Not many people can claim to have seen a main highway bridge built and demolished in their lifetime. Eric King can.
When he was 13, Eric took a photo of a car coming on to the bridge that had just been built over the railway tracks on the highway at Ōtaki.
The note on the back of the photo records it as December 28, 1938 (official records show the bridge being opened in 1937). This week, Eric was back near where he took that photo, watching as the bridge, known to long-time locals simply as The Ramp, was being demolished.
Eric, who’s now 95, still remembers the day the took the photo.
“My mate Bob Whetren and I were always taking photos of the trains going through Ōtaki, and lots of other things,” Eric says. “I had one of those little plastic Kodak cameras. I walked down from our home in Te Manuao Road and got the photo of the car coming onto the bridge. It’s a tiny photo, but that’s all you could get from little cameras in those days.”
Before The Ramp, traffic on the state highway would come from the south across the old wooden bridge at the Ōtaki River (replaced in 1955), go through the railway shops, turn right into Rāhui Road and left into County Road before heading north over what was then also a wooden bridge at the Waitohu Stream.
The Ramp was the first concrete and steel bridge in the area. It was built by hard physical labour under the supervision of bridge builder Ted Menzies. Eric recalls one of the truck drivers who carted fill for the road embankment south of the new bridge, parking his truck overnight in the family’s driveway.
The Ramp was built to ease the flow of traffic through Ōtaki. However, traffic then was nothing like what it is today.
“Me and my mates would get on our roller skates and scoot down County Road,” Eric say. “There was probably a car every 10 minutes, and if one was coming, one of us would call out to let the others know.”
The Ramp was due to be demolished by the end of the week (June 14).
For more than 80 years it has carried traffic along the highway. It also served as a regular trek for children on The Plateau attending Ōtaki School, and later Ōtaki College (from 1959) and Waitohu School (1963).
In the days of steam trains, children would try to drop apples down the train’s funnel as it steamed under The Ramp, or put pennies on the track to see how much the pennies would get flattened.