The Time Ranger | Big Men, Bird Men and Con Men

The Timer Ranger
Time Ranger

I know I’ve been harping on this theme all this year. Nonetheless. Who the heck has been stealing all the time? We’re just about into August and it feels like January was last week.

So. Whoever has been copping our precious hours, knock it off. Just bring back the stolen minutes and no charges will be filed.

That aside, shall we hop atop our ponies and head into our own, special Santa Clarita vortex where, blessedly, time does not exist?


I’ll race you to the time hole. Last one there smells funny and belongs to Rotary.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JACKASS — One of the valley’s most nefarious citizens was con man Milfred R. Yant. A mucky muck in the Ku Klux Klan, he worked hundreds of oil stock scams here in the SCV for years, defrauding mostly seniors and ending up spending serious time in the penitentiary for it, too. He was the Father of Confusion Hill, that oddball performance art of oil wells off Sierra Highway near Placerita. Yant ended up accidentally becoming a multi-millionaire. The land he owned in the late 1940s actually sat above a large lake of petroleum. Yant was born in Alger, New York, on July 23, 1898. You’ll excuse me if I don’t sing the guy Happy Birthday.

SPEAKING OF PETROL — The year 1876 was an exceptionally busy time, with the founding of Newhall, opening of railroads, the nation’s centennial and the moving of the historic Pioneer Oil Refinery. The original digs were by Eternal Valley, at the old Lyon Station. They moved it to its present-day location at Pine Street on Aug. 1, 1876, where it became the first successful commercial oil refinery in California.

GOT A RECALCITRANT TEEN AT HOME? — Tell them about Jean Reynier, who arrived at Sand Canyon on July 24, 1864, and homesteaded 1,200 acres. Jean was 15 and would later be the patriarch of the fabled Walker-Reynier clan of Placerita Canyon.

WHEN SAUGUS WAS SURREY, FOR SURE-IE — For a short time, Saugus had its name changed to Surrey. A brand new post office was established at the Saugus Train Station (Saugus, Massachusetts) was the boyhood home of town founder, Henry Mayo Newhall), but the P.O. called it Surrey. Interestingly, Surrey was the middle name of silent film super star, William S. Hart. But, there is no known linking of the two names. It’s just a coincidence.

JULY 26, 1920

MAYBE AFTER SEVERAL HUNDRED YEARS, WE SHOULD PUT IN SPRINKLERS — A brush fire closed the highway into Newhall and threatened the Sunshine Inn near the road tunnel. Fifty volunteers raced over to put it out.

CRIPES. THEY COULD USE SEVERAL LAYERS OF USELESS MIDDLE MANAGEMENT — The teaching staff of Newhall Elementary consisted of three. Bill Ringnalda was hired as principal and Miss Lora Daugherty was one of two teachers. Before the days of in-class parental help and teachers’ aides, Lora taught third, fourth and fifth grades. By herself.

I THINK I’LL GO HOMESTEAD BOB KELLAR’S 1,000-ACRE SPREAD — Unless we get hit by a meteor, I don’t think we shall see these days again. Back on this date in 1920, there were 12 homesteading claims for 160 acres each in the Santa Clarita. Today, many of us live in condos and don’t even own elbow room or land.

JULY 26, 1930

WE’RE NO. 1? — California Gov. C.C. Young was at the grand opening of the Weldon Canyon/Highway 99. A rope was sliced at the 160-foot cut out of the mountain. Young’s car, with the license plate of “1,” was the first car to drive through Highway 99, which is called The Old Road today.

NOT EXACTLY ROCKET SCIENTISTS — Three Hollywood teens, driving a used Ford they purchased for $8, ran out of gas in Saugus. One lad, Jerome Yandal, lit a match so he could see better down the pipe to the gas tank. Yup. The car blew up real good, singeing the trio.

SEEMS I REMEMBER DOING SOMETHING LIKE THIS WHEN I WAS A KID — George Mulry, civilian employed at sheriff’s substation 6 on San Fernando Road and 6th Street, went for a hike through the Newhall Train Tunnel. Halfway through, he heard a freight coming. There are several cut-outs within the long tunnel for just such emergencies. Problem was, Mulry was equidistant from the safety holes. Said a friend: “He flattened himself against the wall so flat that his ribs cracked, closed his eyes, said his little, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep,’ only he said it with different words, and awaited the end.” Fortunately, Mulry survived the ordeal, shaken, ears dead and completely covered with soot.

JULY 28, 1938

TUNNEL NO MORE — On this date, the old Newhall HIGHWAY tunnel — not to be confused with the Newhall RAILROAD tunnel — was blown up and filled in. From 1910, folks used to go to and fro to the San Fernando Valley via this big tunnel under what is today Sierra Highway, south of Newhall. This original tunnel was wooden, one of the longest in the United States. In 1924, the tunnel was reinforced with steel and concrete and rededicated. It was 16 feet wide and 21 feet high — just about big enough to get Tom Frew’s Conestoga wagon through. (Tom still drives it, too.) Before they dug the tunnel, there was a steep road that went over the hill, next to Beale’s Cut. The road had a 29 percent grade and it quickly became obvious that a hill that steep wasn’t going to work. One problem was gravity carburetors. The old cars had to back up the hill so they could get gas to the engines.

