OK, saddlepals. I know Valentine’s Day is — well. I was GOING to say tomorrow, but you might be reading this in Hungary next spring. Let the record state, Valentine’s Day is Sunday, February 14, 2021.
But none of you trail riders get overly mushy. Or even semi-mushy. It spooks the horses. And, no double snuggling. One person per saddle. If you’re horseman or horsewoman enough to hold hands without tearing an arm off or pulling the other out of their rig, well. That’s fine. But if you lean over and try to sneak a smooch and fall out of the saddle, don’t blame us if you get stuck in 1642 B.C. and expect us to come looking for you.
We probably would.
But don’t expect it.
These cautions aside, we’ve a most interesting time ride ahead for all y’all, from grizzled SCV vets to wet-behind-the-ears yuppie condo monkeys. There’s big earthquakes, movie stars, nuclear power plants and a whole passel of murderers. We’ve got another self-inflicted gunshot wound but the odd thing is how the husband took his wife to the hospital. And it was sooooo close to Valentine’s Day.
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
FOR WHOM THE SOLEDAD TOLLS — Prior to Feb. 15, 1870, Soledad Canyon was a toll road. Be it horny toad or stagecoach, you had to pay a fee to open a gate and pass through. On that above date, Soledad became a public highway. Last I heard, still is.
THE MISSING SCHOOL DISTRICT — On Feb. 12, 1879, the Mint Canyon School District was formed. The little elementary school held classes in the original building, until it burned down in 1947. For 17 years, kids took the bus, got rides or even rode horses to attend Sulphur Springs School over in Sand Canyon. Mint Canyon Elementary opened their new campus in September 1963. Sulphur Springs (founded in 1872, but for years held classes in the kitchen of pioneer John Mitchell) and the original Mint Canyon districts merged in 1944 to form the CURRENT Sulphur Springs Union School District. Memorize this as it will be on the final.
ONE OF THE MOST MANLIEST OF MEN — Frank Walker was born on Feb. 12, 1886, in Springfield, Illinois. He’d end up living in the harsh but idyllic Placerita Canyon. His cabin is a shrine today at the local nature center. Frank ended up selling 40 acres of his spread for $25,000 that’s the Placerita Nature Center and extending hiking trails today. Walker had 12 children. Richard, the last of Frank’s 12 kids, died last August. He was 92. Frank Walker, by the way, used to raise bison long before Walt Disney brought the small herd to Newhall and they ended up today at Hart Park in Newhall. Placerita is often falsely labeled as the location of the first gold discovery in California, back in 1842. There were big gold mining operations in San Francisquito Canyon in the 1820s and the fabled Lost Padre Mine in Castaic gave up millions in the late 1790s.
FEBRUARY 13, 1921
STOP THE PRESSES AND HOLD YOUR HORSES!!!! — On this date, the Ladies Auxiliary threw a bake sale to help finance the purchase of a piano for the Presbyterians. History is truly an exciting, vibrant discipline, ain’t it?
FEBRUARY 13, 1931
AND TOO YOUNG FOR TOM FREW — In her day, she was one of the most famous actresses in the world. Clara Bow rented one of those 8th Street rock houses from former vaudevillian Charlie Mack and lived in Newhall for a while. She was friends with William S. Hart.
MINI WEATHER — The Santa Clarita Valley is famous for its little mo systems. The sun can be shining on one end and at the other, we can get snow or monsoons. A big cloudburst dumped about 3 inches of rain in a couple of hours. It hit from Honby (where Home Depot is today) to Plum Canyon. The Santa Clara River overflowed its banks onto Soledad Canyon Road. Folks were stranded for a bit.
PUT ME DOWN FOR 10. IT’D BE A GOOD INVESTMENT — The new Fords hit the Doty dealership in town. Brand new vehicles sold from between $430 to $630. That’s total cost, not the monthly payment.
DEATH’S HIGHWAY — The old Ridge Route was one of the most dangerous roads in America. On this date, Erwin Connelly and Cheng Wong collided with an oncoming vehicle and were forced off the road. They plunged 600 feet to their death.
