Thoughts About Trona Today (1998)

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Zelia, Patty, Doug, David, Skip McInelly & Leroy Reece
Photo by unknown 

IN 1996 I tried to find out how much of a presence Trona had on the Web. I found out it had very little except for the Trona High School Web Site, some real estate adds, some golf club information mentioning the Trona Golf Course and several references to someplace in Wyoming as being the Trona capital of the world. I decided it was time for Trona to have at least one more Web site and began work on this one. A year later, thanks to the large amount of work my sister did in publishing The Stevens Journals, I finally put it on the Internet.

I have carried an image of Trona in my head for over thirty years that, somehow, I expected to match the way it still was.  When I returned to visit about three years ago I was shocked and depressed to see how much it had changed. I’ve returned twice since then and feel much better about it now but I can understand why my brother would say he never wants to go back again. There’s just too much gone that was once so much a part of our lives.

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Photo by David Stevens Copyright 1996

If you are from Trona, please don’t take offence at these comments. I know that many of you are people who, like me, love the desert and love Trona and many of you are people who are proud of the heritage of having lived in such a harsh environment. I had forgotten all the changes that took place while I lived there. The tennis court across from Austin hall that became Bill Lee’s Restaurant to replace the aging Coffee Shop and then became the Trona Bank and is now the Trona Water Company. The open roof theater that was replaced by the Fox Cinema and is now a Coffee Shop.  Those were gradual changes that I watched not the accumulation of changes that occurred during almost 40 years of absence. If there is one thing for certain, nothing stays the same.

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Photo from Kerr-McGee

I cannot speak about the present owners of the Trona chemical plants or for those who have owned it since I left, despite AP&CC’s lack of understanding about environmental and industrial health issues, I’ve always had the feeling American Potash & Chemical Corporation cared about the town and the people in it. At that time, perhaps human labor and effort was more important than now. One thing is for sure that without the town of Trona, AP&CC would not have been able to attract the quality people they had working for them.

I think the biggest shock when I went back was pulling up to a vacant lot where the house I called home for so long once stood and finding just sand, brush and few remaining pieces of what once was a house. The other thing that seemed so sad was to see so many of the Tamarisk trees (Salt Cedar) gone and the remaining ones looking so thirsty. Of course, in Colorado they are trying to get rid of Tamarisk and consider it a noxious weed.

Our family lived in Trona for about forty years.  My brothers, my sister and myself were all born there. My memories of Trona span from about 1948 to about 1961 from the time I was five until I graduated and went to college at age 17. There are still a few residents left that remember our family, and images of us preserved in old high school yearbooks and some of the publications in the Old Guest House Museum but for the most part the very small roll we played in the history of Trona is long forgotten.

Each year in October former residents of Trona get together to remember the time when they lived in Trona. Much like any small rural town, many think Trona is a place to be from and not a place to stay or to someday come home to. At least that has been true for many of us. The last time I visited Trona was in October, the weekend of the Gem and Mineral show and Former Tronians Picnic. Each time I go back I enjoy it more and more.

5 thoughts on “Thoughts About Trona Today (1998)

  1. Dawn wise

    I love trona great memories staying summer w cousins lots of them the sandy so the wise ,boske ,hunts and more .it was a great place to be as a kid now it’s a ghost town pretty much.but I love it anyways only good memories. I have from trona especially picking up Indian joe coming into trona and dropping him ( spirit) when leaving.heres to u trona,,,,

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  2. Karyn

    My Mother – Carol Joyce Clarkson attended grade school and High School in Trona,…she graduated in 1956 I think.. She met my Father John H Shonkwiler and married in 1958….Myself – Karyn, My brother Bill and my sister terri lived there until 1971, I was 9 when we moved to Portland Or. We used to swim at Valley wells every day that it was open….I don’t remember a time that I wasn’t able to swim! My father worked at the plant when Kerr McGhee was the owner and he worked there for many years. I went back to Trona about 10 yrs ago and couldn’t believe this is where we lived! It was so hot and desolate…most houses were boarded up at that time. I have very fond memories of the desert and trona…Im glad I got the chance to live there….

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  3. Billy M. Brown

    Loved reading this. My great uncle J.C. Jake McGrew worked at the plant for over 30 years. He worked there in the years before World War II and then went into the Navy Seebees and then worked from 1945 until 1976 when he was forced to take disability retirement. He passed away in 1979 in Abilene, Texas. He had fought lung cancer for 10 years and was told at least twice before that he had six months to live, only to live 10 years past the diagnosis. He was forced to leave Trona as he had no support system as his family lived in Texas. My uncle was a character. I don’t know how many times he was married but every time he came to Texas for a visit, he had a new wife.

    In late 1952, Jake brought Dean McAtee, a fellow plant employee with him on his vacation to Texas. My mother was a divorcee with two kids and she immediately fell in love. She save her money and in February 1952, we took a train from Odessa,Texas to Mohave, California where we were picked up by Uncle Jake and Dean. Jake and Dean were living in a trailer in a park in Argus at the time. It was communal trailer park. The trailer we lived for the next few months had no bathroom and we used the trailer facilities for baths, rest room and laundry. In June, my mother married Dean in Las Vegas and he became my dad which was until he passed away in 2003. Two things, Dad’s two sisters had husbands who worked at the plant. Two of his nieces were born in Trona, one in 1944 and the other in 1946 and one nephew was born there in 1949. Dad has worked at the plant beginning in 1949 when he came from working Civil Service in Guam. Dad was also a professional wrestler and he had wrestled in Las Vegas and Los Angeles and other venues when he was off on long change. His professional wrestling name was “Man Mountain Dean.” Suddenly with an instant family, he had decided to quit working the plant and wrestle full time. My mother wouldn’t hear of it and the short of the matter is we returned to Texas. Dad quit his job at the plant and he showed up in Texas shortly after we did. The rest of his family also left the plant and moved to Sacramento.

    In the summer of 1964 just before my senior year in high school, Uncle Jake got me on with a summer job at the plant. I worked from 1 PM until 8 PM in the warehouse. I also enrolled in summer school at Trona High School and took government and psychology (Senior Problems). I remember the heat. Uncle Jake had me staying in a trailer by his house in Argus. I thought I was going to die, because I only had a fan and I would wet towels and hang them over the fan to have cool air until I could go to sleep. I would wake up in a sweat soaked bed. We bought a green 1953 flat head six Ford Station Wagon. We paid $35.00 for it. It got me around Argus and Trona. We installed a five dollar ignition switch and sold the car for $75.00 when I left in August to return to Texas.

    That summer stands out in my mind. I really enjoyed the swimming pool, even ran into a girl there who was from Odessa, Texas my home. I enjoyed going to Ridgecrest to the drive-in movie. I remember seeing “Lillies of the Field” in Trona. This is the movie that Sidney Pointere starred in and won an Academy Award as Best Actor. I met some neat kids and I had a ball in Trona. I have always said that it is the people that makes a place and Trona had a bunch of them.

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  4. breta norton

    What you wrote is so true….my dad lived and retired from the plant when Kerr Mcgee owned it….you are right about them caring…my fond memories were the pool….my brother and wife and son and his wife still live in Trona.

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