The Time Ranger | So How Many of You Live in Canyon of the Dead?

The Timer Ranger
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Nice to see you, dear saddlepals and saddlepal-ettes. Have to admit. You’re all looking quite fetching and Western, this first trail ride in August. As usual, we’ve got some pretty entertaining vistas ahead through the back canyons of Santa Clarita history.  

It rests my soul dearly, the smell of horses, leather and summer’s trail dust. Love the sound of laughter and conversation, the abject quiet at times. Glad to share how life used to be here. 

As my dear pal and sister-like substance Leslie Ann’s kids used to say when they were little: “Hey mom! Show us where the dirt used to be…” 


MOVING DAY — The old Pioneer Oil Refinery switched headquarters from near the old Lyon Station off present-day Sierra Highway and Newhall Avenue to Pine Street. That was on Aug. 1, 1876. They were the first successful oil refinery in California. The site is still there on Pine Street and is a state historical landmark. And, yes. It’s still somewhat gooey… 

SURREY, BUT WITH NO FRINGE ON TOP — On this date in 1891, the Surrey Post Office was founded in Saugus. For a short time, Saugus was called, “Surrey.” The locals there had a sense of humor. They painted a line on the wooden sidewalk between stores with “WELCOME TO SAUGUS” and “WELCOME TO SURREY” right next to one another. In an odd and unrelated coincidence, Surrey is also the middle name of William S. Hart. 

HEY! HOW COME WE NEVER SEE ANY ‘CANYON OF THE DEAD’ SIGNS UP IN PLUM CANYON? — For you new Yuppies living in Plum Canyon, it wasn’t always called such. For well over a century, the place was the source of many rumors about ghosts and murders. The Spaniards used to call the place, Canon de los Muertos — Canyon of the Dead. 

THIS ISN’T SO MUCH WAY-WAY-BACK, BUT IT’S PLUM PEACEFUL — On an average street today, the noise level is around 100 decibels. It can get as high as 175 for arguments or airplanes flying overhead. But, for sitting under a pine or hemlock and listening to the leaves rustle in the breeze, that’s only about 12 decibels. Can you imagine? An SCV that’s — quiet? My kind of noise… 

AUGUST 7, 1921  

MIXIN’ IT UP — In his day, off-again, on-again local Tom Mix was one of the most famous and recognizable people on Planet Earth. The cowboy film star was finishing up shooting, no pun intended, his silent Western “Trailin’” at the old stone house on the Wertz Ranch, south of town in what used to be the boundaries of the Santa Barbara National Forest. (The SBNF was what the Angeles was called way back when…) One of the last scenes in the film was the burning down of the ranch house. They had 20 firemen and more volunteers ready with shovels, buckets and a water truck just in case the flames from the home got out of control. Guess Tom Mix must have paid extra to burn down the Wertz residence. 

SPEAKING OF FIRES — Frank England saw a real one. He had just bought some land in Oak Canyon. Carpenters had just unloaded several truckloads of building material for the new house, but, before they could start construction, they had to get rid of a large swarm of pesky wasps in a nearby tree. Yup. Poor Mr. England hired the dumb kind of carpenters. They tried burning the wasps out and succeeded, along with burning up several hundred acres of brush and turned some rather expensive lumber they had just unloaded to kindling wood.  

AUGUST 7, 1931  

MAILMAN MARRIES BARBER — Well. Miss Mary Barber and Rural postman Bert Tysell tied the knot on this day. Bert drove the back roads of Saugus for over 40 years. His strangest delivery was a cow, C.O.D. 

GREAT ROADS, BUT NO ONE CAN AFFORD TO GO ANYWHERE — Nothing like a great Depression to make the roads smooth. Locals were noting that, with so many men on the government dole, all the public works projects in the SCV resulted in the local roads — both dirt and paved — having never been in finer condition. 

AUGUST 7, 1941  

AND WE’RE NOT TALKING CAMP SCUDDER DEAD END KIDS — Some of you time pals will either have to be rather, ahem, “varsity” or adept film buffs to recall this gang. On this date, Banner Pictures was in town, filming an episode of “The Dead End Kids.” The movie company transformed Opie Houghton’s post office into an eastside New York City locale. Then, the gang moved over to the Monogram lot (Melody Ranch) to finish the pix. 

BRITS INVADE THE SCV!! — About 100 officers from the Royal Air Force were here at Newhall International Airport (around where Granary Square is today) to learn how to fly fighter planes. They were stationed here for 20 weeks. 

HOBO. THAT ALWAYS LOOKS GOOD ON A RESUME. — Harold Sutherland, identifying his occupation as, “hobo,” was arrested south of the Saugus train depot on this date. He was viewed to be quite drunk. Arresting officers Waldrip and Brooks chose the more 1941 politically correct phrase for being intoxicated. They referred to it in their report as: “…carrying a large load of poles.” We always strive to educate here at the Time Ranger’s Scared o’ Bears Ranch, so here goes. The word, “hobo” comes from the English slang of “hoe boys,” or wandering laborers who cleaned up on wealthy estates. 

