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Lorry Mont-Eton Wagner with Sirocco, her Arabian horse. / Laura Austin

Lorry Mont-Eton Wagner traveled the world with Arabians

By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer         Lorry Mont-Eton Wagner has worn many hats in her years here in the desert. She is an Arabian horse specialist, a Trona resident, and a co-owner of a construction company.

When Wagner was 20 years old, she obtained her first Arabian horse from a breeder in Lone Pine. After getting a year and a half-old Arabian, she studied the breed. She tells us, “Most of the rest of the breeds have been bred for a specific function. The Arabian horse is absolutely versatile. He’s balanced to the point where it’s unreal; he can do anything in balance, always in balance, and his body is shorter. He’s very quick; the bloodlines are closer to the surface of his skin. So, he is very flexible and can take a lot of heat and he can take a lot of cold. He was created in the Middle East.” They were used as war horses. Warriors riding Arabians “went north and captured all kinds of those various bad guys. Arabian horses made the functions work and they rode those Arabian horses and they just captured everything and that was 2000 BCE.”

Wagner was living in Trona when she bought her first horse and later moved to Ridgecrest with her husband, Larry. They had 20 acres and purchased an Arabian stallion for her husband. She started acquiring and breeding horses. William “Wink” Chappell from the Kern River Valley helped her create a “place to keep and feed and take care of the horses.” Then, he taught her to train them. He married her mother and spent 30 years training and breeding horses with Wagner.

Wagner acquired diplomatic skills through her work with Arabians. She would travel around the world and negotiate agreements between countries so that Arabians could cross borders. “I learned a whole lot there. Wow. Like how different countries think. And how they can be approached and function in their countries. Every one of them is very different from each other and America. So you learn a huge scope about the world.  I went way up north, and I went to Australia, and you know, I went all over South America, all over the place. And every country is different. That was an eye-opener.”

Wagner sometimes used translators but also learned enough of a language to communicate about horses. She cautions that sometimes translators can’t be trusted.

Lorry and Larry founded Sierra Sirocco Construction. Sirocco means a hot wind. (As an aside and a pat on the back, this writer was the first person in Wagner’s world who knew the definition of sirocco.) The company was founded in 1984 and was in operation until they retired in 2006. Larry had worked for many years with a local contractor and when it came time to start his own company, Wagner went to Sacramento to handle all of the licensing and paperwork.

Wagner ran the paperwork part of the business and a team of three became adept at rapidly building medium-sized family homes. “They could put it up, get the foundation poured, lay everything down, get the walls and everything all the way up, including the roof, in about seven days.” That was in comparison to others building a similar house in four or five weeks.

Somewhere along the line, the company went into heavy equipment. Wagner diversified.  “There were times when somebody didn’t show up at the job. Larry was super going with that job, and so I’d get a call saying, ‘Come out. So and so didn’t show up today.’  I’d either work the backhoe or one of the other pieces of equipment to make sure that the job went smoothly.  I learned how to do all that.”

When Wagner was a sophomore in high school, her family moved to Trona. Unlike many others who went to Trona back then, it wasn’t to work at the plant. They moved to Trona so her mother could teach fifth grade. “There are still some young ladies, who are, of course, in their 60s and 70s, who see me once in a while and communicate with me to tell me that my mom was their teacher.” Her father had a mine that overlooked Death Valley from the top of Panemint Range.

Wagner says of Trona, “We had lots of good friends. And there were lots of things to do over there. I don’t know how we managed to do it. But we did it. And I met some beautiful young people.” Wagner was a majorette at Trona High School. She remembers marching in parades that ended in front of the plant and the employees would come out and watch them.  “I graduated, went out looking for a job and went to work at Trona.” She worked in the Research Department at American Potash and Chemical Corporation. “There were really good, intelligent, smart people that ran that plant. They really did. And they were there for a long time. For some reason, I got increases in salary all the time. Some of the gals weren’t very happy because they didn’t. But I worked in various areas. And so I met the guys that were really running that place. That opened me up to start out when I went out into the world to various other things because I’d already learned so much there. That was amazing.”

Trona had a huge swimming pool-   reservoir called Valley Wells. This was a benefit to residents and visitors alike through the 1980s. Wagner remembers the recreation room on the pool’s grounds. It was a huge building with a snack bar, ping-pong tables, arcade games, and a jukebox. One day in 1955, she was standing by the jukebox listening to the music. A fella she knew came over and taught her how to Jitterbug. She still can Jitterbug to this day.

Wagner continues her passion for Arabian horses. Sirocco lives on her property in Indian Wells Valley, where she has a beautiful, one-of-a-kind Spanish-style home.