My Uncle John Black lived in Trona until his death on June 16, 1999. He was the last of our family in Searles Valley.
In 1992 John told Patty his story about coming to Trona, “I went to Arizona in 1937 and I went to work at Ft. Thomas. At Christmas time I came to California to spend time with my sister, Zelia, and her husband Hershel. They lived in Inyokern at the time. I stayed a few days and went back to Arizona and worked a year or two. Then I came back to California to try to get a job and didn’t get a job. I went back to Georgia and spent a year.”
“I didn’t have enough money to get back to Arizona on my own so I borrowed 40 dollars to get back. I worked about a year and a half and came back to Trona in 1941, and worked for a construction company building the original Trona High School. I got fired off that job. Then I went to Pacific Coast Construction Company, building duplexes in Trona for three years, until they were completed, and they laid me off because they were through. Finally, American Potash hired me Feb. 13, 1942, and I’ve been in Trona ever since.”
“At first I lived with in the house with Zelia and her family, and then I moved into a bunkhouse and lived there ten or fifteen years. Then I moved to Argus. Then I moved to Trona and then I moved back to Argus again and bought a little shack up on the hill in 1960, and lived there almost 30 years.”
” I met Margaret about 1960 and we got married in 1962. I met her at the VFW Post, but neither of us were members. Margaret came from Dodge City Kansas to Trona. She had divorced her husband and was working in the shipyards down in Wilmington or somewhere. I’m not sure where it was. It was an aircraft factory. It was during the war. She was bucketing rivets inside of an airplane. She was small, so she could crawl inside of an airplane and held the rivets on the inside while somebody pounded them from the outside. She divorced her husband down there and then came up here and remarried. She divorced him because he beat her up. She came to Trona look for a job. She worked in the old coffee shop.”
Margaret died in 1977. She is buried in the Trona Cemetery.
Clipping from the August 20, 1998 Trona Argonaut about John’s Birthday Party.
I stopped by to see John on my last visit to Trona (October 1998). I wanted to congratulate him on 83rd birthday. It’s been so long since he has seen me that he didn’t know who I was. That wasn’t because age has made his mind any less clear.
We sat and talked while John ate his lunch. In some ways it was almost like visiting with my mother again because they shared so many of the same ideas about things. John told Marlene about how one Christmas he paid me ten cents to lick all the stamps and envelopes on the Christmas cards he was sending out. After that, each time he came over, I would always ask him if he had any more stamps he needed licked. I kept hoping I’d get a chance to earn another dime.
Marlene also asked him about working for American Potash. He told her that when he first came to Trona the company had a policy about not hiring people that were related and that since my dad already worked for them they would not hire him. He said they finally agreed to hire him in “the village” but that he had to sign an agreement that he would never ask for a job in the plant.
As I understand “the village”, this was a group of American Potash employees that worked in the company stores and other village support businesses. This also included the other village maintenance staff that maintained the various company owned houses, buildings, and shrubbery.
John said his job was to deliver ice to all the water coolers that were located at various places around the plant. He said it was hard work that was made even harder by the hot sun of the desert. At the end of the day the 50 pound blocks of ice would seem twice as heavy.
Eventually he was given a job inside the plant.