We have an absolute wonderful and interesting trail ride ahead, saddlepals, filled with all manner of gee-whiz tidbits, history and trivia.
Hop up into those saddles, give your horsey a proper kick, yell “Giddy-up!” and “Follow that taxi!” We are headed toward the haunted back canyons of SCV legend and lore. Guaranteed. When we exit out our time continuum, you’ll be much smarter, and, in some rare cases, cuter, than when you rode in.
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
WHERE’S WALDO? — I just wickedly delight at the chance to place this tidbit under this particular heading of “WAY, WAY BACK WHEN.” Dear, dear friend, mentor and hero of mine, Ruth Waldo, was born on July 3, 1910, 11:45 p.m. Her married name is Newhall. Besides being a renowned adventuress, author and one of the planet’s smartest people, she’s the former editor of The Mighty Signal, and I’d say best we ever had, apologies to many friends and editors. Ruth “passed on” in November 2003, at the too-soon age of 93. Happy birthday, kid.
WHERE’S IGGY? — Back on July 1, 1808, Ignacio del Valle was born in Jalisco, Mexico. He would later be mayor of Los Angeles and owner of the Rancho San Francisco, the great cattle and agriculture spread that makes up the borders of the Santa Clarita Valley today.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CASTAIC — On July 1, 1915, the township of Castaic was founded. Interestingly, a 40-year-long range war where 27 men lost their lives was just winding down. W.W. Jenkins, a sort-of self-made Judge Roy Bean who dispensed vigilante law up there, was one of the combatants.
JUNE 28, 1920
WORLD SERIES GREAT GRANDMAMA — There was a wedding in one of Newhall’s old-time families. Pearl Walk married Walter Cook under a giant oak tree, witnessed by 150. Pearl is related to Bob Walk, the Hart High grad who won the first game of the 1980 World Series for the Phillies. Walt Cook, by the way, would become one of the valley’s biggest dairymen, owning both the Ridge View and Adams dairies.
THAT’S A BIG ROBBERY — For the second time in 1920, the Newhall Filling Station was robbed. This time, $500 worth of tires, batteries and tools were taken. That sum would get you a brand new house on a full acre in Downtown Newhall back then.
JUNE 28, 1930
NOT A DIRTY BUSINESS? — A new industrial firm was making a nice profit during the Depression. Richardson Washing Powder cranked out laundry soap by the ton.
CAR QUARANTINE — All visiting cars to the greater SCV (which included Lake Hughes, Lake Elizabeth, Acton, Agua Dulce, Castaic and the rest of the canyons) were ordered to register with the Forest Service. Fire danger was rated as beyond extreme. One sailor on leave was fined $30 for starting a campfire in a dangerous area up Tick Canyon. Thirty bucks is severe money in the 1930s — a good month’s pay and then some.
GOLD UP BOUQUET CANYON — Miner W.H. Cruzan was busy, running silver and gold mines in the SCV. He employed more than 100 men.
TALK ABOUT A POLICE ENDORSEMENT — How about those politicians? Several incumbents running for office were ordered by the courts to stop forcing local sheriff’s deputies to wear their campaign buttons. That’d be pretty darn interesting if they tried to pull that off today.
AND NOT A CIEPLIKOWITZ IN THE BUNCH — It was an extremely unusual year for politics in California. The THREE main candidates for governor were all named Young and for state treasurer, voters could choose between Frank Smith and Bill Smith. The oddest bit of election happenstance had to do with the L.A. County assessor’s race. Four — count them, FOUR — men were running for that office, all with the name of Hopkins. Politics is stranger than fiction.
RHYMES WITH YODA — Another rarity in the elections of 1930, one of the candidates for the local Superior Court judgeships was Oda Faulconer — a woman.
GUESS HE GAVE A HOOT — On this date, Edmund Richard Gibson married his sweetheart, Sally Eilers, at his ranch in Honby. There were 150 guests. Today, that ranch is called The Saugus Speedway. And Edmund? You might know him better by his screen nickname — Hoot Gibson. The cowboy film superstar got the nickname from a job he had as a youth, working for the Owl Drug Store.
JUNE 28, 1940
GUESS WE’LL HAVE TO DO BETTER NEXT YEAR — This ought to embarrass much of the 21st-century SCV. We had 33 floats in the 1940 parade. Float-making seems to be a lost art here.
POOR ED WOULD PROBABLY GET ROCKS THROWN AT HIM IN 2020 — Ed Hill’s dad sent his apologies that he couldn’t make the 1940 parade this year. He had busted his hip while chopping wood and was recuperating nicely. It was the first time in years Ed Sr. missed the Fourth of July march, and folks liked to see him walking the route. Ed’s dad was 97 in 1940 and the SCV’s last veteran of the Civil War.
ANOTHER PARADE NO-SHOW — Floyd Hitt didn’t make the parade, either. He was dead. Floyd and some pals were attempting to erect a large iron flagpole next to Floyd’s Black & White Garage up Mint Canyon way. The pole fell against some high-tension wires and Floyd was bug-zapped with 15,000 volts courtesy of SoCal Edison. Ernie Villegas wasn’t born yet so he had an alibi.
WHEN EVERY DAY WAS CASUAL FRIDAY —Signal Editor A.B. “Dad” Thatcher recalled Independence Day celebrations from his youth. He noted that he was 18 before he ever saw a man in uniform, and that was at the parade. Most sheriff’s deputies and constables wore coveralls or suits.
