Trona Railway

Photo by Ernest Kraut — 1953

In 1913 the American Trona Company decided to build its own railroad. The Trona Railway was incorporated March 12, 1913 and on September 22, 1913 ground was broken. The railway was completed March of 1914 and commenced operation September 6,1914.

trona rr ticket

In its early days the railroad offered passenger service on a flat car with plank seats. Later a steel coach was provided until passenger service was discontinued in 1937.

Peggy hitching a ride — J. Whitelaw Collection 1915-1920

In October 1935 the Trona Elementary School contracted with the Trona Railroad to transport Children from Borosolvay, Burnham and Westend. At first the steam engine made the trip then a motor train was purchased. This motor train was used until 1938 when the Corporation purchased a school bus and rented it to the Trona School Board (1).

trona school train

Motor train used as school transportation in Trona.

trona school train 2

Engineer and conductor 1)Quintus Richards and 2) Ollel or Allel Parker.


 Photograph from
Photo: Ken Kidder

After use as a school train the California Western M-200 shown above was bought from the Trona in 1941. The only rail-car built by the Skagit Steel & Iron Works, it is shown at Ft. Bragg in 1947 with its original Buda gas engine. The car is preserved today (1987) by Pacific Locomotive Association at Niles Canyon near Fremont, California.(2)

The man on the left in this picture is Jeoffrey Lycurgus Robinson. He was the Trona Railway general manager from sometime before 1930 until his death in 1952. He was very proud of the this center-cab Baldwin that he posed with. The Baldwins replaced the steam engines that were previously being used. They represented a huge step forward for the short-line railroad.

Trona purchased two new Baldwin DT 6-6-2000 center-cabs in 1949, numbered 50 and 51.

An AS616 (#52) was purchased new in 1954.

All the other Trona Baldwins were purchased used, starting with #53 (ex-SP 5249), followed by #54 (ex-Kaiser Steel/Eagle Mountain RR of some number – I wanna say #1012, but I really don’t remember).

The two centercabs were sold to Peabody Coal and used at the operation near – appropriately enough – Baldwin, Ill., along with numerous other Baldwin roadswitchers Peabody picked up secondhand.

Both center-cabs were eventually retired by Peabody and scrapped by Hyman-Michaels at their Alton, Ill., facility. (Trainorders)

The Trona tracks — J. Whitelaw Collection 1915-20

Trona Railway Time Table

At one time Railfan & Railroad Magazine had a great online article about the Baldwins on the Trona by David C. Lustig. Unfortunately the magazine has changed its website policy and they now only publishes articles on the web that are no longer available in back issues. If you are interested in reading the article you can go to their website and order the November 1987 issue for $3.50. Once all the remaining issues are purchased and Railfan & Railroad Magazine  puts it back on the their website I will link to it again.

View from the depot — J. Whitelaw Collection 1915-20

The following photos were sent to me by the Fred Austin Family.



trona-115-trona-railway-station_-looking-toward-trona-1914 trona-128-water-tank-being-brought-into-trona-1913-1914 trona-128-water-tank-being-brought-into-trona-1913-1914-editedtrona-114-trona-railway-tracks

Wreck on the Trona Railway

There is another picture of this wreck on this site that sent to me by Jeannette (Kolstad) Kaufman.

Trona RR The Private Railroad-of the American Potash & Chemical Corp.

In the 1920s the railroad tracks ran past the front of the plant’s office and dropped passengers near Austin Hall. It is just a guess but these were probably the same tracks that extended down California Street then across Searles Lake and carried the small engines and cars known as Mexican Railway. Another photo sent to me by Dr Jim Kennedy from this era show a similar scene from a different angle. Look under Trona in the 1920s.

Baldwin Switchers AS RS – Diesel Trains Pt 82 – NE Rails

Model Railway based on Trona Railway

(1) “Searles Valley Story” was written and published by Searles Lake Branch of American Association of University Women in 1975 for the Nation’s bicentennial.

(2) Baldwins on the Trona by David C. Lustig Railfan & Railroad November 1987.

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4 thoughts on “Trona Railway

  1. Richard Pontius

    Always been fascinated with desert railway operations. I love the Baldwin Center Cabs and Division Point made both 50 & 51 in two paint schemes, however not matching the picture posted with red center cab. They are going to do another run soon and if I can get more pictures of that red cab version, might be able to convince Jack to add that to the run.
    Thank you for great information.

  2. George J

    I’ve recently started my own, HO scale version of the Trona Railway. At present, I’m building benchwork and laying roadbed and track. Also, I’m looking for any information on the cylindrical covered hoppers run by the TRC as it appears the Bachmann cylindrical hopper is a dead ringer for it.

  3. Jim Keller

    Hi, Thanks for your page. We weekended at Pioneer Point during WWII to get to some civilization from China Lake. I delivered Pepsi through the mid ’60s from Barstow. So the Trona RR has been part of my life for 70 years. I have been searching for photos of the high cube hopper cars Trona RR acquired in the early ’60s. They were iron oxide red and when new were quite striking against the desert backdrop.


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