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Trona, California: Glimpses of life in a boomtown gone bust

Jamie K. White, CNNPublished 7th March 2016
(CNN) — Situated between Los Angeles and Death Valley, there's a place in California called Trona.
Named for the chemical used to make soda ash, a substance typically found in glass and some detergents, Trona looks like a ghost town. It's a dry land with average temperatures exceeding 100 degrees during the summer.
But underneath its gritty exterior is what photographer Ewan Telford describes as "a complex industrial story."
The town was designed in 1914 to house the workforce of the American Trona Corp., a mineral mining company.
"In its heyday, there was a movie theater, a big dance hall, numerous bars," Telford said.
Photographer Ewan Telford
Ewan Telford
Over time, the workforce has dwindled because of advancing technologies and labor disputes. The town's population, which once peaked around 7,000, is now about 1,000.
"You tend to run into the same people a lot," Telford said.
Like Benny, pictured in the 12th photo above. He stands outside Esparza, Trona's only restaurant. Benny is originally from Oklahoma and came to Trona years ago for work. But like many of the residents, he ended up staying.

'You put down roots'

"It's one of those things where you put down roots and you don't move on," Telford said.
What's left is a shared bond for a town that brought transplants together from all parts of the United States.
"I was taken by how extraordinary it was," Telford said. He originally visited Trona to film a movie in 2006, but he returned several times after forming relationships with some of the residents there.
"They were very lovely and extremely hospitable," he said.
Last year, there were only 13 people in Trona High School's graduating class.
"One of their claims to fame is the football field; it's made with just dirt," Telford said.
Aside from working at the school, the plant, the restaurant or the town's grocery store, options for work are extremely limited. Telford says many of the residents are unemployed and receive welfare.
Trona's Elk Lodge is still in operation for the residents. There's a bingo hall still in use; they even invited Telford to play one night.
"They were very amused to have me along," he said. "I ended up winning $20 or $30."
In the first picture in the gallery above, resident Alice Jones holds her head high, with a look of almost victory across her face.
"They love their town," Telford said. "They maintain Trona as a town they can be proud of."