In all the years we’ve been getting up early to explore our back canyons of Santa Clarita history, I can’t recall cracking open the barn door and whispering: “Why don’t you good souls just roll over and sleep a few extra hours. There’s nothing but yawns and boredom ahead this morning.”
It’s not going to happen this morning, either. C’mon, you bunkhuggers. Climb out of those bedrolls or latte spicy tuna handrolls or whatever you modern-day yuppies sleep in. Sun’s out. Beautiful darn day looming. C’mon. Let’s splash some coffee in our faces and a little under the arms so as not to attract flying insects. There’s some pristine and timeless vistas to explore. Let’s go see what life was like in the halcyon days of yesteryear. Or, if you’re contrary, no-steryear.
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
WHEN THE SCV WAS ALMOST EVICTED — On this date, in 1865, the financially strapped Ignacio del Valle was forced to deed the Rancho San Francisco to Thomas R. Bard, who held onto it for a short time for a Pennsylvanian oil magnate. Interestingly, the del Valles and Salazars got to stay on the property and lease farm land into the 20th century and made more money than when they owned the land.
OUR HERITAGE IS AT HARVARD — On May 2, 1884, two teenage brothers, McCoy and Everette Pyle, climbing around the hills of what would be Val Verde, discovered one of the most significant Indian artifact sites in American history. The cave they found would be named, oddly, Bowers Cave, in Chiquita Canyon, named after the Ventura amateur archaeologist and newspaper publisher who bought the boys’ cache. Bowers later sold his goodies to the Peabody Museum at Harvard where it still rests today.
MAY 1, 1921
DON’T TELL THE SIERRA CLUB WE KNOW HOW TO DO THIS —The Mighty Signal used to give out agriculture tips and one of them was about how to get rid of oak tree stumps. Here’s how: In the fall, bore a hole in the center of the stump 18 inches deep. Pour in 2 ounces of salt peter (potassium nitrate and no relation to Willie Peters) and fill the rest with water. Plug up the hole tight. In the spring, take out the plug. Pour in 8 ounces of petroleum and ignite. The stump will not burn but will just smolder for days, all the way down to the roots, turning them to ashes.
POOL HUSTLER: ANOTHER REASON WHY THORNY DESERVES TO BE ON THE WESTERN WALK OF STARS — Thornton Doelle, the SCV’s first cowboy poet, lawman, actor, forest ranger, trail builder and writer, finished second in the Moore’s Hall big pool tournament. Doelle lost the straight pool game, 103 balls to 150 and worse, to an out-of-town shark from San Fernando. We mention this because a few years later, Thornton would become editor of The Mighty Signal.
LOCAL HORSE MAKES GOOD — Local cowboy Tom Mix rested his wonder horse, Tony, for a week. Mix’s film, “The Road Demon,” was about auto racing and he didn’t use Tony, who, by the by, was born and raised in Placerita Canyon.
MAY 1, 1931
ALL TWO HOUSES WERE SHAKING — We had an earthquake 90 years back that rattled windows and knocked a few cans off the shelf. Couldn’t tell you the Richter scale rating. Didn’t have one.
FARMERS, YAY. COWBOYS, BOO — The farmers were real happy about a rare, end-of-April storm that dumped nearly 3 inches of rain on the valley. This ended a three-month drought. Or, “drouth” as it was spelt way back when. While the farmers were happy, the cowboys were not. It postponed the rodeo at the Hoot Gibson Arena (today, the Saugus Speedway). The following week, though, promoters filled the place with about 25,000 people.
MAY 1, 1941
OUR RODEO, A DECADE LATER — The now world-famous Newhall-Saugus Rodeo was a success again, with 20,000 folks showing up on the last Sunday. They held it at the same place, but Hoot Gibson was no longer the owner of the spread and the place was called Bonelli Stadium, after the mythic überrancher. One cowboy was rather depressed at the Sunday Finals. He had gone to the dance the night before at Saxonia Park in Placerita Canyon. Another cowpoke’s wife stormed up to the fella and accused him of picking on her husband. “I can’t stand excitement!” the woman yelled, right before hauling off and popping the cowboy. Much to his chagrin and enjoyment of his fellow rodeo toughs, the fellow had to compete Sunday with a huge shiner. From a cowgirl.
YET MORE RAIN TO END APRIL (THE MONTH; NOT MY EX-WIFE) — Another Pacific storm dumped an inch-plus on the SCV, pushing the then-record up to 46.80 for the season. Locals were growing webbed feet. The rain also caused landslides throughout the valley. About 2,000 yards of earth fell across Highway 99, knocking a car off the road.
