Former Tehachapi resident Kirk Smith has some tangible reminders of Tehachapi's past in an unusual form: vintage paper matchbooks advertising a number of local businesses.
Some of these former Tehachapi companies are still operating in some form or another, though most have long since vanished. The Burger Spot, a historic little diner that has been open in the same Tehachapi Boulevard location continuously since 1956, is one of the champion survivors.
Matchbooks have reportedly been used for advertising purposes ever since 1894, after having first been patented in 1892. The heyday of paper matchbooks, millions of which were given away as a kind of printed business card with a useful purpose, was in the 1940s and 1950s. Americans in that era smoked cigarettes prodigiously, and restaurants, motels, bars, and other businesses freely handed out matchbooks printed with their name, logo, address, etc.
People who were traveling often gathered up matchbooks from locations they had visited, serving like a kind of miniature postcard or little memento of their travels. When they returned home, Americans would toss them in a glass bowl or other container as a reminder of their ramblings.
Matchbooks even served as clues for police or private investigators trying to identify a suspect, or locate someone, or track where a person had been. Contacts, both business and others of a more personal nature, were often started by someone in a bar scribbling a phone number on the inside of a matchbook. Many a scandalous endeavor was undone by the evidence of an incriminating matchbook.
While advertising matchbooks are still a thing, the practice waned with the abundance of cheap disposable cigarette lighters, as well as decline of smoking in general. Matchbox collecting is still going strong, however, and collectors are called phillumenists. Most matchbooks have little value, but two years ago, a matchbook celebrating Lindbergh's 1927 transatlantic flight sold for $6,100.
Kirk's collection of vintage Tehachapi matchbooks is just a fun way for him remember his former Tehachapi home. "My wife Terri and I were both raised near the beach in L.A., and after we married in 1978, we were looking for a place where we could build a home and have horses," Kirk explained to me. "My dad, who drove a truck for a living, mentioned this little town in the mountains with rolling grass hills and oak trees called Tehachapi and thought we should check it out. We found a beautiful lot on a hill in Stallion Springs with 36 oak trees on the almost two acres of land and fell in love. At the end of 1981 we moved into our new home, our little piece of paradise. We lived there until 1998, when aging family required us to be closer to L.A. once again. We sold our house to the current resident, the well-known Klew-Karen Lewis, of Spirited Bead fame!"
The vintage Tehachapi matchbooks are a nostalgic reminder of an earlier time in the California history, when just a winding two-lane road led to a little town in the mountains of Kern County.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to email@example.com.