As opposed to indifference, outward hostility or an imbecilic and out-of-context grin usually reserved for politicians and the media, I offer you dear saddlepals a warm and Western howdy this fine Santa Clarita weekend.
Or, if you happen to be a visitor from a faraway galaxy reading this online 1 million years hence, whichever of the four seasons is smiling upon you.
C’mon. Got tens of thousands of horses all saddled, waiting for you loyal Signal subscribers to hop on board. If you’re eavesdropping from neighboring Fillmore, there’s a special app at the end of the column that you can launch that simulates trail dust, hoof falls and coyotes wailing.
We’ve some back canyons filled with history to explore…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
LITTLE BEN JUST PASSING THROUGH — President Benjamin Harrison was one of several presidents to stop in the Santa Clarita Valley. He passed through the Saugus Train Depot on April 25, 1891. Harrison didn’t get off, we’re told. Next to James Monroe (5 feet, 4 inches), Harrison was tied for the second shortest commander-in-chief at 5 feet, 6 inches, with Martin Van Buren. Harrison didn’t particularly like the nickname the press gave him of “Little Ben.” Harrison was also the grandson of our ninth chief exec, William Henry Harrison.
WHAT OTHER PRESIDENTS VISITED? — You’re probably wondering. Who were the other presidents to visit or stay in our Santa Clarita Valley? They’d be: Ronald Reagan (actually, prior to being president, several times), Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, Dwight David Eisenhower, and George Bush, who cut the ribbon for the North County Correctional Facility jail at the Pitchess Detention Center. Ike’s best friend and childhood neighbor was The Signal’s local gossip columnist in the 1950s and Eisenhower would sneak up to Happy Valley to visit Welcome May Taylor. The rendezvous were on the up-and-up and Eisenhower would come into Newhall with two Secret Service agents in an unmarked car for short visits and tea. Though she was our gossip columnist who wrote under the pen name of “Granny,” the paper never knew about the many visits until after she passed and her children smilingly shared the info.
WHAT OTHER PRESIDENTS, PART 2 — Gerald Ford ALMOST visited. In 1974, he was scheduled to be the guest speaker at the CalArts graduation. Small interruption in the schedule? Nixon resigned and Vice President Ford had to cancel at the last minute to be sworn in as president.
WHAT OTHER PRESIDENTS, PART 3 — William Henry Taft was the only man in history to be both president and Supreme Court justice. He never passed through the SCV. According to The Signal, neither did his son. According to reports in this paper, one of Taft’s sons (Robert Alonzo or the younger Charles Phelps) was killed in the early 1930s in a Castaic car accident. However, a little research disclosed that both the president’s sons lived highly successful and public lives way beyond the 1930s. Nearly a century later, on behalf of The Signal, we apologize for the most premature of obituaries.
TWO REAL CLOSE SMALL TOWNS — April 25, 1906, the Bercaw General Store held its grand opening in Saugus. Of course, Saugus was called Surrey back then. (It’s a rather odd coincidence. While Saugus was briefly called Surrey, and William S. Hart’s middle name is Surrey, there is no apparent connection.) For a while, the good-natured folk there painted a line on the wooden boardwalk separating Surrey and Saugus.
APRIL 24, 1921
AN ODE TO MY PAL, SIGNAL EDITOR, TIM WHYTE — This poem was penned by Blanche Brown, editor of The Mighty Signal 100 years ago. It’s called, “The Editor” and appropriately, goes a little something like this: “Who weeps when you are sad, And laughs when you are glad? And smiles when you are mad? The Editor. Who has to be both kind and wise, And never — well, hardly ever — lies, And when he does, excites surprise? The Editor. Who owns a heart, as well as cheek, And lives on 40 cents a week? The Editor.” Hmmm. Forty cents a week? Never knew he was doing that well. I’m going to have to borrow some money from the guy…
STOP THE DARN PRESSES — Our local chapter of the Camp Fire Girls held a bake sale. Yup. Raised $20.61. Used some of the money to buy a basketball.
AND HOW MANY SCV MINERS CAN PLAY JAZZ TODAY? — The community of Sterling Heights (just north of Sand Canyon) was a booming mining community. The Sterling Mine Co. put together their own jazz band, using only miners.
