A warm and western howdy to you, saddlepals and saddlepal-ettes. Amen, boy howdy. I haven’t written that phrase in eons. Bottom of my heart, it’s absolute Christmas to see all you old friends, new faces and aficionados of Santa Clarita history.
We’ve a most interesting trail ride ahead through the SCV’s back canyons and riparian vistas. This week, we’ll visit saints, sinners, gunfighters, hippies and even one (1), hock-ptooey, actual cannibal.
I’ve a few thousand steeds all saddled, waiting for adventurous riders. Come on, you bunk huggers. Jump into your jeans and boots, scamper out of those condos, townhouses and McMansions. I’ve hot coffee and pastries aplenty. Shall we mosey into the mystic?
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
- THE FIRST CHOO-CHOO — The year: 1876. Newhall was founded (in Saugus) in October. In July, construction began on the world’s longest (6,940 feet) train tunnel. Then, on Aug. 12, the first train roared through, from San Fernando to Newhall. And Tom Frew turned 7. (Just seeing if my old Scotsman pal is paying attention…)
- THE SANTA OFFREDUCCIO VALLEY!?!?! — On Aug. 10, 249 years ago, Father Juan Crespi camped along the banks of river that ran year round. The padre named the body of water after St. Clare on her feast day. Born Chiara Offreduccio in 1194 to a wealthy Italian count, she would be canonized as St. Claire in 1253. Get this. Centuries later, in 1958, Pope Pius II would name her the Patron Saint of Television (for real). In her last bedridden days, Claire claimed to hear and hear the mass on her bedroom wall.
AUG. 10, 1928
• CREEKSIDE LASALLE? — This week in 1928, young historian A.B. Perkins lusted after a luxurious new LaSalle. Though we were a rural armpit, we had a luxury LaSalle dealership, manned by a Mr. Householder and a Mr. Davis. Perk sent a letter, offering them, in trade: “Herb Ball’s Buick, 1 donkey, 4 calves, 2 horses, 10 chickens, 3 lots in Outer Newhall and $500 cash.” Today, that LaSalle Phaeton is worth at least $125,000. Perk’s property? Several million.
FROM ONE, MANY — In 1900, we had a total of one (1) telephone in the entire valley. Phone stats came out in early August and we had 125 telephones, an increase of 7.95 percent from the previous year. Please don’t ask me how many phones we had in 1927. (But DO send in the number…)
DEER ME — A Happy Valley woman woke in the middle of the night to the sound of what she thought were burglars. ’Tweren’t. From her bedroom, the lady started firing off her nightstand pistol (good band name) at various points of the compass. Neighbors called the gendarmes. The “burglars” turned out to be three deer peacefully grazing on her front lawn.
AUG. 10, 1938
SORRY, CHINESE — Signal editor/publisher A.B. “Dad” Thatcher would eventually be the oldest working newspaper columnist west of the Mississippi. He wrote the Jin-Jer-Jar column for decades and, on this date, he apologized twice to the Chinese. First, Dad printed a retraction, swallowing his words after he had falsely accused the Chinese of using more dope than Americans. It was the other way around. Second, he apologized to the Chinese for America inventing jazz.
ALL CABINS BEIGE? — This very well could be the first HOA (homeowners association) in the SCV. The Bouquet Canyon Cabin Owners Association was formed. And, of course, so was a charter, bylaws and rules without number.
TAKES 4 TO MAKE 3 SETS OF LEGS — State Fish & Game created their own creature: the Peg-Legged Coyote. Seems we had an entire passel of them limping around the SCV. The area had started an eradication program, but found the wild dogs would either pull or gnaw off a leg caught in a trap. The injured predators were forced to limp after simpler prey: like pets and chickens.
AUG. 10, 1948
• GRANT ME THE SERENITY. BUT NOT JUST YET — In early August of 1948, Judge Arthur Miller (no relation to Mr. Marilyn Monroe) unsuccessfully tried to start the first chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous here in Newhall. If memory serves, A.A. would start their first meeting here seven years later in 1956. (Any tips or more background on those early A.A. SCV days would be greatly, and anonymously, appreciated). This famous painting, “Man on the Bed,” was created by an artist and volunteer known only as Robert M. It was given to one of A.A.’s original founders, Bill W., in May 1950. It is perhaps ‘The’ trademark artwork for the 12-step program.
