Bad Men, Good Women, Fortunes & Foibles

Sunday Signal

Well a happy Sunday in August to you, dear saddlepals. Hope you survived Saturday night and still possess your car keys, spouse, loved one and most of your brain cells from the carousing.

We’ve a most interesting trek ahead. I’d tell you where we’re headed, but what would stop you from just sticking around in 2019 and taking a nap in your car?


THE CONSTANT GUSHER — Back on Aug. 14, 1875, Charles Mentry began drilling for oil in Pico Canyon. His well would continue producing oil for over a century.

BORN UNDER A BAD SIGN — Up in Monterey, a cute little baby boy was born on Aug. 11, 1835. He would grow to be a legendary Californio bandito, pistol fighter, womanizer and the subject of the largest manhunt in California history. They would even name a section of otherworldly rocks after Tiburcio Vasquez.

TRAINING DAY — Aug. 12, 1876, the first train passed through the Newhall Tunnel and 123 years later, after a few touch-ups and improvements, trains are chugging through that very same tunnel — one of the three longest in the world when it was built and still one of the longest in the world today at nearly 7,000 feet in length and most of that dark.

FORGET THOSE 49ers UP NORTH — On this date in 1849, they pulled an 8-pound gold nugget out of Santa Feliciana Canyon. How would you like that puppy glued to your rodeo belt buckle?

AUG. 11, 1919

BUILT LIKE A BRICK, er, uh WHAT’S THE WORD WE’RE LOOKING FOR? — We took a pretty big step toward civilization. One of the 20th centuries early pioneers, Albert Swall, started construction on the valley’s first “Class A all-brick block” on this date. It was in downtown Newhall, right across the street from his famous all-brick Swall Hotel, where The Signal’s offices used to be.

WHEN THE SCV HAD TREES — Local trees were being felled by the hundreds in some of the upper canyons to help build the “Great Spillway” for the California water project bringing water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles. Many locals were employed.

NOMINATED FOR THE OFFICIAL SONG OF THE SCV — We were primarily farm and ranch land here, so you’ll have to excuse the corniness. This little song appeared on the front page of The Mighty Signal on this date, 100 years ago. It’s a tribute to local farmers and goes a little something like this: “I want to be a granger, And with the grangers I will stand; A horny handed farmer With a haystack in my hand.” OK. Now this half of the valley sing …

AUG. 11, 1929

ALMOST AS EXPENSIVE AS SALT CREEK — Prohibition was the law of the land and via the 18th Constitutional amendment, it was illegal to buy or sell alcohol. That’s just what A. Janke and O.M. Davis did, right in front of off-duty officer L.W. Fleming. He arrested them. They paid a $50 fine each for the drink.

AUGUST RAIN — Middle of August, we got a short drenching from an afternoon thunderstorm. A tenth of an inch — just enough to cut the dust on all the dirt roads. I’m betting 2019 will catch some rain in the Santa Clarita . . .

PICKING A NICE GRAVE FOR YOURSELF — Two young men who shared a cabin up in Haskell Canyon on the old Pettinger Ranch made a grim discovery of yesteryear. I guess that might be double yesteryear in that we are, as we speak, IN yesteryear. Anyway, amigos. They found the skeletal remains of what they fathomed to be a gold miner. Sheriff’s and unofficial detectives surmised the person died in a cave-in of his mine when an overhead bluff collapsed. Odd thing was, one of the roots from an oak tree, maybe 300 years old, was growing up through the bones of the corpse. Folks figured the miner had sent up his camp under the shade of the tree.

AUG. 11, 1939

ANOTHER HUNTER DIES — Vincent Raggio, young member of the historic San Francisquito family, was killed instantly on this date. A hunter in a car sat on a rifle. The rifle went off, leaving a big hole in Vincent’s heart.

NO HISSING FROM THE LAWYERS — From the Attorneys, 1-Rattlers, 0 Dept. — on this date, lawyer Huber Collins killed a 40-inch rattlesnake that had somehow managed to crawl into his coupe parked up Mint Canyon. You would have thought Huber would have spared the snake’s life as a professional courtesy.

