Driving south of Forks on Highway 101 can be an exciting experience even without the seasonal invasion of the tourist hordes. In some places, the road seems to be sliding down the hill and into the river. Cracks in the asphalt run down the middle of the road. Chuck holes appear where you least expect. Dodging these obstacles can be challenging. A fishing buddy got pulled over by the State Patrol for driving erratically. He explained to the trooper he wasn’t drunk. He just drove like one, swerving back and forth trying not to hit the holes in the road. The trooper let him go.
With luck you’ll arrive at the Hoh River bridge. Voted by me as the scariest bridge on the Olympic Peninsula. Built in 1931, this bridge was a marvel of steel rivet construction. Now, we can only imagine the skill and danger involved in building it. The steel rivets had to be heated until they were red hot, then tossed down to the riveter who caught them in a tin cup and pushed them into a hole using steel tongs. While one worker shoved the head of the rivet with a steel bar another guy beat the other end with a jackhammer. All while working a hundred and some feet above the Hoh River.
Traffic has increased significantly across the Hoh River bridge since 1931. The loads carried across the bridge have evolved from steam donkeys to feller-bunchers. The bridge remains as narrow as the day it was built. It has spawned legends. Like the story of the log truck that met a bull elk on the bridge. The bull was outweighed by more than a few tons. He decided to jump off the bridge. A feat that has yet to be duplicated.
Once upon a time while fishing under the bridge we saw two motor homes collide. It was a clash of the titans that produced a horrid screeching sound of metal against metal and concrete. Luckily, they didn’t fall off the bridge. It was one of the most thrilling sights ever seen on the river but then again not exactly the kind of thrill you are looking for on a fishing trip.
These days bridge traffic is light due to the pandemic. Luckily, Americans figured out where their toilet paper came from, trees. Loggers are an essential industry. Log truckers are essential to loggers. With no tourists on the road, it’s like log trucker heaven.
Traditionally, truckers radio ahead to avoid meeting each other on the Hoh bridge. Tourists and most other drivers usually don’t have CB radios. They play the odds. Meeting a big rig on the Hoh River Bridge is a nearer my God to thee thing.
Fishermen and other tourists ask me when they are going to replace this old bridge. They don’t understand. Out here on the West End, we don’t replace our bridges until they fall in the river. That’s no joke.
The Highway 101 bridge over the Bogachiel, built in 1925 fell in the river during a December flood in 1979, taking a county road department employee, Russell Barker with it. They named the new bridge after him.
As for the Hoh River bridge, the latest inspection determined she’s got a few dings on top but her foundation is solid. Which is a good thing. The Hoh River bridge is the closest thing to a lifeline the West End has. The bridge is going on a hundred years old. She was well built and still strong enough to serve the public if they have the nerve to drive across.
Pat Neal is a Hoh River guide and wilderness gossip columnist.