A happy weekend morning to you, dear saddlepals. Hope those of you who aren’t in the saddle much are walking more like humans than cowboys after last week’s trail ride.
Stretch. Walk. Hydrate. Do The Backstroke in the Second Amendment Until You’re Giddy. These are laws of the West.
This morning, we have ourselves a most interesting ride through the yesteryears of Santa Clarita lore.
We’ve got mystery beasts roaming the streets of modern Newhall. We’ll bid farewell to Jack Daniels’ wife and check out how some Fish & Game folks saved a teeny-tiny fish — the spiny stickleback — from extinction. We’ve got murders, high-speed chases, the birth of North Oaks, Abbott AND Costello, and even some gophers.
C’mon, you grizzled vets, you yuppie condo monkeys. Hop on up. A few miles in the saddle and you’ll be either feeling no pain or excruciatingly paralyzed and singing castrato.
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
I HEAR THAT TRAIN A-COMIN,’ IT’S COMIN’ ’ROUND THE BEND — With apologies to Johnny Cash, back on July 27, 1876, the Soledad Canyon railroad tunnel was completed. Pretty much before that, you had to walk around and not through the mountain.
AND GUESS WHAT? NO CRITICAL RACE THEORY — While Newhall and Sulphur Springs elementaries were in their infancy, the Presbyterian Church held an evangelical school in the old Southern Hotel by a Mrs. Hubbel.
ANOTHER ONE OF OUR MANY NAMES — Back on Aug. 2, 1851, the brand-new Los Angeles County in the brand-new state of California divided their land into six “townships.” This gets more than a little confusing, so please, stay with me. Originally, in Old California, L.A. was called the Los Angeles Township, but that terminology was eventually abandoned. In 1851, the new L.A. County split up its boundaries into “townships” and the SCV was part of the new “Soledad Township.” I’m not clear on why, for several decades, L.A. just abandoned calling this region the “Soledad Township” or maybe they just forgot. But, in 1938, the state again divided up regions into townships and re-renamed us the “Soledad Township.” I know. Makes you rub the back of your neck, don’t it?
HEAT & DROUGHT, NOTHING NEW — The year 1862 began with torrential rains that wiped out everything from walls to roads. But come summer, a three-year drought began that would eventually cripple the formerly rich cattle industry. Our own healthy Rancho San Francisco (what the SCV was called then) was hit hard and heavy. Cattle prices (with skeleton-like beeves) plummeted from a high of $75 a head to just 25 cents.
JULY 31, 1921
OIL BE SEEING YOU … — A work gang of 14 labored to complete the Union Oil distribution plant just south of Newhall. It was a 98-by-26-foot building.
AS JIM MORRISON OF THE DOORS USED TO SING: ‘O SHOW ME THE WAY TO THE NEXT WHISKY BAR’ —On this date, a big community meeting was held at Newhall Elementary. The purpose? To discuss starting an American Legion post here. State Commander Burton Fitts showed up to speak passionately in favor. The vets decided to think about it. Today of course, Newhall’s American Legion World HQ sits in the old American Theatre on Spruce Street behind Newhall Library. Oh. Trivia? In The Doors’ lead singer’s own lyrics, he spelt “whiskey” as “whisky.”
SPEAKING OF WHISKEY/WHISKY (SORTA) — Mrs. Jack Daniels died on this date. Nope. No relation to the famous American whiskey. Her Christian name was Della Biscailuz and she was born in Newhall in 1903. Her uncle, Eugene Warren Biscailuz, with Newhall roots, would eventually become L.A. County High Sheriff. The fabled sheriff’s uncle and nephew lived here.
JULY 31, 1931
ONE HECK OF A COWBOY — One of our Hall of Fame cowboys, Andy Jauregui, added another honor to his resume. He took first place and a $150 saddle home for steer roping in the Salinas rodeo. Andy would later be enshrined in the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City. He worked quite a bit in show biz, once teaching Clark Gable how to throw a rope up at Andy’s Placerita ranch.
WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES — We had four different brush fires started this week, 90 years back — all started via rare July electrical storms.
NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS — On this date, the Webb Production Co. leased the Dubin Ranch in Placerita Canyon and started building movie sets. They employed many a SCV carpenter.
THINK IT’S BLAZING NOW? — The hot spell of July 1931 continued. It was the hottest July in the previous 50 years, according to the old-timers.
MIGHT HAVE TO PASS THIS FIREFIGHTING TIP ON TO FORMER FIRE CAPT. DEAN RAYNOR — The heat dried up brush and the sparks from a passing freight train started a fire in Honby (the community where Home Depot and Metrolink rest). Some local cowboys spotted the blaze and quickly used their horse blankets to put it out.
HOW TO BOIL THE INFAMOUS SANTA CLARITA SARDINE — On this date, because of the record heat, special fish rescue crews were formed by state Fish & Game. One of the creatures they saved? The spiny stickleback.
JULY 28, 1938
TUNNEL VISION — The Newhall Tunnel was replaced by Newhall Pass on this date. Let’s make this one crystal clear. Starting in 1910, there was a car and truck tunnel linking Newhall with the San Fernando Valley. It was next door to Beale’s Cut on the south end of the valley on Sierra Highway. For nearly 30 years, that tunnel was the main highway in and out of our valley. The tunnel was eventually filled and a cut in the hill was dug and that’s where Sierra Highway ends today.
