A mid-May warm and Western howdy to you, Santa Clarita saddlepals.
We’ve a most interesting trek ahead. There’s the pants-down capture of this valley’s most notorious outlaw. There’s a Newhall judge who freed the slaves, bootleggers, bears and the yuppies’ lament — a bagel-less SCV.
C’mon, you bunk huggers and mooncalf poets. Out of those condos and McMansions. Hop up in the saddle with me and let’s go explore the halcyon climes of SCV yesteryear…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
TIBBY MEETS HIS END — It was up in the Hollywood Hills, back on May 14, 1874, when one of California’s most infamous bad men was captured, literally, with his pants down. The womanizing bandito had been, “visiting” the wife of one of his men when a sheriff’s posse surrounded the house. The road agent caught a round of buckshot in the rear end after he exited the bedroom window. Interesting, the lady he was visiting earned the pseudonym of “La Coneja.” En Inglés, “The Rabbit.” Couldn’t offer a single theory on how she earned such an enthusiastic nickname…
MAY 12, 1919
THE JUDGE SELLS OUT — Big game hunter, war hero and the SCV’s most famous judge, John Powell, sold his Dry Canyon ranch. The 136-acre spread went to an oil company. Powell had nearly 4,000 fruit trees on his spread. Powell had led Union troops in seven major Civil War battles and once teamed up with famed American journalist Henry Morton Stanley (of Stanley & Livingstone fame) to free some 700 slaves in Africa.
FOR A SERVICE WELL DONE — Young Jess Doty returned from World War I. Jess had sold his Ford dealership and White Star Garage to Frank Liebhart. In appreciation for Doty’s fighting for democracy, Liebhart sold the business back to Doty on his return.
HART’S LAST FILM — Several local cowboys pulled up stakes to move to Victorville. The boys got a job driving prairie schooners for Wm. S. Hart, who was filming his epic Western, “Tumbleweeds.”
MIXING IT UP — While Hart was out of town, Tom Mix was in town with 400 extras, filming a Western in Placerita Canyon.
MAY 12, 1929
THE SCV: SOCAL’S MOONSHINING CAPITOL —Prohibition was still law of the land but that didn’t stop moonshiners from constructing a state-of-the-art distilling operation on the outskirts of Newhall near the Lasalle Ranch, near what would be The Old Road today. The chem lab was heavily camouflaged in a cave (if any of you old moonshiners can give an exact location on this cave, give me a jingle) and housed twenty 800-gallon mash vats. The stills were only discovered after one exploded and started a small forest fire. A small look-out cottage had been built and between the cave and cottage was a field that was constantly being plowed to erase tire tracks. Estimated cost of damage was $10,000 and local gendarmes could find no trace of anyone working the lab. A little trivia? Those 20 humongous vats only produced about 25 gallons of hootch per day.
DAD & THE TALKIES — We’ve come so far in motion picture special effects. But listen to Signal Editor Dad Thatcher’s comments about the movies of his day: “About the funniest thing in a ‘talkie’ is to hear the word about a half second before the picture shows the motion of the speaker’s lips. Or to hear the voice come from the center of the stage when the speaker is at one side.”
HART MOVES MOUNTAINS AND OIL — Speaking of, silent superstar Wm. S. Hart flexed his political muscle, delaying and eventually moving the construction site of the Newhall Oil Refinery. Originally, it was going to be built in town. Hart protested to a judge and supervisors, noting that the oil facility would be too close to Newhall Elementary.
MAY 12, 1939
KILL TO HAVE A COPY — A group of Lebec citizens started a weekly newspaper called The Ridge Route Rambler. Would love to tell you more, but I’ve never seen a single issue.
BEARS REPEATING — Garage owner George Bjornstad had an unusual customer pull up to his filling station. As George was filling up the pickup truck, he noticed there was a large black bear in the passenger seat. Owner of the truck said he and the bear went town to town and put on wrestling matches. The bear was as tame as a kitten.
