March 30, 2014

Photo Essay: 100 Years of Trona

I first went to Trona two years ago on my way to Death Valley.

I thought all there was there were a few abandoned railcars and the Pinnacles.

Driving north of the Pinnacles, I'd seen big piles of white along Highway 178, and signs for Searles Valley Minerals alongside what looked like a dry lake bed, but otherwise, Trona seemed like a ghost town.

Turns out, there's more to Trona than the Pinnacles, and this year, it turns 100 years old.

Trona has a rich history as a mining town, its primary source being that dry lake, whose natural minerals are abundant enough to create a number of salt compounds and boron products. With the formation of the Searles Valley mineral plant, Trona became – and still is – a company town.

Because of its remote location, Trona relies heavily on rail to export its products.

The Trona Railway Museum features a historic caboose, built and delivered to Trona in 1958.

It was used by the Trona Railway (the short-line railway owned by Searles Valley Minerals) until the early 1980s...

...and was donated and moved to the museum in 1992.

You get to climb up into it...

...and walk through mining history...

...imagining all of the freight that has been hauled...

...the missions its been on...

...the distances it's traveled...

...until it stopped.

Although many of the items inside appear to be non-original but perhaps period-appropriate...

...there remains some authentic-looking paperwork taped to one of the walls...

...and some hardware appears very old, if not original.

The museum also features some rail- and non-rail-related industrial cast-offs... a bag-printer machine...

...used by AP&CC...

...and Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation in Trona.

The museum also includes an intriguing relic of industrial archaeology: an 8" valve used in the Borax Refinery of the Trona Plant.

Manufactured by the Crane Company in 1916, eventually Crane had to discontinue the use of the good luck emblem – which bore a strong resemblance to a swastika  – in the 1930s when the symbol became recognized for an entirely different movement.

You can also peer through the openings of a 1947 cell door from the jail in Argus, the unincorporated community between the Trona Pinnacles and the unincorporated community of Trona, which together make up the Searles Valley census area. (Stay tuned for photos from the Argus Cemetery...)

In addition to special access to homes and museums (with special extended Sunday hours), the Centennial celebration also provided a peek into the back of Esparza Family Restaurant...

...the former Fox Theater from 1954...

...which closed with the increased prominence of cable TV.

Amazingly, though the front lobby / box office / concession area is now leased as a restaurant, the theater in the back is pretty much preserved, and can still be used for screenings, concerts, and other events.

Finally, the big draw back to Trona for me was the rare ability to tour the Trona plant of Searles Valley Minerals, one of its three locations – and the entire reason for the town's existence.

That plant tour alone was worth the six-hour drive to me, and a good excuse to make a weekend road trip out of it.

Stay tuned for dispatches from inside the plant.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Trona Pinnacles
Celebrating the LA Aqueduct Centennial at The Cascades


  1. Are earthquake last July 4th messed up the theater BIG time. It got red tagged. BUMMER!