Monday, August 04, 2008

NoHands Bridge

Original Article

Ben Furtado/Auburn Journal

Gordon Ainsleigh stands below Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge ? also known as No Hands Bridge. The first man to complete the Western States Endurance Run, Ainsleigh sees No Hands Bridge as a ?bridge to the promised land.?

The Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge once connected Auburn with the vast resources of the American River Canyon. In modern times the structure spanning the American River serves as a beacon for weary equestrians and endurance runners.

The landmark commonly referred to as “No Hands Bridge” connects the rugged Western States Trail with the final climb to Auburn, leading runners from the wilderness to civilization.

“No Hands is our bridge to the past and to our future,” said Gordon Ainsleigh, who was the first man to run the Western States Trail from Truckee, which led to the founding of the Western States Endurance Run two years later. “For those of us in the Auburn area who have sweated so much, breathed so much and lived so much of the best of our lives on that trail through the wilderness to Tahoe that we usually access only by No Hands, it’s like a bridge to the promised land.”

The bridge was erected in 1912 by the Pacific Portland Cement Company to connect its limestone quarry to the Southern Pacific main line in Auburn. At the time of its construction, the bridge was the largest concrete arch bridge in the world. More than 800 men worked on the construction of the bridge, which cost $300,000 to build.

When the railroad ties were removed in the 1940s, the bridge was relegated to primarily serving adventurous equestrians like Wendell Robie. The Auburn businessman founded the Western States Endurance Ride in 1955. He was also the driving force behind the creation of the Western States Endurance Run more than 20 years later.

The Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge’s unique design has survived numerous floods while other bridges in the area failed. In 1964, the Hell Hole Dam gave way and the ensuing flood took out two bridges up-river. The cement structure was pressed into service, providing the link between Placer and El Dorado counties while the Highway 49 Bridge was being rebuilt.

The “Valentine’s Day” flood of 1986 knocked out two bridges to the west while the Mountain Quarries Bridge held firm.

The nickname “No Hands Bridge” came about prior to the installation of handrails along the bridge in 1984. While most equestrians would dismount to cross the guardrail-less bridge, veteran rider Ina Robinson would drop her reins and cross with no hands, leading to the catchy nickname.

The bridge’s rich history is now a major part of the endurance community. The bridge is the last major monument before runners reach the Placer High track and the finish of the Western States Endurance Run. The bridge has witnessed some major drama in the Tevis Cup. In 2007, Jeremy Reynolds passed John Crandell between No Hands and the finish line in Auburn to win.

The bridge stands less than four miles from the Western States finish line, though the final climb out of the canyon has claimed many a runner.

No Hands Bridge was closed temporarily in 1995 and ’96 when it was discovered the footings on the mid-river abutment were failing. However the bridge was opened temporarily for both Western States and Tevis Cup.

Congressman John Doolittle, R-Roseville, was able to appropriate $700,000 for the repairs on the bridge, which were completed in ’96.

Auburn’s Hal Hall helped lead a major effort to have the Mountain Quarries Bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The bridge has been a huge part of Hall’s life as one of endurance riding’s most decorated competitors.

Ainsleigh couldn’t picture life without No Hands Bridge, the gateway to a land that remains the wild west.

“The trail basically follows the drainage of the middle fork and it’s our connection to that,” Ainsleigh said. “It’s like so much of our lives are connected to this trail and this bridge is kind of sacred ground.”

The Journal’s Todd Mordhorst can be reached at or comment at


Fast Facts:

Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge
Commonly referred to as No Hands Bridge after being dubbed such by endurance rider Ina Robinson in the early 1980s, who would drop her reins and ride across the then guardrail-less bridge with no hands.

Built by John B. Leonard and completed on March 23, 1912.

The bridge is 15 feet wide, 482 feet long and 70 feet high at average water flow.
The U.S. Department of the Interior placed the bridge on the National Register of Historical Places in 2004.

Gordon Ainsleigh
The chiropractor from Meadow Vista was the first man to run the Western States Trail from Truckee to Auburn – 100 miles – in 1974.

The Western States Endurance Run was founded two years later and Ainsleigh has finished the run 22 times in 30 hours or less.

Ainsleigh now serves on the Auburn Recreation District’s board of directors.

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