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Trains, Wind Machines and History in Tehachapi

By Greg Aragon

I thought we would blow into Tehachapi, take a few photos of the town’s world-famous wind machines, and then be home for lunch. I didn’t know we would spend the entire day there, enjoying an exciting, spontaneous getaway.
The trip began when a friend and I rented a car and headed north up the 5 Freeway to the 14 Freeway toward the historic city. After about 90 minutes, we pulled into town and parked beneath the iconic Tehachapi Water Tower. I then read a little history.
The area, located at an elevation of about 4,000 ft, was first occupied by the Kawaiisu Indians, before settlers arrived in the 1850s to farm, raise cattle, develop lumber, and mine for gold and limestone.
In 1876, the Southern Pacific Railroad came to the valley and created the town of Tehachapi. The town grew and railroad engineers designed the ingenious Tehachapi Loop, which made it possible for trains to climb from the San Joaquin Valley and run through Tehachapi to Mojave, Los Angeles, Barstow and other eastern destinations.
After reading about the town I headed for one of my favorite man-made sights in Southern California – the Tehachapi wind turbines. For those who haven’t driven through a large wind farm, I recommend it. There is something magical and about them.
For directions to the turbines we stopped at the Apple Shed Restaurant and Bakery. But before we could get the info, we where we were hit with the aroma of grilled sausage and eggs at the entrance. This led to a country breakfast with biscuits and gravy and some apple pie to go.
After breakfast we decided to find the wind machines ourselves and proceeded to turn down the first interesting street we came across. It was Green St. and it led to the Tehachapi Museum.
Located in a 1932 art deco building, the compact museum features things like a 4-ft.-long femur bone from a wooly mammoth, a washing machine from 1900, a grandfather clock from 1785, an old gun collection, and displays dedicated to native Americans and Tehachapi’s WWII veterans.
From the museum we walked across the street and investigated the historic Errea House Garden. Constructed by a local doctor between 1870 and 1875, the house is built out of redwood and designed in simple, rectangular “saltbox” architectural style. Besides old furniture, the house features secluded rock garden, with shade trees and a totem pole.
Leaving the old house we walked around town, admiring the numerous large murals lining Main Street. Painted by local artists, the pictures bring to life Tehachapi’s colorful past in images such as street dancing in 1915, Native American village life, and the Tehachapi Loop.
Located eight miles west of town, the Tehachapi Loop is the busiest single-track in the US, connecting San Joaquin Valley to Arizona. It is considered an engineering marvel because if a train is long enough, it can enter a tunnel and pass over itself before leaving the loop. We were lucky enough to see such a train. It was truly a remarkable sight, but because of the size of the visual, it is hard to capture the event with a camera; this is something best seen in person.
After watching the train complete the circle, we followed Willow Springs Rd. through beautiful hills speckled with thousands of wind turbines. Built from 1980’s on, the machines stand up to 400 ft.-tall and have blades spanning the length of a football field.
Back in town, we learned more about trains at the Tehachapi Railroad Depot Museum, a restored train station museum, with tons of old locomotive photos, artifacts, displays, and real train tracks, with trains running by every 45 minutes. The place also has friendly volunteers that love to tell train stories
Tehachapi is located about 100 miles north of Pasadena. For more info on visiting Tehachapi, call the chamber of commerce at (661) 822-4180 or visit www.tehachapi.com.
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June 25, 2012

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