Mixing Water, Fire, Oil & Accidents

Sunday Signal

Hey. Is that all y’all moping sheepishly about, pre-coffee Sunday morn? C’mon. Hop up in those saddles. You sage riders who know their way around a horse can just wiggle a boot into the stirrup and swing a leg over the saddle without spilling a drop of latte. For you SCV greenhorns, just place your paper coffee cups on the railing, remember which one’s your’n and, somehow, some way, climb aboard. THEN ride by and pluck your offending beverage.

We’ve a most interesting trail ride ahead, filled with gee-whiz local history, trivia, man’s inhumanity to man and a question of the ages:

Who in the heck names their baby, Minniedell?

Follow me. We’re headed into the mystic…


ANY FORT IN A STORM —Fort Tejon, the U.S. Army citadel that for a few short years tried to protect folks for a thousand square miles, was abandoned on Sept. 11, 1864.

‘WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE’— Thanks to historian A.B. Perkins, we have a few records of the rainiest seasons in SCV history. In 1884-85, we had 38.18 inches of rain, followed by these totals: 1889-90 — 34.84; 1892-93 — 26.28; 1913-14 — 23.65; 1931-32 — 25.99; 1937-38 — 25.21. Of course, the mother of all seasons was 1968-69 — 51 official inches and 30 inches in February of 1969 alone.

WATER, WATER, NOT EVERYWHERE —One of our driest years was 1898-99 — about five and a half inches fell for the whole year — and much of that in one storm. Touchy when you consider we were primarily agricultural and lived by every raindrop. Lots of livestock perished and many trees just dried up.

SEPT. 8, 1919

GUESS WE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE ON THE HONOR SYSTEM —The still-new IRS was passing out fliers in the SCV, warning car owners that they could give rides to friends or hitchhikers, but that if they charged money for a ride, they’d have to pay 8 percent of the sum to Uncle Sam.

AN ALMOST EARLY VISIT TO THE PEARLY GATES —Presbyterian pastor W.H. Evans had a close call with death, 80 years back. He was driving back from Ravenna (the town that used to sit between Acton and Agua Dulce) when the steering wheel came off his car. Evans plunged over a cliff, the car rolled over and over and the local holy man was pinned upside down for 10 minutes. A passing train crew saved him.

ELECTRICITY. WOW. —The Antelope Valley Fair was going strong, even a century back. The big to-do was that in the 1919 fair, they’d have electric lights. Fascinating that was just 100 years ago…

SEPT. 8, 1929

THE GOOD OL’ CAR DAYS —A new Model A sedan at J.W. Doty’s garage cost $625. That’s not per month lease. That’s not the first insurance payment. That’s the whole cost of the car. That sum was also about the same cost of a brand new house on an acre of land in Downtown Newhall.

TWO SUSPICIOUS ITEMS —Our local Dr. Thomas complained that his watermelon patch had been burglarized so many times, he was out of watermelons. Same weekend, the Saugus Home Club announced they would be holding a huge Watermelon Feast at their annual fundraiser.

YUP. TMS HAD AN OIL COLUMNIST —A note in the weekly oil column in this paper noted that “ol’ No. 57” was still pumping out about five barrels a day, after 60 years of production. Pico No. 4 would pump oil continuously for 114 years.

A LITTLE HIGHWAY HAIRCUT —Pico Canyon Road used to run all the way to Newhall Avenue and was a narrow dirt wagon road. It was improved on this date, widened, with the neck taken out where it intersected with Newhall Avenue.

SEPT. 8, 1939

AS JIMI HENDRIX MIGHT HAVE SUNG: “HEY, JOE. WHERE YOU GOIN’ WITH THAT ASPARAGUS IN YOUR HAND” —The Union Ranch, between Newhall and Saugus, was pretty busy with asparagus harvests. Joe Jo, 84, leased the ranch and was the reputed world’s largest grower of asparagus. He had come to America at the age of 14 from China.

