Tuesday, Jan 01 2013 12:02 AM

Pen in Hand: Kirk and Pat Stewart: remembering what Tehachapi was like in the 1950s

Related Photos

Pat and Kirk Stewart grew up together in Tehachapi as next door neighbors, and eventually married about 30 years later. Photos by Jon Hammond.

This is a1959 hunting permit issued to Jack and Kirk Stewart by the Fred W. Fickert Ranch, a 25,000-acre cattle ranch that is now Bear Valley Springs.

This 1942 calendar is from the Cameron Dairy, located near Sand Canyon where the S.S. Minnow boat is beached. It was given to Pat by Charlie and Babe Powell, longtime C & P Market customers who owned the dairy.

Although it sounds like a cliche, some guys actually do marry the girl next door. Kirk Stewart did, although it happened about 30 years after he and Pat Crowell grew up in adjacent houses on Carroll Way in Tehachapi in the 1950s. The two of them each had long-lasting first marriages, and when those ended, they had the good fortune to reconnect and they've been enjoying each other and their life together in Tehachapi since 1994.

Pat and her family (siblings Harold Ray, Sue and Zola, who was born later) arrived in Tehachapi in 1953, after her parents Arnold and Grace Crowell and their kids moved from Arkansas to California. They went first to McFarland, where both the Crowells worked for Dick Kitchens at his Kitchens Market -- Arnold as a butcher and Grace as a checker. Kitchens also owned a grocery store in Tehachapi known as Kitchens Market #3, which was located where the Kasagiri Japanese restaurant is today.

When Kitchens died, the Crowells bought the Tehachapi market from his widow and moved up into the Tehachapi Valley. They soon went into partnership with their son-in-law, Dwain Palmer and daughter Sue Crowell Palmer and opened C & P Market on the corner of F and Curry Streets, in a new building that now houses the Tehachapi Moose Lodge. Arnold and Grace Crowell pronounced their name "Krau-ell" which rhymes with "vowell," rather than "Crowl" which rhymes with "bowl," which is the way a different Tehachapi family also named Crowell pronounces their name.

Kirk Stewart's family arrived in Tehachapi at almost the same time, in 1954, when Kirk's father Jack came to help establish the new men's prison in Cummings Valley (now CCI). The facility had originally been a women's prison from 1932 to 1952, when the Tehachapi earthquake of July 21 heavily damaged the buildings. The women inmates were then moved to Frontera and when the prison was rebuilt, it housed male prisoners instead.

Jack Stewart was a lieutenant at Chino and he was tasked with bringing up the first group of inmates to open the Cummings Valley prison. There were only minimum security inmates at that time, and it was very different from the tense, maximum security conditions that exist at CCI today.

"The inmates came to our house and helped us move," Kirk, who was an eighth grader at the time, recalls. "They loaded our furniture into trucks and then were sitting around the kitchen table having sandwiches with my Mom. My Dad went up with the first 15 or 20 inmates, and it eventually housed 500 inmates when it was fully-occupied." Jack and Dorothy and their children Nancy and Kirk lived in Tehachapi, and Dorothy eventually became a longtime librarian here at the old library building at 310 South Green Street, which now houses the Tehachapi Museum.

Tehachapi in the 1950s was sleepy, rural and small-town, with the population of the City of Tehachapi only about 1,500 residents. "I would mow yards for a dollar a lawn, and then I used to ride my bike out into the country where Golden Hills and the Old Town Shopping district is now,'" Kirk remembers. "I carried a .22 rifle across the handle bars of my bike and used it to shoot ground squirrels."

In fact, Kirk was also part of the Tehachapi High School rifle team coached by John Meyers, a former military drill instructor. The kids shot Remington .22 target rifles and practiced at a 50-foot range located where the Dye Natatorium swimming pool is today, firing at targets in front of a berm the team made from railroad ties and dirt. They were even allowed to walk through the school halls with their rifles, as long as they kept the bolt open and the shells in their pockets. It's very difficult to imagine that scenario at any high school today.

Pat worked at her parents' grocery store and that too, was very different from the markets of 2013. There was an old miner commonly known as "Teddy the Greek" who lived up at the Pine Tree Mine, and he'd walk all the way to town to do his shopping. When he came into C & P Market and brought his groceries up the checkout counter, he'd just hand the checker his wallet and tell them "Take what you need."

Jess Chitwood was another longtime Tehachapi resident and C & P customer, and when his vision deteriorated he too would simply hand over his wallet and tell the checker to take enough to pay for his groceries. If customers were elderly or lacked a car, C & P would also deliver their groceries right to their house. C & P customers and the staff, who were mostly family members, formed long-lasting friendships. "It was a whole different world back then," Pat says.

One of the most cherished C & P employees was the late lamented Dee Fitzjerrell, a hometown boy who was a human dynamo of activity and was unfailingly friendly, helpful and hard-working. "There could be a blizzard outside and Dee would drop what he was doing to carry someone's groceries outside in the snow wearing only a short-sleeved shirt," Pat remembers, "He was a wonderful guy to have at the store." Dee later owned a highly-regarded yard maintenance business in Tehachapi.

In about 1958, the Crowells and Palmers opened a second market at 805 Aspen Drive, partly as a courtesy to customers who lived west of the store in an age when many of them didn't drive. The newly-built store was called C & P Market #2 and it still exists, though it has gone through a series of name changes over the past 45 years, including Uptown Market, Valley Foods, Howard's Market, Fiesta Mexicana Meat Market, and Aspen Beer and Wine Meat Market.

After graduating from THS in 1959, Kirk went into the Marine Corp for four years and then spent six years as a correctional officer at CCI. He then joined the Kern County Sheriff's Department and spent the rest of his career with the KCSD.

Pat graduated from THS in 1960 and continued working at C & P for many years afterwards, and had three daughters (Jana, Stacey and Rene Herrera, all delivered at Tehachapi Hospital by Dr. Vince Troy). C & P Market was sold to Frank Ferguson in 1983 and it closed a few years later. Pat had her own housekeeping business for a number of years and also worked in the meat department at Old Towne Market with Ed Parks.

Now both Kirk and Pat are retired and enjoying life at their pleasant house in Golden Hills. After 60 years here, they are comfortable and contented with their hometown, though like all longtime residents they do miss the way things used to be. "We liked the area when it was smaller and you knew most of the people," Pat says, "But we still love Tehachapi and we won't leave until they carry us out in a box." Spoken like a true local.

Have a good week.

Jon Hammond has written for the Tehachapi News for over 30 years. Send email to:

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