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Hesperia to San Francisco via Weedpatch
[Small Town America] US 395 - Lincoln Highway Transition
Email Article  Print Article David McLane (davemclane)    
Having come to the end of US 395 we needed to get to San Francisco for the next section of our journey, the Lincoln Highway.

Looking at the map, we saw a number of possibilities: continue south, go west on Interstate-10, then north on I-5, or go back up 395, go west on CA-58, then north on I-5. We took the second choice as it went past Weedpatch, of which semi-fictional labor camp was made famous by John Steinbeck in his "Grapes of Wrath" and Goggle showed a page saying the camp was still in existence.

If you look at a map of California, you see Weedpatch on CA-184 a few miles east of Bakersfield and just south of the small town of Lamont. CA-184 continues south and ends at CA-223 which connects CA-58 to I-5. Just a bit east of the connection is the small town of Arvin. (I'm telling you all this so you can make sense out of Weedpatch, Lamont, and Arvin.)

We traveled back up US 395, turned west on CA-58 through the town of Mojave and over the Tehachapi mountains into the San Joaquin Valley, turned west on CA-223, then north on CA-184 and found the Weedpatch supermarket but nothing that looked like a labor camp.

Supermarket, Weedpatch, Calif.
©2009 D. McLane

We asked directions and followed them out into the surrounding fields, but no labor camp.

We went back to the supermarket, wandered around past the ever-so-colorful Garcia's Market and a host of other stores where most everything was in Spanish but nothing that looked like a good source of information.

Garcia's Market, Weedpatch, Calif.
©2009 D. McLane

At last we found a branch of the Kern County Library off on a side street. We talked with Rafael Moreno, the branch supervisor, who was too young to know first hand about the camp, but knew where the camp was and pointed us to a corner section devoted to the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl days in Oklahoma which drove the Okies west to California, and the hard times that awaited them.

There were at least two dozen books and a number of photographs on display with many more in the library's files. The book that looked the most interesting was "From the ARVIN MIGRANT CAMP to the AMERICAN DREAM, Stories of successful Okie Migrants with 120 of their photographs" by Elizabeth Strickland who gave presentations in the area in 2006. I couldn't copy any of the photos in the book but Rafael said I could shoot photos of the other photos on display.

Manager, Labor Camp, Weedpatch, Calif.
©2009 D. McLane

Rafael gave us the exact location of the camp, and we had no trouble finding it. As he had said, most of the buildings had been renovated but there was one that had been left as-is.

Original building, Arvin Migrant Center, Lamont, Calif.
©2009 D. McLane


Renovated building, Arvin Migrant Center, Lamont, Calif.
©2009 D. McLane

The area was fenced with a signboard giving the relevant information:

ARVIN MIGRANT CENTER
8701 Sunset Blvd
Lamont, CA 93241
(805) 845-1267


This housing center offers dwelling units to migrant farm workers and their families.

OCCUPANCY SEASON: 180 days

ADMISSION DOCUMENTS REQUIRED

  1. INCOME - Proof of income from employment in agricultural and total income

  2. RESIDENCY - Migrant status (see manager for additional required documents)



So there you have it: A camp appears in "The Grapes of Wrath" called Weedpatch and the name Weedpatch appears on current maps of California. If you go there and ask for the Weedpatch camp people tell you where it is but when you get there, you find its real name is Arvin Migrant Center but whose address is Lamont, not Arvin, another town just down the road. Go figure.

The trip from Weedpatch to San Francisco was uneventful but hot and somewhat interesting.

We took CA-223 west to I-5, north on I-5 to I-580, then west on I-580 to WalMart in San Leandro where we thought we could stay the night before pushing on San Francisco the next morning.

I-5 runs up the San Joaquin Valley -- also known as the Central Valley -- where the main event is agriculture. It was over 100º F (37º C) all the way to where I-580 goes over a low range of mountains and the temperature dropped to maybe 65º F (18º C). What was interesting was the way the crops slowly changed from melons and vegetables in the south to fruit in the north so we could understand first-hand the need for workers to migrate as the fruit ripened.

While we had stayed in WalMart parking lots before, it turned out that this parking lot was not only for WalMart but for a shopping center which didn't allow overnight parking. But security was friendly and told us how to go around the corner to an unused lot where nobody would bother us.

When we got up the next morning, it was 56º F (13º C) and foggy as we went across the San Mateo bridge over to San Francisco Bay, connected to CA-1 and went north to the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, the west end of the Lincoln Highway.

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