ODD HOW SOME OF US STUMBLE INTO OUR CAREERS — There was this story about how Sand Canyon rancher Steve Swanton was having a rather loud verbal argument with his wife. Steve’s 19-year-old son, Jelmer, came into the room, did not like his dad speaking to his mom in such tone, substance and volume and decked his dad. Steve, grinning from ear to ear, bounced up and hugged his kid. Some of you old ring enthusiasts might recognize Steve’s ring name: Kid McCoy. Steve, aka, Kid McCoy, started his son training and soon, Jelmer became a professional prize fighter. Oh. Footnote? Steve the Dad was not THE real Kid McCoy, who was a world-famous early 20th-century boxing champ, murderer, con artist, and, even more astounding, married 10 times… 

AUGUST 7, 1951 

ADD ANOTHER LAWYER JOKE — The old Harry Carey Horseshoe Ranch up San Francisquito Canyon changed hands. Again. The Careys had sold their property years earlier. It finally ended up in the hands of the Clougherty Packing Co. of Los Angeles through a bankruptcy sale. During eviction of the ranch’s occupant, one Mr. Arthur Shivell, attorney AND gunsmith, Mr. Shivell was arrested on a variety of charges. Local sheriff’s deputies cuffed him for having an arsenal of exotic weapons in his car (in which he was living — how would that give you confidence in your attorney?). He was also indicted for possession of several rhinoceros horns. 

HERE’S A BIZARRE TRUCK ACCIDENT FOR YOU — Teamster Walter Warne lost the brakes on his big lumber rig and it was roaring out of control going down the Five Mile Grade in Castaic. Going faster and faster, Warne was going to take a chance at bailing out when he heard a blast from a semi behind him. The truck drew next to Warne and the driver motioned for the young trucker to jump on the running board. In a rather dramatic stunt, Warne guided the steering wheel while balancing outside the truck, then vaulted to the vehicle of the Good Samaritan. Just as Warne jumped, his truck went off the side of the road and crashed, turning his load into flaming tooth picks. Warne survived without a scratch, but never learned the name of his rescuer. 

RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY … — A sudden summer downpour missed most of the SCV, but sent flash floods through Agua Dulce and Bouquet Canyons. Many homes and businesses were damaged and one resident had to abandon his car and swim for his life when he got stuck in a low spot on Sierra Highway. Landslides and floods closed many local roads and we also lost a Barbara Ann bread truck. 

AUGUST 7, 1961 

FUTURE OF SCHOOLS — On this date, local district superintendents and community leaders got together to assess the state of our local campuses. The consensus was that with the “coming population explosion,” a major crisis was on the horizon. Locals were asked to float bond measures and acquire land for future schools before the land became too expensive or was bought up by developers.  

THE ANTI-KABLOOEY BIZ — Leo Bourdon opened up a new company in Saugus called Fox Hole Shelters. They were these bon-bon-looking steel-reinforced concrete enclosures you buried in your back yard. Folks were starting to call these new inventions, “Atomic Fallout Shelters.” For $3,000 (about a third the cost of a small home in 1961), Bourdon would dig the hole in your back (or front) yard and insert these pre-made cement igloos. They weighed about 14 tons and Bourdon threw in some cots, a chemical toilet, breathing filtration system, shelves, flash light, radio and first aid kit. Bourdon had been in the swimming pool business and blamed Russian dictator Nikita Khrushchev for getting him into a new business, for which he sunk $150,000 of his own money. 

WONDER WHO WAS THE FIRST WE SENT FROM HERE? — Here’s some extreme trivia for you. Who was the first-ever foreign exchange student in the SCV? That would be John Bech, from Norway. He was the first exchange student brought over by the American Field Service. Wonder where our former Mighty Hart High Indian Mr. Bech is today? 

AUGUST 7, 1971 

RUSTLER’S RAPSODY — Despite an influx of civilized folks, horse thievery was alive and well in Santa Clarita. On this date, some rustlers made off with Audrey Richardson’s sorrel mare in broad daylight. While stealing a person’s horse carried a death-by-hanging penalty in the Old West, in 1971 it meted out only a 1- to 10-year prison sentence. 

THE HOT PANTS BANDIT STRIKES AGAIN! — She was a pistol-packing mama, all right. This time, the woman, described as 30-35 years old and wearing hot pants (and, yes, a top) was seen breaking into an Agua Dulce home. She reportedly stole a .35 caliber revolver. 

IT’S NOT LIKE THE MIGHTY SIGNAL DIDN’T WARN YOU — On this date, a front-page Scott Newhall editorial lamented that local developers put profits ahead of people and community by building cookie-cutter cut-rate houses instead of homes.  

AUGUST 3, 1975 

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO HENRY ‘HOLD THE’ MAYO — Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital was founded on this date, 46 years ago.  

AUGUST 7, 1981 

PRANK GONE TERRIBLY WRONG — Four young men were arrested for the death of a motorcyclist several months earlier. The boys had strung a thick construction net across Placerita Canyon Road. Dean Ashton, 27, crashed into the net and died. A fifth boy who was reported involved in the horrific prank was not around to be arrested. He had killed himself the day after Ashton died. Ironically, the boy ran over a cliff in Acton on his own motorcycle. 

LITTLE GAME HUNTER — Guy Kenneth Welch was on the hook. Again. Welch made his spot in history by being accused as the only person ever to be arrested for killing the endangered spiny stickleback, a little fish that lives in the Santa Clara River and some of its tributaries. Welch had beat charges earlier in the year in a hung jury. The district attorney decided not to retry Welch. But new charges were brought when Welch rechanneled the river to fill up his man-made lake at the White Rock resort. 

Well. Think me and the daughter Indiana are going to head the horses over to the nearest ocean, swim a bit and have about 20 pounds of fish and chips. And a soda pop. Thanks for the company and looking forward to seeing you good friends and neighbors back here at The Mighty Signal’s hitching post next week. Take good care of yourselves. And do make sure you — 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 on or you liked the book, would you mind leaving a kind 5-star review…? 

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