Hard to believe, with all that’s happened this year and all that’s about to happen before New Year’s, that the timeless habit of autumn is around the corner. Autumn doesn’t know about politics or election, civil strife or viruses. Days get shorter. Wind picks up for a bit. The sunsets become a bit more solemn and thoughtful.
And still, we ride.
C’mon. Saddle up. Let us ride together to a land that knows no nostalgia and see people so exactly the same as us and yet quite different.
Ahead in the distance is a time portal just the right size, made to fit our passage perfectly.
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
OUR OWN JOHNNY APPLESEED — Actually, he was more like a Johnny Acorn. The Santa Clarita used to be heavily forested in spots in the 19th century and certainly prior to that. But in came the Spanish and the Californios behind them, followed by statehood. Many of the epic oaks were cut down to make way for farmland grading. The wood was used for local and Los Angeles fireplaces and construction. Town founder Henry Mayo Newhall wanted his valley to look more like a New England habitat and commissioned John Saunders to start planting oaks. And Saunders did. There are stories that Newhall also had Saunders plant a row of eucalyptus trees that stretched from his house near present-day Magic Mountain all the way into town and into present-day Hart Park as a bridle path. Except for Hart Park and along McBean Parkway, most of those trees are long gone. Stories from former historian A.B. Perkins was that Saunders also planted those big eucalyptus trees along Highway 126. Kick up the chainsaw, gone, gone, gone.
LAST WE HEARD, SPAIN HASN’T BEEN HELPING OUT MUCH WITH THE PROPERTY — Just over the hill, 213 years and two days ago, Father Lasuen officially dedicated the Mission San Fernando Rey de España.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US — California’s birthday is Sept. 9, 1850. We turn 170 this Wednesday. Here’s a rough one for you. Its first two years in existence, the No. 1 expenditure for the 31st state was for the eradication of Indians.
JET THIS FRUIT STAND — The Civil War was still going on but on Sept. 11, 1864, Fort Tejon was abandoned.
SEPTEMBER 6, 1920
THE GOOD OLD DAYS BEFORE EIRs — About 20 Saugusites took a weekend to put a new roof on the Saugus Church. A few folks from Newhall showed up to help, including Rev. Evans from the Presbyterian Church. He brought watermelons for each of the workers. Back then, everyone just got together and built things. Today, you’d need lawyers, insurance, environmental impact reports, 15,006 useless bureaucrats, yada yada.
NO NEED TO RUSH. IT’S PROBABLY SPOILED BY NOW — Clarence Cruzan had a bumper crop of oat hay on his 320-acre Bouquet Canyon ranch.
FIRE IN THE HOLE! — The trains were irregular visitors to the SCV. A huge fire in the Tehachapi Tunnel stopped through service. A freight carrying lime derailed and there was a horrendous blaze. SoPacific workers ended up stuffing both ends of the tunnel with dirt to suffocate the flames.
SEPTEMBER 6, 1930
TOOTHLESS IN SCLARITA — Pat Doyle was passing through Newhall on the bus when he raised more than a fuss. Seemed someone aboard stole his grip. That’d be a suitcase. Worse, his bag was carrying his only set of false teeth. Doyle then spotted a fellow passenger, wearing his clothes and walking toward downtown. The cops rushed him, took back Doyle’s clothes but couldn’t find the chompers. Doyle didn’t press charges.
SEPTEMBER 6, 1940
BACK IN THE DAYS WHEN FOLKS USED TO WORK — On this date, Franklin Delano Roosevelt put his presidential signature on a WPA order to build a new Newhall Elementary School auditorium and community theater. The sum of $70,196 was allocated for construction. Principal L.C. Dalbey was officially notified in a telegram from our congressman, Carl Hinshaw. The original drawings called for an 8,776-square-foot structure to seat 642. It was estimated it would take 50 men eight months to build. (JOKE: In modern numbers, that would translate to 500 men and eight years). Back in 1940, the WPA paid the operating expenses to keep Newhall Elementary open year-round as a playground.
TOO SNAKY — Actor Bill Hart plugged a 6-foot-long rattlesnake up on the Horseshoe Ranch. It was the sixth snake shot in 1940 up there.
DON’T KILL YOURSELF OVER IT — A popular nationally syndicated cartoon strip that sometimes ran in The Signal was dubbed Harry Karry. Locals couldn’t decide whether it was named after the Japanese term for suicide or the famous actor Harry Carey who had a big spread up San Francisquito Canyon.
GREAT STORY. GREAT COWBOY NAME. — Sand Canyon rancher Casper Blutzer was awakened by a stranger who said he was driving by and spotted someone in Casper’s lower field, stealing watermelons. Casper and his wife got dressed, grabbed a couple of shotguns and went roaring off to catch the melon thieves. Upon arrival, the melons were still there. When they got back to the house, they discovered that the “kind stranger” had stolen all their chickens.
SEPTEMBER 8, 1946
ALL HAIL HART HIGH, ALL HAIL TO THEE — My dear and favored alma mater, William S. Hart High School, was dedicated on this date. For 23 years, it would be the valley’s only junior high and high school campus. Prior to that, local kids attended San Fernando High.
SEPTEMBER 6, 1950
ANOTHER SUICIDE — Because we were so strategically located, the SCV was long a favored spot for local and out-of-town visitors to visit as their last spot before departing this plane of existence. Burnet M. Sherwood, of Torrance, joined a long line of suicide practitioners when he strung a line of garden hose from his car exhaust pipe to the car’s sealed-off interior. He died of monoxide poisoning. A note blamed ill health.
