One of my favorite things about writing for the Tehachapi News these past 34 years has been interviewing longtime residents to learn about their lives and about how Tehachapi has changed over the years. While the majority of area residents have arrived more recently, there are still locals with deep roots in the area. One of these is Sally Liebel Errecart, who was born Sally Lange at Tehachapi Hospital on March 14, 1935, and still lives here to this day.
Sally, the daughter of Emil and Zella Lange, was delivered by Dr. Harold Schlotthauer in the original Tehachapi Hospital. Schlotthauer and his wife, who was also a physician (locals called them "Dr. Harold" and "Dr. Madge" to reduce the obvious confusion that resulted when the only two doctors in a small town were both named Schlotthauer and were married), created the first hospital from the Capdeville family's boarding house on E Street. Sally was raised in Tehachapi and eventually worked for the Schlotthauers for 18 years as a Certified Medical Assistant -- you know you come from a small, stable community when you grow up and spend nearly 20 years working in your hometown for the doctor who delivered you!
Sally's father first came to Tehachapi in about 1923 to work at the cement plant at Monolith. Emil had been a logger around Bellingham, Wash., and he was one of three Lange (pronounced with a silent "e") brothers who lived and worked in Tehachapi for a time: Al, Otto and Emil, who was the youngest. Emil was granted the right to homestead in Sand Canyon, so he built one of the first wood frame houses in Sand Canyon -- a home that was later lived in by the Eisenman family.
Emil married Zella Moore in 1927 and they had a daughter named Virginia, who was born in Bakersfield in 1929. Emil took his young family back to Washington for a time to help with the family farm, and while there little daughter died from leukemia at only two years old. The tragedy was so hurtful to the Langes that they almost never spoke of Virginia, and Sally was half-grown before she ever learned there had been an earlier child in the family.
The Langes came back to Tehachapi in 1933 and Emil again worked at Monolith and on big construction projects in the area. One of these buildings is familiar to current residents of the area: the BeeKay Theater, which was built in 1936 by the Lange brothers. Another Lange construction project is the building just west of the Veterans Hall that houses Marty Pay Insurance, Tehachapi Flowers and the Yogurt Junction. The powerfully built Emil was a diesel shovel operator, and he got the nickname "Heavy" Lange because of his physical size and the work that he did. He worked as a shovel operator on the Parker Dam project and also spent six months working to complete the Alaska-Canada Highway in 1943.
Sally's mother, Zella, was an excellent seamstress, and she was one of the local women who used to volunteer to go down and alter uniforms for Marines stationed at the Marine Corp base in Mojave during World War II. The Marines would send a bus up to bring the Tehachapi ladies to the base and back home again. Sally grew up being taught to help others and to volunteer when assistance was needed, and her parents led by example. She is still an active volunteer, helping at the Guild of Tehachapi Hospital and the Tehachapi Senior Center.
When Sally was a little girl, her father took a job at a gypsum mine in the remote Cuyama Valley. The Langes lived at the mine, off Highway 33 in Ventura County. Their housing consisted of two bunkhouses that had been moved to the mine site from a logging camp, and one old bunkhouse served as part of the house with bedrooms and the other was the kitchen and living room. They had no running water or electricity, and used an outhouse. The one-room school Sally attended had all of five students: a kindergartener, one first-grader (Sally), two sixth graders and an eighth grader. Sometimes the dirt road to the mine would wash out, and Sally would have to stay overnight with the teacher, who lived in a house at the school. Living at the gyp mine was interesting experience for Sally, but she was glad when her family returned to their Tehachapi home.
Sally attended what was then called "Tehachapi Grammar School," which was later renamed "Wells Elementary School" after longtime principal Claude Wells. While he had spent most of his life in construction, her father shifted career gears and bought an appliance store from Frank Baumgart, the local businessman whose initial "B" in Baumgart was the source of the "Bee" in the BeeKay Theater. The store was located on Green Street next to the BeeKay, where Las Palmas restaurant is today, and sold washers, dryers, radios, etc. In 1946 televisions were still uncommon, so Emil displayed a TV in the store window and would leave it on. In the evening, some Tehachapi people would stand on the sidewalk outside the store and watch the TV through the window.
At 4:52 a.m. on July 21, 1952, an earthquake struck Tehachapi and many lives were changed in an instant. Fortunately Sally's father had not yet gone into work -- if he had, he might have been killed, because the Lange's Electric building and many others in Downtown Tehachapi were heavily damaged or destroyed. Sally's parents salvaged what inventory they could and re-opened Lange Electric in what had been Tehachapi's only bowling alley, a four-lane facility on Tehachapi Boulevard that became part of the Tehachapi Lumber Company building. It had been built and was still owned by Sally's uncle, Al Lange, and they placed boards over the lanes and turned the bowling alley into a temporary home for Lange Electric. The business later moved to Green Street into the new Squires Building, which today houses the Hitching Post Theaters and La Belle Amor restaurant.
Sally graduated from Tehachapi High in 1953 as part of a graduating class with a whopping 31 students.
"I loved high school," Sally told me, "Tehachapi was a fun place to grow up and I was busy with all kinds of school activities." She was the student body secretary and the editor of the school annual (now usually called a "yearbook.") The total student body at THS at that time was about 150 pupils.
Two months after she graduated, Sally married Carlyle Liebel, a local boy whose father was firefighter at Keene. Their wedding was held in the new Masonic Center on Green Street even before it was finished -- the earlier one had been destroyed in the earthquake. Sally's family were Masons or members of Masonic-affiliated organizations, and Sally spent more than 40 years helping with the Rainbow Girls group.
Sally and Carlyle, who worked as a chemist at Monolith, had two children, Carlyn and Brian (both delivered by Dr. Madge), and the Liebels had more than 30 happy years together before Carlyle's untimely death from congestive heart failure in 1985. After working for the Schlotthauers, Sally eventually went to work for the Kern County Health Department for another 20 years. In 1986, Sally married a Tehachapi native and beloved community character named Pete Errecart, whom she had known all her life. "I was lucky enough to have had two great husbands," Sally says. "Pete was lots of fun and we really enjoyed our life."
Pete passed away several years ago but Sally is still a very active and sharp 79-year-old, who keeps busy in her hometown. There aren't many people who know Tehachapi better than she does, and sturdy businesses and homes built by her father and uncle still stand. Sally is a great example of the kind of civic-minded, competent, hard-working people that have inspired me most over the years, and I'm proud that she stayed here her whole life and made her hometown a better place to live.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for the Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos courtesy of Sally Liebel Errecart