Places Called Home: Turlock, California

For the next couple of weeks I’ll be looking back at all the places I’ve called home since 1964, leading up to the Oct. 1st reveal of where our new hometown will be. It seems like all those years moving around the United States with my father’s drilling business stuck. Although to be fair, we stayed put in one place for a very long time until the kids graduated from high school and then we started up the gypsy road tour again.

Today we start the series where my journey began: Turlock, California.

Turlock_City_LimitsWhen I arrived, the Turlock Journal announced that the little town in Central California was now at 10,000 residents. I don’t know if it was me or that other kid born that day in Old Emanuel Hospital that hit the milestone for the town. We didn’t stay in Turlock long, moving down to where a lot of drilling was taking place in Southern California (that’s tomorrow’s post) but by 1971 we were back in the Turlock area. 

We also lived from time to time in Hilmar, Hughson, and Denair, towns very near Turlock and now almost merging with the city today. We’d move on to North Dakota in 1974, moved back to Turlock in 1977, moved away again in 1981 and stayed away this time until 1994. And this time we stayed put until 2006, when we packed up and moved away for what is very likely the last time.

Over a century later, Turlock’s population has grown to over 70,000 – thanks mostly in part to the BATs (Bay Area Transplants that fled the high rent of San Francisco back in the 1980s). But it will always be that small town of 10,000-15,000 that I spent a lot of time biking around in as a kid.

None of the downtown shops remained the same over the years, especially once the Woolworth, J.C. Penny and Sears stores packed up sought newer locations. A lot of the restaurants are gone now, LaCreme, Foster’s Freeze, Penguin’s Ice Cream Parlor (hold up a second, I’m having a Red Raspberry Sherbert memory moment here….), Straw Hat Pizza, and the old Liberty Markets are long gone. So is the old two story movie theater.

Even the Turlock Journal (where I was a sports writer and Sports Editor at one time) is now a ghost of itself. The original building has been remodeled and now the Journal’s total office space is barely 1/5th of what it once was. They don’t even print the paper there anymore is I’m not mistaken.

There are some places there now that are favorites to visit when we come back for a few days. Topping the list has to be Main Street Footers. Even now, years after having moved away, I can walk in and if the right person is behind the counter I don’t even have to order, they already know what I want.

Turlock will always hold a special place in my heart. I’m glad I was able to write and publish From The Fields. It is my tribute to the high school football teams in Turlock, but I also mixed in some non-sports items in the book. Things that caught my eye as I scrolled through 100 years of newspaper microfilms.

lamarr-900x840Hedy Lamarr, yeah THAT Hedy Lamarr, once called Turlock home, if but briefly. Several athletes have made it to the professional level in football, baseball and softball. Turlock has been, at times, considered the Turkey Capital of the world and held the record for most churches per capita than any other city.

There’s less agriculture there now. Strip malls and housing developments have cut down large swaths of orchards. Oddly enough, it also seems to have cut down on the tulle fog that used to plague the area.  Back in the 1970s it would get so thick you couldn’t see the front of your car, much less the traffic lights. There were some bad wrecks over the years. I recall one winter when we last saw the Sun and the Moon shortly before Thanksgiving and we never saw either again until late January. It was either raining cats and dogs or heavy fog.

There’s far too many memories over two+ decades of living in Turlock (Stanislaus County when you factor in Denair, Hughson, Hilmar, and Modesto) to squeeze in to one blog post. But Turlock was the first step in the journey.


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