The Time Ranger | Buffalo Tom: Don’t Flip Over That Train

The Timer Ranger
Time Ranger

Por favor, small favor? Before we start out on this week’s time ride through Santa Clarita history, would the gentleman 12 rows back on that little sorrel kindly turn down the volume on his iPhone? If we were to have theme music for our trek into yesteryear, it’d probably be the theme to “The Magnificent 7” or even Jethro Tull’s “Living in the Past” as opposed to, and, there’s nothing wrong with it, Pooh Shiesty’s No. 12 on the charts, “Back in Blood.” 

That aside, we’ve vistas of great interest ahead this morning, dear saddlepals. 

We’ve got two — count them — two epic train robberies waiting around the bend. We’ll say howdy to the French Air Force, which was training in Newhall prior to our involvement in World War II. We’ve got nuclear fall-out shelters, beer and roadkill stew. We’ll visit the controversial Martha Mitchell while she’s visiting us and purse our lips and go “tsk-tsk” at the indicted “Wildcat Minister.” 

Shall we urge our ponies into the time continuum vortex and see what used to be?  


TOM FREW RECALLS IT VIVIDLY — All the components to form who we would eventually be were being spewed forth at the instant of the Big Bang.  

NOVEMBER 13, 1921  

PLEASE. NO GUFFAWING OR SPEWING LATTE THROUGH YOUR NOSTRILS. IT LEAVES MARKS ON THE SADDLES — On this date, The Mighty Signal penned an editorial AGAINST unemployment benefits or retirement pensions, noting that every nation who had employed such practices bred a “class of parasites.” 

RE: THE ABOVE — I believe “Class of Parasites” was one of those big-haired English boy bands of the 1980s. Signal Editor Tim Whyte has ALL their 8-tracks… 

NOVEMBER 10, 1929  

ONE OF AMERICAN HISTORY’S MOST SPECTACULAR TRAIN ROBBERIES — “Buffalo” Tom Vernon pulled off the second-to-last train derailment robbery in the Wild West. In terms of measuring a heist, you can’t even suggest it was “big.” Just noisy. Vernon tipped over the old Owl train by the present-day Saugus Speedway. For years, Vernon was hailed as a villain for derailing and wrecking the train, then robbing the passengers. BTV’s motive? It seems that Tom robbed the train to pay for a woman friend’s — ahem — “operation” in Los Angeles. Early editions of L.A. papers wrongly wrote that the engineer of the Saugus train died after being scalded by escaping steam.  

BUFFALO TOM, PART II — Vernon escaped to Wyoming, where he pulled the same stunt, derailing another train and robbing the passengers. It sure wasn’t hard catching up to the local ne’er-do-well and crook who claimed he rode with Buffalo Bill Cody in his Wild West show. On the fateful eve in Saugus, he had squatted by the rails as the train passed. Seems out of his back pocket, he dropped a note with his name on it. Then, in Wyoming, Tom mailed a letter to a prostitute, giving his detailed itinerary and that was how Tommy boy was captured. 

BUFFALO TOM, PART III —Tommy V (his supposed real name was Averill, but that is even questionable) was sentenced to life in prison in 1929. For years, there were different stories as to what happened to him. One Folsom guard claimed he suffered from a social disease contracted in prison, was released in 1964, and died shortly thereafter. But in 2004, our historical society received a letter from a woman up in Central California who claimed that Vernon was released and living with Carolena Rezendez’ family and died in 1957 or 1958. Or so she hoped, as she buried the diminutive Saugus bandit. 

