Explosions, Con Men, Tarts, Stars & Crawlers

Sunday Signal
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It wouldn’t hurt some of you to volunteer to saddle up some of these dude ranch broncos. There’s thousands of them.

Not that I’m a victim or anything.

C’mon, all y’all. A complete vista of gee-whiz experiences await us, dear saddlepals. Shall we mosey in the mystic of the Santa Clarita of yesteryear?


CHOO-CHOO STUFF — The Soledad railroad tunnel was finished back on July 27, 1876, linking the Santa Clarita Valley with the east. Some today still say it was a mistake.

SAND CANYON FRENCHMAN — Not too many have heard of Frenchman Jean Joseph Reynier. On July 27, 1864, he arrived in Sand Canyon. He was 15. Later, he’d homestead 1,200 acres and his daughter would marry Frank Walker and start the Placerita Canyon dynasty.

JULY 21, 1919

WHEN ACTORS ACTUALLY DID THINGS — Local film superstar Tom Mix took first place in a special “Screen Actors’ 25-mile Horse Race” on this date, 100 years ago.

MY HISTORY GRANDFATHER — Before Jerry Reynolds, the town historian was this skinny fella named A.B. Perkins. Ten decades back, “Perk” was living in Carrara, Nevada, and was getting ready to move to Newhall. Perkins bought the old Newhall Water Co. from Henry Clay Needham for $25,000.

JULY 21, 1929

GETTING REAL. AND PETE. — Two workers for the Midway Gas Co. never came back from patrol. Pete Wahl and Gabriel Real were checking out a break in pressure in the main pipeline just north of Castaic. They had no idea of the size of the gash. Investigators pieced together they must have driven into the field at a pretty good clip, realized the extent of the leak and tried to slam on the brakes. Something from their car — brakes, a cigarette, something in the ignition system — ignited the gas and a flame over an acre deep and across erupted, burning their car and bodies to ashes. The break was blamed on an earthquake in the area a week earlier.

DARK COINCIDENCE — A new employee started work on the reconstruction and cleanup of San Francisquito Canyon from the great dam bursting a year earlier. The worker’s name? C.C. Rubble.

WEST POINT IN THE SCV? ALMOST . . . — They made the plans but it was never built. Roy Baker, owner of the old 400-acre Baker Ranch, which would today be known as the Saugus Speedway, almost sold his ranch to a Capt. George Hester of Pasadena. George was going to build a prestigious boys’ military academy there, using the grounds for classrooms, athletic and training fields, dorms and a polo grounds. The school was to be used to train high school boys for the military and would have been under the direct jurisdiction of West Point.

DOGGONE IT! — The Hager family of Placerita Canyon bought the valley’s only hot dog stand on this date. The previous owners may have had an identity problem. They called their little lean-to, “Hamburger Slim’s Hot Dog Stand.” Cripes. Some 500 people here — how many dogs would you have to sell in a day to make a profit?

JULY 21, 1939

HOWDY, HOPPY! — Bill Boyd was careening through Placerita Canyon, fistfighting a dozen-plus outlaws and shooting a few more. Not to worry. He was just filming a Western, “Medicine Show.” You might know Bill by his show biz name — Hopalong Cassidy.

BONUS POINTS TO ANYONE WHO BRINGS IN THE LOCATION AND THE GOLD — Mrs. Annie Briggs, owner of the Lost Padre Mine up Bear Creek in Castaic, had heard all the tales of her claim being haunted. Fifty years earlier, one of the valley’s meanest pistol fighters and drunks, a fellow by the name of Riley if memory serves me well, shot a half-dozen workers and buried them in the pit. (He was later murdered a few days later, sleeping off a drunk in his bunk. Someone put a shotgun a few inches away and nearly blew his head off.) Folks say the mine was haunted by ghosts. On this date in 1939, Annie Briggs and her husband were working and a huge landslide filled up the entrance. Adding more spice to the story, Bill Rose stopped by to help the couple clear away the rubble. As a young man 20 years earlier, Mr. Rose shot W.W. Jenkins on a lonely dirt road to end the 40-year Castaic Range War. By the way. The exact location of the mine is still a mystery today.

TALES OF OLD AMMO & OLD AMOR — A romantic triangle on the old Nettles Auto Court on San Fernando Road near 15th Street ended up with Jack Messenger getting perforated with four slugs from a 30-30 Winchester by hubbie Earl Leaverton. Messenger’s life was saved by the fact that Earl used bum ammunition. The gunpowder was so old, the bullets just barely penetrated Messenger’s body.

JULY 21, 1949

TARTS IN ACTON — Judge Art Miller called it the “Little Cicero of the Mountains.” Some L.A. gangster had attempted to set up a gambling and prostitution ring at Acton Junction. The boys were busted and sent to jail. The girls were dropped off in downtown Los Angeles.

HAVE YOU ANY IDEA HOW FAR 6 MILES IS? — Prominent rancher Andy Bellow and pilot Ed Tannehill crashed in the hills above Canyon Country. The two men were badly injured but both managed to literally crawl 6 miles for help.

MUST’VE BEEN X-RATED — George Reichert got razzed by his fellow firefighters. Seems while he was away putting out a brush fire, a stack of magazines in his back yard caught fire. Passing U.S. Army Rangers, sent in to help with the blaze, squirted his garage down for him.

JULY 21, 1959

WHAT ARE THE RURAL ODDS OF THAT? —This week, 60 years ago, three hay trucks in separate accidents all caught fire in the SCV. One cause was overheated brakes coming down the Grapevine. The other two incinerations were classified as spontaneous combustion. We were just awash in flames this week, with a wide variety of brush fires starting from everything from flung cigarette butts to railroad wheels kicking out sparks. No serious damage, though.

NOT EXACTLY HISTORY-MAKING. BUT —Anne Tyler got engaged on this date. Her parents were from Pocahontas, Arkansas. Sorry. It’s just the name cracked me up.

JULY 21, 1969

ONE EVIL SADIST — Some mystery monster left a trail of mayhem and murder on a local farm. The sicko slaughtered 17 pet rabbits on a Saugus farm and slashed the owner’s horse across the face.

GIVING COPS A BAD NAME — Today he’s one of the owners of the famed western movie studio, Melody Ranch, but 50 years ago, Renaud Veluzat was managing the family store on San Fernando Road. Renaud and his brother Andre had just closed the store for the evening when the Special Enforcement Bureau of the Sheriff’s Department nearly busted the door down. There were customers in the store still, but the SEB officers held the Veluzats at shotgun-point. Several times the merchants identified themselves as owners of the store, but were roughed up. The SEB had been under investigation for several overly zealous run-ins with the community. A Signal editorial condemned the squad for their “roughshod and vulgar” tactics.

JULY 21, 1979

ATONE. B-TONE. WHATEVER IT TAKES. — Insurance agent and con man Duane Gartner told the judge that he told God he’d do 400 hours of community service to atone for 21 counts of grand theft and cheating his clients out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Judge Stan Malone said 400 hours was a bit too much — he ordered just 360 hours of community service. Plus a $50,000 fine. Plus six months in jail.

YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK — In the wake of Proposition 13, lots of local state employees at Castaic and Pyramid lakes either lost their jobs or had their hours cut back. Yet, the Water Resources mucky-mucks spent $28 per unit to have their phones changed from black to beige.

I don’t know about you, saddlepals, but I after we head back through the time vortex of The SCV Here-&-Now, I might sneak back to 1919 to take a nap and just smile at the open space. See you in seven with another exciting Time Ranger adventure. Until then —vayan con Dios, amigos! 

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.

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