Most people are aware of the Tehachapi Loop, the railroad engineering feature near Keene in which the tracks pass over themselves in a big circular loop to allow trains to gain elevation in a steep area without exceeding a 2.2 percent grade. Few residents realize, however, that there are not just one but actually four different monuments near the Tehachapi Loop, each one placed there by a different entity.
The best known monument by the Loop marks the site as a California Historic Landmark, which was placed on an overlook right alongside Woodford-Tehachapi Road in 1953. This bronze plaque gives a short summation of the Loop, which was designed by a Southern Pacific Railroad engineer named Thomas Hood and quickly became famous once the railway through Tehachapi was open for trains in 1876. There is a wide dirt shoulder across from this marker where rail fans frequently park to view trains as they pass around the Loop.
Next to the older marker stands a newer one placed there in 1998 by the American Society of Civil Engineers honoring the civil engineering aspects of the Tehachapi Pass Railway Line. The text of this one is considerably longer than the wording on the older state historical marker, and makes sure to mention the contributions of the Chinese workforce whose blood, sweat and toil built the railroad through the challenging Tehachapi Mountains.
Once you've checked out these markers, you can head down Woodford-Tehachapi Road about a half a mile to where a dirt road heads right to the tracks. Although signs make it clear that this is private property, Union Pacific allows vehicles to drive on the road providing they respect railroad property and cause no problems. This road leads to a track crossing, and on the other side a few hundred yards away is a concrete bench and marker.
These were put in place as an observation site to view the cross atop the small hill that the Loop passes around. The bench, marker and cross are all part of a memorial to two railroad employees who lost their lives in a runaway train accident in San Bernardino County in 1989. Though the cross is small in the distance, the bench is positioned facing the cross and the small marker is intended to be read as visitors sit on the bench and contemplate the cross. The memorial was put in place by co-workers and friends of the two railroad men who were killed.
The remaining monument in the area can be found a little ways further down Woodford-Tehachapi Road towards Keene. It was put there in 1993 by members of the Platrix and Peter Lebeck Chapters of E Clampus Vitus, a historical and beer-drinking society that dates back to the Gold Rush, which places markers to commemorate historic events and achievements which might otherwise be overlooked.
Rather than being part of the Loop commemorations, this one recalls the catastrophic 1932 flood in which as many as 60 people were killed and the tracks were heavily damaged, with locomotive #3834 being completely buried in mud and silt and lost for a couple of weeks, though it was eventually restored and returned to service.
Whether you drive down to Keene on Highway 58 and come back up Woodford-Tehachapi Road, or leave the Golden Hills area and descend down on Woodford-Tehachapi Road to the Loop site, the views are wide and expansive and the scenery is beautiful. Going to the Loop is a fun and nearby outing for either Tehachapi residents or visitors -- just don't go until late afternoon on Mondays, because that's the day when Union Pacific typically schedules track repairs and the railroad may be shut down all day with no trains passing over themselves on the Loop.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for the Tehachapi News for over 30 years. Send email to: [email protected]