BRRR! — Not making this up: the overnight low for July 30, 1948 in Downtown Newhall was colder than a Democrat’s heart: 45 degrees. It was even chillier in some of the higher elevations.
DONCHA LOVE COMMUNISM? — Local rancher Al Haddad was one of America’s biggest potato farmers. (Meant in the sense that Al wasn’t 45 feet tall, he raised a zillion potatoes.) A government program forced him to turn his 1948 crop into mashed potatoes. Yup. Mashed potatoes. A federal price-control program required Haddad to sell his crop of more than 1 million taters for cattle feed — at 10 cents per 100 pounds — minus the dime for each burlap sack. Imagine. All that work and getting a penny for every 10 pounds.
AUG. 10, 1958
BRRR!, PART II — Remember the cold spell from 1948 (cripes; hope you do; it was two paragraphs back). This week in 1958, the evening low temps never rose above 42 degrees.
ON THE ROAD TO NOWHERE — Signal editor/publisher Fred Trueblood celebrated his 20th year at the helm of The Signal. The biggest story of his tenure? He recalled Highway 99/Weldon Canyon becoming the major state highway in 1933 and Sierra Highway opening in 1938. The result was that Newhall went from being a roadside community to an isolated village.
AUG. 10, 1968
HIPPY DIPPY, NOT SO RARE — A new creature was spotted wandering about the SCV. More and more, hippies were arriving into what was then a riparian farm and ranch community. Often, these “flower children” were given dark stares, and more, for their stances on free sex and drug use.
SLIPPERY PRINCESS — Many new homeowners in the Princess tract were none too happy. Seems 60 of the houses had collapsed or were about to be condemned due to hill slides. Now THAT wasn’t in the real estate brochure…
GRAND OLD TRAIN — Yay for Metrolink but their modern vessels can’t hold a candle to the luxurious old Southern Pacific cabins. On this date, the last of the luxury cruisers passed through the SCV, never to return again. Problem? Only about 60 passengers a day were using the trains back then.
AUG. 10, 1978
CANNIBAL KILLER — A month earlier, Ronald Doyle Wilburn, the Vampire Van murderer, killed and partially ate a young hitchhiker, Mary Ann Linco. She had been a motorcycle gang groupie and had started using drugs at the age of 13. Two CHP officers had stopped Wilburn on that night for a routine traffic violation. Wilburn ran away and one of the officers quickly captured him. Returning to the van, the two officers shined their flashlights and saw a suspicious bundle. It was a rolled up carpet. Inside were the partially dismembered and devoured remains of the 21-year-old woman.
HOT ACTON TRAGEDY — Triple-digit heat and macho stubbornness were the cause of the deaths of two fire trainees in Acton. Tim Rodriguez and Joe Hughes were ahead of the pack, running up a mountain. Then, they sat as everyone passed them. At the finish line, the trainees noticed the pair were missing. They found them along the trail, dead. It was 107, in the shade, and humid.
RARE AUGUST STORMS — Epic thunderstorms and rain pelted the SCV, causing dozens of fires from Agua Dulce to Castaic.
GUYS 3, GIRL 1 — It was hard to get fired from civil service, even back in 1978. Hart Park was the center of steamy sexcapades when a young lady employee scattered her affections amongst a few, ahem, male staff members. The girl? Fired. Two of her male paramours soon thereafter received promotions. The department head was promoted two levels.
Well saddlepals. I see by that familiar vortex light we’re back to present-day Santa Clarita. Sure appreciate the good company and looking forward to seeing you next Sunday at The Soon To Be Again Mighty Signal with another thrilling Time Ranger adventure. Vayan con Dios, amigos…
John Boston, aka, Mr. Santa Clarita Valley, has been writing about and teaching the history of the SCV for more than 40 years. Recipient of The Will Rogers Lifetime Achievement Award and 119 major journalism honors, he is also author of the historical tome, “Images of America: The Santa Clarita Valley.”