No Hands Bridge

image of No Hands Bridge"Mountain Quarry Bridge", "Railroad Bridge", and finally the name, "No Hands Bridge", which it is known by today, was initially built by the Pacific Portland Cement Company to accommodate trains servicing an upstream rock quarry. It was the first concrete bridge of its kind in North America. It was a special railroad line that connected their limestone quarry operation with the westbound Southern Pacific main line in Auburn, California. "Mountain Quarry," as it was called. The high grade limestone was transported by rail for use in the manufacturing of cement and the refining of sugar.

The bridge was completed on March 23, 1912, by 600 men working on the Placer County side and 200 more on the E1 Dorado side to the tune of $300,000. At the time of its construction the bridge was the longest concrete arch bridge in the world. The building of this structure proved that concrete was practical for building long bridges. Although it was plagued by various problems during construction , the span was considered a great piece of railroad bridge engineering.

image of Mountain QuarryBuilt 150-feet above the canyon floor, the old cement bridge stands today as a proud monument to early-day engineering and the men who built it. The bridge has withstood the tugging of the American River currents for over 80 years and stayed on its footings when the Hell Hole Dam broke in December 1964 and took out two modern bridges upstream. It also withstood the so-called "Valentines Day Flood" of 1986, which submerged the bridge before destroying a 250-foot earth-filled coffer dam two miles down river.

The "No Hands Bridge" cement bridge has served as a landmark since the railroad went out of service in the 1940s. It did, however, serve a purpose shortly after the Hell Hole dam flood. The dam, located some 40 miles upstream, brought millions of tons of thundering water down the Middle Fork. The force of the water tore out the newer concrete-and-steel highway bridge nearby that linked Auburn with Cool and Georgetown. But the cement railroad bridge survived and was quickly pressed into temporary service to restore vehicle traffic between the two counties [Placer and El Dorado]. The rail route's 15 trestles and lines of tracks were removed in the 1940s: the metal and other materials were used in the war effort. Today, a portion of the old rail route is designated as the Western States Pioneer Express Recreation Trail, in accordance with the National Trails System Act.

The No Hands Bridge is primarily used by horsemen, runners and hikers. The name "no hands" came from veteran rider, Ina Robinson, who would drop her reins to ride across the then guardrail-less bridge. The bridge now stands as the "gateway to Auburn" and the final American River crossing of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Ride and Run.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the California State Parks Department administer the Auburn State Recreation Area, which includes No Hands Bridge.

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Sources:

Hal V. Hall, adapted from an article first published in The Tevis Forum
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the California State Parks Department administer the Auburn State Recreation Area, which includes No Hands Bridge