The Time Ranger | 70 Years Ago: When the SCV Entered WW2

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A warm and Western 2021 howdy to you, dear saddlepals. We’ve got a positively epic time ride through SCV history ahead. You might make sure you’re dressed for winter traveling. Horse riding is akin to riding in a convertible. 

We’ll be spending a good amount of time in the early 1940s, looking how Newhall fared in the first few hours of World War II.  

There’s bootleggers and Indian rain men to offer a howdy. We’ve got a really strange “target shoots man” story. There’s some really odd accidents, a Realtor who charged you for showing houses and some particularly strange gee-whiz anecdotes and vistas. 

Shall we mosey into the mystic…?  


FREE SIGNAL SUBSCRIPTION TO ANY SCVian WHO HAS A “MEMBER SINCE 1900” CARD — Back on Dec. 13, 1900, the Automobile Club of Southern California was founded. Back then, they were responsible for road signs, driver’s licenses and all legal things involving cars. If you’ll pardon the old joke, my pal and SCV icon Tom Frew had the original AAA Club card. His number was 1. And gasoline was free… 

DECEMBER 11, 1921  

A SAUGUS CAFÉ ANNIVERSARY — One of the valley’s premier citizens passed away on this date. Richard Wood, founder of the Wood’s Blacksmith Shop and, later, Wood’s Garage, plus he ran a little eatery called The Saugus Cafe. Richard was born in 1859, in Canada. He left two sons, Fielding, and the baby Stanley Richard.  

AND NOPE. HE DIDN’T SELL PICKLES — Dr. W.I. Dill was the nearest thing to a dentist for the SCV. He advertised in The Signal and had his office in San Fernando. About twice a month, he’d pay a visit up here to tend to Newhall’s pearly whites. By the way. Dill was both a vet AND a dentist. Next time you’re visiting my pal, Dr. David Tanner, ask for his special rate for worming livestock, root canals and proper free throw shooting techniques.  

DECEMBER 11, 1931  

ANOTHER WAY TO FALL INTO HARD TIMES — Yet another rail rider fell to his death. Ben Ferne, a 63-year-old former chef from Northern California, fell from a freight train in Saugus and landed under the wheels. There wasn’t much of him left. 

TODAY, THAT WOULDN’T REMOVE ONE SMALL ROADKILL — L.A. County coughed up $20,000 to improve Bouquet Canyon. With the new dam just being built, Bouquet would become one of the best maintained country roads in the state. 

AND TODAY, WE TIP THEM — Lou Klein of Saugus was given seven years in prison for bootlegging. The severity of his sentence was due to his lengthy record of selling illegal hootch, primarily to prison inmates in the Lake Elizabeth area. 


THE WAR BEGINS — Eight decades back, on Dec. 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and America was at war with the Axis powers. Overnight, the Santa Clarita Valley solemnly changed. 

THE SCV BECOMES AN INSTANT FORTRESS — Because the Newhall-Saugus area was deemed one of the most significant military targets on the entire planet, Army troops were instantly sent to patrol the valley. The village was effectively under martial law. The 160th Infantry set up camp in Saxonia Park in Placerita Canyon. The 115th Combat Engineers set up headquarters in the Newhall Elementary playground, setting up machine gun towers surrounded by barbed wire. 

LIGHTS OUT! — Because there was the fear that Japan would launch an attack from the Pacific, a total blackout of the SCV was initiated. Soldiers and Civil Defense patrolmen made sure no light was visible in town after dusk. Every day at sunset, loud military sirens went off to signal, “Lights out!” The only glow visible was the giant airplane beacon in Castaic. It was a signal for the Newhall Airport a few miles south. 

BERLIN. WRONG PLACE TO HAVE A MOM. — One of the unluckiest men in the valley lived in Castaic. A rancher, named Siegfried Dietzman, was arrested for calling relatives in Berlin after the Pearl Harbor bombing. 

OPENING OUR HOMES — Jerry Blowers bought the first war bond in town. He also passed around several dozen cardboard boxes, collecting such things as fresh toothbrushes, razor blades, cigarettes and candy bars for the troops stationed here. Residents would also open up their homes so that every soldier had a place to have Christmas dinner. 

CHILDREN BECOMING SOLDIERS — One of the most heart-tugging facts of the SCV’s involvement in World War II was that several local boys went from being goofy high school kids to soldiers. Willard McGonigill, Bob Storm and Bill Orsgurn, the day after Pearl Harbor, dropped their books and enlisted. 