NOVEMBER 13, 1931  

HMMM. I THINK SOMEONE JUST WENT AND BUILT A BIG INDUSTRIAL PARK OVER A FABULOUS TREASURE … — John M. Lacy and Bill Clark received permission from the Needham family to go treasure hunting on their Newhall ranch. Seems the men had some clues that a small fortune from an 1880s train robbery in the San Fernando Valley (near Roscoe) was buried somewhere on the Needham property. The bandits were caught, tried, convicted and served jail time. The treasure hunters dug a hole big enough to bury a train, but didn’t find any boxes of gold. Adding insult to injury — AFTER they had sweated mightily looking for the loot —Henry Clay Needham came home and announced that many years earlier, he was taking his buggy into Los Angeles when he passed a suspicious large hole by some oak trees on his property. Hank felt that someone must have buried a chest there, then retrieved it. Henry Clay Needham was the SCV’s only serious presidential candidate, running for the oval office thrice as the Prohibition Party’s man. Today, his ranch is the 135-acre The Center at Needham Ranch. 

IT’S GOOD TO HAVE GOALS — Long before our 21st century desire for domestic security, Gorden Peck was arrested. The young man had dropped out of USC, confessing to his roommate that he was going to become a gangster. He was pulled off the Southern Pacific train at Saugus and searched. He had a high-powered sniper’s rifle, an expensive automatic pistol, and a sleeping bag. Despite having some cash, he had refused to pay for his train ticket. He was given a suspended sentence and left his weapons in Saugus. 

NOVEMBER 13, 1941  

NIX? — Our little Newhall International Airport (earning the affectionate nickname because they made two monthly mail runs to Mexico) made a few improvements. Newhall Land & Farming, the CAA, and a few other interested parties got together to plan to lengthen and widen the runway. The private airstrip was already used as a backup for the main Glendale field. With our possible participation in World War II on the horizon, the military also wanted the field to be ready to accommodate larger aircraft. 

NIX, PART II — A state bond measure had been passed in 1938 to expand our sleepy little field into THE Los Angeles International Airport. But, with World War II, that paperwork somehow got misplaced… 

PARDON MOI. DO YOU HAVE ANY GREY POUPON? — A few locals were shaking their heads at some of the French pilots training here. Seems some of the inexperienced lads of Gaul were trimming the tops of trees in Newhall as they were attempting mastery of the airplane. 

BACK IN THE HIGH HOLY DAYS OF RODEO — The Bonelli Ranch (today, Saugus Speedway) was the site of the second annual Fall Rodeo. In its heyday, our Newhall-Saugus romp was one of the biggest rodeos in the world. More than 15,000 showed up for the national event. Locals Asbury Shell, Chick Hannan, and my pal Andy Jauregui placed in the event. 

AHHHHHHHHHHH, FUDGE. — Here’s an odd one for you. On this date, the Newhall Bakery was sold. To whom? A Los Angeles guy named — and we’re not making this up — Wayne Fudge. 

FOLKS’D SPIT MILK THROUGH THEIR NOSE AT $4-A-GALLON MILK — Our county ag board defended the rising cost of dairy products. In 1934, a quart of milk — delivered to your home — cost 11 cents. In 1941, it cost 14 cents. The dairymen were passing along their own rising costs. Note these: In 1934, a ton of dairy grain cost $26; a tone of alfalfa was $15; a milking cow cost $90 and the average monthly pay for a dairy worker was $85. The corresponding prices in 1941 were $40 for the grain, $21 for the alfalfa, $165 for the cow and $140 for the monthly worker wage.  

NOVEMBER 13, 1951 

THIS SCORE JUST IN: CARS 4, DEERS NOTHIN’ — Four deer were killed in four separate collisions with autos. Don’t look at me. I was 1 and wouldn’t be driving for another three years. The deer souls went to Ruminant Heaven and the bodies were taken to the Forestry Camp No. 4 at Warm Springs where they ended up being road crew dinner.  

NOVEMBER 13, 1961 

A DREARY LACK OF GROWNUPS — On this date — and, for the second time within a month — a sickeningly small percentage of registered voters showed up at the polls. A bond measure for the Hart District had 696 votes for and 485 against so it didn’t meet the two-thirds majority test. About a month earlier, voters rejected a bond measure for Newhall Elementary. Yet again — and we’re talking decade after decade — The Signal printed another Shame On Thou & Thee editorial about voter apathy.  

