Fire Razes Trona Coffee Shop

Coffee Shop 19 Oct 1950

1000 Men Without a Place to Eat

Trona, Oct 19 [1950] – Fire late today destroyed the huge Trona Coffee Shop, the town’s only restaurant, and the sole eating place for 1,000 unmarried male employees of the big American Potash & Chemical Co. desert plant.

Tonight it looked as thought they will have a diet of sandwiches and coffee for next few days. The company is rushing plans to bring in a big circus tent and equip it with a dining room and kitchen but this will take several days at least.

The fire was discovered in the coffee shop’s kitchen at 4:45 p.m. Apparently nobody knows just how it started. The kitchen suddenly was enveloped in in flames.

Both the Trona and Argus volunteer fire departments arrived quickly, but were powerless to do much more than control the blaze They devoted most of their efforts to saving the bunkhouses which flank the coffee shop.

At 7:30 the last ember had been extinguished and the capacious restaurant was a charred ruin. Able to seat 200 patrons at one time, it was sorely missed by the workmen who had watched the flames eat up the building,  George Sturtevant, editor of the Trona Argonaut, reported.

Immediately the company and civic leaders of Trona and Argus, neighboring community, got busy. Their first move was to get provisions and supplies for the town’s few soda fountains, for it is at these snack bars that Trona’s meals will be served for the next few days. It was decided to provide free bus service to Argus, where there is a restaurant.

Firemen said the lack of wind was all that prevented the bunkhouses from catching fire.

The building was owned by American Potash & Chemical Co. Operator of the coffee shop was the Swafford Co. The loos was unofficially estimated at $250,000.

San Bernardino County Sun 19, Oct 1950


  • My mom, Kay (Kitty) Ford, worked as a cashier in this coffee shop probably in 1949 or there about. I must have been 5 or 6. I remember how huge it was inside, at least to me it was at that tender age. My Dad, Ed Ford, worked at the potash company.. To this day I dislike the heat!!! Loved going swimming at Valley Wells with my big brother Larry.

    kathyJune 29, 2014
  • At the time the fire broke out, I was on my way to work at the “Sea Breeze” restaurant in Argus. Coming from our duplex on Verbena St. and heading into “downtown,” the fire chief came running towards me , flagged me down and jumped on the running board of the old 39 (?) Ford I was driving. He said he couldn’t get his scooter to start! (I think he actually lived less than a block from the coffee shop.) I dropped him off and went on out to the Sea Breeze. Needless to say, we did a record business that night! Best “tip” night ever for this Junior in High School! 🙂

    Holly (Hurlocker) Farrah-ElliottAugust 25, 2015
  • Hi, does anyone remember Joseph and Jean Quethera , I’m their daughter Marie , …. I was born there in march of 1952, we moved to San Diego a year or so after. I want to go back and visit . it would be great to met up with anyone from that time.! 760 877 8875

    Marie QuetheraMarch 12, 2016
    • Plan on attending the Old Timers Picnic that is held every October. It is always held the same weekend as the Gem-O-Rama.

      David StevensNovember 20, 2016

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