As long as I’ve lived here, it’s always so discombobulating and strange as Christmas sneaks up. I’ve got friends all over the country who are involved in traditional winter tasks of winterproofing canoes and cutting firewood in the snow.
It’s Bermuda shorts and T-shirt weather. I think Walt Fisher is the only person on the planet that I have to remind: “And don’t wear cowboy boots with that ensemble.”
Two weeks to go before Christmas, dear saddlepals. We’ve an epic adventure waiting for us in the back canyons of Santa Clarita history. Each horse has been especially chosen to fit your riding ability and disposition — all sweet and rosy they are, of course.
C’mon. Lots of fresh air to inhale. Beauty enough to break your heart and make you smile. Shall we mosey into the mystic?
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
A SHAKE WITH FEW TO FEEL IT — What few buildings there were in the SCV on Dec. 8, 1812, were heavily shaken with many toppled during the epic San Juan Capistrano earthquake. Some 40 parishioners were killed in the church service there. A few weeks later, on Dec. 21, 1812, another epic quake, this one a possible 7.5 magnitude, hit in the Santa Barbara Channel, sending a tidal wave that peaked at 50 feet high to the steps of the mission, more than a mile inland. Most California missions were abandoned for a year. Chumash Indians on the Channel Islands canoed to the continent and never returned. The few buildings that didn’t fall down in the SCV from a couple weeks earlier pretty much all toppled.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOHNNY — One of the SCV’s most influential citizens, John Powell, was born in Galway, Ireland, on Dec. 17, 1839. He would hold court in the SCV, one of the toughest Wild West communities in America, for nearly 40 years, not having one decision overturned. He was a fabled big-game hunter, led troops in seven major Civil War battles and met the fabled Dr. David Livingston in Africa in 1859. On his deathbed, Powell noted the best thing he had accomplished in his life was freeing 705 slaves on the Dark Continent. Powell’s home and courthouse used to sit at Chestnut and 9th. Sometimes, perps would be left chained to the huge oak tree in his front yard.
EVEN PRE-TOM FREW DAYS — There was only one element.
DECEMBER 13, 1920
WELL-DUH ANNOYING GOVERNMENT SAFETY TIPS ARE TIMELESS — The Forest Service urged cabin owners up Bouquet Canyon to make sure that when they left their homes — “even for a minute” — that they should take their food with them. Seems some marauders were visiting some of the homes, breaking in and either taking some chow with them or cooking it on the premises. On the bright side, the Forest Service didn’t order the burglars to wear masks.
ADD THE STUDENTS TO THE GRADE AND YOU GET 20 — As of December a century back, there were 12 Newhall Elementary School kids slated to graduate from the eighth grade.
DECEMBER 13, 1930
DR. S CAUGHT HIMSELF A MIGHTY LION — A large male puma was prowling Dr. Stevenson’s Pico Canyon ranch, and the physician set traps for the creature. One morning, he found one of his traps dragged off. Stevenson (no relation to Stevenson Ranch, by the way) then had to hire a hunter to find the big cat and put it out of its misery.
MONEY, LIKE YOUR UNCLE, IS RELATIVE — The relative low cost of real estate compared to other items was evident 90 years ago. A new Clark Jewel gas range, purchased from the Southern California Gas Co., cost just $86.80. Compare that to our old standby of a new Saugus home for $600. A new Ford town car went for $660.
MONEY & UNCLES, PART 2 — Speaking of comparative shopping, a pound of Hills Brothers Coffee went for just 39 cents (compare that to one of those $3 Starbucks latte, latte, half-latte, quarter-breve, 3/8ths cappuccino). Butter was 37 cents a pound and a carton of Camel cigarettes cost just $1.15. Except for the rare pipe, I don’t smoke, but someone just told me they spotted a sale sign in the 21st century that advertised three PACKS for $10 and that cartons run over $32. Cabbage, by the way, at the old MacMarr Store, was 2 cents a head. I don’t care if they paid me 50 bucks or dared me, I wouldn’t touch capoosta (that’s cabbage in Polish) with a 12-foot fork.
DECEMBER 13, 1940
AND THE VOLUME WENT UP TO 11 — One of the props over at the old Monogram Studios lot in Placerita Canyon was the Mother of All Jukeboxes. The puppy was over 8 feet tall, weighed LITERALLY a ton and was shaped like a bull fiddle. It could still play the old records — made of WAX! — and worked by winding a huge crank. (No Bruce Fortine jokes, please.) The automated gramophone had a huge speaker shaped like a horn coming out the top and still played 24 old-time Edison records, including the hit single, “Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny Oh.” Heavens. There’s so many wedding night one-liners, my eyes are spinning.
JACK AND THE JACKASS — Sheriff’s Sgt. Jack Story had a prank pulled on him by some deputy pals. A bunch of the boys went hunting in the Castaic wilderness and got up in the middle of the night, snuck out of camp and left Jack nothing but a jackass to ride out of the steep hills. Sgt. Story had the last laugh. The mule was actually the perfect creature to ride in the rugged terrain and when he caught up with them at their new camp, Story was the only one in the bunch sitting. The rest stood out of respect to our pal, Señor Saddle Sore.
ONE OF OUR EARLIEST WORLD WAR II SAGAS — Newhall Presbyterian minister Claude Rowley was on a passenger ship coming back from Australia after an 18-month missionary trip. He was with his wife and baby and the Germans sank the boat Rowley was on. The pastor was separated from wife and child for weeks, and neither knew if the other was alive. Seems like the Germans got wind that the cruise ship was also carrying munitions.
