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Wednesday
Mar132013

Building of the Norwegian Grade from Conejo Valley to Camarillo 1909 to 1911

This historic photo and information was generously provided by Gerry Olsen, grandson of Nils Olsen, one of the original settlers in the Conejo Valley in the 1890s.

Back at the turn of the century, farmers in the Conejo Valley grew dry crops like barley and wheat and had to take their harvest to Port Hueneme/Oxnard via horse-drawn wagons. Their only routes were the treacherous (at the time) Potrero Road or down the unpaved Norwegian Grade to Santa Rosa Road.

So in 1909, with a $60 donation from the county to purchase dynamite, Norwegian families Olsen, Pedersen, other volunteers and paid helpers blasted into the hillside from Nils Olsen's property, 1 1/2 miles down to Santa Rosa Road.

It took two to three years to finish the project using the dynamite, manual labor and horse-drawn earth moving machines called Fresno Scrapers (named after a Scottish chap in 1883 who formed the Fresno Agricultural Works to manufacture it).  Here is a historic photo of these early Conejo Valley roadbuilders.

 

I used to run up the grade from time to time and that was a pretty tight squeeze, with its steep descent and cactus on the side of the road. While most of us take the 23/101 freeways to get to/from Thousand Oaks/Moorpark/Camarillo these days, the Norwegian Grade provides an alternate 2-lane route with a direct linkage to the gritty Norwegian settlers who had the guts and determination to build it.


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