Conversation with Harrison Scott
I spoke with Harrison Scott at his house in Torrance, California on the evening of August 23, 2006, shortly after assuming editing duties for the organization's newsletter. A brief portion of this conversation was printed in the fall 2006 edition of the RRPO's quarterly publication, The Ridge Route Sentinel. The entire conversation is printed below.
- Michael Simpson
SCOTT: I think it was about 1992. My son mentioned that the old road looked awful steep and it would be a problem for the older cars. We got off the highway at Templin and proceeded east, found the original road and went over it. From an engineering stand point I thought, you know, it was very unique and hadn't been modified over the years because it was on National Forest property. From that point on I looked into it with the thought of getting it recorded on to the national register which we, I say myself and with the cooperation of the Doug Milburn and Mike McIntyre who are archaeologists for the Angeles Forest, were able to get the paperwork forwarded finally and got it placed on there in 1997. So, I think it was September the 25th if my memory holds correct...1997.
Q. So, that was just the first step, right?
SCOTT: Yes, but that step took six years of intensive research and that was to be the end of my involvement. Lois McDonald, who just recently passed away, bugged me for quite some time to document my research in written form before I ended up the same way [laughter] ... old and long forgotten. So, you know, it sounded reasonable, so I devoted another two years to turning out the book. Anyway, that's why I got involved and I formed the non-profit corporation the purpose of which is to make sure the road is not forgotten. My involvement has mostly been political. I'm not a good salesman. Public speaking doesn't bother me one bit, in fact I've got three power point programs I'll be doing. That doesn't intimidate me or anything like that, but I'm not a good organizer with newsletters or membership committees or things like that. Thank God for Carl [Marsee] he's been a real benefit and he just climbed on board not too long ago.
Q. He's taken care of a lot of administrative details?
SCOTT: A lot of them, yes. And he's been responsible for the CUTRR project which is Clean Up the Ridge Route. We go up there every couple of months.
Q. We've got another one on October 14th.
SCOTT: Correct. He organized all of that. I tend to hold back and not be as aggressive when it comes to organizing people. I don't know how to put it...I like all the ducks to be in order and you've got to take some risks when you're in a young organization. Nothing's going to be perfect, and thank God for his infusion of energy. I was getting ... I don't want to say complacent ... but didn't know where to go next. Like I say, I focus on the political end of it. So far, I've been pretty effective. Right now I'm pushing to get the road, hopefully with Congressman Thomas's help from Bakersfield declared a "Scenic Byway," doing so might provide some federal aid for our planned interpretive center as well as parking locations and road signs.
Q. You want the interpretive center.
SCOTT: Right, we're looking to have our own little interpretive center, museum, at one end of the road or the other...we're looking at the Sandberg site which is a beautiful site where the Sandberg Hotel used to be years ago.
Q. To put it right there on the site?
SCOTT: We'll, we'd have to do so in cooperation with the forest service, of course, because it is on forest property. And that would be a wonderful thing as an ultimate goal. All of this stuff takes so much time, you know, just to get it on the national register was a major undertaking. It was bounced a couple of times because it had to be okayed by the forest service office in San Francisco, then it had to be rubber-stamped or okayed by SHIPO which is the state Historical Preservation Office in Sacramento, and they forward it to Washington D.C. to the Department of Interior, which I believe administers the program, and all of that takes so much time, and everybody wants to change little things here and there.
Q. Did you have to bird-dog it all the way through the process? Did you know when it was being handed off?
SCOTT: Oh yes. [laughter] Yes. And there were meetings held locally and that delayed it. Some people protested the fact that putting it on the national register might impact their property. I tried to tell them it would not, I mean, they're not going to widen the road. They're not going to impact their private property. Nonetheless, we had to address those concerns because originally the total nomination was to go from Highway 138, just south of Gorman, at the north end clear down into the town of Castaic at the southern end. But the people at SHIPO were stating that, you know, they wanted every historic site along the road applied for on separate documents. In other words, each location had to be an entity unto itself. And that, plus the fact that the Forest Service was going through a tremendous budget cut and so we ... Mike McIntyre, Doug Milburn and myself ... decided to truncate the project and just have it on that portion of the highway that is exclusively within the Angeles Forest boundary. That way it wouldn't involve the general public.