PHEW! THE WORLD STILL EXISTS! — Fire lookout John Hofer got the scare of his life. He was watching for smoke when he spotted what he thought was a nuclear bomb mushrooming in the hills to the west. Nope. ’Tweren’t Ruskies. ’Tweren’t Global Warming. A plane crashed in Chatsworth.
A BUSINESS ODE TO SIMPLER TIMES — Local merchants received new guidelines for financing. Back in 1950, if you wanted to buy a car, you had to put one-third the price down and pay off the balance within 18 months. Folks then would have fainted at some of these 84-month indenturements.
SEPTEMBER 6, 1960
NOT AGAIN — What’d I tell you about these suicides? Here’s another. SFV man Medrano Leon ended his life at Placerita Canyon Park. His note said he was despondent over capitalism. Perhaps Medrano longed for food shortages and standing in lines.
“BEE” REAL SURE OF THIS: JIMMY WAS A REAL “SWEET” GUY — On this date, one of the valley’s most colorful pioneers died. James Dyer, known to many as just “The Beekeeper,” was 79. His family homesteaded land here in the 19th century. James’ dad, “Commodore” Perry Dyer, started the bee business. Today, his famed Dyer’s Honey Museum belongs to COC. The stone and cement building is still there on Sierra Highway south of the campus.
SOMETIMES, IT’S NOT SO GOOD TO BE KING — Superintendent of the Newhall School District Bob King called Signal owner Fred Trueblood to howl that he wasn’t getting his paper. Fred apologized profusely and gave a hollering in the direction of Bob’s paperboy. Next week, Bob calls again to complain. And the following week. And the following week. A little bit of detective work and Fred discovered that Bob’s neighbor was getting his paper. His neighbor’s name? Bob King. The other Bob didn’t have a subscription. (And if YOU don’t, that’s 259-1234 — a rather inexpensive way to further your education.)
ONE DEGREE OF SEPARATION — The old Corral Drive-In Theater (up Seco Canyon Road today near Copper Hill, close to the Circle K convenience store) was featuring “Gunfight in Dodge City” a Joel McCrea Western. Joel used to be William S. Hart’s paperboy when Bill lived in Hollywood.
SEPTEMBER 6, 1970
MOO, AHHHHHHHH!!!! YIPES! CRIPES!! — The only local traffic fatality of Labor Day weekend occurred up in sparsely populated Canyon Country. With all the congested highways running into and out of the SCV, Frank Quinn hit a cow on Mint Canyon. It died.
SEPTEMBER 6, 1980
SAUGUS DEPOT UBER TRIVIA — The Saugus Train Depot had recently been moved from its home of nearly a century. The depot used to sit across from the Saugus Cafe and was moved on June 24, 1980, to its present location inside Hart Park. With the train depot gone, local historians started digging in the open foundations and found a treasure trove of artifacts, including a Civil War belt buckle, spent bullets and other goodies. The find substantiated that before there was a Saugus train station, the original Newhall train station rested in the same, exact location. Historians deduced this because the original train depot foundation was constructed with lime and the Saugus Depot was built with cement, and the earlier site used different kinds of bricks. (The town of Newhall was originally founded in 1876, smack dab atop of present-day Saugus. Within a year, five buildings were added to the depot, including a saloon, general store and boarding house.) Possibly, drought forced the entire town to move in 1878 to around modern-day 6th Street. Some historians feel the move was caused by too much wind and/or too many cottonwood trees in the river sucking up the water. Them cottonwoods. They’re weeds, you know. In 1887, the Saugus depot was built right atop the old Newhall foundations.
ART EVANS, THE WOULD-BE DUELIST — Many of you old-timers sure will remember this name. Newspaperman and the person who came up with the name Canyon Country, Art Evans died on Sept. 4, 1980, at the age of 71. He was a three-time Canyon Country chamber president and helped found and unify that portion of the SCV into its own community. Art was born in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1908. His father was the second president of the University of Oklahoma. His father founded the first Presbyterian Church in Santa Barbara. Art started work in the Forest Service after college, became a youth counselor and after World War II was in labor relations in Burbank. He moved to his ranch in Mint Canyon full time in 1952. He was the first president of the SCV Historical Society and started a short-lived newspaper here in the mid-1960s — The Santa Clarita Sentinel. One of the most dramatic albeit hilarious chapters in SCV history was when legendary Signal Publisher Scott Newhall and Evans were having a war of words and the battles got rather nasty. Scotty, in one of his epic front-page editorials, challenged Art to a duel at high noon, in the middle of San Fernando Road, in front of the old Valley Federal Building. It was supposed to be a duel of words, but Art never showed. Later, in 1968, Art’s first wife, Elizabeth, became one of the planet’s most famous people. She was at the Ambassador Hotel the night Robert F. Kennedy was shot. In fact, Mrs. Evans was wounded by one of Sirhan Sirhan’s bullets. (Tip of the Stetson to Tony Newhall for the help on this item.)
SEPTEMBER 11, 1988
THE GOOD CITIZEN — After running The Signal for a quarter of a century, Ruth and Scott Newhall broke away to launch their own bi-weekly — The Citizen. My heavens, I still have a copy. Its first issue appeared on this date. The paper ran for not quite a year before folding.
Well that was a heck of a ride through the intellectual and historical canyons of Santa Clarita. We might all have to go out and get measured for new Stetsons because we’re so darn smart now. Well. If not smart, certainly insufferable. Thanks for the company this fine September in this craziest of years. Smiling and tipping the sombrero in your direction. Have good weeks and good adventures, neighbors. ¡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/John_Boston. Leave a review, if you’re amind.