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20-Mule-Team Borax Terminus

This is on California Highway 14, the main drag through Mojave, a desert crossroads and would-be spaceport (Burt Rutan, the designer and builder of the X-Prize-winning SpaceShipOne and Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, has his shop at the former Marine air base on the edge of town; the facility, now run by a county agency, is styled the Mojave Air and Space Port. It's a boneyard for old planes, too, and is a kind of fun detour if that's the kind of thing you're into).

And now back to an earlier age of transportation: the 20-mule-team era. 

As a child of the 1960s, "20-Mule-Team Borax" meant two things: a detergent and a TV show, "Death Valley Days," that was hosted for a time by soon-to-be California Gov. Ronald Reagan. All I know about borax: It's useful in many applications, from whitening clothes to metallurgy. As for its place in California history, here's an excellent 1998 writeup from the Chicago Tribune: "More valuable than gold."

As to the plaque: It's on the east side of Highway 14 -- that's the right if you're driving north through town -- between Mono and Nadeau streets. It's placed on a scrubby lot in front of a defunct and fenced-off Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet, right between a Denny's and the Best Western Desert Winds. As usual, though I was alerted to its presence by a sign that advised I'd see a historical marker 500 feet ahead, I drove right by it the first time without seeing it. 

Here's the plaque text:

Mojave 20-Mule-Team Borax Terminus

Just west of this point was the Southern Pacific
Terminus for the twenty-mule-team borax wagons
that operated between Death Valley and Mojave from
1884 to 1889. The route ran from the Harmony Borax
Company works, later acquired by the Pacific
Coast Borax Company, to the railroad loading dock
in Mojave over 165 miles of mountain and desert
trail. A round trip required 20 days. The ore wagons
were designed by J.W.S. Perry, Borax company superinten-
dent in Death Valley, and were built in Mojave
at a cost of $900 each. New borax discoveries
near Barstow ended the Mojave shipments in 1889. 

California Registered Historical Landmark No. 652.

Plaque placed by the California State Park Commission
in cooperation with the Kern County Historical Society,
El Tejon Parlor No. 239, Native Daughters of the Gold-
en West, and Kern County Museum, October 15, 1958.

Submitted by: Dan Brekke


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