoughby Monzani, a Warren truss is characterized by the alternately inverted equilateral triangle-shaped spaces). Elsewhere, steel plate girders atop truss towers support the railroad tracks.
Construction of Shasta Dam in the late 1930s, and the soon-to-be-rising waters of the new Shasta Lake, prompted construction of the trestle and the realignment of about 32 miles of Southern Pacific rail line.
An SP work train was the first to cross the just-completed trestle on Nov. 3, 1939, according to John Signor’s “Rails in the Shadows of Mt. Shasta.” The trestle went on to form the main artery for rail moving through Northern California and it also served as a handy footbridge for Redding-based workers heading north to help complete Shasta Dam.
The trestle proved its worth in short order when the Sacramento River flooded in late February 1940 and incapacitated Redding’s three existing bridges. Redding dairyman John Fitzpatrick recounted in a Shasta Historical Society publication how he used a railcar to get milk, cream, butter and eggs across the river to stranded customers.
As one would imagine, hiking across the trestle on foot was an intimidating affair. Responding to a query posted to the Real Western Pacific Railroad Facebook group, Phil Schmierer recounted a hair-raising repair job atop the trestle.
“It was really interesting one time coming north on the MWCEU (West Colton to Eugene) at 45 mph and as we were out directly above the water, we went in the ‘Big Hole’ (the emergency application of an air-brake valve) … by the time we stopped we were over the little golf course ... Then the real fun part was walking back with an air hose and brake pipe wrench on that narrow defile with only those two cables preventing you from joining the birds.
“Found the problem and was able to set the car out at the north switch. Walked the rest of the train to make sure everything was on the rail, which it was, and I caught the rear car, an empty Center Beam Flat. My engineer took me up to Silverthorn Siding and I walked back to the head end and thankfully had an uneventful trip the rest of the way home to Dunsmuir.
“Moral of the story is a person really doesn’t want to trespass out onto that bridge because if a train comes along, you have nowhere to go ... Having a train going by at 45 mph about one foot away from you is a bit too thrilling for my tastes.”•
Note: Railroad lines and railroad rights-of-way are private property and trespassing is illegal and dangerous. The only safe, legal place to cross railroad tracks is at a designated pedestrian crossing. For more information on “Who is Bozo Texino?” visit www.billdaniel.net.