Q. So let me clarify. The southern-most portion is where the gate is [on the Ridge Route north of Templin Highway]?
SCOTT: Correct. Ironically, the Forest Service has extended their control of the road. I'd have to look at the map, but it's still Forest property a little bit south of that gate.
Q. Even though there are houses along there?
SCOTT: They were grandfathered, so to speak. I say that, before I ever got involved with this, being retired from Pacific Bell, those people up there on the south end just by the gate generate their own power. There's no electrical service. They do have telephone service...we put it in for them. When our crews buried the cable they dug across the Ridge Route south of the Forest Service gate. The Forest Service didn't like that and they, PacBell, had to pay a fine and were forced to pay for a historical evaluation of the road. Some engineering firm in Moorpark did a little brief history research of the road, in fact I've got it here in my documents, but it has some errors in it naturally. Anyway, the point being they were aware of the road's historic nature before I came along. Nobody had ever pushed it, however.
Q. So, I take it they've re paved all of that section from Castaic up?
SCOTT: Oh yeah, that's still county road, even though a small portion of it extends above Templin Highway, above meaning north. Still, I don't know, I'd have to look at a map to know exactly where the demarcation is, but it's still National Forest property. When a county road or a state highway goes over forest property they have to get a permit, believe it or not, from the forest service and it has to be renewed every year. So even I-5 which goes right through the mountains there to Bakersfield is going through Angeles Forest property and that requires a use permit from Angeles Forest.
Q. So they've re paved over the old road?
SCOTT: Yes, they have, and it still follows basically the same alignment. In many places you can see the original concrete because they've straightened it in many areas, but if you look you can see the original concrete underneath the asphalt or all by itself off to the right or left.
Q Have you resigned yourself to the fact that you probably aren't going to be able to save that part of the road?
SCOTT: No, I haven't. In fact, on the south end one of the biggest problems that I did fight for a long time and I was doing it by myself was the North Lake housing development there. I wanted them to keep the original alignment. Ultimately they realigned the road because the original highway went right in front of Castaic Brick which is still there and up through that canyon. Today the road has been redirected and it goes through the housing tract just a short distance, maybe a mile of it, maybe not even that, not quite a mile or a mile, somewhere in that vicinity. There was a land swap of some kind between Castaic Brick and the developer that benefited both of them and, of course, everybody's looking out for their best interest and that was the big criteria they needed to move forward with their development.
Q. Now how far on the north end do you have jurisdiction over the road? All the way to 138?
SCOTT: It's basically all the way to Pine Canyon Road.
Q. Okay, that's the cross street where they have the Ridge Route sign?
SCOTT: That's basically the Forest boundary. So it goes from there to the Templin gate on the south which is 17.6 miles.