NOT A GOOD TIME TO BE JAPANESE — Ten local Japanese were arrested, brought to the Newhall Sheriff’s station, released, then re-arrested later and transferred to the prison camp in Manzanar. Another 10 Japanese were arrested on the roads in Newhall right after Dec. 7. 

TAKING YOUR WORK HOME WITH YOU — Local Sheriff’s Capt. E.C. Marty moved a trailer in front of his office on 6th Street and lived there for several months. 

70 YEARS AGO: LOCKDOWNS. — The local Civilian Mounted Patrol began looking for suspicious activities in the various canyons. They kept watch, with the soldiers, near the Bouquet Dam and various bridges that linked Central and Southern California together. The day of Dec. 7, all national forests around the SCV were closed to outside visitors. 

LIGHTS OUT, WITH AN EXCEPTION FOR SANTA — Even though we had complete blackouts at night, that didn’t stop the Downtown Newhall Merchants Association from erecting their 20-foot Christmas tree. 

A TOUCHING TALE — A short story appeared on the front page of The Signal about some Japanese children who attended Newhall Elementary. Wrote Signal Editor Fred Trueblood: “Driving past a group of khaki-clad figures squatting behind an Army truck at a corner of the school yard, one of the figures chanced to look up. It was a Japanese face. Kids going into classes Monday morning say the Nisei students looked at them hard and doubtfully. What would be the reaction? Was the war going to be carried into school relations? Then smiles broke out. It was all right. It’s always all right when simple human beings get together regardless of race or creed. It’s the lousy leadership that does the dirt.” Alas, the Nisei students would join their parents at Manzanar. 

CLOGGED PHONES — The phone company urged everyone not to make social calls on their teles and keep lines clear for defense purposes. Back then, you had to direct dial the local operator to place any call. 

NOTHING LIKE A GOOD WAR TO CUT RED TAPE — For years, locals had been complaining about the sorry state of Newhall Avenue, the main road that connected the airport to downtown. The dirt road had been given the nickname of “The Russian Highway” or “Russian Road” because of its primitive conditions, especially after a good rain. After Dec. 7, county work crews rushed out to repair Newhall Avenue due to the strategic importance of our little Newhall International Airport (where Granary Square is today on McBean). 

REMEMBERING ANDY — Many of you SCV old-timers will remember the beloved (and to some, not-so beloved) town character, Andy Martin. He ended up after the war starting an insurance company but was known more for running for any public office every two years. Andy grinned wickedly and said that every time he ran for something, all the free publicity he got made his insurance sales soar. But, in December of 1941, Andy was a young serviceman, fighting with the 10th Mountain Division out of New York. The 10th is the same division that, up to a few months ago, was fighting in Afghanistan. 

DECEMBER 11, 1941  

NOT SUCH A GOOD WEATHER MAN — John Waterfall, Sand Canyon goat rancher, predicted a dry winter for the SCV. When asked how he came up with his vision, Waterfall clammed up, noting that “the problem with Indians is we give too much away.” Waterfall was born in a teepee in Montana under the name of Rain-in-River. For the record, 1941 was one of the wettest years in local history. Waterfall and Rain-in-River. Interesting names for a Native American amateur meteorologist. 

CASTAIC’S FORGOTTEN OSCAR WINNER — On this date, Frank Edwin Churchill bought the Paradise Ranch in Castaic. He was a noted composer who wrote songs for “Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs” and “Dumbo.” Most of you have hummed some of his tunes: “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off To Work We Go;” “Some Day My Prince Will Come;” “Whistle While You Work;” and “Who’s Afraid of The Big Bad Wolf.” While his songs were happy, Frank’s life, at least the end of it, was not. He would supposedly commit suicide a few years later. His cause of death is still questioned today as his widow sold the ranch immediately after Churchill’s funeral and ran off with the ranch foreman. HE later ditched Mrs. Churchill, taking with him all the money. 

DECEMBER 11, 1951 

GIRLS. DON’T TRY THIS ON YOUR WATER PUMP AT HOME —On this date, Emily Stone was trying to free up a “froze-up” water pump (as we say in the cowboy business) to her house. She grabbed the recalcitrant pulley belt and yanked it with all her might. It started the pump all right. It also removed all her fingers at the upper joints. Emily wrapped her hands in handkerchiefs, walked a mile in a fierce and subfreezing wind storm to her neighbor and politely asked for a ride to the doctor. Not wanting to intrude (her neighbor was hosting a small party) Emily asked if her friend would just drop her off at the next neighbor’s spread so the gal could continue hosting. The friend drove her directly to the doctor and from there, the hospital. 

