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Moonshine, Old Town Road and a boy behind the wheel

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi


June 22, 2019

Jon Hammond

"During Prohibition, my dad leased a ranch on Old Town Road, on the south part closer to Highway 202, which was known as 'the Lovejoy Place.' It had a barn and he and my Uncle Bob put a still in a hidden underground room in there, and he proceeded to become one of the biggest bootleggers in Tehachapi. They also called that place 'the Turkey Ranch' because there were about 150 turkeys of the bronze breed there all the time. They kept them in a low shed that's still there. My dad was a Yugoslav who came to this country to work – all those guys were broad between the shoulders and narrow between the eyes, and the mines and the quarries liked them for their hard work.

There were always federal agents trying to enforce Prohibition. One day an acquaintance of my dad's from Lancaster came to the Turkey Ranch to ask for a bottle on credit. Dad gave it to him, and the man stepped outside, saying he had to relieve himself. That traitor then waved in the feds who were hidden in rocky outcroppings overlooking Old Town Road.

Those G-men ran down with their guns and caught my dad with a few bottles, but they were unable to find the still itself. My dad and his brother had it hidden underneath heavy floorboards in a horse stall, with horses and straw and dung on top of it, so none of those government men wanted to look too hard in there. My dad spent the night in the 'Graybar Hotel' but they couldn't charge him with too much. He got out and kept a low profile but kept on moonshining.

I started driving Model Ts when I was only seven or eight years old, mostly driving around oldtimers who'd had too much to drink. Neither my dad or Uncle Bob ever learned to drive a car, they'd drive a team of horses, ride a horse, get a ride from someone else or walk. Once I was driving an old German miner named John Barber, who stuttered. We were coming down east on Poleline (Highline Road), getting ready to turn left on Curry Street, which was called Summit Road back then. At that time there was a big eroded gully on the east side of Curry right where it joined Poleline. I was headed for that ravine and old John Barber stammered out "Tt-tt-tt-ttt-turn the son-of-a-bbb----tch!" I got 'er turned in time and we didn't go into the gully."

– Nick Sarilo

Nick Sarilo was a Tehachapi original, the son of a miner and bootlegger who was orphaned when his father died of tuberculosis after his mother had abandoned him. He grew up to become a cowboy, rancher, farmhand, square dance caller and all-around exceptional man.


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