Time Ranger: Cave men, pistol fighters & the SCV nuclear plant

The Timer Ranger
Time Ranger
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I am eternally grateful for the gift of time traveling. No need to be stuck in the confines of 21st-century humdrummia — a wonderful word my dopey sister-like substance Leslie coined.

C’mon. Pry yourself from YouTube and social media. Find that pony just right for you and let’s mosey into the SCV mystic …


THEODORE & THE GUNFIGHTER — Back on May 4, 1903, President Teddy Roosevelt stopped at the Saugus Train Station and, later, stayed at the historic Acton Hotel (burned to the ground by its arsonist/manager in 1945). The old Rough Rider Himself was up for some hunting and a visit with a friend of his, Rosey Melrose. Rosey was one of the California delegates who nominated TR for the presidency. Rosey was also the pistol fighter who murdered the mayor of Acton, Gene Broom, in a rather one-sided gunfight a few years earlier. Mr. Roosevelt possessed a lifelong nickname that he hated — “Teddy.” It came from a political cartoon of him holding a bear cub and that’s how the stuffed animal AND our 26th president got their names.

AND, IT’S WHERE POWELL STREET IN NEWHALL GOT ITS NAME — The Soledad Judicial District was founded on May 8, with John Powell holding court. Powell was not the first judge in the SCV, but he was the most famous. Powell was the valley’s jurist for 40 years and never had a case of his overturned in a higher court. He led troops in seven Civil War battles (for the north). On his dying bed, he recounted that the best thing he had ever done was free 704 slaves in Africa bound for the states. His assistant in that raid? One Dr. Stanley Livingston, of “Dr. Livingston, I presume,” fame. Powell also shot the biggest cougar in California history.

MAY 3, 1920

SCOOPED BY A ‘CAVE MAN’ — A mysterious “cave man” made front-page headlines in the Los Angeles newspapers this first week in May — and alas, they scooped The Mighty Signal. The deranged, hairy man was thought to be a danger to local residents and workers on the dam. He had threatened locals with a heavy club and called himself: “Lord of the Canyon.” The cave dweller had raided work camp food pantries. He had a long white beard and tattered clothing. And, yes, we’re questioning Tom Frew right now for an alibi. Probably wasn’t Tom because the recluse was tossing silver coins at possemen when they got too close …

HOW DO YOU LIKE SCHOOL? … CLOSED — The Little Santa Clara River Valley, along with Los Angeles County, was stricken with a shortage of teachers. Classes were being doubled up in local schools. Main problem, the county said, was that teachers weren’t being paid enough and were quitting to find other jobs.

WE DIDN’T COTTON TO OUR LOCALS — The election passed quietly in Newhall with Hiram Johnson getting 54 votes for president. Oddly enough, one local boy, Henry Clay Needham, the national Prohibitionist Party candidate, garnered only 10 votes locally, despite living smack dab in the middle of Newhall. One semi-local boy, Herbert Hoover, captured just 24 votes here. Hoover’s wife, Lou Henry, was a resident of Acton as a girl and would later be the SCV’s only First Lady. Lou was also the first female graduate of Stanford. She was a pistol.

MAY 3, 1930

WHOSE FAULT? ASPHALT. — Weldon Canyon Road (today, The Old Road) was paved from about where Calgrove is today up to Castaic.

AND PART OF THE PAVED ROADS ARE STILL THERE TODAY — Other side of the valley, Whitney Canyon was partially paved so oil trucks could make it up to the wells.

AND THAT’S WHY WE HAVE SWIMMING POOLS TODAY — the Newhall Water Co. came legally into existence.

MAY 3, 1940

WONDER IF THERE’S A BIG, EMPTY UNDERGROUND CAVERN THERE TODAY? — For the first time since 1869, the oil well at the old Pico No. 4 stopped producing. A state historical monument today, No. 4 was the first commercial oil well drilled in California and around which the oil community of Mentryville (with 40 houses) was built. While many of the Pico wells had been shut down in the past, Standard Oil kept No. 4 running, some say out of sentiment. Standard was pulling just five to 10 barrels of oil from each well in 1940. Later, they would redrill, and old No. 4 would keep on pumping until 1990. Imagine. One well producing oil for 121 years.

