By Mark La Ciura
contributing writer 

Train watching, a Tehachapi pastime


March 16, 2024

I was not born in Tehachapi, but I have been in the area for about 40 years. Do you remember when we had only one flashing traffic light in town and they never closed the freeway? We all just drove slowly when it snowed; no freeway gates blocked the on ramps. I think this the way to be safe, to drive the proper speed for the road conditions. Things have changed in so many ways up here.

We all have so much to see and experience up here in the mountains. I first checked out the area in 1976 when the "American Freedom Train" went through the Tehachapi Loop. The train was being pulled by a beautifully restored Southern Pacific GS-4 steam locomotive number 4449. The steam locomotive was and is based out of Portland. The train was painted all in red, white and blues. As you may remember it was our bicentennial and this 1940s steam locomotive was a big part of it for me back then. I was still in high school and did not own a camera. 35 film cameras were common back then, but I eventually gravitated to a professional camera that had a larger negative using 120 roll film.

My brother and I camped out in the loop to get a good viewing location. After the train went through, it was followed by motorcade of rail fans. I remember we were blown away seeing nothing on the shelves at Circle K after the rail fans had stopped in. I think the only thing left was ice from ice maker.

On Sundays, all you could get was a tank of gas and a cold drink – the town was all closed up. Nothing was open and that is the way it was on Sundays.

You could shoot a movie about the end of the world or stage "War of the Worlds" themed movie and not get any local people in the film footage. Just to add, Tehachapi had no chain stores at this time; all stores were "Ma and Pa" locally owned. I really liked that about my first impression of Tehachapi.

Oh, when I came up here to live part time in 1983, no-one locked their doors. A lady friend invited me over for dinner. She said, just bring some ice cream and the door is open. That blew me away, being a city boy.

I have seen lots of change up here in 40 years.

Well, I still like to do some train watching, looking for the out of ordinary locomotive power. One day I did, it was an all "Canadian National Railway" motive-power pulling a BNSF train known as the grain train. This train was heading westbound in the direction of the Tehachapi Loop and Keene, where the fire helicopter pad is located. BNSF sometimes uses motive-power of other railroads.

This started me on a short trek to Keene about 10 miles down Highway 58 to photograph this special train. This brought me to the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, a fantastic place to visit. It's a great location to view trains and bring a lunch. They have park benches and it's very green this time of year.

There's a sign that reads, "Sí, se puede," which is Spanish for roughly, "Yes, we can."

On the same property is Villa la Paz. It's now run by the National Chavez Center as a conference and education center. Villa la Paz is one to put on your must see list. It is a very peaceful, relaxing place with the creek running by. The property has a visitors center and memorial gardens. There is lots to see at this tribute site to Cesar Chavez in Keene, California.

For more information about this and all the National Parks go to


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