Visitor Guide : History & Culture

Sunday, Jun 26 2011 09:24 PM

Tehachapi's history tied to railroad

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The Tehachapi Depot is a Tehachapi success story. On June 13, 2008, with a massive restoration project nearly complete, the historic building in the center of town burned to the ground. It took two years, but a huge community effort was successful in rebuilding a replica of the original and outfitting it to serve as a museum and more. Friends of the Depot operate the Tehachapi Depot Museum which is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday through Monday.

The town of Tehachapi has shared its history with the old Southern Pacific Railroad, since the construction of the railroad line through the region connected Los Angeles and the Bay Area in 1876.

Before the railroad was established, a stage line operated from the railhead at Caliente, east of Bakersfield, to San Fernando.

But the Tehachapis - an east-west mountain range bridging the Sierra Nevada and the Coast Range forming the southern flank of the San Joaquin Valley - proved a natural barrier to transportation.

The rail line was built on a 2.2 percent gradient route to the summit at Tehachapi on a path surveyed by William Hood, who later became the chief engineer.

The Southern Pacific railroad was extended to Mojave and across the Antelope Valley, reaching Los Angeles through Soledad Canyon and the San Fernando tunnel - the longest railway tunnel in the world at the time.

The Southern Pacific's historic transportation monopoly in the Central Valley caused the emergence of a rival railroad company in the region which reached Bakersfield from Stockton in 1898 and became part of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.

The Santa Fe was already serving Mojave from points east, and had surveyed a line of its own to cross the Tehachapis from Bakersfield through Arvin, up Tejon and Chanac Creeks, and through what is now Stallion Springs, Cummings Valley, and Brite's Summit (Highway 202) to Tehachapi and Mojave. But in 1899 an agreement between the Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe allowed Santa Fe trains to use the Tehachapi grade, so the second line was never built.

The joint operation continues to this day between successors Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe, resulting in about 50 trains a day making the grade up the world famous Tehachapi Loop.

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