Saltdale, CA

Saltdale, CA - The salt works on Koehn Dry Lake bed.

Saltdale, CA – The salt works on Koehn Dry Lake bed.

 

Saltdale is located between Cantil and Garlock, CA.  I had driven past Saltdale, hundreds of times in the last four years, never knowing that there was anything here. I had noticed through my website statistics that some visitors have come here searching for information on Saltdale, because of this I decided to use my trusty friend Google Earth to see if anything remained there of interest. Sure enough I was able to see that a number of ruins remained, so on this lackluster Tuesday afternoon I hoped in the car and made the 20 minute drive to Saltdale.

The first happenings around what would become Saltdale began between 1909 and 1913, when 60 claims were filed by Thomas Thorkildsen and Thomas H. Rosenberger. While most mining claims in this area were for gold, the claims filed here were for salt. Located on the Koehn Lake is a  “moist” playa, in which shallow ground water rises to the surface, carrying with it salt, which is deposited in the desert playa lake. In 1913 most of  Thomas Thorkildsen and Thomas H. Rosenberger claim’s in the area had been sold to Diamond Salt Company of Los Angeles, whom in return sold them to The Consolidated Salt Company in 1914.

 

Saltdale, CA - The town section of Saltdale is lined with lumber piles from the fallen buildings that once lined the main street in town.

Saltdale, CA – The town section of Saltdale is lined with lumber piles from the fallen buildings that once lined the main street in town.

 

By October of 1914 The Consolidated Salt Company was shipping 240 tons or more of salt per week. By June of 1915 that weekly number is estimated to have increased to 720 tons. In 1916 the company went from a staff of 30 men to 65 men, and the company built a 4-story mill. That same year they ran into some issues because Southern Pacific wasn’t able to supply enough cars to haul all the salt being processed away, which caused close to a five month shipping backlog. 1916 also was the year that the Saltdale Post Office was established.

Between 1916-1918 two prospector by the names of T. Y. DeFoor and Philo H. Crisp located 111 claims on the Kohen Lake. They sold each of these 20 acre claims for $2.50 each to the Fremont Salt Company. Fremont Salt Company built a plant on the east side in 1917.

During this same period Consolidated had went from employing 65 men, down to only about 6. However there was still a good amount of families living in the Saltdale area, this caused Kern County to establish the Saltdale School District in 1920. No school-house would ever be built, and by 1921 the Saltdale School District would be absorbed by the Garlock School District just one year later.

1924 would see the return of the school back to Saltdale. Consolidated set aside a shack next to the plant that would double as a school-house. Saltdale’s school would become the poorest ranked district in the county.

Henry Fenton, the owner of Western Salt Company would arrive on the scene at Saltdale in 1927. Western Salt purchased Long Beach Salt Company, which bought out Fremont Salt Company. The Fremont plant would be dismantled, and they consolidated with the Consolidated plant. Around this same time a business district would pop up in Saltdale consisting of a company store, post office, service station, and the school (which underwent a major face lift including an expansion, and a paint job).

The nearest town to Saltdale with a significant population was Randsburg, which was nearly 16 miles away. Because of this Saltdale suffered from not have a justice of peace, constable or jail. Crime was easy to commit here, and in one single night in 1928 the company store was robbed multiple times.  It was said by one of the town figureheads that they, “feel sure it was strangers and we feel sure no one around here would commit a felony”.

 

Saltdale, CA - Rotten railroad ties still cross a portion of Koehn Dry Lake. El Paso Mountains in the background.

Saltdale, CA – Rotten railroad ties still cross a portion of Koehn Dry Lake. El Paso Mountains in the background.

 

In 1931 Southern Pacific built a modern loading platform to handle the shipments of salt, gypsite, and pumice.

In 1933 the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 was based which made salt no longer a mineral which could be acquired with mining claims. That same year 36 association placer claims were filed by the Long Beach Salt Company on Koehn Lake, allegedly for placer gold. They say that the 1930’s were prosperous for Saltdale, but things took a turn for the worst in the 1940’s and 50’s.

By 1949 only 3 works remained at Saltdale, and the Post Office was closed in 1950. The school district was completely dissolved in 1951. The mill was modernized in the 1950’s however it didn’t bring new jobs as it was able to be operated by just a handful of men.

In 1975 the mill would be closed, and Saltdale would slip into oblivion.

Today the remains of Saltdale are quite evident (despite my not thinking so originally). The loading platform sits directly across the railroad track along with a few old railroad cars. A walk down what would have likely have been the main business district you will find the floor boards of numerous buildings are still in tact, while the walls and roofs of these buildings lay collapsed beside them. Foundations lay scattered throughout the desert from various unknown buildings. Railroad ties lead out into the salt bed, but have been eaten badly by the salt that lies beneath them. As you approach the mining area you will find one structure that remains, but is well on its way to the same fate that the rest of the buildings and the town have already succumbed to, collapse.

 

 

 

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

  • Paul G.

    In the fall/winter of 1925-6 my father travelled in a Model “T” with a friend from NE Indiana along Route 66 and spent several months working in the salt mines @ Salt Dale. We have postcards, letters, and Photos of his adventure–quite a trip for a Hoosier farm lad.

    • Hi Paul – If you wouldn’t mind sharing those photographs, it would be much appreciated. I have not been able to find any historic images. My email is jim@deathvalleyjim.com