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It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's the Mule!

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi

 

July 6, 2019

I went to work at Monolith when I was still in high school – the company (Monolith Portland Cement Company, four miles east of town) would hire you at 16 years old. You couldn’t work at the plant, but you could work at the Monolith town site, which the company owned completely. They had a town painter, a town plumber named John Frahm and also a general handyman. When you were younger, you could get hired in the summer to work as helpers to those guys. When I graduated at Tehachapi High in 1957, I went to work at the plant.

There was a big workforce when I started – there were 400 employees. There were a lot of interesting characters who worked there over the years. I remember in the late 1970s when one of the young guys, Steve Bray, who was nicknamed “The Mule,” bet someone $50 that he could jump off the roof of the B-Mill and land on the coal pile. Now, the coal pile was a big stack of coal on the other side of a road from the B-Mill. We’d pile the coal as high as we could, it must have been 20 feet tall. And it wasn’t loose or fluffy, it would settle down and get compacted. Well, one night Steve went up some stairs in the B-Mill, and climbed out a high window and got on the roof of a portion of the B-Mill. Then he took a running start across the roof and leapt toward the coal pile across the road. He had to jump across at least 14 feet, and he was 20 feet in the air! You could have driven a diesel truck underneath him.

When he hit that hard coal pile, he folded up like a ball, rolled down and got all skinned up. There was a retaining wall of concrete to help hold the coal, and he fell down to there and dropped to the ground. It’s a wonder it didn’t kill him, or that he didn’t break any bones.

He was working with Demecio Aguilar, and he told Demecio that he fell down some stairs. Demecio told him that he better go to the chemistry lab area and get checked out for his injuries. Demecio had an idea of what he’d done, and as Bray was leaving, Demecio told him, “Have ‘em check your brain out, too.”

Steve was actually pretty smart, he eventually became the Process Control Supervisor out there.

He had a lot of brains, he was just wild when he was young.

– Larry Jones

Larry’s grandfather, Clint Jones, moved to Tehachapi in 1913, and owned a bar called the Palace Saloon. During Prohibition, Clint was a bootlegger who smuggled moonshine to Tehachapi in his old Overland 6 touring car. He’d pile tools and supplies on top of the whiskey to conceal it, and when stopped at police checkpoints, Clint would say that he was going out to the desert to prospect. Like many Tehachapi men once did, Larry spent his entire working career at Monolith.

 
 

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