Tuesday, June 13, 2017

(19) San Francisco to Donner Lake

Day 1, June 9, 2017
Out of the City and under the Bay

Postcard showing Golden Gate and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridges as
well as Treasure Island, site of 1938 World's Fair
It was with both a great sense of relief and apprehension that we left San Ramon in the late morning of June 9. Relief because the ordeal we experienced is now over. A little apprehension over what might lie ahead if our bad luck should continue.

From San Ramon we traveled south to Interstate 580. There we pointed the car east to Livermore. In Livermore we stopped for pictures of a restored service station
and also to look at the Duarte Garage which has been restored and is maintained by the Livermore Heritage Guild.
Duarte Garage, Livermore, Ca.

We then took the old Altamont Pass Road to Tracy. This is one of my favorite stretches of the trip. The road and the terrain remind me much of what the road must have looked like during the heyday of the Lincoln Highway. We stopped at the Summit Garage for another picture.
Summit Garage, Altamont, Ca.

Me in front of historic building in Banta, Ca.  
In Tracy we stopped to snap a couple of pictures as well. Then we headed north to Sacramento and Interstate 80. Interstate 80 will take us to Soda Springs and Donner Lake where we will spend a couple of days regrouping and transferring our gear into the 2006 Mustang. Of course, some things will have to be left behind and we will have to consolidate our baggage. From there it was north to Sacramento. Since I had just traveled this route in September, we didn't stop for more than just a couple of photos.
Building In Banta, Ca. Historic photo from Tracy Historical Society

Banta Inn, near Tracey, Ca.

Western Terminus of Lincoln High. from American Heritage
magazine, Vol. 25, No. 4, June 1974
Before Interstate 80

At Sacramento, we picked up highway 80 and began the climb into the Sierras. Before Interstate 80, the trip from our house in the Bay Area to our cabin at Donner Lake could be long and hot. But hey, I was a kid and what was miserable to my parents was an adventure for me. By the time I was 6 or 7 the freeway had swallowed up most of Highway 40. Dad was excited about the time saved, but I have to admit in my young consciousness I missed the rare stops at the "Giant Orange" in the Valley, getting doughnuts in Sacramento for Saturday morning breakfast or Mom dispensing  rations of lemonade from

Giant Orange Juice stands. The one on the right, although way before my time, is closer to those I remember. Internet photos, (the one on the right was apparently from the Tracey Historical Society)
the "Little Brown Jug". The small cups of lemonade were passed back through the station wagon to my brothers and me. They were never big enough.

Little Brown Jug
Any interruption in the trip was, of course, and aggravation for Dad, but was added interest for me. I loved the smell of the Presto Log mill just west of Sacramento and on one very rare occasion being held up by the open drawbridge over the Sacramento River. Overall, my memories of these trips are dim yet parts are vivid and intense. One thing that I can remember about the trips was that they were long and hot. The heat began in Sacramento and rose steadily until Auburn.

The heat would finally break around Emigrant Gap and by the time we got to Cisco Grove and Soda Springs the air was cool and pleasant. Even as a youngster I remember looking at the cabins and lodges along the Yuba River and thinking how inviting they looked.

Cabin along the rushing Yuba River

Entry to Rainbow Lodge

Forest Gift Shop, Popular before I-80 (On the way to San Francisco)
Rainbow Lodge was and still is beautiful. A few years ago Linda and I had breakfast at the rainbow Lodge. It was like entering a time capsule.

Ranchero in front of Rainbow Lodge, before on the way to San Francisco

Soda Springs to Donner Lake
Norm Saylor out side his museum, Soda Springs, Ca.

At Soda Springs we came upon Lake Van Norden just south of the highway. Sadly, the beautiful Lake is gone, having been drained for some reason or other. With the lake drained, the micro-climate it created also disappeared. Nothing left but a memory of the beautiful scene.

East of Soda Springs came the ski resorts and utilitarian railroad structures. In the late 30's Skiers arrived via "The snowball Express". Later they came by car.
Our son Will sits atop Lincoln Highway
Subway 1994

The China wall

At the summit is tunnel number 6 of the Central Pacific Railroad.
Vertical shaft drilled into the middle of Tunnel number 6 to allow the 
Chinese crews to work 4 faces of the tunnel instead of just 2.
A miracle of engineering and tenacity. A tribute to the labors of the Chinese crews and the genius of the railroad engineers who designed this segment of the transcontinental railroad. Much of the rock that was taken from tunnel number 6 was used to construct The China Wall which can be seen just east of the "subway" (underpass) of the early alignment of the Lincoln Highway over Donner Summit.
On the left side of this photo, the 1914 underpass can be seen. On the right is 
the original crossing which used the Dutch Flat-Donner Lake Wagon Road
and made a dangerous crossing through the timber snow sheds.
Before this subway, automobiles passed through the train sheds. At best crossing the tracks through the train sheds was dangerous, at worst it was deadly.

An early crossing through the sheds, The car to the right didn't
make it. (Photo from book "Donner Pass" by John Signor) (This
photo is not of the Donner Summit Crossing.)

Donner Summit claimed a lot of trucks and cars on its curvy downgrade. Many of these wrecks are still visible despite the passage of more than 50 years. A couple of years ago my son Will and I came across the carcass of a 1950 Pontiac. Norm Saylor tells a hilarious story of scavengers picking through a refrigerator truck full of frozen turkeys bound for Thanksgiving tables at Stead Air Force Base near Reno. The FBI rounded up the missing turkeys and admonished the scavengers.

Post Card of Summit Bridge immediately after construction
The overlook at summit bridge puts on a display of the entire history of transportation over the Sierras. Most obvious are the recent additions. Looking east one can see off to the left Interstate 80. Of course, the overlook is part of U.S. 40. Off to the right is the original Transcontinental Railroad. Looking to the south one can see the Lincoln Highway subway, or underpass assuring at least one safe crossing of the mainline. Just west of the subway one can see the Dutch Flat - Donner Lake Wagon Road which served for a year as the Lincoln Highway and crossed the tracks through the Timber Snow Sheds. The road was also the route by which construction materials were brought to build the railroad. Here more than anyplace else one can see that our highways do not simply spring forth from the wilderness, they evolve and build upon what came before.

Early view of Donner Summit

Somewhat later, the road is paved

When the freeway opened, travel time from Walnut Creek in the bay area to Donner Lake was reduced from the 4 to 6 hour drive to less than 3 hours. Population growth and the attendant traffic has raised travel time back from 3 hours to nearly the 4 to 6 hours that it was in 1960. I feel sorry for travelers making the trip now who won't find a "Giant Orange" at which to quench their thirst and will have to settle for the closest McDonald's at the end of some non descript freeway off ramp.

Original Bronze Plaque for Summit Bridge

Lincoln Highway 1913 alignment, Sheds can be seen to the right
(Stereoscope card)
Whitney Hotel advertisement on rock along 1913 alignment.
The sign reads: "We invite inspection"

Reproduction 1928 marker along Donner Pass

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