Growing up on Old Town Road in the 1930s
Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi
August 17, 2019
My Mother was of French descent and was a tremendous cook who kept her family and many friends fed during the Depression. She canned over 500 jars of fruits and vegetables every year to put in our root cellar, and she also had big 15-gallon crocks that she used to make sauerkraut and corn beef. She also used to dry lots of apples from our 10-acre orchard. She'd peel them and slice them and put the slices up on the roof to dry in the sun.
Mother loved Tehachapi and the White Feather Ranch on Old Town Road where we lived, but she would also find herself homesick for the relatives she left behind when the family moved out west from Connecticut in 1923. We'd come home from school sometimes and she'd be crying because she was homesick. She always wore an apron and she'd have an onion in the pocket and she'd start peeling and cutting up that onion so us kids wouldn't know that she'd been crying because she was sad. She didn't want to upset us.
Root cellars for Tehachapi families
When our family first bought what had been "the old Burton place" and created the White Feather Ranch, the access to the root cellar was through a trap door under the kitchen table. Mother didn't find that convenient so my Dad, Julius, made a new outside entrance from the side of the house, which was typical of farmhouses of that time. The three of us kids helped with the project and also enlarged the old cellar, digging by hand.
We eventually encountered roots from the giant Gray Pine that dominated the property for many years and Dad had us stop digging there to avoid harming the tree, so our cellar had an L-shape. It was in there that most of our winter food supply, as well as year-round pickles, preserves, jams, jellies and other food was stored.
Our family was good friends with the Grinds family, who lived on a homestead on Old Town Road just east of the White Feather Ranch, located where Tangleweed Farm is today. The Grinds had a little summer house down in the willows along Brite Creek, which used to flow year-round in those days. They'd stay in that summer house when it was hot because it was cool down by the willows.
They also had a springhouse with a trap door and four steps leading down to a lower portion. In that lower part they had channeled part of Brite Creek so that it flowed right through the cellar. They'd lined that part of it with boulders and the cold water from the creek ran right through. They had milk cows and Mrs. Grinds used to make cheese that she put in cloth bags and hung from the rafters in that coldest part of the cellar. She also kept milk and cream and eggs down there and she'd sell those things when she had extra. They also let us put watermelons right down in the creek water and those watermelons sure were good and cold in the summertime.
The Grinds also had a small earthen reservoir and we played on it one particularly cold winter. That old reservoir froze so hard that the ice on top would support us. We got a set of golf clubs and used them as hockey sticks and us Tehachapi kids were out there playing ice hockey on that frozen reservoir.
As a farmgirl, I worked hard and helped my family both inside and outside, herding the family's 500 white turkeys, gathering eggs, feeding, etc. We used to grind our own flour and bake our own bread. We would buy wheat from the Fickert Ranch, the huge beautiful cattle ranch that encompassed all of Bear Valley long before it was developed into a gated community. We always preferred to buy our wheat from the Fickerts, because theirs was the cleanest we could find. We'd buy it in 100-pound cloth sacks, which I was able to carry on my shoulder in those days. Mama would spread out a big bed sheet and we'd pour out the grain and look through it, picking out any weed seeds or rocks before we ground it. The Fickerts' wheat hardly had any other seeds or rocks in it.
– Dottie Fritz Newton
Dottie first visited Tehachapi in 1928, and her family bought a homestead on Old Town Road in 1930. She was a remarkable woman and the mother of Jerri Cowan, and grandmother to Manney, Loran and Perrin Cowan.