Smudge pot, RC

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With its dozens of fruit trees, the one-acre Quonset hut property in Rancho Cucamonga at Church and Ramona, which I visited a while back for a column, was like a trip back in time. This effect was heightened by the smudge pots scattered about the property, such as this one.

Smudge pots, or orchard heaters, were lighted at nights when a freeze was predicted. They blanketed a grove with warm, oily smoke to ward off a frost. These smudge pots are no longer used, of course, but it was neat to see them in their natural setting.

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  • Sean Banister

    These are all over Riverside. Especially around Victoria Avenue.

  • Allan


    Looks like what you have there might be a “Return Stack” heater when compared to the series of pictures here:,249

    A smudge pot that looks a lot like the one you have pictured is on page 7.

  • Bob House

    In the early ’60s, working the smudge pots was a coveted part-time job for Claremont High School students (except for me; my severe allergy to work continues to this day). As I recall, you could get special dispensation to arrive late for school if you had been “smudging” the night before. A couple of high school football rivalries in the IE included a smudge pot “trophy” awarded to the winning team each year. And wasn’t there a music venue in Claremont at some point called the Smudge Pot?

  • Ramona

    Those smudge pots not only blanketed the groves but also the rest of us as well. The area around the nostrils became black and those who worried about their personal appearance carried tissues to wipe their noses regularly until about noon when the smudge finally dissipated.

    Housewives had an additional concern since the oily smudge settled on everything including any cobwebs that may have accumulated in the corners of the room. One couldn’t just wipe the cobwebs down since that would smear the smudge all over the wall. The proper technique was to grab a stool or chair, sneak up under the web with dust cloth and pull it away from the wall. Since wallpaper was prevalent in those days, extra care was essential. Most wallpapers couldn’t be washed, don’t ya know.

    Anything that couldn’t be cleaned easily — furniture, beds, and such — was covered with sheets.

    After a few days of smudging, touching any flat surface resulted in blackened hands. Regular wiping of said surfaces with another dust cloth and furniture polish was, of course, a chore left to us younguns. Yuck!!

    But we surely enjoyed those oranges and lemons when they finally got ripe!

    [Thanks for the personal memories of the (ahem) darker side of smudging, Ramona. — DA]

  • Derek Christensen

    I grew up on Church Street (in RC), 1/4 mile west of the Laub grove property that you visited, which is currently for sale.

    Though smudge pots have been outlawed for use by the AQMD for decades, they were used in Redlands during the January 2007 week-long Freeze Event.

    I have six smudge pots and have lighted one off on occasion, burning diesel as fuel. Back in the day, “smudge oil,” which sold for around 2-cents per gallon, was the fuel.

    Many local area high school and college kids used to spend cold winter nights tending the smudge pots.

    Of course, on March 12, 2009 you blog’d about “Stinky’s Cafe” which was a hangout for local smudge crews.

    Today, as you drive around the local area, you may notice that many retired smudge pots have found new life as mail-box posts.

    [I’ve seen a few of those; they’re a nice nod to the old days. — DA]

  • Derek Christensen

    Also, one of the largest producers of smudge pots in the world was Scheu Manufacturing in downtown Upland. It was big business in the local area.

  • Kristy

    My dad still uses a smudgepot when we go camping. It may not be the best when it comes to pollution, but it helps prevent the chance of spreading a fire in Mammoth and out in the high desert. Great way to use leftover peanut oil from deepfriers. 😀

  • Linda Frost

    I remember when the whole area was blanketed by smoke. There was a sooty pall over this area, and I could see one over Corona over the communities with citrus groves. Because of the soot, my mother would insist on painting the inside of the house every year or two.

    When I first moved to Alta Loma over 40 years ago, I spent time cleaning furnace registers, wallpaper, etc. I painted the house with the best washable paint, because it would stand up under both the kids handprints and the soot. When growers went to wind machines, the soot declined. The noise from the machines told us it was a really cold night.

    During the freeze of December 1968, we even helped adjust orchard heaters (smudge pots) in the snow.

    Another interesting anecdote there is a smudge pot somewhere in Germany. My brother-in-law, who was stationed in West Berlin in the 1950s, had one sent to him by his brothers as a Christmas present. The pot came from their grandfather’s citrus grove in Etiwanda. He left it there when he was transferred, so it may still be knocking around. It made a great ashtray.

  • Shannon Mead

    San Dimas High School’s football team plays Bonita’s team every year for the smudge pot. It’s a fun rivalry.

    How interesting to see a REAL sumdge pot in the environment where it was normally used.

    [San Dimas High School football rules! To quote Bill and Ted. — DA]

  • Richard Kruse

    When Chaffey College and Mt. San Antonio College played each other in football years ago, it was called the “Smudge Pot Game.”

    I used to work in the Graduate School of Education at UCLA with a woman who went to Covina High School in the ’40s. She told me that on very cold winter days, most boys at Covina High were excused from attendance, so they could help their fathers light the smudge pots in their orange groves.

  • Eleanora Robbins, PhD

    I’m looking for personal stories about climate changes that people have seen during their lifetimes. For example, a friend of my mom’s remembers smudge pots being used in the Los Angeles area to save the orange groves during freezes. Were there more freezes in the past than there are now?

    I think that city folks don’t live in one place long enough to see climate changes. I’ve never lived longer than 15 years anywhere. I look in my closet and see I’ve worn my summer clothes, winter, spring, and fall clothes. What climate change? I read the newspaper and see there is a hurricane in the Gulf, a snowstorm in Buffalo, a tornado in Kansas, and a flood in West Virginia. What climate change?

    In contrast, I think rural folks live in one place long enough to see changes. They might have some interesting stories to share with me.

    I am sure that farmers, especially those who take meticulous notes, can provide even more information.

    I am gathering stories, especially from our elders. If you chose to participate, tell me your age and your city or town. Let me know if you do or do not want your name associated with your story.

    [Her address is nrobbins (at) — DA]

  • Deb Babka

    Recently given a smudge pot filled with a hard substance. How can I remove what is inside? Clean and restore!!!

    [There should be a cleaning product called Smudge-a-Way. — DA]

  • bob

    This is too short. it stinks!!!!!! I didn’t learn anything. Negative 2 stars. aaaahhhhhhh!!!!

  • The image is indeed that of a return stack heater and not a smudge pot. Smudge pots were designed to create a smoke barrier to retain heat, a practice that was shown to be ineffective. That smoke barrier actually reduced heat from the sun once it came up. Smudge pots were outlawed in Southern California about 1957 by the air pollution authorities.

    Prior to the use of oil in the smudge pots, wood, coal and tires were burned in the fruit groves to produce smoke.

    Bob Chaparro
    Citrus Industry Modeling Group (On Yahoo)

    [Thanks for the info. I was told it was a smudge pot and it looks like the other objects I’d been told were smudge pots! — DA]

  • Matt

    I just found one of these old return stack heaters in my back yard here in Chico, CA. Can anyone tell me how to use one of these things safely? (What to burn, and how to light it?) I’ve heard you can burn anything from transfer case oil to diesel but I still don’t know how to light it and I don’t want to blow myself up or light my yard on fire!