A warm and Western howdy to you, from grizzled old-time SCV homesteaders to the newly arrived. Surely appreciate you saddling up with me for this fine weekend exploration to the back trails and vistas of Santa Clarita history.
We’ve a most interesting trek ahead. There’s villains and heroes, romance and tragedy, adventures, mishaps and even a little bit of snow in June.
C’mon. What say you? Shall we break from our chores and obligations a while and mosey back into the mystic?
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
ONE OF EARTH’S WILDEST ROADS — On June 15, 1915, construction began on the Ridge Route, an enthusiastic project designed to be the major highway linking southern and central California. Prior to the RR, folks motored up San Francisquito Canyon, criss-crossing the running creek sometimes 40 or 50 times. “People who made the trek and lived to tell about it wrote adventure books,” quipped a 1912 magazine article. In the Ridge Route’s early years, every major truck maker in America would ship their vehicles, usually by rail, out to the Newhall Train Depot so they could be tested on the Ridge Route. The truck manufacturers figured if their haulers could take on our epic road, they could conquer just about any obstacle out there.
JUNE 14, 1920
COULDN’T CALL IT A FAT MAN RACE TODAY. OR, COULD WE? — The Newhall Business Men’s Committee got together to plan a big Fourth of July celebration. The boys got together and popped for free sandwiches and lemonade for everyone going to the fest. Imagine doing that today. The party included all sorts of races from kids to grown-ups, including something called, “The Fat Man’s Race.” They planned a baseball game (“…the regular kind”) and prizes for “the most popular 18-year-old lady and the most popular 18-year-old young man.”
MUST HAVE BEEN THE TEAMSTERS UNION — Construction sometimes went a mite slow on the St. Francis Dam. A piece of special equipment weighing 65 tons was delivered to Saugus by four heavy-duty trucks. The journey was slowed when they hit San Francisquito Canyon. Delivery slowed to a snail’s pace — 500 feet a day. What can we say. It wasn’t a very good road for cars back then …
SHAVE. HAIRCUT. SPIT. BATH. — Not only was A.H. Wilkie the local men’s stylist at the Newhall Barber Shop, he was the drop-off for laundry and offered hot baths. A.H. also sold cigars, cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
ONCE? BUT WAS IT FOR A 100-MILE WALK? — Here’s a strange classified Signal ad for you, 80 years back: “FOR SALE — Pair of men’s new tan shoes, size 7. Worn once, $5. Dr. Frisbie.”
JUNE 14, 1930
WHEN TIMES WERE TRULY TOUGH — We were in the belly of the Great Depression and local rancher Frank Farley wrote this telling description of unemployed, dead-tired men hiking through the Santa Clarita, looking for work: “The sight most common to the observant eye is the unemployed on the dusty highways. Their dogged determination to get somewhere else stamped on their faces, their packs on their backs or in a sack and the typical red bandana. They don’t even stop and ask for a ride anymore. I guess they have been turned down pretty often.”
JUNE 14, 1940
BACK IN THE COWBOY DAYS — We would have one of the largest rodeos ever in 1940 with world-famous cowboys and movie stars in attendance. The biggest cowboy box office star on the planet, Newhall’s own Tom Mix, had been president of the 1940 rodeo with another Western star, Buck Jones (who owned what would later be called the Saugus Speedway) as vice president. The pair resigned their one-year office. Who was sworn in to head up the 1941 rodeo? None other than Saugus cowpoke and actor, Harry Carey. His vice president? Some young fellow named Bill Boyd. Most of you might know him by his stage name: Hopalong Cassidy.
THE BIRD MAN OF NEWHALL — It’s been torn down for decades but there used to be a memorial bird bath in front of the Bill Hart ranch. A simple bronze plaque declared: “In Memory of DICK LINDSAY; 1863-1940. ‘He Loved The Birds.’” As an old-timer, Mr. Lindsay used to wander about town, handing out chow for the various wild birds. Thirty years later, the birdbath and giant cedar would be taken out to “modernize” the town. The birdbath was supposed to be replanted somewhere at Hart Park.
THE CALL OF WAR — “The hand of war reached into this valley,” Signal Editor Fred Trueblood noted 80 years ago. All local military reservists were called up to active duty.
