Gil's Rock Shop: a beloved Tehachapi store
Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi
November 9, 2019
My parents used to own a store called Gil's Rock Shop on Tehachapi Boulevard (near the current location of Sheridan's Consignment). "The Rock Shop," as most locals called it, carried rocks and minerals, but also a variety of jewelry, fossils, lapidary tools and Indian artifacts. The store also had enormous vintage oil paintings of Western scenes hung high on the walls. The store was the dream of my Dad, Chet "Gil" Gilbertson, who was born in South Dakota and went to mining school in Minnesota before heading west to work in a mine in Winnemucca, Nevada. He arrived in Tehachapi in 1935 and went to work at the old quicksilver (mercury) mine near Broome Road, quarrying cinnabar ore for the manufacture of mercury.
Rocks and minerals were both a vocation and a passion for my Dad, who worked in mining and quarrying his whole life, eventually becoming a production foreman at the limestone quarry at the Monolith Portland Cement Company. When he wasn't working, he was often on rock hunting expeditions or polishing and cutting the stones he had already found. On the Fourth of July 1938, he married my Mom, Ida, who was a fourth-generation Kern County resident. She had contracted tuberculosis and was sent to the Stoneybrook Tuberculosis Sanitarium in Keene, where she was treated and eventually recovered from TB. She then worked at the TB hospital and it was there that she met my Dad, who worked at the nearby cinnabar mine.
My Dad had to leave Tehachapi to fight in World War II as a combat engineer in the Army, but when he returned he worked at the Cuddeback Ranch in Golden Hills and eventually went back to Monolith. All the while he continued to work with rocks, gems and minerals, even constructing a small building in the back yard to house all his tools and materials. He had no degree but he studied geology, chemistry and mineralogy and was a self-educated man. In 1960, my folks opened Gil's Rock Shop, which gave my Dad the chance to make his hobby into a profession, even though he continued to work full-time at Monolith. My father was a strong believer in the importance of education and the need to encourage and spark interest in the young, so he gave mineral sample cards to each one of the kids who came to the store on class field trips – and almost all the kids in Tehachapi would tour the Rock Shop at least once while they were growing up.
1974, my Dad passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. I was in the military at the time, but I got a hardship discharge and came home to help my Mom run the shop for the next two years until she could run it by herself. In 1981, my Mom decided it was time to close the Rock Shop and we had a huge three-day sale, which was very well-attended because we had announced the sale to rock clubs all over California. It has been more than 30 years since the shop was here but many locals still remember and appreciate the old store.
– Al Gilbertson
Al, who is Chet and Ida Gilbertson's only child, spent many years in the jewelry industry and then became a research associate specializing in diamonds at the Gemological Institute of America, living in Murrieta, California with his wife Laura. Jon Hammond was one of those Tehachapi kids who came into the Rock Shop, both with his Wells Elementary School classes and many other times as well. With the many grinders, saws, polishers and other tools, some equipped with lamps and magnifiers, as well as all the different rocks and fossils and huge landscape paintings on the upper walls, the Rock Shop seemed like a magical place.