Bob Freeman: a Tehachapi boy through and through
Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi
September 25, 2021
My family, the Freemans, arrived in the Tehachapi Valley 140 years ago when my grandparents, Farmer and Susan Freeman, moved from Havilah to Tehachapi in the 1870s. The Freemans ran a small dairy located on Green Street, about where the former St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store (and before that, Town and Country Market) was located.
My grandmother would turn her cows loose after the morning milking, and they would wander down the canyon by the railroad tracks and eat the meadow grass. It used to be a lot wetter down there (in the vicinity of the Tehachapi Creek Bridge, which you drive across if you use the Highway 202/Tucker Road exit or onramp to Highway 58) and the cows could find good feed. In the afternoon she'd gather them back up again. She kept about eight cows or so in fresh milk, and she was one of the only people in the valley to have milk for sale. Back in those days, if you wanted milk, you kept a cow or did without – there weren't many dairies in the small towns or in the country, so you'd better make friends with a neighbor who had a cow if you didn't have one of your own. But there were a few people like my grandmother who would sell milk, cream and butter.
Farmer and Susan Freeman had eight children who grew up in Tehachapi – besides my father Robert, there were brothers Jon Ban and William and sisters Lottie, Nellie, Grace, Cora and California. When Bill was only in his 20s, he was killed by a horse in downtown Tehachapi on Aug. 6, 1897, while stopping a runaway wagon and team. His was one of the first burials at Tehachapi Eastside Cemetery, and the Freeman family plot of 12 grave sites is one of the oldest at the cemetery.
While my Dad was still a boy, Robert Freeman went to work for Charles Asher at his dry goods store, which was located about where Centennial Plaza is today. Robert worked there for many years and eventually bought the store from Asher's widow in 1935 and renamed it R.B. Freeman's Store, whose motto was, "Once a customer, always a customer." Dad went out of his way to accommodate his Tehachapi customers. He carried everything you can imagine: hay, grain, dynamite, groceries, clothing, guns, ammunition . . . and if he didn't have it in stock, he could order it.
Tehachapi was a great place for me to grow up. I worked in the local orchards for $1 a day, and I could ride my horse almost anywhere. In the winter time, we'd take old metal signs and rub them with wax paper to make 'em slick, and then we'd go sledding on Pauley Hill or even China Hill, though it's hard to imagine going down that China Hill now – it's steep! (China Hill is the smooth, nearly treeless hill south of Highline Road, just east of Water Canyon Road.) I used to raise goats out in Sand Canyon, too, and they'd wander all over, including on Sugar Loaf [Mountain]. The oldtimers told me that bears used to hibernate on the back side (north-facing slope) of Sugar Loaf.
When I got out of high school, I worked at the old cinnabar mine near Broome Road. We'd get the cinnabar ore and extract quicksilver (mercury) from it. There was a small mine and an adjacent mill, and they'd run three shifts a day, working around the clock to get that quicksilver. They had some small cabins down there and I lived in one of them. I loved it – there were quail calling right outside the door, and you could explore the hills when you weren't working. I also worked at the Fickert Ranch in Bear Valley, and cowboyed for other ranchers like Bud Cummings and Ben Sasia. I spent my career at Monolith. I always liked to work outside. I couldn't stand working inside. If I had liked working inside, I'd have been a grocer like my Dad.
– Bob Freeman
Bob Freeman was raised in Tehachapi and except for service in the Marine Corp during World War II and five years spent managing a Thoroughbred brood mare operation for the Newhall Ranch, he spent his entire life here. He was one of 17 members of the THS Class of 1936, and he was student body president and captain of the football team. Bob was friendly and cheerful and he spent his 93 years enjoying his life and helping others to enjoy theirs.