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THE FIRST PAVED ROAD THROUGH THESE MOUNTAINS

By Bonnie Ketterl Kane

The first paved road through these mountains, then and still known as the Ridge Route , was carved along the ridge tops back in 1915. The mountain top location was chosen to avoid the flooding and muddy canyons long used below. The San Francisco Chronicle stated that: “the road ran through the wildest section of Southern California 's mountain country and that it is Southern California 's ‘magnum opus' in mountain highway construction”.

World War I delayed the paving of the roadway until 1919. That year newspapers advertised for workers willing to spend the spring and summer in the hills with those returning from the War given the first chance at the jobs. The four and a half inch concrete was reinforced with twisted iron bars laid transversely eighteen inches apart and bound on either edge with rods laid lengthwise. A June 1919 issue of the Bakersfield Californian newspaper reported a shortage of water for mixing the cement due to four hundred head of cattle consuming the available water.

The streamlined newly paved highway, which some compared to the roads of the Roman Empire , opened in November of 1919, though old-timers joked that the narrow road was just one big sidewalk winding between Los Angeles and Bakersfield . A challenging gap of about ten miles, between Lebec and Rose Station, down through Grapevine Canyon , took until well into 1920 to complete.

Charles Saunders wrote that the new paved road allowed “motor cars and auto stages to wiz along at half-a-mile-a-minute”. Baring in mind that the maximum speed on highways at that time was 35 miles per hour, an early Lockwood Valley resident, Bill deLancey , wrote of his first drive: “on the spanking new Ridge Route in my Model T ‘flivver'. The best speed was a bit over 35 mph and on the grueling mountain grades there were hours of pushing on the low gear pedal. The cars took a rest at every little turn-out so the boiling radiators could simmer down.

Motor Magazine reported: “Over this new ribbon of concrete thousands of automobiles are speeding every month, not only the privately owned vehicles of tourists and business men but the fast traveling motor stages which roar through the 130 miles from Los Angeles to Bakersfield in five hours, providing mighty warm competition for the railroad which finds difficulty in snorting over the mountains in eight hours.”

Additional Information may be found at ridgeroute.com