WAR ON THE HORIZON — Though war seemed to be half a world away, the Santa Clarita was quietly preparing. About 50 men a day were registering for the draft.
ROADS CLOSED. FOR YEARS. — The Department of Agriculture, which operated the national parks and forests then, started quietly closing many of the local backroads. They feared sabotage from German or Japanese nationals.
MAY 1, 1951
MORE WEIRD WEATHER — You know how the post office boasts it’ll go to work no matter what the weather conditions? Ditto with the Newhall-Saugus Rodeo. While the wild West show was celebrating its silver anniversary (they had actually been holding rodeos on the Saugus Speedway grounds much, much earlier than 1926), cowboys and audience were being pelted by the wildest weather — rain, snow flurries, hail and icy winds, which knocked down signs and tree limbs around town. Still, another 25,000 showed up to watch. Ben Johnson took fourth in team roping. The Newhall cowpoke later would earn a little more important hardware — an Oscar for best supporting actor in “The Last Picture Show.”
MAY 1, 1961
NOW HE WHISTLES WHILE HE WALKS — Heinz Deiter Fleczok treated himself to an extra orifice on this date. While target shooting in Newhall with a .22-caliber pistol, he ran up the hill with the gun in his hand. He pulled the trigger and a bullet went through his knee. Yee-ouch.
MAY 1, 1971
GAS THIEF — Some crook with a mighty big jar got away with 1,100 gallons of gasoline from the Texaco station up Sierra Highway. Here’s what hurts. Value of the stolen 1,100 gallons of petrol — $235. Today, that’s like a fill-up in Walt Fisher’s truck.
TODAY, THEY PAY YOU NOT TO WORK — Magic Mountain wouldn’t open up until May 21, 1971. But that didn’t mean they didn’t have long lines. Around 15,000 people stood in the heat to apply for 1,000 jobs.
COULD USE ’EM TODAY — The special Special Enforcement Bureau unit of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department had a long and sometimes acrimonious relationship with the SCV. The Signal sent a reporter to cover a “Rock for Pot” concert in Agua Dulce. There were no musicians at the concert, just a few speakers for the legalization of marijuana. Jim Sendrey was arrested for interfering with an officer. His camera was smashed, film confiscated, and shirt torn open while he was handcuffed. He was one of 28 people arrested at the non-concert — out of a total of 75 people. Some were pulled over for having broken or non-functioning taillights. After Sendry was arrested, a journalism student and Signal intern, Sam Monteleone, covered the event. He was ordered to leave by the SEB. On the other hand, there were 14 burglaries in the Agua Dulce area during the Rock for Pot non-concert. Scott Newhall, publisher of The Mighty Signal, called the SEB, “The Sheriff’s Gestapo,” and “neo-Nazi elite guard,” in a front-page editorial entitled: “A Demand on the Sheriff.” At the end of Scott’s piece, he invited Sheriff Peter Pitchess to call him at the 259-1234 number, “…and we will be happy to explain the matter in words of two syllables.”
NO MORE RIDING THE RAILS — On April 30, 1971, the alleged last passenger train pulled through the Saugus Train Station at 6:37 p.m. It was the end of nearly a century of train service in the SCV and the passenger train wouldn’t return here until the advent of Metrolink.
MAY 1, 1981
NAKED CAME THE MURDERER — John Nichols, murderer of a Newhall barber, was literally caught naked dead to rights in a Honolulu shower. Federal marshals cornered the killer in a skid row Hawaiian public shower. Right after being released from Leavenworth, Nichols took a job working for Richard Streigel. He killed the Newhall haircutter and stole $400 along with the man’s barber’s tools before fleeing to the 50th state.
BLAME IT ON TOM — My pal Tom Lee was named president of Valencia Co. When he took over, new homes ran from $50,000 to a high of $240,000. I guess we can safely blame Tommy for the price hike.
CAMELOPS. IT’S NOW ON THE MENU (WITH BISCUITS & GRAVY) AT THE WAY STATION — Pays to keep your eyes open while you’re hiking. While strolling through the hills of Canyon Country, teen Tim Wilson found a leg bone to a giant Pleistocene camel called Camelops. The beast lived here a scant 12,000 years ago and was 13 feet tall at the shoulders.
Amen boy howdy. May? Really? Already? Well. Let’s face it like the men, women and ubiquitous “other” that we are. Thanks so much for the company, saddlepals. See you in seven with another exciting Time Ranger adventure. Until then, big tip of the O’Farrell and — 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, wouldn’t mind if you left a kind 5-star review.