WOULDN’T EVEN NEED TO PUT HIM IN YOUR FAVORITES — Smokey Wingfield opened up the Happy Valley Swimming Club at 747 Maple Street. Smokey had a huge Olympic-size pool, boxing ring, ping pong, horseshoes and a badminton court. The pool was for his daughter, who was a world-class swimmer and was going to compete in the Olympics. Slight problem of war in Europe stopped that. Smoke, by the way, had the second-easiest telephone number in town to remember — 2.

MAY 3, 1950

FROM THE DEPT. OF INTERESTING JUXTAPOSITIONING — The Mighty Signal ran a front-page photo of a two-headed calf right next to the application for Queen of the Old West contest.

WE GOT THE BIG PARK OUT OF IT — On this date, a jury of nine women and three men upheld silent screen superstar Bill Hart’s last will and testimony. The actor, who died in 1946, left the vast majority of his holdings to Los Angeles County so a park could be built and maintained. Interestingly, being a civil suit, the jury found 10-2 in favor of Hart. Hart’s ex-wife and son financed the attempt to overturn Hart’s will and speculation was some secret “oil Santa Claus” was financing the takeover in hopes of turning the ranch into a big oil field.

THESE CARNSARN NEW-FANGLED DEVICES!! — Southern California Edison and General Electric were wandering about, trying to sell the locals on a new contraption for the kitchen. It was called a garbage disposal and fit right in the sink.

MAY 3, 1960

MY TONGUE IS STILL DRIED OUT FROM PUTTING THEM IN THE BOOKS — Here’s something you don’t see much on the police blotter. A trio of San Fernando Valley drug addicts were arrested for breaking into a few SCV stores on this date. They stole several thousand S&H Green Stamps. Remember those? The little stamps you licked and stuck them into books and traded them in for valuable gifts?

HOLD YOUR BREATH WHEN WE DRIVE PAST THE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT, KIDS — It’s an issue as old as the city of Los Angeles itself. Seems locals were more than upset with L.A. and Pasadena. The two municipalities somehow managed to exercise their right of eminent domain OUTSIDE their city limits to condemn part of San Francisquito Canyon to build a nuclear power plant there. The plant was never built.

MAY 3, 1970

THE VIOLENT ’70s … — This was perhaps the most violent period of time in SCV history, with more gunfire than in the old West. Besides the CHP shootings of April, black militants executing a Canyon Country man and literally dozens of gunshot incidents, eight men were arrested on this date for chasing down cars and trucks on Interstate 5 and peppering them with bullets. This was the fifth such incident. A Teamster strike was to blame.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO OF NOT KEEPING A SAFE SOCIAL DISTANCE — On this date, infamous Sand Canyon icon Ace Cain presented a $2,000 check for the local Boys’ Club. Ace had a reputation of, how shall we say it — supplying dates for gentlemen?

SLOW CHILDREN AHEAD — Testing on local sixth-graders found them average or below state average in reading. Hippie parents. That was the problem. Wonder if any of them are reading this column right now and if we should be typing a bit more slowly?

MAY 3, 1980

TALK ABOUT A TOXIC CLOUD (OK, WE WILL) — A huge fire caused $200,000 worth of damage and sent workers running for their lives at the Keysor-Century Corp. 40 years back. A leaky vinyl chloride valve was blamed.

MILKSHAKE BAXTER — A young former state assemblyman, following a failed bid for lieutenant governor, debated county Supervisor Baxter Ward in what would later be a successful bid for his office. While Mike Antonovich blamed Ward for “… everything short of the crisis in Iran,” another foe, environmentalist Jay Fowler, criticized Ward for being soft on over-development. Insert your own punchline. The former KABC anchorman Ward was famous for his sweet tooth and slurping milkshakes.

Well. Here we are. Right back on the same side of the time vortex here in early May of 2020. If you didn’t have enough of simpler climes, don’t tell anyone, but you can just mosey back into the time vortex and revisit our adventure as many times as necessary. See you next week with another exciting Time Ranger history adventure. Until then —¡Vayan con Dios, amigos!

John Boston has been writing about SCV history for more than 40 years. Got some down time? You can buy Boston’s “Melancholy Samurai,” “Naked Came the Sasquatch” and other books on Amazon.com.

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