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Charlie Hernandez: a Tehachapi boy who worked on the train at Monolith

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi

I was born in Tehachapi on November 7, 1938 to Pedro and Hillaria Hernandez. I was one of nine children who lived to adulthood, two of my siblings died as children. My Dad had first come to Tehachapi in 1917 to work at the cement plant, then he went back to Mexico to bring his wife and baby son Armando back to live with him in the Monolith in the early 1920s. When I was about four years old, the family moved from the Monolith townsite into Tehachapi.

Growing up in Tehachapi, I roamed the area with my friends, including George Marantos. We could hike and explore all over this place, on both sides of the mountains. We could go out and be gone for four or five days. Me and all four of my brothers were Warriors, playing on Tehachapi High sports teams.

After I graduated from Tehachapi High, I went to work at the cement plant at Monolith, where my Dad was a brakeman on the ore train that carried crushed limestone from the quarry to the plant three miles away. There were 14 ore cars, and each one held about 16 tons of rock. First they'd blast limestone into big boulders, which they'd grind down in a crusher at the quarry. When the pieces were about the size of a grapefruit, a conveyor belt would carry the material to a bunch of hoppers. My job was to fill the empty ore cars that were parked underneath the hoppers.

When the cars were filled, a small diesel locomotive, called a "Dinky," would hook up to the string of cars and pulled them down to the plant to be emptied, a trip that took about 45 minutes. While those cars were being emptied, I would maneuver a second string of cars under the hoppers and start filling them. When the train got down to the plant, they'd empty the cars one at a time. Each car had two hydraulic rams that raised one side up and dumped out the rock. It went first into the ball mill to be crushed smaller and then into the finish mill where it was ground real fine, like flour.

The little Dinky would then disconnect from the front car, and using a Y siding, would then reverse direction and hook up to the last car and pull the string of empty cars back up to the quarry to repeat the process with a full string of cars. The train had lights and ran 24 hours a day, through the day shift, owl shift and graveyard shift. There were a few lights here and there on the tracks. I was very glad I got to work with my Dad. He was a whole different man at work than he was a home. He was very strict at home, and when I worked with him he treated me more like an equal.