APRIL 24, 1931
ENOUGH TIME TO DRY OUT AND GET A NEW ATTITUDE — They sure were tough on drunk drivers around here during Prohibition. M.E. Marshall didn’t help himself when he copped a hostile attitude in front of our local Judge Jones. Marshall drew a 100-day jail sentence.
APRIL 24, 1941
THAT’S ONE AMBITIOUS MENU — Funny darn thing. Just was treated to a birthday breakfast (BEEF STEW, BISCUITS & GRAVY!!) at The Way Station by my pal & owner, Eric. He showed me an actual program from the 1941 huge Newhall-Saugus Rodeo. The epic event, one of the biggest in the world, was just around the corner and we were preparing for plenty of guests. Check out this menu: 14 tons of beef; 43,000 rolls; a couple of tons of beans; 360 gallons of tomatoes; and, pretty much, lakes of coffee and soda pop. Charlie Ellison, head chef at the arena, had special barbecue pits constructed — 20 yards long by 10 feet wide. Over 75,000 folks would attend.
RODEO TRIVIA, PART DOS — By the by. This was the first time the rodeo was held at the old Anderson-Baker-Gibson-Eilers-Bonelli Ranch in four years. The great floods of 1937 caused the Santa Clara River to overflow its banks and wipe out the rodeo grounds and house there. “Big” Bill Bonelli, who bought the spread in 1940, refurbished the grounds and continued the tradition of holding the world-famous rodeos there.
YET MORE RAIN! — It was one of the lushest springs we’ve ever enjoyed. The SCV was in a record rainfall year. According to some old-timers, a “freak rain, from a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand,” dumped .02 inches of rain onto the valley. That bumped the season total to 45.55 inches.
APRIL 24, 1951
THE TAKER OF YOUNG MEN — The Korean War didn’t seem a half-world away. The Morissett family of Forrest Park received the dreaded telegram from the War Department. Their son, Donald, who had dropped out of Hart his junior year to fight in Korea, died in combat. He was 18.
ANOTHER VET, LAID TO REST — Services were held in Forrest Park for Sgt. William Landalen Bluste, 90, who fought against the Apaches in the Arizona Territory in 1888. Trivia note? The community to the east of us that’s today called Forest Park or Forrest Park was originally two words. A sign painter in the 1930s pulled a typo on the welcome sign and it was never really fixed.
TALK DIRTY TO ME, BABY — One of our modern woes is our lack of privacy in this information age. Things weren’t much different in 1951, when a young sailor, home on leave, was arrested for cussing over the telephone. Evidently, local telephone operator Holly Hubbard was eavesdropping while the young seaman was using blue language over the phone. Seems he had been drinking and was trying to talk his girlfriend into some after-hours wrestling. She patched the call in to the local sheriff’s office, who sent out a patrol car to his home in Mint Canyon. Terrible footnote about Holly. Several years later, her little compact car would explode on Sierra Highway and Holly was burned alive while running down the road.
APRIL 24, 1961
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, YOU MIGHTY MINERS! — It was 60 years ago this week when our first middle school, Placerita Junior High, was dedicated. TECHNICALLY — Hart was the first junior high. In its early years in the mid-1940s to the 1950s, it housed 7th and 8th graders. Placerita was to be opened in the fall of 1960, but steel strikes delayed the date.
HERE COME THE BAPTISTS! — On this date, the General Association of Regular Baptists of Los Angeles announced they had purchased a 28-acre site in Placerita Canyon to start a liberal arts and theological seminary college. Price of the prime land was $152,000. Much of the school — which would be first called Los Angeles Baptist College and then later be called The Master’s College — was carved out of the old Happy Jack Ranch, owned by the Ingersoll family and by the Jack Nelson spread. LABC would open in the fall with 100 students. Its president was Dr. John Dunkin. Dr. Dunkin is the grandfather of Lakers star Mike Penberthy.
