We had a streak since 1932 for having a big Fourth of July parade that had only been interrupted once by a minor inconvenience called World War II. Last year’s parade was cancelled, too. Alas, a virus in the Year of the Lord 2021 has cancelled what had been the biggest Independence Day parade west of the Rockies.
Oh well. What’s life, love and families without asterisks.
We’re just going to have to make our own, personal fandango, dear saddlepals. We’ve some time traveling ahead. There’s parades and heat waves, bizarre motorcycle accidents and a pitchfork fight between two cowboys.
If memory serves, both were victims of Size One Stetson Syndrome.
We’ve got a born-again Christian capturing a murdering hitchhiker, hospital skullduggery, various and sundry mayhem, and a few notes on a grand old Newhall cowpoke, Ben Johnson.
C’mon, dear amigos. Foot up in the stirrup, swing up into that saddle and let’s head into the mystic.
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
GETTING OUT THE PITCH PIPE AND LET’S ALL JOIN IN IN THE KEY OF JOHN DUARTE’S FAVORITE NOTE, R-RUPTURED FLAT — Happy darn birthday to Castaic. The foothill to the Tehachapis was founded the first of July 1915.
THIS WOULD COST YOU SERIOUSLY MORE AT JIFFY LUBE TODAY — At the nation’s centennial celebration on July 4, 1876, Placerita Canyon “white oil” had folks in Philadelphia oohing and aahing. The opaque fluid burned 100 times longer than regular lamp oil and with hardly any smoke. What can we say? We’re purists out here.
ONE OF OUR BEST SOULS — On July 5, 1914, the most Rev. Wolcott H. Evans was named pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Newhall, where he served in spectacular ordinariness for decades. Pastor Evans was perhaps one of the most influential people in the SCV — not for donations he made or political office or social resume. He was simply a kind and tireless worker.
JULY 3, 1921
A STOUT AND DEAR LADY — Homesteader Miss Ida Greenfield died in a field in front of her Placerita Canyon cabin. She had started a controlled brush fire to rid the area by her home of grass and weeds. The wind picked up and she was caught in the blaze. Friends found her a few days later.
A RELATIVELY BRAND-NEW INVENTION, TOO — We were such a small town back then that when someone bought a new tractor, it was front-page news in The Mighty Signal. Joe Kidder purchased a new Cleveland disker. I think Tom Frew still has spare parts for that model in his garage.
JULY 3, 1931
WILDCATTING: ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS OF JOBS — A local high-school-aged boy saved the life, but not the arm, of Charles Woodward. Mr. Woodward was working on a local oil rig when his left hand was caught in a huge gear. It pulled his arm completely off. The lad rushed to Woodward’s aid, applying a tourniquet to stop the hemorrhaging.
ALL THAT JAZZ — The old French Village had many incarnations. On this date, it was closed down as a dance hall/eatery and turned into a sanitarium. Later, it would reopen down today’s Newhall Avenue by the tracks as an evening hot spot. Big-time Los Angeles bands would play here and folks from all over Southern California would make the drive — and that’s when most roads weren’t paved.
A PERFECT DAY TO STAY INDOORS. IN A BUCKET OF ICE WATER — Record heat pummeled the valley, with daytime temperatures topping the 110-degree mark.
JULY 4, 1932
WHEN IT ALMOST ALL STARTED — While we’ve had parades and picnics here in the SCV before, going back to the late 19th century, this date is recognized as the start of the long tradition of having one of the biggest and best Fourth of July celebrations in America.
JULY 3, 1941
THE BONA FIDE BIG DADDY — This was one of the biggest Fourth of July parades we put on — ever. With World War II right around the corner, patriotism was at a fever pitch. There were dozens of floats, nearly 1,000 horse riders and, overall, thousands of people IN the parade. The big march was followed by the huge picnic at Saxonia Park in Placerita Canyon, where the Foursquare Church is today.
THE STRANGEST MOTORCYCLE TRAGEDY — Two teens perished in perhaps the oddest motorcycle accident in our history. Henry Ward, of Pico Canyon, had crashed his bike on Mint Canyon and lay dead in the middle of the road. Chuck Van Buren followed a few minutes later on his motorcycle, ran over the corpse, lost control of his bike, flipped it and died.