Q. A good stretch.
SCOTT: It is a good stretch and it's the best part of the stretch actually, with tremendous history. The road is pretty original and if we are capable of getting it declared a scenic byway that will certainly help us. I feel very pleased that we've gotten as far as we have. Hopefully it will go out to bid in the summer of 2007 to repair it. And it would be forgotten if it wasn't for our organization and we have some fairly influential people on our board as I mentioned to you. We just recently opened it up to general membership, I think it was the 5th at our workday in August. In fact, I received a lifetime membership in the mail today for $250. We get some pretty good contributions. We accomplished getting the marker put in down at Highway 126 and I-5. That was a major undertaking. That was with the cooperation of E Clampus Vitas. They're another organization that we work with. It took the intervention of now State Senator George Runner who actually passed legislation with a resolution asking Cal Trans to cooperate with us. And it all worked out very well for Cal Trans and us. The biggest roadblock we've had recently was after the terrible winter storms of 2005 that destroyed so many highways. Everything came to a standstill. The Old Ridge Route was maintained by Angeles Forest as a fire access road, plus the utility companies used it to access their oil and utility lines. Edison has lines, Mobil Oil, Pacific Pipeline, there are several companies ... AT&T, but you know there was such extensive damage to the Old Ridge Route we don't have the money to repair it. We went to the county who said we don't own it. We went to the Forest Service who said we don't own it. Fingers were pointed at each other. That went on for some time. Then I was getting nowhere so I contacted Congressman Buck McKeon in Valencia and they asked Supervisor Michael Antonovich to please get to the bottom of who owned the road. Supervisor Antonovich assigned that task to Bob Haueter, and he did look into it. I should say the County Council, which is a fancy name for the county attorneys, looked into it and a couple of weeks... almost a month later... Bob got back to me and said the County didn't own the road. Well, my main function at Pac Bell before I retired was research and I'd done my homework and I had documents in my file proving that the County owned the road, so I said "Bob, well how can you abandon something you don't own?" There was a motion before the Supervisorial Board...I think it was in 1982, but I'd have to go back and look at the date, where they had a motion to abandon the Ridge Route, but the Supervisors decided not to do so thinking the road could be used for recreational purposes at some future date. It was officially a county road. When I say "officially" that means when a road is accepted by an agency or an entity like the state or local government they accept it and it becomes theirs. It's not a road by public use or what they call prescriptive where a road...you know if a road has been used by the public for many many years then it becomes legal.
Q. So the county was maintaining the road?
SCOTT: No. No. They never maintained it. They denied they owned it. The determining factor was how the road was originally recorded. I don't care who established the road. If it was a legal road, not a prescriptive right of way, how was it originally recorded? It was originally recorded as a Los Angeles County Highway. Then it was later given to the state of California. It was originally State Route 4, but that number 4 was only for giving out contracts for people that graded the road or paved it, but it was always 99, but it was legally on paper as Route 4. It's not a posted number.
Q. Do you have that documentation?
SCOTT: Well, I have the documentation that the county owned it and in fact I have it back on a map where it was accepted by the Board of Supervisors. So, if you have a road that's accepted by a county agency or a city agency or state, before it can be given up, it has to go through legal abandonment.
Q. So, basically, you had them on the hook?
SCOTT: Yes. And they went back and admitted it. So at that point in time they worked out an arrangement with Angeles Forest to do sort of a swap. Angeles Forest agreed to take over total control and ownership of the road, provided that L.A. County would take over total maintenance of the Santa Anita Canyon road that goes up to Chantry Flats, because currently on the lower end it goes through three different municipalities, but the county does maintain the part that is on Forest property going up to the Angeles Forest fire station.
Q. So, what are you working on near term? What's the most pressing thing on your agenda right now?
SCOTT: Getting the Old Ridge Route placed as a Scenic Byway. I think that will give us a shot in the arm in terms of money and recognition. The problem with the road is that Angeles Forest's budget has been cut to the bone. They used to have a crew of forty men that took care of all roads in the Angeles Forest. Today, they have one supervisor and no crew. That's why they turned over the repair of the road to the federal highway administration whose offices are in Colorado. We met with them on June 6th, "we" being the Ridge Route Preservation Organization. We did a complete survey of the road, identifying I believe it was eleven locations that required serious attention which included the 75 foot section that slipped away down the canyon. Now, I spoke with them as recently as last week, with the project manager, and everything currently is on track. If it remains that way then the repair...it will go out to bid in the summer of 2007 and they'll start work on it.
Q. And it would be funded by?
SCOTT: Federal money. Which I feel pretty good about.