A FATAL SAFETY NO-NO — Imley Halliburton was added to the long list of hobos who died falling from trains passing through the Santa Clarita. Imley apparently tried standing up before a speeding freight went through the Soledad Tunnel.
PRE-CESAR CHAVEZ — Newhall Land & Farming Co., with the help of the local sheriff, fired 20 employees on this date. Nope. ’Tweren’t Gary Cusumano at the top of the hit list. The 20 were braceros who were picketing for higher wages.
MAY 12, 1949
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT’S DUE — On this date, for the first time, Hart High became accredited.
BUY HIGH, SELL LOW — Millionaire rancher “Big” Bill Bonelli flew up to Wyoming to buy a prize Hereford bull for $30,000. Problem? The creature was sexually shy. Bonelli sold the reticent stud at auction for $3,740. A guy could go broke…
NO VERSATELLER MACHINES YET — Bank of America opened their brand new $100,000 building on the northeast corner of 9th Street and San Fernando Road on this date. The old B of A (which started as the Bank of Italy here in Newhall) used to sit smack dab across the street.
DOG KILLER ON THE LOOSE — One or several dog poisoners were active in Agua Dulce. They killed about 10 dogs at various residences.
MAY 12, 1959
THAT’D BE A COUPLE HUNDRED BUCKS TODAY — J.J. Duell, head of the state farm bureau in Sacramento, was in town on business. Duell kept his receipts for his day here and noted that he dined out for all three of his meals here, spending $1.04 for breakfast, $1.30 for lunch and $1.64 for dinner. Duell, who owned 200 laying hens, figured that at 27 cents per dozen eggs, he lost 4 cents on the day. And that’s not counting the gasoline to get here.
MAY 12, 1969
BUGGY FOR BAGELS — Cosmopolitan types newly transplanted to the Santa Clarita were complaining about what they called a staple of life. Seems there was no place in town where one could buy a bagel.
TRAGIC — A bus accident in Castaic ended with the death of three Girl Scouts. The bus had hit wet pavement, swerved out of control and went over the edge of a cliff. There were 20 girls aboard, plus chaperones. Six were seriously injured.
MAY 12, 1979
MOHAWKS GO EXTINCT LOCALLY — Two Mohawk gas stations closed on this date, increasing the gas crunch. Folks had to buy gasoline on odd or even days, depending on their ending license plate numbers. Gas prices were rising so fast, folks were filling up sometimes daily. The lines were sometimes a half-mile long and one day, a statuesque 21-year-old beauty used her time in line to strip down to her bathing suit, climb on her hood and sunbathe. One of those infamous front-page editorials (“Back To Unleaded Sex”) by Scott Newhall stated: “Gasoline has now replaced sex as the primeval object of man’s affection.” One thing. It caused some locals to choose other means of transportation — literally from roller skates to bicycles.
DODGERS vs. OLD FOLK — It’s a matter of priorities. On this date, 20 years back, more than 4,500 local residents attended SCV Dodger Night, which fell on a Thursday. Same night, same time, they held a most important meeting with a rather boring handle: the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission meeting. The meeting was to decide how much of the state sales tax the SCV would get for roads, bridges and highway improvements. How many people showed up for the LACTC affair? Two. Albert and Helene Klein spoke for 40 minutes on the need for senior citizen transportation needs. Must have been Angels fans…
Thanks for the company, dear Santa Clarita neighbors. See you with another exciting Time Ranger next week. Post Cinco de Mayo — La vida puede no ser la fiesta que esperamos, pero mientras estamos aqui podemos bailar y vayan con Dios… (Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here, we should dance. And ride with God.) Yup. That’ll be on the final…
John Boston has been writing about SCV history for more than 40 years. Read his historical tome, “Images of America: The Santa Clarita Valley” on Amazon.com. Check out his History of The Mighty Signal series on Saturdays on A1.