DEATH’S HIGHWAY, ALMOST — Charlie Whitcomb was luckier than Connelly and Wong. He lived. In another accident, Whitcomb’s car lost control on a soft shoulder and fell over a 75-foot cliff. Whitcomb was pinned upside down in the wreckage all night. His son went looking for him and found his dad the next day. Whitcomb had a severed artery in his wrist and nearly bled to death. Had his son found him a couple of hours later, Whitcomb would have been a goner.
THE NOT SO HALCYON DAYS — Old-timers oft lament about a return to the good old days. But it was a busy day for the local sheriff’s office. Officers were involved in two separate shootouts the same day, one with rum runners and the other with some plain old robbers. Both gangs escaped after heated high-speed chases and gun play.
FEBRUARY 14, 1939
AND GUS GOT A WHIPPIN’ — It wasn’t a very pleasant Valentine’s Day at Newhall Elementary. The little school burned down for the third time. Signal Editor Fred Trueblood was shocked the next morning when he saw the front page of the competition. The Los Angeles Times had a big photo of two kids dancing in front of the charred buildings. One of the kids was Fred’s son, Gus, who attended Newhall Elementary. Gus got a pretend spanking, as Fred put it, “not so much for dancing in front of the wreckage, but for being on the front page of The Times.” Poor Gus. The Times’ photographer staged the photo.
FEBRUARY 13, 1941
WHOA AMEN BOY HOWDY THAT WAS CLOSE!!! — The Forestry Service was wondering what happened to their phone line from Newhall to Oat Mountain (the tallest peak in the SCV). Local rangers trekked up to check the line and found it broken. A little investigation and it seemed a huge transport plane clipped the line, missing the top of the peak by just 18 feet.
WHEN HAPPY VALLEY WAS ATLANTIS — Yet another epic rainstorm hit the SCV, the fourth in a row. Atwood was under water as was Pico Canyon. The ground was saturated and all the creeks in the valley were over their banks. Ralph Stevens, 76, who lived on Vermont, quipped: “I’m beginning to feel like Robinson Crusoe.” It was really funny. The low-lying Atwood Addition was frequently stranded from the outside world.
MAKES ME HUNGRY JUST THINKING ABOUT IT — On the bright side, with all the rain, locals were gobbling up the wild mushrooms. One wag noted he and his family had plenty of mushrooms but no steak to put under it. Beef prices even in Newhall (we were big-time cattle country then) were rather high.
FEBRUARY 13, 1951
JUST HATE IT WHEN THE BEANS BURN — Back in the 1950s, our telephone needs were simple. There was no direct dialing and most folks shared a “party line” with as many as eight other households. Fred Trueblood, former Signal editor, shared this anecdote about one frustrated Newhall woman who had to make a semi-emergency phone call. The other woman wouldn’t get off the line and, after several tries, the first woman got back on and said, “Say, listen. I think I smell your beans burning.” The woman reportedly shrieked and hung up.
JUST GUESSING. 70 YEARS LATER, THEY’RE STILL UNABLE TO SIT DOWN — Two small brothers and their tear-drenched mother were getting the third degree by the local police. Seems the boys, 7 and 8, put some large rocks on the train tracks by Sand Canyon and nearly derailed a freight train. They were caught and taken to the 6th Street poky. The lads had a serious run-in with reality.
IS THERE A MIXED MESSAGE WE’RE MISSING HERE? — Here’s an odd one for you. Mrs. Elizabeth McGee was evidently cleaning a .22-caliber rifle and had the barrel pressed against her chest when the supposedly empty weapon discharged and sent a bullet through her. It missed her heart by 2 inches. It gets stranger. Her husband, Don, instead of taking her to the local Newhall Hospital, drives her all the way into Los Angeles to search for their family physician. He wasn’t home. Don then motors down to Huntington Beach with his leaking wife to find a hospital down there. Must have been a nice night for a drive. Cripes. Old Don did everything but stop to get the month’s groceries and get the oil changed.
FEBRUARY 13, 1961
THAT BOB SURE HAD THE HOPS — Mr. and Mrs. Jack Avant used to run the Peter McBean stud farm on the Newhall Ranch. They were mighty proud of their 21-year-old son, Bob. The former Hart grad cleared the high jump bar at the L.A. Times Invitational with a leap of 6 feet, 11 inches. Only two other people in the world had jumped higher.