AUG. 11, 1949

LOW HORSE EXPECTATIONS — The sporting event of the summer here was the big horse race between Loren Clymore’s quarterhorse Rocket and Salvatore Lombardi’s Don John. Loren was bragging his pony Rocket could beat any horse in town over two furlongs (a quarter mile, or, about one lap around a football field). Rocket lost by two lengths. Some say it was because the guy riding him was named “Tubby” Goodrich. While Don John was clocked at 24.7 for the race, the Time Ranger’s dad and expert cowpoke in these matters, tells us 24.7 was so-so. “Let’s say 21.3 starts getting into the arena of fast — for a thoroughbred,” says Pops, “and 19-flat for a quarterhorse.”

DANGEROUS DEAN — My pal Dean Gallion was 17, got into another accident on this date, hitting a telephone pole.

AUG. 11, 1959

LOCAL COWBOY MAKES GOOD — Some local cowpokes made rodeo history. Art Cook was named America’s top bare bronc rider of the year.

IT’S ‘READY. AIM. FIRE.’ NOT ‘READY. FIRE. AIM.’ — Here we go again. Warren Smith, 16, was added to the list of Wyatt Earp wannabes. With quick draw shooting THE fad of late ’50s and early ’60s, people kept coming up to the SCV to practice their leather slapping. Young Warren managed to catch his revolver on his belt. The hair-trigger went off, sending a slug right through his left calf.

THEY LOST CUZ COLIN KAEPERNICK TOOK A KNEE? — On this date, the Piru team whipped Nike, 9-0 in men’s softball. Back then, Nike wasn’t the tennis shoe. It was the nuclear rocket base up at the top of the other end of Sand Canyon.

AUG. 11, 1969

JUDGE NOT, LEST YE BE JUDGED — Ah, civilization. A bill passed both state houses on this date, allowing the SCV to have a second municipal judge. It was the first time, sort of, the SCV had two judges. In the 19th century, we had John Powell and the unofficial version of Judge Roy Bean, our own gunfighting jurist, Mr. W.W. Jenkins up in Castaic.

THE SCV WAS SWIMMING WITH LIONS — Africa USA, the exotic animal compound that sat where Shambala is today up Soledad Canyon, moved to Fillmore on this date. Dozens of lions, tigers, bears, elephants, pumas and upper end of the food chain critters were moved after a series of catastrophic incidents at their former home. A record flood earlier in the year raised the Santa Clara River 12 feet deep over a 250-foot-wide swatch, running through the compound, drowning some animals in their cages. Several animals had to be euthanized in their cages because they couldn’t transport them safety. Three African lions escaped and were shot to death in a rampage at a nearby mobile home park. Snipers would sometimes shoot at people and animals. There were fires and landslides. A train wrecked in the compound. Two hippos escaped and were caught walking in front of a train. I’d say that’s enough reason to move …

HOW RACIST! — On this date, Ken Holbert of El Monte became the first and only Caucasian to be crowned Mr. Val Verde in their annual muscle man contest. Val Verde was a predominantly African-American community then.

BETTER THAN ‘BLUB-BLUB’ — The Signal’s quote of the week on this date was from Ted Kennedy. I’m not making this up. We printed it: “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”

AUG. 11, 1979

YOUR GOVERNMENT AT WORK — A big local developer stopped by the County Engineer’s office for a permit. It was about 2 p.m. and the forms and interview questions took about two hours to complete. Then, with just a couple tiny details to work out and a needed signature, the county worker disappeared at 4:15, which was disconcerting to the developer because the office closed at 4:30. The developer walked around the counter to look for the county worker and found him in the lounge, sipping coffee and taking his break. When asked if they could finish the two minutes worth of business, the worker told the developer to “come back tomorrow.”

DUMP THE DUMP. AGAIN. — More than 1,000 stomping, clapping citizens showed up at COC to protest the construction of a mega-dump. No. It wasn’t in Elsmere. This one was in tony Sand Canyon. The IT Corp. wanted to build a 720-acre toxic waste site above ground wells and next to an elementary school that would handle one-third of Southern California’s garbage. The dump was dumped, but you wonder about the shenanigans that were pulled to even get the process that far.

Oh, darn it. Right beyond that cluster of scrub oaks, you can see it, a glowing, circular time hole. Take a confident seat because you don’t want your steed to start bucking and send you into a Smilodon-rich Pleistocene Epoch. See you saddlepals 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 Check out his History of The Mighty Signal series on Saturdays on A1.

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