Monday, October 14, 2013

Weedpatch, California

We have found plenty to do in Bakersfield, despite the fact that we were here in 2012.  Saturday we frove to Tehachapi for an apple festival.  On the way we stopped on a hill overlooking the Tehachapi Railroad, considered one of the seven wonders of the railroad world.
This railroad line was constructed by 3,000 Chinese laborers from 1874-1875.  They dug through solid and decomposed granite to build 18 tunnels, and 10 bridges for the railroad to pass over and through the hills pictured above.  It was the last and final link which connected San Francisco and Los Angeles, and remains in continuous use still today.  A fascinating feature of this railroad line is a loop which enables the last car of an 85-car train to pass above the engine in the tunnel below. 
Fast forward fifty-five years later and there is another group of laborers in our country's history who deserve some mention- they were immortalized in John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath.  The migrant workers fleeing the Oklahoma Dust Bowl during the Great Depression were looking forward to a better life in California.  The federal government supplied tin structures and tents for them to live in as they worked in the agricultural fields of San Joaquin.  Unfortunately they were looked down on by the local people and given the derogatory name of "Okies".   Today there is still Federal housing at Weedpatch for migrant workers, however the older buildings have been replaced by wooden structures.  Before driving to Weedpatch (which is 10 miles southeast of Bakersfield) we stopped at California State University to look at the exhibit which just opened there on the Dust Bowl Era.  It has been provided by the Steinbeck Center and is a re-enactment of the fictional Joad's journey to California.  Pictures of the migrant workers and their hardscrabble life in Weedpatch (also known as Sunset Labor Camp) were taken by Dorothea Lange who, as well as  Steinbeck, visited the migrant camps at different times.  The photographs made the story told by Steinbeck so much more real to me and I am anxious to read the novel again.  It is the 75th anniversary of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath.

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