March 16th, 2007

laszlo moholy-nagy_chx


It seems strange that the day here is so pleasant and the sky no more than a bit hazy when, a few dozen miles away, wood and creosote smoke has been belching from the smoldering ruins of Sacramento! Well, not all of Sacramento, but from that one railroad trestle across the American River anyway. What also seems strange is that, almost 140 years after the transcontinental railroad was completed, and only a few miles from the place where construction on it began, there was still a long wooden trestle on the heavily-used main line. One would expect that it would have long since been replaced by a steel and concrete trestle of the variety that was modern early in the last century.

Seeing the fire on television has reminded me of a fire that destroyed a highway bridge of similar wood truss construction a couple of miles from my house when I was a kid. That particular bridge had suffered more than one fire but had long escaped complete destruction. It's luck finally ran out, and I remember seeing the black smoke rising above the neighborhood for hours until the fire was finally extinguished.

That bridge crossed one of L.A.'s seasonally large rivers, and as the rainy season had lately ended when it burned, the road was temporarily diverted through the mostly dry riverbed and across a short (probably army surplus) temporary bridge that spanned the couple dozen foot width of actual wet ground. We crossed the temporary bridge once before the ruins had been removed, and the place still stank of creosote and burnt timbers.

The big bridge was replaced in time for the next rainy season. I also recall- though I don't know if it was before or after the fire and the rebuilding- crossing that truss bridge during a stormy period and seeing the rushing water where it struck the supports actually splashing higher than the roadway. Police were stationed at each end of the bridge in case it showed signs of being inundated or of failing completely and had to be shut down quickly.

I also got to see the smoke rising from the Signal Hill oil field fire some years later, and our house had a nice view of the fires that burned in the San Gabriel Mountains across the valley almost every year. Southern California's propensity to burst into flame certainly provided me with plenty of diversion when I was growing up.

Anyway, there's going to be disruption of the rail traffic all over northern California as a result of the trestle being out, and I'm glad I don't live near any of the rail lines likely to carry the diverted traffic. I'm even more glad that I don't live close enough to the fire to smell the burning creosote. I can still remember the stink of it, all those years ago.