MORE PRECIOUS THAN GOLD? — Well. No. BUT, beef prices were going through the roof, causing local rancher Loop Mulney (what have I been telling you saddlepals over the years about great cowboy names?) of the old Circle M to speculate that he “… might have to join a jewelers’ union for handling all these high-priced steers.”
YUP. YOU CAUGHT A MATH GLITCH. — The old Southern California Telephone Co. issued its 20th annual “Telephone Almanac.” The Newhall office had been handing out the books locally since 1922. For you smarty-pantses, a couple years, they issued extra volumes.
DECEMBER 13, 1950
TODAY, THE CALIFORNIA GOVERNMENT RUNS THE SAME SCAM — It’s called Lotto. The lead Signal story read: “A floating lottery racket, run by Chinamen, was knocked over at the Agua Dulce Dude Ranch by the vice squad.” Seems 41 were arrested in the scam, a world SCV record, I believe.
DECEMBER 13, 1960
BRR. BRRR. BRRRR. AND MORE BRRRRRR. — Nighttime low on Dec. 7, 1960, was a Chicago-ish 23 degrees. I’ve seen it here as low as 8.
NOT TOO CROWDED, FOR AN AREA 1,000 SQUARE MILES — The census figures were released for 1960. Locals were estimating anywhere from 11,000 to 25,000 living in Soledad Township. The official tally was 15,500, and that included everyone from the borders of Frazier Park to Chatsworth and Palmdale. Newhall itself had just 4,705 souls. A Signal editorial kidded its citizens, noting it would be many, many years until the valley reached 25,000. Ha.
IT FORMED A TEMPORARY ICE RINK, TOO — On the bright side, it was proof that the Newhall County Water District had really good water pressure. An unknown motorist ran over a fire hydrant on Wayman Street at 2 in the morning, sending a 40-foot column of water into the air. About 75,000 gallons found their way back to the soil.
AT LEAST HE WASN’T NAMED PINKY — Carl Schaefer’s prize palomino got caught up in barbed wire and had to suffer through wraps and penicillin. Darn thing was, the horse was named Silver. Never could figure that one out.
DECEMBER 13, 1970
RICKY DEISING: SMILE IF YOU’RE GUILTY — Four Canyon High students were arrested for stealing around $1,500 from their own Cowboy campus, along with neighboring schools. It’s almost laughable now — part of the loot they stole were 8-track players.
OUR BORED CITIZENRY — College of the Canyons held an important meeting on new buildings and raising taxes. Just 20 people showed. Just one was a local citizen and property owner. The rest were contractors, lawyers and consultants.
BOUNCY BOUNCY BOUNCY — Local merchants were suspicious when a man tried cashing checks around town. Seems the name on the checks was Adrian Adams, our local judge. The conman didn’t look at all like our good-looking jurist and it’s tough to pull a stunt like that in a small town. Seems the crook had somehow broken into Adams’ office and made off with a dozen of his official judgedom checks.
DECEMBER 12, 1975
BLOWING OUT THE BIRTHDAY CANDLES AT THE HYSTERICAL SOCIETY — Happy No. 45 to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society. They were founded flirting on a half-century back, making them officially and cobwebby historical themselves.
DECEMBER 13, 1980
THE LONG ARM OF THE LAW — Our local sheriffs had finally tracked down a dangerous perp to a local house. Problem. They needed a warrant to enter before the crook beat a hasty retreat. Judge Adrian Adams was still in town, but technically on vacation. It was lunch time, and the deputies frantically searched for Judge Adams at all his favorite eateries. No luck. Finally, a sharp-eyed cop in the sheriff’s helicopter spotted Adams on the links of Vista Valencia, teeing off. The helicopter picked up the warrant, flew back to the golf course, landed in the fairway and Judge Adams signed it between strokes.
THE PAGES. THEY GO DOWN. THEY GO UP. — The Mighty Signal has had lean years where we’ve put out newspapers just four pages thick. Forty years back, our Wednesday edition was 172 pages. Not to fret. We’ll be back.
DUMP THE DUMP — was the battle cry of the day. The IT Corp. was poised to build a giant toxic waste dump in, of all places, tony Sand Canyon. It took several years and much fierce fighting, but IT was finally defeated. I’ll never forget one epic community meeting where a beleaguered IT spokesman was battling a hostile local crowd. The PR man finally broke down and snapped at an argumentative Sand Canyonite, “If you think you could do something better with the property, why don’t you just buy it!?!?” The multimillionaire pulled out his checkbook from his jeans and asked: “How much you want for it?”
Well saddlepals. Appears we’re back home in the riparian and yuppie-rich Santa Clarita. I won’t insult your intelligence by asking that you be careful, not run with scissors or lick your mother-in-law. While visiting her in the poky. Just go be your splendiferous selves and I’ll be happy. Take care. See you in seven back here at The Mighty Signal. (You DO have subscriptions, don’t you? They make great holiday gifts!) See you five days before Christmas and until then — vayan con Dios, amigos y Feliz Navidad y Hanukkah!
Pretty darn soon, Boston is launching his own publishing house, John Boston Books. The first volume is “Ghosts, Ghouls & Monsters of the SCV.” In the meantime, you can buy Boston’s “Melancholy Samurai,” “Naked Came the Sasquatch” and other of his books at bit.ly/John_Boston. If you liked the book, wouldn’t mind at all if you left a kind 5-star review.