Not counting volcanic eruptions, tidal waves or dinosaurs crawling out of Earth’s steaming crevices in a biblical prediction, there’s not really a bad day to ride a horse. It’s fall. Finally. Beautiful day to climb aboard the saddle, wiggle in, laugh and chat with friends and neighbors.
Hope you enjoy today’s trail ride into the rich backtrails of Santa Clarita Valley history.
Shall we mosey into the mystic?
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
WONDER WHAT SHE’D THINK OF THE PLACE NOW… — Sarah Gifford was born Oct. 16, 1853, in jolly old England. She would migrate to the United States, marry John Gifford, move to the SCV and become one of Newhall’s leading citizens, which wasn’t hard to do because there were just a handful of people in Newhall in the 1870s. She’s buried next to her husband, in Eternal Valley.
I’D BUY IT — Back on Oct. 20, 1873, Ventura attorneys J.T. Richards and Charles Fenald bought most of the SCV at a sheriff’s sale in Ventura. It was a pretty good deal — $33,000 for the valley, or, about 75 cents an acre.
FROM A 5-STAR TO A NO-STAR — One of the finest hotels on the entire Pacific Coast of America burned to the ground on Oct. 23, 1888, just 10 years after it had been built. The Southern was built to attract the money people to Newhall and it was the centerpiece of town founder Henry Mayo Newhall’s dream to make the sleepy little cowtown into a booming and cultural mecca. A grease fire in the kitchen incinerated the all-wooden structure within minutes.
OCT. 20, 1919
NO RELATION TO THE CEREAL MOGUL — Charles Kellogg built a 1,000-ton grain silo on his ranch. It cost just $1,000 to build. Not much you can buy for a buck a ton these days, save for grief and lip…
THEY HAD A BALL — The Newhall Pharmacy (where The Old Town Junction restaurant sits today at Main and Market) changed ownership. W.S. Houghton sold it to R.A. Ball of Los Angeles. For years, the pharmacy was a favorite local eatery with its old-fashioned sandwich counter and fountain. It later became a work boot store before being reincarnated as the Junction.
STOP THE PRESSES! MAN TAKES SHOWER!! — Today, a lot of us shower at local health clubs, but back in 1919, a shower was considered both a luxury and big deal. Men would go down to the local barbershop just to take a “standing-upright hot water shower.”
OCT. 20, 1929
AND SO IT CAME TO PASS — How’s this for a chilling prophesy? Seventy years back, in Signal Editor A.B. “Dad” Thatcher’s column, he wrote: “I got another surprise the other day. A man wearing low shoes and no socks. I suppose the next thing will be knee-length pants, not of the golf variety.” If there ever was a damning indictment of modern society, it’s the male gang-banger baggy shorts…
CRIPES! WE WERE ANTI-GREEN? AND LIVED TO TELL ABOUT IT? — Here’s a Signal viewpoint from 1929, which varies a wee bit from today’s national norm: “Trees were the greatest enemies of our pioneer forefathers. It took them two centuries to hew their way through a thousand miles of forest before they emerged into the plains of the Middle West.”
THAT’S ONE WAY TO SAY ‘HOWDY…’ — We had a visit from a stunt driver named Billy Russell on this date. Señor Russell would drive around the block blindfolded, get out, walk up to people and shake their hands. Kids. Don’t try this in your 2019 homes.
OCT. 20, 1939
IT STARTED AS A NAP AND ENDED IN DEATH —A trucker and the hitchhiker he was carrying pulled their double rig over along a downhill slope of the old Ridge Route to catch a couple of winks. The driver, Charles McCune, wedged a block of wood under his tires and stuck the transmission into gear. An hour later, his rider, Bob Barrett, nudged him and said, “This rig is moving,” and sure enough it was. The truck gathered speed and efforts to get it into gear or start it failed. It rolled along downhill on the treacherous, curvy road, gaining speeds of over 70 mph. McCune tried scraping the truck along the sides of the mountain to slow it down. Barrett panicked and jumped, crushing his head in the fall. McCune ended up with scrapes, burns and contusions. No satisfactory answer was ever given as to why the truck lurched out of gear or how a fire started.
THE JORY HAS REACHED A VERDICT — Actor Victor Jory usually played a bad guy in his career. He was staying in town while filming the Zane Grey adaptation of “The Light of Western Stars.” That darn Zane had a pretty successful track record with Paramount over the years. The Western author sold the rights to 20 novels that were made into movies. Pretty darn good oater, too…
OCT. 20, 1949
WHAT A CONCEPT. GOING TO WAR OVER OIL. — A report in the old Los Angeles Examiner detailed an old-fashioned oil war on Placerita’s Confusion Hill. Story goes that warring oil companies battled it out with armed guards, bulldozers and oil tankers. Local sheriff’s deputies cooled tempers and work went back to normal.
DRUNK DRIVING. WILL IT FOREVER BE WITH US? — A motorist swerved on the wrong side of Highway 99 and smashed into a Greyhound bus, flipping the bus completely over. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured. The wrong-way driver was completely blottoed.