A TRAGIC WAY TO CATCH THE TRAIN — Distraction, poor hearing or perhaps the blinding early morning light was blamed for the death of Albert Feliz. The elderly gent drove his Chevy right in front of a speeding freight train. Forensics showed he had about 20 feet of skid marks when he hit the brakes, far too late. He was killed instantly at San Fernando Road by the 1,700-horsepower engine and the hundreds of tons behind it. 

KA-BLOOEY PROOF? — Some of you who have hiked back in the hills of Placerita might wonder what that odd-looking dugout is behind the Foursquare Church. On this date, Hienie Wolfe built a nuclear fallout shelter into the hillside. It has a thick timber door and the insides are supported by masonry. Wolfe used to get kidded quite a bit around town. He mostly used the fallout shelter to store half-used kegs of beer. He and his friends would later show up to make sure the kegs wouldn’t be in danger of exploding by finishing off the contents. 

NOVEMBER 13, 1971 

OKAY. SO NOW MARTHA PICKS THE TIME TO FINALLY CLAM UP —  On this date, Martha Mitchell, the eccentric, wackadoodle, flamboyant and outspoken wife of Attorney General John Mitchell, was the featured speaker at Placerita Canyon Nature Center. Mr. Mitchell noted that he didn’t realize his wife was a naturalist and went on record stating, “She is a housewife first and foremost.” I’d argue with that. Martha said not one word at the dedication. Mitchell was a white-collar crook in big letters. Prior to being Richard M. Nixon’s campaign manager, he was involved in shady bond scams for New York state. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was asked if he’d be a pal and NOT do one of those tedious background checks prior to JM becoming attorney general. John was later indicted on several counts and resigned the top lawyer post in the nation. 

APPRECIATE IT, GENE!! —  Cowboy superstar Gene Autry joined his fellow Placerita Canyon neighbors to decry a proposed widening of Placerita Canyon Road and the removal of several dozen heritage oaks. Eventually, the county would back down from their threat to turn the scenic canyon into a high-speed shortcut. I was going to type in at the end of that last sentence, “…for pill-popping crazed newly arrived Valencia yuppies” but didn’t like my chances with the copy desk. 

OK NOW. DISCLAIMER UP FRONT: NOT ALL METHODISTS ARE LIKE THIS!! — The Rev. David Taylor, 40, was convicted of 14 felony counts of fraudulent stock sales and grand theft. Dubbed “The Wildcat Minister,” Taylor had collected about $40,000 from his parishioners in illegal stock transactions. He was the first pastor of the new Valencia Valley Methodist Church. 

NOVEMBER 7, 1978 

NO COUNTY FOR YOU! — For the second time, a local movement to separate from Los Angeles and form our own county — Canyon County — was defeated at the ballot box. Locally, the measure passed resoundingly. But, in the bigger L.A. County election, we were trounced by around 65-35%. Here’s a thought: If the two mighty efforts to break off from Los Angeles were used to form a city instead, we might soon be celebrating our 43rd anniversary as the city of Santa Clarita — and one with much larger borders. 

NOVEMBER 13, 1981 

IT’S CALLED, ‘IRONY’ — A truck leaking toxic fumes caused 300 souls to be evacuated from Castaic. A chemical called propylene dichloride, which is used as an industrial solvent and pesticide, ate its way through the metal tanker truck. About 50 people — about half of them firefighters and California Highway Patrol officers — had to be hospitalized after inhaling fumes and complaining of nausea, sore throats and breathing difficulty. The truck was owned by the controversial IT Corp., the same company that was trying to build a mega-toxic dump off the 14 freeway near Sand Canyon. 

NOT PASSING THE BUCK — In a 40-year-ago election, some skinny young fella named Buck McKeon was elected to the Hart school board. 

Always hate to let you folks go. But, from yonder familiar vortex light, I can tell. We’re back in present-moment Santa Clarita. Thanks for the good companionship and look forward to catching up with you in seven. Until then dear saddlepals? Vayan con Dios, amigos!” 

Got the web site — — up and running. It’s still under construction, but we’re getting closer to Official Launch. First new offering of the three-volume set is Volume 1 of “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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