Construction crews from the Missouri Valley Bridge & Iron Company arrived at Lyons Ferry in 1910. A quarter mile below the mouth of the Palouse, they began the task of bridging the Snake River with one of the longest and highest railway bridges in the world. The bridge was ordered by the North Coast Railroad. That firm was absorbed by the O.W.R. & N. shortly after the project commenced. The structure was completed September 14, 1914.
The new bridge cut 52 miles and four and a half hours off the old Spokane to Portland route, perhaps justifying the railroad’s $2,000,000 investment. The toll in human life was harder to justify. Many workers succumbed to caisson disease as they dug sixty five feet into the river bottom to provide a solid footing for the piers. Others fell from the steel that carries the rails 285 feet above the water. Their bodies were often swept far downstream where they would be recovered days or weeks afterwards.
A reporter for the Walla Walla Union visited the site of the nearly completed bridge in the summer of 1914 and painted a vivid portrait of the twentieth century’s intrusion upon the ancient landscape…
“From a distance one can see the tablelands, bluffs and pyramid shapes for a great distance. Across the river and east from the ferry is an old Indian camp. Chief Bones, totally blind and apparently as old as the hills still lives there. He has good health and likes to talk to strangers.
While the bridge is now an interesting sight it was more interesting while it was being built. The men moved around the gigantic structure, high in the air, as nonchalantly as though they where but a few feet from the ground. Rivets were heated on top of the bridge and tossed, red hot 50 feet, to some man hanging on to nothing apparently. The workman used an old powder can or tin bucket to catch the rivets, rarely missing one, took a pair of pincers and inserted the bit of metal in a hole in the steel frame and then a compressed air hammer was used to rat-tat-tat them into place and shape.”
The 3920 foot long bridge, supported by two dozen steel towers, still carries the trains of the Union Pacific Railroad across the Snake and is the longest and highest bridge on that company’s system. The High Line Bridge is sometimes referred to as the Joso Bridge after Leon Jussaud who operated a sheep camp near its north end at the time of construction.