JULY 26, 1940

MULHOLLAND’S LOST MONUMENT — Signal Editor Fred Trueblood summed this one up nicely: “Prominent big shots of Los Angeles this week attended the unveiling of a beautiful concrete memorial to the late William Mulholland, builder of the Los Angeles aqueduct and the San Francisquito dam. A large concrete memorial to Mr. Mulholland also remains in the canyon, but no L.A. big shots ever attend it.” Trueblood was referring to Mulholland’s dam, which burst in 1928, killing about 500 people and causing millions in damage.

ANOTHER FAMILY TRAGEDY — A couple of weeks after a woman lost her husband and six children when a grape truck hit her head-on at 90 mph, another fruit traffic accident occurred on old Highway 99. A peach truck ran out of control, crossed the center lines and hit a family car filled with eight. One died, seven were critically injured.

THE DARK PARADE — As America readied for war, locals stood on the sides of our main roads, watching. Approximately 10,000 troops, tanks, cannons, jeeps, supply cars, trucks and even 1,700 horses took a week to pass through Newhall and Saugus on a series of trains going from Los Angeles to Washington state.

IDIOTS AND HUNTING CAN GO HAND-IN-HAND — While most outdoorsmen leave no mark, there are those few, well, that some ranchers would just love to string up. Skelton Brooks in Sand Canyon discovered some deer hunters — illegally hunting preseason — had crossed his property. They shot holes in all his galvanized drinking tanks for his cattle.

WELL, WE’VE ALWAYS BEEN A TREND-SETTER — Backwoodsman Tiller Brutch (great name or WHAT!?) came into town for supplies and was surprised at the latest fashion — shorts and sunsuits. Brutch recalled living in Kansas earlier and witnessing several young girls being arrested and they had on more clothes than the 1940 Newhall beauties.

JULY 26, 1950

HALF A HUNDRED SCOUTS NEARLY MURDERED — An arsonist was blamed for setting three fires, including one in Lake Elizabeth that nearly killed 50 Boy Scouts camping there. The lunatic had hung several balloons filled with gasoline along a brush line, then set the “fuse” with a highway flare.

ONE DAD, TWO WARS — The Korean War visited the Soledad Township (what the SCV was called from around 1938-1960). Local draft board No. 85 was formed. Men 18-25 were ordered to sign up for physicals. My dad, Walt Cieplik, who fought in World War II, was in the Army Reserves. He didn’t re-enlist and missed being called to fight in the Korean War by five days. I was 3 months old.

PLANET-ENDING EXPLOSION — Perhaps the most dangerous place in the valley to work, Bermite was hit by another explosion. A flare shack blew up, sending flames — not smoke, but flames — 200 feet into the air. The paint from fire trucks a half-football field away was blistered off. Damage was $75,000.

THE OLD OIL RACKET — Placerita oilman Tim King was sued for $2 million by former partner, Tom Sidwell. Sidwell said King defrauded him while he was in jail for securities fraud. When King found out he was being sued for $2 million, he smiled and said to his riggers: “Look fellows. All of a sudden, I’m a millionaire!”

JULY 26, 1960

FLOOD FOLLOWS FIRE — Locals predicted dire consequences as an aftermath to the 30,000-acre brush fire up Sand Canyon the week before. Folks were worried that the denuded hillsides would be the perfect setting for mudslides and flooding for the upcoming winter. They’d be right.

OUR FORGOTTEN BIRD MAN OF HART PARK — County road crews worked all week to knock down the historic entrance to town at San Fernando Road and Newhall Avenue in front of Hart Park. In the process, they knocked over the old dedicated bird bath built to honor the lovable old-timer Dick Lindsay, who spent his final years feeding the local birds.

JULY 26, 1970

HEY! TAKE IT EASY ON THE SALT! — The state had to dish out $160,000 to repair to bridges north of Castaic. Seems that Caltrans was using too much salt to melt winter’s snow on Highway 99. The salt ended up corroding concrete and steel in the bridges and they had to be winterized in July.

CESAR’S SALAD — Cesar Chavez showed up at a fruit pickers’ strike against The Newhall Land & Farming Co. Cool thing for me? I met the guy and interviewed him. The labor leader lent his support to some 200 farm workers who were picketing for higher wages and benefits from the local übercompany. Chavez and local labor leader Benjamin Aparicio came to terms with NL&F officials. Get this. The dispute was over the fact that NL&F wouldn’t tell the pickers how much they would make before they started picking.

PREHISTORIC SHIVERS — State highway engineers and geologists ignored reports of an ancient landslide while building roads near Princess Homes. Several brand new houses were lost when the road crews started shifting land. Reports of the ancient underground splits were ignored by state officials.

JULY 26, 1980

BACK WHEN ALL THINGS WERE POSSIBLE AND BEAUTIFUL — Believe it or not, we used to have some gorgeous lawns and a fountain at our county civic center. Budget cutbacks, a heat wave, a drought and some miscommunications amongst the maintenance crew however allowed the lawn to dry up and plants to die. The fountain, bureaucrats figured, cost too much to run.

VICIOUS DARN JULY — in 1980 with the AVERAGE temperature being 102 degrees and four days in a row at 110 or better. I remember putting 100-pound blocks of ice in our Olympic-size pool just to make it bearable. Sorry. I know. Life was tough.

Thanks for the good company again, Santa Clarita saddlepals. You folks surely are good medicine. I’ll be back next weekend here at the hitching post of Your Mighty Signal for another exciting Time Ranger adventure. Be kind to one another. ¡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 or Leave a review, if you’re amind.

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