Signal Tricksters & the Worst Train Wreck Ever

The Timer Ranger
Time Ranger

I’m guessing summer is ignoring our insistent coughing noises and is taking its jolly old good time leaving the house and getting on a flight to annoy some other relative.

But, isn’t that just like summer?

What say we just leave the house ourselves and take a nice, relaxing horseback ride into the calming vistas of yesteryear? Perhaps, by the time we get back, summer will be gone?


BOO TO YOU TOO — In the spirit of Halloween, tens of thousands of years ago, giant, ferocious saber-tooth tigers stalked the Santa Clarita, tearing cute little cave bunny rabbits to bits. Actually, local cowpoke and famed movie producer Fat Jones dug up a complete saber-tooth cat skeleton on his ranch near Calgrove back in the early 1920s.

YOU’D THINK THERE’D BE A FREE COFFEE MUG OR T-SHIRT OR SOMETHING. BUT NO. THEY CAN BE SELFISH THAT FAR UP NORTH — Nov. 2, 1891, marked the founding of the Acton Water Works by Rudolph Nickel. 

OCT. 27, 1919

NOT A NOBLE RECORD — The worst train wreck in Santa Clarita Valley history occurred in upper Canyon Country, south of Agua Dulce. Ten people were killed and 75 injured. Reports of the cause of the accident differed. Some witnesses said the Southern Pacific flyer was speeding to race a car. Others say the rails had become spread and the train simply derailed.

OCT. 27, 1929

COSMIC TRAIN KARMA — A decade later, on the same date, cowboy R.R. Mundorff was struck and killed by a train at the Humphreys station. Mundorff was actually standing on the ramp and a large steel beam protruding from the engine nearly took his head off.

AND GOV. NEWSOM WANTS TO CONFISCATE THEM —Silent film superstar William S. Hart chatted with locals about his collection of historic sidearms. Hart had collected many handguns, some of them owned by famous bad men of the West. One such pistol had been owned by William H. Bonney — Billy the Kid Himself.

GETTING THE KINKS OUT — Some of the local housewives were complaining about all the dust being raised along what would years later be Lyons Avenue. It was called Pico Canyon then and road crews were straightening it. Not paving it. Just straightening it.

FILL ’ER UP AND THEN SOME PUH-LEAZE… — Back this week, 70 years ago, gasoline at Van’s Station was 17.5 cents a gallon. Amazingly, you could still buy gas here in the SCV for about 20 cents a gallon as late as the 1960s.

TAKING OFF FROM OLD NEWHALL INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT — Must have been a lot of USC fans living in the SCV. Several plane loads of rooters took off from Newhall Airport to fly to Palo Alto for the game with Stanford.

OCT. 27, 1939

IT AIN’T HAY. AND YET… IT WAS — Newhall Land and Farming lost 171 tons of hay in a big fire. That translated to $2,052 in 1939 hay money.

A SUDSY STORY — The Mighty Signal didn’t escape tricksters 80 Halloweens ago. Someone soaped the newspaper’s windows. Neighbors helped to scrape the soap off with razor blades. As times were tough, they kept the soap chips. Recycle, recycle, recycle…

DARN KIDS — Actually, 1939 was a pretty hedonistic evening locally. Lots of windows were shattered by rocks. Street signs were uprooted and fences knocked over. All this despite a 9:30 youth curfew.        

OCT. 27, 1949

EXTREME HART HIGH TRIVIA — Elberta McKissack was crowned as the first homecoming queen in SCV history.

THE TWO CHOICES OF DEATH — The pilot of a small, yellow airplane had but a few seconds to make a hellish choice: stay in his craft, crash and be burned alive or jump without a parachute. He picked the former. The crash in Haskell Canyon started a brush fired that lasted for four days and blackened 7,110 acres. Three firefighters were seriously burned in the blaze and another three were injured. The pilot was a student, 21 years old, with just 20 hours of flight time.

OCT. 27, 1959

AH. THE GOOD OLD DAYS. — The William S. Hart Union High School District was forced by recent state legislation to create and initiate mandatory corporal punishment policy. Let us start with the pep squads…

GLOBAL DRYING? — State rainfall records were released and it seems that the 1958-1959 year (to Sept. 30) was the fourth driest season in 50 years. 

NOV. 1, 1959

HOW ABOUT THEM COWBOYS? — The community of Canyon Country was officially founded. It was also the first day of the first-ever Frontier Days.

OCT. 27, 1969 

AND THE WALRUS WAS PAUL DON’T FORGET — Ever the vanguard on The Big Story, The Mighty Signal printed an investigative piece, asking people on the street if Beatle Paul McCartney was dead. Locals seemed to think not. History bears them out.

BEARS REPEATING — Civilization in the form of L.A. County Zoning Commission came to Mike’s Tire. On this date, they ordered Mike Cone, of Mike’s Tire on Soledad, to get rid of his pet 200-pound black bear that rested in a cage in front of his tire shop. The bear’s name was Ticia. I miss Ticia…

THAT HART CLASS OF 1968 CAN’T GET ANYTHING RIGHT — A high school newspaper calling itself “The First Underground Newspaper In Hart High History” was distributed on campus. The one-page mimeographed sheet was called “The Torch of Truth” and was primarily an anti-Vietnam War paper. About 50 students were ordered the day the paper came out to remove black armbands, protesting the Vietnam War. A packed house of both pro- and anti-Vietnam War speakers took over the board meeting on this date. Small historical footnote, actually, The Torch was the area’s third underground paper. Hart had “The Organ” and “The Spicy Gazette” the year before. Knew one of the writers, a fellow named Walt Cieplik…

BOB HAD THE BIG SPRINGS — Bob Avant was the special guest at the Hart High homecoming. Avant, a former Hart grad, was one of the first men in the world to high jump over 7 feet.

NOV. 2, 1976

GOT OUR BUTTS WHUPPED — Canyon County — the move to break away from Los Angeles and make the entire Santa Clarita Valley its own personal self-governing entity — was defeated in a countywide election. If memory serves me well, while it passed substantially locally, it was defeated by a 65-35 percentage in the L.A. countywide election, but got the inverse of votes locally.

OCT. 27, 1979

JUDGE OF THE VAMPIRE — Jurist Armand Arabian presided over the Vampire Van caper. Arabian was spotted carrying a full-grown parking meter into his office. When pressed why the hardware, Arabian said, “Lawyers come into a judge’s chambers and sit down. They usually don’t leave. So as they enter, I put a penny in the meter and tell them the flag will snap up when their time is up. It works.”

NL&F, TAX DODGERS — While Newhall Land and Farming paid over $3 million in property taxes, their name appeared in the delinquent tax rolls. Seems they forgot to pay a bill for $4.96.

ANOTHER HALLOWEEN TRAIN DEATH — The timing of history can be the oddest thing. It’s rare when trains kill people, but, again, on this date, Paul Wilson walked out of the Rendezvous bar, got into a fight then walked home along the railroad tracks. He was struck by a train and killed. So, we have train deaths on this date in 1919, 1929 and 1979. Do, be careful, crossing the tracks this Halloween…

Wouldn’t it be grand to take an extra few hours and just hang around the SCV in a yesteryear of our choosing? Alas, the universe operates on a schedule. That’s our SCV time traveling portal ahead, ready to welcome us to a later — and hopefully, summerless — day in 2019. On the bright side — see you next Sunday 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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