John Steinbeck and Graniterock
Posted by Rose Ann Woolpert on Mar 18, 2015
California’s Salinas Valley is famous as the “Salad Bowl of the Nation” and also as the birthplace of John Steinbeck, who was born in Salinas in 1902. He spent his childhood and adolescence there, and as a teenager took on a variety of summer jobs. One of these was with Graniterock, where he worked as a part of the paving crew that built “Cauliflower Boulevard”, the highway from Salinas to Castroville . Although Steinbeck’s employment with Graniterock didn’t last long, he did go on to find success as a writer, earning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.
In Nelson Valjean’s book “John Steinbeck, The Errant Knight: an Intimate Biography of his California Years”, Graniterock’s Bob Cozzens recalled Steinbeck sleeping roadside with the crew and dining with them at the Little Bennet Hotel in Castroville. Although Steinbeck never wrote about his time with Graniterock, Cozzens suspected the character of Lenny from Of Mice and Men was based on one of Steinbeck’s dinner companions at the hotel.
In his 1947 novel “The Wayward Bus”, Steinbeck wrote about the highways of California. “The highway to San Juan de la Cruz was a black-top road. In the twenties hundreds of miles of concrete highway had been laid down in California, and people had sat back and said, ‘There, that’s permanent. That will last as long as the Roman roads and longer, because no grass can grow up through the concrete to break it.’ But it wasn’t so. The rubber-shop trucks, the pounding automobiles, beat the concrete and after a while the life went out of it and it began to crumble. Then a side broke off and a hole crushed through and a crack developed and a little ice in the winter spread the crack, so the resisting concrete could not stand the beating of rubber and broke down.
Then the county maintenance crews poured tar in the cracks to keep the water out, and that didn’t work, and finally they capped the roads with an asphalt and gravel mixture. That did survive, because it offered no stern face to the pounding tires. It gave a little and came back a little. It softened in the summer and hardened in the winter. And gradually all the roads were capped with shining black that looked silver in the distance.”
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