THE RANCH THAT SMELLS LIKE DEBBIE KJOSE — Lilacs bloom in a very narrow window of opportunity and this time of year, they were blossoming in the thousands. There was a place in Acton called the Colombo Lilac Ranch. It was a favored tourist attraction and was the largest producer of cut lilacs in the world. Interesting story about this place. Its owner, Chris Colombo, came from Italy when he was 12 and worked barefoot in the local mines for 16 cents a day. When he was 17, Chris and a friend started working in the flower business during the Depression. Chris, with a starting capital of $1.50, started the lilac ranch by obtaining a 10-year lease with an option to buy. The notary paperwork took $1 of the $1.50 of his venture capital. With the other four bits, Chris went to L.A. and bought the first lilacs. He worked for 10 years in the L.A. Flower Market, coming back to Acton on weekends to tend to his ranch, which had well over a million flowers. Oh. The Debbie reference? It’s connected to a joke pulled on the Time Ranger years ago when he confused a scent in a guest room with the former Hart cheerleader. Bad people convinced him that the lingering and narcotizing air was her perfume. It was actually a plug-in air freshener.
APRIL 24, 1971
I’LL SELL YOU ONE FOR $1,500 — The Mighty Signal inadvertently set a world record for the cost of a shock absorber. Canyon Ford ran an ad with us and we misplaced a decimal point. The special noted: “Heavy duty shock, installed, for only $1295.” We later made a contrite apology and humorous correction on the front page.
LET’S BEAT UP POT HEADS!! — The residents of Agua Dulce held a meeting to protest a proposed “Rock for Pot” mega concert that would have brought over 250,000 rock fans and pro-marijuana supporters to the sleepy Western community. It was a rather heated gathering. Newhall Sheriff’s Capt. Joe Enger spoke to the throngs of neighbors, noting: “As far as firearms go, I am against their use, especially if you don’t know how to use them, because they can be taken away and used on you.” Hm. I’m betting just about everyone in Agua Dulce in 1971 knew how to use a firearm.
LET’S BEAT UP POT HEADS, PART 2 — Enger’s quotes were a journalist’s delight. Here, he describes the kind of person who attends a rock concert and their danger to the neighborhood: “Principal crimes committed by these types are petty theft, stealing and killing chickens to eat and setting fires.” Pretty much sounds like many of my high school friends. One AD old-timer jumped up and yelled: “WHY CAN’T WE USE OUR GUNS?” Enger replied: “I’m not telling you to get rid of your guns, but if you shoot someone, there will be a terrific investigation.” Enger noted how police authority had been hampered by the courts in recent years and that five years earlier, they could have just stopped the pot concert before it happened.
LET’S BEAT UP POT HEADS, PART 3 — Another vigilant resident jumped to his feet and yelled: “Give the law back to the lawmen; forget this police brutality junk and beat their heads in!!” The folks of Agua Dulce were still one step ahead of pot concert promoter William Smart. Smart had planned to fly in around 200 rock bands and pro-pot lecturers to the little Agua Dulce Airport. The owner of the airport smiled and guaranteed that if the concert were ever held, no matter what day, the airport would be closed. The concert, by the way, was never held.
IMAGINE. FILLING UP YOUR TRUCK WITH LOOSE CHANGE — We might want to see if we can lug a bit of some of that 1971 petrol back in our saddlebags. We had a gas war here. Regular gas was just 30 cents a gallon. That almost makes me want to cry.
APRIL 24, 1981
142 STICKLEBACKS AREN’T ENOUGH TO MAKE A SANDIWCH — Developer Guy Welch was charged with endangering our beloved inch-long spiny stickleback fish. Seems he altered a bit of the Santa Clara River for his development up Soledad. Welch faced a $500 fine and six months in jail. Welch went before a jury on the charges and the final scorecard read: “Man 6, Fish 6.” After eight grueling hours, the jury split down the middle and the county D.A. refused to retry it.
WE KNEW THAT — Forty years back, the Hart Mansion was listed as a significant historical landmark by Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr.
Okey doke. Looks like we’re back at our own 2021 Santa Clarita time portal. Make sure you haven’t smuggled in any gasoline or sticklebacks in your saddlebags. I’m guessing if that isn’t a felony, it will be by mid-afternoon. Thanks for the good cheer and company, dear saddlepals. See all y’all in seven. Until then, big tip of the O’Farrell and do —vayan con Dios amigos!
Boston has launched his own publishing house, John Boston Books. The first is a three-volume set is “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, would you mind leaving a kind 5-star review?