The Time Ranger | How The Possum Returned to the SCV


You know. On a day like today, where it’s all hot and then some, I don’t blame some of you if you want to wrap yourself around the air conditioning duct —no mean feat if it’s a ceiling unit.  

But, it’s that time again. We’ve got a wonderfully eclectic and interesting in a gee-whiz fashion trail ride ahead of us, filled with history, humor and humus. (I couldn’t figure out a way to gracefully finish the alliteration.) Besides. Horses being as tall as they are, it’s always 30-or-so degrees cooler once you’re in the saddle. 

Besides. You wouldn’t want other time-traveling historians from other riparian American communities to judge you harshly as, ahem — pampered — would you? 


ASK NOT, FOR WHOM THE ROAD TOLLS — It was 1863, Sept. 19, right in the middle of the Civil War. Controversial Gen. Edward Fitzgerald Beale loaned a sizable sum to A.A. Hudson and Oliver P. Robbins to erect and finance a toll house, right near to present-day Beale’s Cut in Newhall Pass. Pretty much everything that had wheels or a heartbeat had to pay a toll coming in or out of the SCV. For 21 years, Beale pocketed a tidy fortune from the toll house. 

From an old rate card, here’s some of the toll fees: Horse & Rider — a quarter; Horse & Wagon — 50¢; Stage Coaches — $1.50; Larger Wagons — $2; Larger Animals per head — a dime; Sheep — 3¢. In 1884, L.A. County reclaimed the road and since then, it’s free passage. 

ONE MORE ROAD TOLL STORY — I always loved this little tale about the Dunn family of 1875. They ran the Beale/Hudson/Robbins toll gate. Mrs. Dunn found herself solo on gate patrol one afternoon when Basque shepherds refused to pay a woman alone and just forced their small flock through the gate. Mr. Dunn was out on an extended hunt for game meat. So, at night, Mrs. Dunn armed herself, tracked sheep and sheepmen and waited for them to get comfortable by campfire. At shotgun-point, she told the shepherds to come up with $16.50. When the rogue sheep wranglers complained about the math of 3¢ per head not figuring up right, Mrs. Dunn smiled and noted “…that $2.75 is for the toll and the rest for the gatekeeper’s injured feelings…” Don’t you just LOVE that woman? 

HAPPY DARN BIRTHDAY, SULPHUR SPRINGS! — The second oldest school district in Los Angeles County was founded on Sept. 16, 1872, by the Mitchell and Lang family. Many of their descendants still live in the valley today. I haven’t poked fun at Tom Frew in epochs, so here goes. Tom, in that original 1872 class, still has every nickel he saved from not getting milk. Frew today is worth in excess of $1.3 trillion… 

WILDCATTER HEAVEN — Oil prospecting is one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet. On Sept. 12, 1883, four men were seriously injured and one killed while constructing a massive 20,000-barrel oil storage tank up Pico Canyon at Mentryville. 

NOT EVERYONE GETS FILTHY RICH — The oil business wasn’t always a cash cow. Early refiners in Pico Canyon initially carted huge barrels of oil to the Newhall Oil Refinery via wagons. On the bright side, it was mostly downhill for the 7 miles. Cost of moving one 40-gallon barrel back then? A buck. Pico No. 4, the first commercial oil well in California, was pumping out about 10 barrels of crude a day in 1876. 

NOT GOING POSTAL — Back on Sept. 15, 1894, the first U.S. Post Office was opened in Castaic. Don’t know if there was a serious literacy problem up north, but nobody seemed to be sending any letters to Castaic and no one was mailing them. The post office was abandoned less than a year later in August 1895. It would open again in April 3, 1917, in Sam Parson’s General Store. Please insert the obligatory “And Tom Frew Was The World’s Oldest Boxboy Then”  joke right about — here… 

SEPTEMBER 18, 1921  

OILY OILY OXEN FREE-EEEEE — Union Oil held their grand opening for the new location of their refinery on this date. The new plant was in downtown Newhall (which made some residents happy and others not so). It carried 40,000 gallons of gasoline, 20,000 gallons of coal oil and 20,000 gallons of something called distillate. They also had a large and varied supply of lubricating fluids. Mr. E.T. Sims was in charge of the station then. 

THE VALLEY’S OVERRUNNING WITH CHILDREN! — Newhall continued to grow. Opening day at Newhall Elementary found 30 kids in first and second grade, 51 kids in third, fourth and fifth grade (for you proponents of halcyon times, that’s one class, by the way) and 31 students in grades 6-8. Grand total of, ding-ding-ding: 111 students. 

SEPTEMBER 18, 1931  

PLAYING POSSUM — This is sure one odd story. Seems Newhall’s former presidential candidate, Henry Clay Needham, spotted a couple of possums near his home. Other locals echoed the sightings. According to old-timers from the 1930s, possums were hunted to possible extinction in the SCV prior to the 1930s. After the turn of the 20th century, a family had special ordered a cage of six live specimens to be used as a REAL traditional Thanksgiving entree. Again, strange but true, but some Americans enjoyed not turkey, but possum for Thanksgiving. Anywho. The cage broke, the possums escaped to the woods, were fruitful, multiplied and that’s why we have a suburbia full of opossum today. Fascinating… 

POSSUMS, PART TWO — A footnote on that Didelphimorphia’s tale was that Mrs. Walter Cook reported that, as a young girl, she was visiting relatives in Texas when she saw a very strange creature — the possum. Seeing that they didn’t have any of these creatures in California, and Mrs. Cook heard they made good eatings, she wanted the little omnivore roasted. The chef at the ranch said, “I’d rather cook a cat than a possum,” and refused her menu request. Mrs. Cook then took the possum back to Newhall where she kept it as a pet. Mrs. Cook was sister to Vernon (Bob) Walk (great-great grandfather to Hart baseball star and World Series pitcher Bob Walk IV), who had that station at the foot of Newhall Pass (the remains are still there today). People from all over Southern California were reported driving up to see the rare creature in the late nineteen-teens. It eventually escaped by breaking its small cage. 

