One of the competing projects with the Winberry trail restoration was finishing the Indian Creek bridge on the Middle Fork of the Willamette River. The creek flows into the Middle Fork about 8 miles south of the reservoir, 23 miles south of Oakridge. The Forest Service was able to move a pre-built footbridge, with no rails, from a nearby road, through the woods, and install it on both sides of the river. One could cross the river, but with no rails, it was a bit dicey doing it.  Our job was to put in posts to support a thick kick or base log and two hand railings on each side of the length of the 60-odd foot span. We had to get our own wood, finding the right size Western red cedar trees for logs 8-9 inches in diameter and 4 feet long for the 10 posts on each side of the bridge. In addition, we needed 3-4 inch diameter smaller logs to support the posts. Then we needed 4-5 inch logs to put in two sets railings on both sides.  We used red cedar for its tannins which resist rotting.

Bridge with cut and de-barked logs

To access the crossing, we parked on a Forest Service road, bushwhacked 200 yards downhill to the Middle Fork Trail, which runs 30 miles from the reservoir south to Timponagas Lake, then walked another quarter mile to the bridge.  Fortunately, near the site were many cedars we could use. The diameter-appropriate logs were cut to the right length. These were stripped of bark, a process in the right time of spring is easy, for the bark will peel away from the underlying cambium. We were initially a little early, however, and on each log we needed to scrape with more difficulty, about 30 square feet for a 14-foot long, 8-inch diameter log, where each scrape might clear maybe 10-20 sq inches. The debarked trees were then carried to the bridge. A good sized cedar would produce several logs, of which we needed 20, ten on either side. Close by meant within a quarter of a mile, which we had to do with the logs on our shoulder alone, with another, or with a large one, 4 people each pulling on a strap. Many of these logs had to be moved uphill to the trail, then along the rocky trail mostly downhill to the bridge. The old trail went to the river further downstream so when we found logs in that area, we had people on the other side of the stream throw a line across and then pull the logs over. From there, it was about 100 yards to the bridge, saving an immense amount of walking.

Putting in the posts and the supports was fairly straightforward, and the structure started to appear.  I wasn’t involved with this part, because I was helping find red cedar, trying to distinguish it from incense cedar, which has a more scaly bark, and then obtaining longer 5-6 inch diameter logs to be used for the railings. Cedar grows more conically than firs or maples, so a large log at the base tapers significantly in 20 feet. For debarking, I used a a U-shaped scraper, where one straddles the log and scrapes towards oneself. There were also long scrapers for those who wanted to stand. We scraped the larger diameter logs first, taking at least an hour each. We first scraped in the woods, then we carried the logs to the work site.

Later, we carried the logs down to the work site, debarked, and when we had enough bare logs, the following week we could send 3 people back to the bridge to work on it, while the rest of us worked on another trail.  One day, when we ran low on logs, two of us left the work area to go further afield to find cedar. We found several three miles away along a small track that barely admitted a vehicle, felled them, stripped the branches, and while the cutter looked for more, I dragged the trees to the truck and put them in the bed. We got six such logs in the afternoon by slogging around the hillside, measuring diameters, either with an appropriate tape measure, or doing the circumference and dividing by pi, my preferred method. I helped the driver back out a half mile on the road to where we could turn around, drive back and dropped off the logs. 

It was clear we needed even more logs to finish than the six we had, so two of us were charged to go out the following Tuesday, not our typical work day, to find at least ten more logs for approximately 150 linear feet.   Because we needed certain lengths of logs to fit together, we would require somewhat more than the linear foot measure.  This time, we backed in a half mile initially and then started looking for trees. It was not a good day for my knee, because I was climbing on uneven, unstable ground. At one point, I slid down a hill part way, taking a large chunk of moss with me, which I did not want to do. Worse, when I tried to put the moss back, I started sliding more. I finally realized the best way to avoid even more damage to the moss and me was just to get off the hill.  The first three hours we were out, we found only 3 trees, but we found 8 more early that afternoon and drove back to the parking area by the bushwhack, took each log out and slid it down the bank with the others. Some poor guy was going to have to carry those logs downhill through the woods to the trail and then to the bridge for debarking.

Two days later, I was one of those guys.  I carried 3 of the shorter ones, 10 feet long, on my shoulder to the bridge. Then I worked with another with the longer logs, carrying on our shoulders for three more trips. He told me, after the first, “I sure am glad these are light.”  I cringed. I thought they were heavy enough, thank you, and was glad when we got to the work area to unload them. He realized he needed a pad for his shoulders. I was involved with carrying at least 9 of the 16 logs, de-barking ten. Fortunately, the sap was running, and the bark came off in long strips. It looked like we would have enough logs.

The logs had to first be placed for the top railing, where there were junctions between them. That was time consuming, cutting the junctions, until Mac joined us with his power tools, including a cute little Makita chain saw, which was like a Stihl or a Husky that hadn’t been fed. That and his large supply of 5 Ma portable batteries, an inverter in his jeep, so he could recharge them, and we could cut out sections with electric hand saws, grind them with a rotary sander, fit them together, and screw them into the posts, all with power tools. Every 15-30 minutes another log was attached to the bridge. We could have finished the bridge that day if we had stayed to sunset, but it was after 2, and we were all tired.

The last week, I worked one more day with Mac and Steve, just the three of us. It was supposed to rain all day, but it was partly cloudy with only a few sprinkles, as we secured the last four logs on the upstream railing. The rain had pushed the stream up a great deal, and the roar drowned out the sound of the electrical equipment. The bridge was finished, after ten visits by the Crew.

We had to clean up, putting the bark into the woods, where it would decompose, taking the cut pieces of logs and doing the same. We raked up the area, took our pictures, and bade farewell to this part of the Middle Fork River. Then it started to rain hard. The woods recover quickly. The trails we had to the vehicles will be overgrown and not visible in two years. The bridge will outlive me by a lot.

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