24 thoughts on “Columbia River Highway, circa 1935

  1. I remember this tunnel so clearly. When I was growing up, our favorite Sunday drive was to go out the old Columbia River highway and—once it was built—back on the new one.

  2. They dynamited the tunnel in 1966 to clear the path for current water level freeway. Major historic loss that can’t be recovered. I know, it’s easy to say in 2020 but some forethought would have been appreciated.

  3. Wonderful photo. Wikipedia says: Built in 1915. Closed in the 1950’s. Demolished in 1966 with the building of I-84. ODOT has considered boring a similar tunnel as part of the reconstruction of the old Columbia River Highway. The tunnel designer, John Arthur Elliot was inspired by a tunnel in Lucerne, Switzerland.

  4. Wikipedia says: Built in 1915. Closed in the 1950’s. Demolished in 1966 with the building of I-84. ODOT has considered boring a similar tunnel as part of the reconstruction of the old Columbia River Highway. The tunnel designer, John Arthur Elliot was inspired by a tunnel in Lucerne, Switzerland.

  5. Mr. Elliot would have been inspired by the Gotthard Rail Tunnel (9 miles) connecting Lucerne to Milan, which opened in 1882, took 10 years to build, and cost the lives of 167 workers.
    The Sonnenberg Tunnel (about 1 mile long-for autos) was built 1970-76 and houses a 7 level underground bunker (Fallout Shelter). The tunnel can be sealed with four 350 ton gates, and the bunker houses hundreds of toilets and 20,000 beds.

  6. There are plenty of ways for people to enjoy the gorge right now if they choose to. These millions of federal money could be spent on a lot more important things, other than providing the gentry “a world-class experience” in walking and riding their bicycles.

  7. The gentry?? Who exactly are the gentry? People who walk and ride their bikes along the HCRH are hardly part of the “gentry”

  8. Don’t have my reference books handy, but my recollection is that McCullough, head of Oregon Highway Commission, advised Gov. Hatfield that lower Mitchell Point was very unstable and should be removed.

    Of the three or so proposed plans, drilling a new tunnel seems the most problematic. It won’t look like the original as it has to be set back and location of the windows depends on the rock condition. Putting in a new viaduct and resurfacing what’s left of the old roadway would be the closest to restoration. You’d have the same vistas, just not through holes in the rock. A new trail along I-84 would be dismal.

  9. Here’s a view from the other direction.

  10. I thought I read that Glen Jackson was the one who gave the go ahead to eliminate the tunnel. In any event they plan on having the new one done by 2022. I volunteer in the gorge and receive up dates on these things.

  11. Anything other than a new tunnel would be a shame. Concern over rockfall from above would necessitate covering a traditional trail with a thick lid, as they did with the Mosier twin tunnels when they reopened them some years back. If they line the new tunnel with shotcrete or timbers, they should be able to address the risk associated with small pieces of falling rock from the tunnel bore. Hope and pray this continues to move forward.

  12. Update…I spent some time on the ODOT website and confirm that they are indeed going to bore a new tunnel through Mitchell Point. The project is funded. There were several options including a much longer tunnel. The tunnel is connected on either end with an open trail cut into the rock and they are going to install rockfall fences upslope to contain rockfall. The tunnel currently has one adit (window) but they are in the design phase and are looking to add two more adits. It won’t be exactly like the original, but it sounds like it will be really cool.

  13. I lost count of the times I have ridden thru this tunnel with my father. He drove for Portland, Pendleton Truck Line, and Sills Truck Line. My memories are mainly from his time with Sills. The Mitchell Point tunnel and rest of those narrow bores were
    unforgettable. Many were one way for large vehicles as were many of the curves. At least one of the tunnels had a stop light to control direction. But the others required the truck driver during daylight hours to pull over and get out and walk around the curve, or through the tunnel and flag down opposing vehicles before hiking back to his truck and proceeding. The nighttime darkness simplified the process, the truck driver approaching one of these narrow spots had only to turn off his headlights to see if there was traffic approaching. I recall twice we met a opposing truck doing the same time. One or the other had to back up and both had to pull in his mirrors so they could saw pass .If one of the trucks was a bus or semi it was understood he would do the backing up.That viaduct east of Multnomah Falls and all of bridges on the old highway required opposing trucks and buses either to pull in the mirrors to pass, or more commonly for one to simply slow and signal the other to come ahead.

    The only really scary memories I have of those roads are of the Bridge of the Gods. In those days the bridge deck consisted of wooden planks. Those old trucks had wooden floor boards, often with holes thru which you could view the bouncing planks and straight thru to the river far below. I never got used to that view,

  14. Rod, my grandpa drove for Rudie Wilhelm in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. My mom used to talk about his trips on the old highway. Who knows, your father and my grandpa may have passed each other on the old highway. My grandfather was partial to Buicks. When he taught my mom how to drive it was in his Buick Roadmaster on the old Columbia river highway. Needless to say, my mom was terrified.
    About wooden floor boards on trucks: my first vehicle was a 1936 GMC, and it had wooden floor boards. The view through the floor boards I remember most is looking down at the Willamette while driving across the Hawthorne Bridge grated deck, a little more benign than your view over the Bridge of the Gods. 😉

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