An orphan helps to harvest wheat in Bear Valley
Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi
November 9, 2019
My Dad died of tuberculosis in 1930 when I was only 12 years old. I had been living with him and his brother. I hadn't seen my Mom in years and after my Dad died, my Uncle Bob told me, "Take your clothes and choose yourself a blanket – you're on your own." I stayed with different Slav families in Tehachapi and worked to support myself. I musta been the smartest kid in town 'cause it only took me one year to get through school – I went in through one door and out through the other!
As I got a little bigger and older, I started working on farms and ranches in the area. The first good job I had was working for Biagio Girado, who was farming winter wheat in Bear Valley at the time. He was using a combine harvester to harvest the grain, rather than cutting it for hay. He pulled the combine with a McCormick Deering 22-36 International tractor, which ran on a mixture of water and kerosene. You started it with gasoline and once it got warmed up, you switched over to the kerosene and water mixture. That antique tractor was on display in the yard behind the Tehachapi Museum for many years.
The harvest would bog down on steeper slopes, so Girado had four big draft horses hitched to the front of the tractor to help pull. Biagio would be on the harvester, his son Dominic would drive the tractor and I would ride on the fender where I could jump off and on to grease and oil the equipment and help with the horses. The hardest part was harnessing up the horses each morning. I was 14 years old and got paid $1 a day, which was a man's wages in those days.
– Nick Sarilo
Nick Sarilo was well-known around Tehachapi as a farmer, rancher and square dance caller. Despite a life with lots of hardship and tragedy, Nick was kind and compassionate with a indefatigable sense of humor.