KA-BLOOEY TO THE nTH — The Army rolled through downtown Newhall with a Nike Zeus missile in tow. Locals were awed by the 40-foot-tall missile. It was en route to upper Sand Canyon to the Nike base up there. There have been many opinions and sources quoted yay or nay, but story goes a nuclear warhead would later be added to its cone and that the missile silos at Bear Divide/Magic Mountain (not the amusement park) were bristling with atomic bombs.
SCV ATOM BOMBS, PART 2 — The DWP and Pasadena’s water and power company withdrew their bid with the Atomic Energy Commission. The big utilities requested permission to build a nuclear power plant in Haskell Canyon. The utilities figured it was just too expensive to build. Thank goodness. It was the third time Southern California utilities started the ball rolling for construction of a nuclear facility in the SCV. The other two locations were in San Francisquito and near Oat Mountain. Cool trivia? All paperwork for the San Francisquito plant was cleared in 60 days.
FEBRUARY 9, 1971
WONDER HOW THE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT WOULD’VE HELD UP? — We had another one of our early-morning big earthquakes. This one, centered in Sylmar, rattled the Santa Clarita, causing $5.3 million in local damage to 1,540 of the valley’s 15,000 permanent buildings. Mobile homes suffered the worst. About 70% of the SCV’s 2,200 mobile homes. One car, parked near Hart Park, was partially swallowed up by the earth. Signal Editor Scott Newhall came up with chilling prose in his editorial: “The Earth for a moment played us false. We are suddenly a baby who has been dropped by its mother, and we resent it.” On the bright side, while the quake caused $1 billion in Southern California damage, it was just 1/100th the strength of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Care to guess who was hurt the most by the 1971 earthquake? Thatcher Glass. About $3 million cleanup bill. Still. The quake was considered more mess than destruction.
FEBRUARY 13, 1971
THOSE TWO WILL NEVER BE CLARA BOW — Locals were grinning at the chance for autographs. The legendary comedy team of Walter Mattheau and Jack Lemmon took over the old Thriftimart grocery store on Lyons (where once I was a boxboy). They were filming the tragi-comedy, “Kotch.”
MMMM-HMMMM — The “Compton Four” were given a retrial. The gang members had been arrested and charged for the first-degree, premeditated, planned murder of two hunters in Acton. They had confessed to driving all the way up to the SCV just for the purpose of killing whites. The trial ended in a hung jury. Six white and two Asian jurors had voted guilty. The four black jurors voted not guilty. The evidence had been overwhelming that the Compton Four had traveled to Santa Clarita specifically to kill a white person, but District Attorney Lewis Watnick felt the black jurors resisted the motive.
THAT FAST FOOD. IT’LL KILL YA — Chester Furgeson was arrested at LAX, trying to flee the country. A William S. Hart Union High School District educational consultant, Chester had put out a murder contract for the superintendent of the Torrance School District and ALSO hired a hitman to murder Hart super Dave Baker. Baker had four around-the-clock sheriff’s deputies guarding him and his family. The would-be assassin was arrested at the old Tip’s on Magic Mountain Parkway. On his possession was a picture of my pal, Dave. Mind-boggling, but a judge set bail at $100,000. Furgeson somehow made bail, skipped town and either committed suicide or was murdered (via asphyxiation) in a cheap Fresno motel after a hearty meal of junk food.
FEBRUARY 13, 1981
A WISE PERSON ONCE SAID: “WE EITHER MARRY OR GIVE BIRTH TO OUR NEEDLES.” — Tracy Lincoln was charged for attempted murder — on his mother. The 14-year-old Valencian had first attempted to gas his parents by placing a pan of drain cleaner and bleach under their bed. When that failed, he shot his mother in the face with a .22-caliber rifle the next day. She recovered from the attack. Also on trial was Lincoln’s friend, 16-year-old Christopher Bernd, who supplied Lincoln with the rifle.Eeesh. Valentine’s Day and so many historical unpleasantries. Let us retire to our homes and be nicer to our loved ones. Pinky swear. See you in seven back here at The Mighty Signal’s hitching post with another exciting Time Ranger SCV history adventure. Until then, big tip of the O’Farrell and a hearty — vayan con Dios amigos!
Boston is launching his own publishing house, John Boston Books. The first is a three-volume set, “Ghosts, Ghouls, Myths & Monsters — The Most Haunted Town in America.” That’d be us. 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.