Cowboys, Grinches, Uber-Cold & Dog-Eating Cougars

Time Ranger
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Not even winter but it sure feels like winter, don’t it, saddlepals? Nice thing about time traveling in cold weather is that you get to wear your best cowboy duds. Plus, I sort of monkeyed with the SCV time continuum and once you’re up in the saddle, it’s a perfect 72.4 degrees.

C’mon.

Let us mosey into the mystic and inspect what was going on in our riparian SCV before the days of crowds and concrete …

WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME 

Three degrees of separation 
Charles Frederick Gebhart was born on Dec. 12, 1891, in Vincennes, Indiana. At the age of 16, the future SCV resident would join the Army and would fight in the Philippines in what history calls the Moro Rebellion. After his military days, he became a cowboy in Oklahoma. He married in 1915, moved to Hollywood with his pregnant wife and got a job in the budding movie business for $5 a day. Ten years later, Charles is one of the top movie actors on Earth, doing three films with Carole Lombard. Along with my Uncle Fred, Mr. Gebhart was one of the 492 victims of one of the worst blazes in American history — the Coconut Grove Fire of 1942. He had escaped, but went back in to try and save victims trapped inside. The SCV’s Charles Gebhart is better known by his stage name: Buck Jones.

DEC. 8, 1919

That’s not even a population of a condo today  cool century ago, the U.S. Census figured out there were about 500 people living in Newhall. Mr. Stein, principal of Newhall Elementary, came up with a nifty homework assignment for his few charges, asking members of the 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes to go door-to-door and find out just how many people lived here. The students came up with about the same exact number as from 1899. Happy Valley had 30 people living there with Placerita adding another 64. Adding them to the rest of Newhall (395), the grand total was 489. One student eagerly noted that in the near future, “…we can easily count on 500 or more.”

DEC. 8, 1929

Imagine the SCV line today e’ve mentioned this before, but it still bears witness to small-town life. Long before there was a Department of Motor Vehicles, the Southern California Automobile Club registered all vehicles. Locals moseyed down to Doty’s garage in a two-day period from 9 a.m. ’til noon to sign their cars up.

More than a few months before cell phones were invented… he local telephone company doubled. A second switchboard and operator was added. Up until 1960, folks had to call the operator to place a call. We went from 35 phones in 1923 to 200 in 1929. Wow. Adding to that, telephone crews were literally camping out in the SCV, adding new phone machinery and lines. Every spare room in town was rented out to the phone army.

DEC. 8, 1939

The California grinch who stole SCV Christmas he State Highway Department, progenitors of our present-day Caltrans, got their undies in a bunch. Seems an entire passel of downtown Newhall merchants, on their own, planted lovely, full-size Christmas trees in front of their businesses up and down Spruce Street (today, Main Street). Jack Warren, head of the local state road office and government Grinch, sent a worker down to yank every last one of the yule trees out and trash them. Seems we didn’t have the proper permits. Signal Editor Fred Trueblood composed and printed a front-page poem for the occasion. It started out: “If you wish the Christmas Spirit; Get A Permit! If you dare to try to cheer it; Get A Permit! Don’t plant your Christmas tree Where Old Glory used to be Or a man will call to see — Your Permit!” Fred’s a little kinder than some of us at The Signal might have been …

Not quite 10 bucks a week tate Relief Administration payoffs — the early version of modern welfare — increased locally. A family of four averaged $36.75 in payments a month. Rough around Christmas but better than nothing …

Some serious driving lmer Marty, our local sheriff’s captain, came hat-in-hand to county Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz (whose uncle lived in Newhall, by the way). Seems Elmer wanted Eugene to pop for another radio patrol car. The Newhall area actually had much larger boundaries than the present-day valley limits. Back in 1939, we were referred to as The Soledad Township with an area covering nearly 1,000 miles. 

DEC. 8, 1949

Purina puma chow  mountain lion was treating itself to a little Christmas cheer over on Atwood Street. The big cat was eating neighborhood dogs.

Brr. Double brr and triple brrrrrr … e had one of the coldest nights on record when the thermometer plunged to Fairbanks, Alaska, levels — 13 degrees. Pipes burst and water troughs had 5-inch-thick crusts on them — not good news for all the livestock people living locally.

DEC. 8, 1959

Nope. Tweren’t Elvis he King died. King Valentine, the aging patriarch of the Horseshoe Ranch, died. The big hoss came into this world as a foal on Valentine’s Day in 1920 then later lived 25 years on William S. Hart’s Newhall Ranch. Nearly 40 in horse years is a pretty long lifespan.

DEC. 8, 1969 

Local boy makes good he Minnesota Vikings handed the Los Angeles Rams their first loss of the season, 20-13 on this date. It was the Vikes’ 11th straight victory. I mentioned this because the Minnesota quarterback was none other than Joe Kapp, former Hart High basketball great. Kapp is renowned as the greatest athlete to come out of the SCV.

Art imitates life?  five-member film crew from L.A. County arrived on Arch Street on this date. They were making a movie about the county tax assessor’s office and what it does. Title of the flick? “Somebody’s Got To Be Kidding.” 

Well. At least the meeting was peaceful.  long the lines of the above theme, local anti-war protesters hired out the Hart Auditorium to hold a peace meeting. Ten people showed.

DEC. 8, 1979

Crooked bureaucrats?? Naaahhhh. Couldn’t happen here …  he pie-throwing continued at the West Los Angeles Resource Conservation District. Director Marcus Frishman, in bell-bottomed disco attire, attacked a member of the press (not The Signal because we hit back) during a board meeting. Frishman tried to rip a copy of a letter from the out-of-town reporter’s hand. It was for Frishman’s judge and written by a fellow WLARCD board member, urging that Frishman’s parole for petty theft be revoked and he be sent to prison.

And a heck of a nice guy n this date, my old friend Andy Jauregui was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. Andy was world famous as a rodeo star, impresario and stunt man.

Almost a pizza joint he abandoned Saugus train station (when it was across the street from the Saugus Cafe) was given a brief reprieve by Southern Pacific’s bulldozers. SP said they’d donate the building to anyone who’d get it off their railroad. George Nigro, who had just bought the old Saugus Elementary School campus, wanted the depot on his new school-turned-shopping center property. I guess you all know who won the tug of war…

Drat and darn it. From that familiar spinning time vortex, our next stop will be in the Santa Clarita of here and now. Hate to part company with you dear friends. You know the drill. Take good care of yourselves. Be kind to one another. Make a difference. Be the person you’re supposed to be. I’ll be back next week with another exciting Time Ranger adventure. Until then — ¡Vayan con Dios, amigos, y feliz Navidad!

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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