JUNE 28, 1950
YEE AND OUCH!! — Seventy years back, it was 110 here. Ooch. Ooch. Ouch. Followed by an “Aaaahhhh…” Couple of days later, the mercury fell into the 70s. And? It rained.
DON’T BRAG ABOUT THE GOOD OL’ DAYS — L.A. market manager Alva Dotson was kidnapped and dumped at Bonelli Stadium (Saugus Speedway). In record heat, he stumbled along Soledad Canyon, hands bound and taped behind him and his feet manacled. No hat. Nearly dying from exposure, he tried to get someone to pull over and help him. Hundreds of cars passed before a truck driver pulled over to rescue the man.
GOOD CIRCULATION — The Signal circulation was about 1,600 in 1950. It grew from 800 in 1944 and 450 in 1938.
NATURE’S REVENGE — Orval Nielsen died on this date. Using a bulldozer on a job at the Santa Anita race track, the Sand Canyon man was trying to uproot a tree. It fell right on him, killing him instantly.
PUTTING THE “BEE” IN BEARD — A couple of locals wished they hadn’t entered the Fourth of July beard-growing contest. Harvey Hanson and Art Bruce found a swarm of bees nesting inside Harv’s pickup. When they tried to dislodge the hive, bees got into both men’s beards. Interestingly, they got away without a sting and shooed the swarm to more hospitable climes. But when Harv went to start up the allegedly bee-less truck, he sat on somebody’s stinger.
JUNE 28, 1960
IN THE DAYS OF NO RED TAPE — The Atomic Energy Commission OK’d the construction of a massive nuclear power plant in San Francisquito Canyon, despite locals pointing out it was sitting near the intersection of four major earthquake faults. Same day the announcement was made, there was a major forest fire next to the atomic station site. The plant was to be constructed in fall 1960, but never got built. At least above ground that I know of.
GRISLY CARLOS — Carlos Cisneros, murderer, led police to the Agua Dulce grave of one of his victims — one of his own gang members. Cisneros had killed Bob Ward, cut off his hands and head, and kicked out the teeth, then buried the remains in a shallow grave near Vasquez Rocks. When he led cops to the grisly find, a partially eaten foot was sticking out of the ground. Cisneros had buried the head and hands up near Gorman.
BICYCLE GLUE? — Doug Fortine was spotted around town, trying out his trick bicycle for the 1960 parade. It was a curious contraption, two bikes somehow glued together and over 10 feet tall. The local CHP captain quipped he didn’t know whether to give it a ticket or “… turn Fortine over to Civil Aeronautics people.”
A CONTRACT ON THE SUPE — My old pal Dave Baker was Hart District superintendent and carried a .45-caliber service revolver to work every day. Baker had briefly hired a consultant, Chester Furgeson, who announced he’d be running the district. Dave fired him, not knowing that as a consultant for the Torrance School District, he had put a $10,000 hit on their supe’s head. After getting booted, Furg put up a $5,000 bounty to off Dave.
“I was a little disappointed that my bounty was $5,000 cheaper,” Baker joked with me years later. It wasn’t so funny in 1971. Baker found five bullet holes in his office window and someone tried to run him off the road. He had four around-the-clock deputies (one for him, three for his family) living with him and had his car checked several times daily for bombs.
Local officers arrested a hit man at the old Tip’s restaurant, carrying a picture of Baker. Furgeson was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport, then freed on $100,000 bail. Furg jumped bail and was found a week later, dead of asphyxiation in a Fresno motel. To this date, we still don’t know if it was a murder or suicide. The big question unanswered? Who hired the hitman for the hitman.
UNSCHEDULED FIREWORKS — Aurelio Brisento suffered third-degree burns over most of his body, held on briefly, then died. He was putting together rockets for the valley’s Fourth of July fireworks show in a Placerita shed. He and two other men were mixing chemicals when they ignited. The two others were also injured.
YOU GOTTA HAVE HEART — Ely Weisberg of Saugus still had a thank you gift from 1925 — a mummified human heart. It was given to him for referring a man to a doctor with an unusual bedside manner. The doc had his patients stand on their head to cure a variety of ailments, from brain tumors to heart attacks. The petrified heart was only one known out of two, the other residing in Egypt.
JUNE 28, 1970
DAS DUDEMAN!! — Dear personal pal, buddy, eater of red meat, past prez & CEO Tom Lee started working at The Newhall Land and Farming Co. Let the Official SCV Historical Record note that Tom was 8 back then.
JUNE 28, 1980
CANOGA FRANK — Frank Knapp made a fortune selling oil, cement and real estate, including a huge ranch his parents founded that would later become Canoga Park. All of Canoga Park. Knapp bought a 320-acre spread isolated in the mountains above Sand Canyon. Knapp loved to hike the hills and look for fossils. On this date, he came up with a doozy — a full skeleton of a Native American who died around 1830. Forensics proved the Native American was 5-foot-8 and around 30 years old when he died. Knapp also had a significant collection of American Indian artifacts — bowls, arrowheads, baskets, etc. At 80, the wealthy retiree handed out business cards that read: “FRANK KNAPP — retired; no phone; no address; no business; no worries; no money; no prospects.”
CANOGA, PART 2 — Small trivia — no one knows where the name “Canoga,” originated. There’s many theories, from an American Indian word meaning canoe to the name of a train engineer’s daughter.
Well. We’re back, and I’m needing to skedaddle. Thanks for the company, dear saddlepals and saddlepal-ettes. See you next weekend here at The Mighty Signal with a brand new Time Ranger 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 or https://bit.ly/JBonAmazon.