Back in the days
when Tustin was a valuable citrus producing
area, growers worried that January’s cold,
cloudless, windless nights would bring freezing
temperatures to damage the trees as well as the
The method used
to keep the orchards warm was a refinement of
the practice of burning brush and tree
trimmings, which began back in the late 1880s.
By 1910 growers were using smoke created by
burning fuel oil.
The smudge pots
they eventually used to line the aisles between
the trees looked like so many upside down
mushrooms. Each pot had a squatty, sheet metal
base, about 24 inches in diameter and 12 inches
deep, with a removable chimney about two feet
of the temperature dropping to 28 degrees or
lower, workers had filled the pots with coke, a
fuel with high carbon content distilled from
coal or oil. Each pot held enough coke to
provide eight hours of warmth.
Growers made sure
that they never missed the nightly frost
broadcast during the winter months. With this as
a warning, they were prepared to go into action
when the siren atop the First National Bank
building sounded to announce the temperature
hired hands and high school boys, used this
siren as a signal to report for duty. Bundled
against the cold in boots, heavy jackets and
hats, they would trudge through the rows,
lighting each pot with a torch. The rest of the
night was spent watching the thermometer and
checking the pots.
In the late ’30s
some growers replaced smudge pots with oil
reservoirs and pumping systems that carried fuel
to burners located permanently between the
trees. Although this eliminated the job of
refilling the pots with coke after they had
burned all night, each burner still had to be
ignited. Wind machines and huge propellers came
later. Requiring less labor, these devices
prevented frost by providing air circulation.
glowed with an eerie orange light during a night
of smudging. A veil of greasy, dark smoke
hovered over the trees and as far as the eye
could see when it grew light.
outside, including kids waiting for the school
bus or walking to school, soon had black-rimmed
nostrils. Holding a handkerchief or scarf over
the mouth and nose helped a little.
detested smudging. Efforts to keep the sooty
mess out of the house were futile. White
curtains turned dingy, piano keys yellowed, oil
film settled on all surfaces. Floors were
discolored as shoes carried in the soot.
The dirty air
created by smudging did not readily disperse.
Even if temperatures remained above freezing in
Tustin, the results of smudging in orchards in
Placentia, Fullerton, Anaheim and as far away as
Pomona would drift in as the day advanced. This
would be considered a health problem today, but
at the time it was accepted as part of the
process of growing oranges.
Smudging was neither cheap nor 100 percent
effective. After paying fuel and labor expenses,
a grower could still have a damaged crop and
lost income. Citrus growers debated the value of
trying to keep the orchard warm, but there was
always the hope that this would be the year that
the fruit survived the cold.