HOG CRISIS IN THE SCV — A special state Assembly emergency committee was convened to investigate pigs in the Little Santa Clara River Valley. Hogs were used to consume garbage 50 years back and a movement by outside garbagemen tried to bring hundreds of thousands of the carrion-eating beasts here to consume most of the trash of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. Ken Kazarian, grandfather of the Ken Kazarian who later attempted to build the big Elsmere Canyon dump, was stopped from creating mega hog ranches in the SCV. Several big farms were started but headlines of Old Testament fly infestations and stench closing schools, plus a hog disease epidemic here, helped stopped turning the SCV into one big pig pen.
AND THAT’S WHY WE HAD HANGING — Cowboy (and he didn’t deserve that title) Curly Downs was arrested and charged for grand theft and cruelty to animals. The ranch hand ran off with as much of his boss’s loot as he could carry on three horses. Then, Downs hid the three horses in a local box canyon and let them die of thirst.
GUESS THE GUY FOOLS AROUND WITH HIS T-SHIRT ON — Ken Hutchinson was arrested for grand theft auto on this date. Of interest, sheriff’s deputies considered he must be a ladies’ man because he had three prominent tattoos on his chest. One proclaiming his love for “Rose,” another for his desire for “Joan” and the third for someone named, “Mother.”
OCT. 20, 1959
UNFORTUNATELY, THEY DON’T PASS OUT IQ TESTS WITH HUNTERS’ LICENSES — Seems a pair of hikers with guns were wandering through the brush. In their meanness or boredom, they took to shooting at high-tension wires. They cut one in half and it started a 1,500-acre brush fire in Castaic.
AT LEAST THEY COULD HAVE GOTTEN TOGETHER TO PLAY CARDS — Nordhoff High had to cancel their game with Hart on this date. Seems the Ojai squad had played powerhouse San Marcos the week before. San Marcos had so beaten up the 19-man Ojai team, they didn’t have enough players left to play Hart.
INDIAN SUMMER IS NOTHING NEW — Sixty years back, on this date, it was 100 degrees. (See? I’ve told you summer often ends in mid-October.) The term, Indian Summer, goes back to the early Pilgrim days of Plymouth Rock. It depicts a warm spell after the first frost of fall. The Native Americans noted the weather norm and passed it on to the colonials, who called it Indian Summer.
OCT. 20, 1969
LIGHT INDUSTRY BASE, BIRTHPLACE OF VALENCIA, AND, A JOLLY GREAT PLACE TO DUMP DEAD BODIES —There was a time here in the 1960s and early 1970s where we were a favored spot for dead bodies. Hunters found the remains of what authorities believed was a dead hobo. It was the third dead body discovered in the SCV in a month.
YOU CAN’T ALWAYS TRUST POLLS — An unofficial referendum taken at Canyon High came out in favor of the Vietnam War. Of the 1,086 students polled, more than 80% were in favor it. In a separate, emotionally charged meeting of the Hart board of trustees, Superintendent Collins Haan walked out of the meeting in tears, noting that he completely disagreed with their ruling to crush any student protest of the war.
BUT, CAN THEY RUN FOR PRESIDENT? — Another poll, this one conducted by The Mighty Signal, found that 88% of those in the survey (the paper didn’t say how many people it contacted) felt that communists shouldn’t be allow to teach. Only 4% thought that commies should be allowed to teach. Ah, science.
BUT NOT WOMAN’S BEST FRIEND — Wildwood Canyon woman Ernestine Ross had taken her pet Doberman pinscher for a walk hundreds of times over the years every morning. This time, something went terribly wrong. Neighbors reported hearing “spine-tingling screams” as the dog attacked and viciously mauled Mrs. Ross. A neighbor bravely vaulted the back fence and pulled the beast off the 50-year-old woman. She was hospitalized and treated for multiple bites and lacerations.
OCT. 20, 1979
AND HE DIDN’T SO MUCH BRING ME BACK A LOUSY T-SHIRT — Signal Publisher Tony Newhall got back from helping Saugus celebrate their 350th birthday. That would be our sister city of Saugus, Massachusetts. Tony noted that one of the NEWEST buildings in Saugus back east was the town hall. It was built in 1876.
INSTEAD OF CENTURIONS, PERHAPS THE COWPIES? — Maybe cows did their best for Jerseymaid, but they didn’t do much for Saugus High. Seems the campus was built atop a former dairy, with layers and layers of what cows leave behind. The campus had to undergo thousands of dollars of pipe refittings, even though the school was only four years old. The corrosion was blamed on decades of cow presents.
Thank you for the dear company, compadres, compadre-ettes and those who refuse to be so narrowly defined. I can tell just by the particular bending of light that we’re riding up on 2019. Octoberish. Up ahead’s our stop and make sure you didn’t leave anything in the past, like an American Express card in that it could change the entire here-&-now. 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 Amazon.com. Check out his History of The Mighty Signal series on Saturdays on A1.