SAY IT AIN’T SO! A SIGNAL FLIP-FLOP?! — Signal editor A.B. “Dad” Thatcher wasn’t the first newspaperman to switch positions. He won’t be the last. Thatcher had once called the 18th Amendment and Prohibition, “…the greatest travesty ever to befall this nation.” On this date, 90 years back, Thatcher switched positions. In an editorial, Dad noted that big business was behind the repeal of the 18th Amendment (which made the consumption and production of drinking alcohol illegal). He also went after the American Legion, which was in favor of legalizing booze again. “Practically none of the members of the Legion ever saw the saloon in all its vileness,” wrote Dad in his Signal editorial. You’ll pardon me if I sort of bite my lower lip and stare at the tips of my boots on that one… 

SEPTEMBER 18, 1941  

GETTING MOUNTED — The Newhall Civilian Mounted Patrol was getting ready for the upcoming World War II. Membership swelled to 20 riders. 

AND THIS WAS PRE-RENT CONTROL — All things considered, leasing a home was certainly cheap. You could rent a small cottage in downtown Newhall, all utilities paid, for just $16 a month. A nice, big five-bedroom house on a few acres in town? It went for just $35 a month.  

SEPTEMBER 18, 1951 

LIKE TWAIN, REPORTS OF JIM’S DEATH WERE GREATLY EXAGGERATED — There were many obituaries this week 70 years back, including that of young Jim Mason, who was reported killed in a car accident during his vacation in Colorado. Locals were rather oval-mouthed when they spotted Jim walking around town Monday morning, unscratched and quite healthy. Wrong darn dead Jim Mason. 

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE? NINE LEFT — The fate of Robert Lewis’ big toe was not as rosy. The hunter was carrying a .22-caliber pistol in a holster while traipsing through the back woods of Bouquet. He jumped onto a large rock, the gun went off and a bullet went through his boot, taking off his right little toe. 

BUT THEY GET YOU ON THE TOOTHPICKS — Wonder if they’re still offering those 1950 prices. On this date, the Big Oaks Lodge was advertising an all-you-can-eat buffet for $1.50. 

SEPTEMBER 18, 1961 

AND A NICE DARN GUY, TOO — On this date, Jesse Doty, famed Newhall pioneer, died. Doty worked at Newhall’s first garage in 1914 (which would be on today’s Main near 8th). He later opened the first auto dealership here — Doty’s Ford Garage (it was sold in 1940 and became Clymore Ford). In the late teens, Doty raised eyebrows by employing two of the prettiest girls in town to serve gas to locals and tourists. Back then, gasoline wasn’t pumped, it was ladled out by hand from a wooden barrel. 

SEPTEMBER 18, 1971 

MAY WE PLEASE HAVE A ‘YEE!’ AND AN ‘OUCH!’ —  On Sept. 12, 1971, the daytime high for Downtown Newhall was 111. Next day, it hit 118 en route to a week-long heat spell where the highs didn’t dip below 110. Nearly 8,000 local students were dismissed from school. One person, an elderly woman visiting her daughter in Saugus, died from the heat. Newhall Ice was selling about 8 tons of ice per day. 

HEY! WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT!?!?!?!?! — On this date, former owner of the Potpourri weekly newspaper, Jackie Storinsky, was taken to court. Margie Ingham claimed Ms. Storinsky owed her $500 in back wages. I was managing editor of that paper for about 20 minutes when I was 20. Storinsky (yes; I dropped the ‘Ms.’) owed me two months back wages. When her circulation department quit, she begged me to deliver several thousand last issues. I used her big Buick. When I finally got my last check, it had all sorts of deductions — including the gas I had used in her car working 24 hours straight to deliver her newspapers. Spit, ptooey on her. Is that wrong? 

SEPTEMBER 18, 1981 

THEY DON’T CALL THE SCV A ‘BEDROOM COMMUNITY’ FOR NUTHIN’ — A survey discovered that in the past 20 years, more and more local teens were having sex, getting pregnant and catching sexually transmitted diseases. Girls, some as young as 12, were starting to show up at the new Valencia Health Clinic with “implications.” One such “implications” was a 16-year-old local girl who terminated her pregnancy after five months. 

AND DEAN RAYNOR SAYS HE COULD KICK FRED’S HEINIE FROM HERE TO NORTHEAST PALMDALE — For decades, he was a legend as a local Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy. On this date, Frank DeBernardi retired. With arms the size of telephone poles, officer DeBernardi patrolled the SCV for over 30 years. A decorated war hero, DeBernardi came back after World War II, joined the Sheriff’s Department and designed their first obstacle course at the academy. He was also the strength coach at Hart, training his own son, Fred. Fred would become one of the few people on the planet to throw the shot over 70 feet. 

I really need to see a speech coach. It must be this Cowboy/Now Lobo The Wolf Was A-Wonderin’ What Was Going On voice inflection. Have you saddlepals noticed? It’s nearly impossible for me to close out our weekly Time Ranger trail rides without starting with the words, “Well —” or “Welp —.” So. I’ll give it to all y’all short and sweet. We’re back. It’s the Here-&-Now 21st Century Santa Clarita, much as it sometimes pains me to note. Go. Scoot. All of you. Go do chores. Or watch football. Or nap. Or drive to the beach where it’s 1,406 degrees cooler. But above all? Take most excellent care of yourselves and yourn. Fond of you. Vayan con Dios amigos!  

Getting closer to launching John Boston Books. New website — — is still under construction, but running. 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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