Ever-proud of our postcard weather, the Inland Valley had to work pretty hard explaining away what happened during several days in January 1922.

It started on the 20th when actual snow fell in Pomona.

All right -- it was just a few flakes, but it motivated the Pomona Progress to emphasize to all that our weather was still wonderful compared to the frozen East.

Twice that day, ". . .the streets were filled with eager men and women who hoped that it would be a real snowfall," wrote newspaper that afternoon.

Alas, what they found was a mere whisper of white -- No drifts hampered traffic nor were there any icy sidewalks or driveways to clear off.

"People hoped for that sort of snow but the best that could be produced was a little spitting precipitation in which about 3,000 snowflakes altogether fell this morning," said the Progress.

As that "spitting" storm left the area, things really got nasty. The next day's clear skies arrived with temperatures plunging well below freezing, putting the area's orchards at risk.

Orange and lemon trees still held some fruit ready to be picked and shipped to the East so the frost threatened the livelihood of just about everyone.

To the rescue came a low-tech hero, a curious metal affair looking more like a slimmed-down R2-D2.

This was the sinple orchard heater -- also known by its less-sophisticated name, the smudge pot.


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These metal containers burned crude oil to warm the air around trees in a desperate attempt to protect them from frost.

With the use of the heaters came one rather negative byproduct: acres of sooty smoke reducing visibility to almost nothing.

"Heavy black clouds of smudge smoke settled down on the business and residential district (of Pomona) before midnight last night," wrote the Ontario Daily Report on Jan. 20 as the temperature hit 23 in Pomona and Ontario and 22 in San Bernardino and Upland.

The consequence of living in such a smoke-filled atmosphere was much more than just sealing doors and windows to keep the soot from homes and businesses.

The smoke made driving an adventure -- especially with so many trucks delivering oil to groves or hauling workers (many of them high school kids) to keep the heaters burning.

"Last night's smudge smoke was so thick that automobiles had difficulty negotiating the highways," said the Daily Report of Jan. 21, noting three automobiles, two touring cars and a truck ran off shrouded West A Street (today's Holt Boulevard) in Ontario.

In Puente (years before that town got "La" added to its name), a motorist driving his touring car in the smoke didn't see a railroad crossing and got stuck on the tracks.

Other drivers arrived to help as a train (also mostly blinded) approached. Like a silent-movie thriller, the car was pulled off by another car with a rope seconds before the train roared past.

After a couple of these freezing nights, the weather improved, orchard heaters were shut off and the air returned to normal.

The loss - about 40 percent of the crop still on the trees - was significant for citrus growers.

Oranges that have been frozen do not immediately show the effects. The board of supervisors for both San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties passed emergency orders, halting the shipment of any fruit until the extent of the damage was determined. It was done to protect the reputation of the area's citrus products.

There was another reputation that really needed repairs -- our claims to having always-good weather.

Heck, this was nothing compared to another frost in 1918, claimed real estate agent F.P. Chaffee, and that one didn't damage very much fruit.

"But there was little difference in the quality or quantity of the fruit sold," he told the Daily Report of Jan. 21. "But those pessimists -- they won't look back."

The Daily Report of Jan. 26 provided an optimistic bit of news.

It said the region had already shipped much of its crop and with a shortage likely for the remainder, "citrus growers will receive approximately double the amount for their oranges than they would have had the crop not been damaged by frost."

Every cloud, even full of smoke, does have a silver lining.

Joe Blackstock writes on Inland Valley history. He can be reached at 909-483-9382, email at joe.blackstock@inlandnewspapers.com or Twitter @JoeBlackstock