OUR WORLD FAMOUS RODEO GROUNDS — Big Bill Bonelli bought the old 355-acre Ray Baker Ranch on this date. Ray had bought out his partner, movie star Cowboy Bob Anderson. The ranch had previously been owned by another screen legend, Hoot Gibson. Hoot lived on the place for a year with his new bride, Sally Eiler. Hoot held onto the place for five years before it fell to bankruptcy. The grounds were ravaged a year earlier in the 1938 big flood and a fire destroyed the rodeo stands in 1935. You might know the place as the Saugus Speedway.

DEER, DEER ME —Hunting season ended with 12,935 registered hunters killing 282 deer. Of that total, 273 were shot in the first five days. That would be deer. Not hunters.

SEPT. 8, 1949

THE RIDE OF HIS LIFE —Trucker Ollie Bliss’ double rig filled with 20 tons of lumber lost its brakes at the top of the 5-Mile Grade and went on a 100-mph race with death. Ollie won. Bliss kept dragging his truck alongside of cliffs and railings in an attempt to slow it down. Finally, he was able to pull his truck over on the incline of Newhall Pass. CHP officers said Bliss suffered a nervous breakdown after the ride, that he was babbling and had to be pried from his cabin. The CHP called him a hero.

SEPT. 8, 1959

ONE LAD & 200 FIREMEN —A 10-year-old boy playing with matches caused 200 men to fight a 26-acre brush fire in Saugus. The U.S. Forest Service sent 10 planes carrying thousands of gallons of flame retardant to help. How many times do you think the kid had to write, “I will not play with matches?”

AT LEAST THEY DIDN’T NAME HER SATAN —John Berry, former pastor of Newhall’s Presbyterian Church, died on this date. I mention this only because his surviving wife’s first name was Minniedell. Who, may I ask, no matter what the century, names their baby — “Minniedell?”

ATSA ONE TOUGH COOK(ie) —One of the aggravating repeatings of history is how local sheriffs not only get socked in the noggin’, but also, how they end up paying out of their pockets for damaged personal goods. On this date, sheriff’s deputies Acosta and Hageman both took shots to the chin trying to apprehend a cook from the Castaic Cafe who had started a fistfight right in front of their 6th Street headquarters. Adding insult to injury, the cook also broke the glasses of the desk officer, Sgt. Pipkin.

SEPT. 8, 1969 

THE LAST PICTURE— It wasn’t a statistic that made the SCV proud. While this valley made up just 0.003% of California’s population, we accounted for 1% of the state’s traffic deaths — 47 for just the first eight months of 1969. Two more were added when a mother and her infant burned to death in a wreck. A third died when his motorcycle clipped a truck he was trying to pass. Then, Saugus Speedway photographer Andy DeMarzo died when a race car jumped the wall, flipped and landed on top of him.

SEPT. 11, 1978

The Newhall family ran The Signal during the SCV’s wild and formative years, from 1963 to 1978. After a dramatic midday walkout, Scott and Ruth Newhall, but not with their son, Tony, who couldn’t be seen around the office, the Newhalls started The Citizen, a biweekly. Oddly enough, the first edition was printed on 9/11. It lasted not quite a year and lost about $1 million.

SEPT. 8, 1979

AND THEN THERE WAS ONE —The Canyon Country and Newhall-Saugus-Valencia chambers of commerce agreed to merge.

HALF THE VALLEY COULD HAVE TOLD THEM IT WAS A SWAMP —The Wm S. Hart Union High District coughed up over $100,000 to drain Canyon High’s football field. The district’s engineers sort of built the place in a bog and during moderate rains, the place would become a lake.

I’D STILL VOTE FOR TIM WHYTE —Journalists at College of the Canyons grappled with the student senate over the First Amendment. The senate, because they footed the bills to put out the Canyon Call, wanted to act as publisher of the paper. That meant the senate would choose the paper’s editor or, COC would have a special election where the students voted on the school paper’s editor. The other touchy point was that a third party would be appointed to edit the paper for “libelous material.” Both measures were eventually struck down.

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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