YOU CAN’T SAY WE COWBOYS AREN’T CREATIVE WHEN IT COMES TO FIGHTING — On this date, on the Gordon Ranch in Mint Canyon, wranglers Jim Reading and Dick Furgerson got into an argument over a missing cow. They started dueling with pitchforks and Reading got a tine broke off in the middle of his hand. When he hopped on his horse to tell the law, Reading took a shot at him and missed. That’s one of the unwritten rules of the West. East, North & South, too. Don’t get impaled with a pitchfork.
JULY 3, 1951
AND SOMEHOW, THEY MANAGED TO LIVE WITH A MODICUM OF TOP-HEAVY ADMINISTRATORS — The William S. Hart Union High School District released its budget — $509,525. That’s for the whole darn year. About half that went for teachers’ salaries and just $16,000 for administration. This year’s budget for the Hart District is about $260 million. A quarter. Of a billion. Dollars. Ching. Cha-ching. Cha-cha-cha-ching.
NEXT TIME RANGER TRIP, I’M BUYING A FEW HUNDRED SQUARE MILES — I’ll bet some of you would like to take some real estate back with you into the present. Check out this deal — a 4-acre leveled hilltop in the middle of Newhall for just $6,000. You could build a really great custom home in 1951 for around $10,000.
JULY 3, 1961
THAT GUY HAD SOME SERIOUS SPRING — For decades, Hart High’s Bob Avant (Class of 1957) held all sorts of track and field records. On this date, Avant took the national AAU track meet, beating world record holder John Thomas, leaping 7 feet even.
NOT A GOOD WEEK FOR THE WORKING MAN — John McClean died after getting struck with a giant trip hammer. Bill Crocket fell from a 20-foot ladder at Newhall Refining Co. and died, not so much from the fall but the impact. And TV repairman Walter Dietz didn’t make it after his repair truck was struck by a semi.
JULY 3, 1971
¿DÓNDE ESTÁ EL HOSPITAL? — Golden State Hospital (it used to sit where the Vons market is at Lyons & Wiley) began construction on this date, a half-century back. Sort of. The issue is rather confusing, but here goes. The Health Planning Committee had already selected the yet-to-be-built Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital as the facility to represent the SCV. But they had also given GSH a go-ahead to be built, as long as they started construction by July 1, 1971. (Adding to the confusion, before Henry Mayo was Henry Mayo, it was called Lutheran Hospital.) So, trying to keep to the groundbreaking date, some construction guys came out, knocked down some trees (of course), pushed around a little dirt, and poured a 1-square-foot slab of concrete. Eventually, Golden State would be built. And, like most things in this valley, a few years would pass and it would be torn down.
CRIPES. THEM WILD GIRLS FROM BARSTOW — Miss Barstow recently had to give up her beauty queen crown because she defaced a car in front of an off-duty highway patrolman. Fifty years back, Miss Newhall-Saugus, Debbie Uhey, had to give up hers. Debbie’s reason wasn’t quite so misdemeanor-ish. She got married.
JULY 3, 1981
O RARE BEN JOHNSON — Former Newhall cowboy and Oscar-winner Ben Johnson was the grand marshal for our Fourth of July parade. A local and national rodeo star (his family goes back three generations as champion ropers), Johnson’s first acting job came in the 1940 Howard Hughes flick, “The Outlaw.” “I had been making $1 a day on a ranch in Oklahoma when Hughes contacted me and offered $100 a week. Sounded pretty good to me.” Johnson was already known around the movie world because he had been a stand-in for John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck and Henry Fonda. Johnson was wrangling in one John Ford movie when his quick thinking saved some cast members from being trampled. Ford was so grateful, he gave Johnson a seven-year contract. Afterward, he worked in more than 300 films, from “Shane” to a starring role in “Mighty Joe Young.” He has been inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame. Ben died in 1996.
MUSTA MADE A POWERFUL CASE FOR BEING BORN AGAIN — Local attorney and born-again Christian Bill Bart was driving home from church when he saw a disheveled man, limping alongside the road. Bart gave the man a ride and started talking about Christianity, leading the man to confess to a murder and three other stabbings he had committed. Bart then talked the transient into turning himself in. Bart noted that he picked up hitchhikers all the time so he could witness to them.
Well, how’s about that. We’ve traveled so many miles, over so many years and it seems like the proverbial blink of an eye. The approaching time vortex out yonder has our names, and Santa Clarita, written all over it. In your rightful enjoyment of this time off, trust you’ll take a moment to ponder, smile and be grateful for all this country has provided. See you back here in seven with another exciting Time Ranger adventure and until then — ¡feliz día de la independencia y 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.