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U.S. Highway 466 – Where are you?

The Spirit of Tehachapi


Years ago U.S. Highway 466 came directly through Tehachapi. Trucks rumbled by and auto traffic on the way to Bakersfield and parts north passed through town. Many stopped to stretch their legs and have coffee at the local cafes. The highway did not continue west through town as it does now, for Main Street dead ended as it came to Curry Street. Travelers had to make a sharp left to continue down Curry before heading northwest again. A portion of the road that is now Route 202 was once called Three Mile Road, which was also Hwy 466 leading out of town. On what is now Woodford-Tehachapi Road, motorists would be traveling a two lane mountain road with many twists and turns. This was the only route one could take through the Tehachapis. Keene had a little café and a gas station and another wide place in the curvy road was called Clear Creek, which also had a gas station. Just as it does now, the road finally leveled off to a more straight highway as it approached General Beale Road and neared Arvin. It was a 45 mile trip "down the mountain" and local teens (and adults) continually tried to see how much time, or how little time, it took to travel the curvaceous road to Bakersfield. It usually took an hour for the average driver but some bragged about a 37 minute record. They called it "straightening out the curves". The Arvin cut-off was another milestone to overcome. Teens (and adults) would tell how fast they could get going by the time they reached that location. Fortunately, I was never a participant in the speed tests but I can recall a phrase such as, "Got goin' to a hundred and three at the Arvin cut-off!" Reckless mountain boys having fun.

On the other hand, coming "up the mountain" on 466 from Bakersfield on that winding, two lane road, was a different story entirely. Driving up behind a loaded truck found one moving ten to fifteen miles per hour for an extended period. There were only a few places on the road that would allow the driver to pass.

It took talent to operate the trucks in the forties and fifties for the main gear box and auxiliary gear box (usually called a Brownie, which was a trade name) were handled manually by the driver. I recall my husband once saying, as we followed a slow moving truck up the grade, and listening to the way the driver picked up the gears, "That guy knows how to drive a truck." There were two gear shift levers on those old rigs; one that controlled the main gear box and the other for the "Brownie."

Former local resident, Bob Cree, a long time mechanic, once told me; "The one thing about the transmissions used in the old trucks was that they were not syncro-mesh transmissions. Each gear change had to be executed carefully and with great skill. Today's trucks are much easier to shift than the old monsters were."

My father, for many years, drove for Oilfield Trucking hauling gasoline to various California and Nevada locations. Since we lived in Tehachapi, he started down to Bakersfield at three in the morning to pick up his truck. By 7:30 a.m. he would stop by our house for breakfast on his way to perhaps, Tonapah, or Austin, Nevada. Often, he'd be headed into the Owens Valley to Bishop or Independence. He was an avid geologist and found the lava beds and the Sierra Nevada Range fascinating. He spent a lot of time on Highway 466 and loved the open road. Most any truck driver will have a story about "going up Baker Grade loaded." Mojave was another town which accommodated highway traffic on its main street. During my childhood, U.S. 466, leaving the desert town, veered left towards Tehachapi leading travelers over another road equipped with mountainous curves which did not end until one left Cameron Canyon. If you know where to look –and I do– it is possible to see remnants of that higher, old road before it was brought down to the canyon floor in the 1940s.

The Cache Creek bridge was once known as "the dip" which is what it was: a lower spot in the highway that gathered water when the rains would come and often block traffic from going through. Cars had been known to be washed down stream for those drivers foolish enough to try to get through when the current was strong. Fatalities had been known to occur. Some years later a sturdy bridge was constructed and the "dip" is history and only remembered by a few.

U.S. Highway 466 is no longer a signed highway. Upon the completion of I-15 and U.S. Highway 93 there was no continued need for this highway. Rather than eliminating the highway completely in the Tehachapi area, it was renamed S.R. 58 with old portions still remaining but with new identification. Of course, Highway 58 finally by-passed both Mojave and Tehachapi. It didn't leave even a little road sign that hinted it had once had another name. So it was that U.S. 466 was eliminated in California without even a fond farewell.

Living in Golden Hills, it's more convenient for me to take the "old road" down to where Keene connects to the fine highway S.R. 58. Fifty-eight is a scenic route and although I have never timed myself or tried to set a speed record, it gets me where I want to go. Bob Cree once told me that if he had owned the LaQuinta motel and restaurant east of town, he would have named it the Old 466 Diner. Maybe we could start a movement!


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