Q. Have they said how much they are allocating?
SCOTT: No. There is one grant...I'm not sure how much it was....I do know...I've got it written some place...the County of L.A., as well as the Forest Service received millions of dollars of funding for the storm damage...both agencies. Northern California received more than we did for the forest problems, but both agencies received quite a bit of money, so they'll use the grant money and how much more I'm not sure. They did mention to me that they may not restore it exactly as historically correct, meaning the concrete. They may have to use ...if the budget is involved...they may have to put in asphalt instead of concrete because the original road was twenty feet wide and four and 1/2 inches thick concrete. Anyway, we're keeping our fingers crossed because there was a section of the road about a hundred feet destroyed five years ago or so and the Forest Service did replace it exactly as it was built or paved, I should say, in 1919. They paved it in 1919. It opened it 1915, oil and gravel, paved in 1919.
Q. In 1915 it was just oil and gravel?
SCOTT: Yes. They didn't have...they didn't use any steam rollers.
Q. All the way through?
SCOTT: All the way through. They wanted the cars to compact the base which was rock and oil. Then in 1919 after it had settled they paved it with concrete. Concrete was never meant to be the final surface. They had not developed anything yet, but it was not to be the final surface.
Q. It proved to be a pretty good surface.
SCOTT: Yeah. Concrete actually engineering-wise gets harder every year up to...I forget the exact...I think it's up to about almost a hundred years then it starts to deteriorate. But it keeps getting harder and harder every year.
Q. The road was built with concrete and rebar?
SCOTT: The rebar is a little bit different. Current rebar is circular or round. The rebar in the Ridge Route is sort of a square material that has been twisted. It's a different type, I mean there's a different way it was made. Getting back to a point I wanted to make, the problem today with the road is that they've bermed dirt up. Whenever there's a landslide Angeles Forest just builds a berm along the road because ecologically environmental laws prevent them from shoving the dirt over the side, thereby they've created this large curbing along the cliffside of the road so when we get a substantial rainstorm the water funnels down trying to escape, but it can't. If there was no curbing with this berm of dirt then the water could dissipate throughout the entire length, but with this arrangement it channels until it finds a weak spot with a large volume of water building up and then it blows the road out...blows the side of the road, the road, and it erodes it totally away. So, cleaning out the drains is critical, and the drains have not been cleaned out by Angeles Forest in years. We have started on the north end and are working our way south with their cooperation, thankfully. They've been very cooperative, and, hopefully, they appreciate our effort. We certainly appreciate their cooperation.
Q. So, how do we go about getting those road berms taken out?
SCOTT: Well, that's a very good question. I don't know if there is a way right away.
Q. I mean, if there was money available to bulldoze, could you bring bulldozers in and put the dirt into trucks and then cart the soil away?
SCOTT: Yes, in fact, it's been done. We had a landslide up there that did block the road five or six years ago, and the Forest Service called me and wanted to know what they should do with the dirt. The County has a site where they dump it...they can't put it over the side. I said, "well take it up to Reservoir Summit and dump it there," which is just a flat spot on top of the mountain. And, lo and behold, they did and unbeknownst to me the Kelleys told me they dumped all this dirt up there and somebody stuck a sign on it and it said "Scotty's Mountain" [laughter] and it was there for quite a while...just a hand-painted sign, but somebody tore it down.
Q. Will the Forest Service let you move the dirt somewhere?
SCOTT: I think they probably would.
Q. If we had a designated area where we could take it?
SCOTT: Possibly. It's sort of a grey area.
Q. Ideally, this is a long term goal?
SCOTT: Absolutely. Well ... long term goals ... not only do we want to eliminate the berms for the protection of the road, but we also want to dig out the original pavement. They straightened the road around 1925, that was the last effort to make it better, and if you travel it when it becomes open, you can see where the road actually goes into the side of the mountain and disappears and then comes out again. And we would like to see those areas uncovered, but doing so would most likely cause additional slides because, like any engineering concept, it holds...on an angle...the mountain up.
