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Around 2:30 PM on June 9, 2001 the first radio calls were heard concerning a vegetation fire along the Tuolumne River just south of downtown Modesto.  Ted Benson was in his office at the Modesto Bee when a report came over the scanner: "The fire has gone into the railroad trestle on 7th. Street and there's a large amount of smoke." 

As Mr. Benson saw it...

"A large amount of smoke was the understatement of the year. A pall of black was boiling into the air seemingly a block from the newspaper office.  And I knew at first glance that the cloud's location was all wrong for the former Southern Pacific trestle adjoining 7th Street.

"I'd like to say I was surprised, but considering the fate of the TS trestle in recent years, the fire was no shock. The railroad stopped using the span in March 2000 when local power began tying up at Rogers station in south Modesto. The last freight train over the bridge had run in November 1999. With the trains finally off 9th Street, the trestle had become an attractive nuisance and a structure destined for removal with the development of a regional park along the river's floodplain. I had fully expected to see the bridge torn down over the summer. Now, a fire of suspicious origin was hastening the plans for removal."

"The firefighters, with a lot of mutual aid from surrounding districts, had things pretty well contained as soon as they got water on the blaze, but it was obvious that the trestle was a goner. I made my way out to the north bank of the river, about a quarter mile from the beginning of the floodplain, and watched in awe as the stringers began falling away. By chance, I had positioned myself opposite what seemed to be the ignition point for the fire. It was 3:50PM and just a matter of time before the old girl came crashing down."

"It was 4:23PM as I stepped back over the west side of the trestle...   It was time to head back to the Bee and download!

"Union Pacific wasted no time cleaning up in the aftermath of the blaze.  Unbeknownst to yours truly, a demolition crew went to work Sunday morning on the remaining few hundred feet on the north end of the trestle. By sundown on June 10, only the south end of the span and the actual river crossing (on steel piles) remained in place. All that remained of the rest of the elegant span were several piles of kindling."

--Ted Benson

The Tidewater Southern's crossing of the Tuolumne River was built about 1915 -1916 as part of the railroad's extension to Turlock and Hilmar.  It stretched 1636 feet, spanning the Tuolumne River and a flood channel.  The trestle was never electrified.  The Tidewater's overhead extended no further south than C Street, just two short blocks from the north end of the span.

The trestle was one of the best known photo locations along the railroad.

My thanks to Ted Benson for the gracious use of his text and photographs.

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