JULY 31, 1941
NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH THE CURRENT MOVIE TERM, ‘GO-FER’ — Silent film star William S. Hart didn’t have as big a soft spot for critters as some of the Fish & Game folks. He hired some exterminators to eliminate an Old Testament plague of gophers on his ranch. Hart had to ship his beloved Harlequin Great Danes, Prince and Hal, to friends so they wouldn’t eat the dead poisoned gophers.
HEEEEYYYYYYYYYY … AB-BOTTTTTT!!! — The legendary Hollywood comedy team of Abbott and Costello were in town, filming a movie at the B-Bar-A Ranch. Owner Jerry Lohman said he’d like Universal to shoot more movies at his home because the cleanup crew made the place prettier than it was before. Lou Costello had Lohman going in between takes. The portly comedian said he once saw a horse bite himself on the forehead. Lohman asked how that was possible. Costello answered: “He stood on a box.”
ABBOTT & COSTELLO, PART II — Another local angle with A&C? Famed Hollywood mogul Ed Muhl lived up Bouquet Canyon for decades. He was the head of Universal Pictures. Ed came up with the idea to use all of Universal’s old monster movie sets and costumes to create a new genre: Monster Comedy. He made several Abbott & Costello movies, the first being “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.” They made a fortune. Ed was my father-in-law. He passed back in April 2001. Heck of a great guy.
JULY 31, 1951
I THINK THE WAY STATION STILL HAS THEIR NAPKIN HOLDERS. AND COFFEE. — Some of you would have to be REALLY old-timers to remember this — the Mecca Cafe, at 6th and San Fernando Road (Main Street today), closed its doors and sold all its goodies at auction on this date. The Mecca opened during World War II and was a popular eatery amongst the locals.
JULY 31, 1961
PRETTY EASY STUDYING — The State Highway Commission sent some engineers to the corner of San Fernando Road (Main Street today) and Market to study traffic patterns. While there had been seven accidents at the intersection in three years, the SHC felt Market didn’t need a traffic light yet. It would be a few years before the SCV would get one, too. (I know. I accidentally ran it.)
CHUMP CHANGE — On this date, the third unit of a new housing project called, “North Oaks” opened. Houses started at $12,995 and $295 moved you in. Built by Signature Homes and Pacific Coast Properties, the first two units earlier sold all 400 homes in just a few weeks. Those humble abodes have appreciated in value something like 50 times over.
JULY 31, 1971
HERE’S ONE FOR JIM VENTRESS — A half-century back (I’ll repeat that shouting became maybe Jim’s hard of hearing by now) A HALF-CENTURY BACK, the Boys’ Club (they added girls a few years later) held a fundraising telethon on local cable access TV. Master of ceremonies was radio personality Larry Van Nuys.
JULY 31, 1981
ONE ABSOLUTE HECK OF A PURSUIT — High-speed chases on the freeway are a thing of life in 21st-century America. We had one 40 years ago today that would have made a top 10 list. A 16-year-old Oxnard youth filled up his car with gas in Gorman, then dashed off without paying. The attendant got the boy’s license number, called the CHP and the chase began. Quickly, Highway Patrolmen found the car, rolled up next to it and ordered the kid to pull over. The youth calmly took a last puff off his cigarette, flicked it out the window (adding littering to his future list of woes) and punched it into high gear. The chase reached speeds in excess of 120 mph and, at one point, the felon was driving on the wrong side of Interstate 5 — doing over 100 mph. Chased by two helicopters and a squadron of local police, the boy finally ended the pursuit by flying 200 feet through the air off Lake Hughes Road. Miraculously, he was saved by landing on a chain link fence. Unharmed, the boy then took off on foot, where he was eventually tackled from behind by Officer David L’Heureux. Dave, by the way, was one of the helicopter pilots. How’s that for a chase? Personally? In July? I would have used the dual CHP 50-caliber machine guns.
THE MURDERER WITH THE BIG MOUTH — Some bragging in a crowded Tulare bar proved to be the undoing of murderer Jay Morgan. The 18-year-old had been overheard boasting about how he had stolen the car and wallet of Roger Baldwin, then killed the man in the Newhall area. The body of Baldwin had been found after it had laid in a dry riverbed north of Castaic for over a month. Morgan was found with the wallet and car.
NO GOOD MANGY POMERANIANS? — Someone called The Mighty Signal to complain that heartless pet owners had abandoned their “starving, skinny dogs” in Downtown Newhall. Investigation proved the mystery mangy mutts were actually, wait for it — coyotes. Eesh. Yuppies. Dah!!!
Tomorrow’s August. I’ve got the funny feeling if we can survive another month, the heat of 2021 might be leaving Santa Clarita early this year. Lord knows, we certainly deserve it. That spinning and ancient time vortex over yonder? That’s our portal to the divine Here & Now. Thanks for the company. You folks be most excellent to one another and let’s get back in another week and do this all over again. 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 at all if you left a kind 5-star review.