Hear that whistle blow
The Spirit of Tehachapi
April 29, 2023
A trip down hill from the Tehachapi Mountains, in the early days by wagon or buggy, was something to be thought out carefully for it meant camping out overnight. Grandma Lucinda "Callie" Brite once told my mother that they camped overnight at Three Peaks, near Keene, when they went to Bakersfield.
In 1875, P.D. Greene founded a community, Greenwich, in a sheltered, wooded grove full of ancient oak trees, near water and located a few miles northwest of the present city of Tehachapi. There was a post office (within a saloon), a hotel, telegraph office and stables where the Los Angeles Stage kept their relay of horses. It traveled from Greenwich to Old Town, then on its way to the desert, the Antelope Valley and finally to Los Angeles. This was the accepted mode of travel and people were glad it was available.
By 1876, the Southern Pacific Railroad completed the famous Tehachapi Loop and it was finally possible for the first time to ride the train from the San Joaquin Valley over the mountains east and on to Los Angeles. Three thousand laborers had been recruited from China for construction of the Loop. They had been promised passage back to China when the job was completed. This never happened but whether the laborers stayed by choice is not known. The Loop, even today, is well known as an engineering feat attracting tourists who watch the train as it circles around a small mountain. An 80-car freight train can be seen passing over itself as it travels onward.
So, in 1876 the town of Tehachapi was founded by the S.P. Railroad at a place where the altitude was near 4,000 feet elevation. With the new train stop also came a name for the little community. First known as Summit, the name Tehachapi prevailed and won out. They built a small depot and even finalized the spelling of Tehachapi which, up to that time, was rather loosely set down on paper by many. It often appeared as Tehecita, Tehichipa, Ta-ee-chay-pah and other colorful variations. Oddly enough, Old Town, first, was also known as Tehachapi.
By this time, the Chinese laborers, being an ambitious and industrious people, ended up owning businesses in the infant community. The mining in local mountains also interested them. The Pine Tree Mine on the timbered range south of town had Chinese miners working it and living near and around the large, bare mountain directly in front of the mine which became and is still known as China Hill.
Unfortunately for P D Greene, the town of Greenwich simply disappeared into history. People literally picked up their homes and rolled them, on log rollers, to the new town site farther up the valley. The Los Angeles Stage line was not far behind in ceasing to be. With the new line running over the Tehachapis and down through the desert to Los Angeles, people thought they'd "gone about as 'fur' as they could go" in the line of modern travel.
The small little depot, built in 1876, burned in the early part of the Twentieth Century and by 1904 a grand new structure was built. It even had a style number and was known as Plan #23 and was the busy hub revolving around everyone's life. One would see the Postmaster receiving mail, the bankers getting bags of money, grocers their supplies and freight and farm implements being unloaded.
There was another small depot at Monolith to take care of the necessary cement shipments. In the 1930s, it was managed by Southern Pacific employee, Rollo Carr, who actually lived in the depot with his wife, Margaret and three children, Donna, Barbara and Bob. I once asked Barbara if the depot living quarters were adequate to house a family. She answered, "Well, my brother, Bob, used to sleep in the lobby at night."
Rollo Carr, an experienced telegrapher could listen to the messages being tapped out in Morse Code even though it was not his station's code. He could decipher the messages in his head and would laugh at the private messages and jokes that came over the line from the other telegraphers. Who needed e-mail? The many trains passing through became second nature to those living so close to the tracks and one could sleep through the night quite well.
In 2008, the fine old Tehachapi Depot was a victim of fire. It had become the property of the City of Tehachapi and was scheduled to become a Railroad Museum. The City saw to the building of an exact replica of the former structure. It is so identical that I sometimes forget it isn't the original and it is, indeed today, a fine railroad museum.
Stories of yesteryear are always interesting. They seem to be simpler times and we view them with nostalgia, but living was hard and many sad times were endured, as well as the good. It's best to just carefully lay them away in our memories and take them out occasionally so they best not be forgotten.