(from the California
(read an article on the Ridge Route
by the author here on this site)
Ridge Route: The Road that United California
By Harrison Irving Scott
Published by the author, Torrance, CA, 2002, 324 pages, $25, ISBN
Reviewed by Lois H. McDonald
Former editor of the California HISTORIAN
When attending the 2002 Fall symposium of the Conference of California
Historical Societies in Eureka, I was intrigued, while eating breakfast in
the Eureka Inn, to hear a voice behind me, “The bus driver leaned out of the
window and asked the bicyclists coming from the opposite direction, ‘Is this
the way to Los Angeles?’”
I knew immediately that the person behind
me still treasures, as do I, that memorable bus trip along a narrow
treacherous strip of cement that was part of the symposium experience hosted
by the Santa Clarita Valley Historical society in February 1995. I still
recall the amazed, almost unbelieving, response on the faces of the cyclists
as they came around a tight curve on the circa 1915 Ridge Route and met a
tour was led by Harrison I. Scott of Torrance, at that time expanding his
personal fascination with the historic highway to work with staff of the
Angeles National Forest to have the part of the old road transversing the
national forest placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The
designation was accomplished in 1997.
While insisting that he was no author, Scotty agreed to turn the stuff that
had arrested the imagination of his tour group that February day into an
article for the California Historian. It appeared in the Summer 1997 issue.
With each repeating of the story, an audience grew on both sides of the
connecting link, from Los Angeles on the south to Bakersfield on the north.
Now Scott has expanded his research into
a full length book — one with over 200 photographs. These include the
process of road construction as well as sites and people that lived along
the route and made often tenuous livings serving the early model automobiles
and trucks. Traveling the dangerous and never-ending twists and grades
created along the top of the mountains from Castaic to the bottom of the
Grapevine, with an oft-posted speed limit of 15 mph, required stopping for
meals and lodging as well as gas.
Scott’s book-length account prefaces the
details of the selection of best terrain for the road and its subsequent
construction problems, with historical data of earlier crossings of the
mountains, by stage and train lines, and gas and electric companies.
The many attempted improvements to the
Ridge Route after its completion in 1915 to its abandonment as part of the
California highway system in 1933 are related in Scott’s book. A portion of
the road is still maintained as part of the national park. Other portions
are still used as access roads. Some of the road has fallen into disuse.
The old road and the era in transportation development it represents comes
most alive in the stories of the people who built the road, traveled the
road and those who lived along the way. Scott has traced the ownership of
most of the roadside businesses and obtained from surviving family members
the photographs of places and people that fill this book with glimpses of a
rich portion of California’s past.
When I received a copy of this book from
Scotty I was enthralled by it with one small exception. I did write to him
and complain that he had failed to include a map! He had obviously given his
mileage estimates, word pictures and photographs the responsibility for
carrying to the readers a complete understanding. Map-oriented “tourists”
such as I convinced him to cater to our segment of the reading population.
The book now has a map inserted and secured to the end pages of the text.