Mural Honors Vital Part of Tehachapi's History
Coy Burnett - The Man Behind The Name

Posted by Joan Johnson. The Tehachapi News on June 23, 2008

There is a tribute in the form of a mural being painted on the F Street side of the St. Vincent de Paul building in downtown Tehachapi. It honors a man, an industry, a cement plant, and people whose lives and the town in which they lived were underscored by all the above.

Coy Burnett, a lawyer from Nebraska, became associated with Monolith Portland Cement Company in 1920, and being born with a personality with more than one itch to scratch, he pioneered making specialty cements, including waterproof, and searched for coal in several states and oil in Utah and Texas.

Few of his employees ever saw him. His trips to the plant were a mission to see first-hand its innards, check records and look into the eyes of the men in charge during question-and-answer sessions at lunch meetings at the big gray guest house across the street. He didn't like retirement; felt it caused moss and vegetation to grow. As long as a loyal employee could make it to the plant, Burnett's rule was to keep him on the payroll even if he was able to do only a lesser job. In 1952 he sorrowfully signed an employee retirement agreement; many of those who had known him and worked for him remembered the date well upon learning he lived only four months after his own retirement in 1971 as president of Monolith Portland Cement Company.

The four Burnett children, Coy, Jr., Kingsbury, Anne and Valentine, vacationed away from their Los Angeles area home at the good old Monolith guesthouse during summers, playing with the children in the adjoining town site provided by the plant. It was a “my dad works with your dad” situation and the childhood games, races, baseball and marbles, not status, were the important pastimes of each day. Children were high on Burnett's priority list, and from the early thirties until World War II in 1941, every child 7 to 14, whose father worked at the plant, was eligible for a trip to Catalina Island, all expenses paid. Many of the youngsters had never been more than a few miles from home; never been on a train like the one that took them to the San Pedro pier, and certainly never saw the ocean or been on a ship like the one that transported them to beautiful Catalina. Between 180 to 200 children were fed good food from a cafeteria especially set up for them - ice cold pop was a luxurious bonus - and sleeping quarters for the happy group and the 30 volunteer adult supervisors (lots of Mamas) were wooden-floored, canvas-topped cabins. Many afforded those wonderful times still live in Tehachapi, some grand- and some great grandparents, and well remember their Catalina adventures with twinkly eyes. The “top sergeant,” a former military man who kept the troop of lively young ones in tow, did the job for many years, and when he was no longer able to fill those shoes, he was hired as a scaleman at the plant, later working at the Monolith office in San Fernando.

When men down-and-out found work at the cement plant, often they didn't have enough money in their pockets to pay rent or buy groceries for their families until payday, so an agreement was reached between Monolith and Monolith Store, Town and Country Market, Hand-E-Mart and C & P Market. The new employees would sign a Power of Attorney, giving their permission for their paycheck to be delivered for pick up at the store where they were trading. Store owners would cash their check, keep whatever the new worker owed, and give them the remainder. Housing, when vacancies allowed, was assigned for townsite homes, and the weight of the world was lifted from many shoulders.

There's no way to know how many barrels of Monolith cement were donated during the years to the City, much used for sidewalks. When the freeway was completed, Burnett thought it would be nice if one's first sight upon entering the town would be a row of churches, so he deeded land on Mill Street to the Church of Christ, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, and St. Malachy's Catholic Church. A short distance away, the Little League ball field stands on a Monolith-donated plot. The high school football field is also on land deeded to the school district by the cement plant, and when it was first built Monolith also sent their equipment and workmen to do the necessary land moving. Several years later the old wooden bleachers were replaced with modern tiers that housed a press box, and sacks marked with the trademark big red “M” were once again freely donated by the plant down the road. Employees were allowed to buy bagwheel cement, spillage that was sacked in the packhouse, for personal use at fifty cents a sack, and many homes still occupied today have foundations, driveways and patios made from bagwheel. It could be noted that Monolith's giving to this community was in monolithic proportions.

Murals come with a price tag, and if local residents who at one time worked there or had a father, brother, cousin, uncle, friend, or neighbor who was associated in any way with the plant would like to contribute to the history of Monolith in art for all to enjoy and remember, donations may be sent to Main Street Tehachapi Historical Murals, P.O. Box 830, Tehachapi, CA 93581, or for information call 822-6519.

(Webmaster Note: The Warriors have played their home football games at "Coy Burnett Field" since it was constructed and dedicated in 1958 --- as a tribute to the long-time President of the Monolith Portland Cement Company.)