KIDS? A DRUNK? BIGFOOT? — Here’s another odd accident. Southern Pacific brakeman Ralph Maier lost sight in his eye when someone threw a rock through the window of his speeding caboose as it passed through Honby (where Home Depot is today). 

THE WINDS OF LATE FALL — We were hit by a big Santana on this date. Winds blew off house and barn roofs, plucked the arms from windmills and, according to one witness, “Trees fell like toothpicks.” 

DECEMBER 11, 1961 

FROM THE OW! OW! OW! OW! CRIPES! OUCH! OW DEPT. — Yet another alleged fast draw artist perforated himself in a distant SCV canyon. Gary Lee Vaden was added to the long list of gunslingers who forgot the proper order of the fast draw. While his Hy Hunter speed revolver was still in its holster, Vaden pulled the trigger, sending a bullet through his right knee. 

THAT WHICH DOES NOT KILL US, WELL, FINALLY KILLS US — Roger Frappied, a pilot from Canoga Park, crashed his plane in the snow-lined hills north of Castaic. His single-engine craft hit a snow bank and Frappied survived the crash with apparently just a severe foot laceration, but died later from his injuries and exposure. 

DECEMBER 11, 1971 

DON’T LOOK NOW, BUT THEY’RE BUILDING IT — It seems the Placerita Canyon folks have been embattled with one thing after another. The latest challenge was from an out-of-town company that wanted to build a 400-acre, 2,300-unit apartment complex on the hills above the canyon. Although the county Regional Planning Commission approved it, the eyesore was never built. Well. Not counting that development off Sierra Highway just below Placerita Canyon… 

YET MORE PROTESTS — More than 100 residents of Bouquet Canyon held a parade down Vasquez and Bouquet canyons to protest a proposed 525-acre low-income housing project called, “Granada.” Occidental Petroleum was set to build the project, which never got off the ground. The county supervisors would eventually reject the project. 

AND YET MORE PROTESTS STILL — Same week, and a third development protest. This time, it was the Oak Woods Project that drew ire. Locals caravanned down to Los Angeles to protest the high-density 273-acre project at the end of Valley Street. The two Newhall school districts noted they would need a new high school and elementary school in the Calgrove area if the project was OK’d. 

TARGET BITES MAN TALE — This isn’t exactly a Man Bites Dog story, but — it’s close. On this date, Tom Back, of Saugus, was wounded by his target. Back was in Tick Canyon, shooting. He aimed his rifle at an abandoned car and hit the drive shaft. A piece of metal ricocheted back, hitting him in the leg. Like so many canyon shooters before him, Back limped back to his car and drove himself to the hospital. 

CALIFORNIA TRIES TO CANCEL OUR CHRISTMAS PARADE —We almost didn’t have our Newhall Christmas parade. The State Division of Highways refused to give an OK in 1971 for Santa and his helpers to march down San Fernando Road. Parade cosponsor Valley County Cable TV’s Dan Neal said we’d have the parade, permits or not, even if he had to go to jail. A last-minute agreement was struck all the way up in Sacramento. 

DECEMBER 11, 1981 

ONE OF OUR SWEETEST CHAPELS — The African Methodist Episcopal Church inched closer toward closing its doors. The little wooden chapel, which had been founded in 1939, was slowly losing its followers, most of them the elderly. 

AND 40 YEARS LATER, NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED WITH THE HUMAN CONDITION — If only there were a button to press to eliminate the jerks of the world. On this date, vandals cracked the freshly placed bronze saddle in the sidewalk of San Fernando Road. Actually, they cracked the thick epoxy covering it, but still, it was a heck of a repair job. Vandals created around $2,000 a month in havoc at the local parks, painting graffiti and wrecking everything from porcelain toilets to knocking over light poles. 

THE HIGH COST OF SAYING “NO THANKS!” — On this date, Realtor Allan Shute lost a $494 case in small claims court. Shute had charged a couple that fee for showing them houses. When they didn’t buy any of the three the real estate agent had shown them, Shute sent them a bill for the $494 for his time. Next time I see my pal Mike Pearson, I’ll have to ask if he ever thought of that one … 🙂 

Thanks for the company, dear saddlepals. Can hardly wait for time to go by when we can again time travel through Santa Clarita history. Be kind to one another. Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Meet you back at The Mighty Signal’s hitching post with another exciting Time Ranger and until then —  ¡Feliz dia de Accion de Gracias y vayan con Dios, amigos!” 

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