SNOW OR HAY IN JUNE? — Thought this was so sweet it deserved at least a quick look. Local poet Solemint Mike penned this ditty about his neighbor: “Miss Mary Sagg on a Summer’s day Raked the meadows sweet with hay. You hardly expect a girl, you know, In the midst of June to shovel snow.”
JUNE 14, 1950
HE NEVER MADE IT BACK TO TEXAS — You wonder what was going through his mind those last terrifying seconds. A young Texas visitor plunged 600 feet off old Highway 99 north of Castaic. Witnesses said the man just failed to make a curve and his car went front bumper first 200 yards straight down to the rocks below. It was the third traffic fatality that week.
EVERYONE HAS THEIR CRUTCH — Had a really bizarre accident a half-century back. An old ambulance with Oklahoma plates caught fire going through town. The wagon was completely filled with old wooden crutches.
WONDER IF THEY WATCHED ‘ALL THE FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS?’ — Television was such a novel idea out here, it made the newspaper that the Donner family of Castaic became “the latest local family to own a television.”
JUNE 14, 1960
MORE ACCIDENTS — One teamster lost his brakes on a double rig and hit speeds of over 120 mph before hitting an escape ramp. In a separate accident, a truck transmission literally blew up on a downshift, sending shrapnel through the cab and nearly killing the driver.
CONNECTED TO THE WORLD — Here is a major landmark of history. At the stroke of midnight on June 19, 1960, we became the first rural community in California to switch over to direct dialing. With a flick of a switch, all 4,800 local phones went from being operator-assisted to simply picking up the phone and dialing a number. It was also the first time we were given something called, “an area code” (805). Atop that, old telephone numbers (like 8 for The Mighty Signal or 6-W for Mary Erwin Insurance) were replaced with modern seven-digit numbers with a 259 or 252 prefix. Residents were sent fliers from Pacific Telephone and Telegraph, urging them not to be scared about hearing something called, “a dial tone.” Historian A.B. Perkins made the first direct-dial call to the alderman of Saugus, Massachusetts. The Signal, by the way, got their number switched to 259-0220. Later, in 1963 when The Signal switched hands, Tony and Scott Newhall would grab up 259-1234.
JUNE 14, 1970
CRIME & EDUCATION — Dave Baker, the Hart High superintendent with the nickname of “Two Gun,” was hired on this date. Two Gun, not to be confused with silent film star Bill “Two Gun” Hart, earned the handle for the pair of pearl-handled revolvers he carried underneath his suit. Seems Baker had hired an educational consultant named Chester Fergeson who happened to be working for the Torrance High School District at the same time. Chester took his work seriously. He had attempted to virtually take over the THSD, forging signatures on checks and memos. When the superintendent there tried to fire him, Fergie hired a hit man to kill him. Baker found out, and, fearing for HIS life, started packing. Fergeson was captured by the FBI at LAX, trying to flee the country. Word was that Dave wore the sidearms long after the kook was incarcerated. Baker had ironically hired Fergeson for his reputation as a labor buster — not a superintendent buster.
JUNE 14, 1980
BOYS WILL BE BOZOS — A small explosive device was found in the Saugus High parking lot.
WONDER IF WE’LL BREAK $100 THIS YEAR? — The Boys & Girls Club netted $105,000 for their auction. The very first auction back in the 1970s netted almost $1,000, if memory serves. The money was counted on the hood of a car by where Denny’s is today at Magic Mountain Parkway.
A COLLECTION OF CROOKS AND IMBECILES — The much-plagued little district with the big name — the West Los Angeles County Resource Conservation District — was in trouble again. The local board (whom no one can seem to remember just exactly what they did) was constantly on the front pages for fistfights, and for having a certifiable mental patient and a paroled thief on the board. Director Marcus Frishman was convicted of petty theft for stealing, of all things, a shower head from a Canoga Park department store. Adding to a parole violation, the 20-year-old bureaucrat had to serve 15 days in jail and pay a $1,000 fine. I’m guessing to this day showers must make the guy flinch …
Seeing that spinning vortex up ahead? Looks like our horses have led us back to the Here & Now. May you check off all the items on your Things To Do lists and find peaceful rest. What say? See you next weekend here at The Mighty Signal with a brand new Time Ranger adventure? Until then — ¡Vayan con Dios y feliz casi verano, 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 or https://bit.ly/JBonAmazon.