In an earlier post, I mentioned that I have lived in Tehachapi many times. It’s appropriate to note that it was fruit that first drew my family to Tehachapi. Not apples, but pears.
Tehachapi Old Timers are aware that the big piece of vacant land on the east side of Curry Street in town (north of the fire station) was once a wonderful pear orchard. As Tehachapi’s leading historian Jon Hammond reported in this article, the pear orchard was there for 72 years until, sadly, the beloved trees were removed in the early 1980s.
Burt Denison planted the Bartlett pear trees in 1909, Hammond reports, beginning with 40 acres and eventually enlarging the orchard to 120 acres. The trees took a while to produce, but the orchard was quite a success. The pears were harvested each summer, usually beginning around the first of August. You may not know that Bartlett pears are picked green. Back in the day, the Tehachapi Bartletts were each carefully wrapped in tissue paper, packed in wooden boxes, and loaded on railcars to be shipped to distant markets.
My father’s mother, who moved from Texas to Lindsay, California, in the early 1920s, supported her children by packing fruit. During the school year, she could stay close to home packing oranges. But in the summer she traveled and Tehachapi became one of her favorite destinations each August.
I don’t know when my grandmother began coming to Tehachapi, but I do know that she was a “regular” at the pear shed along the railroad tracks on the west end of town through the 1940s. My parents married in May 1950 and came along with her that August as my father had been hired as a state fruit inspector. While they were in Tehachapi my Dad learned that the U.S. Army required his service again as he was recalled due to the Korean Conflict. He and my mother ended up living in Alexandria, Virginia, until the Army released him in August 1951. I was born that November. I don’t know if my family came to Tehachapi for pear season in August 1952. I suspect not, because the earthquake of July 21 practically destroyed the town.
But my mother had good memories of their time in the mountain town. My father was between jobs in the summer of 1954, so they came along with my grandmother. When pear season ended, my mother wanted to stay so my Dad went to the cement plant at Monolith every morning until he finally landed a job. At first, we lived (my parents, baby brother, and I) in a little trailer in the trailer park on East H Street and then we moved to a tiny house on Old Town Road.
Our family moved away early in 1955 and didn’t return until 1964 after my Dad started working at the prison. But my grandmother continued to go to Tehachapi each August to pack pears for many years.
In August of both 1967 and 1968, I was able to pack pears along with my grandmother. My Social Security earnings record shows that I made $63 the first year. We were paid by the box, so I must have stepped up my game the next year because I made $180. That was enough money to buy my school clothes!
Lots of Tehachapi boys worked in the pears — either firing smudge pots on cold nights to keep the trees from freezing or picking — but only a few girls. Packing made the most money and it was hard to get a spot, but my grandmother’s connection helped me with that. Although the orchard was owned by the Bisbee family of Tehachapi at that time, the packing operation was under contract with the packing operation managed by brothers Al and Clel Hill of Mendota, California, for many years. Each year my grandmother sent them a letter letting them know she would be in Tehachapi for pear season and I sent letters, too, asking them if I could join her. Working in the pear shed was hard work, but I cherish the memory.
The fruit crate label that was used for those many of those Tehachapi Bartletts is probably familiar to you, it’s the T-hacha-P label that can be seen in the mural on the former Jacobsen potato shed on Tehachapi Boulevard (that currently houses The Shed restaurant).
The pear orchard was eventually removed, and apples became Tehachapi’s leading fruit crop, but over the years thousands of wooden boxes of Barlett pears left Tehachapi with that T-Hacha-P label on each end. I’m glad to have been a small part of that industry and to have the related family memories.
Thanks for reading!