July 4, 2019
By Bill Pumford, Image from Russ Keller Collection
TITLE: CLARK GRADE: This week’s image is a real photo of Clark Grade. Of all the roads in the San Bernardino Mountains the road in this photo, popularly referred to as Clark Grade, was the most infamous. The road runs basically from Santa Ana Canyon near Seven Oaks to Bear Valley. The purpose of the road was to make a quicker trip to Big Bear for sportsmen and later for vacationers by cutting off two days for wagons. Hiram Clark built the road in 1899 at an initial cost of $10,000 and the road consisted of many hairpin turns and grades as steep as 16%. During the next decade the road gained a reputation as a very difficult road to get up for even lightly loaded autos. In 1910 plans were made to smooth out Clark Grade to a maximum grade of 8% to make travel by auto easier and to attract more vehicles. In August of 1910 an event took place which dramatically increased interest in driving into the mountains. Jack Heyser, from Riverside, took a White steamer automobile with two passengers up Clark Grade and to the Bear Valley Motel. Actual running time was three hours and fifteen minutes although the trip really took more than six hours. Much of the extra time was spent hiking to a creek to get more water for the steamer which had run dry. Heyser, who was no stranger to driving in hill climb contests in Southern California, said that Clark Grade was the roughest he had ever seen. During 1913/14 Hiram Clark and Gus Knight were paid thousands of dollars to work on Clark Grade. Despite all the work, Clark Grade remained a rough road – steep and narrow. It was so narrow and dangerous that vehicle controls had to be set up to ensure that traffic only went one way at a time. The road is still there and, during milder months, is open for travel.