Q. So, do you conceptually want to get rid of the asphalt that covers the cement?
SCOTT: We haven't voted on that. There are a couple of different thoughts. The Kelleys would like to see the road simply stay as is. There are a lot of spots where the road is severely damaged, mostly on the southern end. And there's one stretch of probably a mile, a quarter mile, where it's completely gone. I mean, it's just dirt. I'd like to see that re paved, personally, with something, hopefully, the original concrete.
Q. How is it possible to pave it with the original concrete?
SCOTT: The way that it was originally...not with the original...but with concrete, the same way it was built. In other words, four and a half inches of concrete with rebar every eighteen inches and twenty feet wide, just like the Forest Service did with the washout which is about a hundred feet of the road several years ago. They put it in exactly as it was originally built.
Q. So the precedent is there?
SCOTT: It's there. But it depends on funding and money. Now, ultimately our thought is that once the road is repaired...this latest problem - the biggest one we've ever experienced - then what I would like to do is to knock on the door of the utility companies like Mobil, AT&T, Pacific Pipeline, Southern California Gas Company, either ask for a donation because they do use the road for their services...it benefits them, or ask them like the trash thing along the freeway, to sponsor maintaining the road for a mile or two. You know, in order to save something as important as this road. My whole objective all along was the road. The book just sort of came along but the book has helped bring attention to the road. So, that's good. But, this is very important, as we've discussed. It's California's very first mountain highway, putting it in prevented California from dividing into two separate states. So the fact that it's still there and you can drive it will give young people a true experience of what motoring was like at the turn of the century. You don't get that any place else.
Q. Carl and I were talking, and I'm sure you've thought about this a lot, is getting the old auto clubs involved because I think the synergy of having those two things together would be helpful.
SCOTT: They have been involved indirectly, but only...I don't want to say only for their own benefit, but basically they want a place to take their cars and tour them without having to worry about people coming up on their bumper or whatever. It's ideal for that. And I think when we get things moving in a good direction without question they'll support us. But, as far as getting any money or anything like that, we're going to have to rely on big contributors. This is not going to be a nickel and dime thing.
Q. Yes. I guess I'm just thinking about it in terms of aesthetics. You know, when you actually look at it in pictures...Carl is talking about a calendar and if there's a video...it's nice to see old cars on the road. It creates the mystique. If we can brand that idea somehow in people's minds that there's a creative or fun aspect to this thing, that it's not just boring old history, but you can come out with the kids and drive your car along it...
SCOTT: And have a wonderful day.
Q. Come up and picnic and see a little piece of California history. I think you have to brand that image in people's minds.
SCOTT: You do. The thing that's helped us greatly is Huell Howser. In fact, I spoke with him yesterday. That helps. He's interested, by the way. Networking is very important. He's a person that networks with us well. But the calendar idea was brought up as a fundraiser. A lot of organizations use calendars and it's going to bring in some money, of course. How much, I don't know. Also, we've talked about hiring a professional grant writer. So far, we have not done it. I've brought it up at some of our board meetings. Carl and I have spoken about it. I am sure it will be on the agenda as we move down the road. We've gotten some pretty good local publicity with the papers up in the area there in Frazier Park, but again, that's like getting a paper printed in Big Bear. It doesn't go very far. I was fortunate when I originally rolled out my efforts to get a couple of articles...probably the one you saw in the L.A. Times...and even an editorial in the Times which surprised the heck out of me. I didn't even know it was going to be coming. Basically, what they said is I had the vision to see that the road should be saved. It was printed in the Valley edition of the L.A. Times. I didn't even know it was in there. Somebody called me and told me. But the point is, it's going to be a major effort to fix the road. It's going to cost millions of dollars.
Q. Well, you said that maybe there was an outfit that would come in and help do some of the work.
SCOTT: Right. And that would be...I can't say the name on tape... there is a company that does a lot of work for Cal Trans and they've offered to contribute some of their time and effort, but politically you've got to be careful. I didn't realize how political everything was...you have to really be careful not to step on people's toes and so forth and go through the right channels. I've learned a great deal.